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Archive for the ‘Making Memories’ Category

You can hear it so many times that it excites you about as much as the side of a cereal box. Maybe less. Especially if you’ve grown up with it all—those carols and those words. Sunday school, church, Awana, VBS.

Again, and again you hear about the baby born. His miracles. The cross. Until you stop hearing at all. Or maybe you hear, but you’ve lost the wonder. The awe. The faith. 

Maybe you’ve done better than I at keeping sight of “the real meaning of Christmas.”

Then again, maybe not. 

Maybe, like me, you really wanted to show your children the real miracle that Christmas celebrates, but with all your Pinterest surfing, food list making, and out-of-town-company preparing, you forgot. 

For me this holiday season, the truth has crept in gradually, like the slow approach of a faintly burning light in the dark. 

This year has been so difficult, and I’ve felt stretched in so many ways…

Spent the first two months out of the country in Scotland for the birth of Little Bear (our fourth boy and last child; a lump to swallow by itself), and then had to transition to life back in the States. Battled fatigue as I’ve been woken by baby every night for the past twelve months. Struggled to balance my role as wife, mother to four rambunctious boys, writer, cook, organizer of too much stuff, chauffer, friend, and homeschooling mum. Took in a friend’s daughter for the summer. Opened our home to friends—a family of six—for seven weeks while they sought out a new home. Made do with chaos while we put on a small extension to our home. Helped more than one person move house. Pounded at Heaven’s doors for the souls of those yet lost.

Looking back on the four years since immigrating back to the States, it’s not hard to see the other challenges and losses we’ve encountered, like the burglary to our home three years back.

And in one way I feel shattered by it all. Bedraggled. Weary both body and soul.

In another, the shadowy places we’ve trudged through in the past few years have only made the greatest gift—the one believers in Christ Jesus claim to celebrate at Christmas—shine like never before.

For his gift—the gift of eternal life through belief in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself God—is one that can neither be lost, stolen, damaged, outgrown, or in any way taken away. Such a gift!

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This is the gift I will be sharing with my children and other family members on Christmas, and there is a very simple way you can do it, too, with items you most likely already have in your house.

  1. Wrap up five items in Christmas paper – something broken (a toy?), something outgrown (baby clothes?), an empty wallet or purse, and a figurine of baby Jesus (or picture of the cross), and a heart (a Christmas ornament?).

  2. Gather your family round and let them open the parcels one by one, explaining the meaning of each as you go along, using the suggestions below . . .

  3. For the broken item – Is this toy new or old? Have you ever had anything break? Things don’t last forever, do they? They can stop working or break.

  4. For the outgrown item – Would this fit anyone in the room? Clothes don’t last forever, do they? We can outgrow our clothes, or they can get holes in them and wear out.

  5. For the wallet – Look inside the pockets. What has happened to the money? Has it been stolen? Spent? Lost? Money doesn’t last forever, does it? It can be spent, stolen, or lost.

  6. For the Baby Jesus – Who does this figurine represent? Did he stay a baby or grow up to be a man? Yes, he grew up to be a man and died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins.

  7. For the heart – What is this? Yes, a heart that represents the love of God. If you believe in your heart that God died on the cross for your sins and that he was raised again back to life, then God gives you the gift of eternal life to be with him and others who loves him forever. No one can take that gift away from you. It is the only thing that can never be lost, stolen, broken, or taken away from you by anyone.

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Merry Christmas to you all! 

~ Avonlea 

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We’ve arrived.

Took months to get us here, it seems.

Passport renewals and plane tickets.

Hunting out the next size up of clothes for the boys (all three of them, and this new little one who will arrive while we are here).

Cleaning the house in the way that only a nesting mother-to-be can do.

Packing and nesting and saying “See you next spring,” to our friends.

And up until the last two weeks, immersing myself for an hour each day back in 1941.

And it was tiring.

I was tired.

Tired like an addict of some sleep-inducing drug.

But planes and newborn babies, they don’t tend to wait.

And so I pressed through, and I made it, and we’re here.

We’ere here!

Scotland.

Scotland, which was home for eight years, and now hasn’t been for three.

Scotland, where everything is dear and familiar, strange and new.

Even after all that time, the hills never disappoint me.

Never seem less beautiful than ever they were.

And I can never help but think that all of this–all of this crossing of oceans–must mean something. Must DO something, deep inside of me.

Because it always has.

But when you’re away, out of your routine, it’s easy to forget the working, the striving, and try to get by just sailing for a while. And sometimes you still learn this way. Sometimes the haphazard can still help you grow. But I don’t want to leave it to chance.

I’ve got people. Dear ones. They need me at my best.

And though in the rush of the sea I hear the whisper of my Maker calling, it can be hard to hear His voice amongst so many other things that charm. Here in this place that always stirred my heart.

But hearts, as you know, are not always true. They can lead us on a merry dance.

And so while I want to savour each misty hill, each cup of tea, each warm embrace of a dear friend, I want to end this journey with a clearer eye, a clearer vision, and a closer walk with my Saviour than when I began.

Join me? 

Walk with me?

Let’s see where this road goes . . . 

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 Our view from the house

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There was a long list of bad this Christmas.

Like the enormous branch out back that fell and crushed my poor lilac bush. The ice storm came (that was before the arctic vortex and heaps of snow), and I guess that big old tree got a little too burdened down. Couldn’t take the stress. Couldn’t take the weight. So down it came.

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The rest of our Christmas, well it was mostly the same. A little too much heaviness to bear.

Plenty of decorating and buying and wrapping and baking and carol playing and even praying beforehand, all meant to create the perfect day, but sometimes all the planning in the world will still leave you with a mess.

Sometimes you plan but get it all so wrong.

Sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

That ice again, lovely as it was, had it’s wicked way.

Treacherous driving conditions.

Night out with the girls for a chance to laugh and de-stress? Canceled.

Many thousands without heat or power. 

Christmas Eve service at church? Canceled, too.

Mum hosting Christmas dinner? Nope. With two days to plan, it’s going to be me.

But there was more . . .

A mix-up of the name-drawing.

A gift for everyone under the tree? Well, not quite.  

Keys locked in a running car.

Tired children put to bed on time? Think again.

A tummy bug moving slowly through the house till we all had our turn.

All of us there round the Christmas table, feeling right as rain? No, not that either.

Sometimes you plan but get it all so wrong.

Sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

Yet all this, all this we could have easily born with a nervous laugh and with making due. All this we could have born if only a frazzled mix of folks from different parts of the country, different parts of the globe, hadn’t all been tossed together, till from our botched arrangements surfaced pain, sadness, regret from weeks, months, years past.

Like my lilac bushes, it seems we, too, can be frail.

Tender.

Like the flowers. Like the grass.

Tender,

so that when love and fear come together,

like with family and with friends,

we feel an aching in our hearts

and a burden just too much to bear.

Too much to bear alone.

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And it all seemed such a sham. The presents and the tree. The music. All the talk of joy and peace.

Because sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

And sometimes you plan, but there’s something deeper, something realer, that you missed.

All our shattered plans for Christmas or for life, they can really shake our souls, leave us wondering how to hope.

How to hope, or why.

Leave us wondering if the New Year will bring us more of just the same. And if you’re anything like me then you’re tempted to whisk out a sheet of paper and start making lists, ask yourself what went wrong, and start planning so the future will be better.

As if we could fix ourselves, fix our families, with a list.

The only thing is, sometimes you plan but get it all so wrong.

Sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

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New Year’s resolutions? Yes, I’ve got them. Organized drawers, eating kale, and the like.

But this year what I’m planning is complete surrender.

Submission like I’ve never known.

All I have, all I am, all I dream, brought to the feet of the only One who will never get it wrong and never let me down.

Because what my family, what my world, what I am missing is more of Jesus.

And because it’s only is His will that we can ever truly be free.

I’m taking His list. Making it mine. Turning my life right upside down.

And I’m starting with the Word.

Because not only is the Word with God, but the Word IS God. (John 1:1).

And it’s living, and it’s active, and it knows me, too (Hebrews 4:12).

I’m going to see what I’ve been missing.

I’m going to learn to love and live

like Him.

This is January.

The first day of the rest of my life.

Join me as I discover.

You won’t look back.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

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A Dozen Cosies to Warm Your Heart  & Your Hands and  Bless Your Week . . .

  1. Spread a blanket and have a picnic lunch inside. Or a candlelit picnic at night when the children are abed?

  2. Buy a bouquet of fresh flowers and divide them up in jars around your house. Don’t forget your bathroom and your bedside table. And don’t forget to give them a smell.  

  3. Rake some leaves and jump in the pile. Go in and warm your hands and your soul with some tea.

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4. Bake something with cinnamon. Apple pie?

5. Go for a walk and pray until your nose and cheeks are red. Then go in and warm up with some tea.

6. Watch Anne of Green Gables and laugh and sigh when Anne is “in the depths of despair.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HZfQ7EqMUs

7. Make a cup of tea and cradle it in your hands while you read the Bible. Psalm 42?

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm%2042&version=NASB

8. Make a big pot of soup. Calcannon, an Irish favourite?

2 Tbsp butter

1 large onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

4 large potatoes, thinly sliced

Chicken or vegetable stock/broth

Herbs and salt to taste

200 grams kale or cabbage, shredded

300 ml cream

1. Heat butter on low. Add onion, garlic, potatoes, cook for 5 minutes without browning.

2. Pour over enough stock/broth to cover, season to taste.

3. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Add the kale/cabbage, bring back to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Pour in the cream, ladle and serve.

9. Sprawl out on the carpet and listen to some favourite songs. Maybe this, by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins?

10. Invite some friends over without worrying about the house. Light some candles. Serve tea.

11. Stand under a tree, look up, and watch the leaves fall. Try to catch one.

12. As many times as you can remember, tell your spouse and your children how very much they’re loved. By God. By you.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if the dictionary definition of the word cozy (or cosy, as it’s spelled in the UK) read “of or relating to all things British.” During the years I spent in Great Britain, I came to recognize, appreciate, and love Britain’s penchant for the simple, the ordered, and the beautiful things in this world. Those uncomplicated, quiet routines, which have the ability to add much richness and comfort to life. Pulling on a worn pair of wellies and a wooly jumper to take the dog for a walk through the woods, the continued popularity of a real, open fire, and that wonderful, ongoing routine of a mid-morning tea break, known as elevenses.

Over the sweltering hot summer months we experienced this year in America, I was disappointed to find that the last thing I wanted to partake of was a hot drink (although my husband continued to brew himself a cuppa several times a day). And so I’ve been thankful for the recent dip in temperatures, which sent me searching for the cozier items in my wardrobe, and once again found me reveling in the slow sipping of a hot cup of tea from my favorite mug.

Yes, elevenses continue at our house. It falls conveniently just before naptime for my youngest, and is a chance for us to break away from whatever has occupied our morning and come together for a little company and refreshment. Even our six-year-old enjoys a cup of tea, “with loads of milk and sugar,” and we all enjoy a piece of shortbread or two. Routine adds a sense of comfort and stability to our days, and I believe that any routine that involves tea, and gives us the opportunity to speak and laugh together, is a good one. So hurrah for elevenses. Long may they live!

What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?

~ Pippin, Lord of the Rings

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Americans, I’ve observed, are good entertainers. And by this I’m not implying that we’re all qualified to play the leading role in Swan Lake, or that we can belt out the Hallelujah Chorus with perfect pitch. What I’m saying is that Americans, on the whole, know how to throw a good soiree, shindig, bash, or whatever you’d like to call it.

Growing up, I was taught the importance of presentation. If food looked beautiful and appetizing, then it would taste even better. Whatever the occasion, whether a tea party, child’s birthday party, or summer cookout, my mother would put care into choosing just the right invitations, menu, decorations, plates, and music to make sure the gathering was something special. This was her way of saying that both the guests and the person she was throwing the party for, were special and worthy of a true celebration.

I missed many American holidays when I lived in Scotland. For not only do Americans love to celebrate, we seem to find more reasons to do so than many other countries. On top of our extra holidays like Thanksgiving and Independence Day, we also have baby showers, wedding showers, and graduation open houses, none of which were the norm in the UK. But one thing I did take with me from my time in Scotland was an appreciation for simple, spontaneous entertaining, which is perhaps even more useful in building friendships and encouraging others than the carefully planned dinner party type of entertaining. True hospitality is not always convenient, polished, nor planned. It is, however, warm, welcoming, and real.

Most hospitality in Scotland, whether planned or not, involves the drinking of tea. As all devoted tea drinkers know, there is something soothing, healing, and inspiring in a good cup of tea. It is not only reserved for tea parties, nor just an after-dinner treat. It is offered to the workman who has come to fix the boiler. To the neighbor who stops by to return a dish. To the friend who has come round so your children can play together.

Most of the time a wee something to eat is offered along with the hot cuppa. Some hostesses disappear into the kitchen for a few minutes and return bearing a tray laden with mini sandwiches, crackers and cheese, or tray bakes. Other times, especially in the case of busy mums, the hostess raids the children’s biscuit tin, with its mismatched and broken contents. Or, loveliest of all, you might stop by someone’s home and discover they were baking that very morning, and can offer you a warm fairy cake or scone.

The most common tea in the UK is black tea, but green tea, herbal tea, and other varieties such as Earl Grey and Darjeeling are also popular. Whatever the offering, a cup of tea is not only a gift of nourishment, of calm, and of warmth (especially welcome on those blustery Scottish winter days). A cup of tea also says, “Stop for a minute and rest. Let’s chat about the weather, or, if we are true friends, about life.” With a warm cup between your hands and a friend’s face across the table or sofa, problems can be solved, joys and sorrows shared, and spirits uplifted.

In most Scottish households, the kettle is boiled for tea many times a day. It’s a drink for life’s many ordinary moments. But I’ve appreciated the times when a friend has done something to make our gathering a bit special, such as using teacups and saucers instead of mugs, lighting a candle and placing it on the table, setting out decorative napkins, or even trying a different tea such as Lady Grey. These simple touches go a step further in making moments special, and letting your guest know how much you treasure time spent with them.

So next time someone stops by unexpectedly, instead of telling yourself they’re an interruption to your day, offer them a cup of tea, dig out the treat you’ve been waiting for an excuse to open, and sit back and let the laughter (or the tears) flow.

Raspberry Fairy Cakes and Tea

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Spring. Who doesn’t like that word? For most of us, the mention of spring brings pleasant images of balmy weather, flowers in bloom, and wooly lambs frolicking in the fields. Spring can also make us think of new possibilities, new beginnings, and hope for a better future.

Now that spring is finally here again, pause for a moment to reflect on some of the hopes and dreams you have for this coming year. If you’re anything like me, your list includes improving the appearance of your home, creating more special memories with your family and friends, reading more books, and cooking better meals. And maybe, if you pause long enough, you’d find some other dreams, ones that seem even less likely to come true than the others, but are dear to your heart all the same–starting your own craft business, travelling to a different continent, or visiting the home of Jane Austen, perhaps?

Scottish daffodils in my friend’s garden

Those goals and dreams may not seem related, but they’re all ideas for making our lives more meaningful. More BEAUTIFUL. Having a more beautiful life is certainly one of my goals, which is why I created this blog. Happylittlesigh is a very special little place, created for all you hopeless romantics, bookworms, tea drinkers, period drama fans, and anyone who is looking for simple ways to bring more beauty into their lives. More beauty, more peace, and more reasons for letting escape from your lips . . .  a happy little sigh.

I’d love for you to join me, and you can start today by pulling on your jacket and wellies (or trainers, if you don’t have boots), leaving the house, no matter what state it’s in, and escaping to the out doors to look for signs of spring. Bits of green poking through the rich dark soil. Fuzzy buds on the ends of delicate tree branches. Or daffodils, like the ones I photographed today in my friend’s garden. Aren’t they happy?

Hoping to see you back soon!

Saying Cheery-bye for now,

Avonlea x

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