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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?

Manners (1)

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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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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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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