Monday, August 31, 2015

Weekly Links: a Day Late

Good reading from around the Web for your . . . Monday.

I hope you still like reading when it's a Monday.

"Flat Book Cover Design: Why Do So Many of This Year's Book Covers Have the Same Design Style?": a look at trends in literary art.

"Small Surprises in Growing Up":
I blinked at the email, in a sort of shocked pause. My boy is too young to have to register for the draft. Except he isn’t. Not anymore. 

"20 Years Ago This Week: A Look Back at 1995":  a photo essay.

"Fasting for Beginners":
When Jesus returns, fasting will be done. It’s a temporary measure, for this life and age, to enrich our joy in Jesus and prepare our hearts for the next — for seeing him face to face. When he returns, he will not call a fast, but throw a feast; then all holy abstinence will have served its glorious purpose and be seen by all for the stunning gift it was. 
Until then, we will fast.

"Lists of Things that Women Cannot Do: The Problem with John Piper (and Me)":
Whatever happened before, and in, and after the garden of Eden affected relationships between men, women, and God – and we have hard theological work to do to figure out where in that journey we are.
"Not All Conservatives": this is an answer to the article above - I love the conversation they're having on this blog! Well-worth subscribing to.
Complementarianism might be better understood as one expression of gender conservativism. As a response to evangelical feminism, complementarianism developed and flourishes in a specific cultural context, namely a western, white, middle-upper class context; because of this, it will reflect western, white, middle-upper class assumptions about work, economics, and home. The fact that Pastor Piper is even concerned with answering the question “what jobs can a woman do” reflects this.

"How to Weave on a Cardboard Loom": why does this fascinate me? I really don't need another hobby . . .

"Mysteries of Consciousness":
Whatever the case, though, such experiences should chiefly remind us how many and how deep the mysteries of consciousness really are. And the profoundest mystery of consciousness is consciousness itself, because we really have little or no clear idea what it is, or how it could either arise from or ally itself to the material mechanisms of the brain.

"How the Ballpoint Pen Killed Cursive": I love cursive. And now I want a fountain pen.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Notes: "Survive the Unthinkable", by Tim Larkin

Several years ago, I had a chance to attend a weekend seminar teaching Target Focused Training, which is the self-protection plan the author of the book I'm reviewing today designed.

My response to a lot of the content of this book, Survive the Unthinkable, can be found in my review of that seminar, but almost five years out, I appreciated having the chance to review the material I studied that weekend by reading this short volume.

Larkin's theory of violence is simple: violence is rarely the answer; but when it is, it's the only answer.

I can't say he's wrong.

Thinking about violence is unpleasant, and the author, Larkin, agrees that it should be unpleasant.  Finding violence unpleasant means that we're normal, well-socialized people. Prevention, walking away . . . that's always the best idea, the best choice.

When it's an available choice.

But when someone who is asocial is perfectly willing to use violence against you, you don't want your socialization to prevent you from fighting back.

Here's a piece of his argument:

If someone is determined to kill you, you must place injury to ensure he can no longer hurt you . . . Violence has no place in everyday life . . . This book is not about becoming a violent person; it is about placing injury on a person who is trying to attack you so that you may survive . . . [violence is] a very narrow tool good for only one thing, and that's shutting down a human being who intends to attack you. But if you are going to place an injury, then you must be prepared to employ it full force . . ."

A lot of this book is dedicated to convincing you that fighting back (even going on the offense!) is good, and required, and not sociopathic. But only when absolutely necessary.  I appreciate both his insistence on violence being a useful tool and also his insistence that it's rarely the right tool. That balance there is important, I think.

The last bit of the book is dedicated to telling you how to be effective in your application of violence. I wish this section was a bit more expansive, but if you pay attention, you'll get a lot of good information. Effective violence doesn't require you to be big and strong. It requires you to have intent and information.

Not a fun topic at all. But a very necessary one.  I've found that since having this training, I've been much less anxious about the possibility of being attacked, simply because it helped me decide how I'd respond. Having already made the decision of what you'd do if takes away uncertainty, and taking away uncertainty really lowers anxiety.

Recommended - not for fun, but for the good information.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (If you purchase something through the links on this post, I'll receive a very small percentage of the purchase price. See full disclosure in the sidebar of my blog.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

This is what happens when I try to be good

So, I tried doing a writing exercise from a book I love, "Chapter After Chapter", and the exercise was to take a short period of time and jot down 25 books that you could write.

Well, I cheated, and used at least 10 books that I've already worked on, thought about, plotted a bit, etc.  And a few were really, really generic. But the last 10 or so were really just me, trying to come up with enough ideas that I could tell myself that I'd sincerely done my best to do the writing exercise properly.

And it turns out that I'm a bit nuts. Here's what I came up with at the end of the exercise:

17) I Never Wanted to Be Boethius: On Christianity and Fortune’s Wheel

18) Of Course Someone Made a Still! (Starfleet as It Really Would Have Been)

19) Full of Scorpions: a YA Macbeth with lots of MAGIC

20) Aliens in Exile in Regency London

21) French Wineseller (Vivandiere?) falls in with British Soldier during Napoleonic Wars

22) The Year of Our Lord (a year in the life of a local church, following the liturgical calendar, VERY FICTIONAL AND NOT REAL AT ALL I PROMISE)

23) It’s a Celebrity Wedding but the Real Story is the Two Assistants Falling in Love while they try to make the Party on the Beautiful Island actually Feel Like Paradise to these Crazy Rich People

24) Kids At Christian College Being Stupid and Growing Up and Getting Smarter

Now, of course, I want to read (almost) all of those titles. 

But I'm not sure I'm the one to write them . . . .

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you buy something from Amazon after following the links, I get a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I'm on Pinterest! (for some reason)

Pinterest, you guys. Who knew?

Yeah, yeah. Everyone but me, apparently. :)

But I'm there now!  Here are a few of the boards I've been putting together:

"Dinnertime!": this one is where I'm collecting recipes. And pinning a few of my own.

"Potluck Ideas": because my church is a potluck church.

"The Castle on the Mountain": for that amazing home/castle/estate my husband I will surely own one day.

"Intergalactic Space Princess": heroine chic. (Guys, this one's my favorite.)

I'm also working on putting together some boards for each of the seasons in the church year, which I hope to have go live starting in Advent.

I hope I see you over there!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Notes: "Lizzy & Jane", by Katherine Reay

"Lizzy and Jane", by Katherine Reay, is the author's second novel. (You can read my review of her first book, "Dear Mr. Knightley", here.)

Her first novel was a delightful take on Jean Webster's Daddy Long Legs. (And not so much Austen, as you might suppose. But that was fine with me - there are so many Austen tributes, and rather fewer Webster tributes - and I love Webster.)

"Lizzy and Jane" was harder for me to get into than "Dear Mr. Knightley", but not because the writing was worse. Far from it: the writing was just as wonderful.

It's just that the subject was so very sad.

Cancer is a hard subject. On Saturday, I participated in a cancer fundraising walk, and watching all the survivors list their diagnoses was so moving. One of those survivors is my father. Another is my husband.

Who hasn't been touched by this horrible disease?

And Reay's writing is so good that it felt way too much like real life.

It was hard to make myself want to read about cancer.

And on top of that, I had trouble connecting with the main character.

But I'm glad I kept going, because each of those problems I had with the manuscript ended up being part of the point. Cancer is horrible, and a novel about it would be a bad novel if it didn't get some of that horror across.

And it turned out that the reason the main character was hard to connect with precisely because she was a person who'd cut herself off emotionally, due to her mother's death (from breast cancer) when she was so young.

It was realistic, and in the best of ways.

Properly, the book really came alive in the second half, as the main character herself came alive again: reconnecting with the family, rediscovering her love of making food, and (of course!) falling in love.

Speaking of the romance, one of the things I liked about it was that it wasn't the point of the book. It wasn't even in the book.

And then it was.

And then it was everything.

And I loved that! It's so real life: at one moment, you are just yourself. And the next? You are you-and-him, and then it is just so forevermore.

I liked that a lot.

And now I find I've written almost an entire book review without telling you much about plot or genre. But I hope I've said enough to let you know if you want to read this or not - and I'd lean towards read this.

Because I love reading Christian fiction that doesn't feel fake - even if it feels a little more beautiful than real life. Beauty is something we can all do with having a bit more of.

"Lizzy and Jane", by Katherine Reay? Recommended.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Weekly Links - Self-Discipline, Caring for Others, Mothering, and more!

My weekly round-up of good reading from around the Web:

"Discipline and Adventure":  (congratulations to Anne, for her new blog on Patheos!)
. . . by forcing yourself to do something every day, you can become more interesting than you were the day before. In the discipline, the push, the toil of writing every single solitary day I have discovered first that there are enough words, even for me to have some, and second that I totally love them. Waking up and writing before anything else means that I am set up for the whole day with energy enough for everything else. It’s so amazing. It’s such a pleasure, to have had my mental space transformed by discipline.

"Losing Control of the Vehicle": This sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but it's real:
Here’s a thought for your next road trip: In the Jeep Cherokee (and probably many other cars, too), when the online diagnostic service is activated, the brake pedal is automatically deactivated, so that the mechanic can test the brakes. If a hacker turns on the diagnostic function while you’re merrily speeding down the highway, the effect would be as if he slashed your brakes.

"How Not to Say the Wrong Thing": I've heard this theory before, but I was glad of the reminder, and I thought this was a really good exposition of the idea:

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma ... 
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring. 
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

"The Everyday Question of Motherhood":
In motherhood, the Everyday Question is answered every time a child’s concern or need must come before my own. (And as every mother knows, this is most of the time.)

What have you been reading this week?  Share your links in the comments!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Leverage" - because TV should be fun

Yes, I'm biased. I prefer my angst in literary form rather than televised form.

When it comes to television, I want to have fun.

And "Leverage" is very, very fun indeed.

It's really an old-fashioned sort of a show. It reminds me of nothing so much as the old Errol Flynn "Robin Hood": no, there never was an outlaw that clever, that charitable, that handsome and witty, but isn't it fun to imagine that there was?

"Leverage" is like that: it's the story of a band of four criminals - a grifter, a hitter, a hacker, a thief - and one mastermind, and how they go about stealing from the rich and wicked in order to defend the rights of the poor and helpless.

The best part of this show is the characters: they're well-drawn and well-acted. I buy the friendships and affection between this mis-matched group of people, and I enjoy the frequent humor.

The biggest downfall of this show for me is not that it's far-fetched: I actually like how fantastical it is.

No, the part that makes me wince is the little bits of reality they can't quite erase. Because if you're a grifter, even if you're grifting for good, you're still lying and stealing. There's still moral harm to your soul and, inevitably, measurable harm to the people you're fooling - and to the occasional bystander. Is it fun to watch hulky Elliot beat up the goons who were menacing an innocent housewife? Yes. Totally.  But what about when he beats up the security guards at the corrupt multi-million dollar corporation? Yes, the corporation is horrible. Yes, Elliot's fighting corruption. But the security guards were just blue-collar guys doing their job, and our hero just put them in the hospital.

The times when "Leverage" is at its best is when it's honest about the damage evil does to human beings. When Hardison and Parker have a careful, elliptical conversation about their childhoods and Parker admits how horrified she is that any other child might end up being, well, being like her . . . that's when the show really shines. Those little moments when they don't actually lie about the cost.

In sum: like most television shows, this one isn't perfect and it has its problems. But the sum of it is good, I think, and it's certainly entertaining.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Knitted Finished Objects: Wee Envelope Baby Sweater and Matching Baby Hat

I finished it in time for the baby shower!  And that is the very exciting news about this particular sweater.

I was weaving in the last few stitches on this sweater the morning of the baby shower while my daughter (who I hired for the occasion) baked cinnamon breakfast muffins for the same party. (I highly recommend growing your own 11-year-old gourmet.)

The pattern and  yarn links for this sweater are in this blog post, if you're interested in knitting one for yourself (or an expectant friend).  

I was pleased with how it turned out: the "envelope" neck opening really is perfect for a big, wobbly baby head.

I also made a matching hat out of the same yarn:
The pattern is one I've used before and you can find it for free here.

Looking forward to meeting the recipient soon! :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Weekly Links: Public School, Sex, the Fantastic Four, and more!

My weekly round-up of good reading from around the Web:

"The Public School Parent's Guide to Learning at Home":
Many families do all that we can to foster and nurture learning in the earliest years of a child’s life, as well we should. But when our children begin spending their days in the classroom, we aren’t off the hook! Continuing to build a home where learning is nurtured and valued is one of the best ways we can equip our children for life after graduation.

"We're All Sadists Now": Such an important point:
Yet there is another force at play today ... The belief that our sexual desires determine who we are at the deepest level.  This is somewhat ironic: The age which denies any real significance to sex also wants to argue that sexual desires are of paramount importance to personal identity and fulfillment.  

"The Most Important Scenes from Fantastic Four (As I Remember Them)".  Snort.  A sample from this hilarity:

Ben Grimm: Hey. Anyone else think it’s weird that a high school is doing a science fair, but every single exhibit looks like an elementary school science fair project?
Reed Richards: So basically, science science science. Here, let me steal a toy plane from a kid so I can teleport it for you.
Ben Grimm: Wait a second. Why is there an elementary school kid with an exhibit next to Reed? Is this an all-ages science fair?
Reed Richards: (presses button, plane is teleported). See? Science!
Teacher: Even though I am apparently judging this science fair, I know nothing about science and thus have to assume you used magic to make that kid’s toy disappear. I have to disqualify you, because you are obviously a witch.

Finally, I really, really, really liked Family Life Today's interview series with Rosaria Butterfield. You can listen to the whole thing free. Here are the links:
1) A Train Wreck Conversion
2) What Is Hospitality?
3) What Is Truth?
I've rarely heard anyone so thoughtful, so open and considerate, and yet so thoroughly Christian. Really worth the listen.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cold, Composed Dinners (perfect for summer!)

So, the other dinner-making experiment I've been trying this summer - aside from having my kids help me make it - is having "cold, composed dinners" on occasion.

The idea behind these is simple: you have a variety of foods, mostly bite-sized, that taste good cold.  You want a protein or two, several kinds of produce, maybe some dips, something pickled, some nuts, some dried fruits, some crackers . . . and you let each person pick themselves up the bits that they like best.

Hopefully, this results in a balanced plate full of goodness. 

The plate in the picture above is an example. For that meal, I had:

-garlic hummus
-wheat thins
-Swiss cheese

You don't need very much of any one thing, and it's easy to weight the plates so that they're more full of veggies and fruits than anything else. It's a nice way to have a small sampling of rich ingredients without taking an unhealthy amount. Olives and sausage are lovely, but they're better when balanced with fresh, crisp carrots & cherries (or celery, or romaine, or oranges, or apples, or . . . or, or, or).

One of the posts that inspired this style of eating for me was this one from The Clothes Make the Girl: "Great Ingredients: No Recipe Required".  She has lots of ideas for how to make this kind of meal. I love her lists of ingredients, and her ideas for combining them.

I like having this method in my back pocket as a dinner option, especially for those evenings when it's hot, and we're all feeling lazy and hungry and ready just to eat something good.

What about you? Have you tried this style of eating?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yarnalong: "Wee Envelope" and "The Winner's Curse", by Marie Rutkoski

I'm linking up with Ginny, over at Small Things, who says, "Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading . . . I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading?"

The knitting:
The pattern is "Wee Envelope" by Ysolda Teague. I love how this sweater is designed with a baby's big, wobbly head in mind. Some church friends of ours are expecting their first baby, a boy, and I'm excited to be knitting a little something for them.

I also love the chance to pray for the baby and the parents as I knit. Does anyone else do this, as they work on a gift for someone? I bet I'm not alone in this habit . . .

The yarn is Loops & Threads Luxury Sock.  I like it because it has just a touch of cashmere (10%), but that's enough to make it noticeably soft to the touch, which is perfect for a baby garment.

The book:
I started this book yesterday, during my kids' swimming lessons: "The Winner's Curse", by Marie Rutkoski. So far? So good!  It's a typical YA spec. fic. set-up: we have our disaffected heroine, our mysterious hero, our weird unlikely society . . . but it's well done, and with this genre, that's what matters. 

I know I sound cynical when I talk about "a typical set-up", but I promise that I'm not. Writing genre well is hard, and I love genre lit. In this book, the writing is good and the setting is interesting and the protagonists are likeable and I want to keep reading, which thrills me. I love finding a story that pulls me in and this one does. I'm curious to see where the author is going with this plot and these characters and I'm enjoying the journey.

So, what are you knitting or reading?

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.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Makes a Story?

I read two separate definitions of story today as I perused some of my favorite writing blogs.

From the excellent Janet Reid:

Ok, so I can hear you asking "what makes this a story and not some of the others?" This has a beginning (the first line); it has a middle ("we try and do our part") and it has an end (June 15) 

There's change in the story  . . .

There's more to  what she has to say, and it's worth going over to the link in order to read it.

A story necessarily involves change.

And then I read this, over at Rejectomancy (fast becoming one of my favorite writing blogs), from an interview he did with Gabrielle Harbowy:

A premise is not a plot. A premise is the set-up and the plot is the conflict and resolution that happens to one person within that set-up. 
Many, many short stories go something like this: “I have this awesome idea, so I’m going to flesh out a world around this idea. Right at the end, I’m going to introduce a new fact about the world that you didn’t see coming. It’s a plot twist!” 
Except, no. It isn’t a plot twist. It’s just a reveal of withheld information. “Guy looks in mirror and studies his hair” isn’t a plot, so when it turns out he’s actually a dog, that’s not a plot twist. In a plot, there is a protagonist (a character who wants something concrete/has something at stake), and something between that character and their goal. If no one has a goal, there’s no conflict or resolution. It can be a perfectly good vignette, but it’s not a story. Okay, he’s a dog. So? What conflicts arise from the guy being a dog, and what does he do about them? THAT’s the plot.

Again, it's very worth going over to the blog and reading the rest of the interview.

Story has movement. Story isn't just a set-up. It's always good to get that reminder.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Golden Age for Small Publishers

Popping in to post a link: I was interviewed over at Writing Prompts about the small press I work for and here's the article that resulted: "The Golden Age for Small Publishers".

If you're a book-lover (writing them or reading them), you might enjoy learning a bit more about how small presses are working to reach their audiences with good stories. It's a good time to be alive if you're a book-lover!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Weekly Links: culture, condolences, and more

"The Freakishness of Christianity":
The assumption that evangelicals own American culture and politics has ended. This is good for minority groups, for other Christians, and for those who are still searching. But the radicalness of Moore, who by right of inheritance should be America’s Culture Warrior in Chief, is that he thinks it’s good for evangelicals, too.

"How to Write a Condolence Note": Helpful and kind.

The first twenty-four hours or so after this potential diagnosis, similar to thelast twenty-four hours after the last lethal diagnosis, I felt like I was on a ship being ferociously tossed by the waves. Rolling this way and that. And all I could do was cling to the side of the boat hoping that it would not go down. Is there enough ballast? Has the truth been buried deep enough within me? Will I survive this storm?

"How to access a million stunning, copyright-free antique illustrations released by the British Library":  wow!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Notes: "Glamorous Powers", by Susan Howatch

So, after I read "Glittering Images", by Susan Howatch, of course I had to go on to the next in the series: "Glamorous Powers".*

In "Glamorous Powers" our protagonist is Jon Darrow, the spiritual director who came to the rescue of the protagonist in the last book. At the beginning of "Glamorous Powers", Darrow is the abbot of an Anglican monastery and well-known for his excellence as a leader, a pastor of souls, and (bizarrely) as a gifted psychic.

You have to take Darrow's gifts as a given if you're going to enjoy this novel. Howatch does her best to position Darrow's abilities as a normal human trait that some people just happen to have, like perfect pitch or 20/20 vision. I don't know how much Howatch herself believes in this sort of gift, but I'll admit that she does a good job of integrating this whiff of the fantastical into the reality of her character's life: psychic phenomena are just part of the bushel of things Darrow has to deal with, right in line with his psychological hang-ups and his troubled relationships with his children.

At the beginning of the story, Darrow has been a monk for 17 years, and he receives what he believes is a call from God to leave the monastery. After he wrestles with this call and its implications (and with his monastic superior, the Abbot General), he begins the adventure of venturing back out into the secular world that he'd so happily put behind him.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the way Howatch skillfully conveyed the culture shock of a man who'd been cloistered for so long. In some ways, it reminded me of the many stories I've heard from ex-pat and missionary friends when they've returned to the States: what once was normal is now foreign, and readjustment is work.
This volume was just as enthralling as its predecessor, though perhaps a little less likeable. Darrow is, in many ways, a hard man to like, although he does have some traits that are very easy to admire. As always, I love the way Howatch shows through her stories that life is complex, and that the human heart is unfathomable, sinful, but also shot through with longing for goodness, truth, and beauty.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*I should have mentioned in my review, as Sherry does so well in her review here, that this series does have sexual content. Not any that's meant to titillate, as far as I can tell, but Howatch's characters are very well-drawn, and so their sexuality is described with the same sort of care that she uses to describe their spirituality and their physicality.

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Weekly Links: Virus-full waters, Cold Summer Dinners, Publishing Rejections, and more!

Your weekly round-up of good reading from around the web:

"AP Investigation: Olympic teams to swim, boat in Rio's filth": eeeew . . .

"Top 10 Cold Summer Dinners": so perfect for this time of year!

"Rejection Relief - First Blood": Caution for language, but some great stuff for writers.

"The Holy Round of Creeds and Chants and Mysteries": exegesis of a fascinating little poem.

"July Happened": heartbreaking and real.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell