Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Hospitality’ Category

“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? 

happylittlesigh.com

Finding beauty in the everyday 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The smell of rain as dusk fell. We bumped along the gravel road, windows down, past the old barn.  From the house, a row of smiles along the porch as they raised their hands farewell.

We’d spent the last of a warm autumn day there.

A birthday celebration.

Pumpkin cake, and coffee, and the smell of cinnamon candles.

Pushing the boys on the tire swing.

Gazing out across corn fields.

Watching a wool blanket on the wash line stir in the breeze.

Ideas flew. Memories, too.

Laughter bouncing over all.

And it breathed peace on me.

The space, and the home, and the people inside.

Untitled design (1)

Peace, because there, I can just be—unfiltered. Because if things were good, full saturated colors, I could say it. And they’d all say how happy they were for me. And no one would think I was boasting . . . because if things were greyscale bad, I could say that, too. And I would. And all their good and bad, they’d say it to me, too.

Peace, because there, I am enough. Peace, because people like these people would make anyone feel enough—and not just enough, but wanted. Valued as they are.

Yet earlier in the day I saw a friend’s face fall as she shared how her son’s friends had all joined a new soccer league without bothering to tell her. She and her son thought they were “in,” but turns out they were not. And they are new to this place, the family, and it was such a struggle to call a strange place home. And neighbors and schoolmates could have made that all different, but in their busyness, and the fun they were having with each other, they did not.

Oh, how fun it looks at the center of it all. Where things are happening, and people are pretty and smart. Where marriages, and outfits, and landscaping all seem together. Filter-perfect images of a seemingly perfect life. And if you’re perfect enough then they might let you “in,” because being a Christian, or being a human is somehow not enough.

But we see through it, yes, we see it—when eyes glance to the side, looking for someone more important than you to speak with. Someone they could better benefit from. When they glance you up and down and you know you’re not quite right. When the smile is with the mouth but not the heart.

Unfiltered

So they can have “in,” if they want it, for I know what they miss. Judging books by their covers is never wise. And when filter-perfect is all you’ve got, how can you have peace, knowing that if they catch you unfiltered—see you for who you really are—you just might be “out,” too.

Yes, too many of the best friends come with wrinkled skin, or old cars, or hurt. And those who have known hurt, and broken, and ugly, can turn out to be the ones we love the most. They have the strongest arms to lean on. The best wisdom to share. And though beauty or riches may be theirs, they will not point it out to you. Will not flaunt it. Rather, they see it as something to share.

It’s hard for me, too. Proud one that I can be. Ashamed one, fearing in my deepest heart that someone will catch me unfiltered—see a corner of my house, a piece of my wardrobe, a glimpse of my marriage that will reveal me as the flawed person that I am. But though I know I will not click with everyone, let me yet be the one who can live unfiltered enough with my home, and my smile, and my time, that for the length of my interaction with each person, I can make them feel seen. Feel enough. Feel loved.

Dare to live unfiltered. To know and to be known.

Avonlea xo

Find me on Instagram @avonleaqkruegerFacebook @avonleaqkrueger

See you there!

Untitled design

 

 

Read Full Post »

Darkness is easy felt this time of year. Not just the short hours of daylight that leave too soon and come too late of a bitter cold morning when you’re rushing to get out the door. Not just the darkness caused by dryer lint grey skies that hang low and cast their shadows on our gritty, salt-covered world. This place where we move stiffly, feeling half the selves we were when sunlight bathed us on late July afternoons.

All of us who live in these hemispheres feel it in some way.

Some feel it a little bit more.

Because somehow the darkness is not just external. Somehow it makes its way in. Inside our hearts and our souls, and it can hurt. Physically hurt. Hurt like something trapped there in our hearts, trying to burst out.

It can be a joy-stealer, this darkness. A joy-stealer, and a hope-stealer, too. And often we can feel that it’s a bit of an identity-stealer, too. And you can look in the mirror and hardly recognize the face staring back at you..

teatime

That’s how I found myself feeling just days ago. I sat here in this old brick house, my own tiny Downton Abbey, my own little Green Gables (isn’t a house like this what I’ve dreamed of?), and I’ve stared at the woodwork. The chandeliers. The hardwood floors. I played with my little men. Looked deep into their rounded eyes. Pressed their chubby hands. Kissed the softness of their necks (they’re growing fast, but they are still young). . . and felt almost nothing. Nothing of the joy I thought I should be feeling with gifts such as these.

Darkness is often like that–often takes even the things we love best, even those blessings our minds tell us should make us happy, and coats them in a shade of grey.

Darkness from the grey of winter. Darkness from the stresses of life.

Like moving house, and Christmas, and three birthdays, and feeling guilty that homeschooling has not only been on the back burner, but right off the cooker, and feeling not quite right physically, so tired you feel drugged.

I wrestle with God in the darkness. I question his methods. His goodness, even. His love. I lay prostrate before Him, confessing my lack of faith. Pleading He will help my unbelief.

I once again pour out before Him those longings that I have laid at His feet for decades now. Those things I do not understand. And I breathe a sigh of peace as I recall the many, many other prayers He has answered. How tenderly He has always dealt with me. And I pull my shoulders back and declare, “the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7

My face like flint, pointed right at the Light of the World, and feeling shadows fade away. Opening my eyes and seeing three new blessings to light my path.

  1. Fire! Now you may not have a gas or wood-burning fire (we have one here in the new/old house, but it’s not working yet), BUT for those of you who have Netflix or even YouTube, an image of a crackling, glowing, slow-burning fire can fill your TV or computer screen and give your room a cozy glow. For Netflix, try searching for Fireplace for Your Home. Now you can snuggle up with a cup of tea and favorite book and embrace the winter, and the chance it gives you to reflect.
  2. More fire! But in a candle form, this time. A new friend who recently joined our church small group invited the other mums for tea last week. She took out her pretty china, lit candles, and put on classical music. It was delightful, and I was reminded of how very healing and important it can be to take a break for the routines of life and sit and laugh with friends.
  3. Still more fire–God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), the Light of the World (John 8:12). I have often tried to memorize scripture, but not since I was eight years old have I tried to memorize an entire chapter. I am now. And those times I’d swipe through Pinterest or my Facebook feed–things that usually leave me feeling a little more grey–I am filling my mind with truth and turning to my Bible App as I work on memorizing the book I’ve chosen, 1 Peter 1.

afire

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I pray that in these lights, you too may feel the darkness slip away.

Avonlea x

 

Read Full Post »

Usually it was fish and chips that they offered to bring. Crispy battered haddock and thick-cut fries doused with vinegar and a sprinkling of salt, picked up from the Chippy on their way over.

I’d start to tidy, but would remind myself not to worry too much. Just a quick wipe of the bathrooms, and a fresh hand towel (one of my personal hospitality must-do’s) would suffice.

There wasn’t much point in frantically scooping Lego into toy bins or straightening out the sofa cushions. Our friends did, after all, have three little boys who’d be joining our two (at that time), and I knew I could expect the five of them to make quick work of emptying the wicker toy basket and turning the sofa into a pirate ship.

After the ketchup-soaked fish and chip papers had been cleared away and the children were in the other room hard at play, the adults would gather round the dining room table, within ear shot of the littles in case someone got a bump, or there was a lesson on sharing that needed to be learned.

There’d be coffee then, or tea, and some little nibbles, and the stresses of life would dissipate as we talked and shared, the fire crackling at our backs. They’d stay past bedtime, but we didn’t mind.

They were our last-minute friends. The spontaneous ones. And we loved it.

We loved it, and it went both ways.

I remember phoning once, on our way home from a day of picnicking and wading in the rock pools of St Andrews. And we were invited to “tea” (the evening meal in many parts of Scotland).

There were probably toys everywhere. Crumbs on the floor.  Some sprinkles on the toilet seat. But I don’t remember.

I remember the lamb chops smothered in curry paste, the homemade sweet potato chips sprinkled with salt and hot pepper seeds. I remember Mary’s smile. I remember there was cake.

Later on, Mary and I nursed cups of milky tea beside the patio doors while the men took the children into the cool autumn air to play on the trampoline. Two tired mamas, we talked, we laughed, we shared our hearts so that the other knew how to pray. We felt stronger. We knew love.

CAM012461

You see, a mama doesn’t mind it. Not one little bit.

Doesn’t mind balancing her cup of tea as she picks her way over the minefield of toys to make her way to your couch.

Doesn’t mind grabbing a wad of toilet roll to wipe sprinkles from your toilet seat.

Has selective vision when it comes to the pile of dishes in your sink.

She didn’t come to inspect your house. She didn’t come to give you extra work.

She came for the friendship. The laughter.

She came to see you.

Friendship and laughter bring sanity. Clarity. Helps us see that most of the chaos is normal, and we’re not the only ones going through it all.

God made us that way. To bear one another’s burdens. To celebrate together.

And I have to remind myself of this often–

that my desire is to bless, not impress. 

That laughter is made brighter, tears are made lighter when there’s cake.

Cake, and of course, a hot cup of tea.

And so even if you are a tired mama, don’t let this stop you from letting others into your house, especially if they are a tired mama, too.

CAM012441

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Follow Happy Little Sigh on Pinterest!

Read Full Post »

She came one night with a raw chicken. I knew she’d be staying a while. And I welcomed her into the quiet of our little stone house.

John was away in London. Or Edinburgh, perhaps. And even with the woods and the beaches to walk, the days and nights grew long, just Baby and me.

Soon the oven warmed the kitchen, and the smells spread through the house. And she sat with me while I fed and changed him. Spoke with me, listened, like she’d nowhere else to go.

And when Baby was down, and our bellies were full, she sat a bit longer just to chat.

A few months on and we were headed south, leaving Inverness for the hills of Perthshire,

and she came back.

She and another friend, as if it were nothing.

They came with boxes, newspapers, and bags, and within a few days the house was wrapped and packed, and it was nothing I could have done on my own, not me and Baby, who climbed in and out of boxes, unpacking what I’d packed.

And I was grateful, oh so grateful, for their help.

But it was more than the job, of course, more than helping me move house.

It was also their time, their laughter, their there-ness

that spoke volumes to my tired mama heart. 

Saying that, I loved the help.

Acts of service is a love language I so appreciate and understand. 

But not every mama loves someone showing up with a dust rag and a mop.

An offer to help clean her house can make her feel inadequate. Like she’s failed as a homemaker and it’s clear to all the world that she’s drowning in laundry and dust.  

So if you know a tired mama and you really want to love her, 

first find out what kind of love* speaks to her tired mama heart. 

KIMG0319

If it’s Acts of Service, an offer to fold her laundry, wipe down the high chair, or wash her dishes will have her heart skip a happy little beat. And if you sit and chat with her while you do it, while she feeds the baby, she’ll appreciate it even more. Have a bit more time? Offer to sit with the children while she grocery shops solo. The sacrifice of your time and hard work will make her feel cared for more than anything else.

If it’s Quality Time, bring some muffins, just spend time with her, chaos and all. Or if you can, whisk her out for coffee and a chat. Or offer to join her on a trip to the park with the children. What this mama craves is your active presence. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, she just wants to see you and to build your friendship, whatever you do together.

If it’s Words of Affirmation, this mama needs encouragement, truth, and peace spoken into her life. Compliment her on her strengths, and what she’s doing right as a mother and wife. Tell her how you value her friendship. Remind her of God’s love for her, His child. If you can’t tell her in person, call or send a card.

If it’s Gifts, this mama would love you to turn up with a pot of soup and a loaf of bread. A bag of clothes that your little one has outgrown. A new diaper bag to replace hers, which is so worn out. Anything to let her know you were thinking of her. She probably wouldn’t turn down a gift certificate to her favourite restaurant or spa, but the price is not the issue. She’ll just be delighted to know you were thinking of her, whatever gift you bring.

If it’s Phyisical Touch, what this mama might need more anything else is a hug.

Being the mama (or daddy!) of little ones is not an easy task. Not a nine-to-five kind of job. It begins from the time we open our eyelids to the time we lay down our weary heads (and often continues through the night as well). We long to raise our children to be rich in faith, love, and good works, but such important work can seem overwhelming when running on such a little bit of sleep. So if there’s a tired mama in your life, find a way to help her be the faithful wife and mama she so longs to be by showing her love in a way that will strengthen her and help her run strong.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Find Happy Little Sigh on Pinterest!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 *Love Languages taken from The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman

Read Full Post »

It’s been six months, but I’m still talking. Still telling what happened–what she did–with as much excitement as if I’d just stepped off the train.

January, Little Bear just a month old, still waking often, still calling me from shallow sleep to hold him, back-bent and weary, as I rock, rock, try to keep my head from nodding as I feed him off to sleep.

January, and I’m still recovering from his birth, still tender and swollen, still feeling lost as I try to wade my way through the emotions that come with newborns and returning to the country that was home for eight long years.

January, and in spite of craving sleep like an addict, I feel anxious to do some shopping for the belated Christmas we’d be sharing with my family back in the States.

I couldn’t drive, but there are trains there, and I decided catch one, just me and Little Bear, to Inverness, where we used to live and where one can find such delights as Primark, Debenhams, and Marks & Spencers.

I was set to do the return trip in a day, but the night before, I spoke to a friend from our old church. A trendy grandmother with a soft young voice, smiling eyes, and a penchant for the color blue. She convinced me—without much effort—that Little Bear and I should stay the night. Have two days in town instead of one.

The trip began disastrously. I spent half the time trying to ignore the stressful cries of a newborn, and the other half in the dressing room feeding and changing his nappy. I would have had to go home empty-handed, frustrated, in tears.

But instead came my friend with her car to meet me and whisk me and Little Bear off to her home for a hot dinner (she held the baby while I ate!), endless cups of tea (she said I must keep my strength up!), and a heart-to-heart conversation in a soft chair (I sat while she bathed the baby!). And that’s only the beginning. I haven’t yet mentioned the fruit and water bottles in my room in the event I needed a late night snack, the electric blanket that had been turned on to keep my bed warm and waiting, or the new home décor magazines that were set out in case I wanted to take a look.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I laid my head on my crisp white pillow that night with a smile on my face and peace in my heart.

Just a night in that house and I felt rejuvenated. Encouraged. Loved.

Ministered to in every way.

And I could say my friend is just like that. Just the sort of person to convince you she liked sleeping on the floor and that you really should have her bed. And perhaps that’s a little bit true. But if you’ve seen her Bible then you’ll know it’s also a little bit more than that. Book marks sticking out like porcupine quills. Notes added to the margins in her tiny, dancing hand. She spends a great deal of time with that book, I gather. Probably a great deal of time on her knees, too.

And somehow, in a way that surpasses all comprehension, spending time with that book has the power to transform us. Help us stop thinking of our own needs and see the needs of others. Help us see what a teary-eyed, bone-weary Mama needs more than anything else.

Read Full Post »

Everywhere, there were walls. Day by day, they’d grown up around us till every house and shop and school and road had its own borders, its own barriers. Keeping things out, keeping them in. Walls, like the walls all over Scotland where we used to live. Garden walls, and farm walls. Walls where you wouldn’t imagine a person could live, there in the beautiful bleakness of the Highlands, following the steep rise of a hill till out of sight. Walls, still there three hundred years on from when a man first placed stone upon stone, keeping thieves out and sheep in.

And yes we have them now, too, running all over this frozen land. Only ours won’t last, at least not as long, for our walls, of course, are made of snow. Not that the barriers were intentional, when we all went out with our shovels, our blowers, and our plows. But the walls came anyway, as we made a path from door to car, from car to sidewalk, from sidewalk to road. But at our house, I’m glad to say, we also had a path. A path between our neighbour’s house and our own.

Not that we’d used it often, that imaginary gateway, that break in the wall. No, not in such a winter when the snowfall set records and people had to shovel their roofs so they wouldn’t collapse under the weight, and icicles hung like thick stalactites from gutters, and the painful wind and cold brought tears to your eyes and chapped hands and cheeks and lips. No, not in such a winter.

CAM001351

CAM001411

CAM001341

But then there came a day, one soft and snowy Sunday, when we did. Church had been canceled after an ice storm left thousands without power. So we were home, the day before us a little lonely and uncertain and unfilled. But then there came a knock.

I shuffled back to the mud room in my slippers, found the tall frame of our neighbour filling the glass door. Expecting him to ask John’s help with the snow or maybe something to do with frozen pipes, I reached for the handle, hoping all was well.

“We’re not going anywhere today, and neither are you,” he said. “We’ve got a ham in the oven and we’re hoping you’ll come over and help us eat it.”

Well, such an invitation! Such a welcome invitation on such a silent, snowy day.

And so when the time was right we put on our boots, didn’t bother with coats, and filled the silence with our chatter as we walked that path, that break in the wall of snow, and into our neighbour’s large kitchen.

CAM00367

CAM00362

CAM00368

CAM00492

We stayed for hours. And I couldn’t tell you what it meant to sit there round their table, surrounded by photos of their grandchildren and a collection of Eiffel Towers. But it was more than the ham and potatoes and veg that we ate while we talked and laughed. More than the tea and cookies and jello that came next. More than the stories from days past, told with such animation, that we laughed over till our sides hurt. More than our neighbours themselves, who began as kind strangers and had turned into friends.

It was the sum of it all that filled us that day, warmed us from the inside out, made us feel that winter was the most wonderful of seasons because it had brought us together, could bring us close to other family and friends before spring came and the world opened up and let us sprawl out, warm in the sun but far from each other.

March is nearly upon us, but the temperatures are still frigid, and until the warmth comes to melt the mountains of snow and banish the walls, we will have winter. And for as long as it lasts, for all those long Saturday afternoons and black winter nights, I’ll be searching for ways warm our home, warm the hearts of our friends. With big pots of chili, and spontaneous tea parties with plates of shortbread taken from the rations John’s parents bring.

And that is the best way to not just survive winter, but love it.

It is said that good fences make good neighbours, and I would agree completely. Good fences, good walls, they make good neighbours, but only when there is a gate.

CAM00533

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And there is quite a different sort of conversation around a fire than there is in the shadow of a beech tree…. [F]our dry logs have in them all the circumstance necessary to a conversation of four or five hours, with chestnuts on the plate and a jug of wine between the legs. Yes, let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.

~Pietro Aretino, translated from Italian

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart. She withers the plant down to the root that she may grow it up again fairer and stronger. She calls her family together within her inmost home to prepare them for being scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.

~Hugh Macmillan, “Rejuvenescence,” The Ministry of Nature, 1871

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CAM004321

CAM00391

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »