Sunday, July 29, 2012

DVD Review: Jillian Michaels Kickbox FastFix

Oh, my goodness. Just finished this - all three levels, 'cause I'm nuts - and am I ever sucking wind right now. Good GRIEF. This is an AWESOME workout - I love it!

Whew. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Right, trying to get my breath back so I can do a proper review. Let's start with:

What is it?
There are three workouts on the DVD, each about 20 minutes long. And this time she really does stick to 20 minutes, which is nice. (Jillian Michaels often advertises "20 minute workouts" that are more like half an hour.)

The first workout concentrates on the upper body, the second on the lower, and the third on abs, but really it's all just kickboxing, with about one resistance move per circuit to let you catch your breath.

There are four circuits in each level, each repeated twice, and each consisting of about five moves repeated for 30 seconds each. Absolutely no time to get bored here, which I like.

Some of the kickboxing combos are a bit complicated, and I expect to enjoy this DVD more as I do it more and get the combos memorized. Prepare for a bit of frustration the first time through as you try to get the combos down.

My martial arts training was in Tang Soo Do karate, so I prefer to perform my kicks and punches slightly differently than Michaels does. I don't like how often she has you put your foot down for balance, but I can see how that would be useful if you weren't well-trained. I also don't like that she has you do each exercise only on your dominant side (and lefties will have to switch everything she does) because I like training both sides of my body equally. But I didn't find it too hard to switch sides on the second repeat of each circuit.

This isn't a beginner workout - not at all - but that's primarily because of the speed at which the moves are performed and because of the aerobic capacity required. I think that a beginner could make good use of this DVD if she were willing to perform everything at a half-time speed. And that would still be a really good workout!

Great workout, AWESOME at-home cardio option, advanced, highly recommended.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, July 23, 2012

Links: Marketing, Blogging Photos, the Psalms, and more!

"The Golden Weenie Award":
. . . but I did get around to see some of the specialty products offered to religious retailers. In the past, I’ve recorded some of the really bad ideas that have come and gone at the show — Gospel Golf Balls, Praise Panties, Pope Soap on a Rope, vials of “genuine ash from Sodom and Gomorrah,” etc. (And before you ask, NO, I’M NOT MAKING ANY OF THIS UP.)
"Blogging Authors Beware! You Can Get Sued":
Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn't going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn't afford. I'm not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn't have for a use of a photo I didn't need. 
"What Do We Do with Those?": -a short primer on the oddities in the book of Psalms - I thought his three conclusions at the end especially useful.

"Being a Marketing Trend":
 One of my pet peeves is this idea that exercise should be bimodal: either you should be satisfied with "walking, the best form of exercise," or you should be some kind of an exercise addict who works out like a professional athlete. Not to diss walking or professional athletes, but it seems like for the great majority of healthy adults, shooting for something in the middle -- light, but deliberate, daily exercise or (my pattern) vigorous exercise two to four times a week -- would hit the sweet spot of beneficial and realistic. But we just don't hear much about that.  
 Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica  Snell

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Saturday Review of Books . . .

. . . is up over at Semicolon. ("Semicolon" is still the coolest blog title ever.) Great place to read good book reviews - head on over!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Links: Single Motherhood, Sex, Star Trek, and more

"The Kids Are Not Really Alright":
Take two contemporary social problems: teenage pregnancy and the incarceration of young males. Research by Sara McLanahan at Princeton University suggests that boys are significantly more likely to end up in jail or prison by the time they turn 30 if they are raised by a single mother. Specifically, McLanahan and a colleague found that boys raised in a single-parent household were more than twice as likely to be incarcerated, compared with boys raised in an intact, married home, even after controlling for differences in parental income, education, race, and ethnicity.
"Sex, Submission, and Evangelicals":
Weirdly, Evans’s admission seems to suggest that the language of violence does more harm than the actual practice of violence within the home, even if such violence is itself consensual. But while reforming a culture’s attitudes toward sex is all sorts of difficult, it seems like beginning at home is a pretty decent start. Allowing couples to play at domination simply because they both like it strikes me as incommensurate with decrying the practice elsewhere. Our playing, simply put, matters and we get our ideas for it somewhere. The bedroom is not so self-contained and isolated from the rest of our lives as Evans seems to imply, and if looking at porn implicates us in a culture of hostility toward women, than certainly playing with sadomasochism must do the same.
"Where Are the Cast of Voyager Now?": Fun trip down memory lane for those of us who were teenage nerds (and maybe had a poster of the cast on their walls back in the day).

"Created to be his Helpmeet" (a review):
Pearl seeks to be the Titus 2 woman, sharing with her readers wisdom that she has accumulated in many years of being a Christian, of being a wife, of raising a family. But there is a serious problem. Throughout the book, Pearl shows that she is a poor and unwise mentor. In place of the wisdom and the fruit of the Spirit that ought to mark a mentor, she displays a harsh and critical spirit, she offers foolish counsel, she teaches poor theology, she misuses Scripture, and she utterly misses the centrality of the gospel.
Second part of the review is here.

"Top 5 First Lines" - Matt listed his. I listed mine in the comments. Go add yours!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Yarnalong: "Flowers in the Snow" afghan and "The Queen of Attolia" by Megan Whalen Turner

These are the many, many circles for my "Flowers in the Snow" afghan:
There are 192 of them. You'd think that was an accomplishment, but the real accomplishment is going to be when I finish weaving in the 1000+ ends.

The novel I'm reading right now is "The Queen of Attolia" by Megan Whalen Turner, which is the sequel to "The Thief" (you can read my review here).
Wow! Talk about a palate cleanser. Whalen Turner is just everything that is good about literature. Give me a clever hero with a conscience, and I'm yours. Give me that plus a well-realized setting, a subtle romance, and a twisty plot, and I'm downright ecstatic.

More yarn and book fun can be found here, over at Small Things.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Notes: The Tower of Geburah, by John White

The Tower of Geburah (Archives of Anthropos, #3)The Tower of Geburah by John White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was great fun to revisit this childhood favorite by reading it aloud to my daughter.

You can almost think of this series as super-awesome Narnia fan-fiction, except that White's fantastic setting is completely his own. All the things I remembered loving - the perilous journey, the courtly characters, the courageous choices - they were all still there. And I appreciated the avuncular, first-person voice of the unnamed narrator a lot this time around.

There were awkward bits to the prose here and there that would have been edited out, I think, if this were published today, and there's certainly more telling (as opposed to showing) than is allowed by current literary fashion. But I'm glad those rules weren't around back when this came out, or the world would have missed these fun stories.

And the completely accessible spiritual meaning implicit in them. White isn't subtle about the Christian allegory, but that means it's perfect for young readers (or listeners). I enjoyed the delight in my daughter's voice as she'd shout out the real-world meaning of this character or that event - she loved figuring it out, and I think she (like I) will remember the stories and their lessons even decades later.

Which makes it sound like this book is just a thinly-veiled sermon. It's not. It's a fantasy and an adventure story first. While clearly an allegory, it's not dry at all. There are battles with trolls and quests for treasure and enchanted knights and spooky wizards and . . . and, and, and. Lots of fun. Old-fashioned fun? Yes. But sometimes that's the best kind. Looking forward to rereading the next one!

View all my reviews

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, July 15, 2012

the Zombie Apocalypse: what is it we're so scared of?

Zombies are really big in sci-fi right now. So are post-apocalyptic novels. So are post-apocalyptic zombie novels.

The Story Behind the Story
I had a professor who pointed out that the thing about the gospel is that there's no story behind that story: God becoming incarnate to save fallen humanity? That's the story. That's the real story, and it's not symbolizing something else or foreshadowing anything. It is The Story. It means exactly what it says. It means itself.

But sci-fi isn't like that. Oh, there's a place for a good tale well-told that earns its hearing just because it's a good tale, well-told. Your humorous romp through the galaxy. Your gorgeous space opera adventure that's just plain fun.

But lots of sci-fi is about the story behind the story. You get a big change in society - like the prevalence of television as entertainment - and you get Fahrenheit 451. You have a new common enemy - like communism - and you get 1984.

Speculative fiction's always done this. Sometimes it's a warning (you can't ignore the "repent or you will likewise perish" implicit in The Hunger Games' premise). Sometimes it's just a way to figure out the implications of a new piece of technology. Sometimes it's both (see M.T. Anderson's Feed).

So, What's with the Zombies?
What is with the zombies? Why are they the current enemy of choice? What are we so scared of?

I have some ideas:

1) Death. This is the most obvious - I mean, zombies are death itself - living death - chasing you. Our society ignores death as much as it can, hides it away in hospitals and funeral homes. Maybe death has become so unknown that it's become a terror, and zombies are a way to make it visceral again, with the idea that if you can stare your fear - in all it's gory horror - in its decomposing face, and come away unscathed, then your fear isn't so fearful anymore.

2) An enemy that isn't any of us. It's not PC to have enemies. Throughout human history, the enemy has been the one who lives somewhere else and might come invade us. The one we don't know, who we don't understand. One of the good things about technology is that it's made it easier to learn about other cultures - video even lets us feel like we've traveled the globe! But that means we can't dehumanize other humans easily. This is good, but we still want stories about real enemies, so we can have real victories we feel good about. Zombies? Not human. You can hate them as much as you want.

3) Which leads us to . . . unhuman enemies. We've hidden death, and learned to disbelieve in the supernatural. But much like death, the supernatural is still there. Zombies are easily a substitute both for the demonic and for infernal passions. What lies underneath, what we don't want to look at . . . well, we're still scared of it, and we still want stories that offer us hope.

4) Comfort. Zombie stories and post-apocalyptic novels are all about worse-case scenarios. And why are those so fascinating? Well, because we want hope. We need hope. And it's backwards, it's completely backwards, but it's so human to gloomily try to think of the worst possible thing that could ever happen . . . and ask, "then what?" We ask, "what would I do? What could we do? There is something we could do, right?"
        And zombie apocalypse novels say, "right," and then construct their survival scenarios. That's comforting.

And End to Fear
So . . . I think those might be the stories behind these stories. But they're not entirely satisfying narratives, are they? No one ever beats death in these stories, though sometimes the implication is that there's a racial victory, humanity triumphant. You're going to die, but your people will live on.

That's the best they offer though. It's hope, of a sort. But you're still left with death, in the end.

Could there be a Christian take on the zombie story? I don't know. Maybe. I'd certainly be interested in reading a good  effort at it. But eventually, really, I think in the end you need to go back to The Story, to the gospel. Because that one is about how a Man actually beat Death - really. Truly. No zombies included.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. There's something else going on in the straight-forward post-apocalyptic novels. They're very much like the "the government is going to kill us" old-school science  fiction. They just put a world apocalypse as the catalyzing event, and then get on with the Evil Government story. Maybe I should write a blog about those next!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Holidays are Holy Days

. . . thinking “holy day” when I see “holiday” is a pedantic bit of geekery, I admit it. At least, it is on the surface. But when I look deeper, it gives me a hint about what really makes for a restful holiday or a good vacation . . . 
More here, at Regency Refections!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Links: Fires, Female Marines, and more!

"The New Christian Consumerism":
Instead of merely thinking more carefully about things like the production ethics of things we purchase, maybe we should reconsider our list of things we buy. At any given time, we may have items such as tablet computer, smartphone, new car, bigger flatscreen television, new pair of shoes that accomodates each toe separately, new earphones, new trendy jacket, etc. on our list of wants. What if we reconceived our list to include such things as helping someone pay for their car to be repaired, paying money into a scholarship fund for needy families at a local private school or college, giving a Target or Walmart gift card to a young single mother whom you know is having trouble with her bills, assisting a family with the costs of an adoption, and giving a used car to someone who could really use it instead of trading the car in? 
"How Fire Could Change the Face of the West":
The fire debt is finally coming due. In the Southwest, fires are reaching historically exceptional sizes and temperatures. “The fuel structure is ready to support massive, severe fires that the trees have not evolved to cope with,” said forest ecologist Dan Binkley of Colorado State University. “When the extent of the areas burned becomes large, there are no remaining sources of seeds for the next generation.”
"Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal":
I understand that there are female servicemembers who have proven themselves to be physically, mentally, and morally capable of leading and executing combat-type operations; as a result, some of these Marines may feel qualified for the chance of taking on the role of 0302. In the end, my main concern is not whether women are capable of conducting combat operations, as we have already proven that we can hold our own in some very difficult combat situations; instead, my main concern is a question of longevity. Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with integration?
"Welcome to the Georgette Heyer Reread":
Her “serious” fiction was not very good, and the very good books were dismissed as popular romances, and continue, at least in the U.S., to be shelved in the romance section. This is disservice to both Heyer and romance readers: many people (particularly men) who would be delighted by Heyer are unfortunately put off by the romance placement and the often unfortunate book covers (I lost count of the male friends who protested, “but it’s a chick book!”). 
"You Get What You Measure":
I guess this is an obvious statement to people with MBAs, but to me, it was revolutionary. I thought about other times that I have measured some aspect of my life, and realized that it almost always yielded results: When we started tracking our debt on a spreadsheet that we updated month-to-month, it went down at a higher rate than before. When I kept a food journal to track what and how much I ate each day, my eating habits improved. When I started noting how long I could run without stopping, my stamina increased significantly. I thought of a handful of other examples as well. In each case, the improvements occurred with little obvious effort on my part. The simple act of measuring this area of my life put it on my mental radar; and having clear numbers forced me take a hard look at reality, rather than letting the truth get lost in the ether of uncertainty.
"Into the Thicklebit": - this one is a new webcomic - about the small, funny moments of life with kids. Very cute and relatable.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Love of the Local - or how I finally admitted to being an Angeleno

"AngelenA"? Probably more correct, but nobody says that here in the City of the Angels.

Actually, it isn't the city of the angels, it's the city of Mary. Originally it was named after "La Reina de los Angeles." (My friend Jim recently wrote a beautiful and creepy meditation on that name.)

And I've lived here for over twenty years now. That's weird to admit, because I still think of myself as a missionary kid - as the girl who grew up in the sub-Arctic and got only got to visit her home country in the summer.

But even though smelling snow in the air is still enough to bring back a flood of memories, scents that spell home now are jasmine flowers and eucalyptus leaves, arid heat and ocean breeze.

Writing home
The last book I wrote was set here in California, and I loved writing about my adopted home state. The higher my word count got, the more I realized that I love where I live.

It's not an adoring sort of love. I admit that the Los Angeles basin doesn't have the heartbreaking beauty of the New Zealand alps (though you should see the high Sierra) or the comforting green peace of the Oregon coast (though you should walk Carbon Canyon's ridges just after a thunderstorm's cleaned the air).

But it's a love born out of familiarity. In terms of Lewis' "Four Loves", my love for my home is storge, the sort of love you can't help having for someone you've known for years, whether you like him or not.

I know what blooms when. I know we have summer for half the year and squeeze fall, winter, spring down into six short months - and some years only four or five. I know that the sky is boring and smoggy most of the time but that if you catch us on the right day we have a snow-capped mountain view that rivals Denver's. I know that the miles of concrete and asphalt are endless, but not as endless as sea, and you can sit on the beaches here and never tire of the view of grey-green waves pounding the sand.

I love Los Angeles.  It's true that I love it because I know it, but there are worse ways than that to love.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, July 6, 2012

7 Quick Takes

1. I'm well into writing the new book now, and it's all my husband's fault. Well, my husband's and my brother's. Ever since I wrote that novella, for my husband's birthday, they've both insisted I need to give the romance a break and write more sci-fi. So, I am.  And I'm loving it.

2. (I am, of course, including romance in my sci-fi.)

3. I'm loving writing sci-fi, but it feels like I'm writing a comic book. Maybe it's just that it's so action-packed compared to your average romance novel, but I feel like this book has so much incident that it's going to completely lack any subtlety. Don't get me wrong: there are clear character arcs and lovely little ethical dilemmas and all that good stuff. But there's also all these brightly-colored scenes full of violence and action and plotting and war and mayhem.

4. I think my real problem is that I have trouble believing anything this much fun can also be good.

5. A Civil Campaign is fun and good.  Agent of Change is fun and good. Survival is fun and good.

6. I think I need to get over myself.

7. To end this Quick Takes post on a completely different subject, I finally figured out what it is that Brooke Fraser's song "Something in the Water" reminds me of. It reminds me of my favorite Christina Rossetti poem, "A Birthday".

They're both all about that glorious, top-of-the-world, falling-into-true-love-and-sure-of-it feeling. Absolute delight and absolute security. Crowned-the-queen-of-love sort of security. No wonder I love both song and poem so much.

Here's the song:

And here's the poem:

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

-Christina Rossetti

I guess I did come back to romance in the end. :D

For more quick takes, visit Jen's awesome blog over at Conversion Diary.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Notes: "The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, #1)The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I found this book through a recommendation by Lois McMaster Bujold (whose own work I can't recommend highly enough) and I'm glad I picked it up.

This book follows a thief, Gen, on a quest to steal a magical object. The twist (well, the first twist) is that he's plucked from his jail cell by a magus and told he'll go on the quest or else.

The story is set in a fictitious world that's nonetheless highly influenced by the world of ancient Greece, and Turner did a marvelous job of it - you can practically see the silver light reflecting off of the leaves of the olive trees.

This story also did something I've never seen done before, and I don't want to talk too much about it for fear of spoiling the fun. Suffice it to say: it's very clever. The whole book is compelling, but after I read the last chapter, I wanted to go back and read the whole thing again, because there's information at the end that casts everything that happened before it in an entirely new light.

Yet even without that extra information, the first read-through is excellent. The story didn't need what she did at the end in order to be a good story - it already was. But the end gave you a second good story, almost as a bonus. It's almost as if Turner wrote two books, and you get to read both of them at the same time, and you don't realize that you actually read two till you're at the end.

And if that sounds confusing, well, the fault is mine. The book's not confusing, not at all. Just good, and clever. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 1, 2012


So, I forgot to blog about it at the time (because I came back and dived right into end-of-school madness), but . . . I got to go to Chicago!

And why I got to go is even cooler: my family threw a surprise birthday party for my grandmother! (Who reads this blog faithfully - Hi, Grandma!)

She turned 90 this year, so my aunt and my mom decided to make a Very Big Deal of it, and my awesome husband took charge of the kids for a few days, and so I got to be a part of it.

My mom and dad flew out first, and then, a day later, my brother and I joined them, and we all stayed at my aunt and uncle's house (they were such good hosts!) and then, the next day, we drove out and surprised my wonderful, amazing grandma:

Here we all are, posing after the surprise was sprung (I don't think Grandma was quite over her shock yet . . .):

Later that day, we went to her church, where so many people (100 maybe?) also showed up to honor her. My Grandma's such a woman of faith and prayer, and it was so cool to be there and listen to people talk about what she meant to them. It was so good to see her again, and to see her being celebrated.

Annnnnd, I got to hang out with my cousins! I've never lived in the same area as my extended family, and so it was so much fun to get to spend a few days getting reacquainted with my cousins and rediscovering how much I like them.

While we were there, my cousin Natalie indulged my brother and I in our desire to play tourists and took us on a tour of downtown Chicago. It's such a pretty city - the architecture's amazing. Here are Nat and I on the L:

Here are my brother and I on one of the bridges over the river:

And here are the three of us enjoying real Chicago pizza (oh-my-goodness-it-is-SO-YUMMY):
Other highlights included hiking with my dad through much greener woods than we have here in SoCal, watching my mom and her sister interact, getting to go to my uncle and aunt's church (my uncle's a great preacher!), discussing books with Nat, listening to my cousin Nic plan her wedding (and meeting her fiancé), talking with my youngest cousin (who's only a few months older than my daughter!), enjoying lots of good meals with everyone there, and hanging out with my brother (airports are much more fun when you've got good company).

And I'm sure even now I'm missing parts. It was such a good trip. I kept wishing that Adam and the kids could have come with me, but I'm so grateful for their generosity in letting me go.