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So I’m a little late with the news.

Four days is an eternity in our World Wide Web World.

And yet my own little world

spins at quite a different pace.

A constant splattering of primary-colored Duplo Blocks and breadmaker toast crumbs

have been crying out a little louder for my attention

than even this.

But I’ve got to mention it.

Put it down for posterity’s sake.

After all, how often does the Duchess of Cambridge pose for a photograph with Lady Mary Crawley?

How often does she go down to the kitchen for some cake from Mrs. Patmore?

It’s all just a bit dizzying.

Like someone got their fairy tales crossed.

Like it’s Cinderella meets Sleeping Beauty . . .

(or maybe Toads and Diamonds, however it is you see those Grantham girls).

But it’s that real life Cinderella Girl

most of us can’t help but admire,

and she’s gone to pay a call to

that period drama

most of us can’t help but watch.

And the moment’s just a bit magic

and most of us can’t help but smile

when we watch.

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I still regret a little that I didn’t go to see Kate Middleton And Prince William when we lived in Scotland

and they visited St. Andrews, their former university.

After all, it was just a short drive away.

And that time I had the chance to work on a TV set with Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey

(more on that another time!).

But ah, it’s all a little lovely,

and the lovely things in life can point us, if we let them,

to the good and beautiful that is not of this world.

The good and beautiful of the next,

where are hearts are really longing for.

So here it is.

Enjoy.

Kate Middleton visits the Set of Downton Abbey

Kate also once visited Prince Edward Island,

home of Anne of Green Gables.

A kindred spirit here, perhaps?

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Look for HappyLittleSigh on Pinterest for more loveliness

https://www.pinterest.com/happylittlesigh/

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“Pretend you’re eating with the Queen,” she’d say, my mother, in those preschool years when my younger sisters and I would gather around the dining room 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, and our minds were filled with pictures of a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace, 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 our 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.

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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 a made a small disaster of the affair quite well without even having to try. 

And what did I do that was so very wrong?

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. 

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 that sat in 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. 

I 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 fireplace while my friend watched a football match, 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 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 then I wouldn’t have been left with such a fine story to tell.  

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Etiquette, it seems, is a thing of the past in the minds of many people. And this, to me, is just a little sad.  For I am a person who admires the finer. I appreciate a well-laid table, enjoy dressing up for a special event, and, should I ever really meet the Queen, would like to learn what I ought to say ;). The British tradition of etiquette–from the days of chivalrous knights to the decorum of the Victorian era–is something I have always admired.

What I don’t admire, can’t quite look up to, is when someone uses their position, their intelligence, their wealth to make others feel inferior. Smaller. Less. For etiquette and manners must go hand-in-hand, and real manners are about making the other person feel respected, appreciated, at ease.

The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.  – Gabirol, The Choice of Pearls

That being said, if we are to avoid making others feel uncomfortable, neglected, patronized, hurt, I do feel that we must all learn to be a little more thoughtful and careful in how we behave. And if we’re to aim for a little more than that, and hope to earn others’ admiration and trust so that our good life’s work (whatever that may be) will not be compromised by our thoughtlessness and indiscretion, then we should aim for a little polish, a little beauty, as well.

A few rules of etiquette that I think worth noting?

1. Mobile/Cell Phones – Put them away when it’s time to be with people. If you’re at a restaurant they should be tucked away in a handbag or pocket. If you need to check your messages, excuse yourself and step away for a moment, or at least let your friends know that you are about to mentally switch off from what they’re saying, then check your messages quickly and discreetly. The same applies if you are a guest at someone’s home, or if they are a guest at yours. The phone should not act as an extra person in the room, taking your attention away from the real people you are supposed to be spending time with. Always put your phone away for hellos and goodbyes.

2. Conversation – Avoid speaking ill of others. Give genuine compliments to those you are with, and also speak well of those who are absent. Don’t spend the entire time speaking about your problems or everything exciting that you’ve been doing. Your close friends will of course want to know when you’re struggling, but don’t be a little black rain cloud and drag others down with complaints, or a long list of every little thing that is wrong with your life. Ask people questions about themselves, listen attentively, and give encouragement whenever you can. Wait until others have finished their sentences or thoughts, and don’t jump in or cut them off. Let your thank-yous be genuine. Statement such as, “Wow, thank you for the purple vase. We changed our decor to more neutral colors now, but thanks anyway,” are transparent and cannot really be considered as thanks.

Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.  – Author Unknown

3. Entertaining – You may not have time to make your house spotless before your guests arrive (aren’t we all comfortable with a little clutter?), but do clean your toilet and make sure the bathroom is supplied with toilet paper, a clean hand towel, and soap. As for the meal, there’s nothing wrong with simple. Your guests have come to see you, and if they’re busy parents then they’re probably just glad that someone else is cooking. However, if it’s within your power to give them a treat and make them feel special, then do so, and provide as delicious a meal as possible. Your table spread can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. I love lighting candles, using the good dishes, and putting out fresh flowers, but actual sit-down dinners aren’t always practical or possible when you’re expecting a house full of children. Just relax, and let your guests take the lead. Never make them feel uncomfortable for doing things differently from the way you do them.

4. Going Visiting – If you’re invited to someone else’s home, let them take the lead on how things are done. If your hosts are sock-footed or wearing slippers, then offer to remove your shoes at the door. Bring your host or hostess a small thank you gift, such as a candle, flowers, or a bottle of wine. If you have children, spend at least a little time helping to tidy the toys before you go. And if you if happen to notice a slightly unpleasant odor coming from your youngest, ask to use the changing table or take your baby to the bathroom to change his nappy. Never change a nappy right in front of your hosts, especially if people are eating. After baby is fresh and clean, wash and dry your hands in the bathroom, not at the kitchen sink.

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

5. Common Courtesy – Please, thank you, and excuse me are still good manners. So is being a courteous driver, opening the door for the person behind you, and offering your seat to an elderly person or a lady (especially if the lady is pregnant, or a very tired mother with three young children in tow). Wearing a hat inside (gentlemen), beeping your horn at or tailing other drivers, and chewing gum are still not (while I realize the need for a little breath-freshening, there is no faster way to resemble a cow. Chomp, chomp).

6. A Little Note on Tea – In the UK, you can’t be in a person’s home for more than 60 seconds before you’re offered a cup of tea. It’s a good rule to go by, and a wonderful way to make your guests feel comfortable and welcome. Don’t let your guests sit for a good couple of hours before they finally break down and ask if the can help themselves to a glass of water from the kitchen tap. As soon as they’re settled, always offer your guests a drink (tea, coffee, juice, whatever is the norm for you). If they decline, it is still polite to bring them a glass of water in case they change their mind and become thirsty.

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For a complete list and very entertaining read on British etiquette, visit the experts at Debrett’s. 

Oh, but my world just now is not a public one. Not a world of garden parties or white-tie events. And it can be easy, in the midst of potty training, and high-chair scrubbing, and meal scrounging, to forget a thing called manners. To move through my routine, scoot my children where I need them to be–to the table, to the bathroom, off to bed–without once using please or thank you. Without saying excuse me, or kneeling down to listen carefully to what they’re trying to say. 

And the steps are all so small just now. Learning to eat with cutlery, reminders not to laugh or speak about bodily functions over the dinner table. But really, really, I want my home to be a haven, and it’s not the details that will matter most in the end, but what my children come to understand about the heart of it all

And I must remember that if gruffness, mumbled answers, sarcasm, are acceptable at home, then I should not expect my children to behave any differently when they’re out. Because I’m raising a good army. Three little ones who will become three grown men. And when they’re ready, when they go, I want them to know fully their worth–because of how we treated each other at home. Because they know how much they’re loved. And when they’re ready, when they go, I want them to know how to treat others as though they have worth. I want them to know how to live, serve, love well in whatever circumstances they are called–royal courts or grass huts. And that, really, is the heart of it all. 

Because where the world is concerned, it is not our job to teach and correct, but simply to love. 

For love covers a multitude of sins, and a multitude of bad manners, too. 

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Happy Little Sigh is now on Pinterest! Join me there? 

http://www.pinterest.com/happylittlesigh/

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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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The newly wed Prince William and Kate Middleton were in Prince Edward Island, Canada, earlier this week. Prince Edward Island, as in home of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, by Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery.

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Prince Edward Island, as in the setting for the Sullivan Entertainment program Road to Avonlea, also based on Lucy Maude Montgomery’s books. I can’t help but think that if Mrs. Linde and Aunt Hetty were alive . . . and, em, real people, this royal visit would have made their year!

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A royal visit to P.E. Island–now that is my sort of headline! Click on the link below to read about the visit and learn Kate’s opinion of Anne.

http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Royal-Tour/2011-07-05/article-2631740/Duchess-says-she-read-Anne-of-Green-Gables-as-a-girl/1

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