Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to Edit and Rewrite Your Manuscript

One of my big projects for the first month or two of 2012 is going to be rewriting my Regency romance.

As I was writing it, I knew that the real battle for me was going to be rewriting it. I love editing . . . other people's work. Editing my own is intimidating.

And yet, I love editing. I just needed something to get me past the psychological wall of it being my work that I had to edit. Me being me, that something I needed was a plan. Plans don't make the future safe, of course, but they surely make it feel safe.

So here's the plan. I can't vouch for its entire virtue, as I'm still in the middle of it myself, but it seems sturdy as far as I've ventured. And hopefully it can help other type J's out there to dive into the process of revision: don't worry folks; the water is warmer than it looks.

Jess Snell's Editing and Rewriting Plan:

 1) Print out the whole book, double-spaced.

2) Print out all my “go back, and change” notes that I’ve made while writing.

3) Copy and paste into a document  all beta reader notes (in the story’s chronological order), and print that document out.

 4) Make a list of all “tics” (like passive verbs and comma abuse) that I have, and make a list of those – one sheet if possible, because these will have to be checked for on every page. (Use notes from read-through of The First Five Pages to help come up with this list.)

5) Go through the hard copy of the book with lists/docs from points 2, 3 & 4 in hand, and mark up whatever changes need to be made. (This means going through the whole story at least three times.)
6) After all these changes, read through the whole thing and make note of:
            - any BIG plot or character changes that need to be made
            -scenes that need to be entirely rewritten
            -scenes that need to be added
            -scenes that need to be erased.

7) Rewrite all things noted in Step 6 – printing out and inserting new material into marked-up hard copy, and crossing out old scenes where necessary.

8) THEN, take that marked-up, patched-together copy, and retype the whole book from the marked-up hard copy. In other words, I’m going to literally rewrite the whole book, so that every word passes under my fingers one more time, forcing me to pay attention, and make any final tweaks that would be beneficial.

 9) And THEN (this is the really hard part), print out the whole thing again, and then mark it up again, make sure all the changes work, etc.  Then make these changes in the final document.

10) Query.

There you go. That's the plan. Have at it, and happy New Year!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. If this ends up being useful to you, fill free to use it, print it out, share it, whatever, just attribute it to me and include a link back to this blog. Thanks!

Monday, December 26, 2011

crocheted finished object: the Pineapple Shrug

A quick palate-cleanser after all the Christmas crafting: 
And a view of the shrug from the front:
This was made with incredibly soft merino/alpaca yarn given to me by my mom, so even though it's a bulky lace design, it's really warm.   

I love the classic pineapple motifs radiating out from the center. In the magazine version of the pattern, the design was obscured by the variegated yarn they used, but when I went on Ravelry, there was a version done in solid-color yarn and I really liked it.

One of the other fun things about this project is that I got to have a little email conversation with the designer over Ravelry, and she was really friendly. I love that I can chat with the people who make the patterns I'm using!

Now that I've made a quick and satisfying design, I'm starting up a long and complicated one: the gorgeous pattern on the cover of this book. I'm using Knit Picks Shadow Lace Yarn in the Nocturne Heather colorway. I've been planning on making this sweater for well over a year, so I'm excited to see it starting to form under my fingertips:

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Notes: "West Oversea: A Norse Saga of Mystery, Adventure and Faith", by Lars Walker

West Oversea: A Norse SagaWest Oversea: A Norse Saga by Lars Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"West Oversea" follows Father Aillil, the Irish hero of Lars Walker's previous book, "The Year of the Warrior", as he travels with his Norwegian lord, Erling, across the sea to Greenland.

Adventures ensure, including a long and feud-filled stay in Iceland and a storm-tossed journey to the New World, but they do eventually make it to Greenland - sailing northeast rather than northwest.

This is a Christian novel, and of the best sort. You don't pick up a Lars Walker novel to find an idealized world - in this book not only is there violence, war, and death, there's also real sin, real sorrow, and - perhaps most surprisingly of all - real demons, real magic, and real gods.

But only one God. This novel is set at the time of the Christianization of Scandinavia, and while Walker's telling of that story is fantastic in the most literal sense of the word, the struggle between the old spiritual loyalties and the new felt very realistic to me.

And all of that is just the theme! Even if you took that all out, you'd have a fascinating adventure tale, full of swash-buckling, and sea-faring, politics, romance, and quest. Add in the powerful spiritual element, and you simply have an excellent story, well-told, and edifying. Which is an odd thing to say about an adventure tale. But you can say it about this one, because it points the eye toward Christ.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Keeping Advent: an Extremely Practical Post

There are two weeks before Christmas. If you finish your shopping this week (and the wrapping and mailing too!), you can really enjoy the last week of Advent.

If you've got an idea of what to get someone, get him that. If you don't have a great idea, go with a good idea.

Here are some good ideas:
-a bottle of good wine
-a jar of local honey
-candy from this lady (she'll include a note for free!)
-notecards from this artist (she'll include a note for free too!)
-yummy soap from this shop (I think she does notes too)
-a book you've read and enjoyed this year (maybe this one or this one)
-a music album you've read and enjoyed this year (maybe this one, or this one, or this one)

Get it done this week. You'll be glad you did.

More Advent posts here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Life Hacks: Making Your Future Self Happy

When I was in high school, I knew that I was a teenager and that teenagers were stupid. I knew that their brains were basically a construction zone complete with hazard signs and pitfalls and electrical connections that weren't hooked up properly yet.

So I decided that the best way to make decisions was to not let my teenage self make decisions. Instead, I invented a hack. I decided to live not in the way that would make my teenage self happy; I decided to live in a way that would make my thirty-year-old self happy.

I imagined that thirty-year-old self and what she'd be like and thought, "what will she wish she'd done when she was my age?" Or, honestly, adolescence being what it is, I thought, "what will she wish she hadn't done when she was my age?"

How did it work? Honestly, now that I'm in my thirties, I can look back and say: it worked pretty well. It kept me from very basic disasters like getting pregnant or getting arrested, and it also put me in a good position to handle college academics and not go into debt (because I worked hard at school and at my job. Because I had a job.) It kept me close to the Lord.

So, though I can look back and say, a bit fondly, Idiot, of some of my teenage thoughts and feelings and actions, honestly, I'm very grateful to that young girl who took her adult self seriously enough to safeguard way before she was in possession of her.

And now that I've reached the once-far-away-land of my thirties, I find myself more and more thinking of my forty-five-year-old self. And my sixty-year-old self. And even a little, if God grants me years, of the happy woman I hope to be in my nineties.

What will those women want? What will those women hope that their thirty-year-old self did? And didn't do?

I know for sure that that forty-five-year-old Jess will want most to have done a good job mothering her kids and wiving her husband and following her Lord. Mostly she'll want to have had a solid fifteen years in relationship with those few most important people. And then a few important others. After that, she will want a lot of novels under her belt. Just, you know, a decade and a half of solid work.  I don't think she'll care if she's in the best shape of her life, but she'll want a body in shape enough that it's a help and not a hindrance in her daily life. She'll want to have been kind. She'll want me to not have wasted my time.

That's what I've got after just a few minutes of thinking about it. I want to think about it more in these waning weeks of the year, because it could use some refinement.

But I recommend it to you as a useful technique for even the smallest decisions of life. In the morning, when you're having trouble deciding what to do first, ask yourself what your evening self will want done, in those few precious hours after the kids are in bed and before you are. On Monday, ask yourself what your Saturday self will hope your week looked like. At the beginning of Lent, what your Easter self will be glad to have read and thought and prayed.

And ask it a few decades out too. I promise you'll find it illuminating.

In the End, it is all about our Easter selves.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Reading through the Classics in 2012

Why is it that I keep thinking next year is 2013?

Anyway, December has me thinking about the new year, and one of the things I'd like to do is to reread some of the Christian classics that I last read in college.

In a few weeks I'll post my annual "Books Read this Year" post, and this year the number is hovering somewhere around sixty, which is considerably less than last year's close to one hundred.

But I was pickier this year. Last year I finished a bunch of books just to be able to list them; this year I put a lot of books down after ten, twenty, even a hundred pages. My number completed is smaller, but I think it was a better year's reading.

And I'd like next year's to be better yet. My enthusiastic self wants to say, "I'm going to reread every book I read in my college classics program!" But . . . my more mature self says, "Eh . . . Let's go for ten."

So, there's my goal: I want to reread ten classic works of literature. Probably most of them will be Christian; I'm feeling particularly drawn to Augustine and Calvin, and to a few of the great English poets.

There is this problem with the poets: how much do you have to read to have "read" them? I might try to read the complete collected works of a few of my favorites. We'll see. Among those clanging to be read are Donne, Herbert, and Hopkins. Well, those three always. And then also Rossetti.

I tried and failed at Dante this year, and I'm still trying to figure out why. So that'd be worth another go too. Maybe.

Oh! And DeTocqueville! Great reading for an election year.

Yes. "Year of the Classics". I like it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, December 12, 2011

Links! art, books, writing, sex, and generosity

To start off, here's your dose of pure beauty for the day. It's a Baltimore Album style quilt and it's just stunning.

Once you realize books are the most wonderful thing in the world (they are, aren't they? aside from a nice MLT . . .), the question is, what to read? And, over and above that, what to have our children read? Simcha Fischer's answer is lots and lots. She says that if your kids read lots of good books, it'll be a great protection against harm when they read the odd bad apple. And that, more than that, you should pray for them. I think she's right on there (though - standard disclaimer - Protestant me is not going to be following her suggestion to pray to Mary).

I also haven't read any Nora Roberts, but I found this interview with her fascinating. That woman works. Worth reading also, I think, for her insights into the publishing industry and the disdain much of the public has for romance novels.  Quoth Roberts:
"They don't see that as legitimate. But it's just so insulting towards millions of people. Why would you apologise for what you read for pleasure? Just think of the illiteracy rate. Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work, why isn't that something to be respected?"
I'd add that I do think there are things that shouldn't be read for pleasure (or possibly for any other reason), but I think she's right about people disparaging happiness, as if something can't be important unless it's tragic. Happiness is too important; she's right there.

Finally, in the "Ya Don't Say?" column, a new study found that people with generous spouses are more likely to be happy in their marriage. But not as happy as married people who who have good sex.  

This is one of those posts that crack me up because, firstly: Duh. And, secondly, I love how they present it as an either/or. You can't have both? And, moreover, does any married person out there think it's even possible to have a marriage where the two aren't related? Heh, science.

Or rather: Heh, science reporting.

That's it for today, folks!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

the Monster Afghan is almost done!

One of my favorite groups on Ravelry is the "Stash Knit Down" group, and this past month they've been holding a "End of 2011, UFO/Scrap Down and Get Organized" challenge that I've been participating in.

The idea is to start the new year with a clean slate, craft-wise, to finish up any works-in-progress that have been laying around, to finish up scrap balls of yarn, and to organize your stash so you know what you have to work with.

Because of this project, I actually dragged my monster afghan - the one I was sure I was only halfway through - upstairs and spread it out on our bed to see how close I actually was to finishing. And look!

That there is an almost-complete afghan! I have less than forty rows to go, which on this monster translates into "almost done". I'm sure I can finish it by the end of this month, which is so exciting!

And it's so pretty. It's made up of leftover bits of acrylic yarn from old projects and thrift store finds and gifts and, oh, everywhere. It's got bouclé and fun fur (fun fur!) and tweedy yarn and sparkley and yarn of every color you can imagine. But the white stripes in between the colors pull it altogether, and make the bright colors harmonious and cheerful, rather than garish. 

I really like it. I'm surprised by how much I like it. And I'm very grateful to the Stash Knit Down forum for providing a challenge that's pushing me to finish a project that I'd been neglecting. 

See? Sometimes Internet forums are good for something! :D

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top 10 Romantic Heroines of Literature

The twin of this post (Top 10 Romantic Heroes) can be found here. You'll notice that not every half of each couple is on both lists, and that's because some heroes are better than their heroines, and some heroines than their heroes, at least when it comes to loving their mate. Or perhaps it's just that they face sterner competition on their side of the dividing line.

Be that as it may - in no particular order - here are my votes for the Top 10 Romantic Heroines of Literature:

-Britomart, from "The Faerie Queene" by Edmund Spenser.
-Ekaterin Vorvayne, from "A Civil Campaign" by Lois McMaster Bujold.
-Harriet Vane, from "Gaudy Night", by Dorothy Sayers.
-Jane Eyre, from "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.
-Beatrice, of "Much Ado About Nothing", by William Shakespeare.
-Viola, of "Twelfth Night, or, What You Will", by William Shakespeare.
-Prudence Tremaine, from "The Masqueraders", by Georgette Heyer.
-Phoebe Marlow, from "Sylvester, or, The Wicked Uncle", by Georgette Heyer.
-Eowyn, from "The Lord of the Rings", by J. R. R. Tolkien.
-Elizabeth Bennett, from "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen.

In case you're curious, the couples which contain individuals who BOTH made their respective Top 10s are:

-Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorvayne
-Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey
-Prudence Tremaine and Anthony Fanshawe
-Pheobe Marlow and Sylvester, Duke of Salford.
-Eowyn and Faramir

And, of course, I have a few runners-up:

-Ginny Weasley
-the Essie Summers heroine
-the Carla Kelly heroine

What do you think? Do you agree? Did I make a villainous omission anywhere? Or just a thoughtless oversight? Is there anyone there you think doesn't belong?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Dear Rachel, you may not read this post.

At least not till after Christmas. The rest of you are welcome, because I think the rest of the recipients don't actually read this blog.

Here are some Christmas presents I've finished up in the past week or so:

This first one is a lace scarf made of yarn that I dyed with Kool-Aid and food coloring (sadly, the colors didn't show up well in this picture, but you can see the simple lace pattern):

The second is a simple pair of fingerless gloves in a sock yarn with subtle color changes:
The third is probably my favorite: it's a lace scarf made out of cashmere yarn that I harvested from a thrift store sweater. I just love the broad swath of delicate lace at the ends: 
 Finally, on the Christmas theme, I made a quick Christmas tree skirt for our own tree:

And with that, my Christmas crafting is done. I didn't make things for many people this year; I didn't want to be rushing through my crafting at the end of the year. Instead, I picked a few people to craft for this year, with the idea that each year I'd pick a few different people. That way I can enjoy making the gifts, and really take the time to make something that suits each person. Much less stress that way, and better finished objects, I think.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More on women and vocation, and Mary and Martha

Just after I posted my last blog entry, my mom came over, and so I talked to her about what I'd been writing. And now I have more vocation-and-women stuff to put out there in the Pool of Ponder.

