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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

Find me on . . .

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

Find me on

Instagram @happylittlesigh or

Facebook @happylittlesigh

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

Find me on

Instagram @happylittlesigh or

Facebook @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

 

 

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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

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

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

For more inspiration, bookishness, and mad stories of life homeschooling 4 wee men,

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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My fingers splayed across my rounded belly. I pressed gently, whispered the name I’d kept secret for two pregnancies before this one, though never got to use–the name of my daughter. I’d wanted sons, but I’d always imagined I’d also have at least two little girls. And so along with wooden soldiers, and soccer, and frogs in pockets, I’d also have china dolls, and tea parties, and diaphanous fairy costumes (assuming my daughters would be girly like me!). But this was not to be.

For the birth of my firstborn, in Inverness, Scotland, I hadn’t been told the gender of my baby. And so for all nine months and two weeks of my pregnancy, I waited, wondered, scribbled two sets of names. We wallpapered the nursery with blue floral Laura Ashley wallpaper, supposing this would suit either a boy or a girl, and bought clothes in creams, greens, and yellows. But to the hospital I brought with me two fleece receiving blankets–a pink and a blue.

And then he was born. Of course I quickly fell in love with my firstborn–his generous lick of blond hair, his grey-blue eyes, his little scrunched-up face with the squared jaw that clearly said, “I’m your son.”

For the next two years I thoroughly revelled in all that it meant to be the mother of little boy (I call him the Professor). We put on wellies and tramped through puddles at our local castle. Threw rocks in the village burn. Read 17 books at bedtime.

Then we decided it was time for a sibling, and wouldn’t have imagined that it would take two years of trying and crying and infertility tests before I would finally conceive. And so nearly five years after the birth of our first son, our second son (I call him the General) was born, in Dundee, Scotland. Bright spark, black-eyed little boy.

And we joked, a time or two, about getting a little girl, though things like adoption were of course for other people, not for us.

Now, two years later and a continent away, I was pregnant with my third, and was days away from discovering the gender of this baby. I wanted a daughter this time–so desperately–yet at the same time, something deeper pulled at my soul. Something I could not fully recognize or explain. So even as the name of my little girl formed on my lips, I lifted my head and prayed, “Lord, you know I’d really love a daughter. But if this baby is a son, I’ll know that one day there is going to be a little girl out there who needs us.”

And he was a boy. Silky-soft, curly-topped butterball of a baby (I call him Mr. Waddlesworth). And over the next year I loved him fiercely–this baby who was all smiles and drool and chunk. But I also questioned myself, found myself regretting that prayer, wondering if God would really hold me to it?

A fourth child was born. And as if to make sure I understood Him, God sent another boy (I call him Little Bear, though to this day he drags around a stuffed bunny). And after four such difficult labors and deliveries, I knew this must be my last. Four boys. What a wonder. What a sight! So handsome. A boymom, that’s me. And I pushed away the thought of a daughter for a while.

Though over the years we’d joked a time or two more about “getting a girl,” it was never even a full conversation. Never anything we researched or seriously talked about. Adoption was for other sorts of people. Special, brave people who were not like us. Life was hectic enough with four squirrelly boys without adding anything to it. And yet . . . in boxes tucked out of sight, I kept my American Girl Samantha doll. My Victorian dress-up clothes. My Anne of Green Gables memorabilia. All for “someday.”

“You’ll have daughters-in-law!” people would tell me with a smile. “And granddaughters!” And I would smile back, truly thankful for the hope of these things. But I couldn’t forget my daughter. Couldn’t forget that prayer. Yet what was to be done?

Then late one night last December I was driving home from meeting some friends for coffee. I flicked on the radio, and landed on a Family Life Radio talk about adoption. I listened intently to the adoptive father speak about finding his daughter. About how after visiting the orphanage, he and his wife wanted to take all the kids home. And before I pulled into my driveway, I knew.

I wanted confirmation, however, that this feeling was more than my desperation or wishful thinking. After all, what if my husband, John, didn’t feel the same way? We were about to leave for a much-needed ten days away in Brazil, just the two of us. And so more than six years after the first prayer, I prayed a second time, this time saying, “Lord, if my feelings are right, and you really are telling me that you want us to adopt, I pray that John will bring up adoption while we are in Brazil.”

But what were the chances? We had never seriously talked about adoption, probably hadn’t even joked about it for a year or more, as far as I could recall. Yet the second night there,while enjoying a meal of chicken, rice, and yucca fries, he said it–“If you’re ready to adopt, we can get started when we get home.” And there it was.

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And so here we are–after mountains of paperwork, police checks, medical exams, references, talking to other adoptive parents, online education, and more I can’t even remember, we are nearly finished with our home study . . . and still have plenty of education, paperwork, and evaluations still to come. But it’s all worth it, because we are on the road to finding our daughter and bringing her home. Thankfully, God knows who and where she is. He has from the start.

Avonlea x

For more inspiration, bookishness, and mad stories of life homeschooling 4 wee men,

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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The great boot exchange, I call it. Snow boots hauled up, rain boots hauled down from their upstairs closet winter home. April now, and I’ll expect a spate of showers before the sultry of summer comes to stay.

The rain boots tumble from my arms. Frogs, and monkeys, and the green Hunters I like so much. Chatter, and light in my lads’ eyes as they recall past springs and puddles splashed.

Then I send them out with boots and brushes to wash away the winter mud, for boots must be stored away clean.

I peek from the dining room window and watch them sitting on the steps, lips pressed in earnest as their little hands scrub.

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Then I’m caught up for a while, sizing up which rain boots now fit who, and which can be given away—just another part of motherhood one wouldn’t think to list, though it takes an afternoon twice every year.

But I leave my work now, and step out. So new the spring, the grass yet a patch of green and straw.

Birdsong. Warmth. Flat blue beyond the branches bare.

I gasp. I’m gasping. And I cannot gulp enough of this sweet, this air.

And I watch my lads for a moment, as they laugh and run.

My curly top squats beneath our big old tree, and I’m called to see the wild violets growing there.

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A moment more, then in again to think of dinner.  And as my hands chop carrots into little discs, I think of this day. And I think of motherhood, and the labor of making a home. I think of how it’s disregarded. Seen as unfulfilling and of little worth. But I know otherwise.

And I sigh contentment for all I am and all I have. For the pleasure in this exchanging of boots. In this marking of the seasons, and remembering of dear times past.

I am building their memories, building their lives.

May my lads always find pleasure in order and in a job well done. May they find joy in little things. May they have thankful hearts. And may they one day go into the world with the strength that only a mother’s love can bring.

Avonlea x

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday

For more inspiration, bookishness, and mad stories of life homeschooling 4 wee men,

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

 

 

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March now, and so time to bring out my Daffodil needlepoint cushion that I bought my first year in Scotland. Time to replace my heart wreath on the porch with my Easter one. Time to purchase a hyacinth and marvel again as I watch it bloom. Little things that bring me joy, give my boys an appreciation for the passings seasons, and bring a bit of beauty to my home.

Beauty. That’s what my little corner of the Internet is supposed to be about. Opening our eyes to beautiful things–everyday, in the world around us. And I haven’t stopped looking, though I’ve been hibernating this winter, as much as I possibly could. The pause has done me good. I’ve been grateful for Arctic temps that meant canceled activities and an excuse to stay in. Grateful for the glorious sharp white light and blue winter skies that are so unusual for my state. Grateful just to rest.

But resting is not often simply resting, but often thinking, too. And I’ve asked myself again about this beauty and what it really means. And I know that beauty is more than a Pinterest-perfect home or wardrobe. More than an appreciation for nature. More than adventure, or being organized, or a success. Real beauty only exists in the external when it reflects the internal. Beauty, in its essence, is love.

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And so with the beautifying of my space comes the desire to lavish beauty on others. To welcome them to my home (or make my own family feel welcome here!). A space where they, themselves, are made to feel more beautiful because of how they are loved and served here. Loved and made to feel accepted and valued no matter what they’re wearing or what car they parked in my garage. Loved enough to be served a scrumptious feast on my best dishes–or enough to have pizza ordered so I can sit with them on the couch while they speak, whichever way is loving them best.

We do not always have to bring others into our home to bring them beauty. We can take it to them with a genuine smile, with a hug or warm handshake, with our focused attention as we ask about their life.

I’m reminded of a scene in Catherine Marshall’s book, Christy, when she visits the humble home of mountain woman Fairlight Spencer–“in a chipped cup she had put trillium and violets . . . ‘the very first,’ she told us, and unself-consciously reached out slender fingers to caress the flowers.” Next came gingerbread, and roasted chestnuts, and dulcimer music. The surroundings were humble, and the company could have been called that, too. But because there was yearning for the good and beautiful, and a desire to share it with their guests, the Spencer family lifted Christy’s heart.

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And that’s what real beauty–in our homes or on our faces–will do. It does not seek to invoke jealousy in others. It does not make them feel less. Instead it invites them into the beauty, makes them feel part of it. Gives them glimpses of the Author of beauty. Glimpses of His love.

May you find many a small violet or beam of sunshine to make you pause and smile this springtime. May the beauty you see bring you peace and make you both feel, and long to share, our Father’s love.

Avonlea x

For more inspiration, bookishness, and mad stories of life homeschooling 4 wee men,

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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We said “No, thank you” to everything we could this summer. Library reading programs, and classes for the children, and fancy vacations. After a hectic year where we had something going seven days a week, plus frequent trips to the dentist for the Professor’s retainer (Yay! for the middle school years!), and frequent trips to the natural health doctor for me (a real, true Yay! to finding out why I’ve been so very tired for the past decade), I was ready to say “No” to those things. This made us able to say “Yes, please” to a lot more of what we needed, body and soul. Hikes in the woods. Trips to the beach. Sitting on the porch eating popsicles and playing Yahtzee. And Vikings. We said “Yes” to Vikings, too.

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We’ve never studied a topic over the summer before, but it worked out just perfect. We had loads of time to read all the books, watch all the documentaries, make all the costumes, and best of all–build a Viking Longship in our playroom! My boys soaked it all up, and we had loads of Viking battles fought in the back garden (and sometimes in the house!) as they re-enacted what they’d learned. I’d love to share with you the resources my four wee men and I used during our Viking summer.

The books we read–

  • Leif the Lucky by Ingri & Edgar Parin D’Aulaire ( a GORGEOUS picture book telling the story of Leif Erikson, son of Eric the Red. If you aren’t familiar with the D’Aulaire’s books, you’re in for a treat).42124199_295240854406877_305622047352946688_n
  • The Vikings by Elizabeth Janeway (a living history chapter book that weaves the details of Viking life into a story on the life of Leif and Eric). 42201333_476219392878002_208868442902626304_n
  • The Story of the Vikings Coloring Books by A.G. Smith (a detailed coloring book that includes descriptions on each page, and quite a broad history of the Vikings).

Those days we had to travel and couldn’t read, we listened!

  • The Dragon and the Raven – The extraordinary adventures of G.A. Henty (an enthralling audio drama with an impressive cast, including actors from The Hobbit, and British drama Call the Midwife). That can be purchased here. 42185898_652046728529508_3880848254421696512_n

Our study also made them curious about the countries of Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, and so maps were studied, and documentaries on YouTube watched. A couple of good videos I found can be found here and here.

I purchased all of their Viking helmets from Amazon. I decided on the plush kind, since the hard plastic hats often don’t stay on, and get cracked so easily. My favorite is the brown plush hat. The link to that can be found here. We also made a miniature longboat to sail at the park.

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Emerging ourselves into the world of the Vikings sparked all kids of creative play in my boys. It caused many a village to be plundered in our back garden, and many a sea to be sailed and new land explored in the Viking longship we built in the playroom! They set up Viking villages, and wanted to read our Viking books again and again. I’d recommend this kind of focused, immersive kind of play-learning for any topic (especially history or literature, or science related) that you want your children to not only enjoy learning but also remember!

This autumn our focused study will be about the first explorers of North America (after the Vikings, because of course we know they were really the first!). So for more ideas, and to follow along with our life of 1 Scottish Daddy + 1 Writing Mummy + 1 Rambling Victorian House + 4 Rambunctious Boys, follow my blog or find me on Facebook or Instagram @happylittlesigh.

Avonlea xo

Happy Little Sigh 

Finding beauty in the everyday

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