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The sight of a big yellow school bus (or packs of children in school uniform) may leave you feeling like summer has slipped away, even if you don’t have children of your own. You probably have a list of things you wanted to accomplish and enjoy that now seem like they’ll have to wait till next year. But the official first day of Autumn isn’t till September 22, so don’t sigh in despair and order your first Pumpkin Spice Tea Latte or pack away your parasol just yet! Here are 12 whimsical ways to bring beauty to your last 28 days of summer . . .

1. Pick Wild Flowers – Warning! I stop for black-eyed Susans! And I know just which stretch of country road to find them. Picking wildflowers is one of my personal traditions to mark the season of summer. It brings the color of summer indoors, spreads a lovely smell, and adds a touch of wild, gentle beauty that store-bought flowers never have.

2. Make a Cobbler – The taste of summer! Blueberry and peach are my favorite, and all the better if you picked the fruit yourself. Pinterest will provide a quick, easy recipe that should only take 10 minutes to throw together. Then pair with ice cream and enjoy slowly–somewhere with a lovely view is best (maybe your deck, or round your table with friends?).

3. Read Under a Tree – What a wonderful new perspective we get, looking up at the underside of a tree! The branches stretching out, the light streaming through, turning the leaves to stained glass windows. It’s beautiful. To really soak up the last of summer, pull out an old quilt or blanket, spread it out, and open a book–pausing now and then to watch the leaves dance in the breeze.

4. Have an Adventure – How may times have you told yourself that someday you’ll stop at that little antique barn you always pass by? Or that one of these days you’ll go visit that friend who lives across the state? Or that you’d so love to have lunch with friends at that new café? This might be just the time to do something different, go somewhere new, or see an old friend and have your own wee adventure!

5. Get Your Feet Wet – What says summer like the smell of sea air, the feel of sand between your toes, or the sight of a river winding into green? Dive into summer (or dip your toes in!) by getting yourself out to the water! Splash others and laugh when they splash you back! You could even try reading with your feet dangling in the water.

6. Read on Your Porch – You’ve probably done something to make this space attractive, but have you actually taken time to enjoy the flowers you planted or the pretty cushions or candles you bought? Make yourself an iced coffee, sweet tea, or sparkling water, and soak up the heat with a good book–or paint, knit, or do whatever hands-on activity feeds your soul.

7. Visit a Local Historic Place – If you’re anything like me, nothing catches your eye like an old school house chocked with weeds, or a historic marker on the side of the road. So many times I’ve wished to peek in the windows of an old school house, town hall, or church, or thought about stopping to read the sign and find out what historic event took place there. Make an afternoon of driving nearby country roads and through local small towns, and take the time to stop and photograph any abandoned or old buildings you find, or simply look inside. Always more fun if you have a cold drink for the road!

8. Host a Dinner Party – Have fun creating a destination-themed summer soiree, such as A Trip to Tuscany, or a literary-inspired theme, such as Anne of Green Gables or Jane Austen (haven’t you always wanted to?!) or make it simple with burgers on the grill. Invite those friends you’ve been longing to catch up with, or someone you know needs a friend in their life. Don’t be afraid to invite people last minute. Eat lots, drink lots, laugh lots.

9. Play Pooh-Sticks – If you aren’t familiar with the game made famous by Winnie-the-Pooh, all you need is a bridge, some water, and sticks. Children optional. Everyone drops their stick from one side of the bridge at the same time, then rushes to the other side to see whose stick made it under first. They’re the winner! Repeat. The game is even better if you have to take a scenic walk to reach the bridge.

10. Watch the Fireflies – I missed these most miraculous creatures when we lived in Scotland. And I just learned on a trip south to Kentucky this summer that fireflies (or lightnin’ bugs) can have multiple different light pulses and colors, depending on the species. Some have a slow off-on fade, while others glitter with quick flashes like Christmas lights. Not sure how your lighting bugs glow? I suggest you take the time to step outside and find out for yourself.

11. Get a New Perspective – A new perspective doesn’t necessarily have to come from a swing, although if it’s been a while since you’ve seen the world upside-down and your feet against blue sky, you should definitely head to the park soon! Maybe your perspective is from the top of the mountain, the top of a sky scraper, or somewhere else with a beautiful view of the world. Wherever it is, make sure it helps you soak up summer!

12. Start a New Book – I know you have a stack of books to be read (don’t you?!). If you’ve been stuck on the same one for a while, put it aside and instead pick up the one you most want to read next. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner is in my to-read pile, and I look forward to jumping in!

BONUS – Have a Summer Movie Night! – Invite your girlfriends (or ask another family with kids to join your crew!) for one last night of popcorn, chocolate, and Period Drama Fun before the school year kicks in and everyone gets busy. Need some suggestions? Check out this list I made of 30 Period Drama Favorites .

Swallows & Amazons – see complete movie list here

Been inspired by this post? Get connected for more literature loveliness, period dramas, and grace-filled inspirations.

Coming Next? decorating tips inspired by Little Women . . .

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

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What is about a story that makes it a classic? And what is it about Jane Eyre, in particular, that has helped it stand the test of time, and inspire so many theater productions, film adaptations, and spin-offs? I know what I love about it–Jane’s character, for starters. She’s so mistreated, yet stays true to herself and her beliefs, even in the most tragic of circumstances, and is rewarded so wonderfully in the end. Then there’s Jane’s time both at Thornfield Hall and with the Rivers family, with such beautiful surroundings, and time for reading, painting, and longs walks. But let’s not forget the excitement of the gothic influence on the story, and the less-than-serene moments that put us on edge. But what do YOU love about Jane Eyre? And which of the following color adaptations is your favorite?

Jane Eyre 1970 – Susannah York & George C. Scott (1 hr 50 min)

This adaptation brings us our only blonde Jane! The actress who plays the young Jane did an excellent job. And I like the spirit Susannah York brings to grown-up Jane, despite the 70’s vibe of her appearance (Let’s call her Big Hair Jane), and the fact she looks closer to 28 than 18. Rochester, too, looks much older than his supposed 38 years. But he also brings passion and emotion to the role that make it come to life (though with a bit more growling than necessary). We get the scene where Jane collapses on the moors, but don’t see St. John (pronounced “Sinjin”) Rivers carrying her home (I like that scene). St. John himself speaks in an aloof, cold manner, and something about him unsettles me, but I like the scenes with his sisters. Some of the scenery around the Rivers’ home and Thornfield Hall is beautiful, though the film quality isn’t great. The colors are too saturated in some scenes and too dark in others. BUT a big plus for this version is the music score by John Williams, who is known for composing the scores for Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, E.T., and others. Though this is the earliest color version I know of, I enjoyed it more than some of the later adaptations.


Jane Eyre 1973 – Sorcha Cusack & Michael Jayston (4 hr 35 min)

This version stars Sorcha Cusack, who you might recognize as housekeeper Mrs. McCarthy from the Father Brown detective series! She has a very cute, expressive face, which shows a lot of what Jane was feeling inside, and I thought she did very well with the part. I had a harder time warming up to Michael Jayston as Rochester (is that eyeshadow he’s wearing?!), who speaks in a very clipped, upper-class sounding voice, but that could just be me. The cinematography leaves something to be desired, the only music is at the beginning and end of each episode, and the many voiceovers take away from the acting. BUT it is a much more faithful version, and includes a lot more exact dialogue and details from the book than other adaptations, which is always fun to see on screen. And with over FOUR hours of watching time, it’s the perfect version if you’re bedridden or need company when you have a big project to work on!


Jane Eyre 1983 – Zilah Clarke & Timothy Dalton (3 hr 59 min)

While watching this adaptation I couldn’t forget that this Mr. Rochester went on to be a future James Bond! Timothy Dalton does superbly with this part–dark and brooding and full of emotion. And Zilah Clarke is perfect as Jane–small and doll-like but with fierce inner passion and strength. St. John Rivers stood out to me in this version–he looks precisely as I pictured him from the description in the book, with his “Grecian profile,” although the actor portrays the character as a cold, judgmental religious fanatic without any love for the people he would help with his missionary work. With its longer length, you get a lot more details, scenes, and characters from the novel than the shorter versions–such as Jane’s wanderings through both town and countryside before finally collapsing on the moor (can you tell I like this scene?). In fact, this version is probably truest to the book. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d say give it a try!


