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Archive for the ‘Beautiful Places’ 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?

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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

Find me on Facebook & Instagram @avonleaqkrueger

See you there? 

happylittlesigh.com

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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Six fingernails. Only six. That’s how many I had time to cut that day, into short, blunt squares. The other four were left long and ladylike for a few days longer, until I noticed, and remembered that I’d been interrupted, called away from my task to see to the needs of one of my wee men.

And that’s how life’s been since the arrival of Little Bear, my fourth son. A sprinkle of time here, a sprinkle there, and not much more, for all the little extra things I love.

Those non-essentials that relax me and that I really enjoy, but that somehow don’t seem as pressing as cleaning up the raspberries someone smashed all over the kitchen floor, or icing a bleeding lip, or stopping someone from over-cuddling the baby.

Those non-essentials

like exfoliating with Dead Sea salt scrub.

Or watching a new version of Jane Eyre.

Or reading my Bible.

You know, extra, non-essential things like that.

And where can I possibly fit them into to my hectic life, when there isn’t even time for the essentials?

Like sleeping.

Or taking a trip to the bathroom.

Or drinking enough water.

How can I possibly find the time?

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Four months, we’ve been back from our visit to Scotland. Four months, which is the same length of time we spent back there. And I meant to keep you abreast of it all, every visit, every city, every castle that we saw.

But the arrival of Little Bear, and traversing up and down the country, and the jumble that went on inside my own head made it difficult. But there are things, there are moments, I remember. And I’ll tell them, I’ll tell them to you, if you’ll stay with me and you’ll wait.

Because they’re worth the telling.

Like what I spotted in the new mud room at my friend Katie’s.

When we lived in Scotland I’d set aside time nearly every week to visit with Katie and a few other treasured friends at one or other of our houses.  And they were sanity for me, those times, as I sat across from their smiling faces, corralling crumbs from my oat biscuit into a pile on the table top while I sipped my tea and we talked about life—children, husbands, our walk with God.

And I was there again at Katie’s house this winter. Sat at her table. Heard her laugh. Sipped my milky tea.

And yes, saw the new mudroom, with its tidy place for Wellington boots, jackets, mittens, and hats. And it was all quite something, but it wasn’t that which made me smile. Pause.

In a corner beneath a window, where the sun could lay a beam of light, sat a chair. A chair, and a little shelf in the wall just the size for a Bible, and a picture frame on the wall with this:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

2 Peter 1:5-8

A place made in her home just for this. Just for reading God’s word, and speaking and listening to Him.

A place for making every effort.

Not a casual squeezing it in every few weeks when there’s a sprinkle of time, but a place. A purposeful seeking after Him. Every effort.

Because reading my Bible, knowing God, is not a non-essential after all. Not if I want to be like Christ.  Not if I want to be for my family a refreshing stream, instead of the dried up desert that I so often feel.

His delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:2-3

I don’t have time aplenty. Not the luxurious hours to read and ponder that I once did. But if I’m to make the most of the time with my family, if I’m to help lead them in the everlasting way, then I must find the time to be in God’s Word, and find even a simple line of truth and goodness on which to meditate throughout my busy day.

Finding time will be a challenge. But my soul is dry, and I feel it. I feel it, and it shows. I feel it, and it’s worse, even, than only six short fingernails.

Make every effort.

I’ll start today.

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How do you make time to be in the word? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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A rainbow is a promise. This rainbow appeared over the sea on Christmas day while we opened our gifts. May 2015 be a year where each one of you experiences the trustworthiness of God’s promises and feels his presence going with you.

Happy New Year!
Avonlea x

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I’ve been agonizing over it from the beginning.

Discussing with John, my friends, and my own own uncertain brain

just what should be done. 

I’d so wanted him to come into the world in the usual way,

this fourth son of mine.

You know, as most babies come,

instead of in the traumatic, agonized way my first ones arrived

before being swaddled and placed into my shaking arms.

And so I discussed, read, considered,

and after arriving in Scotland and speaking with my midwife and consultant,

decided I wanted to try to labor on my own instead of booking a date for surgery.

I decided it as if that were it.

As if since that’s what I wanted

then that’s how it would go.

Yet here I sit, my stomach still round and high and hard

like a Christmas pudding.

A week after my due date and no baby has arrived.

I tried  to help him come. 

Tried to make my dreams of a natural birth,

which deep inside I’d always felt had been unfairly stolen from me with my first births,

into a reality at long last.

For a week now I’ve been walking all over this town.

Through higgledy-piggledy harbor-side streets lined with fishing cottages,

and up along the braes where the grander houses stand.

With the hills behind me and the sea in front,

and dotted all around, the towering church steeples,

I never lost my way.

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I walked, and lunged, and squatted.

We ordered spicy Indian food.

I prayed.

Prayed for God to please make it so,

for if He formed me,

then He could make my body do just what it needed to do to make this baby come.

And yet four hours from now I’ll be at the hospital,

making preparations for yet another c-section.

And I must admit to moments of panic

earlier this week.

Moments where I felt I’d do most anything

just to have my way. 

Never mind my limited vision.

My limited perspective of my own life,

the life of those around me,

and the life of this child inside.

But God knows.

He more than knows it. 

Knows every eventuality

of what could and would

come to be

with the type of delivery I have,

with the different paths I take.

And so I trust Him.

Not only because He knows,

but because He’s waiting.

Already there. 

With one hand behind me,

and one hand before,

He’s with me.

He’s with my baby.

As He’s been with us

from day number one.

There, in the operating room

He is with me.

In the following weeks of recovery

as I feed, and change, and soothe,

He is there, too.

And what His reason is for letting me journey this path,

rather than the one I thought I wanted,

I may never know.

But I trust Him.

Because He made me.

Made me for a purpose,

a purpose that involves my experiences,

my challenges,

all the people that I’ll meet.

And so rather than hanging on with desperation and despair

to an ending that will not come to be, 

I’m determined to

take that hand

He stands holding out for me,

walk with Him the path He’s laid for us.

The path that is my life

just as He meant it to be. 

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Thankful for being here, in the midst of this Scottish adventure, with surprises and blessings waiting at every turn–if I open my eyes to see. Thankful for your thoughts, ideas, encouragement, dear readers and friends both near and far. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

x Avonlea 

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There’s music in the air here. 

You didn’t think it was all imagination, 

fiction, 

fantasy,

did you now? 

It’s in the wind as it batters rugged coastlines, 

whispers over green pastures, 

whistles through winding streets.

It’s in the waves as they crash against the rocky shore, 

against the ancient harbors of this land of fisher folk. 

It’s in the breath of livestock as they plod their verdant pastures.

It’s in the seagulls’ cries. 

And somehow through the ages this land, 

as every land, 

created its own music. 

A wealth of hymns, folk, Celtic, pop and bag pipe songs that get your feet tapping

and also give your heart

a delicious little ache. 

I’ll share one with you now. 

From a collection of Scottish tunes given to me by John in the months leading up to our marriage. 

He knew the power of music in winning a girl’s heart. 

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Pictures paint a thousand words.

They can also tell a thousand lies.

A thousand lies of just the sort

you’d like people to believe.

People on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,

all those people you want to impress.

It’s easy when there’s a filter

for what people see of your life. 

And while I’m so glad to be back here in Scotland,

it’s not all tea parties,

trips to castles,

European shops.

Life is life,

with all the dull, the ordinary, the hard to swallow times

mixed in with all the good.

I was reminded this morning–

that moment I started up the stairs for The Professor’s school books,

but then realized Mr. Waddlesworth had a dirty nappy,

and John asked me to get the General’s shoes on just at that moment so they could get to the swimming pool on time.

And all I really wanted was to eat my cereal, which sat there on the table growing soggy, the milk now warm.

A moment of chaos and I wanted to scream.

Yes, even in Scotland there are nappies to change, toilets to clean.

And worse than that, we find that even in the most Paradise-like of places,

we cannot escape ourselves.

And wouldn’t I like to, sometimes?

Hit reset, start again, with a brand new me.

It’s easy to blame others for my impatience, irritation, foul mood,

but when I’m honest I realize that I need to hit the reset button on my own attitude.

Shake it off, let it go,

and embrace joy, grace, and usefulness,

in spite of all the expectations and hopes that didn’t come when and as I’d hoped.

The days have been quiet so far, quieter than I’d hoped,

without any visits to the friends or beloved places I’m so longing to see.

Quiet days, save the usual busyness of home life with the boys.

And even in such a place as this, 

greyness can fall, 

wrap around you like a fog. 

We went for a walk, Mr. Waddlesworth and I, this morning,

to shake the shadows,

start again.

And as I went along the narrow streets,

between the rows of ancient stone,

thinking,

and drinking in

the cries of the seagulls as they soar,

the balmy breeze,

the North Sea’s roar,

I thought of these words . . .

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 And though I’m trying, still,

to feel them,

live them,

make them real,

I know,

that whether we’re cleaning toilets,

or laughing over a latte with our dearest friends

in our most favorite place,

our moments matter. 

And words, our expressions,

they matter, too.

In fact, in the grey times,

when the light is dimmest,

is when our words, expressions, and actions,

mean the very most.

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