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“Pretend you’re eating with the Queen,” she’d say, my mother, in those preschool years when my sisters and I would gather around the table for our lunch of cottage cheese and tinned pineapple rings. Oh, and we knew something of the Queen, over in her castle in England, and of Princess Diana and all her lovely clothes. I owned copies of them, after all. Paper copies, which fit neatly onto my Princess Diana paper doll. 
And so when she’d say it, our minds were filled with pictures of a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace. And my sisters and I made sure to keep our elbows off the table, chew with our mouths closed, and always say “Please pass,” instead of stretching for something out of reach.

 

But they weren’t quite enough, those lessons in manners. Didn’t quite do the trick when, sixteen years later, I found myself dining with real royalty–well, they were only 42nd in line for the throne, as I was told. But for this young American, that came close enough.

I arrived by train. My friend was there to greet me, and as we climbed into the car and whizzed down the single track road towards his family home, I felt as though I were being driven to another world. Through the maze of green hedgerows that towered around us, I caught glimpses of thatched cottages and gently rolling fields.  The sky grew smaller as the hedgerows grew taller. And in the next couple of days, I would grow smaller, too. 

“My mother is hosting a dinner party,” he said, my friend, “and you should probably apologize for arriving in the middle of it.”

Wide-eyed, I assented, and when we arrived at the most ancient of large cottages that his family called home, I found his parents and six of their friends gathered around a table (which was really a 400-year-old door) for a casual four-course summer evening meal. 

I dutifully apologized, was met with murmured acceptances of that apology, and was then seated to the left of his mother. 

The meal could have gone worse, I suppose, if I’d tried to make it so, though I made a small disaster of the affair quite well without even having to try. 

And what did I do that was so very wrong?

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I could have laughed a little quieter, eaten a little less, declined the cheese course. But I did not. 

And when the man to my left made a comment about the side-by-side American style refrigerator that my friend’s family had just purchased, followed by the statement that everything in America is large, I could have smiled demurely and said something diplomatic like, “Perhaps that is so, but bigger does not always mean better.” But I did not. 

And when, for the first time in my life, my nose started to bleed, I could have quietly slipped from the table into the other room until it stopped. But as I had a proper handkerchief with me, I decided to use that to dab at my nose, thinking the bleeding would soon stop. But it did not, and I waited until the elderly man who sat across from me looked at me with a measure of horror before I decided to slip away. 

But there is more. 

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.  If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.  

– Emily Post

The next day I awoke to find my hosts in the garden wearing their wellies, having just returned from a countryside stroll with their King Charles spaniel. I was offered some strawberries from a large basket on the kitchen door-table and asked how I had slept.

The main activity of the day was watching my friend play cricket, that most English of games. I sat with his parents to watch the match, where we could look down at the local castle and admire how brilliantly the men’s white cricket uniforms stood out against the green.

“Do you ride?” I was asked. 

had taken horseback riding lessons, but as it had been a few years, I replied with an honest, “No.”

His parents looked thoroughly unimpressed. 

And later on back at the house, as I sat beside the enormous inglenook fireplace while my friend watched a football match on the telly, I was asked, “And what do your parents do?”

It was all a bit too much like that scene in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennett visits Rosings Park and is interrogated by Lady Catherine De Bourgh. “Do you play and sing?” and “Do you draw?” and all the rest. 

I cringe as I remember the humiliation I endured, though I didn’t realize I was enduring it at the time.

I sigh as I recall the golden English June sunlight that bathed those few days, illuminating the green of the fields and pouring through the windows of that old house.

I laugh at the shock I must have given my friend’s family, especially when I imagine the fear they must have felt that he would fall in love with me and that they would have to welcome me into the family.

And what I wouldn’t give to go back and re-do the visit. Not to deny who I was–the great-granddaughter of poor immigrants who chose to make America their home–but to present myself with more of the discretion, thoughtfulness, and self-respect that I now possess. But that was then, and this is now, and had the visit gone differently, I wouldn’t have been left with such a fine story to tell.

