What I’m reading this week: Rediscovering Mitford

This is part of the Sunday Salon – a series of blog posts where regular folks write about what they’re reading.

In the last couple of weeks, I decided to rediscover Mitford, the fictional town created by author Jan Karon, and the characters within it – most notably Father Tim Kavanaugh, the charming Episcopal priest and his wife Cynthia, who he married late in life.

downloadI own hardcover and paperback copies of most of the series but started downloading the new books into my Kindle a couple of years ago. This time around I started my latest visit to Mitford with book 13, “Come Rain, Come Shine,” which I had started last year but never finished. Then this week I started the latest book in the series, book 14 “To Be Where You Are”. I’m afraid to look anywhere online until I finish it because of spoilers, but I did Google Karon when my mom and I were wondering how old she must be now and learned she has recently written the last of the series as a collection of sermons and prayers by Father Tim. This distressed my mom a little because she has read “To Be Where You Are” already and said some of the character’s stories were left hanging

I started reading these books in high school and have loved following the stories of the characters. I’ve laughed with them (because there is a lot of humor) and I’ve cried with them (because there are some definite tear-jerking moments, some heartbreaking and some simply touching). I used to read the books in a couple of days because I simply couldn’t put them down. I still move through them fairly fast, but I’m faced with more interruptions now that I have children so the books are a nice thing to disappear into late at night once they are asleep.karon

For those who haven’t read the books, Father Tim and Cynthia have an adopted son Dooley and a slew of friends and family, whose stories are also part of the books. The story of how Dooley became their son and the fracturing of his family weave in and out of the books, with new characters, such as Dooley’s brothers and estranged mother, being added in each edition. There are other reoccurring characters who are part of almost every book and include the local newspaper’s editor and his reporter wife (something I could definitely relate to), the owners of the local restaurant, the local veterinarian, and church parishioners whose stories often intertwine with the main characters. At times there are a couple of different plots going on throughout the book, but each one seems to come back to Father Tim.

While Karon’s writing isn’t super deep or complex, she is a talented writer who is able to use words to paint a beautiful picture of a scene or an interaction and pull the reader into the moment.

In the first chapter of the fourteenth book in the series, one sentence she wrote made me pause and read it slowly again: “The chlorophylls of summer foliage would have degraded into nonfluorescent chlorophyll catabolites, and hidden pigments would explode in a pyrotechnic extravagance of scarlet, gold, vermilion, and out-loud yellow.

I think one reason I’m in love with the books is that I can relate to the characters, the life in a small town and to life in North Carolina, which is where my mom’s entire family is from and where she grew up.

Opening the books is like visiting with old friends and also makes me think of an old friend who had loved me but needed so much love she drained me and others of almost all their energy in the process.

She once gave me a small, wooden frame with the words: “I’d rather be in Mitford” printed off a computer. I have many regrets in my life and not getting back in touch with her after one too many of her demands weighted me down is one of them. She passed away a couple of years ago and I like to hope heaven is a lot like Mitford for her – with quirky, funny and friendly characters.

As for me, I’ve often looked at that little sign during stressful times in my life and thought the same thing – how much I’d like to be in Mitford instead of dealing with the stress of the moment.

So what are you reading these days? Anything good? Let me know in the comments!

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On the eve of her fourth birthday

And there she was, drifting off to sleep on the eve of her fourth birthday. There was pink in her hair and I wondered what it was since we’d just washed our hair together tonight in the tub. Then I remembered she’d got paint in it a week before and apparently I hadn’t got all of it out in the bath that night. I thought about how much I loved noticing those little details of her childhood.

The day before she’d been sitting on the hill, in the grass and fallen leaves, outside her grandparents’ house, wearing a shirt on backward, since she still hasn’t mastered how to put them on the right way, with rainbow pants and chocolate smudged on the corner right above her upper lip, left over from the brownie cake her grandma and grandpa had made. After her bath, the day before her birthday, she put on an adorable, felt looking pink dress, as if she was preparing to wake up the next morning ready to celebrate her official birthday, one I couldn’t believe was already here.

She was the baby we never expected and the one we never knew we needed.

She delights us, surprises us, aggravates us and most of all she completes us.

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Less is more – why minimalism is a great idea for an over thinker

Less is more.

Less is more.

These words have popped up in my head a lot lately, maybe because of blog posts like this one from Rachael at Our Beautiful Adventure.

To quote Rachael “This gave me serious pause for thought. How can it be that those classed as rich don’t feel rich, but I, classed as poor, do feel rich? To be frank it is because it is just that, a feeling. Not a fact. To be rich you only need to feel it.”

And maybe it isn’t only the blog posts I’ve been reading but because some weeks finances are tough to balance and having less forces me to remember that having more isn’t always better.

Minimalism. 

Having less to see you have more. Having less so children imagine and appreciate more.

It’s a concept I love.

So this week I’ve concocted a plan to rid our life of clutter and “too much” stuff.

Go ahead and laugh.

It’s ok.

I’ve been laughing too. Doubting myself and doubting I can even do it.

Still I’m soldiering on with plans to declutter in many ways – physically, emotionally, and mentally and from materialism.

Emotionally will be, of course, the most difficult.

Physically I will be opening closets and hauling out anything and everything we haven’t touched in months and preparing it for a yard sale or goodwill.

As for the mental decluttering I have reduced my social media and internet usage this week to try to unclog my mind. I have added morning devotions, though I’m not batting 100 percent on that front. I’m also trying hard to carve out a few moments a day to myself, but this is difficult being a stay at home mom whose husband has a full time and part time job and does yard work in some of his spare time. There are days I can sneak away for a break but a clingy 2-year old adds to that challenge too. The more her attachment moves from mama and to daddy, the easier finding a break will be.

I’d love to say that my mind is already clearer because of the Facebook fast but in reality I’m finding my thoughts bouncing all around my insides because I no longer have the mind numbing distraction of scrolling through the newsfeed. Instead my mind is racing through what I can do, what needs to be done, what I want to do, and what hasn’t been done. 

Now the task at hand is to slow my thoughts down, stop them from fluttering from subject to subject. In many ways the mental buzz social media creates with all its various subjects scrolling by brings harm to an over thinker like me. Not only does it create thoughts at a thousand miles per hour, interrupting sleep and daily tasks, but when it is turned off the brain is still left racing through all the subjects that were just read. 

Now, though, the brain has to focus on all those things it could avoid while sucked into the social media drama or brainless distraction, whichever void the newsfeed filled on a particular day.

With social media placed on hiatus my mind slides to what I’d imagine God knows I need to focus on and some He wishes I wouldn’t dwell on: the reoccurring theme of rejection in my life; health anxiety; financial concerns; personal loss; past betrayals; broken family relationships; lost dreams; hope for new dreams; worries about the children; an overwhelming desire to cook more but the fear I’ll fail like I’ve failed at so much else. 

Slowing down the incessant mental chatter in the over thinker is definitely a challenge. For me yoga, editing photographs, listening to sermons, watching cooking or traveling shows, reading, journaling and taking photographs are some ways I achieve this. It’s in the dark of night when the chatter grows louder so I often fall asleep listening to a comedian or a hopeful pastor like Joseph Prince. If the subject matter is too heavy or deep it will spin my thoughts off into other directions and I could lay awake in bed for hours, jumping from deep thought to deep thought.

My one hope is that by physically decluttering our living space we will also declutter our thoughts in some way. It’s like having hundreds of cable channels. When you have so much to choose from you become overwhelmed and don’t know what to choose. Sometimes you have to turn the TV off because it is simply too overwhelming. 

The same is true when your house is full of material items you don’t need. There is so much to focus on you don’t stop to focus on what is important. When you have less dishes to clean you have more time to spend with your children. When there are less clothes to choose from your mind can focus on what activity you can do together as a family instead of what shirt matches which skirt. When your children have less toys they can focus on developing their imagination with the toys they do have or with other objects in the world around them. 

Mentally decluttering is a supernatural process that I believe only God can accomplish.

By focusing on His word and His promises it is often easier to slow thoughts down and rest in his care. 

I’m not sure how far I’ll get in my physical minimalism goals but I intend to work daily on the mental minimalism effort because that is definitely one of my most difficult tasks. 

 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 

– 2 Corinthians 10:3-6