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Archive for the ‘Books!’ Category

Summer is almost here, which means nights watching sunsets at the lake, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, and sitting on the porch listening to the crickets. But there’s also nothing like kicking back with a cold drink for a summer movie night! Besides, I know my friends Down Under are saying Goodbye Summer and Welcome Autumn, and are ready for cozy nights in. So this is my gift to all of you–thirty period dramas you might never have seen! All are set from the 1700s to the 1950s (apart from one exception–you’ll see why), and all can be watched in a single sitting–2.5 hours or less (we’ll get to the best mini-series another time!). I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below . . .

1. Somewhere in Time (1980) – Which of us period drama fans don’t dream of traveling back in time and stepping into our favorite film or book? That’s almost what this young playwright (Christopher Reeve) does when he falls in love with the photo of a famous turn-of-the-century actress (Jane Seymour). This time travel movie has the added benefit of whisking the main character and the viewer back to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. Yes, it’s a little hokey at times, but it’s worth it to see these two amazing actors together. Also starring Christopher Plummer. Rated PG


2. Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken (1991) – Take a a trip back to America’s Great Depression years and the exciting but dangerous world of diving horses. Sonora Webster (Gabrielle Anwar) is a runaway, trying to find a way to support herself. What she finds is adventure, her life’s passion as a diving girl, and a place to call home. If you’re a horse lover, like a happy ending with a few tears along the way, and like being whisked to another time and place, this might be a good pick for you! It’s based on a real story, and it’s one the whole family might enjoy. Rated G


3. Under the Greenwood Tree (2005) – based on the book by Victorian author Thomas Hardy. If you’re a period drama fan, you might recognize Keeley Hawes as Fancy Day, the new school teacher in town who, with her beauty and vivacity, attracts not one but three different suitors. The educated parson, the wealthy farmer, and the poor young tradesman. Who should she choose? Although Hardy’s books don’t all have a happy ending, I will tell you that this one does. But what I love most about the story is the peek into a small 1840s English village, and all the traditions and goings on that made up the villagers’ lives (including some wonderful English folk music!). Rated PG


4. Wildflower (1991 ) – Back to the years of the Great Depression. This time we’re off to the South, and the unlikely heroine is a beautiful, deaf young woman, Alice, who is kept locked in a shed by her violent stepfather. Enter spunky Ellie, played by a young Reese Witherspoon, and her sensitive, college-bound brother Sammy, who try to help Alice by teaching her poetry and showing her what life in a family is supposed to be. Of course her stepfather isn’t amused by all this, and of course Sammy can’t help but notice just how lovely and sweet Alice really is. I love this one! Rated PG-13


5. Love and Friendship (2016) – If you think you’ve watched and read all of Jane Austen’s works, you might be wrong if you missed this one! Austen was just eleven when she started this novel, and it was probably written only for the pleasure of her family and friends. It is dedicated to her French cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, an extremely colorful woman who’s husband was guillotined during the French Revolution. For the young Jane, these events must have been sheer inspiration to a writer’s imagination. It’s full of the wonderful wit and social criticism we expect from her later novels. Also, the deliberately complicated plot has plenty of fainting spells, deaths due to a variety of causes (including “galloping consumption”), elopements galore, unbelievable coincidences, and unscrupulous cads. One thing that struck me is that the “heroine” Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale, Emma, 1996) isn’t a particularly likable character, but the truest-hearted girl does, in the end, get her perfect match. Rated PG


6. Miss Potter (2006) – About the life of Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger), creator of Peter Rabbit and her other wonderful children’s characters. Flashbacks take us to her childhood visits to Scotland–where she began her love of nature and developed her skills as an artist. And in the present, we walk with her in her struggle to break into the publishing world as a woman and author of children’s books in Victorian England, and also through her true love, heartbreak, and eventual move to Hilltop Farm. While this film is aimed more at adults, we see cheeky Peter Rabbit and the other animals come to animated life through Potter’s imagination. Also starring Ewan McGregor. Rated PG


7. Swallows and Amazons (2016) – This adventure is one for the whole family! Four siblings in the countryside, a sailboat, and an island–what could go wrong? Maybe just a few close calls with spies, a small tribe of wild girls, and a lot of adventure. Based on the 1930s book series by English author Arthur Ransome. Rated PG


8. Tolkien (2019) – Based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the Elvish language and author of The Lord of the Rings. Much like Miss Potter didn’t have Peter Rabbit as an actual character–although he came alive to Beatrix Potter–in this film Hobbits and Orcs march across the screen as figments of Tolkien’s imagination. They are products of his university studies, of the fellowship he formed with his school friends, and of the horrors he saw in the trenches of WWI. There’s a lot of back and forth between the different stages of his life. There are so many subtleties to catch, and it’s one I’d like to watch again. It’s moving, informative, and creative. Rated PG-13


9. Emma (2020) – I didn’t think I’d like this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel after reading a few reviews. Several complained that it was all too perfect. And it’s true that many scenes seem choreographed (with the characters moving almost as if in a dance) and coordinated (with wallpaper, and cake frosting, and Emma’s intricate hair styles matching just a little too perfectly). But for me, this only made the feast for the eyes all the more sumptuous. We still see Emma’s emotions as she navigates first her friend’s heartbreak, and then her own. And Mr. Knightly has enough ruggedness to balance out the finery. Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle, 2003) is brilliant as Mr. Woodhouse. And the music! It made the film, if you ask me. The only scene I wasn’t a fan of was the proposal scene. Rated PG


10. Brooklyn (2015) – My mother grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, though her family wasn’t Italian. And her story–or maybe that of my grandparents–is in so many ways like the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan, Little Women, 2019), the young Irish woman who leaves her tiny Irish village to begin a new life in big New York city in the 1950s. It’s a story of family, of home, of love . . . it’s a story of America. Based on the book by Colm Tóibín. Rated PG-13


11. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – Huge Victorian houses, wonderful costumes, and Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Did you know it came from this film? Oh, and ketchup making, possible long distance phone proposals from New York City, misunderstandings with handsome neighbors, and a Victorian Halloween. I think this movie goes through all the seasons. And I can’t forget the excitement of the St Louis Fair. Rated PG


12. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) – In this film both Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens, Downtown Abbey) and Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, Nicholas Nickleby) star together in the story of how Dickens created A Christmas Carol, about the most famous miserly bachelor of all time. This book forever changed the way we view and celebrate Christmas. If you haven’t seen it, do! If you have, see it AGAIN, even if it’s almost summer. There are so many details to catch! It’s also the third movie listed (see 6,8) about characters coming to life to inspire an author. Rated PG


13. Belle (2013) – Tells the story of a real-life woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose father was an English sea captain and whose mother was a former slave on a Spanish ship that her father captured. As a girl, Belle is brought to England to be raised alongside her cousin, Elizabeth, by their great uncle, Lord Mansfield, at his estate. As a woman of mixed ethnicity, Belle endures coldness and even cruelty by some, even as the niece of a wealthy and powerful man. She has the attention of some undesirable suitors–but also of a man who loves her, truly. While Belle’s active involvement in the abolition movement is probably fictional, her uncle, Lord Mansfield, was indeed involved in a court case involving a slave ship and murdered slaves. This has led many to speculate that Jane Austen named her book Mansfield Park after Lord Mansfield, as she calls attention to the evils of slavery in this book. Rated PG


14. Chariots of Fire (1982) – This may be our only official academy award winner 🏆though every movie I’ve suggested is sublime, of course! Wonderful in its subtlety and understated beauty, and the fact that it’s based on the lives of two real British men. Harold Abrams, a Jewish Cambridge University student, and Eric Liddell, Scottish athlete and Christian missionary. Each was an amazing man, full of determination to do their best running for Britain at the 1924 Olympic Games. Each had a different force driving them. The writing, the acting, the scenery, all superb–and the music by Vangelis–love it!!! The running scenes are also inspiring! But what’s most inspiring to me is the life of Eric Liddell, who went on to dedicate his life to the Chinese people. Rated PG


15. The Young Victoria (2009) – The name Queen Victoria often gives us a picture of the plump, dignified, but rather dour looking woman who was photographed in her later years. But of course everyone was young, once, and this film is about just that–Victoria’s adolescent and newly married years. She was next in line to the throne after her uncle, King William. As he nears death, the ambitious Lord Conroy hopes the 18-year-old Victoria will appoint him as regent to rule in her place. Of course she turns out to be far more strong-willed and independent than expected. Meanwhile, Prince Albert of Belgium is being schooled on Victoria’s likes and dislikes, with the intent the two will marry–though he doesn’t like being told what to do any more than she does. The rest is history, but I’ll let you watch and figure it out. Screenplay written by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey. Rated PG


16. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – You can have Romeo and Juliet if I can keep THIS. I’m much more of a happy endings kind of girl. And none of Shakespeare’s comedies end happier, or are more relatable and appealing than this adaptation. This play gave us lines like, “Friendship is constant in all other things, save in the office and affairs of love.” And “Claudio is in love. With whom? . . . Look how short the answer is–with Leonato’s short daughter.” Ah, me. Quick summary – The kindly noblemen Leonato, his lovely daughter Hero, and playful niece Beatrice welcome friends home from the war. Among them are Prince Don Pedro, his sullen and bitter brother Don John, witty Benedick, and the handsome young nobleman Claudio. Benedick and Beatrice engage in a battle of wits, and Claudio falls in love with Hero. To pass the time till the wedding, they try to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love. Meanwhile, Don John plays a cruel trick, making Claudio believe Hero has been unfaithful to him . . . With beautiful Italian scenery, a wonderful soundtrack, and a cast of MANY period drama favorites (Emma Thompson, Sense & Sensibility 1995, Kate Beckinsale, Emma 1996, Robert Sean Leonard, Swing Kids 1993), this film is a treat. Rated PG-13


17. Ladies in Lavender (2004) – I’m not sure if it’s the wonderful soundtrack with music by Joshua Bell, the 1930s setting, the gorgeous Cornish scenery, the simple lives portrayed by the main characters (Hello Maggie Smith and Judy Dench), or the idea of a mysterious stranger washing up on a beach that makes me love this film so much . . . do you want to watch it already? When sisters Ursula and Janet find a young man, Andrea, washed up on their beach, unconscious and with a broken ankle, they take him in and care for him. He doesn’t speak English, so who he is and how he ended up there remains a mystery. The two sisters form an attachment to him, treating him as the son neither had–though in Ursula’s case, one wonders if it’s more of a longing for the romantic relationship she never had. They soon discover his talent on the violin . . . unfortunately, this also comes to the attention of a beautiful, foreign painter who is staying in the area. There are rumors the two are spies, but Ursula and Janet are suspicious of the woman, and remain protective of Andrea. I won’t give away the end! It’s a bittersweet film that stirs up emotions of longing for times past, forgotten memories, and people we’ve had to let go. Rated PG-13


18. Letters to Juliet (2010) – This is the only movie set after the 1950s. But with the beautiful Italian scenery, and the theme of both WRITING and ROMEO & JULIET, I thought I’d make an exception. Sophie is an American journalist visiting Verona with her fiancé, who’s there to find products for his restaurant. While he’s busy exploring vineyards and eating cheese, Sophie does her own exploring. On a visit to the house allegedly inhabited by Shakespeare’s Juliet, she notices a stone wall stuck with letters–and then sees a woman take all the letters and put them in a basket. Intrigued, Sophie follows, and finds a secret society of women who make it their business to answer each and every letter written to Juliet, asking for advice on love. On a return to the wall, a stone comes loose, and Sophie finds a letter that’s been hidden for 50 years. Sophie decides to answer the letter, and soon English Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) comes to Italy with her grandson, Charlie. This is when the journey really begins, as Sophie joins Claire and Charlie on their hunt for Claire’s lost love. Rated PG.


19. A Room with a View (1985) – One of my favorite movies ever, ever, EVER!!! The MUSIC, the SCENERY, the COSTUMES, the ROMANCE. Happy, happy, happy sigh!!! Lucy Honeychurch is in Italy as a tourist under the care of her cousin, Charlotte (Maggie Smith). But alas, they weren’t given a room with a view of the Arno River, as promised. An English father and son offer to switch rooms with them, but Charlotte worries it’s not quite proper. Despite her efforts to keep Lucy from the son, George, Lucy ends up being kissed by him (best movie kiss ever). Their new novelist friend, Eleanor Lavish (Judy Dench), thinks it’s romantic, but Charlotte is horrified and whisks Lucy back to England. There, Lucy becomes engaged to bookish Cecil (Daniel Day Lewis). Everything seems to be going well until George and his father take a house in the village. Based on the book by E.M. Forster. Have you seen it? Do you love it too? *This film is not rated. There’s a scene where the men go for a swim in their birthday suits, so get your remote ready.


20. Tea with Mussolini (1999) – Not only does this film take us back to stunning Florence, Italy, but we’re joined once again by Maggie Smith and Judy Dench, who were in both A Room with a View and Ladies in Lavender. In this film, they’re joined by Joan Plowright (Jane Eyre, 1996). A group of cultured ex-patriot British women meet weekly in a local museum for tea, as Europe is on the brink of being thrown into WWII. Then they have Luca, the young boy that Mary (Plowright) has charge of, and who they all keep a watchful eye over. The Fascists may be planning some big changes in Italy, but these strong women aren’t interested in letting Mussolini or anyone upset their ways–or harm the people they care about. They will be brave–and they’ll do it with style! *Another fascinating thing about this film is that it’s based on the autobiography of the director, Franco Zeffirelli. Rated PG


21. Swing Kids (1993) – A romantic but also more serious movie than the others I’ve suggested. Swing Kids, starring Christian Bale (Little Women,1994) and Robert Sean Leonard (Much Ado About Nothing,1993), brings to life the Swingjugand (Swing Youth) of Germany, who risked everything to stand for freedom–specifically by daring to meet together for the forbidden but popular swing dance and jazz music. These young people admired the American way of life and sought to oppose the National-Socialist ideology. It wasn’t a stand for their faith, but it was a stand for freedom. This film is about friendship, love, and standing for what is right. You will love the dancing. The soundtrack is amazing!!! But also expect the heavy themes included in most WWII films. Rated PG-13


22. I Capture the Castle (2003) – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink . . . ” I’ll begin the review the way the book begins, in a most quirky, inviting sort of way. The book continues as it began… surprising, interesting, delightful at every turn. The film is also sweet and quirky, but what the movie fails to capture is the magic, the voice, the insight into the head and heart of a 1930’s English girl living in a damp, ruined castle. Cassandra Mortmain’s (Romola Garai, Emma, 2009) father (Bill Nighy, Emma 2020) is a struggling author who just received the final royalty check from his last book. Just when the family are desperate, and scheming ways to make money for food, enter two handsome, confident young Americans who have inherited the estate next door. The girls scheme to get Cassandra’s older sister Rose engaged to the eldest brother, and it seems to work . . . the problem is that Cassandra herself falls desperately in love with him. Meanwhile, their hired hand, Stephen (Henry Cavill, Enola Holmes) is in love with Cassandra. Written by Dodie Smith (author of 101 Dalmatians) when she was stuck in America during WWII, and had a serious homesickness for England. I think you’ll LIKE the film and absolutely LOVE the book. Surprisingly, rated R. Apparently for brief nudity (when Cassandra sunbathes on the castle roof or bathes in the moat)?


23. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – WWII has ended, and people are still picking up the pieces of their lives–some still left wondering about the fate of their missing relatives. Orphaned writer, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), is feeling lost herself. Her latest book didn’t sell well, she’s out of ideas, and she doesn’t know where to call home or what to do next. One thing she does have is a friendship–by letter only–with the unlikely members of a literary society on the British Island of Guernsey, which was occupied by the Nazis during the war. They are still waiting for the return of one of their members, Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay). Juliet is recently engaged, but feels compelled to go to Guernsey to meet her friends and perhaps write about their society? What she finds on the island is a whole lot more than she expected. Here’s where I HAVE to say again that this film is really so good, but based on a book that is EVEN better!!! Also, you will recognize 4 cast members from Downton Abbey! Rated PG-13


24. The Man From Snowy River (1982) – Some of the most epic films were made in the 80s, and in my opinion, this is one of them. This movie is based on a poem, which in turn is based on the legend (or history) of a great horse rider who could tame wild horses and stay on his saddle through any terrain. It’s the movie that changed how I see the name Jessica (beautiful). It’s also the classic Cinderella story, but reversed, where a poor but hardworking young man falls for the beautiful, wealthy rancher’s daughter . . . oh, and it’s all done Australian style. With a wonderful cast, including Kirk Douglas, Sigrid Thornton, and Tom Burlinson, this movie has all the adventure, romance, breathtaking scenery, and beautiful music you could ask for. It’s also a horse lover’s dream. Rated PG


25. Little Women (1994) – I like every adaptation of the book by Louisa May Alcott, but for me, this version will always be best. I find it to be a masterpiece for the eyes, the ears, and the heart. If you don’t know the story, the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are home with their mother while their father is fighting the American Civil War. The girls stay busy with attic theatricals, playing the piano, writing, and other pursuits meant to improve themselves. Meanwhile, young Laurie (Christian Bale, Swing Kids,1993) moves in with this wealthy grandfather next door, and can’t help but be drawn to the March family–especially Jo, though she isn’t sure she feels the same. Rated PG


26. Great Expectations (2012) – A must-watch adaptation of Charles Dickens’ must-read novel. One thing I love about watching multiple film adaptations of a favorite classic is comparing how different actors play a part. Helena Bonham Carter (A Room with a View, 1985) was perfect as eccentric Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes very emotional as escaped prisoner, Magwitch, who’s helped by young orphaned Pip. Pip is later brought in to be a companion to Miss Havisham’s ward, Estella. He was meant to love her, and she was taught to never love him. But then one day Pip finds he’s been left a fortune by a mysterious benefactor. Could this change everything for him and Estella? Rated PG-13


27. Swept from the Sea (1997) – Based on the story “Amy Foster” by Joseph Conrad, this tragic tale of love between Russian emigrant Yanko Goorall–who is washed ashore in England when his America-bound ship is lost–and a girl from the Cornish coast. While most people in the small village are afraid of Yanko, he is befriended by the local doctor (Ian McKellan, Lord of the Rings), who finds Yanko is very good at chess. He also gets the notice of loner Amy, who is an outcast because of circumstances surrounding her birth. This one might leave you bawling, but I loved the cast of familiar British actors, the scenery, and the unusualness of the story. Rated PG-13


28. Nicholas Nickleby (2002) – Dark and frightening, romantic and sweet, funny and clever, and very sentimental. This story is all that a Dickens story should be (based on his novel of the same name). It follows the young Nicholas Nickleby, from his idyllic country home, to the streets of London, to the horrors of Do the Boys Hall, the boarding school in Yorkshire where he lands a post as teacher’s assistant. The boarding school bits really are quite frightening! Favorite line “I stuck up for thee. He said thee weren’t fit to live with pigs. I said thee were,” (Said in a heavy Yorkshire accent). Boasts a wonderful cast, including Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Invented Christmas), Romola Garai (Emma, 2009), Jim Broadbent (Brooklyn, 2015), and Jamie Belle (Jane Eyre, 2011). Rated PG


29. A Royal Night Out (2015) – Britain has been cooped up for six long years during WWII, and now the whole world is out celebrating–At least it seems so to 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth (called “Lilibet”) and her 14-year-old sister, Margaret Rose (nicknamed “Princess 2” or simply “P2”). The two hatch a plan to join the masses incognito. Elizabeth convinces her father that if she’s in the crowd, she can much better assess what the honest public response is. Her 14-year-old sister, Margaret, just wants to drink champagne and show off her passion for the Lindy Hop at the Ritz Hotel dance. Their father, The King, insists on two officers as chaperones (This really happened in 1945), but it doesn’t take long for the girls to fix this problem, and what results is a night full of romance, mishaps, and fun. Most of their adventure is probably just fanciful imaginings of what the two young royals might have gotten up to during their one night living as commoners, but I loved “seeing” our Queen as she might have been as a young woman. Rated PG-13


30. Jane Eyre (1996) – A little investigation might reveal the existence of more adaptations of Jane Eyre than you’d realized! I love them all, and this version directed by Franco Zeffirelli (director of Romeo and Juliet, 1968, and whose life Tea with Mussolini is based on) is no exception. Have you seen it? If you aren’t at all familiar with Jane Eyre, it’s the story of an orphaned girl cast off by her wealthy aunt and sent to a harsh charity school for girls. She eventually advertises, and finds a place as governess at the grand but eerie Thornfield Hall. She loves her young French charge, but many clues lead her to believe all is not what it seems, including the brooding owner. Starring Dame Joan Plowright (Tea with Mussolini, 1999) and Charlotte Gainsboroug (Le Misérables, 2000). Not rated.

31. Mansfield Park (2007) – I know I said 30 movies, but I love giving a bonus! Young Fanny Price is sent to live with her wealthy relations at Mansfield Park. While the family treat her tolerably well, they also like to remind her of her lower place. It’s only her cousin, Edmund (Emma, 2009), who treats her as an equal. They are the best of friends, and Fanny hopes they can be more. Enter attractive, stylish new neighbors, brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford, and things begin to change–but Fanny isn’t sure it’s for the better. Based on the book by Jane Austen. Rated PG

Still need something to watch? Did you know there are two other versions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park?

I’d love to hear below–did I list one of your all-time favorites? Did you find one you’ve never seen before?

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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Romantic as they seem to us modern folk, stage coaches and sailing ships and horses weren’t the fastest or easiest way to travel the world–nor were they something that everyone in Jane Austen’s England could afford. Unless you were a sailor, a soldier, or a diplomat, you likely spent most of your life in The British Isles. Many never left the county or shire where they were born, and spent their lives with the people in their village. That’s why so much hubbub and excitement ensued when a new teacher, or minister, or peddler arrived in town–or when the gentlefolk from London came to stay at their country estates (we readers and watchers of period dramas could give you plenty of examples here!). Even if you were among the very privileged English youth who took the Grand Tour of Europe, you weren’t as likely to come into contact with non-Europeans. Many parts of the world were yet undiscovered by the West, or were shut away from outsiders, and so it wasn’t often that people saw–much less interacted with–people who looked different from themselves. It’s not like today, where most of us can freely explore almost every corner of our beautiful earth, and where we come in contact with people of different ethnicities and cultures almost every day–if not in real life, than on the Internet or TV.

The Cast of Sanditon

Sadly, the African slave trade was still in existence during Austen’s time, and it was this evil practice that brought many from the African continent into contact with Europeans. Much of this contact was in the Caribbean, where some British had plantations. In my post Jane Austen and Slavery I explored the abolitionists that Austen knew or admired, and the way she raised awareness of slavery in her book Mansfield Park (did you know there are three film adaptations?!). From Austen’s prayers, we can assume she held to the Christian faith–or at least held to the Christian belief that we are ALL descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore all created in the image of God. Not only did she point out the evils of slavery in Mansfield Park, in her unfinished book Sanditon, she went a step further by including a black character, Georgiana Lambe. Georgiana’s father was a plantation owner, and her mother was originally a slave. But now the young heiress has been taken from sunny Antigua and placed in England, in the care of Sidney Parker (heroine Charlotte Heywood’s love interest). In the mini series adaptation of Sanditon, Georgiana (Crystal Clarke) isn’t happy with her situation. But some good things do come from her stay in England–the friendship that forms between Georgiana and Charlotte (Rose Williams) . . . and a little romance, which Charlotte helps Georgiana keep secret from Sidney (Theo James).

Heiress Georgiana Lambe & Charlotte Heywood
Georgiana & sweetheart, Otis

Jane Austen sadly passed away before completing Sanditon, so we don’t know how the book would have been received at the time. But I couldn’t help but recognize the similarities between the fictional Georgiana and the real life woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose story is told in the 2013 movie, Belle. I love searching for connections between fiction and real life! Could Austen have heard of–or even known someone who met–the real Dido Belle? Dido was the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Naval officer, John Lindsay, and a young black woman named Maria Bell, who was a slave on a Spanish ship that was captured by Lindsay. Their daughter, Dido, was eventually taken to England and put in the care of her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, to be raised on his estate in north London. It’s been speculated that Jane Austen intentionally chose Mansfield as the name of the estate and title of her book, Mansfield Park, in which she addresses slavery. Perhaps with the way her character Georgiana’s life resembles Dido’s, Austen also intended to make connections between the two women.

Dido & Elizabeth, Belle (2013)

As a woman of mixed ethnicity, Dido (Belle), like the fictional Georgiana, faced challenges in English society. The film explores some of the coldness and even open hostility that Dido likely had to endure, even as the niece of a powerful and wealthy man. But she was raised with a cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, and the two seem to have been best friends. One of the wonderful things left from this relationship is the painting we have of the two young women. Today, the painting hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland, which I visited many times when I lived there. If only I’d paid more attention!

Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth
Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth as portrayed in the movie

As Austen only wrote about 20,000 words of Sanditon, we don’t know exactly what she had planned for the life of Georgiana Lambe. Many have continued the work as they thought it should go, beginning with Jane’s niece, Anna LeFroy, who claimed to have discussed the novel with Austen (though Anna wrote quite a lot, she sadly didn’t finish the story). And of course producer Andrew Davies (Screenwriter for Pride & Prejudice, 1995) continued the story as he thought it should go in the 2019 miniseries, Sanditon. There, Sidney, who believes Otis is a no-good fortune hunter, seems to succeed in separating him from Georgiana. In the film, Belle, we also see Dido being pursued by fortune hunters.

Dido and suitor Oliver Ashford (James Norton)
Dido & John Davinier

While we don’t know Davies’ future plans for Sanditon Season 2, and the rest of Miss Lambe’s story, we do know that Dido fell in love and married a Mr. John Davinier, who–from what we can gather–truly cared for her. While the film portrays him as a minister and abolitionist, he was in fact a Steward for a wealthy employer. Dido was left with a modest inheritance from her father and uncle, and the two must have lived in relative comfort. They had 3 sons. Much like Jane Austen, Dido passed away in her early 40s. But for those years she had with her husband and children, I hope she was happy. I hope Andrew Davies will give Georgiana a happy ending, too. Jane Austen insisted that all her heroines have a happy ending, and so I really feel he must!

Have you seen the miniseries Sanditon or the film Belle? Did you notice any similarities between them? How do you think the story will end for Miss Lambe? Belle is the final film in my Countdown to Spring Weekend Movie Pick 🌷 – Find Happy Little Sigh on Facebook, Instagram, or MeWe for the complete list of 26 favorite period drama films!!!

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram / Facebook / MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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Lockdowns and race riots. Isolation and old wounds. What on earth does Jane Austen have to do with it all? A lot, it turns out. An awful lot.

While I’ve read both Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, and have watched the film adaptations more times than I care to admit (who else can join this club?), I never got the urge to snuggle up on the sofa with a blanket, a cup of tea, and Mansfield Park, Austen’s 3rd published novel. One viewing of the film adaptations was enough, and those never inspired me to read the book.

But one of my lockdown activities was to re-watch the 1999 and 2007 versions of Mansfield Park as well as give the 1983 version a chance. The 80s version had always looked too–well, slow. And slow it was–deliciously slow, if you’re hankering to see nearly all of the dialogue and scenes from Austen’s novel brought to the screen. Although the cinematography and soundtrack aren’t quite the delight to the senses that the later versions are (it was rather like watching a play), after seeing the 80s version, the others seemed horribly rushed. Entire scenes and characters from the novel had been cut out. Not only that, but Fanny herself–the dutiful, steady, almost timid character that Austen created–had been lost and turned into something more flashy and exciting. One review of the 1999 version was titled, “Please, Miramax, Don’t Call it Mansfield Park” (Rosenbaum) because of the films extreme alteration of Fanny Price.

Frances O’Conner & Johnny Lee Miller in Mansfield Park, 1999

I also realized something more significant that I so disliked about the 1999 version in particular–its inclusion of slavery. While tending her bedridden cousin, Tom, who has just returned from Antigua, Fanny discovers his sketchbook. It is full of horrifying depictions of the goings on at the family’s plantation. The pictures are upsetting, and the fact that slavery is presented, but not dealt with, didn’t sit well with me.

In the novel, Fanny and her cousin Edmund have a conversation–

“Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?”

“I Did – and was in hopes the question would be followed by others.  It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”

“And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence!”

One wonders what was meant by this “dead silence.” Was the family disinterested or embarrassed by mention of the slave trade? Whatever the case, they were not eager to speak of it. I wondered what Austen herself, thought, and started digging . . .

Billie Piper & Blake Ritson, Mansfield Park, 2007

What did Austen think about slavery? Why did she mention it in her book? After all, Austen’s world is one where one can count on villains getting their comeuppance and all being put to right. I watch and read Austen to escape to a world of balls and empire waist dresses, where the biggest threat is a marriage proposal from the likes of Mr. Collins–not to be shown one of the world’s greatest evils, only to have it left unresolved. And though I still think Mansfield Park is in a different category because of the inclusion of this grave topic, on further examination I’ve realized it’s not as different from Austen’s other novels as I first thought.

Woven through her stories of romance and happy endings she included many social issues which concerned her, such as the custom of marrying for money and social status rather than suitability and love. She made many statements about morality through the repercussions her characters faced as a result of their choices. The outcomes of their lives are meant to make us consider our own. And though she could not erase slavery, she made a statement about this, too.

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.

– Fanny Price, Mansfield Park

The most obvious statement is made with the title of the book–Mansfield Park. It is believed by many scholars that Austen chose this name because of Lord Mansfield, who presided over the case of James Somerset, a slave who escaped from his owner while on English soil.  Mansfield declared that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will. By using the name of this well known judge, who declared slavery “odious” (White), Austen was most likely making her own views known.

Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell in Mansfield Park, 1983

Mansfield Park was completed in 1813, just five years after The Slave Trade Act of 1807 abolished slavery in the United Kingdom. Austen would have been very aware of the goings on in the Caribbean, both because of current events, and because of her own family’s involvement (her brother was in the navy and intercepted a Portuguese slave ship, her father was made the trustee of a plantation, while her cousins settled in the West Indies). This all would have given her insight into many of the ins and outs of the slave trade, and also most likely the horrors of the practice, which she would have known about when she wrote Mansfield Park.

As further evidence of her opinion on slavery, in one of her letters to her sister Cassandra, she writes of her “love” for the writing of prominent abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson (Davis). She was also fan of poet William Cowper, a fervent abolitionist, who wrote poems such as “The Negro’s Complaint” (Tomalin). It seems very likely from her writings, especially her prayers, that Jane Austen had a strong Christian faith, and the Christian worldview that all people are made in God’s image would certainly have affected her view of the slave trade (Haykin).

And speaking of abolitionists, my lockdown movie binge also led me back to the film Amazing Grace, 2006. This movie depicts the lives of William Wilberforce, British politician and leader in the movement to abolish slavery, and John Newton, former slave ship captain who penned the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” after God changed his heart and life. This was a great movie to share with my oldest boys, and brought up some important conversations. I was also delighted to see that Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell, who play Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 version of Mansfield Park, play Marianne and Henry Thornton, friends of Wilberforce. How wonderful that they were able to act in two films with such important messages.

Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell as Marianne & Henry Thornton, Amazing Grace, 2006

If you haven’t seen any of the above films–or indeed read Mansfield Park–they are wonderful ways to learn about some of the people from history who have stood against the mistreatment of others, particularly with regards to slavery. Lord Mansfield, John Newton, William Wilberforce, and even our own Jane Austen (now don’t we like her even more?).

More amazing things about Jane Austen & fun literary & movie connections coming soon…

Avonlea x

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Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday

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Quarantine and stay-at-home is these four walls, and this same view. It is little more in terms of location than a trip to the supermarket every two weeks, or a stroll around the block for some exercise. And so holidays, and visits, and adventures must be had by way of video chats, movies, and books. But what if it could be more? What if you could spend your quarantined time not just reading, but living in the pages of a book and being its heroine for a while? If you could do just that, to which if these five period classics would you escape for a month?

1. Jane Eyre – You’d have a large room to yourself, complete with four-poster bed and a view of the gardens in a beautiful, but slightly spooky English manor house. Your mornings would be spent studying French, Geography, and Flora & Fauna with Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ward. Your afternoons would be spent painting, or wandering the moors and gardens of Thornfield Hall. In the evenings, you could have long talks with Mr. Rochester, or chat with the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. It would be a quiet escape to a beautiful place with some good company, but you’d have do endure the occasional eerie noises outside your door at night.Jane Eyre

 

2. Little Women – You’d share a cozy room with your sisters, complete with a fireplace, lots of quilts and books, and a view of your quaint New England village. Your mornings would be spent taking food to the needy, or reading to your Great Aunt Josephine. Your afternoons would be spent having walks in the woods with your charming but incorrigible neighbor, Laurie. In the evenings, you could do some playacting in the attic with your sisters, or stay up late into the night writing by candlelight. This would be an escape full of lovely people and lovely ideas, but you might occasionally find yourself a little bored and longing for more adventure. littlewomen199413

 

3. Anne of Green Gables – You’d have a bedroom to yourself, complete with iron bed, washstand, and a view of green farmland. You’d spend your mornings at the small island school, where you’d learn to spell C-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m, and would have to endure teasing by Gilbert Blythe. You’d spend your afternoons strolling along the shore beneath the lighthouse with Diana Berry, or holding tea parties, or reenacting poems like “The Lady of Shallot.” You could spend your evenings sitting by the fire chatting with Matthew and Marilla, or reading books. This would be happy escape to a cozy community, but you might grow tired of the taunting from Josie Pye, and with the ugly dresses Marilla makes you wear. green gables house

 

4. Pride & Prejudice – You’d have to share a bedroom in your large family home in England with your sister Jane, complete with beautiful furnishings and a view of your family’s small park. Your mornings would be spent reading, or listening to your sisters squabble. Your afternoons would be spent walking in the garden picking flowers, or visiting your friend Charlotte Lucas. In the evenings you could attend balls and gatherings, where you’d get the chance to mingle with many different people, including Mr. Darcy. This escape would present a good mixture of peaceful and exciting moments, but you might not like having to be polite to Mr. Whickam, or putting up with withering looks from Mr. Bingley’s sisters. pride and prejudice dance

 

5. Little House on the Prairie – You’d share a room with your sister in your family’s simple pioneer home with a view of the rolling prairie. You’d spend your mornings doing chores like churning butter, collecting eggs, and kneading bread. Your afternoons would be spent exploring outside with your sisters, or taking a trip to town in the wagon with Pa. In the evenings, you could listen to Pa tell stories or play folk songs on his fiddle, or sit outside by the fire and look at the stars. You’d learn a lot of practical skills in this escape, and have a happy, wholesome time, but you might feel like you need a vacation from all the hard work when you get back. prairie-e1510179053375-1-850x510

So, which would you choose? Share your pick below, or share on Facebook or Instagram and see how your friends would vote!

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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March now, and so time to bring out my Daffodil needlepoint cushion that I bought my first year in Scotland. Time to replace my heart wreath on the porch with my Easter one. Time to purchase a hyacinth and marvel again as I watch it bloom. Little things that bring me joy, give my boys an appreciation for the passings seasons, and bring a bit of beauty to my home.

Beauty. That’s what my little corner of the Internet is supposed to be about. Opening our eyes to beautiful things–everyday, in the world around us. And I haven’t stopped looking, though I’ve been hibernating this winter, as much as I possibly could. The pause has done me good. I’ve been grateful for Arctic temps that meant canceled activities and an excuse to stay in. Grateful for the glorious sharp white light and blue winter skies that are so unusual for my state. Grateful just to rest.

But resting is not often simply resting, but often thinking, too. And I’ve asked myself again about this beauty and what it really means. And I know that beauty is more than a Pinterest-perfect home or wardrobe. More than an appreciation for nature. More than adventure, or being organized, or a success. Real beauty only exists in the external when it reflects the internal. Beauty, in its essence, is love.

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And so with the beautifying of my space comes the desire to lavish beauty on others. To welcome them to my home (or make my own family feel welcome here!). A space where they, themselves, are made to feel more beautiful because of how they are loved and served here. Loved and made to feel accepted and valued no matter what they’re wearing or what car they parked in my garage. Loved enough to be served a scrumptious feast on my best dishes–or enough to have pizza ordered so I can sit with them on the couch while they speak, whichever way is loving them best.

We do not always have to bring others into our home to bring them beauty. We can take it to them with a genuine smile, with a hug or warm handshake, with our focused attention as we ask about their life.

I’m reminded of a scene in Catherine Marshall’s book, Christy, when she visits the humble home of mountain woman Fairlight Spencer–“in a chipped cup she had put trillium and violets . . . ‘the very first,’ she told us, and unself-consciously reached out slender fingers to caress the flowers.” Next came gingerbread, and roasted chestnuts, and dulcimer music. The surroundings were humble, and the company could have been called that, too. But because there was yearning for the good and beautiful, and a desire to share it with their guests, the Spencer family lifted Christy’s heart.

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And that’s what real beauty–in our homes or on our faces–will do. It does not seek to invoke jealousy in others. It does not make them feel less. Instead it invites them into the beauty, makes them feel part of it. Gives them glimpses of the Author of beauty. Glimpses of His love.

May you find many a small violet or beam of sunshine to make you pause and smile this springtime. May the beauty you see bring you peace and make you both feel, and long to share, our Father’s love.

Avonlea x

For more inspiration, bookishness, and mad stories of life homeschooling 4 wee men,

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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We said “No, thank you” to everything we could this summer. Library reading programs, and classes for the children, and fancy vacations. After a hectic year where we had something going seven days a week, plus frequent trips to the dentist for the Professor’s retainer (Yay! for the middle school years!), and frequent trips to the natural health doctor for me (a real, true Yay! to finding out why I’ve been so very tired for the past decade), I was ready to say “No” to those things. This made us able to say “Yes, please” to a lot more of what we needed, body and soul. Hikes in the woods. Trips to the beach. Sitting on the porch eating popsicles and playing Yahtzee. And Vikings. We said “Yes” to Vikings, too.

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We’ve never studied a topic over the summer before, but it worked out just perfect. We had loads of time to read all the books, watch all the documentaries, make all the costumes, and best of all–build a Viking Longship in our playroom! My boys soaked it all up, and we had loads of Viking battles fought in the back garden (and sometimes in the house!) as they re-enacted what they’d learned. I’d love to share with you the resources my four wee men and I used during our Viking summer.

The books we read–

  • Leif the Lucky by Ingri & Edgar Parin D’Aulaire ( a GORGEOUS picture book telling the story of Leif Erikson, son of Eric the Red. If you aren’t familiar with the D’Aulaire’s books, you’re in for a treat).42124199_295240854406877_305622047352946688_n
  • The Vikings by Elizabeth Janeway (a living history chapter book that weaves the details of Viking life into a story on the life of Leif and Eric). 42201333_476219392878002_208868442902626304_n
  • The Story of the Vikings Coloring Books by A.G. Smith (a detailed coloring book that includes descriptions on each page, and quite a broad history of the Vikings).

Those days we had to travel and couldn’t read, we listened!

  • The Dragon and the Raven – The extraordinary adventures of G.A. Henty (an enthralling audio drama with an impressive cast, including actors from The Hobbit, and British drama Call the Midwife). That can be purchased here. 42185898_652046728529508_3880848254421696512_n

Our study also made them curious about the countries of Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, and so maps were studied, and documentaries on YouTube watched. A couple of good videos I found can be found here and here.

I purchased all of their Viking helmets from Amazon. I decided on the plush kind, since the hard plastic hats often don’t stay on, and get cracked so easily. My favorite is the brown plush hat. The link to that can be found here. We also made a miniature longboat to sail at the park.

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Emerging ourselves into the world of the Vikings sparked all kids of creative play in my boys. It caused many a village to be plundered in our back garden, and many a sea to be sailed and new land explored in the Viking longship we built in the playroom! They set up Viking villages, and wanted to read our Viking books again and again. I’d recommend this kind of focused, immersive kind of play-learning for any topic (especially history or literature, or science related) that you want your children to not only enjoy learning but also remember!

This autumn our focused study will be about the first explorers of North America (after the Vikings, because of course we know they were really the first!). So for more ideas, and to follow along with our life of 1 Scottish Daddy + 1 Writing Mummy + 1 Rambling Victorian House + 4 Rambunctious Boys, follow my blog or find me on Facebook or Instagram @happylittlesigh.

Avonlea xo

Happy Little Sigh 

Finding beauty in the everyday

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Never have I been so glad to see mud. In my garden where there should be grass, clinging to bottoms of my boys’ boots as they climb into the mini van, smeared across the mudroom floor. I’ll tire of it, complain about it eventually, but for now I’m glad for anything, anything but the salt and grit my family tracked into the house over the long months of this cold, drawn-out winter.

Mud, yes, we can see it, now the afternoon sun has warmed the earth. But I awoke this morning to a new layer of snow, and it lingers still–in corners and shadows where the sun doesn’t shine. And so still, we are waiting. Waiting for balmy breezes, and for tender green things to make their appearance. Waiting for color, and an end to this black and white world. Waiting, waiting, waiting for spring.

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The Kilns, former home of C.S. Lewis

The Kilns, former home of C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series

And I’m feeling that wait as I clean the mudroom floor, glance out the window at the snow, now grey, littered with twigs and leaves, and pock-marked by the rain. I’m waiting for spring, sure, but also waiting for answers to prayers I haven’t even bothered to pray, waiting for clearly marked miracles and the next bend in the road.

Because all that waiting can make me feel trapped. Trapped, like I’ve been all winter, trapped here rattling around the house with the boys,  when most days the temperatures were too low to even get out and exhaust ourselves in the daylight and snow. Trapped in the sameness and monotony, wondering why I do each little thing that I do day in and day out. Stuck with that unsettled feeling that something’s not right, and it’s more than my décor, or how clean the house is, or even how many cuddles I give the boys. Because no matter how I try to make it so, this is not really my home. And no matter how I wish it so, though I know the very end, I don’t know what comes next. 

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Oxford University, where Lewis taught

And it’s strange how much waiting can feel like fear. Strange how sameness, instead of affirming who I am, can leave me feeling oh, so purposeless, so lost.

I feel lost, but I keep sweeping that mud into a pile, a pile of black dirt I can scoop right up. And while I sweep, I think of Susan and Lucy in Narnia, waiting in the darkness of that almost spring as they watch the Lion leave them hidden in the trees to go forward and face evil. They’re waiting, though they don’t know what for, and they’re frightened because they don’t yet know the ending, or how much they can trust.

And then after, when it’s over–when it is finished–they run to caress him, to free him even though they think he’s gone. And they don’t even know what he’s accomplished, what’s been given–for Edmund and for them. And they don’t know the power he has over darkness, over evil, over death. But for the moment they are waiting, fearing every dreadful probability their minds can fathom. They fear because they’re waiting, and they don’t know what’s coming, though we on the outside, do.

So I remind myself that these times come, and I can’t escape it. In this world we must wait, though our eternity begins now.  And even though we know He’s with us in Spirit, we’re not home, not with Him like we long to be. But we know, though Lucy and Susan didn’t, that it’s coming–that being with Him. And we know, though they didn’t, just what’s already been done for us.

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Gardens in Oxford University

And in these frequent times of in-between waiting, sometimes the only thing to do is sing. Sometimes when your heart is heavy–with waiting, or uncertainty, or fear–the only thing to do is lift your voice and sing out praises to the One in whose sameness you can always put your trust. Sing it like you mean it, loud and clear. Sing of what He’s done, sing of how He’s won. Sing it till you feel His presence, feel His arms wrapped tight around.

And so I’m singing, and I’m sweeping. Moving boots and wet door mats. Cleaning this floor like I’ll clean it tomorrow, like I’ll clean it the day after that. And though I’m waiting, still I’m smiling.Because it all does matter. This home, and the cuddles, and what we say and do here.

Because He’s here. And He’s returning. And when He does, He’ll really hold us. He’ll hold us and the wait will end.

He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hill-top he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.

– From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

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Running to His arms . . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f3sNiYpuF4

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Avonlea xo

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh orFacebook @happylittlesigh

MONTHLY Newsletter, Morning Cuppa Tea at happylittlesigh@gmail.com 

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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I went out grudgingly.

Would have rather stayed in to clean the bathrooms.

Do some scrapbooking.

Get a batch of muffins in the oven.

All the important things I wanted to do today.

But the fractiousness of little boys after a week of April showers forced me out.

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Out into the garden.

Warmth and sunshine washing over.

The almost green of our snow-flattened grass.

And birdsong.

Birdsong, and I’m Mary Lennox, chasing a robin over a garden gate.

Birdsong, and I’m Jane Eyre with her rooks, exploring Thornfield Hall on her very first morn.

Birdsong, and time is lost,

and I’m myself fifteen years past, discovering a walled garden of my very own.

Scotland.

Pussy willows and crocuses.

Blackbirds and brick.

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Birdsong today, and the magic of viewing the world

upside-down

from a swing.

And it’s springtime,

and doesn’t your heart ache with the glory of it?

Of life,

new beginnings,

winter’s end?

And I’m thankful,

wildly thankful in a way I could never express,

for the possibility of all things,

me included,

being turned upside down,

made new.

And I wonder at the sun’s warmth,

and that He calls Himself that,

our Sun and our Shield.

Our Shield,

for don’t we need protecting

from many things,

even ourselves?

Our Sun,

for don’t we revel in the light and the heat?

Don’t we thrive?

Get life?

Doesn’t He give us life

eternally?

Spring.

It has come upon us.

Find a tree stump.

A picnic table.

A bench.

Wait for birdsong.

And just breathe.

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

Listen…

Avonlea xo

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh orFacebook @happylittlesigh

MONTHLY Newsletter, Morning Cuppa Tea at happylittlesigh@gmail.com 

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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“Pretend you’re eating with the Queen,” she’d say, my mother, in those preschool years when my sisters and I would gather around the table for our lunch of cottage cheese and tinned pineapple rings. Oh, and we knew something of the Queen, over in her castle in England, and of Princess Diana and all her lovely clothes. I owned copies of them, after all. Paper copies, which fit neatly onto my Princess Diana paper doll. 
And so when she’d say it, our minds were filled with pictures of a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace. And my sisters and I made sure to keep our elbows off the table, chew with our mouths closed, and always say “Please pass,” instead of stretching for something out of reach.

 

But they weren’t quite enough, those lessons in manners. Didn’t quite do the trick when, sixteen years later, I found myself dining with real royalty–well, they were only 42nd in line for the throne, as I was told. But for this young American, that came close enough.

I arrived by train. My friend was there to greet me, and as we climbed into the car and whizzed down the single track road towards his family home, I felt as though I were being driven to another world. Through the maze of green hedgerows that towered around us, I caught glimpses of thatched cottages and gently rolling fields.  The sky grew smaller as the hedgerows grew taller. And in the next couple of days, I would grow smaller, too. 

“My mother is hosting a dinner party,” he said, my friend, “and you should probably apologize for arriving in the middle of it.”

Wide-eyed, I assented, and when we arrived at the most ancient of large cottages that his family called home, I found his parents and six of their friends gathered around a table (which was really a 400-year-old door) for a casual four-course summer evening meal. 

I dutifully apologized, was met with murmured acceptances of that apology, and was then seated to the left of his mother. 

The meal could have gone worse, I suppose, if I’d tried to make it so, though I made a small disaster of the affair quite well without even having to try. 

And what did I do that was so very wrong?

Manners (1)

I could have laughed a little quieter, eaten a little less, declined the cheese course. But I did not. 

And when the man to my left made a comment about the side-by-side American style refrigerator that my friend’s family had just purchased, followed by the statement that everything in America is large, I could have smiled demurely and said something diplomatic like, “Perhaps that is so, but bigger does not always mean better.” But I did not. 

And when, for the first time in my life, my nose started to bleed, I could have quietly slipped from the table into the other room until it stopped. But as I had a proper handkerchief with me, I decided to use that to dab at my nose, thinking the bleeding would soon stop. But it did not, and I waited until the elderly man who sat across from me looked at me with a measure of horror before I decided to slip away. 

But there is more. 

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.  If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.  

– Emily Post

The next day I awoke to find my hosts in the garden wearing their wellies, having just returned from a countryside stroll with their King Charles spaniel. I was offered some strawberries from a large basket on the kitchen door-table and asked how I had slept.

The main activity of the day was watching my friend play cricket, that most English of games. I sat with his parents to watch the match, where we could look down at the local castle and admire how brilliantly the men’s white cricket uniforms stood out against the green.

“Do you ride?” I was asked. 

had taken horseback riding lessons, but as it had been a few years, I replied with an honest, “No.”

His parents looked thoroughly unimpressed. 

And later on back at the house, as I sat beside the enormous inglenook fireplace while my friend watched a football match on the telly, I was asked, “And what do your parents do?”

It was all a bit too much like that scene in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennett visits Rosings Park and is interrogated by Lady Catherine De Bourgh. “Do you play and sing?” and “Do you draw?” and all the rest. 

I cringe as I remember the humiliation I endured, though I didn’t realize I was enduring it at the time.

I sigh as I recall the golden English June sunlight that bathed those few days, illuminating the green of the fields and pouring through the windows of that old house.

I laugh at the shock I must have given my friend’s family, especially when I imagine the fear they must have felt that he would fall in love with me and that they would have to welcome me into the family.

And what I wouldn’t give to go back and re-do the visit. Not to deny who I was–the great-granddaughter of poor immigrants who chose to make America their home–but to present myself with more of the discretion, thoughtfulness, and self-respect that I now possess. But that was then, and this is now, and had the visit gone differently, I wouldn’t have been left with such a fine story to tell.

Read more on manners in part 2!

Avonlea xo

Find me on Facebook & Instagram @avonleaqkrueger

See you there? 

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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I got sucked in again today. Lured into tapping a headline on my phone and reading a news report on a horrifying event from across the world. Problem is, just knowing the facts—enough to know how to pray and how to help—was not enough. Before I roused myself from my stupor and set down my phone, waaay too much time had passed.

I wish I had a record of how many minutes I waste like that. How many Pins I save on Pinterest (that I will never look at again). How many news stories I get distracted by. How much time I waste on Facebook just . . . surfing.

And yet . . .  if I knew how much time I wasted, would it shock me enough to do something about it? To reclaim those wasted minutes and invest in my life? In those people and pursuits that matter? Would I know how? Would I have the strength?

Because when I thoughtlessly lift my phone, find myself swiping, stroking my Precious with my finger, it’s more than habit. More, even, than trying to fill my boredom. Somehow, when I reach for that little black rectangle, I am seeking to improve my imperfections. Fulfill my dreams. I am longing to be complete. 

Truth is, I rarely find peace there. The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching. It’s clear who’s master here.

The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching.

I’m tired of the virtual living that has come along with my smartphone. Tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else. That friend who runs marathons. The one who’s a gourmet cook. The one who’s house could feature in a magazine. The one who’s always doing crafts with her kids. The one who’s career has been such a success. The one who’s traveling to Venice . . . again.

I’m tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else.

As if I could be the best at everything. As if that’s the standard I should be aiming for. As if even if I could, I’d be happy. As if impressing all these people–strangers and friends alike–is what matters most. But it wouldn’t (make me happy). And it’s not (what matters most).

My aim in life is to love, know, and bring joy to my Creator. And to love, know, and bring joy to those in my life (strangers, enemies, and friends alike). Yes, sometimes that can be done in cyber world. Reading an encouraging email from a friend can change your day. There are some amazing blogs and helpful resources out there that can certainly make life easier (as my son said, “Mummy’s phone is named Google, and Google knows everything.”). Even YouTube has a lot to offer if you know what to look for–(I’ve been using my phone to plug into the husky voice and uplifting words of Lauren Daigle like an IV of late). But if I am not using my phone or computer to feed or be fed, why am I even there?

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I’d love to live more old-fashioned. More like the way things used to be, when instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world.

 . . . instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world. 

I’ve become so dependent on my phone that making such a change seems overwhelming. But change is necessary. Not simply because of the time a phone wastes, but because the images and information it bombards me with can make it oh-so-difficult to master my thoughts. Master my goals. Master my life. Inspiration should come only from the sources that I choose. These are three ways I’m trying to start living more purposefully. More old-fashioned.

  1. Talking. You know, to people. In real life. Face-to-face. Eye-to-eye. No emojis in sight. Turning “We’ll have to have you guys over sometime,” (which doesn’t happen) into “Are you free this Friday?” or “What are you doing after church?” Building relationships with those lovely, wise people who feed my soul. And taking time for others–those who for one reason or another could use a hot meal, a flesh-and-blood smile, and a listening ear that isn’t in a rush.
  2. Nature. Somehow, getting myself out the door seems harder than when we lived in Scotland. There, the misty green hills that surrounded our village pulled me out as if in a trance. But the beauty of creation dazzles the world over, and once I step out, I never regret it. I know for certain that spending time on my porch listing to birds sing and watching squirrels perform impressive acrobatics is anything but a waste of time. Or trying to do a thing called take a walk. Just putting one foot in front of the other–around the block, through a park, down a country lane  . . . soaking in all that sunshine and green. Talking with the people I love. Letting my thoughts have time to digest. It rarely leaves one feeling depressed.
  3. Reading. Those things called books. The ones made of paper and ink. Reading the Scriptures. A classic novel. The words of the wise. Maybe even jotting down my favorite quote in a notebook. Snuggling on the sofa to read a favorite book to my boys. Reading the funny bits out loud to my husband till one of us (usually me) starts to laugh. Oh, what joy compared to sitting side by side mindlessly scrolling through our phones.

In what ways do you struggle with over-use of your phone? In what ways have you had success with putting it down? In what ways do you use your phone for good? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Blessings for a beauty-filled weekend!

Avonlea x

 

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