Read more on manners in part 2!

Avonlea xo

Find me on Facebook & Instagram @avonleaqkrueger

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happylittlesigh.com

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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I threw the phone on the sofa and shook my head. A good ten minutes or more I’d wasted, ogling over photos of other people’s living rooms, and fall outfits, and–for goodness’ sake!–what they had for dinner. That, instead of, well, cleaning my own living room, perhaps. Or cooking something for my family to eat (they do get hungry some–all–of the time).

And I’ve said it before how all of these images–perfectly filtered glimpses of another’s world–can leave me downright flat and dissatisfied with my own world–the life that was given to me.

Ice Cream Party

This week, though, I was struck with a feeling very different. As I scrolled through my Instagram photos–those images I’ve carefully selected and filtered before sharing–I realized that yes, I may have purposefully chosen these particular photos to show the best of my world. But these most splendid photos are glimpses of my wonderfully blessed world! Those awful, funny messes that Littlebear makes for me to clean up. The peeks at Professor and his cello. The glimpses into my writing life. The pirate and viking adventures I watch my wee men get lost in. They are all gifts. And they are mine.

So this week as you pick up your phone and are tempted to start scrolling, go to your own page. Let yourself linger and smile over all that God’s given to you. Don’t focus on what you don’t have, but on what is yours. 

Avonlea xo

Join me Instagram & Facebook — @avonleaqkrueger

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I saw them through the window. It wasn’t my moment, but I froze anyway. Watched. Not that it was deep grief I saw. Nor even great joy. Just a needing of one another. A finding of peace and delight in the one who had, for so many years, been there for you.

And so like there was nothing else in the world more important, there on the driveway, with leaves scattered around, she laid a grey head against his chest. He, still towering above her, wrapped his arms around. And gently, gently, he rocked.

Three years, we came and went as neighbors. And it’s hard to hide from those living so close the truest state of affairs. That is, we could maybe hide a lot of bad, but it would take something a whole lot more to pretend a lot of good. To just sit there on your front porch sipping iced tea with lemon, pretending you both wanted to be there together, if in fact, you did not.

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And it’s not that either one pretended perfection. We heard the stories many times–around a bonfire, our faces lit orange in the night. Or in one of our living rooms, clutching cups of coffee that would keep us up all night. Or on their front porch when they asked us to join them, which they often did.

He would get to telling stories, and she would chip in. And his voice carried, sing-song like, rising here, dipping there, as the story rolled on. So yes, we heard it all. About the early days of their marriage, when he was trucking and she was left alone with her worry, trying to raise their two boys. About his swearing and rough-and-tumble ways before he came to the cross.

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Last month we were invited to help them celebrate their Golden–married fifty years! There in the township hall basement we gathered, their family and those of us blessed enough to be called friends.

I set my boys at a table, with vanilla cake and foamy punch, and circled round the room. Talked to her granddaughters (five of them, and she’s a boymom, too!). Looked at every photo. At her wedding dress displayed in the center of the room. And there, just beside it on the table–the place of honor in the room–the book I’d seen open on his lap, turned to this . . .

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And just below it, this . . .

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They’d neither one claim that every one of those fifty years was an easy one. What they would both make clear is that God stepped into their lives, changed them, and has been leading them ever since.

What they’d tell you, as they’ve told me, is that when you seek to follow the Lord, you may stumble, but you can never be on the wrong path. And that when one person does what’s best for the other, a marriage can survive. If both people do what’s best for the other, the marriage can thrive.

So thankful for their example in my life.

Avonlea xo

Find me on

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The smell of rain as dusk fell. We bumped along the gravel road, windows down, past the old barn.  From the house, a row of smiles along the porch as they raised their hands farewell.

We’d spent the last of a warm autumn day there.

A birthday celebration.

Pumpkin cake, and coffee, and the smell of cinnamon candles.

Pushing the boys on the tire swing.

Gazing out across corn fields.

Watching a wool blanket on the wash line stir in the breeze.

Ideas flew. Memories, too.

Laughter bouncing over all.

And it breathed peace on me.

The space, and the home, and the people inside.

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Peace, because there, I can just be—unfiltered. Because if things were good, full saturated colors, I could say it. And they’d all say how happy they were for me. And no one would think I was boasting . . . because if things were greyscale bad, I could say that, too. And I would. And all their good and bad, they’d say it to me, too.

Peace, because there, I am enough. Peace, because people like these people would make anyone feel enough—and not just enough, but wanted. Valued as they are.

Yet earlier in the day I saw a friend’s face fall as she shared how her son’s friends had all joined a new soccer league without bothering to tell her. She and her son thought they were “in,” but turns out they were not. And they are new to this place, the family, and it was such a struggle to call a strange place home. And neighbors and schoolmates could have made that all different, but in their busyness, and the fun they were having with each other, they did not.

Oh, how fun it looks at the center of it all. Where things are happening, and people are pretty and smart. Where marriages, and outfits, and landscaping all seem together. Filter-perfect images of a seemingly perfect life. And if you’re perfect enough then they might let you “in,” because being a Christian, or being a human is somehow not enough.

But we see through it, yes, we see it—when eyes glance to the side, looking for someone more important than you to speak with. Someone they could better benefit from. When they glance you up and down and you know you’re not quite right. When the smile is with the mouth but not the heart.

Unfiltered

So they can have “in,” if they want it, for I know what they miss. Judging books by their covers is never wise. And when filter-perfect is all you’ve got, how can you have peace, knowing that if they catch you unfiltered—see you for who you really are—you just might be “out,” too.

Yes, too many of the best friends come with wrinkled skin, or old cars, or hurt. And those who have known hurt, and broken, and ugly, can turn out to be the ones we love the most. They have the strongest arms to lean on. The best wisdom to share. And though beauty or riches may be theirs, they will not point it out to you. Will not flaunt it. Rather, they see it as something to share.

It’s hard for me, too. Proud one that I can be. Ashamed one, fearing in my deepest heart that someone will catch me unfiltered—see a corner of my house, a piece of my wardrobe, a glimpse of my marriage that will reveal me as the flawed person that I am. But though I know I will not click with everyone, let me yet be the one who can live unfiltered enough with my home, and my smile, and my time, that for the length of my interaction with each person, I can make them feel seen. Feel enough. Feel loved.

Dare to live unfiltered. To know and to be known.

Avonlea xo

Find me on Instagram @avonleaqkruegerFacebook @avonleaqkrueger

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Refugees from Sudan. Private school children. Those who fall somewhere in-between . . . Welcomed into the church doors where they are loved fiercely, with food and hugs and hands held tight. Taught how to love each other. How to laugh at each other’s jokes. How to be one in Christ.

Graham crackers and peanut butter. Laundry detergent and toilet paper. Honey and Macaroni . . . an assortment of boxes and plastic grocery bags stretching the length of the church school hallway, purchased by the mommas in my homeschool co-op for a family in our midst who we learned was in need.

Four year old orphaned twins from Haiti . . . delivered into the loving hands of a momma and daddy who already have three children of their own. And yet they stretch their hearts to love more.

A missionary in a distant land, fallen ill . . . taken to the hospital by acquaintances from his new church, who also offered to pay for his medical care.

Dresses in the brightest of colors . . . made by hand for children in Puerto Rico who have lost everything in the recent hurricanes.

A businessman setting aside work and income for a week . . . traveling to Texas to help families he has never met to rebuild their homes.

In minutes I recalled these outpourings of Christ’s love I have witnessed in this past week alone. I didn’t ask what people had done. I only listened, and this is what I found—Love for friends. Love for strangers. A disregard for one’s own comfort and self.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. ~ Philippians 2:3-4.

There is much evil in the world. Much we could fear. But “perfect love drives out fear.” ~ 1 John 4:18. And Love came first.

Where have you witnessed selfless, Christ-like love in your corner of the globe?

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I got sucked in again today. Lured into tapping a headline on my phone and reading a news report on a horrifying event from across the world. Problem is, just knowing the facts—enough to know how to pray and how to help—was not enough. Before I roused myself from my stupor and set down my phone, waaay too much time had passed.

I wish I had a record of how many minutes I waste like that. How many Pins I save on Pinterest (that I will never look at again). How many news stories I get distracted by. How much time I waste on Facebook just . . . surfing.

And yet . . .  if I knew how much time I wasted, would it shock me enough to do something about it? To reclaim those wasted minutes and invest in my life? In those people and pursuits that matter? Would I know how? Would I have the strength?

Because when I thoughtlessly lift my phone, find myself swiping, stroking my Precious with my finger, it’s more than habit. More, even, than trying to fill my boredom. Somehow, when I reach for that little black rectangle, I am seeking to improve my imperfections. Fulfill my dreams. I am longing to be complete. 

Truth is, I rarely find peace there. The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching. It’s clear who’s master here.

The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching.

I’m tired of the virtual living that has come along with my smartphone. Tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else. That friend who runs marathons. The one who’s a gourmet cook. The one who’s house could feature in a magazine. The one who’s always doing crafts with her kids. The one who’s career has been such a success. The one who’s traveling to Venice . . . again.

I’m tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else.

As if I could be the best at everything. As if that’s the standard I should be aiming for. As if even if I could, I’d be happy. As if impressing all these people–strangers and friends alike–is what matters most. But it wouldn’t (make me happy). And it’s not (what matters most).

My aim in life is to love, know, and bring joy to my Creator. And to love, know, and bring joy to those in my life (strangers, enemies, and friends alike). Yes, sometimes that can be done in cyber world. Reading an encouraging email from a friend can change your day. There are some amazing blogs and helpful resources out there that can certainly make life easier (as my son said, “Mummy’s phone is named Google, and Google knows everything.”). Even YouTube has a lot to offer if you know what to look for–(I’ve been using my phone to plug into the husky voice and uplifting words of Lauren Daigle like an IV of late). But if I am not using my phone or computer to feed or be fed, why am I even there?

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I’d love to live more old-fashioned. More like the way things used to be, when instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world.

 . . . instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world. 

I’ve become so dependent on my phone that making such a change seems overwhelming. But change is necessary. Not simply because of the time a phone wastes, but because the images and information it bombards me with can make it oh-so-difficult to master my thoughts. Master my goals. Master my life. Inspiration should come only from the sources that I choose. These are three ways I’m trying to start living more purposefully. More old-fashioned.

  1. Talking. You know, to people. In real life. Face-to-face. Eye-to-eye. No emojis in sight. Turning “We’ll have to have you guys over sometime,” (which doesn’t happen) into “Are you free this Friday?” or “What are you doing after church?” Building relationships with those lovely, wise people who feed my soul. And taking time for others–those who for one reason or another could use a hot meal, a flesh-and-blood smile, and a listening ear that isn’t in a rush.
  2. Nature. Somehow, getting myself out the door seems harder than when we lived in Scotland. There, the misty green hills that surrounded our village pulled me out as if in a trance. But the beauty of creation dazzles the world over, and once I step out, I never regret it. I know for certain that spending time on my porch listing to birds sing and watching squirrels perform impressive acrobatics is anything but a waste of time. Or trying to do a thing called take a walk. Just putting one foot in front of the other–around the block, through a park, down a country lane  . . . soaking in all that sunshine and green. Talking with the people I love. Letting my thoughts have time to digest. It rarely leaves one feeling depressed.
  3. Reading. Those things called books. The ones made of paper and ink. Reading the Scriptures. A classic novel. The words of the wise. Maybe even jotting down my favorite quote in a notebook. Snuggling on the sofa to read a favorite book to my boys. Reading the funny bits out loud to my husband till one of us (usually me) starts to laugh. Oh, what joy compared to sitting side by side mindlessly scrolling through our phones.

In what ways do you struggle with over-use of your phone? In what ways have you had success with putting it down? In what ways do you use your phone for good? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Blessings for a beauty-filled weekend!

Avonlea x

 

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Darkness is easy felt this time of year. Not just the short hours of daylight that leave too soon and come too late of a bitter cold morning when you’re rushing to get out the door. Not just the darkness caused by dryer lint grey skies that hang low and cast their shadows on our gritty, salt-covered world. This place where we move stiffly, feeling half the selves we were when sunlight bathed us on late July afternoons.

All of us who live in these hemispheres feel it in some way.

Some feel it a little bit more.

Because somehow the darkness is not just external. Somehow it makes its way in. Inside our hearts and our souls, and it can hurt. Physically hurt. Hurt like something trapped there in our hearts, trying to burst out.

It can be a joy-stealer, this darkness. A joy-stealer, and a hope-stealer, too. And often we can feel that it’s a bit of an identity-stealer, too. And you can look in the mirror and hardly recognize the face staring back at you..

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That’s how I found myself feeling just days ago. I sat here in this old brick house, my own tiny Downton Abbey, my own little Green Gables (isn’t a house like this what I’ve dreamed of?), and I’ve stared at the woodwork. The chandeliers. The hardwood floors. I played with my little men. Looked deep into their rounded eyes. Pressed their chubby hands. Kissed the softness of their necks (they’re growing fast, but they are still young). . . and felt almost nothing. Nothing of the joy I thought I should be feeling with gifts such as these.

Darkness is often like that–often takes even the things we love best, even those blessings our minds tell us should make us happy, and coats them in a shade of grey.

Darkness from the grey of winter. Darkness from the stresses of life.

Like moving house, and Christmas, and three birthdays, and feeling guilty that homeschooling has not only been on the back burner, but right off the cooker, and feeling not quite right physically, so tired you feel drugged.

I wrestle with God in the darkness. I question his methods. His goodness, even. His love. I lay prostrate before Him, confessing my lack of faith. Pleading He will help my unbelief.

I once again pour out before Him those longings that I have laid at His feet for decades now. Those things I do not understand. And I breathe a sigh of peace as I recall the many, many other prayers He has answered. How tenderly He has always dealt with me. And I pull my shoulders back and declare, “the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7

My face like flint, pointed right at the Light of the World, and feeling shadows fade away. Opening my eyes and seeing three new blessings to light my path.

  1. Fire! Now you may not have a gas or wood-burning fire (we have one here in the new/old house, but it’s not working yet), BUT for those of you who have Netflix or even YouTube, an image of a crackling, glowing, slow-burning fire can fill your TV or computer screen and give your room a cozy glow. For Netflix, try searching for Fireplace for Your Home. Now you can snuggle up with a cup of tea and favorite book and embrace the winter, and the chance it gives you to reflect.
  2. More fire! But in a candle form, this time. A new friend who recently joined our church small group invited the other mums for tea last week. She took out her pretty china, lit candles, and put on classical music. It was delightful, and I was reminded of how very healing and important it can be to take a break for the routines of life and sit and laugh with friends.
  3. Still more fire–God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), the Light of the World (John 8:12). I have often tried to memorize scripture, but not since I was eight years old have I tried to memorize an entire chapter. I am now. And those times I’d swipe through Pinterest or my Facebook feed–things that usually leave me feeling a little more grey–I am filling my mind with truth and turning to my Bible App as I work on memorizing the book I’ve chosen, 1 Peter 1.

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Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I pray that in these lights, you too may feel the darkness slip away.

Avonlea x

 

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