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Archive for the ‘Misty British Isles’ Category

He met the Queen, my husband, John, did. As in Her Majesty, The Queen. Elizabeth II. Mother of Prince Charles. Grandmother to Princes William and Harry. Great-grandmother to the little royals. John grew up in a small fishing community in the Northeast of Scotland, far from the gilded elegance of London. But it’s one of those things, I suppose, that the longer one lives in the United Kingdom, the more likely one is to meet, bump into, or at least see one of them–a member of the royal family.

It’s like being an American in L.A. Sooner or later you’ll recognize someone from the Silver Screen. Two of my siblings lived there, and seemed to post weekly pics of famous people they’d helped in their retail jobs. Jackie Chan, Helena Bonham Carter, and the list goes on. My brother ended up with a part in a YouTube video with Richard Simmons (which thankfully didn’t involve exercise). My sister made a friend who lives in the same gated community as Reese Witherspoon. He let my sister use his house for her birthday party one year (which I got to attend!). We all chuckled at the story of Reese coming to his house trick-or-treating with her kids. He handed out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and in her sweet Southern voice, she replied, “Very funny.” I can just hear it.

There’s something just a bit different, though–a little more magical and surreal–about meeting The Queen and all her family. And stories, both magical and surreal, are what I mean to tell.

Wouldn’t we all have loved to be a university student at St Andrews, where Prince William and Catherine met and fell in love? The daughter of a minister at a church we attended was a student there, and one day got a lovely surprise when Prince William himself opened a door for her. Always the gentleman. Sigh.

And wouldn’t the scenery in the hills of the Scottish highlands have seemed all the more green and glorious had a group of poshly dressed people come along the trail–and one of the them was Prince Charles, who bid you good day? That’s exactly what happened to a woman from our church.

But not all of my stories are of chance encounters.

John met the Queen at 14. He was active in the Boys’ Brigade, a sort of Boy Scouts with Christian roots, and one summer his troop was on parade at Windsor Castle. As the Queen inspected the ranks, she stopped every so often to speak with one of the boys. I like to think it was my husband’s bright crop of ginger hair that caught the Queen’s attention.

“And where have you traveled from?” she asked him, in the way only the Queen could.

He answered, all earnestness and Scottish brogue.

“My,” she smiled, “you have come a long way.”

It wasn’t the lengthiest of interactions, but quite special none-the-less, and a story I surmise we’ll pass down to our grandchildren.

My sister got to see the Queen and Prince Charles. John’s great aunt had secured tickets for the Royal Highland Games (think bagpipes, and kilted men tossing large logs called cabers). The games were held at Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s highland residence, which first belonged to Queen Victoria. John and I had only been married a year, and as he had the day off, I decided to forego Balmoral and stay home with him. Ah, young love. And so I missed my chance to see the Queen, although my sister showed me her photos!

And what of the younger royals? University friends of ours attended a charity event and got near enough to Prince William and Catherine Middleton to snap some close-ups (which they kindly shared with me–hope you like them!).

But my stories don’t end here. Next time–your personal invite inside the gates of Buckingham Palace for The Queen’s Garden Party, and even more up-close and personal stories of the Royal Family.

And if you didn’t catch the story of the weekend I spent in England with some almost royals and totally embarrassed myself, you can find that here.

Avonlea xo

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

 

 

 

 

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The London days are the worst. That feeling I wake with, or that settles over me in the almost twilight of an afternoon, to be somewhere exotic yet familiar. Buzzing with activity, yet gracefully weathering the passage of time. Somewhere able to give me the rough grittiness of ancient castle stone and surround me with the intoxicating fumes of a double decker bus. Somewhere with all the imagined romance of a Charles Dickens novel, all the contemporary romance of William and Kate. Somewhere that can always give you a hot cup of tea, a good deal on a new pair of shoes, and a crisp set of white sheets at the end of the day. London.

