Friday, August 31, 2012

Links: Pro-Life Questions, Poetry, Language, and more

"Questions for Our Pro-Abortion Friends, Church Leaders, and Politicians":
Shall we say size matters? Is the unborn child too small to deserve our protection? Are big people more valuable than little people? Are men more human than woman? Do offensive linemen have more rights than jockeys? Is the life in the womb of no account because you can't hold him in our arms, or put him in your hands, or only see her on a screen?
"I'm Not Into Poetry":
When it comes to the Psalms and other prayers, they are best read not for our own pleasure - not for “what we get out of them” - but because they are God-given prayer language that God enjoys. It’s like God gave us his favorite song list and asked us to play it over and over again.

 "A Linguist's Serious Take On 'The A-Word'":
"The Internet is extraordinary. All of a sudden, if you want to pick a political fight, or a fight over chess games, or a fight over language, or a fight over bird-watching, really, you can go out there and see all these discussion groups and people making comments on blogs and freely using this language to one another. It's an opportunity to behave like a jerk if you wake up at 3 in the morning and you feel like it."
"Doctor Feelbad":
Doctor Who’s most enduring obsession is with time and the ways its passage makes us all mad, sad, and lonely—in other words, the anxieties that plague us in midlife. The Doctor teaches us how to grow old.

There's my list of interesting links for the past few days. What have you been intrigued by 'round the Web this week?

-Jessica Snell

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Scripture that Sings: Genesis 17:1

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,
"I am God Almighty;
Walk before Me, and be blameless." -Genesis 17:1

Wow. Look at that last bit - and that's the bit that starts the covenant. "Walk before me, and be blameless." It's the impossible command.

Except it's not, because the Lord had the end in mind from the beginning. Abram was the one whose progeny was going to be a blessing for all the nations. And the seed of Abraham was Jesus. And Jesus makes it possible to walk before God and be blameless.

All the way back in Genesis, it's there. So cool.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mid-week Pick-Me-Up

Tuesday is mid-week, right?

Here's a song from Tennant and Tate's new version of Much Ado About Nothing:

Happy Tuesday, folks! may your week be as complicatedly satisfying as Shakespeare, as full of laughs as this song, and as rich as a Scottish accent.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, August 27, 2012

Links: Localism, Doing It All, the Balanced Life, and more!

"Living Off the Land: Localism in the Regency":
. . . families in the Regency took local eating to a whole new level, especially in the large country estates. These estates, formed hundreds of years before there were safe and reliable roads and trade routes, grew almost all of their own food out of necessity, and even in the Regency, when importing food was more feasible, many of these large estates still produced most of what they ate right there on the property.
"a new school year, all fresh and shiny":
 A friend recently asked "How do you do it all!" with a generous measure of admiration and possible disbelief in her voice. I've thought about this often since she asked, nearly every day in fact, and I think I have an answer. First of all, I don't do it All. I do a lot, but I don't do it All. I do a lot more than when I had one and then two and then three and then even four children. With each child comes a greater capacity to work. You discover that getting up one more time with a vomiting child isn't going to kill you, its just going to make you very very angry and tired. And along with the capacity to work comes the ability to discover what you really care about. 
"The Secret to Living a Balanced Life":
One expert advocates for the best way to care for teeth, another expert advocates for the best way to treat allergies, a third for the best way to teach your child one subject, a fourth advocates for the best way to keep a clean organized home, and so on and so on. That is their job. Your job is to listen to all of this advice (politely and calmly, remembering that each is doing his own job in advising you narrowly) and figure out how much of each you can reasonably do in order to take care of your job -- which is neither teeth nor allergies nor history nor a clean house, but a whole family of whole persons.
 "Karnick on Carnage":
. . . that the big difference between violent movies and sexual movies is not a difference of morals but of appropriateness. Violence is essentially public, while sex is essentially private.

There's more on the Web worth reading, but this is my collection for the week. Feel free to add links of your own in the comments!

-Jessica Snell

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Knitted Finished Object: "Whisper Cardigan"

It's my first knitted sweater, and it's so light and soft and comfy. I love it so much!
The pattern is the "Whisper Cardigan" by Hannah Fettig and the yarn is Madelinetosh Lace in Rosewood (love the subtle waves of brown and rose).

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Notes: "A Conspiracy of Kings" by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings (The Queen's Thief, #4)A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, I meant to go to sleep at 11 last night and made the mistake of picking up this book. Ended up getting to bed close to 3 in the morning, completely satisfied because I'd just swallowed a most excellent story in one delicious gulp. Golly, Turner is good!

View all my reviews

-Jessica Snell

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Notes: "Wish You Were Here" by Beth Vogt

Wish You Were Here: A NovelWish You Were Here: A Novel by Beth K. Vogt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, my high hopes for this novel were happily answered!

My attention was caught by the high concept premise of "Wish You Were Here" - a bride deserting her groom at the altar - but Beth Vogt kept my attention by telling an interesting story about what happens *after* her heroine's impulsive escape.

Vogt doesn't spare her heroine any of the squirmy moments bound to follow such a public disaster, but even when she was under pressure, I enjoyed spending time with Allison Denman. She spends the first half of the novel trying to figure out why she did what she did - she's sure it was the right thing to do, but it takes her time to read the state of her own heart, and I liked the realism of that. The second half of the novel she's busy falling in love with the hero, and, well, I'm a romance fan, so I enjoyed that part too.

I also liked how there was a lot more to the story than just the love story. The hero and heroine have family, friends, and jobs. They have pasts that affect their present, and the Colorado setting is almost its own character.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I also appreciate how a couple of difficult subjects - self-harm and pornography - came up in the plot, but never took it over. You hardly ever see things like that in books unless they're a main plot point, but in this story, things like that came up the way they often do in real life: tangentially. I don't know that I've ever seen that done before, and it added to the realism of the story for me.

I enjoyed this story so much that I hate to mention any complaints. I only have two, and they're mild. First, the ditched fiancé didn't quite ring true to me. But that might just be because he was a man who was almost entirely lacking empathy - or maybe he was just profoundly emotionally stupid? Anyway, I either didn't like him or didn't believe in him, and I can't quite figure out which it was. Secondly, the number of injuries that occurred in the plot stretched my credulity - but only a bit. And having a lot of incident in a novel is so very forgiveable, because it means that the story is the opposite of dull.

That's it: this story was the opposite of dull. It was dramatic without being sad, it was sweet without being saccharine - it was just *fun*. Recommended, and I'm really looking forward to the next one.

View all my reviews

-Jessica Snell

Monday, August 20, 2012

Vegans are wrong about milk

There are good arguments for veganism (frugality, health, kindness to animals, etc.), but I've repeatedly run into a vegan argument about milk that's just ridiculous.

It runs something like this: "Humans are the only animals who drink milk past infancy. They're also the only animals that drink the milk of another species. You are not a cow and you are not a baby and you are drinking COW BREASTMILK. Ew."

Here's why that's dumb:

1) Humans aren't like other species. We're the dominant species on the planet. Other animals don't farm, either, and you don't hear vegans complaining about the oddity of lining up your plants for the slaughter. We have these gorgeous, humongous brains that allow us use all kinds of super-efficient and interesting food procurement methods that just aren't available to other animals. Yes, I'm a human exceptionalist. Deal.

2) The fact that milk is baby food for mammals means milk is a GREAT FOOD. If a mammal - even an immature mammal - can survive on milk alone, it means milk has a lovely balance of carbs, protein, and fat: all three of our basic macronutrients. Exploiting the availability of this superfood in lower species is not weird, it's GENIUS.

3) Cows are not humans. Drinking the breastmilk of another human (unless you're a baby) is weird, because  we generally have taboos against interacting with the bodily fluids of others. But cows aren't human and so those taboos don't apply.

The last one is probably the one that (some) vegans won't give me. But even vegans ingest other lifeforms for their nourishment, and so must admit that the question isn't if you're going to have different rules for different species, just where you're going to draw the line. (Think of all those poor yeast they consume!)

But, seriously, point #1 is my biggest beef (ha) with this argument. If you're going to call every human behavior that doesn't have an analog in the animal kingdom weird and wrong, well . . . planning on giving up that spiffy iPod soon?

-Jessica Snell

Links! - charm, food, a new Liaden story, and more!

"Charmlessness unto Godliness":
My overwhelming impulse was to try and repair all damage, to make them like me—whether they liked it or not. For other reasons, I was not able to act on this impulse, which saved me from the sin of manipulation, and saved them from my attempts at controlling how they felt about me. It is only now, faced with a more complicated and nuanced relational problem, that I am realizing what it means to let people have the freedom to dislike me as much as they please. It kind of sucks.
"Food and Work":
So in some ways food is a reward. It’s the proper end to a day full of employment. It’s the proper preparation for a day full of good work. It’s both a reward and a necessity.
"Landed Alien": A new (free!) Liaden short story from the awesome Steve Miller and Sharon Lee.

"Museum Life":
My husband calls that old ideal, the life of perfect ease and freedom, a “museum life.” It’s a good description. I didn’t think of it this way at the time, but I basically wanted to live in a museum: Everything in place, everything controlled, no noise, no chaos, nothing messy. Just a bunch of interesting stuff surrounding me that I could enjoy at my leisure.
But the thing about a museum is that everything there is dead.

"I am Lazarus, come back to tell you all":
Those are my three big things. There was no room in my head for anything else. Just to really hit home how big those three things were, I had surgery in that same time frame and IT DIDN’T EVEN MAKE THE LIST. I had my tailbone removed right before I went on tour, and let me tell you how awesome it was to sit on an airplane every frakking day while still recovering from butt surgery: pretty awesome.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Liveblogging an editing session

I just spent an hour doing a find-and-replace for weasel words and phrases in my last novel (round one of the serious edits) and liveblogged it, in order to keep myself amused. Maybe it'll amuse you too!

7:35 - I have one serious swear in this whole story. It needs to disappear, of course, but I can't for the life of me figure out what to put in its place. (It has one job, but it does that one job so effectively that I'm loathe to lose it.)

7:47 - "Their trunks disappeared" is a funny phrase . . . until you realize it's talking about trees.

7:56 - Is it a sign of good dialogue if I crack myself up, reading it? (No, not the trunks thing! real dialogue!)

7:57 - My delete button is going to wear out.

8:01 - It's very hard to avoid overusing the word "answer" when one of your main characters conducts interviews for a living.

8:02 - Also, the word "answer" looks weirder and weirder the more times I read it.

8:14 - Phew. 146 instances of "asked" cut down to 105. That's some good work done.

8:22 - Aaaaaand, so much for "began to".

8:23 - NOOOOOOOO! The next one is "beginning to"! ARRRGH. I AM NOT DONE.

8:23: btw, the last two are bad because they're usually wordy. Sometimes you want to indicate the start of a process that's going to take awhile (i.e., "the fog began to dissipate"), but usually you can replace a phrase that uses "beginning to" with a single, strong verb (i.e., "it began to rain" with "it rained").

8:28 - words that are not "can" that I found while searching for "can": canopy, scandalous, cantaloupes ("there were cantaloupes in the story?" asks my husband), canvas, vacant, canoes, candy, canyon, scanned, American.

8:32 - stopping for the evening. Here's my weasel word list progress as it currently stands:

-about, actually, agreed, almost, all at once, answer, answered, appears, approximately, asked, basically, began to, beginning to, can, close to, could, decide, decided, even, eventually, exactly, feel, felt, finally, for the most part, hear, heard, immediately, its(vague), just, just then, kind of, like, looks, looked, might, muse, mused, nearly, often, practically, rather, really, realize, realized, reply, replied, said, saw, seemed, seems, sigh, sighed, simply, some, somehow, somewhat, sort of, sound, sounded, started to, starting to, suddenly, sure, that, think, thought, touch, touched, truly, usually, utterly, very, was, watch, watched, well, were, wonder, wondered.

Siiiiiiiigh. I do have a ways to go, don't I? 

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Book Notes: "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" by Max Brooks

TWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was one of the most tightly-written, compelling books I've read in a good long while. Page-turning, riveting, interesting from beginning to end.

But I'm still not sure I'm glad I read it.

"World War Z" tells the story of a zombie pandemic and my favorite part of this book is the great detail with which Brook considers how such an event would affect different, wide-spread areas of the globe. It's an "Oral History" and so you get a picture of the catastrophic events through the words of many diverse characters and the picture that's painted is both horrific and fascinating.

The only reason I can give for disliking this book (other than the fact that I now have a few more dismaying mental pictures of violent death than I had before) is how oddly depressing it was, how empty it felt.

Some of that is just because there's so much violence, but when I got to the end, and asked myself, "so what was the point?", the only answer I could come up with was that the book was written to comfort.

Weird conclusion, I know, but look at it this way: how often have you thought, "what's the worse that could happen?" as a means to reassure yourself? I do it all the time. You ask, "what's the worse that could happen?" and then you imagine how you'd get through it. If you can imagine a happy ending to that question, well, then you're comforted. You think, "Even if X happened, I'd still have Y."

Brooks' novel seems to me to be saying, "Even if an unspeakable, global disaster happened, humanity would survive. Some of us would make it."

And I get that. But . . . I'm sorry, it didn't seem that comforting to me. There wasn't any transcendent hope and, frankly, once you've gotten used to the glorious hope of Christ, anything less strikes a duller note and can't quite satisfy.

I fully realize that Brooks probably doesn't share my beliefs, so this isn't a proper criticism, really. It's more like picking up an Amish romance and complaining there weren't enough vampires. :) I realize that and I don't want to come across as trashing a really excellently-executed novel. It totally succeeds on its own terms. This is just an explanation of why the part of the book that didn't work for me didn't, well, work for me. All the imaginative, detailed, fascinating, "what if" bits? Totally worked. Really spectacular book. I just didn't like the aftertaste.

View all my reviews

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Yarnalong: Color Affection and Beth Vogt

I've been wanting to knit a Color Affection forever (me and everyone else, right?), and come vacation, I let myself cast on, disregarding my already-large pile of WIPs.

I love it. Wow. Relaxing garter stitch? Check. Gorgeous, curving lines? Check. Simple in an elegant way? Check. Works well with my favorite colors? Check, check, check.

I love this pattern, and I love how it's turning out. The white yarn is Knitpicks Palette, and the purple/pink yarn in the already-knit stripes is Knitpicks Chroma fingering, in U-Pick. The green-blue yarn by the book is the third color, and it's Wisdom Yarns Poems Sock.

The book is "Wish You Were Here", by Beth Vogt. I'm loving this book too. It's got such a ridiculously fun high-concept premise ("Bride leaves groom at the altar!"), but - while delivering every squirmy detail of the fallout of the heroine's impulsive dash from the church - it's actually a book with realistic characters and a compelling plot that lasts way past the events of the wedding. It's really about this girl who - much too late, and yet not quite too late - figured out that she isn't who she'd been pretending to be, and has to be brave enough to try to be the person she actually is. Who has to deal with the hurt she's done, and that has been done to her, and then, and only then, try to figure out what ought to come next.

I like it. I'm only about halfway through, so I admit that it's possible it'll crash and burn (and I'm really, really curious how the author's going to manage to make the romantic relationship come out okay), but so far I like it a lot, and it's good enough I trust Vogt's going to bring me in for a safe landing. :)

Check out more yarn-y goodness here, at Small Things.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. To visitors from the yarnalong, you might want to check out this post about Stephannie Tallent, the author of California Revival Knits.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stephannie Tallent is apparently really cool

So, I picked my parents up from the airport this week, and, after telling me all about my cousin's wedding, my mom told me about a conversation she had with a fellow passenger.

She saw a woman knitting, and they ended up chatting about knitting. Turned out the lady was headed back from Stitches Midwest, and she wasn't just a knitter, she was in fact a knitting author. And she showed my mom her book, which mom said was lovely, and then opened her bag and showed my mom the sample knits that had been photographed for the magazine.

Mom told me that it was amazing to see these gorgeous photos, and then, a moment later, see the even more gorgeous finished objects themselves.

Then she started to describe the designs to me, how they were inspired by California art and architecture, and that's when I had something to add to the conversation. I asked, "Is her book California Revival Knits?"

Mom said, "Yes, that's it!"

I remember California Revival Knits because I looked up the book on Ravelry after I heard Stephannie Tallent interviewed on a podcast (Knit Picks' podcast, I think). I loved the designs - they're bright and vibrant and really do remind me of the things I love about my home state - but I didn't queue any of them because I'm a bit colorwork shy.

But my mom made her conversation partner sound so cool that I went back to Ravelry and looked her patterns up again. Ooh, not just colorwork. Very nifty wrought-iron inspired cablework. And I messaged Stephannie on Rav, and she was lovely, and kind enough to recommend one of her patterns as particularly good for beginners to colorwork. (I like the fingerless version.)

Anyway. Enough to say: suddenly I'm a fan.

Annnnnd . . . I feel like I've had the pleasantest sort of lesson about how to be the sort of author that attracts new fans. Step one: make something good. Step two: be friendly to interested people. Step three: don't be afraid to pass your card on to relatives of people in your target audience. :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Notes: "Persuasion" by Jane Austen

PersuasionPersuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The thing that surprised me most about this book was what a fast read it was.

I've known the basic plot points of "Persuasion" for awhile now (my first introduction to the story was a truly horrible dramatization of it, watched about two decades ago), but it's only recently I had the urge to pick it up.

It was wonderful. I gobbled the story up, and it was easy to do so because this is such a lovely, light, compact little story. And I don't mean "little" in any slighting way. It's small and perfect, the way miniature models are small and perfect.

Our heroine was persuaded, years before the start of the story, to reject the man who loves her. Her friends explained that he's not good enough for her, and even compelled our kind-hearted heroine to believe that saying "no" to him is the kindest thing she can do . . . for *him*.

She spends years regretting this.

Near the beginning of our story, the hero comes back into her social circle, and the whole first 9/10ths of the book is spent exploring the simple question, "is it too late for us to be happy together?"

If you know romances at all, you'll know the answer, but Austen gets us there masterfully, introducing us to some of her best satirical characters along the way (the heroine's father and sisters! *shudder*). "Persuasion" doesn't have the yawningly slow pace of "Emma" (don't kill me, I still love it!) nor the giddy society whirl of "Pride and Prejudice", but it has a lovely heroine, a compelling question to answer, and a very well-earned happy ending.

View all my reviews

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, August 6, 2012

Before it's too late . . .

. . . happy feast of the Transfiguration! Reading today's gospels I was struck, as always, with the image of Christ standing between the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). It's so striking, that picture of him, the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets had to teach us.

And again with the idea of Moses standing, finally, in the promised land.

And then noticing the writer saying that then Moses and Elijah disappeared, and the disciples saw Jesus alone.

Christ alone. The fulfillment of all hope.

I think the Transfiguration, of all the major feasts, might provide the most striking picture to the mind. God is an artist.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

A Response from Lois McMaster Bujold about "Borders of Infinity" and Dante

Okay, I just barely resisted titling this post, "Because Bujold is Awesome, That's Why." :D

Earlier this year, I posted my theory that "Borders of Infinity" by Lois McMaster Bujold was at least partly inspired by Dante's "Inferno". A reader of the blog later encouraged me to send my thoughts to Bujold, and, eventually, I did.

She wrote me a fascinating response in return, and kindly gave me permission to share it here.

Here it is:
  Insofar as I can remember what I was thinking back in 1986 when I wrote this novella, yes, the shout-out to the Divine Comedy was intended -- but not entirely consciously, and_ certainly_ not in advance. It came glimmering up out of the material as I wrote, as such things do, and I took what fit and served the story. (As opposed to devising a story to embody some preselected template.) So a point-by-point analysis is bound to fail at some points.
  You can also get a glancing reference to Eurydice out of Beatrice, if you squint. (As, in the tale of Orpheus-and-.) I'm an equal-opportunity culture thief.
  There is certainly a... metaphor? parable? to be had out of the story, if one is inclined that way, about grace having to be something that breaks in from outside; you can't pull it out of your own ear unaided. Or the tale can be read on the surface, skimming along as a straight-up milSF adventure. What sort of reading each reader gets from it will depend sensitively upon the prior contents of each head. Sort of like a Rorschach blot, that way. But that very quality is just what makes books and stories so endlessly debatable.
  Good on you for spotting the Bunyan take. (That passage gave my French translators fits, by the way, Bunyan not being a common cultural reference in France at all. Nor, admittedly, among Americans, but let them hear who have ears and all that.)
  I have an amusing story about the Bunyan quote. I was hand-writing the first draft of this in the Marion Public Library, where I fled to work at this period of my life since it was not possible to do so at home with kids, and came upon that point where I needed something that sounded scriptural but wasn't actually Biblical. I bethought myself of Bunyan, whom I had read some years before, went to the shelves, found a copy (I don't think it had been checked out for quite a while), and flipped it open more-or-less at random to right there, or at least in the first few pages I glanced at. Stole it immediately, slapped it in where needed, and went on. But the story was already partly written and plotted at that point, so any homage was _ad lib_, not designed.
 My initial internal vision of the prison camp was more WWII barracks-like, but first, it wasn't very SFnal, and second, as a person who values and needs her solitude, my idea of hell is to be trapped with a gazillion people and be unable to get away from them. So that dome has to partly be chalked up to my personal taste, as well.
I did have a WWII veteran remark recently that "Borders" was the most perfect WWII story he'd ever read. Still thinking about that one.
Bujold has long been one of my favorite authors, and this thoughtful response just put me over the moon. My thanks to her for letting me share it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Exercise DVD Review: Bob Harper's "Totally Ripped Core"

Bob Harper's "Totally Ripped Core" is only about an hour long, but it was enough to make me sore for days and days afterwards.

In other words: I recommend it. :)

Some of the moves included:
-slow-motion one-legged deadlifts
-"killer" plank twists that actually are killer, because on top of your normal plank twist (bringing your knee to your armpit while you hold plank), he has you then drop your hip and stick your leg out straight underneath your suspended torso. Ow . . .
-lots of other body-weighted isometrics

This DVD certainly worked my core, but it also hit the shoulders, and big muscle groups like the quads and hamstrings, so there was never any question about whether or not I was burning a ton of calories.

If you're looking for a challenge that's varied enough that it's fun too, give this one a try.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell