Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekly Links!

"What ISIS Really Wants": this article from the Atlantic is making the rounds on social media, and for once, that makes sense. This is incredibly information-dense and so helpful to understanding what's going on behind the headlines.

"Lenten Calendar & Plans": Some great resources for Lent from Shirley, including recipes & crafts.

"Keep the Feast, Keep the Fast":
Jesus is the Last Adam because He keeps the fast. He enters a world that is no longer a garden, but a howling waste, and in that wilderness Satan tempts Him to break the fast, to be an Adam: “You’re hungry; eat thisnow. You deserve the accolades of the crowds; you can have it now if you jump off the temple. You want all authority in heaven and on earth, but your Father won’t give that to you unless you suffer an excruciating, shameful death; you can have it all now . . . 
Jesus refused, and refused, and then refused again, and in so doing broke the power of Adamic sin. Jesus kept the fast; He waited, labored, suffered, died, and then opened His hand to receive all life, all glory and honor, all authority and dominion, that His Father had to give Him . . .

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Notes: "The Living", by Matt de la Peña

I picked up "The Living" by Matt de la Peña because I'd enjoyed a short story of his that I read in "My True Love Gave to Me".

"The Living" starts off as an ordinary contemporary YA, about a young man named "Shy" who's working on a ritzy cruise ship in order to earn enough money to help out his family back home (in Otay Mesa, near San Diego, by the US/Mexico border).

But soon Shy's ordinary routine becomes something else, after he's the closest witness to a passenger who commits suicide and then he finds he's being stalked by a mysterious man in a suit. Weird becomes worse when "the Big One" finally hits Los Angeles, generating a series of gigantic tsunamis that overtake the cruise ship and kill almost everyone on board.

Shy manages to survive the initial disaster, but it's clear he's not out of danger yet, and worse becomes worser and worsest . . . annnnnnnnnnnnnnd, no spoilers from me. The journey's too good to spoil it. I will say: this is an adventure book, a post-apocalyptic book, and if being lost at sea is your personal nightmare, well, you'll find plenty of terrifying fodder here.

This is clearly a YA book, with a bit of romance and a ton of action, but nothing too graphic. However, I've come to genuinely enjoy YA: without the easy out of simply bludgeoning the reader over the head with either sex or violence, what you're often left with is just a good story, full of compelling characters.

Shy's outlook is pretty bleak, when you get down to it. His musings as he's pretty sure he's dying aren't exactly full of hope or any kind of surety of eternal meaning. But in action, he's a decent sort who looks out for his friends and often puts their well-being above his own.

In other words, he's a guy you can root for.

In one of his Goodreads blog entries, author de la Peña says:
The Living is a different book for me. It's an action-driven disaster novel. I wanted to take my usual mixed-race, working class characters and put them in a bigger context. Why? I want to reveal to a wider audience the heart and dignity (as well as the flaws) of kids growing up on the "wrong side of the tracks." My dream is for The Living to reach suburban folks, too, this time. And kids in private schools. And middle class adult readers who dig YA. So instead of bringing story conflict to my characters and letting them fight it out on their own turf (rough southern California neighborhoods), I brought my characters to the conflict, in this case a luxury cruise ship bound for Hawaii.
And I have to say: boy, he succeeded. I love de la Peña's voice, and now I want to go and find his earlier books, set in those rough southern California neighborhoods he mentions. Voice is the thing that carries you through a book; it's the thing that makes the book easy to read, no matter how much hard territory the author wants to carry you over.

De la Peña has a voice I'm willing to listen to, even if it's in genres that aren't usually my favorites. That's a rare thing, and I'm so happy to find a new author I like that much.

Some content warnings for violence, mayhem, a tiny bit of sexual content, and a mildly hopeless worldview. Probably appropriate for older teenagers, but parents give it a look first.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

We were at church early this morning, before the sun was up, to get ashes put on our foreheads and to be reminded we were going to die.  All of us, yes, even these beautiful children, with their bright eyes and their round cheeks.

But we were also at church, early this morning, as the sun was coming up, to drink and to be fed the very blood and body of our Lord, and to be reminded that we were going to live. All of us, yes, even those whose bones were aching and whose skin was wrinkled.

The Lord made us of dust, and to dust we shall return.

The Lord became one of us, and like Him we will be, rising again, by His grace.

I wish you a good and holy Lent.  May it be a season of traveling back to your first love, growing ever lighter with every step, as we drop our burdens by the wayside, along with our pleasures. As we ask forgiveness for our sins and mercies for our shortcomings.

As we learn to repent.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

P.S. If you want some more resources for the Lenten season, I have links to Lenten content around the web here, on my church year resources page.  You can view all Lenten content from this blog here (which includes both links and original content).  Finally,  Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home, has an entire chapter on Lent, and includes everything I wish I'd known when I first started observing the season.

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fitness DVD Review: Jillian Michaels' One Week Shred

So, I like this one!  No huge shock, given that I'm a long-time fan of her old 30 Day Shred video.

Like that DVD, Jillian Michaels' "One Week Shred" consists of workouts that last about 30 minutes, and it gives you a great calorie burn for those 30 minutes.

The big difference between this DVD and its predecessor is that this one is divided into two workouts instead of three, and of those two workouts, one consists of strictly cardio and the other of strictly weights.

Now, Jillian suggests that you use this video for a straight 7 days, using one workout in the morning and one in the evening. I disagree. For me, the virtue of this DVD is that you can alternate cardio and weights on alternate days.

The weights workout is a bit over 30 minutes and the cardio a bit under 30. I'm a bit out of shape right now, and so I really appreciated the fact that Jillian provided good modifications to the various exercises. Even with the modifications, I felt like I got a great workout.

In sum, this one is a win for me, with the caveat that I wouldn't use it as suggested. Work out the amount of time that works for you - a crazy 7-day attempt to lose a bunch of weight doesn't sound healthy to me. But the workouts themselves? They're pretty good stuff.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Weekly Links!

Some good reading for your weekend:

"Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write":
The benefits of writing go far beyond building up your vocabulary . . .
"Ask the Agent: What's hot and cold in publishing these days?": a nice assessment of the latest numbers.

"Gospel of Confession":
The Father eternal speaks forth the Son – an act that we might re-characterize as the Father eternal confessing the Son, telling forth the truth about himself in the eternal Word. If that is the case, then our confession as telling forth the truth of God finds its basis in the far greater, the complete act of the Father from eternity telling forth the truth about himself in the person of his Son. 
"Strange is Good with the Trinity":
In any given church, you'll have people at different stages of their understanding of trinitarian prayer, which leads to some awkwardness. We've all heard prayers that start out, “Heavenly Father,” and then within a couple of sentences are saying, “Thank you for dying on the cross for us.” Or prayers that start, “Dear Jesus” and move on to “thank you for sending your Son to save us.” What's going on here? Probably not outright heresies (patripassianism in the first case, some sort of Jesus-modalism in the second). Probably the person praying has been mentally focused on one person of the Trinity initially, and has shifted his or her attention to another person a few seconds later, without bothering to adjust all the other parts of the prayer or to vocalize a transition. Anybody in the congregation who is more fluent with trinitarian theology will hear something that sounds alarming. But I doubt that the person praying would fail a simple theology test if you stopped them and administered one (which, by the way, please don't).
"Fifty Shades Against Gender Neutrality":
Having repressed healthy masculinity, what bubbles up through the cracks is a crude distortion of the real thing, and our enjoyment of it is confined to the level of fantasy. We’re eating dog food because we’re hungry for steak.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Notes: Dinner, the Playbook

I am a huge fan of cookbooks.

And cooking magazines.

And cooking blogs.

But this book is something else.  I love "Dinner: the Playbook", by Jenny Rosenstrach.

I didn't buy this book at first. I heard about it and - like most books I hear about and am interested in - I borrowed it from the library.

But after a few weeks of using the library's copy, I knew that I wanted my own. (If only to keep from staining the library's copy.  It's just . . . paying library fines is not an unlikely scenario for me, iykwim.)

So, I bought a copy, and I've been using it ever since.

I love this book.  I'm good at menu planning and I actually like cooking, but this book makes both of those jobs easier not only provides interesting main dishes, but by suggesting veggie-heavy side dishes to go with.

Eventually, I realized that this book was the work of a blogger that I've subscribed to for a long time, but that (sorry!) I hadn't really paid much attention to (it's easy to do that in an RSS reader).

But after I checked this book out of the library, I used it in my weekly menu planning. And I loved two things about it:

1) The little chef-ly details. Each recipe has those nice little details - you know, the ones that don't take much time or fuss, but make all the difference between the final dish tasting good, and tasting great.  (E.g., letting a clove of garlic sizzle in the olive oil for a few minutes and then fishing it out before frying your omelet - mmm, easy garlic-infused oil.)

2) The side dish suggestions. My go-to side dish is seasonal fruit. Healthy? yes. Yummy? yes. Boring? . . . sometimes.

But "Dinner: the Playbook" has a list of easy, (mostly) veggie side dishes.  And each main dish recipe suggests which one (or ones) you should serve with it.  This makes things so much easier.  I can menu-plan based on the main dishes I want to make, and I don't have to go searching for something healthy and produce-based that will go with them.  It's right there.

Here's one of the meals I made out of this cookbook recently:
It's a baked potato bar (the potatoes are covered in cheddar cheese), and her topping suggestions were great: caramelized onions, steamed broccoli, ham, yogurt, and salsa. It was delicious, and each of us could customize our own potato. Everyone liked it, and we all got plenty of veg.

There are more creative meals in here, for sure, this is just one I managed to get a picture of.   :)  Anyway, I'd recommend this cookbook to anyone looking for something a bit out of the ordinary way, but not so far out of the way that the kids won't eat up!  :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Love Behind Valentine's Day & a Giveaway!

Today I have the pleasure to be over at Jill Kemerer's blog, writing about St. Valentine and true love:

Even though there are many stories about Valentine (and even many stories about many different Valentines!), the oldest and most reliable account is clear about the important details: there once was a man named Valentine, and he loved the Lord Jesus, and he died for that love. 
It’s a strange story to focus on in the midst of all the chocolates and roses and hearts that decorate our stores and our schools and our news sources during February. 
Or is it?

Head on over to Jill's place to read the rest!

And while you're there, be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post - it includes books, chocolate, and a Starbucks gift card!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What owning pets can teach us about agape love

My dog is an idiot.

And my cat is mean.

And I love them both to pieces.

My dog, Callie, really wants us to love her. ALWAYS. Which means ALL THE TIME. Which means SCRATCH ME PLEASE SCRATCH ME I LOVE YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THE END.
And my cat, Jack, would really like us to feed him, for which he will deign to bite us delicately, rather than biting us with intent to maim. (He's so kind and condescending. Sort of like Lady Catherine de Burgh.)

But they're both lovely animals, actually. In their own ways, they're desperate for attention and care, and they give back the affection their natures allow them, and they make our lives better with their presence and their sheer, stupid energy.

And it made me think: I can kind of get agape love a little better since I'm the owner of goofy Callie and supercilious Jack.

Pets vs. Humans
Sometimes it's easier to love imperfections like a bitey cat than to love imperfections like a gossipy tongue. It's easier to love my stupid dog than it is to love . . . well . . . stupid humans.

Animals are simple. They have their own personalities, sure, but the eat-prey-love drives are pretty surface and easy to understand in all of them.

Humans are anything but simple. Even at ninety years old, can you hope to really know yourself? Really?

But, see, I love my pets. I don't expect them to be something other than they are (though I sometimes hope).  And I feed my cat on the days he scratches up the carpet the same as on the days that he purrs happily while I pet him (this is a rare occasion with our persnickety formerly-feral feline).

And I guess that's how I should love people. Because we're all sometimes cranky or stupid. And we hope the people who are meant to love us love us still.

God helping us. Amen.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, February 9, 2015

My To-Be-Read List, and how I organize it

Every time the old year turns over to the new, I do a few things:

1) I update my "yarn stats".  I have a document where I keep track of what I knit each year: how many skeins, how many yards, etc.  Maybe this is a blog post of its own, waiting to happen.  :)

2) I update my "books read" document.  I've been keeping track of how many books I read each year for about five years now. I keep track of author and title, too.

And it got me thinking about my to-be read list, and how I use it.

I used to keep track of my books-to-be read on a Word document, but lately I've also been using the "to-be read" function on Goodreads.

(I still use Word docs to keep track of the books I've actually read; though I keep track of most of the books I read on Goodreads, for various reasons, I don't put all of them on there.)

I know some folks put every vaguely interesting book they run across on their TBR list, but I do things a little bit differently: I only add books I think I'm actually going to read.

I don't put on books that I want my kids to read.  Or books that I should read.

Just books I think I'm actually going to read.

This means my TBR list isn't very long.

Y'know, just fifty books long or so.

And it doesn't include the Bible, which I am constantly rereading.  And it doesn't include the books I know I'm going to reread sooner or later because they're sitting on my physical bookshelves and I love them.  Those just get read when I read them.  Whenever.

No, my TBR list is for new books, mostly.

New-to-me, anyway,  If you look at my TBR list on Goodreads, you'll see that it's organized in a particular order:
1) New non-fiction.
2) Old non-fiction.
3) New fiction.
4) Old fiction.  (Here live Heyer and Orczy.)

So what about you?  How do you keep track of the books you want to read?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Weekly Links

Just a few this week:

"The 'Plus One' Approach to Church":
Are you just starting out at a new church and don’t know how to get plugged in? Have you been at your church for years and still haven’t found your place? Are you feeling disconnected, unhappy, or bored with your local congregation? Let me suggest you enter the “Plus One” program of church involvement.
"Considering Lent": I'm honored to see "Let Us Keep the Feast" on this list, and there are some other great resources on this list - check it out!

"Shifts and Changes: part four, the growing of children":
I said yesterday that Motherhood is discovering every day the capacity to do more work, like a long protracted endless boot camp. But that's only one half of motherhood. The other half of motherhood, assuming that you can divide motherhood into two halves and why wouldn't you, is that as soon as you've figured something out and gotten good at it, the child undergoes some kind of radical change and you are faced with new unknown territory. The rule is, as soon as you've gotten into a comfortable routine, that's when there will be a revolutionary change.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Notes: "Landline", by Rainbow Rowell

"Landline", by Rainbow Rowell, is one of those rare books: it's a romance about a married couple.

It's a romance with a slightly fantastical twist, but the twist is there only to allow for more examination of those long-lived-in relationship between the heroine and her husband. (In other words: even if you're not a fantasy person, I think you'll allow it.)

The storyline goes backwards and forwards in time - a little, I should say, it really is mostly forward momentum - and it examines the fault-lines in the heroine's marriage, as well as all the things that made it good in the first place.

And it has bits I love. Recognizable bits, bits that feel like real life. Like this:
They'd never really danced together before that day . . . It wasn't dancing. It was just a way to make the wedding last. A way to stay in the moment, rolling it over and over in their heads. We're married now. We're married. 
You don't know when you're twenty-three. 
You dont' know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. 
You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems. 
She didn't know at twenty-three.
I really did read this quickly. I started it one day and finished it the next. I had to know how it turned out.

I'm a little invested in good marriages, I guess.

The worldview is not Christian, which is worth noting for readers of this blog. There's language and sexual content, though it's not a huge part of the book.

But the honesty of the book won me over. This observation by the main character:
This was how [she] had ruined everything. 
By being really good at something . . . By retreating into the part of her life that was easiest.

Yeah . . . how many times have I faced that temptation? Retreating into the part of my life that's easiest . . . I can understand that. I can feel that.

If you're married, if you've been married for awhile, I think this book will speak to you. If not . . . I don't know.* It's a really good picture of one relationship, lived in long enough that all the cracks are showing. And it's hopeful - hopeful that self-sacrifice can be the glue that keeps things holding together.

It's not perfect, by far, and it lacks an eternal hope. But I found it well-worth the read, and I'm grateful for the picture of a love long-loved that it depicts.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*I probably wouldn't have appreciated it as much ten years ago, but you're probably better than I am. I also would say that it's probably not for kids and younger teens. Maybe older teens, with parental discretion.

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)