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Archive for the ‘Beautiful Places’ Category

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

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

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The Kilns, former home of C.S. Lewis

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

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

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

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Oxford University, where Lewis taught

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

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

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

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

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Gardens in Oxford University

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

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

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

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

– From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

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Running to His arms . . .

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

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Avonlea xo

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh orFacebook @happylittlesigh

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

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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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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“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? 

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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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