(That last blog entry was - and this might not have been obvious, but it's true - just an I'm-pondering-these-things entry. Not an I-have-this-all-figured-out entry.)

One important thing my mom pointed out is that we shouldn't look at the first Mary-and-Martha story in the gospels without also looking at the second: the death of Lazarus. In that case, Mary was overwhelmed with her emotions and missed Jesus. But Martha was there, and present, and confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. So . . . Martha got the better part in the end too, and it's worth thinking about how much her sensible, practical nature helped her to be present and aware in the midst of tragedy - present and aware enough to recognize Life Himself when he stood before her.

I guess what really struck me about the Mary-and-Martha story as Sayers presents it is that being a contemplative is a legitimate calling, even for a woman. (And yes, I know who the other Mary is, and so this should have been obvious to me.) I feel like so much of what I want to do is just to read and think and read and think and read some more. And Mary's story shows me that sometimes sitting and listening isn't lazy; sometimes sitting and listening is exactly the right thing to do. It's not sloth; it's something we are made for.

The other thing my mom helped me with was with a clearer explanation of the traditional Christian view of "vocation". (My mom's a theology prof, so she knows this stuff - that said, anything I get wrong in this recounting is my mistake, not hers - and some of it isn't her information, it's just my ruminations.) She talked about how vocation means "calling" and that it includes everything that God calls us to, which means that my division of calling into "vocation" and "duty" isn't correct.

There are the things we are all called to, like wisdom. Or like obedience to Christ. Then there are the very common callings that are ours because of where we are when we become Christians. Are you a mother, a brother, a husband? You are called to be that in service to God. Are you a soldier, a teacher, a welder? You are called to be that in service to God.

Then there are the more specific gifts and callings, and some people have lots and some have a few, but whatever they are, you are to use them in God's service, as He leads you to do so.

And then there is the question of time. You aren't called to do everything all the time. For instance, when my twins were newborn, and I had four children under the age of four, my whole duty was pretty much comprised in loving God and my immediate family. It was all I could do to just do that! and I don't think I was called to anything else at that specific time.

I think there are times like that in most people's lives. When you have a newborn, when you are gravely ill, when someone who it's your duty to care for is gravely ill . . . your duty narrows to one very specific point and you just serve Christ there, wherever there is. You're still following the first and second greatest commandments, and so even though the scope of duty is narrow, the obedience and love found there can be as great as any in the whole wide world.

There's also the fact, my mom pointed out, that sometimes the hard and narrow parts of our lives are the times when God is equipping us for some future work, but we can only see it in hindsight. We look back at those times and see, "oh, that's when I learned to pray" or "that's when my heart was truly converted" or whatever other thing it was that God needed to do in us in order to fit us for our true calling, to get us ready for whatever tasks were lying ahead.

And in the end, our calling is a calling to Him, it's a calling to our home. He Himself is our peace, as Dante said, and He wants to make us into people who can be at home with Him. In Advent, that's good to remember too. In the words of the children's carol, we pray, Lord Jesus, fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Keeping Advent: Watching, Working, and Waiting: the duties and vocations of women

My Advent thoughts this week have been prompted by my Bible reading, which is probably a good thing. The St. James Devotional that I use has been taking us through some of the more dire parables in Matthew, and so I've been pondering things like the Parable of the Talents.

Is it a coincidence that in English "talents" means gifts or abilities, and that when I read the Parable of the Talents I can't help but think of "gifts or abilities" rather than "denomination of coin"?

When I think about this parable, what comes to mind first is Milton's sonnet on his blindness, where he complains, "When I consider how my light is spent/Ere half my days in this dark world and wide/And that one talent which is death to hide/Lodged in me useless . . ." He was a writer who couldn't see; what had he to offer God then?

The poem famously leads him to a consideration of the majesty of God, who has thousands upon thousands of other servants to perform whatever acts of service He desires. Milton concludes that God doesn't need him, and yet it is God's good pleasure to have him ready and willing for whatever order may come. Milton concludes, "They also serve who only stand and wait."

And Advent is a season of waiting. So Milton's sonnet seems a fit conclusion for me to reach. I stand and wait.

And yet . . . and yet I know what the blind Milton went on to do: he wrote Paradise Lost in his blindness, dictating each stanza to his daughters. He was willing to only stand and wait, but that wasn't what ended up being required of him.


I said above that my Advent thoughts this week have been prompted by my Bible reading, but that's only part of the truth. They've also been prompted by my Sayers reading; I just reread her powerful collection of essays entitled Are Women Human?

(The answer, in case you're wondering, is "yes.")

These essays, perhaps surprisingly, are largely about work. One of Sayers' primary concerns, in promoting the humanity of women (women, she points out, are human ("homo") first and female ("femina") second) is that they be allowed to do their proper work.

She doesn't insist that every woman everywhere has a special vocation, instead she says:

I have admitted that there are very few women who would put their job before every earthly consideration. I will go further and assert that there are very few men who would do it either. In fact, there is perhaps only one human being in a thousand who is passionately interested in his job for the job's sake. The difference is that if that one person in a thousand is a man, we say, simply, that he is passionately keen on his job; if she is a woman, we say she is a freak.
I can't help but be reminded of Sayers' character Harriet Vane, who, when challenged about the "unwomanliness" of her job of writing murder mysteries retorts that her challenger would no doubt rather she did something more feminine, like washing floors. The only problem, says Harriet, is that:

". . . I should scrub floors very badly, and I write detective stories rather well. I don't see why proper feelings should prevent me from doing my proper job."
The idea of a "proper job" captivates me, probably because I know what mine is. It's to write fiction. (Is there any wonder I go back to Harriet Vane's story again and again?)

And yet I also have my duty - the duty that does come on me not as a human, but as a woman, and as a married woman: the care of house and children. "Duty" sounds cold to our modern ears, but I don't mean it that way. My children are the delight of my heart and my home is the happy center of my earthly universe.  But "duty" in the sense of "the normal tasks appointed in the normal course of things, without which I could not be healthy, well, or sane".

I'm not quite sure what the solution to the problem of vocation and duty is, mostly because I'm not quite convinced that it is a problem. (Clarification: I'm not sure it's a philosophical problem. I do see (oh so clearly!) that it's a practical problem.) I just can't see an earthly reason why it should be "duty versus vocation" rather than the simple "duty and vocation". It feels like the former, sometimes, but I firmly believe that God always gives what He demands, and that it's all a question of how and when and not what.

But there is one section, in the final pages of Are Women Human? that seems to at least frame well the  at-least-apparent-if-not-actual conflict between duty and vocation:

God, of course, may have His own opinion, but the Church is reluctant to endorse it. I think I have never heard a sermon preached on the story of Martha and Mary that did not attempt, somehow, somewhere, to explain away its text. Mary's, of course, was the better part - the Lord said so, and we must not precisely contradict Him. But we will be careful not to despise Martha. No doubt, He approved of her too. We could not get on without her, and indeed (having paid lip-service to God's opinion) we must admit that we greatly prefer her. For Martha was doing a really feminine job, whereas Mary was just behaving like any other disciple, male or female; and that is a hard pill to swallow . . . Women are not human; nobody shall persuade that they are human, let them say what they like, we will not believe it, though One rose from the dead.
Mary was a contemplative. She is, I think, a fitting model for this Advent season, wherein we watch, we work, and we wait.

More Advent thoughts found here, at A Ten O'Clock Scholar.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

ETA: An update on this entry can be found here.

"Keeping House" Read-Along, Chapter 3, "Sheltering a Household"

My notes on chapter 3 of Margaret Kim Peterson's book are, well, just notes. Notes that highlight the few things that stood out to me this time through.  First off, her assertion that:

". . . many of us, I suspect, are demoralized by the task of keeping house in part because we know that our houses, no matter how well-kept, will  never look like the palaces in the dream house publications." - page 44.

Yes. We should careful about where the ideas we come from. What our ideals about homemaking and how did those come to be our ideals? Did we deliberately take them from a trustworthy source - scripture, a good mother, etc. - or did we just absorb the zeitgeist?

And then Peterson comes to what is, to my mind, the most important concept in this chapter:

"Christian tradition . . . has been inclined to see limits as a necessary component of human flourishing." - page 47.

In other words, the fun of life is in the deciding. And then in living within the confines of your decision. No one can love people in general, we must love specific people. You can't follow a general vocation, you must write or pastor or fix computers or what have you. You have to limit yourself, and then flourish within those limits.

And some of these limits are self-imposed limits - there are parts of our life we choose - but as the quotation above implies, a lot of these limits are imposed upon us. And when it comes to the things imposed upon us - most specifically, I think, the law of God - our choice comes in choosing to obey.

But like a young tomato plant encircled by a chicken wire trellis, we thrive within that limiting, strength-lending structure.

Further, on the same point:

"The fact is, there are a lot of lovely and useful things in this world, and our houses and our lives simply do not have room for most of them. We have to learn to say no, and to say no not just to things we don't need or want but also to things we might very well enjoy." - page 56.

One thing I would add is that, when you really internalize this message, you end up having a new kind of fun: the fun of replacing an item that you have really and truly worn out. If you really do use the things you have and use them to the end of their useful life, well, you get to replace them. And that's fun. You get all the fun of choosing and none of the guilt that comes with choosing something you just want and don't really need.

I'm always shocked when I wear out a piece of clothing - I think it's because my children so seldom do (they tend to out-grow, not out-wear) and I deal with their clothes far more than I deal with my own (there being four of them and only one of me), and so my expectations for the life-span of a piece of clothing is set by their clothes and not my own. But I'm not growing anymore, and so I do wear out my clothes eventually, and sometimes I have to buy new ones, not because I want the fun of shopping, but because I need new clothes.

And that, it turns out, is when the shopping is really, truly, fun.

". . . if there are places to put things and it is simple and convenient to put them there, then picking up the house becomes a kind of active meditation, like putting a favorite puzzle together and seeing the familiar picture - the tidy house - appear anew." - page 56.

I totally get this. It's my favorite part of housework.

Read other people's thoughts on this chapter over at The Quotidian Reader.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Knitted Finished Object: Forest Feet Socks

The yarn is Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in the Canopy colorway. And the super-awesome, couldn't've-learned-without-it tutorial I used was Silver's Sock Class.

They're so comfy and warm, and I'm so happy with them. I'm off to make another pair!

Learning to knit was totally worth it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Keeping House" Read-along, Chapter 2

In this chapter, entitled "A Place to Live", Peterson begins by talking about the tenant in Christian spirituality that we are to struggle against feeling at home in the world. She talks about how we are to remember that "God's people are always to be 'resident aliens', people who yearn for the fulfillment of all things in God and cannot feel themselves at home until that day has come."

It reminds me of Screwtape saying that he wants his "patient" to feel that he is "finding his place in the world" when really the world is finding its place in him. (Shiver.)

And yet we only understand things by metaphor and simile. Whenever one human tries to explain something to another human, he ends up saying, "It's like when" or "you know when you do X? It's like that." We always explain using comparisons. And I think the experience of a good earthly home sets up the metaphor that allows us to conceptualize and understand the idea of a heavenly home.

And, as Peterson points out, our earthly homes are places where we can practice the very virtues that will be required of any citizen of heaven. Our daily routine is the daily stage for the process of sanctification.

A few other quotations from the chapter, points that I really appreciated:

". . . parents may spend the preschool years waiting for things to 'get back to normal.' But young childhood is just as normal a state of life as adulthood; we just tend to forget that, in our age-segregated society." - page 32.

"Precisely because housework is necessary, it is not contemptible." - page 35.

"Housework is all about bringing order out of chaos." - page 38.

"Housework and gardening and God's providence itself are exercises not in futility but in faithfulness . . ." - page 39.

"If in Jesus God himself could take up a towel and wash other people's feet, surely we, as Jesus' adopted brothers and sisters, can find it in us to wash one another's dirty clothes and dirty dishes and dirty floors." - page 39.

More on this book to be found here, at the Quotidian Reader.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Advent thoughts: Donne's Holy Sonnet #4

"You must die before you die. There is no chance after." -C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Advent is a season with apocalyptic overtones. We say that we are readying ourselves for Christ's birth, but he has already been born. We are really readying ourselves for the celebration of his birth.

But underlying even that reality is a deeper reality: we are readying ourselves for his coming, a real coming - not the first one, but the second. In preparing ourselves for his first coming, which has already happened, we prepare ourselves for his next coming, which is yet to be.

And what does that preparation look like? In a word: repentance.

In many and better words, like this:

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
 All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

I'm going to explicate the poem (which is one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets) a little, because it repays examination.

The start of the sonnet is impressive, drawing in all of creation - commanding the angels to begin the trumpet-sound of the apocalypse, commanding even the dead to rise again - all the dead, every person slain by mischance, by sickness, by malice, even by old age - to return to the scattered dust of their bodies and -  note how Donne implies but does not actually state - to stand in front of their one Judge.

The whole first eight lines of the poem are one long sentence, gathering all the created universe together in a breath and commanding it to commence the End of All Things. It's a grand, masterful, majestic summoning.

But then, there, at the ninth line, the whole motion of the sonnet abruptly halts, turns, does an about-face, and Donne's tone becomes low, humble, and penitent, begging God to stop the great event that Donne's own words just urged, and Donne says, "But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space".

His eyes turn, suddenly, from the vastness of the universe to the microcosm of his own soul, and what he finds there utterly dismays them. "For, if above all these" - that is, all those other persons he just summoned - "my sins abound" (this is an echo, of course, of St. Paul's admonition that we think of ourselves as the "chief among sinners") "tis late to ask abundance of thy grace, when we are there" - that is, when we do, indeed, stand naked before the judgment seat of Christ.

And what is Donne's remedy for the horrific place he finds himself, riddled with sin and in danger of imminent Judgment? It is this: "Teach me to repent".

Well, as far as it goes, but then there is the shocking turn of the last couple of the poem (remember, "good" did use to rhyme with "blood"): "Teach me to repent; for that's as good/As if thou hadst sealed my pardon, with thy blood."

Donne seems to say that repentance is as good as grace - as good a remedy against condemnation as the spilled blood of Jesus himself!  As I said: it's a shocking assertion.

Except, of course, this is John Donne, a man quite possibly as devout as he was clever, and that is saying a good deal.

If you look again, you can see what he is saying - what he is trying to convey with that apparently heretical last couplet: he is saying that grace enables repentance. It all turns on the "as if" in that last sentence. "As if thou hadst sealed my pardon with thy blood." The sentence is falsely hypothetical. Donne knew very well that Christ had sealed his pardon with his blood, and so that "as if" becomes a "because", and the meaning of the last couplet becomes clear: Donne is saying that his repentance will be good because Christ has sealed his pardon with his blood; it is that sacrifice which makes true repentance possible, it makes it possible for repentance to become not just fruitless despair at his sin, but a godly sorrow that leads to a real change of heart, that will help him become a new man, a change that makes him not just safe, but also sound.

Now with all that said, here's the poem again. Read it aloud, because spoken rhythm always aids meaning in good poetry:

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
 All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

More Advent thoughts can be found here, over at A Ten'O'Clock Scholar.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Notes: Letter to a Stranger by Elswyth Thane

Letter to a StrangerLetter to a Stranger by Elswyth Thane

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first fifteen pages or so of this book made me think it was a comedy of manners, but then it shifted into something between a ghost story and a psychological thriller - or what I would call a psychological thriller if the propriety of the Eastern seaboard upper-class white fifties culture in which it takes place didn't keep it from ever becoming anything quite so severe.

To be honest, I felt too much culture shock (I feel weird calling it that, but I think that's what it was) reading this to feel like I can really say how good it was. It was certainly well-written - well-written enough that I want to read another by this author. But I kept wanting to yell at the characters that THAT'S NOT HOW YOU DEAL WITH CRAZY PEOPLE (seriously: you don't go and spend the weekend at the house of an abusive father who thinks you should marry him to heal him from his heartbreak over the death of his neighbor's wife) and that desire to yell at the characters did, I think, interfere with my ability to just sit back and enjoy the book.

But great characterization (I couldn't have been so frustrated with the characters' actions if they hadn't seemed so real) and some of the best-turned phrases I've read in a long time. It does make me want to read more by Elswyth Thane - if only to find out whether or not they're all about crazy people or whether she ever did write the comedy of manners I was hoping for when I started.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keeping Advent: the week before the fast

Advent starts on Sunday, and I have only two thoughts about it right now:

1. My kids need hats for St. Nicholas' Day. Bright, garish, warm, stripey hats. I'm working on them now.

2. I want to fill my heart with good things this Advent. I want to listen to all four gospels and read lots of John Donne.

If Advent is about preparing our hearts, that's how I want to prepare mine. I want to feather the nest of my heart with scripture and poetry.

And I want the good stuff to crowd out all the bad. Sometimes the best way to flee temptation, to banish evil thoughts and sinful tendencies, isn't to fight them head on. It's just to fill your heart so full of good things that there's no room for the bad. Remember the story of the demon in Matthew: he was banished, but when he went back and visited the exorcised man, he found his old place swept clean and emptied, and so he reinhabited the man, bringing in other demons worse then himself.

Don't leave your heart empty. Don't just banish what is wicked; fill in its place with what is good. Focus your eyes on Jesus, and let his words resonate in your mind with every beat of your heart and exhalation of your breath. Sing hymns, read poetry, pray the Jesus prayer in every spare moment: Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Because he is ever ready to hear us. And he does have mercy on us. Every time.

And pray for me, a sinner.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

ETA: more Advent thoughts found here, at A Ten O'Clock Scholar.

"Keeping House" Read-Along: Chapter 1, Part 2

The first commandment (to love God with all one's heart and soul and strength and mind) always takes precedence over the second commandment (to love one's neighbor as oneself). But in the paradoxical realm that is real life, it is not possible to love God without loving neighbor, and a primary and essential way of loving one's neighbors is to feed and clothe and house them.

I feel that this section of the book had two main points and that they are well summed-up in the above-quoted paragraph:

1) Housekeeping is not the most important thing in the world, and,

2) Housekeeping is an important thing in the world.

It's the way that Peterson holds that paradox in right tension that really gives this book its value. Too often the pressing nature of housework tricks us into thinking that housework is the whole world, that if only we could keep everything clean all the time all the other problems would solve themselves and we'd all be perfectly happy.

And that isn't true. In fact, too often, that very pressing nature - the immediacy of needing food to eat and clean clothes to wear and a place to lie down and sleep - can prove a terrible distraction from "the one thing needful", a frustrating sort of temptation, a jangling noise that draws our attention away from our Lord and gives us nothing but neverending work in return.

But at the same time, in cleaning and covering and feeding and caring lies our secondary duty - the love of neighbor, and we can't, as Peterson says, really love God without loving our neighbor. It reminds me of the old song lyric, "A heart to God/And a hand to man". Our eyes on Him and our hands active about his work.

And in that work we learn something we can't learn any other way: we learn a longing for home. In loving these imperfect homes we learn to value home and also we learn that the ones we have are not sufficient or final:

The practicalities of housekeeping - cooking, cleaning, laundry - are among the things that ground our existence in the particular times and places in which we live and in so doing make it possible for us to keep alive the memory of our first home in paradise and the hope of our ultimate home in God's new creation.
More thoughts on this book found here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Links! white clothing, cuckoopants movies, and teenage writers

Here's a history of white - no, really, it's about how people have, through the centuries, dyed their clothing white. With great difficulty and in great peril, apparently (see the parts about sulfuric acid and powdered lead). Makes me skeptical about our current use of "optical brighteners" (which trick our eyes into thinking our laundered clothes are whiter than they actually are).

My two favorite media writers - Linda Holmes and Steven Lloyd Wilson - both reviewed the new Twilight film. Given the impact that these stories have had and are having on current culture, I really appreciate reading smart people's takes on these movies. While they both point out how, in Holmes' words, "cuckoopants" the latest installment is, Holmes' review delves into the domestic abuse aspects of the film whereas Wilson's review has this to say:

There is also no getting around the fact that Bella and Edward are not characters but blank slates. Their honeymoon consists of hiking and playing chess. They do not talk except about their drama. They have no interests, they have no future, they have no dreams. Fans have repeatedly emphasized that these blank slates are what is appealing about the characters, that they can map themselves onto the characters. But only being able to empathize with characters devoid of anything that might distinguish them as individuals is terribly emotionally immature. Empathy is the ability to empathize with those who are different, requiring them to be blank slates so that you don’t have to empathize with any degree of difference is just the softer side of sociopathy. (Emphasis mine.)
By the way, a heads-up: the comments on the second linked-to site tend to be raunchy (the first one is on NPR, so no worries there). I really like the site's movie reviews, because even though the writers often have different world-views than mine, they've very good and clear writers and their reviews make it easy for me to know whether or not I'd be interested in the movie they're reviewing. But I skip over a lot of other stuff on the site 'cause of content. Caveat lector.

John Scalzi's 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing is great advice. And not just for teenagers.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"His pains were o'er and he sighed no more/For he lived in the love of a lady"

A pretty song for Saturday night:

Have a restful night and a joyous Christ the King Sunday tomorrow!
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Top 10 Romantic Heroes

From books, of course. I could do movies too, but I'm afraid that if I did the list would end up with silliness like: "William Wilberforce. What do you mean why? Oh. I guess you're right. 'Because he's played by Ioan Gruffudd' isn't a good reason, is it?"

No, actually, if I made such a list, it'd probably read:

Top 10 Romantic Heroes from the Movies:
#'s 1-9: Westley, beloved of the Princess Buttercup.
#10: Han Solo.
The End.

No, this is a list of romantic heroes that win a place on the list based on character alone - the fictional fellows who have flaws, but who love their ladies well despite them. As I look over the list, I realize that firstly, it doesn't hurt to be a lord, and, secondly, most of these men share in common the virtues of integrity and courage, allowing them to see both themselves and their loves clearly and to take whatever action (including self-abasement!) is necessary in order to win their ladies' hearts. But also just plain old courage, which lets them stand against the world, championing the cause of right - and of the women they love.

Here's the list:

1. Lord Peter Wimsey. From "Gaudy Night", by Dorothy Sayers.
2. Sir Anthony Fanshawe. From "The Masqueraders", by Georgette Heyer.
3. Lord Miles Vorkosigan. From "A Civil Campaign", by Lois McMaster Bujold.
4. Hugh Beringar of Maesbury. From "One Corpse Too Many", by Ellis Peters.
5. Sir Percival Blakeney. From "The Scarlet Pimpernel", by Baroness Orczy.
6. Faramir. From "The Lord of the Rings", by J. R. R. Tolkein.
7. Val Con 'yos Phelium. From "Agent of Change" by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee.
8. Gilbert Blythe. From the "Anne" books, by L. M. Montgomery.
9. Joe Willard. From the "Betsy-Tacy" books, by Maud Hart Lovelace.
10. Sylvester, Duke of Salford. From "Sylvester, or, The Wicked Uncle", by Georgette Heyer.

-Robin MacRae ("Sandy"), from "Dear Enemy", by Jean Webster.
-the Essie Summers hero (same one in every book, but he's awesome)
-the Carla Kelly hero (ditto)
-Mr. Darcy, from "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen.
-Benedick, from "Much Ado About Nothing", by William Shakespeare.
-Michael Moon, from "Manalive!" by G. K. Chesterton.

What do you think? What would your list look like?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s., "Top 10 Romantic Heroines" coming up shortly.  :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I'm working on finishing my second (ever!) sock, with the help of Silver's Sock class (a free online tutorial). I'm enjoying it so much, mostly because of how lovely and rhythmic the work is. It's very meditative, and the easy motion of my hands feels like it stills my heart.

The book I'm reading is "A Dash of Style: the Art and Mastery of Punctuation" by Noah Lukeman. All I can say is that I knew it was a good book when it came down in favor of the semicolon.

More knitting and reading to be found here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Keeping Advent, the week before Christ the King Sunday

". . .  for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth." - Psalm 96:13

It being the week before Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, when we pay special attention to the imminence of Christ's return, I am thinking about how the first coming of Christ that we prepare to celebrate in Advent carries with it foreshadowings of the second coming of Christ, when he will come again to judge the Earth.

I am also thinking about something I read here, about how Advent is the time for making room. As she says, there isn't any room and yet there must be room. (And when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the Earth?)

And I am thinking about the Christians in other parts of the world who "don’t even pray that their persecutors would stop, only that they would be able stand when their time comes." 

And I have no synthesis for these thoughts yet, but Advent is a time of waiting and fasting, and this whole year has been a time when I've felt urged to pay attention, and so I'm gathering my thoughts here, hoping that writing them down will keep them in the forefront of my mind, where I can pay attention, and hoping that when the synthesis comes, I will be able to see it and God would give me the grace to bear it.

Finally, from Christina Rossetti:

Then awful Judge, most awful God,
Then cause to bud Thy rod,

To bloom with blossoms, and to give
Almonds; yea, bid us live.

I plead Thyself with Thee, I plead
Thee in our utter need:

Jesus, most merciful of men,
Show mercy on us then;

Lord God of mercy and of men
Show mercy on us then.

More Advent thoughts are here, at Kerry's place.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

on recommending non-Christian books

This is a long blog post. The short version is: I read secular books when I think they have more good than ill in them. And I avoid books that I think will tempt me to sin. But what I should read and what you should read are not necessarily the same thing, so I'm wondering what and how much I ought to say about the potentially objectionable parts of books when I review them, and I'm interested in what other people think on the subject.

I've been thinking of my review of "After the Golden Age" since I posted it. I really did like the book and I know my review reflected that. But it was certainly written from a worldview that differs from mine, and I've been wondering how much I ought to comment on that when I review books.

I regularly read both Christian and non-Christian books. I'm careful about what I read insofar as I avoid reading anything that I think will tempt me to sin, but I often read authors I disagree with. I know that's not unusual, especially when it comes to non-fiction books - what good Christian thinker, after all, would shy away from learning from Plato or Aristotle? But I wonder if it's less common when it comes to fiction.

There are a couple of potential problems when it comes to reading secular fiction - I'd separate them into the problem of character and the problem of author.

The problem of character is that you're going to have characters in the story doing things you disagree with. They're going to sin in all kinds of creative ways. This, actually, isn't so much of a problem. Everyone you meet in real life sins in all kinds of ways too - and that probably goes for the person you see in the mirror too. And while I'd expect a Christian to repent and make good, I don't expect non-Christian characters to conform to my ethics any more than I expect real non-Christians too. People who disagree with me are just a part of life and it doesn't bother me overmuch that they're a part of my reading life too.

The problem of author is a little harder, because there is telling and there is persuasion. Take adultery: you can write about it well and you can write about it poorly. Adultery could be the subject of the greatest Christian masterpiece (try something like Graham Green's "The End of the Affair") or the filthiest piece of trash ever to be set into type. It's not what you write about, it's how you write about it. I mean, think about it: every time you see a crucifix, you're seeing a piece of art on - among other things - the subject of torture. Is torture something you're normally willing to read about? I'm not, not usually. But my love of Lars Walker's "The Year of the Warrior" and Stephen Lawhead's "Byzantium" tells me that I'm willing to entertain the subject when it's really, really, really well-presented, and that by Christian artists.

When you read books by non-Christians, you're going to basically be allowing someone to try to persuade you to think about ethical issues in a way that disagrees with your faith.

At least, you might be. You might, if that's what the book is about. You might not be though: there are plenty of secular works that have large areas of agreement with the Christian faith. As far as I know, Lois McMaster Bujold is not a Christian. But her book "Memory" taught me yards and miles and ells about what integrity is and means and looks like. Are there parts of her work I disagree with? Certainly. Am I a better Christian for having read her work? On the whole, I think I am. Her idea of courage, for instance, largely accords with the Christian ideal, especially in books like "The Curse of Chalion".

St. Augustine talked about "stealing the treasures of Egypt", or, how all truth is God's truth, and it's ours to take wherever we find it. This is true, and I think there's a lot of truth to be found in works that aren't overtly Christian. The universe was ordered by an intelligent Creator, and any creature of His who approaches it thoughtfully and makes art out of what he finds will inevitably showcase some of that inherent order and beauty put there by God, whether that artist himself believes in God or not.

On the other hand, Augustine pointed out that the real treasure isn't in any of these secular works, but in God's own word. And we can certainly get so caught up in the art of the creature that we forget to turn our eyes towards our Creator. And that is disaster.

So, that's what goes through my mind - or that should - when I pick up a book. I still don't know how much of a disclaimer I should add to my reviews of non-Christian books. I've assumed that most people who read my blog have their own rule for what they will and won't read, and know their own individual weaknesses and watch out for them. For example, I know some people I admire that can handle art that's a lot more terrifying or depressing than I can handle. They can learn from it and be edified by it, but I'd just be a weeping puddle of goo if I watched what they watch or read what they read. And I know that, so I avoid those works of art. They might be good, but they're not good for me.

(And that's no statement on the relativity of eternal principles. Eternal principles are eternal principles. But I am mortal, mutable, and small, and so it's about the application of eternal principles to such a one as me.)

