the ministry of a messy house – a review and giveaway

One of my goals for 2015 is to read a book a month. I promised to review them all here, so here’s number one. And before you go patting me on the back for being ahead of schedule, this was actually a book I started in the tail-end of 2014. I have another book on the go for January – and, don’t worry, I’ll definitely be behind schedule in finishing it. Reassured that it’s still me? That I haven’t been taken over by a super-efficient ghost-blogger? Great.

The book I read was…

…”The ministry of a messy house” by Amanda Robbie. My wonderful cousin Naomi, general fountain of knowledge when it comes to books, especially Christian ones, sent me a copy after reading my hospitality blogs last year. Well, blow my socks off if it didn’t just put me out of a job. Mrs R has all the hospitality know-all I’d love to have, and has helpfully published it in one easy-to-read paperback.

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The ministry of a messy house (in a messy house)

A bit more about the book

On closer inspection, however, I discovered it wasn’t just a book about hospitality, although that’s a recurrent theme from start to finish, and there are plenty of tips and suggestions and perceptive theological links. This is a book about ‘mess’ in all its forms: relationships, church, kids, food, homes. So, even if you have a spotless home, this book will teach, challenge and inspire. Its starting point is that we’re all ‘messy’, and what we have to offer is flawed and not always high-quality. But when we offer it to God through offering it to others, He does something special with it.

Now that is a very simplistic summary – but if I went into more detail, there’d be no point in buying it, right?

What I most appreciated was…

…the humour and reality of it all. Also the fact that the author is married to a vicar, like me. Her homelife bears so many similarities to ours, that I found this fascinating reading – especially given that they’re a few years ahead of us. It was encouraging to see how things had worked themselves out in their lives, and to be reminded of why we do what we do.

Here’s a proper pic of the book so you know what you’re looking for when you rush over to your favourite online bookseller directly after reading this review:

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You’ll enjoy this book if…

…you want something comfortably easy-to-read, radically practical and Biblically truthful. There are pearls of wisdom scattered throughout, and whilst I wouldn’t say that the whole tome was full of outstandingly original thought, I was certainly kept interested from start to finish.

And the giveaway…

I enjoyed this book enough to want to keep it ūüôā But, since I didn’t have to pay for it in the first place, I’m willing to buy another copy for a giveaway! It’s that good. If you’d like to be in with a chance, please leave a comment here, telling me¬†one of your messy secrets! (Oo-er! I’m talking, like, hiding dirty laundry under the bed or something. If you have something bigger to share, please do it in person with a close friend or psychiatrist. Ta.)

The deadline is¬†Saturday 31st January, 7pm – at which point I’ll put all entrants’ names into a suitable receptacle, and pull out one lucky winner.

And, to kick off, my messy secret is that our bedroom is always messy. The other rooms get prioritised, and somehow the bedroom never makes it onto the cleaning rota before the lounge needs doing again…

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50 dates

All marriage experts will tell you of the importance of keeping your relationship ‘alive’ particularly¬†during the child-rearing years. They will tell you that it’s all too easy to spend every second of your¬†time¬†meeting the demands of your children, and not the needs of each other. They will warn that you’ll drift apart if you don’t make a concerted effort to invest in your marriage regularly. With hushed¬†tones, they’ll recount the story of a couple who, when their children had grown up and flown the nest, realised they had nothing in common anymore.

So, here’s an idea for keeping marriages fun and exciting, even in the child-rearing years! I can’t take any credit for the concept – it was something I saw on the internet¬†before Christmas, and thought would be great to reproduce for Desert Dad’s Christmas present.

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I took 50 coloured lollipop sticks, and wrote a different date idea on each one. It was challenging finding 50 different activities, but the Internet helped, and I did it over a few weeks. All the sticks went in a jar, and –¬†voila! A gift to last the entire year, give or take a few weeks for holidays and dates that Desert Dad might want to plan himself, shock horror.

So what’s in the jar? The ‘predictable’ dates are in there – cinema, theatre, a live music event. But although they’re obvious, we rarely make time to actually do them. To be told by a lollipop stick that this week we need to go to the theatre –¬†because you can’t say ‘no’ to a lollipop stick –¬†will help get us out of the rut of staying in just because it’s been a long day and we can’t be bothered. There are a couple of twists in there too – like ‘Go to the restaurant which is top on TripAdvisor this week’.

Some of the dates are more like activities which we can enjoy doing together. More often than not, they’re things which one of us would usually do without the other – ‘make something together that the kids will enjoy’ was the first date which Desert Dad picked out. Usually I’m the crafty one, but being able to plan together a puppet theatre for the kids, and make a start on its creation, was a bonding experience. It reminded me that my husband can be creative, that he’s good to bounce ideas off, that he¬†is¬†interested in what our kids play with. We didn’t get very far with the project, but maybe it’ll be something we pick up on other nights, doing little bits gradually through the next couple of months.¬†Other activities¬†in this category are¬†things like ‘Watch some live Blues’ and ‘Play an online pub quiz’ – my attempts to get involved in hubby’s passions.

Some of the date activities are more reflective: ‘plan a child-free weekend away’ will help us to work out what¬†we most need to invest into our marriage, and ‘write a card/letter to someone who has blessed us recently’ will unite us in recognising a friend who has had an impact on our marriage. These things won’t necessarily last a whole evening, but are activities which will draw our often-independent lives together.

I’m struck by the amount of entertainment represented by the contents of our home – most of which we never touch. So some of the dates are about utilizing what we already have: ‘Watch a film we own but have never seen’, ‘Try a magazine cut-out recipe which we haven’t yet cooked’ and ‘Play a game we own but haven’t played for ages’.

We both enjoy cooking and baking, but usually do it on our own. ‘Bake something impressive’ or ‘Cook and eat an Indian feast’ will encourage us to plan, shop and be creative together!

Some of the dates are strokes of genius – if I do say so myself. Others, let’s be honest, are a bit of a barrel-scrape. But, despite this, here is a present which says “I love you and want to spend time with you”.¬†It could be adapted for any special person in your life. Imagine the delight of a friend, receiving a booklet of treats¬†you’d like¬†to enjoy¬†with her¬†over the next few months? Or how excited your child would be, if you gave him a lucky dip bucket with a range of fun day trips and holiday activities?

Next time you’re stuck for a gift¬†idea, why not try this?!

2015: the year of books (part two)

Wow, thanks for so many recommendations of books for 2015! Here¬†is my list – you’ll notice it’s a little short of 12, to allow for a couple already on my bedside table, and any book reviews which may come up this year. I’m grateful for such a¬†diverse array of fascinating-sounding books – thank you! They are (in no particular order):

Better than Sex – Hunter S. Thompson

Compared to her – Sophie de Witt

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

The Secret Life of a Lonely Postman – Denis Theriault

Hands-free Mama – Rachel Macy Stafford

Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequest

A Praying Life – Paul E. Miller

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

The night circus – Erin Morgenstern

I suspect some of these titles will take me much longer than a month to really¬†digest, so it might be that I start overlapping titles, in order to¬†savour them for longer. But……….

……..how exciting is it, to have a tailor-made list of ten books which¬†your friends love??!!¬†I can’t wait to get stuck in!

The second challenge

My second challenge¬†for 2015¬†is to make better use of my cook books. For a keen cook, I don’t have a huge selection, but I have more than I use. So, each month, I’ll take one book, and cook through it as best I can, using as many recipes as possible over 30 days or so. ¬†Why do this?

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* I love to be adventurous with food, but feel that my cooking got stuck in a bit of a rut in 2014

* I want to know whether chefs’ recipes actually¬†work¬†in practice, for quick and easy midweek meals, as well as longer weekend menus. Do they deliver on flavour, or just look pretty?

* I want to get to know my cooking library better, to know which books to keep and which to charity-shop.

I’ll blog¬†about this each month, recommending cook books and pondering just how ‘workable’ recipe-book recipes actually are.

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So there are my challenges. If I only read six books this year, I’ll not feel that that’s been a waste of time. And if I discover just two fab new recipes, likewise, I won’t complain. There will be no guilt, and there will be a good amount of celebration during 2015 – because if you can’t keep up previous resolutions, then what’s the point?

2015: the year of books (part one)

What is it about the early days of January which invoke such a sense of optimism and hope?

I am resolved Рnay, I am certain Рthat 2015 will bring a much greater sense of order and balance to my home. Papers, crafty bits, recipes will be neatly filed. Files will be efficiently arranged (like in an Ikea study) and beautiful (like in a Paperchase window display). Shelves and cupboards will be tidy, ordered, labelled. There will be a sense of agenda to every nook and cranny in the house. Just like this:

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And yet…

…the rest of the house (i.e. all space apart from the above square metre) currently¬†resembles a rather shambolic warehouse, where space is being contested by¬†the toy department at John Lewis and around fifty-six different confectionery retailers.

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It seems that the more I put away, the more appears. Despite aiming for a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule with Christmas presents this year, the charity shop bag still feels puny. I am a hoarder, a mess maker, a creative spirit, an over-busy mum…yet there is something about turning the calendar over to ‘January’ which makes me feel that my¬†foibles simply don’t exist anymore.

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Within a week or two, however, I start to become more realistic, and turn my attention to happier, kinder resolutions.¬†Two years ago, for example, I resolved to celebrate more. Last year, I released myself from irrational guilt.¬†I didn’t blog very much about this, predominantly because the guilt was shed in situations which would be too small, insignificant and dull to write about for a public audience. But I noticed. Perhaps, more importantly, I recognised some of the (often positive) influences in my life which induce guilty feelings about this, that or the other – none of which is, by Biblical standards,¬†wrong. For example, where do I get my guilt about shopping at Tesco or Amazon? Purely by exposing myself to conversations, articles or research highlighting the ways in which large companies exploit others. It is good to expose myself to these things – they are¬†good¬†influences in my life. But when they go beyond simply informing my decision making and start making me feel bad for every single time I weigh up the various conflicting factors involved in shopping (time, money, dragging the kids around the shops, etc) – then that is¬†not good.¬†So, for me, 2014 was a year of working out that sort of stuff. It wouldn’t have made great reading, which is why I didn’t expose you to it, but trust me that it changed (and is changing) me.

So…celebration, shedding the guilt…and for 2015, it’s all about books…and books, I feel, are a much more¬†realistic (and long-lasting) resolution than home perfection. There are two challenges, and this is the first:

I’ve read very little during adulthood, particularly since having the kids, even though I love reading. I’m a slow reader, and don’t seem to be able to make time for relaxing with a book. In 2014, however, I finished seven books. SEVEN! Now, this doesn’t sound very much to those of you who get through a book a week, but to a tortoise-reader like me, it’s something to feel proud of. Here are three of the seven (the others have been lent out to friends – surely the best recommendation of a book?!):

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My challenge for 2015 is to aim to read twelve books, one a month, which I will of course review on this blog, recommending if I feel strongly that¬†it’s something you’d¬†love. There might even be another giveaway or two. And this is where you come in…

Which ONE book would you like me to read during 2015? It has to be something which you’ve enjoyed – nay, which has changed your life: let’s set the bar high! And it has to be fairly easy to get into. No heavy theological tomes, please, or political biographies. Life-stories of 18-year-old reality TV stars are welcome. I would LOVE to hear your suggestions in the comments section below, or via Facebook or any other way you know of communicating with me. But you can each only recommend ONE book – so make it a good ‘un!

The second challenge follows tomorrow…

Happy new year, fellow desert-wanderers!