Jane Eyre 1996 – Charlotte Gainsbourg & William Hurt (1 hr 56 mins)

Young Jane (Anna Paquin) and housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Jane Plowright, Tea with Mussolini, Enchanted April) are the real stars of this adaptation. Although he’s not on screen, Italian director Franco Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet 1968, Tea with Mussolini) brings another star to the film. While I found some of the other Mr. Rochesters too blustery and angry, William Hurt’s take on the character seems too placid and uninteresting. Charlotte Gainsbourg did well as Jane (although she’s too tall!), but would have been better opposite another male lead. The music and scenery are an improvement from previous versions, as is Jane’s attire. With its shorter length, many scenes from the novel are missing, as expected. But the plot also veers off completely at times, such as Jane first meeting St. John Rivers at Gateshead when she goes to see her dying aunt, instead of him discovering her on the moors. And as soon as Jane leaves after discovering Mr. Rochester is married, Thornfield is already on fire! Overall, most of the story is captured in the adaptation. But with many details that add depth and breadth to the story missing, and with the mis-portrayal of Mr. Rochester, the film is not as good as it might have been.


Jane Eyre 1997 – Ciaran Hinds & Samantha Morton (1 hr 48 mins)

This was the first version of Jane Eyre I ever saw (anyone else?) Samantha Morton has the right “Jane-ish” look, and Ciaran Hinds fits the Rochester profile, too. But I found her a bit too mechanical at times, while Hinds comes across as too shouty and angry (as he is in a lot of roles), and I couldn’t help but find it hard to believe that Jane would actually fall in love with him. This is the first version where St. John Rivers, played by Rupert Penry-Jones, seems like a real contestant for Jane’s love (we DO get the wonderful scene where he finds Jane on moors and carries her home–Love!). And if you didn’t know, both Penry-Jones and Hinds play Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s Persuasion in the 2007 and 1995 versions, respectively. So I suppose Jane had a choice between Wentworth and Wentworth! I liked Gemma Jones as Mrs. Fairfax, but found the girl who played Adele too old for the part. Also, because of time constraints, this version left out a lot. But it’s still worth watching, even if just for comparison, for all the familiar faces, and because there’s always something to like about a version of Jane Eyre!


Jane Eyre 2006 – Ruth Wilson & Toby Stevens (3 hr 50 mins)

Cinematography had come along way by the time this mini-series was made, which alone makes it a more enjoyable watch. There are dreams, flashbacks, hallucinations, and creative camera-angles. The music score is good, and the scenery and settings are stunning. But I also think that both Ruth Wilson and Toby Stevens brought so much to their roles. Wilson both looks the part of Jane, and brings Jane’s uncertainty, humility, and passion to life. Stevens is a wonderful mixture of brooding, fear, and playfulness, and it’s easy to see what draws Jane to him. I loved the conversations between them, in which they discuss their pasts, or issues of morality, and you can sense their growing attachment to each other. Georgie Henley (from the Narnia films) looked just the part as Wilson’s younger Jane self, and I really liked Lorraine Ashbourne’s portrayal of Mrs. Fairfax. We have the scene where Jane gets lost on the moors (yay!), and a good portrayal of St. John, although he didn’t quite look the part. I appreciated how this version had the time to portray many of the details of Jane’s inheritance and discovery of her relationship with the Rivers. I also think the ending of this adaptation is the very best! But if you want a more accurate representation of the book, you might not like that this version adapted some of the dialogue for modern ears, and took creative licenses in telling the tale.


Jane Eyre 2011 – Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender (2 hrs)

This adaptation boasts more beautiful music, cinematography, costumes, and settings. But similar to the 2019 adaptation of Little Women, the film starts later in the story, which can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the book. This version begins with Jane running away from Thornfield Hall (a gorgeously filmed scene), and then moves back and forth between the past and the present to tell the story. Mia Wasikowska looks just the part of the reserved Jane, and you can sense the fire behind her eyes. But I would have liked to see more of that passion escape, especially during certain scenes. We only get glimpses of smiles and few real tears. In parts, she seems plain depressed. I would have loved to see real laughter, or the occasional raised voice, and all those emotions we know are trapped inside–especially during the proposal scene. Likewise, though Fassbender shows plenty of moodiness and pent-up frustration, we don’t see much of a playful, teasing side, or any lighter interactions between him and Jane. Judy Dench (A Room with a View, Ladies in Lavender) does, of course, steal our attention when she’s on screen as Mrs. Fairfax. But Jamie Bell (Nicholas Nickleby), although he’s a talented actor, didn’t quite make a believable St. John, in my opinion. Going back to Jane and Rochester, the natural chemistry between them wasn’t what it could have been. But this beautiful film is definitely worth watching, if you’re a Jane fan or not.


SO . . . which of these Jane Eyre adaptations is YOUR favorite? Have you seen them all? If not, which one above will you be running to watch next? I’d love to hear!

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

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Summer is almost here, which means nights watching sunsets at the lake, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, and sitting on the porch listening to the crickets. But there’s also nothing like kicking back with a cold drink for a summer movie night! Besides, I know my friends Down Under are saying Goodbye Summer and Welcome Autumn, and are ready for cozy nights in. So this is my gift to all of you–thirty period dramas you might never have seen! All are set from the 1700s to the 1950s (apart from one exception–you’ll see why), and all can be watched in a single sitting–2.5 hours or less (we’ll get to the best mini-series another time!). I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below . . .

1. Somewhere in Time (1980) – Which of us period drama fans don’t dream of traveling back in time and stepping into our favorite film or book? That’s almost what this young playwright (Christopher Reeve) does when he falls in love with the photo of a famous turn-of-the-century actress (Jane Seymour). This time travel movie has the added benefit of whisking the main character and the viewer back to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. Yes, it’s a little hokey at times, but it’s worth it to see these two amazing actors together. Also starring Christopher Plummer. Rated PG


2. Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken (1991) – Take a a trip back to America’s Great Depression years and the exciting but dangerous world of diving horses. Sonora Webster (Gabrielle Anwar) is a runaway, trying to find a way to support herself. What she finds is adventure, her life’s passion as a diving girl, and a place to call home. If you’re a horse lover, like a happy ending with a few tears along the way, and like being whisked to another time and place, this might be a good pick for you! It’s based on a real story, and it’s one the whole family might enjoy. Rated G


3. Under the Greenwood Tree (2005) – based on the book by Victorian author Thomas Hardy. If you’re a period drama fan, you might recognize Keeley Hawes as Fancy Day, the new school teacher in town who, with her beauty and vivacity, attracts not one but three different suitors. The educated parson, the wealthy farmer, and the poor young tradesman. Who should she choose? Although Hardy’s books don’t all have a happy ending, I will tell you that this one does. But what I love most about the story is the peek into a small 1840s English village, and all the traditions and goings on that made up the villagers’ lives (including some wonderful English folk music!). Rated PG


4. Wildflower (1991 ) – Back to the years of the Great Depression. This time we’re off to the South, and the unlikely heroine is a beautiful, deaf young woman, Alice, who is kept locked in a shed by her violent stepfather. Enter spunky Ellie, played by a young Reese Witherspoon, and her sensitive, college-bound brother Sammy, who try to help Alice by teaching her poetry and showing her what life in a family is supposed to be. Of course her stepfather isn’t amused by all this, and of course Sammy can’t help but notice just how lovely and sweet Alice really is. I love this one! Rated PG-13


5. Love and Friendship (2016) – If you think you’ve watched and read all of Jane Austen’s works, you might be wrong if you missed this one! Austen was just eleven when she started this novel, and it was probably written only for the pleasure of her family and friends. It is dedicated to her French cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, an extremely colorful woman who’s husband was guillotined during the French Revolution. For the young Jane, these events must have been sheer inspiration to a writer’s imagination. It’s full of the wonderful wit and social criticism we expect from her later novels. Also, the deliberately complicated plot has plenty of fainting spells, deaths due to a variety of causes (including “galloping consumption”), elopements galore, unbelievable coincidences, and unscrupulous cads. One thing that struck me is that the “heroine” Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale, Emma, 1996) isn’t a particularly likable character, but the truest-hearted girl does, in the end, get her perfect match. Rated PG


6. Miss Potter (2006) – About the life of Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger), creator of Peter Rabbit and her other wonderful children’s characters. Flashbacks take us to her childhood visits to Scotland–where she began her love of nature and developed her skills as an artist. And in the present, we walk with her in her struggle to break into the publishing world as a woman and author of children’s books in Victorian England, and also through her true love, heartbreak, and eventual move to Hilltop Farm. While this film is aimed more at adults, we see cheeky Peter Rabbit and the other animals come to animated life through Potter’s imagination. Also starring Ewan McGregor. Rated PG


7. Swallows and Amazons (2016) – This adventure is one for the whole family! Four siblings in the countryside, a sailboat, and an island–what could go wrong? Maybe just a few close calls with spies, a small tribe of wild girls, and a lot of adventure. Based on the 1930s book series by English author Arthur Ransome. Rated PG


8. Tolkien (2019) – Based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the Elvish language and author of The Lord of the Rings. Much like Miss Potter didn’t have Peter Rabbit as an actual character–although he came alive to Beatrix Potter–in this film Hobbits and Orcs march across the screen as figments of Tolkien’s imagination. They are products of his university studies, of the fellowship he formed with his school friends, and of the horrors he saw in the trenches of WWI. There’s a lot of back and forth between the different stages of his life. There are so many subtleties to catch, and it’s one I’d like to watch again. It’s moving, informative, and creative. Rated PG-13


9. Emma (2020) – I didn’t think I’d like this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel after reading a few reviews. Several complained that it was all too perfect. And it’s true that many scenes seem choreographed (with the characters moving almost as if in a dance) and coordinated (with wallpaper, and cake frosting, and Emma’s intricate hair styles matching just a little too perfectly). But for me, this only made the feast for the eyes all the more sumptuous. We still see Emma’s emotions as she navigates first her friend’s heartbreak, and then her own. And Mr. Knightly has enough ruggedness to balance out the finery. Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle, 2003) is brilliant as Mr. Woodhouse. And the music! It made the film, if you ask me. The only scene I wasn’t a fan of was the proposal scene. Rated PG


10. Brooklyn (2015) – My mother grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, though her family wasn’t Italian. And her story–or maybe that of my grandparents–is in so many ways like the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan, Little Women, 2019), the young Irish woman who leaves her tiny Irish village to begin a new life in big New York city in the 1950s. It’s a story of family, of home, of love . . . it’s a story of America. Based on the book by Colm Tóibín. Rated PG-13


11. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – Huge Victorian houses, wonderful costumes, and Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Did you know it came from this film? Oh, and ketchup making, possible long distance phone proposals from New York City, misunderstandings with handsome neighbors, and a Victorian Halloween. I think this movie goes through all the seasons. And I can’t forget the excitement of the St Louis Fair. Rated PG


12. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) – In this film both Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens, Downtown Abbey) and Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, Nicholas Nickleby) star together in the story of how Dickens created A Christmas Carol, about the most famous miserly bachelor of all time. This book forever changed the way we view and celebrate Christmas. If you haven’t seen it, do! If you have, see it AGAIN, even if it’s almost summer. There are so many details to catch! It’s also the third movie listed (see 6,8) about characters coming to life to inspire an author. Rated PG


13. Belle (2013) – Tells the story of a real-life woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose father was an English sea captain and whose mother was a former slave on a Spanish ship that her father captured. As a girl, Belle is brought to England to be raised alongside her cousin, Elizabeth, by their great uncle, Lord Mansfield, at his estate. As a woman of mixed ethnicity, Belle endures coldness and even cruelty by some, even as the niece of a wealthy and powerful man. She has the attention of some undesirable suitors–but also of a man who loves her, truly. While Belle’s active involvement in the abolition movement is probably fictional, her uncle, Lord Mansfield, was indeed involved in a court case involving a slave ship and murdered slaves. This has led many to speculate that Jane Austen named her book Mansfield Park after Lord Mansfield, as she calls attention to the evils of slavery in this book. Rated PG


14. Chariots of Fire (1982) – This may be our only official academy award winner 🏆though every movie I’ve suggested is sublime, of course! Wonderful in its subtlety and understated beauty, and the fact that it’s based on the lives of two real British men. Harold Abrams, a Jewish Cambridge University student, and Eric Liddell, Scottish athlete and Christian missionary. Each was an amazing man, full of determination to do their best running for Britain at the 1924 Olympic Games. Each had a different force driving them. The writing, the acting, the scenery, all superb–and the music by Vangelis–love it!!! The running scenes are also inspiring! But what’s most inspiring to me is the life of Eric Liddell, who went on to dedicate his life to the Chinese people. Rated PG


15. The Young Victoria (2009) – The name Queen Victoria often gives us a picture of the plump, dignified, but rather dour looking woman who was photographed in her later years. But of course everyone was young, once, and this film is about just that–Victoria’s adolescent and newly married years. She was next in line to the throne after her uncle, King William. As he nears death, the ambitious Lord Conroy hopes the 18-year-old Victoria will appoint him as regent to rule in her place. Of course she turns out to be far more strong-willed and independent than expected. Meanwhile, Prince Albert of Belgium is being schooled on Victoria’s likes and dislikes, with the intent the two will marry–though he doesn’t like being told what to do any more than she does. The rest is history, but I’ll let you watch and figure it out. Screenplay written by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey. Rated PG


16. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – You can have Romeo and Juliet if I can keep THIS. I’m much more of a happy endings kind of girl. And none of Shakespeare’s comedies end happier, or are more relatable and appealing than this adaptation. This play gave us lines like, “Friendship is constant in all other things, save in the office and affairs of love.” And “Claudio is in love. With whom? . . . Look how short the answer is–with Leonato’s short daughter.” Ah, me. Quick summary – The kindly noblemen Leonato, his lovely daughter Hero, and playful niece Beatrice welcome friends home from the war. Among them are Prince Don Pedro, his sullen and bitter brother Don John, witty Benedick, and the handsome young nobleman Claudio. Benedick and Beatrice engage in a battle of wits, and Claudio falls in love with Hero. To pass the time till the wedding, they try to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love. Meanwhile, Don John plays a cruel trick, making Claudio believe Hero has been unfaithful to him . . . With beautiful Italian scenery, a wonderful soundtrack, and a cast of MANY period drama favorites (Emma Thompson, Sense & Sensibility 1995, Kate Beckinsale, Emma 1996, Robert Sean Leonard, Swing Kids 1993), this film is a treat. Rated PG-13


17. Ladies in Lavender (2004) – I’m not sure if it’s the wonderful soundtrack with music by Joshua Bell, the 1930s setting, the gorgeous Cornish scenery, the simple lives portrayed by the main characters (Hello Maggie Smith and Judy Dench), or the idea of a mysterious stranger washing up on a beach that makes me love this film so much . . . do you want to watch it already? When sisters Ursula and Janet find a young man, Andrea, washed up on their beach, unconscious and with a broken ankle, they take him in and care for him. He doesn’t speak English, so who he is and how he ended up there remains a mystery. The two sisters form an attachment to him, treating him as the son neither had–though in Ursula’s case, one wonders if it’s more of a longing for the romantic relationship she never had. They soon discover his talent on the violin . . . unfortunately, this also comes to the attention of a beautiful, foreign painter who is staying in the area. There are rumors the two are spies, but Ursula and Janet are suspicious of the woman, and remain protective of Andrea. I won’t give away the end! It’s a bittersweet film that stirs up emotions of longing for times past, forgotten memories, and people we’ve had to let go. Rated PG-13


18. Letters to Juliet (2010) – This is the only movie set after the 1950s. But with the beautiful Italian scenery, and the theme of both WRITING and ROMEO & JULIET, I thought I’d make an exception. Sophie is an American journalist visiting Verona with her fiancé, who’s there to find products for his restaurant. While he’s busy exploring vineyards and eating cheese, Sophie does her own exploring. On a visit to the house allegedly inhabited by Shakespeare’s Juliet, she notices a stone wall stuck with letters–and then sees a woman take all the letters and put them in a basket. Intrigued, Sophie follows, and finds a secret society of women who make it their business to answer each and every letter written to Juliet, asking for advice on love. On a return to the wall, a stone comes loose, and Sophie finds a letter that’s been hidden for 50 years. Sophie decides to answer the letter, and soon English Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) comes to Italy with her grandson, Charlie. This is when the journey really begins, as Sophie joins Claire and Charlie on their hunt for Claire’s lost love. Rated PG.


19. A Room with a View (1985) – One of my favorite movies ever, ever, EVER!!! The MUSIC, the SCENERY, the COSTUMES, the ROMANCE. Happy, happy, happy sigh!!! Lucy Honeychurch is in Italy as a tourist under the care of her cousin, Charlotte (Maggie Smith). But alas, they weren’t given a room with a view of the Arno River, as promised. An English father and son offer to switch rooms with them, but Charlotte worries it’s not quite proper. Despite her efforts to keep Lucy from the son, George, Lucy ends up being kissed by him (best movie kiss ever). Their new novelist friend, Eleanor Lavish (Judy Dench), thinks it’s romantic, but Charlotte is horrified and whisks Lucy back to England. There, Lucy becomes engaged to bookish Cecil (Daniel Day Lewis). Everything seems to be going well until George and his father take a house in the village. Based on the book by E.M. Forster. Have you seen it? Do you love it too? *This film is not rated. There’s a scene where the men go for a swim in their birthday suits, so get your remote ready.


20. Tea with Mussolini (1999) – Not only does this film take us back to stunning Florence, Italy, but we’re joined once again by Maggie Smith and Judy Dench, who were in both A Room with a View and Ladies in Lavender. In this film, they’re joined by Joan Plowright (Jane Eyre, 1996). A group of cultured ex-patriot British women meet weekly in a local museum for tea, as Europe is on the brink of being thrown into WWII. Then they have Luca, the young boy that Mary (Plowright) has charge of, and who they all keep a watchful eye over. The Fascists may be planning some big changes in Italy, but these strong women aren’t interested in letting Mussolini or anyone upset their ways–or harm the people they care about. They will be brave–and they’ll do it with style! *Another fascinating thing about this film is that it’s based on the autobiography of the director, Franco Zeffirelli. Rated PG


21. Swing Kids (1993) – A romantic but also more serious movie than the others I’ve suggested. Swing Kids, starring Christian Bale (Little Women,1994) and Robert Sean Leonard (Much Ado About Nothing,1993), brings to life the Swingjugand (Swing Youth) of Germany, who risked everything to stand for freedom–specifically by daring to meet together for the forbidden but popular swing dance and jazz music. These young people admired the American way of life and sought to oppose the National-Socialist ideology. It wasn’t a stand for their faith, but it was a stand for freedom. This film is about friendship, love, and standing for what is right. You will love the dancing. The soundtrack is amazing!!! But also expect the heavy themes included in most WWII films. Rated PG-13


22. I Capture the Castle (2003) – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink . . . ” I’ll begin the review the way the book begins, in a most quirky, inviting sort of way. The book continues as it began… surprising, interesting, delightful at every turn. The film is also sweet and quirky, but what the movie fails to capture is the magic, the voice, the insight into the head and heart of a 1930’s English girl living in a damp, ruined castle. Cassandra Mortmain’s (Romola Garai, Emma, 2009) father (Bill Nighy, Emma 2020) is a struggling author who just received the final royalty check from his last book. Just when the family are desperate, and scheming ways to make money for food, enter two handsome, confident young Americans who have inherited the estate next door. The girls scheme to get Cassandra’s older sister Rose engaged to the eldest brother, and it seems to work . . . the problem is that Cassandra herself falls desperately in love with him. Meanwhile, their hired hand, Stephen (Henry Cavill, Enola Holmes) is in love with Cassandra. Written by Dodie Smith (author of 101 Dalmatians) when she was stuck in America during WWII, and had a serious homesickness for England. I think you’ll LIKE the film and absolutely LOVE the book. Surprisingly, rated R. Apparently for brief nudity (when Cassandra sunbathes on the castle roof or bathes in the moat)?


23. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – WWII has ended, and people are still picking up the pieces of their lives–some still left wondering about the fate of their missing relatives. Orphaned writer, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), is feeling lost herself. Her latest book didn’t sell well, she’s out of ideas, and she doesn’t know where to call home or what to do next. One thing she does have is a friendship–by letter only–with the unlikely members of a literary society on the British Island of Guernsey, which was occupied by the Nazis during the war. They are still waiting for the return of one of their members, Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay). Juliet is recently engaged, but feels compelled to go to Guernsey to meet her friends and perhaps write about their society? What she finds on the island is a whole lot more than she expected. Here’s where I HAVE to say again that this film is really so good, but based on a book that is EVEN better!!! Also, you will recognize 4 cast members from Downton Abbey! Rated PG-13


24. The Man From Snowy River (1982) – Some of the most epic films were made in the 80s, and in my opinion, this is one of them. This movie is based on a poem, which in turn is based on the legend (or history) of a great horse rider who could tame wild horses and stay on his saddle through any terrain. It’s the movie that changed how I see the name Jessica (beautiful). It’s also the classic Cinderella story, but reversed, where a poor but hardworking young man falls for the beautiful, wealthy rancher’s daughter . . . oh, and it’s all done Australian style. With a wonderful cast, including Kirk Douglas, Sigrid Thornton, and Tom Burlinson, this movie has all the adventure, romance, breathtaking scenery, and beautiful music you could ask for. It’s also a horse lover’s dream. Rated PG


25. Little Women (1994) – I like every adaptation of the book by Louisa May Alcott, but for me, this version will always be best. I find it to be a masterpiece for the eyes, the ears, and the heart. If you don’t know the story, the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are home with their mother while their father is fighting the American Civil War. The girls stay busy with attic theatricals, playing the piano, writing, and other pursuits meant to improve themselves. Meanwhile, young Laurie (Christian Bale, Swing Kids,1993) moves in with this wealthy grandfather next door, and can’t help but be drawn to the March family–especially Jo, though she isn’t sure she feels the same. Rated PG


26. Great Expectations (2012) – A must-watch adaptation of Charles Dickens’ must-read novel. One thing I love about watching multiple film adaptations of a favorite classic is comparing how different actors play a part. Helena Bonham Carter (A Room with a View, 1985) was perfect as eccentric Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes very emotional as escaped prisoner, Magwitch, who’s helped by young orphaned Pip. Pip is later brought in to be a companion to Miss Havisham’s ward, Estella. He was meant to love her, and she was taught to never love him. But then one day Pip finds he’s been left a fortune by a mysterious benefactor. Could this change everything for him and Estella? Rated PG-13


27. Swept from the Sea (1997) – Based on the story “Amy Foster” by Joseph Conrad, this tragic tale of love between Russian emigrant Yanko Goorall–who is washed ashore in England when his America-bound ship is lost–and a girl from the Cornish coast. While most people in the small village are afraid of Yanko, he is befriended by the local doctor (Ian McKellan, Lord of the Rings), who finds Yanko is very good at chess. He also gets the notice of loner Amy, who is an outcast because of circumstances surrounding her birth. This one might leave you bawling, but I loved the cast of familiar British actors, the scenery, and the unusualness of the story. Rated PG-13


28. Nicholas Nickleby (2002) – Dark and frightening, romantic and sweet, funny and clever, and very sentimental. This story is all that a Dickens story should be (based on his novel of the same name). It follows the young Nicholas Nickleby, from his idyllic country home, to the streets of London, to the horrors of Do the Boys Hall, the boarding school in Yorkshire where he lands a post as teacher’s assistant. The boarding school bits really are quite frightening! Favorite line “I stuck up for thee. He said thee weren’t fit to live with pigs. I said thee were,” (Said in a heavy Yorkshire accent). Boasts a wonderful cast, including Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Invented Christmas), Romola Garai (Emma, 2009), Jim Broadbent (Brooklyn, 2015), and Jamie Belle (Jane Eyre, 2011). Rated PG


29. A Royal Night Out (2015) – Britain has been cooped up for six long years during WWII, and now the whole world is out celebrating–At least it seems so to 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth (called “Lilibet”) and her 14-year-old sister, Margaret Rose (nicknamed “Princess 2” or simply “P2”). The two hatch a plan to join the masses incognito. Elizabeth convinces her father that if she’s in the crowd, she can much better assess what the honest public response is. Her 14-year-old sister, Margaret, just wants to drink champagne and show off her passion for the Lindy Hop at the Ritz Hotel dance. Their father, The King, insists on two officers as chaperones (This really happened in 1945), but it doesn’t take long for the girls to fix this problem, and what results is a night full of romance, mishaps, and fun. Most of their adventure is probably just fanciful imaginings of what the two young royals might have gotten up to during their one night living as commoners, but I loved “seeing” our Queen as she might have been as a young woman. Rated PG-13


30. Jane Eyre (1996) – A little investigation might reveal the existence of more adaptations of Jane Eyre than you’d realized! I love them all, and this version directed by Franco Zeffirelli (director of Romeo and Juliet, 1968, and whose life Tea with Mussolini is based on) is no exception. Have you seen it? If you aren’t at all familiar with Jane Eyre, it’s the story of an orphaned girl cast off by her wealthy aunt and sent to a harsh charity school for girls. She eventually advertises, and finds a place as governess at the grand but eerie Thornfield Hall. She loves her young French charge, but many clues lead her to believe all is not what it seems, including the brooding owner. Starring Dame Joan Plowright (Tea with Mussolini, 1999) and Charlotte Gainsboroug (Le Misérables, 2000). Not rated.

31. Mansfield Park (2007) – I know I said 30 movies, but I love giving a bonus! Young Fanny Price is sent to live with her wealthy relations at Mansfield Park. While the family treat her tolerably well, they also like to remind her of her lower place. It’s only her cousin, Edmund (Emma, 2009), who treats her as an equal. They are the best of friends, and Fanny hopes they can be more. Enter attractive, stylish new neighbors, brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford, and things begin to change–but Fanny isn’t sure it’s for the better. Based on the book by Jane Austen. Rated PG

Still need something to watch? Did you know there are two other versions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park?

I’d love to hear below–did I list one of your all-time favorites? Did you find one you’ve never seen before?

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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Romantic as they seem to us modern folk, stage coaches and sailing ships and horses weren’t the fastest or easiest way to travel the world–nor were they something that everyone in Jane Austen’s England could afford. Unless you were a sailor, a soldier, or a diplomat, you likely spent most of your life in The British Isles. Many never left the county or shire where they were born, and spent their lives with the people in their village. That’s why so much hubbub and excitement ensued when a new teacher, or minister, or peddler arrived in town–or when the gentlefolk from London came to stay at their country estates (we readers and watchers of period dramas could give you plenty of examples here!). Even if you were among the very privileged English youth who took the Grand Tour of Europe, you weren’t as likely to come into contact with non-Europeans. Many parts of the world were yet undiscovered by the West, or were shut away from outsiders, and so it wasn’t often that people saw–much less interacted with–people who looked different from themselves. It’s not like today, where most of us can freely explore almost every corner of our beautiful earth, and where we come in contact with people of different ethnicities and cultures almost every day–if not in real life, than on the Internet or TV.

The Cast of Sanditon

Sadly, the African slave trade was still in existence during Austen’s time, and it was this evil practice that brought many from the African continent into contact with Europeans. Much of this contact was in the Caribbean, where some British had plantations. In my post Jane Austen and Slavery I explored the abolitionists that Austen knew or admired, and the way she raised awareness of slavery in her book Mansfield Park (did you know there are three film adaptations?!). From Austen’s prayers, we can assume she held to the Christian faith–or at least held to the Christian belief that we are ALL descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore all created in the image of God. Not only did she point out the evils of slavery in Mansfield Park, in her unfinished book Sanditon, she went a step further by including a black character, Georgiana Lambe. Georgiana’s father was a plantation owner, and her mother was originally a slave. But now the young heiress has been taken from sunny Antigua and placed in England, in the care of Sidney Parker (heroine Charlotte Heywood’s love interest). In the mini series adaptation of Sanditon, Georgiana (Crystal Clarke) isn’t happy with her situation. But some good things do come from her stay in England–the friendship that forms between Georgiana and Charlotte (Rose Williams) . . . and a little romance, which Charlotte helps Georgiana keep secret from Sidney (Theo James).

Heiress Georgiana Lambe & Charlotte Heywood
Georgiana & sweetheart, Otis

Jane Austen sadly passed away before completing Sanditon, so we don’t know how the book would have been received at the time. But I couldn’t help but recognize the similarities between the fictional Georgiana and the real life woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose story is told in the 2013 movie, Belle. I love searching for connections between fiction and real life! Could Austen have heard of–or even known someone who met–the real Dido Belle? Dido was the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Naval officer, John Lindsay, and a young black woman named Maria Bell, who was a slave on a Spanish ship that was captured by Lindsay. Their daughter, Dido, was eventually taken to England and put in the care of her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, to be raised on his estate in north London. It’s been speculated that Jane Austen intentionally chose Mansfield as the name of the estate and title of her book, Mansfield Park, in which she addresses slavery. Perhaps with the way her character Georgiana’s life resembles Dido’s, Austen also intended to make connections between the two women.

Dido & Elizabeth, Belle (2013)

As a woman of mixed ethnicity, Dido (Belle), like the fictional Georgiana, faced challenges in English society. The film explores some of the coldness and even open hostility that Dido likely had to endure, even as the niece of a powerful and wealthy man. But she was raised with a cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, and the two seem to have been best friends. One of the wonderful things left from this relationship is the painting we have of the two young women. Today, the painting hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland, which I visited many times when I lived there. If only I’d paid more attention!

Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth
Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth as portrayed in the movie

As Austen only wrote about 20,000 words of Sanditon, we don’t know exactly what she had planned for the life of Georgiana Lambe. Many have continued the work as they thought it should go, beginning with Jane’s niece, Anna LeFroy, who claimed to have discussed the novel with Austen (though Anna wrote quite a lot, she sadly didn’t finish the story). And of course producer Andrew Davies (Screenwriter for Pride & Prejudice, 1995) continued the story as he thought it should go in the 2019 miniseries, Sanditon. There, Sidney, who believes Otis is a no-good fortune hunter, seems to succeed in separating him from Georgiana. In the film, Belle, we also see Dido being pursued by fortune hunters.

Dido and suitor Oliver Ashford (James Norton)
Dido & John Davinier

While we don’t know Davies’ future plans for Sanditon Season 2, and the rest of Miss Lambe’s story, we do know that Dido fell in love and married a Mr. John Davinier, who–from what we can gather–truly cared for her. While the film portrays him as a minister and abolitionist, he was in fact a Steward for a wealthy employer. Dido was left with a modest inheritance from her father and uncle, and the two must have lived in relative comfort. They had 3 sons. Much like Jane Austen, Dido passed away in her early 40s. But for those years she had with her husband and children, I hope she was happy. I hope Andrew Davies will give Georgiana a happy ending, too. Jane Austen insisted that all her heroines have a happy ending, and so I really feel he must!

Have you seen the miniseries Sanditon or the film Belle? Did you notice any similarities between them? How do you think the story will end for Miss Lambe? Belle is the final film in my Countdown to Spring Weekend Movie Pick 🌷 – Find Happy Little Sigh on Facebook, Instagram, or MeWe for the complete list of 26 favorite period drama films!!!

Avonlea x

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Instagram / Facebook / MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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“Stop saying ‘he.’” My husband, John, stared over the steering wheel as we headed south. “It’s made of fabric and stuffing, that makes it an IT.” Earlier, he’d suggested Charlie was too old to drag around a stuffed rabbit, anyway. He was being strong, but I knew he felt like crying as much as I did. So I didn’t argue, turned to stare out at the cloud-like hills of September green. Okay, so Peter was an “It,” but I still felt like we were leaving behind a very piece of ourselves.

Charlie with Peter and his blanket, Nat-nat, at 1 year old.

I’d bought the 9-inch (ears included) stuffed rabbit for Charlie when he was 3 months old, and it quickly became his lovey. But more than simply needing the rabbit at bedtime, Peter became his best bud. In almost every photo of Charlie, Peter’s head or ears or tail can be seen somewhere in the picture. In Charlie’s arms, or mine, or at the very least, lying close by. I have hardly a memory from Charlie’s 5 years on earth that don’t include Peter. Every trip, mealtime, bedtime routine—all with Peter and Charlie.

And then there’s how Charlie used Peter to talk to us, putting on a high-pitched voice as he moved Peter’s head. It seemed rather like Peter was part of who Charlie was. How could he be the same boy without his “Petey,” as he liked to call him? And yet here we were, heading full speed away from . . . wherever Peter was.

It wasn’t as though we hadn’t tried to find him. During our end-of-summer stay in Northern Michigan, we’d remembered seeing Peter a few times. But the last two days, with all our toing and froing—visiting old forts and lighthouses, swimming in the lake, returning to the cabin to roast marshmallows at night—I hadn’t noticed Peter was missing. It was only on the last day, as I packed up coolers, sleeping bags, and camping gear, that Peter wasn’t anywhere to be found.

That’s when I knew—though the man doth protest too much—that my husband did, indeed, care about Peter. Or, to say it better, cared about what Peter meant to Charlie. We spent at least two hours retracing our steps. Crossing the mighty Mackinac Island Bridge that connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas–paying the $8.00 toll–to check the Museum of Ojibwa Culture, which was the last place we’d clearly remembered seeing Peter. John even looked through the trash. Then another toll to cross back over the bridge, where we re-checked the campground and the restaurants where we’d been. When we ran out of places to look, we started the long drive home, though I hadn’t given up. I started calling every place of business, chamber of commerce, and museum I could think of, leaving them with my name and number, just in case. When we got home, I did the same with Facebook groups. I lay in bed for hours that night, thinking of Peter lying all alone under a bush, or worse, torn to shreds by some dog that might have happened upon him. Oh, Petey. Someone had to have found him, and didn’t they understand?!?! Couldn’t they see, by Peter’s very well-loved state, that this was no ordinary bunny? That he meant a great deal to some little person who needed him very much? But after a few days passed and I didn’t hear from anyone, I began to give up hope.

The last photo taken Up North with Charlie & Peter

Charlie seemed to have confidence that we’d find Peter, but I kept catching him with a distant, not-quite-himself look in his eyes, and once, he said to me, “I just keep wondering—where is Peter?”

Then a package came for Charlie from a friend of mine— a stuffed rabbit and a raccoon, with a note saying she hoped these animals would cheer Charlie up since he was feeling so sad. I was so grateful to my sweet friend, and Charlie happily added these animals (especially the rabbit) to his bunny family.

And then—THEN!—came a response to one of my Facebook pleas—a woman Up North had the same stuffed version of Peter Rabbit, and would happily send it to us! I messaged back with a resounding “Yes!” And so we waited some more, filled with relief, but wondering if Charlie would detect that this wasn’t his Peter. Then the package came, looking much bigger than one would expect for a small stuffed bunny. In the box was the rabbit . . . along with a hardcover photo album. Inside, were both pictures and a story of how Peter had been lost, what he’d done when he and Charlie were apart, and how Peter made his way back home. The kind woman must have driven all over to pose Peter in different locations, and spent hours putting the book together. John and I were blown away. We sniffed and swiped at our eyes as we read through the book. When we handed Peter to Charlie, he hesitated at first, but then squeezed his bunny tight. Petey was home at last! When he saw the album he couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.

How could we receive such a gift from a perfect stranger? Someone who knew nothing about our family, or Charlie, or what Peter meant to us all? This woman was such an example of kindness to us. She, and my friend who sent Charlie the rabbit and raccoon. This showed me the great power we all have to bring joy into the lives of others—even to those we have never met.

If you ever happen upon a very loved-looking stuffed someone, make a child and a mama’s heart glad by trying to find the owner. Try local Facebook pages or log your discovery into lostmylovey.com

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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Lockdowns and race riots. Isolation and old wounds. What on earth does Jane Austen have to do with it all? A lot, it turns out. An awful lot.

While I’ve read both Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, and have watched the film adaptations more times than I care to admit (who else can join this club?), I never got the urge to snuggle up on the sofa with a blanket, a cup of tea, and Mansfield Park, Austen’s 3rd published novel. One viewing of the film adaptations was enough, and those never inspired me to read the book.

But one of my lockdown activities was to re-watch the 1999 and 2007 versions of Mansfield Park as well as give the 1983 version a chance. The 80s version had always looked too–well, slow. And slow it was–deliciously slow, if you’re hankering to see nearly all of the dialogue and scenes from Austen’s novel brought to the screen. Although the cinematography and soundtrack aren’t quite the delight to the senses that the later versions are (it was rather like watching a play), after seeing the 80s version, the others seemed horribly rushed. Entire scenes and characters from the novel had been cut out. Not only that, but Fanny herself–the dutiful, steady, almost timid character that Austen created–had been lost and turned into something more flashy and exciting. One review of the 1999 version was titled, “Please, Miramax, Don’t Call it Mansfield Park” (Rosenbaum) because of the films extreme alteration of Fanny Price.

Frances O’Conner & Johnny Lee Miller in Mansfield Park, 1999

I also realized something more significant that I so disliked about the 1999 version in particular–its inclusion of slavery. While tending her bedridden cousin, Tom, who has just returned from Antigua, Fanny discovers his sketchbook. It is full of horrifying depictions of the goings on at the family’s plantation. The pictures are upsetting, and the fact that slavery is presented, but not dealt with, didn’t sit well with me.

In the novel, Fanny and her cousin Edmund have a conversation–

“Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?”

“I Did – and was in hopes the question would be followed by others.  It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”

“And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence!”

One wonders what was meant by this “dead silence.” Was the family disinterested or embarrassed by mention of the slave trade? Whatever the case, they were not eager to speak of it. I wondered what Austen herself, thought, and started digging . . .

Billie Piper & Blake Ritson, Mansfield Park, 2007

What did Austen think about slavery? Why did she mention it in her book? After all, Austen’s world is one where one can count on villains getting their comeuppance and all being put to right. I watch and read Austen to escape to a world of balls and empire waist dresses, where the biggest threat is a marriage proposal from the likes of Mr. Collins–not to be shown one of the world’s greatest evils, only to have it left unresolved. And though I still think Mansfield Park is in a different category because of the inclusion of this grave topic, on further examination I’ve realized it’s not as different from Austen’s other novels as I first thought.

Woven through her stories of romance and happy endings she included many social issues which concerned her, such as the custom of marrying for money and social status rather than suitability and love. She made many statements about morality through the repercussions her characters faced as a result of their choices. The outcomes of their lives are meant to make us consider our own. And though she could not erase slavery, she made a statement about this, too.

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.

– Fanny Price, Mansfield Park

The most obvious statement is made with the title of the book–Mansfield Park. It is believed by many scholars that Austen chose this name because of Lord Mansfield, who presided over the case of James Somerset, a slave who escaped from his owner while on English soil.  Mansfield declared that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will. By using the name of this well known judge, who declared slavery “odious” (White), Austen was most likely making her own views known.

Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell in Mansfield Park, 1983

Mansfield Park was completed in 1813, just five years after The Slave Trade Act of 1807 abolished slavery in the United Kingdom. Austen would have been very aware of the goings on in the Caribbean, both because of current events, and because of her own family’s involvement (her brother was in the navy and intercepted a Portuguese slave ship, her father was made the trustee of a plantation, while her cousins settled in the West Indies). This all would have given her insight into many of the ins and outs of the slave trade, and also most likely the horrors of the practice, which she would have known about when she wrote Mansfield Park.

As further evidence of her opinion on slavery, in one of her letters to her sister Cassandra, she writes of her “love” for the writing of prominent abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson (Davis). She was also fan of poet William Cowper, a fervent abolitionist, who wrote poems such as “The Negro’s Complaint” (Tomalin). It seems very likely from her writings, especially her prayers, that Jane Austen had a strong Christian faith, and the Christian worldview that all people are made in God’s image would certainly have affected her view of the slave trade (Haykin).

And speaking of abolitionists, my lockdown movie binge also led me back to the film Amazing Grace, 2006. This movie depicts the lives of William Wilberforce, British politician and leader in the movement to abolish slavery, and John Newton, former slave ship captain who penned the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” after God changed his heart and life. This was a great movie to share with my oldest boys, and brought up some important conversations. I was also delighted to see that Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell, who play Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 version of Mansfield Park, play Marianne and Henry Thornton, friends of Wilberforce. How wonderful that they were able to act in two films with such important messages.

Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell as Marianne & Henry Thornton, Amazing Grace, 2006

If you haven’t seen any of the above films–or indeed read Mansfield Park–they are wonderful ways to learn about some of the people from history who have stood against the mistreatment of others, particularly with regards to slavery. Lord Mansfield, John Newton, William Wilberforce, and even our own Jane Austen (now don’t we like her even more?).

More amazing things about Jane Austen & fun literary & movie connections coming soon…

Avonlea x

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Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday

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Quarantine and stay-at-home is these four walls, and this same view. It is little more in terms of location than a trip to the supermarket every two weeks, or a stroll around the block for some exercise. And so holidays, and visits, and adventures must be had by way of video chats, movies, and books. But what if it could be more? What if you could spend your quarantined time not just reading, but living in the pages of a book and being its heroine for a while? If you could do just that, to which if these five period classics would you escape for a month?

1. Jane Eyre – You’d have a large room to yourself, complete with four-poster bed and a view of the gardens in a beautiful, but slightly spooky English manor house. Your mornings would be spent studying French, Geography, and Flora & Fauna with Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ward. Your afternoons would be spent painting, or wandering the moors and gardens of Thornfield Hall. In the evenings, you could have long talks with Mr. Rochester, or chat with the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. It would be a quiet escape to a beautiful place with some good company, but you’d have do endure the occasional eerie noises outside your door at night.Jane Eyre

 

2. Little Women – You’d share a cozy room with your sisters, complete with a fireplace, lots of quilts and books, and a view of your quaint New England village. Your mornings would be spent taking food to the needy, or reading to your Great Aunt Josephine. Your afternoons would be spent having walks in the woods with your charming but incorrigible neighbor, Laurie. In the evenings, you could do some playacting in the attic with your sisters, or stay up late into the night writing by candlelight. This would be an escape full of lovely people and lovely ideas, but you might occasionally find yourself a little bored and longing for more adventure. littlewomen199413

 

3. Anne of Green Gables – You’d have a bedroom to yourself, complete with iron bed, washstand, and a view of green farmland. You’d spend your mornings at the small island school, where you’d learn to spell C-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m, and would have to endure teasing by Gilbert Blythe. You’d spend your afternoons strolling along the shore beneath the lighthouse with Diana Berry, or holding tea parties, or reenacting poems like “The Lady of Shallot.” You could spend your evenings sitting by the fire chatting with Matthew and Marilla, or reading books. This would be happy escape to a cozy community, but you might grow tired of the taunting from Josie Pye, and with the ugly dresses Marilla makes you wear. green gables house

 

4. Pride & Prejudice – You’d have to share a bedroom in your large family home in England with your sister Jane, complete with beautiful furnishings and a view of your family’s small park. Your mornings would be spent reading, or listening to your sisters squabble. Your afternoons would be spent walking in the garden picking flowers, or visiting your friend Charlotte Lucas. In the evenings you could attend balls and gatherings, where you’d get the chance to mingle with many different people, including Mr. Darcy. This escape would present a good mixture of peaceful and exciting moments, but you might not like having to be polite to Mr. Whickam, or putting up with withering looks from Mr. Bingley’s sisters. pride and prejudice dance

 

5. Little House on the Prairie – You’d share a room with your sister in your family’s simple pioneer home with a view of the rolling prairie. You’d spend your mornings doing chores like churning butter, collecting eggs, and kneading bread. Your afternoons would be spent exploring outside with your sisters, or taking a trip to town in the wagon with Pa. In the evenings, you could listen to Pa tell stories or play folk songs on his fiddle, or sit outside by the fire and look at the stars. You’d learn a lot of practical skills in this escape, and have a happy, wholesome time, but you might feel like you need a vacation from all the hard work when you get back. prairie-e1510179053375-1-850x510

So, which would you choose? Share your pick below, or share on Facebook or Instagram and see how your friends would vote!

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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My One Sure Thing

One would think that certain things could be relied upon. Things that, not matter how much we fail, will be there for us–always. There for us, relied upon, because THEY–those infinitely more wealthy and successful and knowledgeable that we–will make them happen. Things like the Summer Olympics. The Eurovision Song Contest. The Tony Awards. Something I hear is called March Madness. And more local things like school. A local festival. Spring sports. Our favorite restaurant. There for us. Because that’s the way it’s been. Always.

But as we have seen over the past few months, something small that started on the other side of the world can gather enough force to undo and all of these things. Enough force to shut down worldwide events, put world leaders in the hospital, create global panic, and in its wake leave death, loss of freedom, and drain away what many have been working decades to build. The truth is, not even world leaders have the power to control such things. World leaders, and the rich, and the famous, cannot always keep their empires going, or even keep their own hearts beating. And nor can you and I. We, like they, are human, limited by by our own strength and understanding.

I have realized this more than ever in this surreal, mind-numbing past month. So much changed, so fast. I do not know it all. I cannot control it all. But there is One who does. I am so thankful that although I cannot promise my children that ANYTHING is sure in this life, I CAN promise them that one day all of us who love Jesus will be together in His beautiful kingdom, forever. At the end of every NO, or MAYBE, or FOR A LITTLE WHILE on earth, there is a resounding, Yes! Yes! Forever Yes! in Heaven. If you are still relying on the great and mighty of this world, on your own health, on your own bank account to be your salvation, remember what little it can take to strip these things away. Even those of us who live to be ninety-nine will one day have to face the next life. I’m so thankful I’ll be facing Jesus. Death could not hold Him, and He is holding me. He is my One Sure Thing.

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God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

 

The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

Happy Easter! He is risen indeed.

Avonlea x

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From her supermarket bags she unpacked the makings of our meal—potatoes, and veg, and a chicken, still raw. And when I saw it all my heart leapt, because I knew she’d stay a while.

Work had called John away. And days were long, but nights were longer in our wee stone cottage, just baby and me. But that night she came. We had painted our kitchen walls Egyptian Sand, and in their yellow glow I watched as she peeled the veg, covered the chicken, and set it all to cook. I watched her, and we chatted, and then she sat with me. While I nursed my baby. While I gave him his bath. While I changed him and finally laid him down to sleep. And then we ate together. Me, just 27. Her, exactly 30 years older, though the years never mattered much to me. We ate, and we talked, and we sat. Catriona was her name.

That sitting was not the first time, nor was it the last.  Early days in our marriage, we’d often find ourselves at her table. Sunday dinner, beneath the black and white photograph of her husband Alex with the Queen Mother. Alex’s black robes flapping as he greeted the royal outside the old stone church. While we talked with her boys, laughed at their yellow budgie, Bart, smells would drift from the kitchen hatch–roast beef and boiled potatoes. To our right, through the great picture window, Catriona’s garden, where Scottish sun set to sparkle drops of Scottish rain on the lady’s mantle leaves. Catriona would scurry in the kitchen, the rest of us would speak.

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A Christmas Party at our cottage with three of Catriona’s boys, Graham, Ian, and Alistair. Here, I’m expecting the Professor.

And her four boys became like brothers—or like cousins to us, at least. The meal would begin with Catriona’s soup. It always ended with tea. Then the stories came, and the music, when Alex took down his guitar. True tales of dinners with Queens, talk of revival, Celtic melodies that stirred the heart. All shared with the modesty and ordinariness of their brown carpet, their family photos, their stacks of tapes and CDs. The sacred disguised as the ordinary. Sometimes I marveled that they enjoyed the company of little old me.

Catriona was a teacher, and in those days, so was I. And we taught a year in the same school, my class so naughty I’d hide in the cupboard at lunchtime and cry. But after school I’d feel better, when Catriona sat with me. She would crunch her apple, and I would grade away. At report card time, she came to our flat, helped me write them, and once again, she sat.

And when we bought our ramshackle cottage, she came to help with repairs. With the overgrown garden, the red shag carpet on the stairs. When summer came she took cuttings from her flowers, taught me how to make them grow. Climbing clematis, purple hebes, and the bright primrose. And she taught me how to make chicken stock. How she got her scones fluffy (though mine will always be like rocks). I will always remember the squeak in her young voice when she declared, “You’re doing an amazing job!”

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A wonderful Sunday afternoon at Catriona’s (she’s in red), along with her dear husband Alex, son Graham, and friends George and Elizabeth Barnie.  The Professor was almost one.

When the Professor was born, she invited me round—tired, sleepless, bewildered new mum that I was—and promptly sent me for a nap. Below me, my baby in her arms, she rocked him, she soothed him, she sat. I heard all about her boys—stories from when they were small. And I didn’t dream I’d be like her, with four handsome sons in all. And their first bed was his first bed—a little wooden cradle lent to me. And I can hear her say that “Boys are best!” with cheery certainty. Thirty years between us then, but in those days I considered her my very best friend.

When it came time to move south three hours to Dundee, she came for days to help me pack. Moving day, she insisted on driving with me, though I can’t recall how she got back.

As often as I could, I’d go see her. There’d be soup, and scones, and tea. And she’d take out the toys that were once her boys, and spread them out for mine. “You’re such a clever mum! Such an inspiration!” she’d always say. And I was so content sitting with her, just whiling the hours away.

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My sister and niece came to visit from the States. We took Catriona out for tea. I remember John prayed, thanking God for Catriona, which made her cry. The Professor was four.

I learned so much about her, from all those hours we sat. She wasn’t fond of goat’s cheese. She wrote in teensy, tiny, sometimes hard-to-read script. She never said a bad word about another person. And she never complained. Not once.

When we moved back to the States, and she was far away, I’d think of her nearly every day. John and I would speak of “being a Catriona.” We both knew what that meant. I treasured every Christmas card and letter that she sent. I remembered the things she taught me. I remembered the ways she’d helped. But most of all I missed the times when together, we just sat.

When we returned a few years later, she welcomed us with a smile. There was soup, a meal, and tea, and just sitting together a while. She brought out toys for the boys. And she spoke of the joys of the girls now in her life. Daughters-in-law! A granddaughter! She told me they were “just great!” And I longed for a girl, but like Catriona, I supposed I, too, could wait.

Another sweet friend held a gathering—soup, tea, and cakes. And my heart ached from the joy of seeing each dear, sweet face. When the night ended Catriona was the last one to depart. Before she left I gave her hug and a soft tartan heart.

Earlier this year I emailed her, sharing our adoption plans. Of the little girl I’d longed for, because I knew she’d understand. And I dreamed of returning to Scotland, with all my family. I couldn’t wait to see Catriona, and share soup, and scones, and tea. I couldn’t wait to feel the love as together we just sat. Because I guess in my heart, I always felt a bit like Catriona’s lass.

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At Auntie Catriona’s house on our last visit to Scotland. See all her lovely flowers? Here, I’m expecting Little Bear. The Professor was eight.

But early this summer, I got it. A message from her son. And she hadn’t been ill, but an accident, and suddenly she was gone. And I could not stop the crying. And I never knew this pain. And now I understand, so this is what it is…

So this is what it is . . . to be distracted a moment with some ordinary task—spreading the boys’ toast, or tucking in chairs — only to remember and have it hit me again like a splash of ice water on my face, this disbelieving, numbing shock.

So this is what it is . . . to feel a sense of panic, an urgency that something must be done, even as my muddled brain tries to comprehend that nothing. can. be. done.

So this is what it is . . . to search frantically through Facebook posts and old boxes of cards and photos, just to see a face, and read old words once again.

And I could weep, and weep, and weep.

I mourn that I will never again see a Christmas card from her lying on the mat. That I will never again hear her cute, squeaky voice say, “Avonlea, you’re such a pet!” That I will never again stand in her garden while she points out some new flower she has grown. That when we next visit Scotland we won’t sit at her table having tea and scones. That I will never again feel the strength and love I felt from sitting there with my friend. It’s like not being able to ever go back home again.

CATRIONA

“Mrs. Muir’s Boys,” Kenneth, Graham, Ian, and Alistair

She taught me so much. About cooking. About gardening. About asking God’s help to love the difficult people in our lives. But most of all she taught me the life-giving power of offering your time. Of rolling up your sleeves. Of being there. Of showing up. Of simply sitting with someone through life.

For that is what she did. She sat with me through life.

And there is such power in it. In sacrificial, real, tangible love.

She was a teacher, a baker, a gardener, a friend, a wife, a granny, a mum. And though her achievements might not seem noteworthy by society’s standards, for me she was as splendid as she could possibly be. She loved with me an everyday, ordinary, life-changing love. For even when her husband was ill, and she had her own family to care for, she made the time to help a new wife and mum. Despite the challenging moments in her own life, she made a point to sit with me through mine. And I loved her so very much.

And I could not bear the searing pain of such a loss if I did not believe with all my heart that one day, we will be sit together again in a garden, so like her own (oh, won’t she love that Celestial Garden!). If I did not believe her to be already with the Saviour she loved and lived for, her tears already wiped dry. If I did not know that she has been delivered safely to her Heavenly Home (2 Timothy 4:18). She has been delivered safely, though we from this end cannot see. She is safe, and she is home.

A piece of myself has gone there with her, and there it will remain until we meet again.

And the realms of Heaven grow closer still . . .

Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.

~ Proverbs 31:29-31

Avonlea x

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

 

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We sat side-by-side at the edge of our bed, the mobile held up between us, on speaker phone.

“Three years old or younger,” we said adamantly to the adoption worker, with nods of our heads, “and not a year more.”

Three years old or younger–smaller than Little Bear. And it was our agency’s policy to only allow adoptions in birth order, anyway, and wasn’t I just longing for sippy cups, and unicorn onesies, and frilly socks? All the things I never got to have with a daughter of my own.

And so we began. First came the lists to review–the requirements for each country. Average age of adopted child. Common disabilities. Cost. And it seemed wrong to even choose a country, like one chooses a house, but before anything could be signed, and any path taken, decide we must.

My heart was set on Eastern Europe or Latin America. In these countries I had first seen children on the streets. Digging through trash cans at McDonald’s. Begging for a meal. And yet from all we were told, adopting a younger child from either of these places could mean a long, long wait–sometimes 5 years or more. And I knew that we could not.

And so after confusion, and tears of frustration, we settled at last on China. The paperwork was printed, our names signed on the dot. And hadn’t the children and I been learning Mandarin for the past five years? And didn’t we have friends who had adopted from there? And didn’t we long to see this beautiful country? And didn’t it all make sense?

And yet something in my heart felt the disquiet of a wrong road taken, and would not be put to rest. And so even as we started down one road, I found myself searching for something that felt lost. At night times I would pray, and scan the waiting child list, just searching for I knew not what.

Then came one night, at about eleven, all my scanning stopped. I stared at my phone, and staring back at me, the dark eyes of a beautiful 14-year-old girl from Colombia. I couldn’t sleep that night. Not one wink. And again, a few nights after that. Finally, I mentioned her to John. Everything about her–the description, the pictures, the smile–tugged deeply at my heart.

“After we adopt a toddler, we need to go back and adopt a teenage girl,” I said.

“One child at a time,” he said.

I smiled. But even after that, it was not enough to think of someday adopting some girl. I could not forget about this girl, today.

And so again, I brought her up. And all the reasons I had been telling myself for why she wasn’t right for us, and why this didn’t make sense, were echoed in his words. We wanted a toddler. We’d already decided on China. The deal was set.

Weeks went by. I couldn’t forget. Tears would come during the day. At night I’d tuck in the boys, kiss them goodnight, and I’d long to go and do the same for her. She felt like ours in a way I could not understand.

And still I felt the weight of it–the choosing of a child. This burden was too much. Not something that I, with all my limited wisdom, could possibly do. In tears, I laid it all before the Lord. He knew which child. He knew my heart.

And His answer was this: if you take the leap of faith to trust Me, you need to follow where I lead. I had told God that if he gave me all boys, I would know that there would someday be a girl out there who needed us. And He had answered. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the type of girl I had expected it to be.

And I realized something else–Yes, this might be my last chance to ever have a baby girl. But we were likely her last chance to ever have a family. To have a future. To know the love of a mum and a dad.

In Colombia children age out of the orphanage system at 16. In other countries they are as young as 13. Most of them are much younger emotionally and mentally. A good many end up on the streets. Involved with prostitution. Drugs. And for those that manage to get a decent job, and make some kind of life for themselves, they will forever be without people. Their children will never have grandparents. There is no home to go for Christmas. They are alone in the world.

We didn’t need to adopt. Our perfect little life and family was quite complete without the addition of another child. But there are hundreds of thousands of children whose lives are NOT complete. And it is within our power to make a difference. To give them the unconditional love they all long for. Not all of us can adopt. But we can all do something. This is not only my heart, it is the heart of our God.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

~ James 1:27

And so, friends, we switched agencies. We switched countries. And we are desperately excited to share with you that we are working hard to bring home our boys’ BIG sister, hopefully by the early part of next year. We didn’t know, but God did, and we already love her so.

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Avonlea x

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