I hope that anyone reading my book reviews will take it as given that I'm assuming you'll do your own assessment of whether or not the book I'm reviewing is something you should read. For example, "After the Golden Age" has a heroine who has (off-stage/off-page) sex before marriage. I liked the romance in the book regardless, because, given who the character was (a non-Christian I wasn't expecting to act like a Christian), she did a great job of discerning which man was good for her and which wasn't and why. That's what I liked about the romance in the story. And I felt able to say, "this part is good" and "this part isn't" without being tempted to change my mind about Christian sexual ethics. Did I agree with all the heroine's choices? No. But did I think there was something good to learn from the good choices she did make? Yes.

But should every person read the book? I don't know. How can I? Maybe someday, as I grow and mature, I'll come to the realization that I shouldn't have read it. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll always think it was a good decision.

The point is, though, that I think we all have to take responsibility for our own choices in regard to the art we consume.

The other point is that I don't want to lead anyone into temptation - I don't want to highlight pieces of art that will hinder anyone in their walk with God.

But if I only talk about absolutely perfect books, I am left talking about only one Book.

(Some people in some places at some times might tell me this is not a bad thing.)

Anyway, I suppose I haven't quite reached a conclusion here, so let me open it up to discussion. How do you decide what you're going to review? If it's a worthy piece of art with a few problematical elements, how do you present it to your readers? Do you present it to your readers? Are there things you absolutely won't read or recommend (I know I have some very solid lines myself)? If you like the book reviews I do here, would you prefer a heads-up on anything, content-wise, and if so, what? Also, what about heads-up on method (i.e., not the "what" of the book but the "how" the author handles it)?

This is one I'm still thinking about. I'm sure about some of it, but there's a lot of it, especially the new-media aspects, that I'm still pondering, and would really love to hear your thoughts about.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

"Keeping House" Read-Along: Chapter 1, Part 1: "What's Christian About Housework?"

Willa, over at The Quotidian Reader, notes that this part of the chapter is not very practical, and I think that's what I love about it.

I understand the practical part of housework - the basic how-to. But this book is all about the "why" and in order to get to the "why", Peterson takes a step back and recounts the history of housework.

She points out that "housework" is a new-ish word, in the history of things. There used to not be "housework". Rather, there was "husbandry" and "housewifery", the two halves of the work needed to keep an estate running, the two sides of a coin. But when everyone started leaving home for his or her daily work, there was this whole category of jobs that were left undone during the day: housework. And ever since, whose job it is and how it should be done (and how much of it should be done) has been argued about. (This is a fact worth remembering when it comes to talking about gender roles: our assumptions about "women's work" are a lot more modern than we might, well, assume.)

Also, Peterson points out, the amount of work to be done hasn't changed much. In some cases, it's been added to (no one used to have bathrooms to clean, after all, because no one had indoor bathrooms or knew about germ theory, and no one had mountains of laundry to do, because no one had that many clothes). But we do have modern machinery that makes us more efficient at it. So: same amount of work, more or less, but we can do it faster.

(And that "faster" might mean that it takes us a couple of hours less than it took our forebearers - but those are a valuable few hours. That's enough to let you read for an hour before bed, you know? That's a luxury, that is.)

I'd add - because I've been noticing it a lot in my daily life - that we have yet another whole new category that I don't think Peterson mentions. You could call it "paperwork", but I almost want to call it "electronic work" - it seems like the "business" of the house exists in a miserable limbo between envelopes and email - and none of it is ever done.  I hate that part of housework. It's a lot easier to know if the floor is clean than if all the paper/electronic work is done. At least, for me it is.

Which is why I also appreciate the clarity of Peterson in this chapter, redirecting my attention from the paperwork morass: at its heart, housework is about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. That command to feed and clothe includes a lot more than our own families, but it does include them. The housework that Adam and I do does clothe and feed us and our children, and that's not the end of all work, but it's the work without which no other work gets done.

In Peterson's words:

There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of the members of our own households. Housework is a beginning, not an end. But it is a beginning - not a sidetrack, not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that - in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everday needs of others, whether those others be our fellow household members, our near neighbors, or people more sociologically or geographically distant from ourselves.

I'm excited about the next section, where Peterson talks about God's own "divine domesticity" (stuff from the Psalms! always cool!), but I appreciate the time she takes in this first section to lay out the history and necessity of housework.

This read-along is hosted at the Quotidian Reader, here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, November 14, 2011

New music!

New to me anyway. Well, newly in my possession. Well . . . 

I had an iTunes gift card that I got at Christmas - that I was delighted to get at Christmas - but that I didn't spend till today. Mostly because I'm a procrastinating git. Partly also because my husband grouses to me about iTunes and I feel guilty buying stuff on there that he won't be able to listen to without going to a great deal of trouble to get it in a format that works with whatever Linux-y music program he's using these days. (Loooooooove you, Adam!)

(Um, I should add, if you know Adam and I at all, you'll know that Adam doesn't really care and that I think about everything too much.)

So, here's what I bought, even though my husband likes Brooke Fraser too:

-Brooke Fraser:
Something in the Water - a love song of pure happiness, bright and spring-y.
Here's to You - not merely a drinking song, but a toasting song, with great lines like, "cheers to friendships well-worn-in" and "cheers to the losses that grew us up, killed our pride, and filled our cup".
Coachella - This makes you want to be somewhere outside with a fire so you can spin around with your arms flung out, gazing at the stars above.
Who Are We Fooling? - this is heart-piercingly sad - a song about the breaking up of a marriage . . . except maybe not. It ends on the slimmest of hopeful notes, and that, along with the utter beauty of the melody, makes it sad, but not depressing, and certainly not despairing.
Orphans, Kingdoms - This reminds me very much of Dallas Willard's writings, about how we are all in charge of our own "kingdoms" - kingdoms that, of course, we are to put in submission to God's own. With poignant phrases like "babes with coats of arms" and an incredible bridge that starts with "Eat and drink for tomorrow we die" and builds up to a crescendo of "Who is he that can conquer himself?" this is a powerful song whose effect lingers long after the notes fade.

-Graham Kendrick:
Shine, Jesus, Shine - this really is a hymn, in structure, though it's from the height of the time of great-praise-chorus-writing. Anyway, I've long loved it and didn't have a copy, so I bought one.

Please Don't Leave Me - this is, of course, your poster-boy (girl?) anthem of a dysfunctional relationship. But, again, I find that the beauty of the melody makes it - for me at least - not depressing, but thought-provoking. I don't identify with the situation of the singer, but the haunting refrain of "I've always said that I don't need you/but it's always going to come right back to this: please, please don't leave me" . . . well, who hasn't felt that heart cry at one time or another? At the heart of it, we humans don't want to be left.

And, again, it's just so pretty.

Ciega, Sordomuda - I really just bought this because I like how it sounds. I didn't even do my customary due diligence and look up an English translation of the words. I feel a little guilty about that. I should probably go and ask my sister just how guilty I ought to be feeling, shouldn't I?
Gitana - And this one . . . I bought in Spanish because I disliked the English lyrics enough. They're not terrible but . . . eh. Not great. (I'm a gypsy! Which means I'm leaving soon! So let's live in the present! Carpe diem! I.e., sex!) But, again, it's such a pretty tune that I wanted to be able to listen to the pretty music . . . so I bought the Spanish version to make it easier to ignore the words. Heh. Not being very proficient at my chosen second language has some advantages . . .

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Links! Doctor Who, Abraham Lincoln, and more!

Sean Gaffney is writing a series on the Christology of Doctor Who, and it's brilliant. Since I became a Doctor Who fan because the main character reminded me of Christ, I'm really digging this blog series. The reason, btw, that it can be a good series is that Gaffney recognizes both that A) the series' authors aren't Christians and so the show isn't a straight-forward Christian analogy (not even close!) but that B) our world is God's, and therefore any really good heroic stories are going to have echoes of THE good heroic Story.  (And Doctor Who is a truly superlative heroic story.) Intro to the series is here, and the first two entries are here and here.

John Mark Reynolds writes about what he's learned from Abraham Lincoln. An excerpt:

Fifth, God is not on the side of America, but America can be on God’s side. Lincoln was too smart to believe that the cause of the Union was God’s cause. He hoped that he could associate the United States with what God was doing on the earth.

God is not an American, but Lincoln tried to make America godly. He knew virtue was in both sides and vice in every man who fought in the War. Lincoln acted boldly, but always with charity.

Is writing therapy? R.L. LaFevers of Shrinking Violets says that it's not in the traditional sense, but,

It has not provided me an avenue to work out my past and my own emotional baggage on the page. Instead, the hard work I do to make my writing better has spilled out into my non-writing life. How could it not? One of the first lessons we learn about characters is that whatever conflict they are going through affects all aspects of their lives. So when we as writers push ourselves to strive and grow, of course that is going to spill out into other aspects of our lives as well.
The rest of the article is well worth reading, for any artist.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Notes: "After the Golden Age" by Carrie Vaughn

"After the Golden Age" by Carrie Vaughn has a logline as high concept as any movie's: what if your parents were super-heroes, but you were just a squib?

Celia West is the daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, two superhumans who have saved their cities countless times over the years, but don't seem to know what to do with their ordinary human daughter.

The book starts, hilariously, with several kidnappings in a row; Celia is the constant target of villains who grab her in order to manipulate her parents. She's always fine, of course, because her parents always come to her rescue. But the constant hijinks make it difficult for her to pursue her own life, which includes a career as an accountant. Celia may be less flashy than her parents, but she pursues justice in her own quiet way, following the numbers and nabbing wrong-doers by finding out cases of tax fraud and other financial malfeasance.

I don't want to go much further into the plot or I'd start giving away the fun stuff, but suffice it to say that the rest of the plot is very fun - there's a super-villain and conniving politicians and a mind-altering ray gun, just to start - and I think anyone who enjoys superhero stories will enjoy this. Celia's not an anti-hero and this isn't superheroism gutted and rebuilt, but "After the Golden Age" definitely does tell the same old story from a new and intriguing point of view. And it includes a romantic subplot that I liked very much*.

I also found the end more moving than I expected, probably because it ended differently than I expected it to, and I'm still pondering the ideas about sacrifice and love that the climactic scene of the story provoked.

It's not meat and drink, like Lewis and Sayers, but it was a fun story, well-told. I'm definitely going to look for more by Carrie Vaughn, and I even quite hope she writes in this world again. There are characters here I'd like to see more of.

To copy Lars Walker's warning: this book contains adult situations and language.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*mild spoiler alert: the romance is not what you think it is when the book starts - though I guessed where it was going earlier than the author officially tipped her hand, which only added to the fun, for me.

"Keeping House" Read-along: Preface

In the preface of "Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life", Margaret Kim Peterson talks about why she started writing the book, so it seems appropriate to recount, at the beginning of this read-along, why I wanted to ponder over her words again.

My original review of this book can be found here. A lot has changed in my life since I last read "Keeping House", a year an a half ago. My kids are older, two of them are in school, our church situation is different, and my writing life has grown.

In the past few months I've begun to learn the new rhythm of my days, and as I have, I've noticed three things about my housekeeping:

1. It's getting better. I'm becoming more efficient and, with older children, I'm able to do more than I have in the past.
2. It's getting harder. Largely because I'm fitting more into my days - more writing and more interaction with the kids. As they grow, I'm finding that I want more and more time with each of them; it feels like most of the physical tasks of mothering are still there, and the relational/intellectual ones are also increasing in leaps and bounds.
3. I value good housekeeping more. More and more, I'm noticing the effect of a messy house on my soul - and of a clean one. An uncluttered room encourages inner peace, and I'm less willing to discount the value of that than I have been in the past.

So, mostly because of the third reason - because a peaceful home-space is something I'm learning to value - I'm rereading Peterson's book. As she says in the preface:

Of course housework is about making a home, but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one's own family. A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room enough for everyone.

Our bodies and our spirits are not separable matters, not in practice. And so it's not strange that what influences our bodies also influences our spirits. Our homes are homes for our own bodies and the bodies of those we care most about. Which means our homes are worth caring for.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This read-along is hosted by The Quotidian Reader.

I made a sock!

Now I just need to make its mate!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 Quick Takes

1. The traffic reporters in L.A. are nuts. An accident happens and they say things like, "Two cars got together in the left lane." Got together? Guys, it was not a DATE, it was a CAR CRASH.
2. My husband was playing "Happy Birthday" on the harmonica and I realized: I still don't hear the words in English when I hear that tune. Someone starts playing the "Happy Birthday" tune and my brain goes, "Bonne fête à toi, bonne fête à toi . . ." Never in English, never.

Such is the result of going to early elementary school in Canada.

3. My husband's work gave him a pedometer (cool!) that tracks both his walking, and his aerobic walking. You know, because you can walk without using your lungs.

4. By the way, I assume “for Pete’s sake” must have once been “for St. Peter’s sake”? I think that makes me like the saying better, if it’s not profane. St. Peter is so familiar to all Christians, after all, and in the end, such a comforting figure. Even in his epistles, where he’ll ream you up one side and down the other and you know you deserve it, in the end he is the rock and you know you can rest your chastened self against his assurance of Christ’s goodness and borrow his conviction for awhile, letting it soak into your bones and become your own. I love St. Peter. If I’m allowed to. You know what I mean.

5. When I printed out my calendar for November, I got to print out "Christ the King" on November 20, which put a big smile on my face. It's my favorite feast!

6. I've often written sentences that use "that" twice in a row - like "who would have guessed that that would happen?" - and felt that it must be wrong, but thanks to Daily Grammar, I now know why it's correct. The two "that"'s are doing different things. They're both pronouns (who knew? not me) and the first one is a "relative pronoun" joining the two clauses together and the second one is a "demonstrative pronoun", pointing you back to the antecedent.

Even knowing that, it still doesn't sound quite right, does it?

7. I'm rereading "The Elizabethan World Picture" by E. M. W. Tillyard, a favorite from college, and finding his picture of the "chain of being" - a cosmic ordering of creation moving from the inanimate through the beasts and men and up to the angels - compelling. In that ordering of things, each realm of being mirrors the others, which means that you can learn about man, say, by studying either the animals or the angels, and extrapolating. Try this on for size:
Morally the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, if taken seriously, must be impressive. If the heavens are fulfilling punctually their vast and complicated wheelings, man must feel it shameful to allow the workings of his own little world to degenerate.

Anyway, I'm not saying I'm ready to subscribe to the idea of the four humors and such - I have reason to be grateful to modern medical science after all - but it seems to me that there's a great deal of wisdom in how Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne saw the world, and it'd be a pity to ignore what they knew. Especially as what they knew made for such excellent poetry.

For more Quick Takes, go visit Jennifer at Conversion Diary.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell