Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crochet Finished Object: the Chain Reaction Afghan!

Done at last!

Here are all the squares, joined together:

And here's a slightly worse picture, but it shows the border a little border (oh, that border! I thought it'd be the death of me! Three different balls of yarn, and I had to switch between them every few stitches!):
It's certainly an eclectic project, but it was fun to try so many different techniques, and as soon as it was done, Bess promptly dragged it up to her room and she's been sleeping under it every night since. So, the customer is happy. :)

Close-up shots of individual squares can be seen, here, here, here, and here. If you want to try the pattern yourself, it's available for free on Interweave's site here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica snell

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Yarnalong: Whisper Cardigan and Ovid's "Metamorphoses"

Well, I'm still plodding along on my Whisper Cardigan, but at least this week I got a picture that shows the pretty rosewood yarn a little better:
Such a lovely neutral! I think it's because it's got all that pink and green in it - in other words, the shades the neutral's made up of aren't neutral at all.

I'm past the back gather and headed towards the second sleeve. One of the nice things about this pattern is that I can try it on as I go, and thus far I'm pretty happy with the fit.

The book is Ovid's Metamorphoses, which I'm re-reading as research for my next novel, which is going to be set in Bronze-Age Greece. (Well . . . Bronze-Age Greece and an alien planet. Because if mythic heroes are fun, mythic heroes plus aliens are more fun, right?)

I read Ovid back in college, and so far I'm enjoying going through it again, which is not surprising since  Metamorphoses was meant to be entertainment. But I remember getting tired of it by the end last time - all the caprice of the gods, all the death and rape and the mess of the old legends . . . well, even if they are just myths (is there such a thing as just myths?), it's hard to read hundreds of pages of that without weariness. Maybe it'll be different now since I'm reading it with the purpose of mining it for story ideas? My plot might have its dark moments, but I intend it to be full of a good deal more forward action and purpose and even redemption than Ovid is . . . hmm. I'll have to pay attention to see if there's a difference between reading-Ovid-for-class and reading-Ovid-looking-for-spare-parts. :D

So, if you were going to retell a myth, which one would you choose? And, more interestingly . . . would you keep the original ending, or give it a more hopeful spin?

. . . speaking of old myths retold, if you're looking for the best example ever, you just cannot go wrong with Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis' retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth. Oh my goodness. It might be the most perfectly-written novel ever. The first time I read it I felt like I was banging my head against a concrete wall - it was just so big and solid and I could tell I just wasn't mature enough to take it all in (I, um, was a teenager at the time). The second time I read it I said, "This is the best book I've ever read". (Older teenager reaction there.) And I've reread it regularly ever since, loving it more every time. (Yay adulthood!)

So, ah, I suppose the moral of this post is "forget the Ovid, go read Lewis"? Not what I meant to say when I started out . . . :D

More yarn and book goodness can be found here, at Ginny's blog.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Daybook for May 29, 2012

outside my window . . . the weather is firmly decided for summer: it's hot and arid, as it likely will remain for several months to come. The kids have been agitating about going to the pool, and I'm beginning to agree with them.

I am listening to . . . more Mumford and Sons that they won't take my money for yet. C'mon, guys, just publish the next album so I can shove my dollar bills into your talented hands!

I am wearing . . . a cotton skirt and cotton tee. Like I said: summer's here.

I am so grateful for . . . money to buy fresh produce. I went grocery shopping today, and it just struck me what a gift is to have so much good food available and to also have the means to purchase it for my family.

I'm pondering . . . Pentecost. Our church's celebration of the feast was so beautiful, and I think I'm going to be thinking about the gift of the Holy Spirit all week. (Lord willing, all my life!)

I am reading . . . Ovid's MetamorphosesMore research for the novel I'm plotting.

I am creating . . . a novel! Again. Some more. :) Actually, now that I have a real synopsis (I'm starting actual composition next week), I'm realizing that the story I want to tell is incredibly ambitious. I feel like someone who's just barely started being a regular attendee at her gym deciding that what she really needs to do now is learn to bench-press 200 lbs.

around the house . . . we adopted a cat! So, now the house is full of children, books, AND randomly-strewn-about cat toys.

from the kitchen . . . there is much chopping of veggies. Broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, potatoes, parsley . . .
the church year in our home . . . our patio planters are overflowing with red geranium blossoms, just in time for Pentecost!

What's going on in your home?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, May 21, 2012

Chain Reaction Afghan: the Final Four Squares

I finished the last four squares for my Chain Reaction Afghan!  Actually, none of these four are official Chain Reaction squares - they're replacements for the four squares in the pattern I found I disliked for one reason or another.

Here they are - you'll notice on a couple of them that I changed colors in odd places. That's because this afghan is actually an attempt to use up my many, many Caron Simply Soft yarn scraps, and so I used each color all the way down to the last teeny, tiny end.

That last one is my favorite - it's supposed to look like stained glass, and it does!

I seamed up the afghan over the weekend and started the insanely long border, which is made of three different colors all used at once, so that you have to drop one yarn and pick up another every two stitches - very time consuming, as you also have to reorder your balls of yarn every two stitches in order to avoid tangling them.

BUT. As soon as I'm done with the border it will be DONE and I will have FINISHED something. It feels like forever since I actually finished a project . . . just checked: the last thing I finished was my Petals Wrap Cardigan, and that was TWO MONTHS AGO. Wow. Forgive all the caps; it's just that I'm used to finishing something every week or two, not every month or two! It's all that knitting instead of crocheting, probably. :)

Or maybe I'm just getting more ambitious.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Notes: The Mycenaeans by Lord William Taylor

The MycenaeansThe Mycenaeans by William Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been skimming lots of books while researching the background of the Trojan War, but this one I read all the way through. I found it a great overview, in that it gave me a broad picture of the society and geography, but it didn't neglect interesting details either. The chapter on the slow unraveling of the mystery of Linear B was particularly fascinating - my admiration for the scholars who threw their intellectual resources into solving a puzzle they had no guarantee they'd be able to beat is huge!

View all my reviews

Note: This probably qualifies as one of those "dry academic works" people talk about. But if you're interested in Homer or the story of the Trojan War, you might at least give it a look-over - especially that chapter on Linear B! Real academic detective work, that.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Scripture that Sings: Psalm 119:100

"I understand more than the aged,
Because I have observed Your precepts" -Psalm 119:100

Or, as George MacDonald put it: obedience leads to understanding.

When I was a kid, Psalm 119 was this incomprehensible monolith to me. It was scripture, so I revered it, but I didn't get it, and just the idea of reading it through exhausted me.

But I've slowly come to love it. It's a love song to God's law, and the more I read it, the more of it comes alive to me, the more of it sings. It's like a rich mosaic: beautiful and wisely patterned when you take it in all at once and see the grand plan of praise, but also each individual part - every verse - is its own rich and polished jewel, shining and twinkling and reflecting back the light. It feels like the more I read it, the more verses light up for me.

And verse 100 is one of them. Here I read that the psalmist is wise because he observes the law. He learned wisdom through his obedient actions. This just rings so true to me. How many things have I learned by doing? Experience isn't everything, but no one will tell you that experiential knowledge isn't a different beast than theoretical.

Obedience to God's law enlightens. Amen!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blogging through St. Augustine's "The City of God": notes on Book I

In a collection of the best first lines in literature, Augustine's "The glorious city of God is the theme of my work" would surely be in the top ten.

The Pastoral Response to Calamity
In Book I, it is Augustine the bishop that we meet. He's dealing with theodicy - if there is a good God, why do bad things happen? - except that this isn't your normal abstract theological pondering. The people of his diocese have just been through a barbarian invasion, suffering death, rape, and kidnapping. This theological treatise is pastoral.

Augustine writes, "though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer . . . the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked . . . So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them." (emphasis mine.)

The Fear of Good Men
Then, interestingly, he goes off into a side channel and observes that good men often fail to comment on the behavior of the bad when they should, because they are afraid of losing the opinion of bad men. I admit that I found this very challenging. Christians are so often characterized as "hateful", and you don't want to be that, right? I want so much for non-Christians to understand that I don't hate them. I love them, and I disagree with them. But how often do I soft-pedal my disagreement not because I want to express my love, but because I'm afraid my disagreement will be taken as hate? But it isn't love to lie, it isn't love to withhold the truth. I think I need to meditate more on the Bible's exhortations not to be frightened with any fear. Love and truth. Love and truth.

A few short and pithy quotations from the middle of Book I:
For it was well that they who had so long despised these verbal admonitions should receive the teaching of experience.
For nothing could perish on earth save what they would be ashamed to carry away from earth.
Now the end of life puts the longest life on a par with the shortest.
For the body is not an extraneous ornament or aid, but a part of man's very nature.
Love of Others and Love of Self
There follows a very moving argument for why it is good to bury the dead, even though their souls are no longer with their bodies: it is a sign of our hope of the resurrection and our love for the people whose bodies we bury.

And then we come to Augustine's discussion of the rape of Christian women during the sack of the city. Some parts of it were very hard on my modern sensibilities - I'm still trying to think through all of his arguments - but this is very comforting for any victim of violence, I think, ageless advice and truth:

. . . nothing that another person does with the body, or upon the body, is any fault of the person who suffers it, so long as he cannot escape it without sin.
In other words: what someone else does to you is not your fault, it's his own. Augustine also argues against suiciding in order to escape violence, though he shows sympathy for those who took this route. He says that suicide is out because we aren't to commit the crime of murdering the innocent, and he adds that, "our love of our neighbor is regulated by the love of ourselves" - or, in other words, you are God's creature too, and you may not misuse His creation, even if that creation is you. You are to love others as you love yourself, so love yourself as God would have you do.

Corrupt Society - ancient and modern
It's also to be noted that Augustine thinks very badly of the theatre, finds it a morally corrupting influence. Roman theatre isn't the same as modern movies and television, of course, but you can't help but wonder what his judgment would be on our entertainments. I don't think he'd find most of them edifying.

It's also notable that he connects theatres to prosperity, and finds that prosperity is often morally disastrous. Earlier he says,
For certainly your desire for peace, and prosperity, and plenty is not prompted by any purpose of using these blessings honestly, that is to say, with moderation, sobriety, temperance, and piety; for your purpose rather is to run riot in an endless variety of sottish pleasures, and thus to generate from your prosperity a moral pestilence which will prove a thousandfold more disastrous than your fiercest enemies.
The Two Cities
Book One ends with Augustine announcing his purpose to go on comparing the City of God and the city of man. He says,
In truth, these two cities are entangled together in this world, and intermixed until the last judgment effect their separation. I now proceed to speak, as God shall help me, of the rise, progress, and end of these two cities; and what I write, I write for the glory of the city of God, that, being placed in comparison with the other, it may shine with a brighter lustre. 

I'll have more when I finish Book II! For now, what stands out for you here? I'm pretty astonished at the broad range of topics he covers in just the opening book. And at how much here I found convicting - I think I found more convicting than puzzling/disturbing, which goes to show . . . well, that the faith is the faith. It's recognizable across the centuries.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Links: the Bible, sex, California's gods, and more

"Post-depressed post":
I wrestle with many things I find in the Bible, and I cannot claim to have solved its mysteries (I've written about how I deal with those things elsewhere, and won't address that subject tonight). But when I go to the Bible I come away with the sense that I've encountered something entirely true to life. It is not a happy book about bunnies, nor is it a “realistic” novel by Zola. It contains real pain, real tragedy, and real hope.
"Is It Really Okay to Laugh About Sex?":
I'm not just talking about intercourse. Human sexuality is about so much more than that. It's about the incredibly weird cosmic joke that two things work together only when they're opposites of each other. It's about the baffling irony that innuendo speaks louder than frankness. It's the dance between power and helplessness, and the eye-popping switcheroo when you realize that the balance has silently and profoundly shifted. It's the fearful delight of discovering yet more doors to open. And the blessed defeat when you discover that sometimes, you'll only get what you need once you give up grasping for it so hungrily.
"California's Gods":
In California, there's The 5, The 405, The 10. Each of these freeways has its own quirks, a personality of sorts. They aren't just stretches of pavement but presences, creatures that necessitate the definite article by their very individuality and uniqueness.
"Writing Excuses": new-to-me really great podcast for writers (and probably also for sci-fi/fantasy fans generally, if you like the-man-behind-the-curtain sort of stuff).

"Untangling the Threads of Gluttony":
 As I have been struggling with weight maintenance more than usual this month, I have found myself contemplating the two dominant narratives about weight loss and weight gain, and why neither of them ultimately satisfies.
 "North Carolina, Biden, and Same-Sex Marriage":
What’s at issue is whether the government will recognize such unions as marriages — and then force every citizen and business to do so as well. This isn’t the legalization of something, this is the coercion and compulsion of others to recognize and affirm same-sex unions as marriages.

And, on a not-directly-related note: it looks like our parish church is likely to lose its building soon. Pray for us. What keeps coming to my mind is the verse from Proverbs that says, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting, and the wise take it to heart." I'm so glad to be part of All Saints, Long Beach.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Movie Notes: "The Descendants"

The first reason to watch "The Descendants" is that you really want to watch "The Descendants". It's beautiful. I have a bad habit of listening to movies and TV instead of watching them - I follow the plot and the dialogue with my ears and keep my eyes on my knitting - but this is a movie that demands the eyes as well as the ears. From the gorgeous Hawaiian scenery to the many, many plot points that are conveyed by the actors' faces rather than their voices, this movie is a visual treat.

And the fact that many of the high points of the movie are conveyed without words is another of its strengths. Not that there isn't a lot of dialogue - there is - but that all the dialogue sounds like something real people would actually say, and none of it is expository story dialogue. Not only is there not a hint of info-dumping "as you know, George" speeches (from anyone but the narrator, where it's legitimate), but when a big emotional revelation occurs, none of the characters remark on it. You never hear, "Oh, that's why she felt that way" or "ah, now I understand my daughter". They just show you, they never tell. And it's so much better that way. (I love the moment when you realize that the father character has just realized why his daughter is hanging out with someone who seems to be a real loser.)

So what's this movie about? It's about death. It's about a father guiding his daughters through the few short  days while their mother lingers in a coma. Sounds depressing, right? Here's the thing: it's not. It is sad, but it's not depressing, and again, that's a tribute to the skill of the movie-makers - screenwriters, actors, producers, the whole deal. People talk about movies that make you laugh and cry, and I'm not sure how often they mean it, but I did both at this movie. It's incredibly funny in parts - just the way real life is even when awful things are happening.

One of the things I thought was interesting in this movie was how foul language was used. Both of the daughters use it, and it's deplorable (here's me, deploring it). But the father only swears, that I can recall, once. And it's almost like the filmmakers were purposeful juxtaposing the two: showing how the words lose their power and are just distressing when used over and over by young girls, but how words like that can have real power when used sparingly and only when the circumstances really call for them and by someone who really means what he says.

I think the reason this film was sad but not depressing is because if it's about death, it's also about one other important thing: it's about love. Love was the overarching theme, and you just couldn't miss it.

Oh, and watch for the yellow and white quilt. Watch what happens with it.

Contains adult themes and language. Recommended for grown-ups.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

a brilliant, troubled wordsmith . . .

. . . head over here to read about a man whose mental illness couldn't conceal his wit and grace.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Yarnalong: "Whisper" Cardigan and "100 Cupboards"

I wish I were a better photographer, so I could give you an idea of how gorgeous this yarn is. It just looks brown in the picture, but in real life it's a lovely mixture of golds and greens and pinks. (Madelinetosh Rosewood lace, if you're wondering.)

The pattern is the "Whisper" cardigan, by Hannah Fettig. It's moving much quicker than I thought sweater knitting would (it's my first knitted sweater), and I'm really enjoying it.

The book is "100 Cupboards" by N. D. Wilson. It's . . . lyrical. I think "lyrical" is the right word. Plenty has happened so far - a boy's moved in with his aunt and uncle because someone kidnapped his parents, he's discovered almost 100 magical doors in his new attic bedroom, there's a door elsewhere in the house that won't open - even to a chainsaw! - and yet I think I'd probably read Wilson writing about a baseball game (and I don't like baseball).* His prose is just that fresh and easy and vibrant.

More yarny and bookish fun over here, at Small Things.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*Heh. After I wrote this, I went and read some more, and what do you know? Wilson described a baseball game. And, hey! I was right - I didn't mind!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book Notes: "Cinch!" by Cynthia Sass

Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose InchesCinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches by Cynthia Sass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently reread Cythia Sass' "Cinch!" and really liked it. The best part? Her "puzzle pieces" idea.

Though she supplies a ton of recipes, the most valuable concept in this book is her idea of building each meal out of five healthy components: produce, lean protein, whole grains, plant-based fat, and spices/seasonings. I love this! It makes it very simple to build a healthy lunch or dinner out of whatever I happen to have in the house.

I especially like all her ideas for using spices and seasonings. My husband calls me a "spice cook" because I'm attracted to recipes based on what spices are in them. Ginger and garlic? You've got my attention. Cumin and chili powder? I'm in. A pumpkin soup with sage and lemon? Mmmm. So this idea of spices and seasonings as a necessary component to the simplest of meals - even breakfasts! - is right up my alley.

In fact, I think my favorite meals in here are her breakfast ideas. I've tried her suggestion of adding mint to plain yogurt and layering it with berries spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Delicious! And I've tried adding fresh ginger to my smoothies - it's perfect! The ginger adds an incredibly fresh and bright taste.

So, if you're looking for a diet book with food that actually tastes good because it's, you know, ACTUALLY FOOD? This is your book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Also . . .

. . . the Saturday Review of Books is up over at Semicolon. Go load up your TBR list!

The Saturday Evening Blog Post . . .

. . . is up over at Elizabeth Esther's place. Check it out!

Chain Rection Afghan: Progress Report

Above is a picture of my in-progress Chain Reaction Afghan (Ravelry link). I'm still enjoying the variety - the square with yarn ends coming out of it is the one I'm currently on, and once I finish it I'll stand at 15 out of 20 squares completed. 

A couple of notes at this point:

1) I haven't been paying much attention to gauge, so in order to end up with squares that are roughly the same size, I've been adding as many rounds of a double-crochet border as necessary in order to make each finished square as big as necessary. This has the added benefit of making the blanket as a whole slightly larger, which is good, because I want it to generously cover a twin bed when I'm done.

2) Even though I have five more squares to go, only two of them are actually official Chain Reaction afghan squares. I've discovered that there are 3 patterns of the 20 that I just don't like, for one reason or another, so I'm going to be surfing Ravelry looking for replacements. Any suggestions?

I think this is going to be gorgeous when it's done! If you've got a pile of worsted or DK odds'n'ends, and are looking for something fun to do with them, I highly recommend this afghan. It's interesting visually and it's not boring to make.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book Notes: "The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything", by Fred Sanders

The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes EverythingThe Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders

"The Deep Things of God" is a long and measured look at the doctrine of the Trinity, with a mind to claiming that doctrine as a foundation of evangelical life.

After spending a chapter examining some examples of evangelical writings about the Trinity, Sanders spends the bulk of the middle of the book explaining the doctrine of the Trinity and then examining the height and depth and breadth of the gospel as it grows out of the doctrine of the Trinity.

"Edifying" is the word I want for this middle part of the book, and I mean that without any sarcasm. After reading Sanders, I feel like my theological thoughts have been turned upside-down, shaken out, straightened up, and put back in my head in right order. In one way I can say, "this is all stuff I knew" - and one of Sanders' points, indeed, is that the Christian life is suffused with the light of the Trinity, whether we're aware of it or not - but there's a difference between experience and awareness, and the result of reading this book is that I am so much more aware of God's work, both in salvation history and in my own life. Reading about the nature of God and about His goodness in Himself wakes us up, I think. The more we know Him, the more and better we can praise Him.

My favorite part of the book, though, was the last chapter, on "Praying with the Grain". You couldn't have this chapter without all the work that happens before it in the book, but all the same, I think this is the warmest and most accessible part. Sanders writes:
If the Spirit unites us to the Son and reconciles us to the Father, we have an invitation to pray accordingly: to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. This is not just the "theologically correct" way to pray, but a way of praying that draws real spiritual power from being aligned with reality. (emphasis mine.)
And later in the same chapter he says,
. . . there is also a communicating life in the very being of God that is analogous to prayer. We are invited to enter that eternal conversation in an appropriately lower, creaturely way, but the heavenly analogue of prayer is already going on in the life of God rather than waiting for us to get it started. If you have ever become weary of working up the right response in prayer or worship, you can glimpse the relief of being able to approach prayer and worship with the knowledge that the party already started before you arrived.

I had the privilege of having Dr. Sanders as my mentor through all four years of my undergrad career, and it was a joy to continue to learn from him through the medium of this book. My one - no, make that two - pleas to the editors of his future books are: 1) Let more of the jokes in. Sanders' humor is that rare sort that comes out of charity and intelligence, not cynicism. More of that in print form, please! It's here, to be sure, but knowing Dr. Sanders, I'm guessing there was more originally and I wish I'd gotten to read it, and, 2) I know Sanders is a gifted cartoonist, and I'm guessing that the computer-rendered diagrams in this book were originally hand-drawn and much sharper. There's no reason to digitally-render something that's already clear and charming. Hand-drawn diagrams in the next book, please?

Neither of these hopes for the next book should make you stay away from this one, though. My criticisms are very much in the "this is good, let's have more" vein. Read this book! and come away enlightened and encouraged.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

a crafting update - and a writing one!

I finished my novel last week! It's now in the hands of alpha readers, and then it'll be time to edit. But for now I'm basking in plesant post-novel lassitude (which probably explains why I didn't post much last week).

This book was so much fun to write. It's full of action and romance, it's humorous and fun, and it's set in my beloved Sierra Nevadas. I loved writing it. So much. I kind of miss being in the middle of it.

But I'm already plotting the next two!

Meanwhile, I'm knitting . . .
This update contains Ravelry links. So, you'll need a Rav account if you click through, but it's free to register for one, so click away!

I'm finally using a precious Christmas skein of MadelineTosh lace to make Hannah Fettig's breezy little Whisper Cardigan. This cardigan will be perfect for SoCal weather: it's just a bit of warmth for your arms and shoulders. The MadTosh yarn is delicately dyed. The color is called "Rosewood" and even though it looks like brown from a distance, as I knit it, I see it shift from gold to rose to green to pink . . . so pretty.

I've cast on for my second Jaywalker, and stuck the project back in my purse, so that'll probably be done . . . oh, in a month or two, because I'll only pull it out when I'm away from home and have opportunity.

I've also started the River Walk Shawl pattern, but I'm not enjoying it that much. It's making a gorgeous wrap, but the actual crocheting isn't that much fun. I think it's because there's lots of stitching in between stitches of the previous row instead of into them, and that just takes a lot more concentration and fiddling around. But I'm reluctant to frog this one, because I think the FO will be so pretty.

I don't know though . . . this is my hobby. I'm reluctant to spend hours on a project I'm not enjoying, when the whole point of fiber arts, for me, is to enjoy myself. It's not like it's a character issue . . . hmm. Might frog it after all.  What do you think?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell