Monday, December 30, 2013

St. Francis de Sales, on Fear

Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself. O daughter of little faith, what do you fear? No, fear not; you walk on the sea, amid the winds and the waves, but it is with Jesus. What is there to fear? But if fear seizes you, cry loudly, "O Lord, save me." He will give you His hand: clasp it tight, and go joyously on. To sum up, do not philosophize about your trouble, do not turn in upon yourself; go straight on. No, God cannot lose you, so long as you live in your resolution not to lose Him. Let the world turn upside down, let everything be in darkness, in smoke, in uproar - God is with us. And if God dwelleth in darkness and on Mount Sinai, all smoking and covered with the thunders, with lightnings and noises, shall we not be well near Him?
Live, live my dear child, live all in God, and fear not death, the good Jesus is all ours; let us be entirely His.
-St. Francis de Sales, from Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Weekend Links! - Christmas, New Year's, and more!

"Why Busy Parents Should Always Go to Midnight Mass":
Now that I got that first, pious reason out of the way, I have to admit the real reason: it really is the most convenient. Think about it: Christmas eve and Christmas day are already packed with activities, the kids are already buggy, and my husband and I are already up late doing last-minute preparations, and already nobody gets much sleep. As long as it's the craziest 48 hours of the year anyway, might as well go whole hog and add a van trip into town in the middle of the night. I'll tell you what's difficult: finding time the evening before, when we're supposed to be wrapping presents, or the morning of, when everyone's hopped up on chocolate and candy canes and doesn't want to be torn away from their new toys. We've tried the vigil Mass and Christmas morning Mass, and they are not a walk in the park!
"Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: A Review of Rosaria Butterfield’s Book":
So often, especially concerning sex, Christians talk as if we are asking people to nip a little here, tuck a little there. But to follow Christ is to die. To be fair, Christ gives us back a new life, an eternal life that can’t be compared to what we lost. But having borne two children in the last six years, I can tell you, birth is messy, and painful, and the best sound you can hope to hear in your newborn is a loud, terrified cry. New birth in Christ is no less terrifying and miraculous.
"Clutter Interrupted’s New Year’s Goals"  - I love reading about New Year's resolutions, and this is a particular fun and thorough post on the subject. (And there's a podcast to go with!)

"The Herod in Each of Us":
We see Him as a threat to all things that could bring happiness. Tiny Baby. Gentleness incarnate. And we rage. And we struggle. And yes, we kill. We destroy peace. We destroy joy. We slaughter childlike faith. All because we think we know better. We are so afraid of relinquishing our own wills, that we miss the one thing that will give us genuine peace. 
"Word of the Day: twelve":
One of the sad losses as Western man moved from liturgical time to secular time has been the festal season. We have shopping periods, with no special beginning or end, stretching farther and farther out away from Christmas Day or Easter, losing all connection to the feast, and bringing in their wake not festivity but weariness and ennui.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My favorite books from 2013

Semicolon's regular Saturday Review of Books is in list form today, on the subject of the books you've read in 2013 (or variations thereof). I decided to just highlight my favorites from the 50 or so books I read this year*, separating them into fiction and non-fiction, and whether or not they were new to me. I also set apart the kids' books, just because that seemed useful. :)

So, here are the books I enjoyed the most this year:

New-to-me Fiction:
- McKinley, Robin. Shadows. (My review is here.)

Old favorites (fiction):
- Bujold, Lois McMaster. A Civil Campaign.
- Bujold, Lois McMaster. Komarr.

- Czerneda, Julie. Migration.
- Czerneda, Julie. Regeneration.
- Czerneda, Julie. Survival.

- Wodehouse, P. G. Carry On, Jeeves.
- Wodehouse, P. G. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit.
- Wodehouse, P. G. Joy in the Morning.
- Wodehouse, P. G. RightHo, Jeeves.

Old favorites (kids' fiction):
- Mains, Karen, and Mains, David. Tales of the Kingdom.
- Mains, Karen, and Mains, David. Tales of the Resistance.

New-to-me Non-fiction:
- Morgan, Elizabeth. Sewing Church Linens  (My review is here.)
- Cannata, Raymond F., & Reitano, Joshua. Rooted: the Apostle’s Creed (My review is here.)

Old favorites (non-fiction):

You can participate in the Saturday Review of Books (and take a look at other people's 2013 lists) by heading over to Semicolon!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*I have to say: editing one book and writing another certainly cut into my reading time this year!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

St. Francis de Sales, on bearing fruit in God's good time

This quotation reminds me of a children's picture book I reviewed recently:
The trees only fructify through the presence of the sun - some sooner, others later, some every year, others every three years, and not all equally. Let us be very happy to be able to stay in the presence of God, and let us be satisfied that He will make us bear our fruit, sooner or later, always or sometimes, according to His good pleasure, to which we must entirely resign ourselves.
-St. Francis de Sales, Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World
Let us stay in the presence of God.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Three Big December Feasts (that aren't Christmas!)

All of Advent is focused on preparing for the Christmas feast, and now we’re here! On the second of twelve days of celebration.

But the first three of these days following the Christ Mass are actually pretty special in their own rights: today is St. Stephen’s Day, the 27th is St. John’s Day, and the 28th is Holy Innocents.

St. Stephen was the first martyr of the church, and his death (and marvelous testimony just before his death) is recorded in the book of Acts. He was one of the first deacons, and as he died, he saw the Lord Jesus standing and awaiting him.

St. Stephen’s Day is also known as “Boxing Day” in the English world, after the tradition of packing up the remnants of the Christmas feast and delivering it to the poor. Variations of this tradition had servants bringing boxes to their employers’ homes and the employers filling them with good things. These days, many people take Boxing Day as an opportunity to go through their home and donate what they can to charity.

St. John was, of course, the beloved disciple of Jesus, writer of the fourth gospel, three epistles, and the book of Revelations, and was known as St. John the Divine (i.e., St. John the Theologian).

You can read here about one tradition for celebrating his day, by drinking a mulled wine known as “St. John’s Love” (scroll down for the recipe; it's near the end of the post). I’m looking forward to trying that this year!

The last of these three feasts, Holy Innocents, is, perhaps, the saddest. In it, we remember the young children slaughtered by a jealous King Herod, as he sought to destroy the infant Messiah he feared would supplant him. Though we ought always to be praying for those in danger and trouble throughout the world, this is a particularly good day to spend time in prayer for the persecuted. Perhaps this year, you can remember those in Syria, or in South Sudan.

Finally, here are prayers for each day:

A Collect for St. Stephen’s Day:
We give thee thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to thy Son Jesus Christ, who standeth at thy right hand; where he liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

A Collect for St. John’s Day:
Shed upon thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, the brightness of thy light; that we, being illumed by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Collect for the Holy Innocents’ Day:
We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(All collects from the Book of Common Prayer.)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve in Jail

This is a guest blog by Ann Basil*, a law enforcement officer who works in Southern California. 

Christmas Eve night in jail yields a deeper call to reflection than the evenings I was blessed with at home as a child. The inmates write each other cards, color and hang paper stockings, and try to make alcohol, which we deputies try to find. But over the festivities there hangs a desperate sadness.

Jail is the ugliest zoo in the world, and pacing the hallways, outside the bars looking in, I see the lowest that humanity has to offer. Many, literally, look animalistic. Their unkempt hair, grossly infected skin, limps and grimaces of pain from poor decisions imprinted on their bodies, make me look at them as an observer, not as one of the same species. In here it is often them versus us. Not man versus wild, but healthy of body and mind versus the disease of sin made flesh.

The Bible is not exaggerating nor overly dramatic to claim that sin leads to death. It does. I have seen it. Death of the body, mind, and soul is a hopeless mold that, slowly or quickly, films over the once translucent lives of these inmates. Their first time in jail they are terrified and bewildered. “I am not coming back!” they emphatically state as they exit my doors. We deputies, often unknowingly, echo Jesus as we tell them, “Go forth and sin no more.” The next time they enter they weep, but still think they will make it out and away. Sometime between their third and fifth time they grow sullen, defensively hunched against the criticism of their own soul, and try to become callused to stop the pain of reality. About the sixth return to jail they grow accepting of their sins, only occasionally crying when a child or parent dies outside the bars and they are unable to say their last goodbyes. It is a creeping deathly state of the heart, which yields decisions that destroy the body. Most inmates are young because they don’t live to grow old. When they are 30 they look an unhealthy 60, and then many stop returning because they die.

It is in this place I find myself. I work at the end of hope, the place where human effort has failed and only despair is left. Here, buried in concrete and metal, is where Christmas comes. This place of walking dead, this cemetery of the heart, this monument to evil atrocities, even in this place, Christmas comes because life overcame death. Jesus overcame the grave. His blood covers our sins. Oh death, where is thy sting? Death, this vile noisome disease that walks the halls of jail with me, is not powerful enough to stop life. And as midnight strikes, Christmas arrives.

Christmas does not come loudly. It is quiet, gentle calming. This is the one night where inmates and deputies agree not to fight. The lion lies down with the lamb. The proud gang bangers order their troops to be still and the peace officers do not need to use force to ensure no disturbance causes injury and death. It is a sad time, but aptly sad. For who can look at themselves in the quiet and not be sad at their shackled state? And so there is sorrow at night, but joy comes in the mourning.

In this quiet sadness, reflection opens our eyes. We see ourselves and realize we are broken. We grieve the loss of ourselves, knowing we cannot regain what we have lost. We cannot fix ourselves. I cannot grow back a lost hand any more than I can grow back a lost life. If we could, there would be no jail. But there is a jail. There are inmates. This Christmas there are many who will not see their families because of sin. Sin separates us from what is good, from families, friends and God.

But God made a way to be reunited. He who created the Universe was pleased to create a way back to wholeness. And at midnight I walk the hallways of the jail. My inmates quietly go their bunks and ask for a Christmas song. “Something quiet, ma’am. Something to help us sleep.” And so, because it is Christmas, I let the Wexford Carol herald in this peaceful celebration of a life born in separation from society. Surely a manger and a jail have this apartness in common.

So I will leave you with the words of this carol. I know some of my inmate listened to it and thanked Jesus for his birth and confessed their need for his help. If these, the worst of the human race, can do this one thing right, then I invite you to reflect on their Christmas story and do as they did. In this area, you can do no better than these inmates. They received the best present and the only way to life.

“Good people all, this Christmas time, consider well and bear in mind what our good God for us has done in sending his beloved Son. With Mary holy, we should pray, to God with love this Christmas day. In Bethlehem upon that morn, there was a blessed Messiah born.”

*a pseudonym.

A Prayer for Christmas Day

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
- from The Book of Common Prayer.
Merry Christmas, dear ones!
-Jessica Snell

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

St. Francis de Sales on temptation and hope

. . . if we feel we have neither strength nor even any courage to resist temptation if it is presented at once to us (provided that we still desire to resist it and we hope that if it came, God would help us), and if we ask for His help, we must by no means distress ourselves, since it is not necessary for us always to feel strength and courage. It suffices that we hope and desire to have it at the time and place. It is not necessary to feel in ourselves any sign or any mark that we shall have this courage; it is enough that we hope that God will help us.
-St. Francis de Sales, from Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World, emphasis mine

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bertie Wooster on Napping

The kids are home from school, the last candle on the Advent wreath is lit, and I just read the perfect description of what I want out of my Christmas vacation:
It was with something of the emotions of one preparing a treat for a deserving child that I finished my tea and rolled over for the extra spot of sleep which just makes all the difference when there is a man's work to be done and the brain must be kept clear for it.   
-from "Right Ho, Jeeves", by P. G. Wodehouse
Ah . . . sleep. Rest. And then good work and play, at home, in the company of those I love. If the Lord is willing and Christ tarry.

Dear ones, may your days - your next few, especially - be merry and bright!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, December 22, 2013

yet another giveaway - win a free book!

Enter to win a free copy of the Epiphany and Lent volume of "Let Us Keep the Feast" here, at Jeff Gissing's blog.

I hope you win!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Weekly Scripture Reflections (Daniel, Luke, and Revelations)

These are my notes on the week's readings. I'm posting them here just because I realized I wanted to start keeping track of my notes! The bolded quotations are just phrases that really stood out to me. 

Notes on the end of Daniel:
-Daniel sounds so different than the other Old Testament prophets. His diction and word choice - even in translation - sound foreign when compared to, say, Isaiah. I think it must be the influence of his Babylonian education.*
And here's the thing: how cool is that? When Daniel heard the Lord, he described the experience in his own voice. Yet it's recognizably the word of the Lord. The message rings true with the rest of the Scripture. You can hear the formational experience of the prophet in the diction, and apparently the Lord was willing to let that abide, and yet it doesn't - in the least - obscure the strength and goodness of the Lord's word to His people.
So cool.

-is Daniel 9 related to Solomon's temple dedication prayer? < --This was my question as I listened to it this time through.
In Daniel 9, Daniel prays:
O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on the account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion.
O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your Name. (vs. 18-19)
Now, doesn't that sound like Solomon's prayer here, when he dedicated the temple?
When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy, because they have sinned against You, if they turn to You again and confess Your name and pray and make supplication to You in this house, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers. (I Kings 8:33-34) 
Daniel was doing what Solomon had asked the Lord to let his people do: turn towards the Lord and repent and beg for restoration.

-Dan. 10: "the thing was true, but the time appointed was long"

-Dan. 10 - he saw the vision; the men with him didn't, but trembled . . . like Paul on the road to Damascus.

-"oh Daniel, a man greatly beloved, stand upright, for unto thee I am now sent"

-there is still really a lot in Daniel that I just do not understand . . .

Notes on Luke 1:
-I love Luke's introduction. "In order". Hear, hear! "that you may be sure of the things wherein you have been instructed . . ." Luke speaks my language!

-"blessed is she who believed! for . . ." (like Abraham - Mary believed (and it was counted to her as righteousness? seems so . . .))

-"that we, being delivered from our enemies, might serve Him without fear . . ."

-Luke 1 is just such a dear, dear chapter. It's so familiar - if you pray any of the daily offices in the BCP, you know the Magnificat and Zechariah's song - and the more I hear it and read it, the more I love it . . . it feels like family history, you know? but better, and greater, and more glorious . . .

Notes on the end of Revelation:
-Rev 21: "behold, the tabernacle of the Lord shall be with man . . ." Seriously. This whole passage. Where we're heading. Where we've been (it's the Old Testament promise, finally come really, really true).
"I will give to him that is athirst . . ."

-Rev. 21 - the measuring of the holy Jerusalem - this is like undoing what was done in Ezekiel, when the temple was measured and the glory of the Lord departed . . . and now the Lord is the temple and the Lamb the light . . .

-in Rev. 21, the list of those who will not be there sounds so harsh, until you stop to think that if you let adulterers and whoremongers and sorcerers in . . . then you have to live with adultery and prostitution and horrors . . . and how is that heaven? those are all those things that make this earth such a terror and a burden to live in. And that will all be gone. Thank God.

-"seal not the words of this book . . ." this isn't a secret. Let them know what's coming. "and he who is righteous, let him be righteous still, and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still . . ."

*To be totally honest, listening to Daniel - at least in the KJV version - reminds me of the style of the Tarkheena's storytelling in Lewis' The Horse and His Boy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Weekend Links: Mary, Christmas Songs, Synonyms, and more!

"Unspeakable Joy":
Pregnant Mary mirrors for us what the Church will become. She is the model disciple already: waiting for God’s Word with a prepared heart, receiving and believing God’s Word, and in faith obeying and yielding to God. Then she carries Christ inside of her, literally having Him ‘formed in her,’ a picture that the Apostle Paul will use in his letter to the Galatians years later: “My little children for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” (4:19) The Church carries Christ, and like Mary, brings witness of His life in us, demonstrating Him to everyone.
Yet death is looming throughout this story.
"Musings on Christmas Songs":
With the Christmas season upon us, it is impossible to go anywhere without being inundated with Christmas songs. I have also noticed that different places will play a different selection of Christmas songs which got me thinking that most Christmas songs can be placed into one of four basic categories.
"Grammar Lesson of the Day: Bury the Thesaurus":
The thing is, very few words are really synonymous with one another. This makes English especially baffling for non-native speakers. English is phenomenally rich in words, from the Germanic foundations, from the Viking variants, from the French by way of the Norman Conquest; words borrowed or invented from Latin and Greek from the Renaissance to this day; we even borrow ways of making new words. No language has as many words as English does. No language is even close.
"Let Us Keep the Feast: Advent and Christmas":
Although my Catholic roots have given me a fondness for the liturgical calendar, I didn’t get quite enough training to really know how to live it out. Maybe it just wasn’t taught, or maybe I simply wasn’t paying attention. But I’ve longed for ways to help myself and my family focus on Jesus in special ways throughout the year, and particularly in the four weeks before Christmas.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, December 20, 2013

7 Quick Takes: WAHM edition

This was the first year all my kids were in school. I guess I’m starting to think through what exactly it is that I’ve learned in this first semester (sorry, I still think in semesters) of having all the kids in school. Of trying to structure this new era of my life. So here are my (more-than-7) Quick Takes on the matter: 

1) I’ve learned that keeping up with the housework matters. It allows for everything else.

2) I’ve learned that I can do the housework in the afternoons, after helping the kids with their homework. It’s a discipline, of course, and it’s hard then, because I’m tired, but it’s really the best time of the day to do it, because housework doesn’t take lots of brain-power.

3) I’ve learned that if I put my workout clothes on first thing, that I exercise. That’s worth doing.

4) So is listening to the Bible and knitting almost every day, though it kind of fits best in my lunch hour. Quick lunch, then devotions.

5) Prayer first thing in the morning, though, and last thing at night.

6) Doing the dishes after dinner every night never sounds fun, but it keeps me sane, because whenever they pile up I get anxious. And it never does take as long as I think.

7) The kids are getting old enough that paying them to do some of the chores is actually worth it. They can do it, they learn responsibility and that work is rewarded, and I get some help. This is worth doing, even though I do still have to help them finish up sometimes.

8) I’ve learned that if I really want to be a WAHM (and I do), I have to treat the time that the kids are in school as work time. I have to treat it like what it is: a real part-time job. Clock in when they go to school, clock out when they come home.

9) I’ve learned that I love having my cranky cat and my loud, goofy dog as – if not coworkers – the company mascots. Animals are not human company, but they are real company, and I’m happier working at home with the wordless, furry company they provide.

10) I’ve learned that not every day is going to look like the ideal above. It’s important to make space for other duties: church stuff, friend stuff, family stuff. It’s important to realize that part of the price I pay for this flexibility is the possibility of interruption. I can’t remember one week where everything went according to an “ideal” schedule – in fact, I can’t remember one day like that.

But having an ideal schedule – and ordering my days so that the most important things are done first – means that everything doesn’t have to fall apart when the inevitable interruptions happen. I know where I left off, and I know where I’m going to pick up again. The loom will still hold the threads, even if I’m not sitting in front of it at the moment.

11) I’ve learned even that peaceful attitude is something I can’t find every day. No matter. I have to trust I’ll come back to it. I’m not going to trash my goals because I happen to feel crappy one day.

12) I’ve learned there’s a lot of virtue in just doing something. If I feel I can’t face the most important thing on my list, I just do something on my list. Then at least one more thing is done. It never hurts to do that, and it often helps get me moving again.

13) I’ve learned sometimes the most virtuous thing to do is to stop. If I’m getting sick, if I really haven’t had enough sleep, sometimes the best thing to do is stop, go to bed early, and start again the next day. Sleep really does knit up the raveled sleeve of care. 

More Quick Takes can be found here, at Conversion Diary!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, December 19, 2013

More giveaway goodness!

I'm  happy to say that there's yet another chance for you to win a free book, over here at My Broken Fiat (wow, what a great blog title!).

And if you haven't yet, don't forget to also enter to win here, here, and here!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Three Chances to Win a Free Book!

I'm so excited to let you guys know about this: there are three different blogs this week offering a giveaway of the Advent/Christmas volume of "Let Us Keep the Feast"!

You can enter here, at Filling My Prayer Closet.

And you can enter here, at Life of a Catholic Librarian.

And you can enter here, at La Strada Tostada!

Go forth and win thee a book! :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Celebrating the end of Advent with the O Antiphons

The O Antiphons began yesterday. Most people are familiar with these traditional prayers without knowing it, because they're the verses of the famous hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", addressing Jesus as "O Wisdom" and "O Lord", "O Root of Jesse", etc. There's one verse for each of the last days of Christmas.

Rachel talks about these in the Advent section of "Let Us Keep the Feast", but if you want some more excellent resources on this devotional practice as we enter this last week before Christmas, can I recommend the blog "Lent and Beyond"? They've got some great, info-thick posts on how to devotional pray the O Antiphons, including:

-This overview
-This devotional on the first Antiphon ("O Wisdom")
-On having an Advent Choral Service in your own living room.

My thanks to Karen B. for passing these on!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Yarnalong: "The Iron Sceptre" and Knit Stars

It's getting close to Christmas, and my knitting has turned glittery. :)  I had some old Vanna's Glamour yarn that I wasn't sure what to do with, but when I saw this free pattern from WEBS, it was the perfect fit.

And no, I'm not going to get a garland made before Christmas, I don't think, but it's okay. Next year will do just as well.

The book is a good fit, too. My dad read it to us, and now I'm reading it to my kids. And they're getting just as caught up in the story as I did. The fantastical world and the children's adventures just sweep them along. As an adult, part of my brain notes the little quirks of prose that make it unfashionable, in a literary sense (it's not old enough yet for the quirks to make it "classic"), but as an adult, I also notice all the wonderful, sweet, and good moments. John White's insight into the human heart was keen, and as I reread The Iron Sceptre, I'm beginning to realize just how many truths about God and grace I first learned here.

I totally recommend it, though you might want to start with The Tower of Geburah.

More book-and-yarn goodness can be found over at Ginny's Small Things.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. Speaking of books, you can win a free one! There are currently two blogs hosting giveaways of "Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home". You can enter once here, at Life of a Catholic Librarian, and also here, at La Strada Tostada. A free book on celebrating Advent and Christmas would be a perfect fit for the season too, right? :D

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Daybook for December 16, 2014

outside my window . . . it's warm again. Here's the conversation Adam and I just had about this:

"Well, at long last, that dreadful cold snap's over."
"Yeah, it was bad there for awhile - down in the FIFTIES!"
"Hey, one early morning last week, I saw frost on the grass!"
"Sure . . . but we're spoiled here."
"Oh come on, it got down into the THIRTIES at night. That's ALMOST freezing."
"Well, at least it's back in the eighties now . . ."

(Actually, I kind of wish it were still cold. Shh, don't tell any of my fellow Angelenos!)

 I am listening to . . . my Advent playlist. (When I can tear myself away from my Christmas one - bad church-year lady!)

 I am wearing . . . leggings and long sleeves. Because I'm still trying to pretend it's cold.

 I am so grateful for . . . good teachers for my kids. So, so grateful to the kind and competent ladies at the children's school!

 I am reading . . . almost finished with "Thy Will Be Done", and sneaking in a little "Right Ho, Jeeves!" here and there.

 I am creating . . . aside from the knitting queue - which grows ever longer - I'm outlining several different books. I'll keep doing that till one of them sits up and yells at me that it's sure IT is my next project. :)

 around the house . . . just trying to keep everything ticking over in the midst of holiday prep. If I make it to Christmas week with a healthy amount of clean dishes and clean laundry, I'll be absolutely delighted.

 from the kitchen . . . I think almost all the meals I'm planning this week are slow-cooker meals. Which tells you something about what a nutty week this is.

 real education in our home . . . working on sight words with the twins. In addition to teaching phonics, their kindy recognizes that English is a weird old language were some things just need to be memorized. Dear old English. I do love all its odd crooks and crannies.

planning for the week ahead . . . LA LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEEEEEEEEEAR YOU.

 the church year in our home . . . you know, this year the Jesse Tree seems to be really working. It must just be the first year where all the kids are really old enough to get into the stories. It's kind of neat! We've been doing it for awhile, and now's the time it's really taken off. It's fun when a habit pays off that way.

picture thought . . . and with that, here's what our Jesse Tree looks like:
Adam made the tree itself, and the kids and I sewed the ornaments out of felt.

noticing God's glory . . . there are so many COLORS outside right now. All bright, but sort of muted at the same time, because there aren't big swathes of one color in the foliage, but little bits of everything, like pointillism. The poor transplanted trees and bushes never can figure out what season it is here. Pinks and greens and oranges, all variegated and swirled together . . . all under a clear blue sky. It's really lovely.

And when I can keep the dog from diving under the bristly branches of all that loveliness, so that I don't have to crawl under the hedges to untangle her leash while she tries to eat the mockingbirds . . . well, then it's all even lovelier!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, December 16, 2013

Saint Francis de Sales' Advice to Expectant Moms

As I was reading St. Francis de Sales' Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World, I came across a couple of letters written to pregnant women who wrote to him for advice, troubled by their weakness and tiredness, and how their physical state was hindering their prayers.

His advice was very sweet, and applicable, I think, not just to expectant moms back then - or even just to expectant moms full stop - but to any of us suffering discouragement. He says:
My dearest daughter, we must not be unjust and require from ourselves what is not in ourselves. When troubled in body and health, we must not exact from our souls anything more than acts of submission and the acceptance of our suffering . . . as for exterior actions, we must manage and do them as well as we can, and be satisfied with doing them, even without heart, languidly, and heavily . . . Have patience then with yourself . . . often offer to the eternal glory of our Creator the little creature in whose formation He has willed to make you His fellow worker.
I love that last part. :)  The thought that God has willed to make us fellow workers in the formation of our fellow creatures - that is the true joy of motherhood: sweet, foundational, and undeserved!

He goes on along those lines later in the letter, saying:
My dear daughter, the child who is taking shape in your womb will be a living image of the divine majesty; but while your soul, your strength, and your natural vigor is occupied with this work of pregnancy, it must grow weary and tired, and you cannot at the same time perform your ordinary exercises so actively and so gaily. But suffer lovingly this lassitude and heaviness, in consideration of the honor that God will receive from your work. It is your image that will be placed in the eternal temple of the heavenly Jerusalem, and that will be eternally regarded with pleasure by God, by angels, and by men. The saints will praise God for it, and you also will praise Him when you see it there.
Wow! what thoughts! But it reminds me of Lewis' observation in The Weight of Glory, that you never talk with a mere mortal, that every human being you behold is an eternal creature, destined someday to be a hideous nightmare, or a glorious being you would be tempted to worship could you see it properly . . . there is nothing "mere" about the work of pregnancy, though it is at the same time so work-a-day, so ordinary, and the extraordinary part of it is none of our own doing . . .

In another letter to an expectant mom, St. Francis has this to say:
I beg you to put yourself in the presence of God, and to suffer your pains before Him. Do not keep yourself from complaining; but this should be to Him, in a filial spirit, as a little child to its mother. For if it is done lovingly, there is no danger in complaining, nor in begging cure, nor in changing place, nor in getting ourselves relieved. But do this with love, and with resignation into the arms of the good will of God.
That - now that seems advice for all of life. And this last, which I'm tempted to take as a life motto:
You can only give God what you have . . .
Yes, and should give Him what you have. But He doesn't expect anything else. What you have? that is enough. Because He was already enough anyway.

Enough, and more than enough.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Weekend Links: Advent, Hobbits, Writers, and more!

"Experiments in Advent":
I admit that I may have ignored Advent for years because I didn’t like the idea of waiting for Christmas. As soon as the sun set on Thanksgiving I wanted immediate immersion in all things Christmas. Instant gratification. Get me the tree and the music and the happy feelings! This year, I decided to try waiting for Christmas. And waiting isn’t just sitting around and twiddling my thumbs. It’s preparing. It’s longing and yearning. It’s daring to hope that in the midst of darkness, Christmas is coming . . .
"Guatamala 1" and "Guatamala 2":
It was like this all day. Case after case, often found in a house full of barefoot children and poultry, of children with bad complications of relatively simple conditions. Congenital herpes infection. Ocular herpes. Blindness from a congenital cataract. So many things I had only read about– or, in the case of the fistulas, that I had to reason out based on my knowledge of anatomy, since I had neither encountered it before nor read it.
"Elevenses And Then Some: How To Prepare A Feast Fit For A Hobbit":
Each year, I swear I will never do this again.
And yet, for the third year in a row, I am preparing to host a day-long Lord of the Rings movie marathon – and cooking up a seven-course hobbit-themed feast, plus dessert, to serve my guests. Maybe it's because, like Tolkien, I too would like the world to be a merrier place.
"14 Ways to Tick Off a Writer":
7) Read ten pages of the author’s book. Realize that it’s absolutely not for you: you thought it was a zombie story, and it’s actually historical fiction about Alexander Graham Bell. Go on Goodreads anyway, and give it one star for not being a zombie story.
"Seeking Abortion's Middle Ground" (note, this one's old, but still very good):
A few years ago, quite by accident, I discovered an important piece of common ground. Something I wrote in a conservative think-tank journal was picked up and quoted widely. I had written: "There is a tremendous sadness and loneliness in the cry ‘A woman’s right to choose.’ No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg."
"'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' Review: 'Pirates of the Caribbean' with Orcs":
Tolkien was a man who was deeply personally scarred by the world wars, and while his novels are not anything so pedantic as allegory, that world view of the miracle of democracies and their common men tearing down the great edifices of tyranny is embedded in every word of his stories.
The single most symbolic event in the failure of Jackson’s films to understand what the point of the story is, is the excising of The Scouring of the Shire. Citing budgets (on these billion dollar films) and time constraints (with extended editions several weeks long) is smokescreen for the reality that Jackson simply doesn’t know what the hell the point of that final chapter is. It drives home the decisions to invent hours of battle scenes at the expense of what was actually on the page. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Recipe Edition

It must be the cold weather: I've been trying out new recipes. It's hard to want to bake when it's 103, you know?

But now? Bring on the cakes and casseroles! Here are seven new-to-me recipes I've tried out lately:

1) Chubby Chicken and Cream Cheese Taquitos.  Oh wow. These were SO good. Frying food usually scares me away from a recipe, but this one only called for a shallow splash of oil, and it was SO worth it. Yummmmmm.

2) Gooey Cinnamon Cake. I'm totally starting with the most drool-inducing recipes, can you tell? Oh gosh, I don't think this one even got much of a chance to get cold. We devoured it. Complicated, but - if you have the time - worth it.

3) Apple Pie Bars. This one was easier. It's like apple pie without the work of rolling out a crust. Delicious!

4) Crockpot Barbecue Chicken. Now we're getting down to the work-a-day stuff. This is two ingredients and made in a slow-cooker. Score! I served it with cornbread and salad, and my family gobbled it up. (I used drumsticks instead of the boneless, skinless stuff.)

5) Whole Wheat Bacon Cheeseburger Stromboli. Another hit. I used Trader Joe's pizza crust, and some leftover roast beef (instead of the ground beef the recipe called for) and it turned out really well.

6) Basil Garlic Chicken. This makes lots of sauce, so serve it with rice!

7) Cinnamon Sugar Donut Muffins. Okay, I haven't actually made this yet, but it's on the slate for this weekend!

For more quick takes, head over to Conversion Diary!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Babywearing twins, part II

(Oh my goodness, look how tired I am in that picture - wow! Those were the days . . .)

The second half of my article on babywearing twins is up now on Baby Bellies - this one is about carrying two babies at a time - hands-free! - when they're not little tiny newborns anymore. Check it out!

Peace of Christ to you,,
Jessica Snell

St. Francis de Sales on Death

Maybe it's this dark time of year, but it seems like I am hearing so many of my friends talk about the recent death of friends - and even here, in our parish, we lost a dear sister in Christ just a few weeks ago.

So when I read this in St. Francis de Sales' Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World, it really struck home:
The word dead is terrifying, as it is spoken to us; for some one comes to you and says, "Your dear father is dead," and "Your son is dead."
But this is not a fit way of speaking among us Christians, for we should say, "Your son or your father has gone into his and your country"; and because it was necessary, he has passed through death, not stopping in it.
Amen. Come soon, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Babywearing Preemie Twins

I'm guest-posting over at Baby Bellies on babywearing preemie twins. You can read the post here.

(btw, Baby Bellies is a great resource if you have or have had a premature baby, or if you're just looking for ideas for feeding your kids high-quality, nutritious food. I encourage you to check out their archives - they're full of good stuff!)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

an endorsement for "Let Us Keep the Feast" from Timothy George - and a chance to win a copy of the Advent/Christmas edition!

And if you're a bit on the fence of trying out "Let Us Keep the Feast", maybe this fellow can convince you to give it a shot. :)

“I really loved this book because it brings together the liturgy of the church and the life of the family.  A wonderful, practical guide for celebrating the seasons of the church year for everyone!” 
-Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and chairman of the Board for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

I'm so grateful to Dr. George for his kind words!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mathewes-Green on Christian Art

I found this today in Facing East, by Frederica Mathewes-Green, after she's talked about the sentimental art of Christian bookstores, and the harrowing, darker art of the more O'Connor-esque artists:

These seem to be the poles currently available in Christian art: comfort or disturb. In a culture where Christianity is tamed or toothless, and popular art seems intent on keeping believers that way, artists like Sheila, Ed, and O'Connor shout an alarm. One might wish for alternative conversations: art that inspires courage, for example, or awe or sorrow for sin. Perhaps such is not yet possible; perhaps the first message, "Wake up!," is still struggling to get through.

I don't know . . . it just leaves me with a real longing to make that kind of art she talks about in the middle there: of courage and awe and sorrow for sin.

I think I want to make that art.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Gift Ideas for the Whole Family

If the Etsy list wasn't enough, here are a few more ideas! Not comprehensive, but I hope a few of them might prove helpful to you as you finish up your shopping!

A Few Good Books:
-Manalive! by G. K. Chesterton - a lesser known story, but my very favorite. Good gift for just about anybody.
-Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison - if someone on your list loves to cook, they'll love this comprehensive volume on cooking everything non-meat.
-The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner - so good. So, so good.

-Sword of the Valiant - only for those friends who enjoy truly, truly terrible B movies. This is the most delightfully terrible of them all. But if you have a friend who's a Mystery Science Theater fan, they'd probably appreciate this DVD (but no one else will, so be careful!).
-George of the Jungle - so funny. More funny every time I watch it. A good family gift - because kids and adults (if they don't take themselves too seriously) will both enjoy it.
-Galaxy Quest - the best Star Trek parody ever

For the Little Ones:
-Melissa and Doug toys - seriously, any Melissa and Doug toys. It's really hard to go wrong here.
-The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman - one of my favorite picture books ever.

For the Slightly Bigger Little Ones:
-Playtime Piano Books - my daughter loves these - the familiar songs make her feel like all her practice is paying off. I just linked to one, but there's a whole series.

For the Grown-ups:
-d'Art wine - this Lodi winery makes lovely reds and ports.
-Bark River Knives - these are very well made, and so beautiful. Seriously, the handles are like fine jewelery.

For the Guys:
-Pocket Ref - when he needs ALL THE FACTS.
-Handyman-in-your-pocket - just what it sounds like.

Again - if you have some ideas to add, please do! The more ideas the better. :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Weekend Links: Perelandra, the Pope, and more!

"Evil Isn't Private (and Neither Is Good)":
But if you look hard enough at any immoral act, you will see it rippling outward into the community. Sin is sin not because it breaks the law, but because it damages the body of Christ. All sin does.
"100 Songs for Advent! – An Advent Worship playlist": wow! talk about comprehensive!

"The Praise of Perelandra":
If I told you that a Christian novelist wrote a book about Adam and Eve in space, and that after the plot is resolved he devotes a whole chapter to the characters having a church service where they praise God, many of you would vomit. If I told you the chapter where they sang praises was the best chapter, you might be polite, but in your heart you’d question my literary judgment. But it’s the truth. Imagine that: every word of it is true.
"Pope Francis Conservative":
Pope Francis affirms all the historic teachings of the Faith that are being attacked in the West, but he is a global Christian and knows that Western foibles and decadence are not the story for most of the world’s Christians. He refuses to allow Western media elites to set the agenda for the papacy. He denies dying Western parishes the right to dictate the agenda or discussions of the Church simply because they still give most of the money.
"Writing a Continuity": This link explains how multiple authors work together to write a linked series of novels. Cool behind-the-scenes look at the writing industry!

"On parenting teens":
5. Well before their teen years, subtly guide them toward an interest or two that you share (e.g., birding or carpentry or flying or whatever). This way, no matter what, you’ll have something in common.

Finally, to make you smile:

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Favorite Places on Etsy for Christmas Shopping

One of my favorite places to find unique gifts is the online arts-and-crafts marketplace Etsy.

Since this is the season for buying lots of gifts, I thought I'd list my favorite Etsy stores, in hopes of making your shopping a little easier!

(Note: most Etsy store owners I've corresponded with have been great about tucking in a notecard when I ask them to ship gifts to their recipients. Can't promise they all will, but you should definitely ask!)

Stores I've Actually Bought Stuff From:
-Sharon Schock - amazing painter - and her postcards and prints are very affordable. And I've seen her oils in real life, and they're lovely.
-Oh Fudge Store - want to send candy to an out-of-state relative? this is a great way to do it!
-SVSoaps - another great choice for easy gift-giving. I can testify that their stuff smells AMAZING. And they'll wrap it beautifully.

Stores I Want to Buy Stuff From:
-Samantha Mello Jewelery Designs - gorgeous stuff, and friendly for those of us with metal allergies.
-KUKLAstudio - their wire-and-stained-glass jewelery is stunning and unique.
-Pratt Creek Art - I love these colorful little paintings of various birds.
-Painting Well - oil paintings of skyscapes. Lovely.
-Luna Grey Fiber Arts - pretty sock yarn!

Friends' Shops:
-Tetra Variations: intense and awesome paperfolding stuff. Someone on your list like video-games? That someone also crafty? Check this store out.
-EquestriaRags: Know a little girl who needs her own beautifully crafted My Little Pony stuffie? Hit Joi up. She does great work.

Please let me know about your favorite Etsy shops in the comments - I'm not yet done with my own Christmas shopping, so I'd love to hear about anyone you think is worth checking out. Thanks!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, December 5, 2013

quick reminder: tomorrow is St. Nicholas' Day

. . . remember to have your kids put their shoes out in the hall!

(And if you're looking for chocolate coins tonight, I've always had luck at Trader Joe's.)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

What People Are Saying About "Let Us Keep the Feast: Epiphany and Lent"

I'm excited to say that the Epiphany and Lent edition of "Let Us Keep the Feast" is now available for purchase!  Here is what some people are saying about it:

As I read this book, I felt so much peace and joy in thinking about the many ways we can orient our lives to Christ's story.  In my busy, urban, context, I long for meaningful, embodied ways to connect with Jesus.  Let Us Keep the Feast will be a great blessing to me and the fast-moving city dwellers I minister to.
–Julie Barrios, Director of Spiritual Formation at Reality SF

With simplicity and sincerity, this little book shares the joy of celebrating Christ's gospel in the calendar. Its simplicity will give comfort and clarity to readers who have not yet celebrated the Christian calendar, and its sincerity will rally readers who have followed it their whole lives. It is practical and generous, stuffed with craft ideas, recipes, references to Auden or Eliot's poems, and heartfelt reflections–a delightful, edifying mixture.
- Peter David Gross, Executive Director of Wheatstone Ministries and Editor of The Examined Life

Christianity takes time seriously, and there is something special and holy about celebrating the church year in the home as a family.  I’m delighted to see this volume on Epiphany and Lent, and I believe it provides a wonderful resource to individuals and families who want to take seriously the sacred rhythms of a life in Christ.  Let Us Keep the Feast is a bountiful blessing!
-Peter Barnes, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Winston-Salem

This book comes to us not as exhortation but as invitation: Join the feast (and fast), it will nourish your soul and enrich your family. The authors usher us into two complementary seasons of the Christian Year, Epiphany (the season of light) and Lent (“the season of less”) in ways designed for home and heart. Anna Gissing helps us to extend the joyful implications of Jesus’ birth and life into the winter weeks of Epiphany, while Cate MacDonald guides us into the spirit of Lenten fasting intended to quiet us before God so that we can “hear more clearly” and “speak more honestly.” And these welcome and winsome encouragements come spiced with fresh resources for us and our families: scriptures, songs, poems, prayers, recipes and creative activities that help us dwell in the story of Christ artfully. Indeed, let us keep the feast with this spread of delectable servings.
-          Bobby Gross, author of Living the Christian Year and Director of InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministries

It is well-written, geared to the non-specialist reader who hasn't got a lot of time on her hands, and very practical. I think it ought to do very well and only hope that the other books in the series live up to this one.
-          Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, author of Godis Love, and The Doctrine of God

Protestant retrieving the Church calendar is one of the most important and encouraging signs of renewal that I know. This short introduction to two important seasons is everything an introduction should be: theologically astute, clear, practical, and properly introductory. It knows just how much people new to these practices might need to get started with a big list of resources for those who want more. I highly recommend it.
- Matthew Anderson, author of "The End of Our Exploring" and "Earthen Vessels"

Consider picking up a copy today!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell