Friday, October 23, 2015

Movie Notes: "Jupiter Ascending"

So, anyone who's seen my Pinterest page knows I have a thing for space princesses.

It's one of my favorite tropes. But Hollywood hardly ever makes space princess movies. They make superhero movies instead. And I love the idea of superheroes . . .

But not as much as I love the idea of space princesses.

So when I heard that "Jupiter Ascending" was basically the origin story for a space princess, I identified myself as the target audience and lined right up.

Well, I say "lined right up".  I am still your basic frugal housewife. So "lined right up" does NOT refer to queuing up at the theater. Rather, it refers to queuing up in my library's request system.


I brought home the DVD and my husband and I gave ourselves a movie night.

And I loved it!

Shocking, I know. But it was just . . . fun.  Did the plot make a lot of sense? No, not particularly. Was it a great story made for the ages? Really, really not.

But was it fun?

Sure!  There were pretty dresses, and a Cinderella-like origin story, and the hero had rollerblades that let him fly.  (It made for absolutely bonkers fight scenes.)

One reviewer I read said that this was basically a movie so bad that Sean Bean didn't die in it.

I say, It's a movie so good they let us have things like Sean Bean bowing gallantly to the heroine while indicating that the bees dancing in clouds around her are proof of her royal blood.

Yes: the loyalty of bees demonstrates the fated destiny of the main character. This is just one example of the sort of thing that makes this movie both 1) fun, and 2) totally over-the-top ridiculous.

I'll add that, in this case, it's just fine to go into the movie knowing the plot. (Plot SPOILER: Humans didn't evolve on Earth, they were seeded there millennia ago as a cash crop, they are about to be harvested, our heroine is heir to a tremendous galactic fortune, bad guys want to take away her inheritance so they can reap the harvest that is Earth and its inhabitants, she needs to save humanity from this terrible fate. There you go.)

Knowing the plot let me forget about trying to track the whys and wherefores too closely, and just enjoy the lovely visuals.

Caution for one scene with a bare bottom (lady walking out of a bath), but other than that, it's not objectionable - just delightfully weird and pretty.

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, October 20, 2015

Crucible Faith

Now that I’m headed quickly into middle age*, I've been thinking about the fact that I can look at every Christian I know well, and I remember them telling me about a time in their lives when there was nothing there for them but God. When what was precious was taken from them, and they were alone . . . except for the Lord. And when they chose to keep following anyway.

I can name time after time, in the lives of people I love, when they have had that crucible experience.

Sometimes it was incredible physical pain, other times it was incredible isolation, or destruction of a vital relationship . . . but every time, they faced the question, “well, do I still trust, or not?”

And they trusted. And they kept walking, walking alongside Him.

But seriously. So many Christians. They all have that experience. The circumstances are unique, but the experience isn’t.

And then they go through it again and again. But after the first time, they know. It’s like from there on out, they know. They know HIM. There’s this bedrock there, and it doesn’t change.

You can see it in their faces, if you know to look. And you can hear it in their voices when they’re in extremity, or when they describe being in extremity.

And it’s not that they’re not knocked backwards. It’s not that they’re not hurt or confused or terrified or that they make it out of their pain without sinning by complaining or fearing or self-indulgence or mistakes, or whatever.

It’s just that they’re anchored. They know. They know HIM.

It’s like there’s something eternal in their souls, something that’s anchored to something outside the mutability of this world.

And I say, “it’s like”, and by that I mean exactly, “it is.”

But . . . do you know what I mean? Have you seen this on people’s faces and heard it in their voices when they share their stories?

They’ve been through the fire, and they know they’re going to go through again (though they pray for mercy), but there is a steadiness deep down in their souls, because they know that they’re not going through it alone.

They might still be whiny or annoying or infuriating to you. You might not like them.

But you recognize that thing in them. And you love them for it.

They’ve been through a time when they had nothing and no one. They were absolutely alone in their pain – because even if you have friends near you in your pain, none of them can really be there, with you, IN your pain – they were all alone . . . except for the presence of God. And even then, that presence might have felt like a distant, academic reality.

But He was there, and they believed it, and now they’ll never face pain the same way again.

It’s just different, after an experience like that.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*Stop laughing, Mom. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Weekly Links: Language, Nerds, History, and more!

My weekly round-up of interesting reading from around the web:

-When my babies were still actually babies, I remember noticing that "ma" meant "mama", "milk", and "more", and that all of those things were pretty much the same thing in their little minds . . . if you've noticed the same thing, you'll probably enjoy this article: "Why the Words for 'Mom' and 'Dad' Sound So Similar in So Many Languages".

-I've heard people talk about "pastor theologians" a lot recently; here's the flip-side: "Pastoral Theologians".

-"We Have Met the Nerds, and They Are Us: Fandom, Fanfic, and the Landscape of Desire". This article goes from cultural phenomena to a Christian insight. I appreciated that, but I think my favorite part was this very clear description of the current zeitgeist:
In the West, and in America especially, we have grown up into a system that prizes desire above all. We all, nerd and non-nerd alike, live in our separate landscapes of desire. And we all have stories to tell, stories of scars and damage. It’s a hallmark of the contemporary West that we all feel like victims, we all feel broken. And we arebroken, but we also want what we want, and who the hell are you to tell me I’m wrong?

-Author Brandon Sanderson is in the middle of a very ambitious writing project - one that spans most of his published work - and I enjoyed reading his thoughts about what he's doing here: "Shadows of Self and the Mistborn Mega-Series".

-Finally, this is a great article that knocks down some old fables about a misunderstood period of history: "How the Middle Ages Really Were".

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Where do you find good kids' books?

As I said yesterday, I'm blessed enough to live in a place with a great library system. Almost every week, we visit our library and there are books waiting for us.

And most of the time, the books waiting for me aren't just for me, they are also for our kids.

So where do I find them? Where do I find the books I request for my kids?

Mostly the answer is: from book blogs. I read about kids' books on my favorite blogs, and then I request them from my library system.

And if we fall in love with them, I buy them.

Here are my favorite blogs for kids' book finds:
-Redeemed Reader: Christian Children's Book Reviews
-Melissa Wiley
-Elizabeth Foss

I'd love to add to my list. Are there any sites that you find reliable for good kids' books suggestions?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our Library Haul this Week

We're blessed to live in a place with a great library system - our county has about 90 libraries, and they allow us to request books, DVDs, CDs, etc. from any library in the system, for free. It's a perk I take full advantage of, and I can't count the number of authors I've discovered (and whose work I've later gone on to purchase) through our local libraries.

And, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, books are something I never get tired of talking about. So I thought it'd be fun to write a post starring our weekly library haul! :)    Here we go . . .

For me:
-"The Winner's Crime", by Marie Rutkowski.  You can read my review of "The Winner's Curse" here. This is the sequel.

-"1000 Forms of Fear", by Sia.  I like "Chandelier", so I wanted to see if I liked anything else on the album.

-"White House Down" - I ignored this when it first came out, but I recently read something (on Tumblr, maybe?) that made me think it was the kind of fun, over-the-top action movie that my husband and I would actually enjoy watching together. So we're going to give it a go.

For the kids:
-"How to Read a Story", by Kate Messner.   This - and some of the books following - I found via Melissa Wiley's blog. Great spot for discovering new kids' books.  This one I read to the twins, and they read to other family members soon after. A success!

-"Cakes in Space", by Philip Reeve.  I requested this along with another book by Reeve, "Oliver and the Seawigs".  Gamgee - who will often profess disinterest in novels - has been gobbling up the latter. I love books that tempt my reluctant fiction reader.

-"Butt-Naked Baby Blues", by Jerry Scott & Rick Kirkman - Bess and Gamgee are both big fans of Baby Blues. This request was due to my two eldest begging me for more of their favorite comic strip.

-"Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt", by Kate Messner. This was a hit for Gamgee - who liked the bugs & worms - and for Lucy & Anna, who loved the story and the pictures.

-"I Will Take a Nap!", "Waiting is Not Easy!",  and "I Am Invited to a Party!", by Mo Willems.  Piggie & Elephant goodness.  All the kids (and the adults) in the house like these.

-"Water Is Water", by Miranda Paul.  Anna & Lucy agreed that the best part of this book about the water cycle was the pictures.

-"An A from Miss Keller", by Patricia Polacco. I used to work at our local library and the head librarian - my old boss - still sets aside books for me that she thinks we'd like. Which is so cool. This is one of those.

-"The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza", by James Kochalka.  All four kids loved this, and I can't blame them. It's funny, and clever, and sweet. If you're looking for a gift for a new reader that they'll actually enjoy, this is a good one.

-"Big Green Pocketbook", by Candice F. Ransom. Just a sweet little story. We (the twins and I) liked it very much.

-"Stick Dog", by Tom Watson. Another bit of fiction that caught Gamgee's fancy. See? It's not impossible to find things that a reluctant novel-reader might like. Not impossible. Just difficult. :)

-"Finding Out About Geothermal Energy", by Matt Doeden - I have a budding scientist. Gamgee likes books about physics, engineering, etc., and when I request them for him, he actually reads them. There's no way I'm not going to encourage such a true, good, fitting interest in my son.

-"The Large Hadron Collider", by Bonnie Juettner Fernandes - another science book for Gamgee.

So, have you found anything lovely at the library recently? Please tell me about it in the comments!  As you can see, I'm all about making the acquaintance of new and lovely books!

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.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Finding a Focus

photo credit: Betsy Barber

Most advice for bloggers says that you need a focus for your blog. You pick one thing, and do it really, really well. You find your one subject, and you cover it really, really thoroughly.

And I get that. I follow blogs like "Cinnamon-Spice & Everything Nice" because she consistently posts good recipes. I follow blogs like "Query Shark" because I know every post is going to teach me something about selling books.

But I also follow bloggers like Melissa Wiley, and Elizabeth Foss, and Anne Kennedy, and Simcha Fisher, just because I know that whatever they talk about, I'm likely to enjoy hearing them talk about it.

And they each have topics they circle around frequently. Melissa Wiley is likely to talk about books and writing and homeschooling and drawing. Elizabeth Foss is likely to talk about mothering and running and prayer. Anne Kennedy is likely to talk about the Bible and cooking and church. Simcha Fisher is likely to talk about Catholicism and parenting a crowd and current events.

But I don't read Melissa Wiley just because I want to learn about drawing or homeschooling. I want to hear her think through drawing or homeschooling. And it's similar with Elizabeth and Anne and Simcha.

I started thinking about these two different types of blogs - call them "the subject focused" and "the voice focused", maybe? - when I ran across this interview with Nina Badzin. In it she says:
 I’ve had a blogging identity crisis since I started my blog 3.5 years ago so at least that is consistent! I set out to write about parenting at first, but instead ended up writing my first post about how much I love Twitter. Next I wrote about marriage. Then I had some posts about the novel I was working on at the time. I quickly got sick of writing about writing so I blogged about motherhood for a post or two. I mixed in some book reviews, then wrote about a 3-week challenge to eat less sugar. 
You get the idea. I had no focus and still don’t. Sometimes I worry that my blog should be more niche, but in my own way I’ve landed on some themes. I tend to circle around the same seven topics: parenting, marriage, friendship, reading, Judaism, and occasionally health and social media tips. You’ll never find me blogging about a DIY house project, crafting, photography, or design. The visual world is not in my skill set.
I loved her honesty. And I thought: I do the same thing!  There are a few subjects I circle 'round all the time. Mothering, marriage, writing, editing, Christianity, books, liturgy, knitting, homemaking. These are the things I never get tired of thinking about, and so I never get tired of writing about them.

But it's not the focused blogging that the "how-to" articles tell you about. It's not subject-focused blogging, because my blog isn't about any one of those things. My blog is me posting what I'm thinking about, and it's just that I'm probably thinking about one of those eight things, most of the time.

And I'm ready to be honest about that. I don't want to pretend to be a subject-focused blog when I'm really a voice-focused blog.

And not that I'm the blogger I want to be, not yet! I'm not anywhere as good a writer as those four voice-focused bloggers I mentioned above. But the more I think about it, the more I know that that's the kind of blogging I want to do. I want to imitate what I love.

I want to write about the things I enjoy thinking about.

Or rather, that I can't stop thinking about.

As Sayers says, how do we know when something is of overmastering importance? When it has overmastered us.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Weekly Links: writing, songwriting, science writing, and more!

My weekly round-up of interesting reading from around the web:

- "Hand in Hand, Heart Linked to Heart": These words of Charles Spurgeon's wife, Susannah, are just beautiful.

- Ingrid writes beautifully about living in a gift and not even realizing it.

Nina Badzin's post, "What's Next for Me as a Writer?", is one I resonate with so much. The constant worrying at your project ideas, the constant reevaluation of how you're spending your writing time . . . this is what it's like inside my head. I think most creatives will identify with this post.

Andrew Wilson's post "A Songwriting Rant" is refreshing because his criticism comes from a place of love. This isn't a hymns-only guy bashing anything written after 1750.  (But, I don't agree with him on the phrase "ineffably sublime" - keep the good stuff, even if it's got a high difficulty level!)

- Holly Ordway, author of the excellent book "Not God's Type", gives exhortations worth heeding in her article "Practical Advice for Christian Writers".

"20 Things I Have Learned Since My Son Was Diagnosed with Autism" is much better than the typical article on this kind of subject.

- I haven't seen the movie version of The Martian (yet), but I very much enjoyed the book, and so I also enjoyed this post on the "Science of The Martian: the Good, the Bad, and the Fascinating".

- Finally, a bit of humor for your Sunday, beware of the "Early Warning Signs of Adult Onset Calvinism"!  

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Frugal Hack: a DIY Cleaning Caddy

So, my local grocery store had these cool bags that have six little compartments, for when you buy six bottles of wine at a time. (Hey - you get 30% off that way - and wine keeps!)

I had one of these bags under my sink because, yes, I am totally the sort of person who saves bags to see if I can find a use for them.

And as I was cleaning my house, I found myself wishing I had one of those neat caddies you can use to cart your cleaning supplies around. (Yes, I am cleaning my house enough that I found myself wishing for proper tools to help with the job. I am almost a real grown-up.)

But I am also frugal, and I wondered: do I really have to spend money for this?

The answer is: no! There is a DIY hack for this!

And here it is:

Yep, it's a DIY cleaning caddy. I cut one of the six compartments up to make it into one big compartment, so I could fit some paper towel in there - see the big space on the left?

Yes, I'm frugal, but I still use paper towels. Sometimes. I use cut-up old t-shirts for rags, too, but occasionally there are messes you just want to be able to THROW AWAY.

This DIY caddy has worked beautifully. It keeps my cleaning supplies together, it's light, it has handles, it's easy to store away in the closet when I'm not using it. It holds my paper towel, my rags, my Bon Ami, my Mrs. Meyer general cleaning spray, my homemade vinegar/water spray, and my feather duster.

I will end with a picture of my cat trying to convince me he is NOT AT ALL INTERESTED in the feather duster. Nope. Not a little bit. Oh no, not him . . . :)

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.)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book Notes: "The Winner's Curse", by Marie Rutkoski

"The Winner's Curse", by Marie Rutkoski is a YA fantasy: the story of  Kestrel, the daughter of an important general, and Arin, a slave who becomes a revolutionary.  The setting reminded me a bit of Sparta, with all the young people expected to either marry and produce children for the empire, or to sign up and become soldiers in order to spread the empire across yet more territories.

The title refers to the idea that winning can come at a steep - and unexpected - cost. Which is what Kestrel discovers when she wins Arin at a slave auction. That inadvertent victory changes her life and is the engine that starts the plot running through its paces.

I enjoyed this one. (I know: shocker! I pretty much only review books I enjoy - Twilight, you, as always, are the great exception.)

Kestrel made sense as a 17-year-old who is smart, but in over her head. I figured things out ahead of her, but that weirdly didn't bother me. Usually, running too far ahead of the main character is annoying in a book, but here, somehow, it just made Kestrel feel more real. I mean, how many times in real life have you looked back and thought, How in the world didn't I realize that sooner? In this book, the author was able to make Kestrel's slow realizations sympathetic, not annoying.

My favorite part was probably the setting: Kestrel's city used to belong to the people her general-father had a hand in conquering and the layering of the two cultures - conquered/rebelling and conquerer/defending - made for a fascinating world.

I appreciated that Rutkoski didn't gloss over the violence of the war as much as YA sometimes does. It's a sparkling, dream-like world, yes, but her characters' decisions have costs, and that makes for a good story.

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.)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Weekly Links: Marijuana, Weight Loss, Train Trips, and more!

My weekly (okay, I missed a few weeks) round-up of interesting reading from around the web:

"Big Marijuana's Big Debut": Wow . . . the comparison to Big Tabacco seems apt. Also, this bit is truly terrifying: 

Marijuana users have a six times higher risk of schizophrenia, and are significantly more likely to develop other psychotic illnesses.

"Researchers Find Textbook-Altering Link Between Brain, Immune System":
. . . there’s an enormous array of other neurological diseases, from autism to multiple sclerosis, that must be reconsidered in light of the presence of something science insisted did not exist.

"Why It Was Easier to Be Skinny in the 1980s": Say it ain't so!

"Parents Can Learn How To Prevent Anxiety In Their Children":
Children of anxious parents are more at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. But there's welcome news for those anxious parents: that trajectory toward anxiety isn't set in stone.

"3 Types of Writing Work Days": Oh, so familiar.

"Across the USA by Train for Just $213": I'll pack and be ready to go in ten minutes, 'kay?

"Romance Panacea Part II: The Betty Neels Canon, Gifts That Keep Giving":
Betty Neels’ appeal lies in her consistent inclusion of certain elements: the hero’s secret yearning for the heroine while coming across, to quote Damsel, as “tender and amused and mocking”; descriptions of rich and lovely meals and the heroine’s modest, tasteful wardrobe; the narrative’s stately pace, the hospital workday broken up by meals, coffee breaks, rest, and occasional day off, or holiday; the special outings, a drive, a skating, or site-seeing party; the sheer pleasure of a comfortable not terribly eventful life; and, most fascinating for Miss Bates amidst what she’s listed here, cryptic messages the hero’s gifts subtly offer concerning his feelings toward the heroine . . . All this, combined with polished, gently-toned, gently humorous writing make for a wonderful few hours with each book in the Neels canon.

"Advice on Hosting and/or Accepting Speaking Engagements": Just a good, solid how-to article.

Any interesting articles catch your eye this week? Link to them in the comments!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, October 2, 2015

7 Quick Takes: Anniversary Edition

So apparently today is the 7th anniversary of "7 Quick Takes", the link-up started by Jennifer Fulwiler, and carried on by Kelly Mantoan.

I haven't participated regularly for awhile, but I still think fondly of that link-up, because I met so many great bloggers there, some of whom I still follow and interact with today.

So, in honor of a great online experience (how often can you use that phrase?), I'm participating with the anniversary edition of 7 Quick Takes today.  Here we go!

1. Looking at fashion on Pinterest really makes me wish I lived somewhere cold enough to do more layering. This has nothing to do with anything, but Quick Takes posts should always include something a bit random, right?

So yeah: those capsule wardrobes are adorable, but there's no way you're talking me into putting on a shirt on TOP of my dress, not when it's insanely hot for, oh, 350 days out of 356.

2. My first Quick Takes post was this one, written from the depths - yay, from the deeps - of life as a mom with four kids under age five. (Which is better than four under four, which is where we started when we brought our twins home.)

The kids are now eleven, nine, seven, and seven. Life is just as busy, but not nearly as frantic.

3. I still write about most of the things I wrote about seven years ago: parenting, family, faith, books, writing, crafting.

4. I still write about celebrating the church year at home, but maybe a little bit less.

5. The reason for that is (glory! wonder!) I got a chance to actually assemble all my love for the church year into a BOOK:

I still have a lot to say about celebrating the church year, but so much of what I love about it and what I've learned about it is in this book. It feels like - not a completion, not an end - but a real fruit of my love of this part of the Christian devotional life.

When I talk about the church year now, it doesn't feel like I'm starting from scratch. And that's largely thanks to the work of the amazing authors who contributed to "Let Us Keep the Feast".

6. That book (which came, in part, from this blog), led me to more editing work, which led me to learning how very much I love editing as a profession. Learning that, and being given the opportunity to work in the book business, has been such a blessing and a gift.

7. Writing this really makes me wonder what life will be like seven years from now!

Head on over to Kelly's place to read more Quick Takes!

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.)