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It’s hard, you know, when you’ve been to a city like that. Especially when you’ve been enough times that you begin to find your favorite haunts, your favorite stops on the tube, but where the scenery is still something like a living painting, dazzling before your eyes.

I get other sorts of days, too. Florence days, where I long for the lazy air of a sun-drenched piazza, pistachio ice cream dripping down the cone and over my hand, though I’m glorying too much in the beauty of it all to notice. Edinburgh days, when I ache for Princes Street, and shortbread, and hearts, dear hearts of friends.

But there is something about the otherworldliness of London that can catch like a gasp in my throat, and I have to breathe it out. Breathe it all out.

Because it took a million miracles to get us here. Here, in this little yellow house in the country in the middle of America. At the edge of the river and the edge of a town founded when America was still quite new. Here, where I wake and breathe in the now of my life.

Most of those miracles passed by unnoticed, like most every moment of an ordinary day.

A few of them seemed more like tragedies than miracles at the time. That house in the city. The break-ins, where they took so much, and yet left so much pain and fear and those awful dreams. The bat in our bedroom. The garbage. And the bugs.

And then there were those events that came about in such strange, unexpected ways that we had to look at each other, my husband and I, and we just knew. This house, which seemed a half-decade or more away, was scrolled past on the computer just for fun one Wednesday night. We didn’t know the thieves were coming that Sunday while we sat learning, praising, smiling in church. That we’d come home to find they’d been in our room—just there beside the bed, rummaging through the drawers and taking that pocket watch I bought him for our first anniversary. And the money and the phones, and worst of all the computers with the pictures of our babies and all those files of my research and words, lost. We didn’t know, and it seemed like the worst thing ever, and we didn’t know why.

Looking back, it seems as strange as ever. But so does this house. Six minutes from my mother, and six years earlier than we thought we’d be here. An empty house. Just waiting.

And then there are our neighbors—kinder, and with more joy and home-baked cookies than we know what to do with, and it feels like they’d been waiting. Just for us.

That night they came for dinner and I heard the story about the truck crash that ripped the top off the trailer like a tin of sardines and yet left their five-year-old son curled up behind the seat fast asleep. That night I felt it heavy upon us. That miracle. That grace.

And I could go on and say more about our baby. Our silky-soft butterball of a baby boy who joined our family in December. I call him Wonderbaby. Did a child ever laugh so much? I prayed over him, prayed over my stomach that God would give me a child of peace. And He did. Wonder.

 

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But I couldn’t see it all so clearly, wouldn’t treasure it so dearly, if I hadn’t first stood drenched, umbrella-less in the torrential rain that lifted us up and floated us here.  Here, to this house and this place in our lives. Here, where our hearts are full of love for our children, and for every hurting person who has known our pain and worse. Here, where we’ve dropped everything else and our arms are empty as we go running through fields in the gleaming sunlight to Him.

These are the days I’ll want back. These days of wonder and want. Of nappies and sticky hands. Of gifted dandelions, and legos, and laundry, endless laundry.  Of never, ever enough sleep, and staggering from bed to lift my smallest one and tuck him close so he can drink.

London can wait. We’ll take them one day, our boys, and show them where the Queen lives, and that roaring T-Rex robot in the V & A. And we’ll have our cream teas, and it will be grand.* But for now, here, where we live and breathe today, I’ll show them the wonder. The miracle of a God who doesn’t stop loving, who doesn’t stop thinking of them as if it’s just them. For every glimpse I’ve gotten, I want them to see more.

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It took a million miracles to get us here. And for all the days we have to come, however many that will be, whether they are London days or laundry days, I want to live them with my eyes open to it all. To every miracle. Every gift.

Avonlea xo

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Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

*This post was originally written in 2013. The very next year, we did go to London, and these photos are from that trip.

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In honour of my former home,

and on this Monday after the first Advent Sunday,

I bring you a little taste of a Scottish Christmas past . . .

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Heap on more wood!–the wind is chill;

But let it whistle as it will,

We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.

~ Sir Walter Scott

 

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This was the Sunday to light the Advent candle of HOPE.

Hope because of that child.

The One the world heard about,

the One promised,

long, long before He was born.

Wonderful,

Counselor,

The Mighty God,

The Everlasting Father,

The Prince of Peace.

Unto US

He was given!

He was given

unto US!

Hope.

Hope for everyone.

Everyone

who drops whatever else they’re holding onto

to take this gift.

Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7

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It’s not too late to re-focus your Christmas

for yourself

for your family.

Not too late

to bring others

reason to HOPE . . .

 

Avonlea xo

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Finding beauty in the every day ❤ 

 

 

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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?

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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

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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A castle is where I’d end up on days like today when we lived in Scotland. Days when the luminescent green earth called me outside for an adventure. Out to where pink-blossomed trees quivered in a gentle breeze and white fluffy clouds danced across a seamless blue sky.

As we’re sadly lacking for castles in Midwestern USA, I buckled the General, Waddlesworth, and Little Bear into the car, handed an apple to each of them, and headed off for a country drive through woods and rolling farmland in search of some Estate or Barn Sales. And did I find any? Certainly did.

I came home in possession of a light-up globe attached to a table. Some vintage curtains dotted with fishing, golf, and other manly pursuits, which I hope will one day become cushions or even a bean bag for my boys’ rooms. And books. Always books.

With my dose of sunshine and newly found treasures, and a day off from homeschooling due to my eldest being at a friend’s house, life looks good. I feel happy. Blessed.

Not so a fortnight or so ago, when I found myself tangled at the bottom of a slippery, murky, gnarly pit. 

While my morning routines got my days started and gave me focus, by afternoon my positive, cheery mummy reserves were running dangerously low. After a long school day I wanted nothing more than to curl up with a mug of chai and watch Fixer Upper. Not face the whole make dinner/eat dinner/clean up after dinner/wrestle the kids to bed routine.

But my  lack of motivation and feelings of despair came more from simply the exhaustion of raising four squirrelly little boys. It was more than the challenges of homeschooling. More than the difficulty of doing so much of it on my own since John has been working unusually long hours of late.

while I battled within the walls of my own home . . . it felt like the world around us was crumbling to pieces.

The problem was that while I battled within the walls of my own home, trying to give my children knowledge, feed them healthy meals, help them grow in faith, it felt like the world around us was crumbling to pieces. And what could a tired out mummy do about all that?

What was the point, really, in trying to make up my mind which shade of grey to paint the dining room, or doing anything else to bring loveliness to our home? Why search Pinterest for sugar-free dessert recipes? Why invest the energy in teaching the Professor about the injustices of segregation?

What, really, was the point of all my efforts, what with wars being raged, the American political scene making us all cringe (or cry!), and craziness like the recent Target bathroom/dressing room controversy leaving people up in arms.

What was happening to the world I would one day send my boys out into? 

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I was overtaken by a Spirit of Fear that left me nearly useless to the people in my life. And so one night, sitting in my bed with my pink and white polka-dot clad phone, I began to search for what God’s Word might have to say about all that.

What I found has changed my outlook 100%.

I read

 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesions 2:10

And that has made all the difference.

As I Christian, I believe that God created me, his daughter, with great forethought and care. That He chose the date and place of my birth, this exact time in history, for a reason. That He gave me these sons to raise up and prepare for the good works He has for them to do. That he gave me this husband to be my partner in life, that we can be a mutual blessing and “spur one another on to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). That he gave me this home to be a haven for my family and all who enter here.

And so you see, the daily work I do with my sons, with my home, with the people I seek to care for in my community and across the globe, they are not meaningless at all. They are vitally important to those whose lives I touch. Important in eternal ways I may never see.

Our world may seem to be spinning into chaos. Our current political candidates may not seem worthy of the title of President. But our God in control. And he IS worthy in every way. He is all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful, and always present.

And He has good works for me to do.

Avonlea x

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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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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.

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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.

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