Monday, October 17, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, Marie Kondo

I picked this up after seeing it reviewed in The Australian.  It makes for very interesting reading.   Marie Kondo is a tidying expert, her life and career is devoted to it.  In essence, she trains people how to tidy once very well, in order to get their lives in order and their homes the way they want them to be.   This is a bestseller which is constantly on hold at the library.   It has obviously hit a nerve with people.  It has even kicked off some imitations and mockery books, probably a key sign of success. 

I am sure some of you will be thinking, “why on earth did Wendy read that?”  I am reasonably tidy with a pretty organised house.  Yet, I have always been challenged by how much stuff we have and I know that if we ever moved overseas I could happily get rid of most of it without many qualms. 

The basic core of her reasoning is to only keep things that make you happy, or things that spark joy.  So, as you go through your wardrobes, only keep the clothes that when you touch and hold them you feel joy.   Only keep books that as you hold them and look at the covers, you feel pleasure.  Only keep the items of sentiment that bring joy; not regret, trapped old memories or the feeling of hanging on to the past or hoping for a different future.  Once you have discarded a large amount of your stuff (often over half), you are then free to store things well, in places that make sense and having enough space now to keep everything you have.

At one level, I liked some of the things she had to say.  
  • Whether something sparks joy is not a bad category for determining whether to keep some things.  How many of us hold onto things in our wardrobes that we might fit into again one day, might come into fashion again, or we bought but have never really liked?  How about books that we keep although we know we will never read them (once or again)?  How about presents you have been given that you don’t like but feel guilty getting rid of?  Her idea of handling each item, thanking it for the joy it once brought you (or I prefer being thankful that you were able to enjoy it once, and thankful for the person who gave it to you) and them getting rid of it seems like a helpful way to resolve some of these things.
  •  I like the way you are drawn to think about how much stuff you really need, which is often much less than we think.
  • It made me get rid of a lot of papers (eg. old notes, conference booklets, cut out newspaper articles, etc) I had been hanging on to for years, in case I needed them again.  I really never will.
  • My guess is that if you are someone who really needs to tidy / clear out your house, this would give you a starting point.  She claims one really good, complete tidy could take up to 6 months, you could tackle it well and get it done right.   [The more I have pondered this and the things that enter our home, I find it very hard to believe anyone could do this once and have it done for life!]
However, there were lots of things that it left me pondering.
  • Yet, again the key measure for life here is happiness.  I raised my concern about this in a different context earlier this year regarding a Parenting DVD  Again I realise, without Christ as the centre of your life, this is a good a goal as any, but it in this context it seemed even more selfish.  
  • She is a single woman in Japan and that colours everything she says.   She lives in a culture with inherently less space and less people per household.   I cannot apply some of these principles to my house and family without drastically altering their lives and I don’t think it would be for the better.   Do I really want to devote this much of my time to clearing out our house, reducing what we have and organising it all well?   How could I possibly justify such a use of time and explain it well to my family with: ‘it’s going to make me happy?’.   I don’t think so.
  • There is a huge amount of stuff in our house that does not spark joy but still has use.  Such as: bed linen for visitors, gardening tools, kitchen implements that are used only occasionally, old toys that are useful for visiting children, things that may be of use as the children get older.
  • There is never any suggestion that as you get rid of your stuff that others should benefit from it.  No idea of donating to those with less, giving to others.   Just chuck it all out – out of sight, out of mind.
  •  Her idea of only keeping a few books – the ones you really treasure will never work for us.   Books are our job, our research and … I might read that book one day!  Some I certainly won’t – yes.   But there is a lot there I will eventually get to and a lot more I will go back to. 
In the end, I didn’t do a lot of tidying beyond some wardrobe stuff and some very old ‘memory’ things that it was better to get rid of than keep.   I have also kept some of her principles in mind when I come across things in the house, and that has been helpful. 

But I did completely reorganise the way I store my clothes.  All my drawers now have rows of folded or rolled items, from shirts to jumpers to underwear.  And I am loving that!  I can see everything that is in there in one quick glance and never have to search for anything. 

So, for that reason alone – for me it was worth reading! 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Conqueror's Wife

The Conqueror’s Wife, Stephanie Thornton

Stephanie Thornton has released her fourth novel, again with a focus on women of the past.   This book centres around Alexander the Great, told from the perspectives of four individuals around him: his devoted sister Thessalonike; feisty captured Persian princess Drypetis; minor noble Roxana who craftily does whatever is necessary to secure his affection and a throne for herself; and finally his lover and right hand man Hephaestion.

Almost every character here is a figure of history, although an incomplete historical record has given Thornton the freedom to interpret the story in her own way, as she admits.   She has clearly done a lot of research, and has created characters with interest and depth.   It’s certainly a good way to learn some details about Alexander’s life, conquests and war practice, as well as Persian and Greek traditions and beliefs.   Interestingly for those aware of biblical times, his times intersect with the end of the Persian Empire, headed by Darius and Artaxerxes (who are later descendants of the biblical ones).
There is no doubt it is a sordid tale of world domination with a great deal of battle lust thrown in.   Sadly, it’s probably a fair portrayal of the times, especially for the women and men who were used as prizes of war. 

I found it interesting and informative, it’s a story well told.  And again, it makes me very thankful I am not a woman living in those times.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Mrs Queen Takes the Train

Mrs Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn

Having so enjoyed The Uncommon Reader a few years ago, I grabbed this other fictional book about the Queen to try.   It’s 10 years since Diana’s death and the Queen finds herself a little melancholy at times.   One evening after wandering aimlessly out to the stables to see the horses in the rain, stable hand Rebecca loans the queen her hoodie jumper to keep her warm and dry.  Unrecognised by some workmen, they tell her to go out the other way, which she amiably does, finding herself outside Buckingham Palace.  On a whim she ends up at the shop that supplies the cheese for Her Majesty and then embarks on a public train headed to Leith, Scotland to see the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was the home of many happy memories.   Rebecca, accompanied by the young salesman at the cheese shop, Rajiv, take after her and keep an eye from a distance.

None of her train companions identify her correctly, although some do wonder if perhaps she is Helen Mirren from The Queen movie.   At the same time, not surprisingly, some key folk at the palace are trying to figure out where she is without alerting MI5 to the fact that they have lost her.   Anne, a lady in waiting and the Queens’ dresser (Shirley) join forces to search; as do Luke, a new equerry and William, an older butler.

It’s quite delightful.  It does jump back and forth in time, filling in details of the others character’s lives as well as the Queen’s history, and sometimes takes a bit of figuring out where you are up to.  You get an idea (of course fictional) of how the Queen may view her life with its ups and downs.   Some of the extra story lines include the tension amongst various levels of palace staff with their snobbiness, intrigues and gay romances.  At no point is the Queen ridiculed, if anything you are shown a hint of a very personal, gentle woman underneath the public persona.  It’s a reasonably lightweight story although it does deal with some serious issues along the way.  Very enjoyable.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Ology

The Ology, Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski is definitely on a roll at the moment with his production of quality material for children and families.  The author of The Gospel Story Bible and devotionals Long Story Short and Old Story New, has now written a theology book for children, essentially a doctrine book for 6-12 year olds.   We all enjoyed this one – it was simple enough for Miss 8 to grasp and understand, yet not so simplistic that Mr 13 was bored.   Each reading only took a few minutes, but often kick-started further discussion, so it can be simplified or extended as appropriate.   As an extra treat, the illustrations are beautiful.  I was sent this by New Growth Press as a pdf file, but liked the look of it so much we bought a hard copy.

There are some excellent family devotional materials available these days.   However, the limitation for us is that many are too long.  We are unlikely to stay with one resource for longer than a few months, so anything designed to last a year or more, we're unlikely to finish.  We like variety but also have other material for certain times of the year (Easter, Christmas) that we prioritise.   The Ology has 71 readings, so if done daily it would take under three months.  In truth, it took us close to a year, so we didn’t feel like we got into a rhythm with it, and the way it’s written that certainly would have been a benefit.  

We want to look at the big themes of the bible.  In our children’s own bible reading, as well as any input at church, almost everything is bible passages.  This is essential for growth and understanding, but we like to sometimes cover the larger concepts and themes, essentially doctrine.  This fills a gap that might not otherwise be taught.

Therefore, The Ology therefore is excellent as both a shorter resource and for teaching doctrine.  It is divided into sections including God, people, sin, promise and the law, Christ, the Holy Spirit, adoption into God’s family, the church, the end times and God’s word.

As with anything like this, there are some areas an author will emphasise that we might not, eg. quite as much on the end times, or some vague references to angels at points.   Overall it’s very good, both clear and biblically sound, and written with explanations and illustrations that children understand (and non-American parents can quickly adapt on the spot to make even more relevant!).   Machowski continues to help families teach their children the truths of God, something parents like us are very thankful for.