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Posts Tagged ‘happylittlesigh’

Usually it was fish and chips that they offered to bring. Crispy battered haddock and thick-cut fries doused with vinegar and a sprinkling of salt, picked up from the Chippy on their way over.

I’d start to tidy, but would remind myself not to worry too much. Just a quick wipe of the bathrooms, and a fresh hand towel (one of my personal hospitality must-do’s) would suffice.

There wasn’t much point in frantically scooping Lego into toy bins or straightening out the sofa cushions. Our friends did, after all, have three little boys who’d be joining our two (at that time), and I knew I could expect the five of them to make quick work of emptying the wicker toy basket and turning the sofa into a pirate ship.

After the ketchup-soaked fish and chip papers had been cleared away and the children were in the other room hard at play, the adults would gather round the dining room table, within ear shot of the littles in case someone got a bump, or there was a lesson on sharing that needed to be learned.

There’d be coffee then, or tea, and some little nibbles, and the stresses of life would dissipate as we talked and shared, the fire crackling at our backs. They’d stay past bedtime, but we didn’t mind.

They were our last-minute friends. The spontaneous ones. And we loved it.

We loved it, and it went both ways.

I remember phoning once, on our way home from a day of picnicking and wading in the rock pools of St Andrews. And we were invited to “tea” (the evening meal in many parts of Scotland).

There were probably toys everywhere. Crumbs on the floor.  Some sprinkles on the toilet seat. But I don’t remember.

I remember the lamb chops smothered in curry paste, the homemade sweet potato chips sprinkled with salt and hot pepper seeds. I remember Mary’s smile. I remember there was cake.

Later on, Mary and I nursed cups of milky tea beside the patio doors while the men took the children into the cool autumn air to play on the trampoline. Two tired mamas, we talked, we laughed, we shared our hearts so that the other knew how to pray. We felt stronger. We knew love.

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You see, a mama doesn’t mind it. Not one little bit.

Doesn’t mind balancing her cup of tea as she picks her way over the minefield of toys to make her way to your couch.

Doesn’t mind grabbing a wad of toilet roll to wipe sprinkles from your toilet seat.

Has selective vision when it comes to the pile of dishes in your sink.

She didn’t come to inspect your house. She didn’t come to give you extra work.

She came for the friendship. The laughter.

She came to see you.

Friendship and laughter bring sanity. Clarity. Helps us see that most of the chaos is normal, and we’re not the only ones going through it all.

God made us that way. To bear one another’s burdens. To celebrate together.

And I have to remind myself of this often–

that my desire is to bless, not impress. 

That laughter is made brighter, tears are made lighter when there’s cake.

Cake, and of course, a hot cup of tea.

And so even if you are a tired mama, don’t let this stop you from letting others into your house, especially if they are a tired mama, too.

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Read If You Know A Tired Mama (how to love her) Part 1 & Part 2

Avonlea x

❤ For literary inspiration for your home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here!

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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Going from a big church to a small one is akin to moving from bustling New York City to the village of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Or so it seemed to me. After moving from Scotland, we spent our first 8 years in America at a mega-church. We loved the cookies and the coffee with flavored creamer pods. The choo-choo train in the nursery. The worship band. And how easily we could apply the teaching to our lives. But after 8 years of striving to find a steady small group, and volunteering weekly in Sunday School, we still hadn’t found our people. We made friends, but American life is busy, and distance made actually seeing those friends a problem. We longed for nearby friends. You know, kindred spirits. Friends you call last minute to join you for a walk in the woods, or a cup of tea on the porch. Friends who know you . . . and love you anyway.

Then Covid came, and our church closed. For quite some time. More than ever, we ached to share life with friends. So we started attending a small church. And fell in love. Here’s why . . .

1. FriendshipSome churches have the population of a small country. You could go months without speaking to anyone. Spend years giving a cheery smile and answering “Great! You?” when asked how you’re doing, even if you’re dying inside. At least that’s how it was for us. In some ways, it’s easier. But if you long for a place where you’re noticed, wanted, known, try a tiny church . . . Shortly after starting at our little church, we met two families who wonderfully, surprisingly, almost instantly, became an intimate part of our lives. Sarah and her husband and children, who live locally. And Ann and her husband and children, who were here for a year of aviation training before heading for the mission field. At first it was the children running circles together and playing tag in the church lawn, while the adults made small talk. But small talk at church quickly turned to invitations to Sunday lunch, then time together during the week.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

– I Corinthians 12:26

2. Breaking BreadIn case you’re wondering, Church Picnics, Ice Cream Socials, and Pot Lucks are still going strong in many small churches. And yes, you might find meatloaf, casseroles, and Jello salad, if you’re lucky. But invitations for Sunday lunch or Saturday cook-outs are also not extinct. And we know eating together is about a lot more than putting food in our mouths. It’s about sharing our joys and burdens. Lightening each other’s loads with a listening ear and a hug . . . We “broke bread” with our new friends in the church hall, drinking hot cocoa after a drive to see the frozen waves of Lake Michigan. At picnic tables, before a hike in the woods to see the first green haze of spring. Under the stars, roasting s’mores and watching fireworks. On the porch, sipping coffee and talking about marriage, our children, the tough lessons God was teaching us. True friendships were built, and trust too, over refills of coffee and wiping our children’s sticky popsicle hands. With trust came the ability to speak honestly, bare our souls, and lift each other up. Life is so much sweeter when you don’t eat–or hurt, or laugh–alone.

“breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”

– Acts 2:46

3. Finding Your PlaceBig churches run on an army of volunteers, and we were blessed by the loving hands that served in our big church. But in a large congregation it can be intimidating to offer your services as a musician, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader, especially if you don’t consider yourself a semi-professional, or at least really cool. With our busy lives, having all the slots filled might feel like a good thing. But it also deprives us and our children the opportunity to serve . . . We soon found how useful we could all be at our little church, and what a blessing it was to serve alongside others. At Christmas we drove to the homes of those who couldn’t get out, singing carols and leaving cookies. In the spring my oldest sons and I cleaned the church windows while the two little boys helped the pastor heap mulch around newly planted petunias. On hot summer days, we hung out together at church with Sarah, Ann, and the pastor’s wife, crunching celery sticks and creating a Wild West town for Vacation Bible School. I started buying flavored creamer for Sunday morning coffee, and Sarah brought red and pink zinnias from her garden to brighten the women’s Sunday School. My oldest started to play cello for “special music.” The younger ones sang on stage and made cards to give out. And yes, the church needed cleaning, bulletins needed handed out, and people needed shown to their seats. No one did everything, but everyone did something. Our children learned that they, too, are a valuable part of the church family, and have something worth contributing to bless others. It’s so precious to know you belong.

Spur one another on to love and good works.

Hebrews 10:24

If you find yourself in-between churches, or feeling alone, get connected to a truth-teaching local church. Yes, you could slip in and out without speaking to anyone–but this might be a challenge! Always choose to take this as friendly curiosity and a desire to welcome you in. For you are wanted, you are valued, you are needed. If you’re already part of a small church, make sure you warmly welcome newcomers in the warmest kind of way. Jesus would want you to.

Avonlea x

❤ For literary inspiration for your home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here!

❤ Start your MORNINGS with thoughtfulness, grace, and literary inspiration sign up here!

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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The second Christmas, and the world still upside-down. We find our souls unsettled. Find our eyes gazing wistfully out the window. Find our hearts a little achy for times past. Maybe a time from our own lives, or maybe a time from longer past, like the days of Little Women, or Little House on the Prairie, or Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps those times weren’t free from fears and trials of their own. But they were, in many ways, simpler times with simpler pleasures, and a sense of community, where everyone knew their place. It’s not too late to slow our pace, adjust our focus, and make this year different. Following are five easy ways to have an old-fashioned, Anne of Green Gables Christmas.

1. Find Scope in the Out-of-Doors – Anne wasn’t just a fan of Octobers! She also said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are white frosts.” She would have definitely found “scope for the imagination” in every season, including winter. Bare branches lacy against a pink sunset. Sunlight sparkling on newly fallen snow. A chickadee singing from a treetop. Yes, it’s cold! But tell yourself it’s refreshing and bundle up! Build a snowman. Deliver something by hand. Go for a walk. Taking a walk together is a simple, favorite pastime from years gone by. Hearing your feet crunch in the snow, and seeing the beauty of the season is calming for the mind and soul, and gives us time to reflect on God’s blessings in our lives.

2. Care for Your Community – Anne and Matthew didn’t hesitate a moment when they heard little Minnie May Barry was in trouble. And whether it’s bringing food to someone stuck at home, inviting over someone that lives alone, or singing carols at a nursing home, there are endless ways to bless people in our communities. Yesterday, I found I’m an awful caroler. Not that my singing is so bad, but I kept choking up with tears. It wasn’t so much the nursing home residents who stared glassy-eyed, uncomprehending as we sang “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” but those who sang along, or moved a crooked finger in the air, trying to keep time with the music. It was their shadowed memories from their former lives that moved me so much. I focused on a few faces, tried to to imagine them as they were in their youth. Did the staff remember they were once more? I knew God remembers, that they are lovely in his sight, and that one day soon His love will restore His children to their best selves. But for the present, I was glad our church was there to share God’s love as we sang, “Born to raise the sons of Earth, born to give them second birth.” Too often today, we are strangers with our own neighbors. Looking out for those in our community is certainly an old-fashioned quality we could use more of today.

3. Do Night by Firelight – In the days before electricity (and smartphones), the light and warmth from the fire drew families together. Here, they played card games or did puzzles, worked on handicrafts such as knitting or whittling, and simply talked with each other. Even if you don’t have a fireplace, you can dim the lights and light candles, or try playing one of these literary-inspired Christmas ambience videos on low volume to create a calming, old-fashioned atmosphere. Then add games, cocoa, or a Christmas read- aloud. Candles in the dark also remind us of the Christmas star that shone over the manger, and of Jesus being the Light of the World. Anne wasn’t a fan of sewing in her youth, but she certainly would have loved reading by the fireside, and I imagine she and Matthew and Marilla had many heartfelt talks there.

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

4. Decorate with Real Greenery – Anne would have loved combing the woods for winter treasures to adorn the house! Simple decorations are often the most effective, and definitely create old-fashioned charm. Greenery like cut pine, fir, or holly, plus berries from flowering bushes and other dried plants and wildflowers can be found in our own backyards (or from a friend’s, with permission!). A walk to collect such greenery is a wonderful way to spend a morning–follow up with tea and Christmas goodies, then start arranging. Simple twine, ribbon, candles, cranberry or popcorn strings, pinecones, or dried oranges are the perfect complement to outside finds, and can be used in vases, as mantel décor, or as centerpieces or garlands. Fabric can be used as a table cloth or runner and paired with burlap or lace.

5. Celebrate with Those You Love – Perhaps we can’t buy all our friends the puffiest puffed-sleeved dress of their dreams, but we can be there in some form for those that matter most. A small, thoughtful gift or heartfelt card sent to someone who’s made a difference in our lives. A cozy get-together with our BFFs. A special hot-cocoa bar and read-aloud or game night with our family. Use this season to share the good tidings of Christmas, and tell those who have blessed your life how much they mean to you.

Merry Christmas!

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

 ❤ For LITERARY INSPIRATION for Heart & Home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here! ❤

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If you caught my post Bring Your Book to Life, featuring ambience videos for 12 classic novels, you’ll know how magical they are! Not only are ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) or ambience videos themselves scientifically proven to aid relaxation, they’re also the perfect way to recreate the atmosphere of your favorite read! Reading one of these 6 classics this holiday season, either to yourself or as a read-aloud? Try playing the corresponding ambience videos on your TV or laptop while you read to bring them to life!

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Many of us are familiar with the opening line, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” but this story of the March family, set during the American Civil War, has more than one Christmas scene to warm your heart this season.

2. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy – Chapter one of this 19th century romance novel brings us to “a cold and starry Christmas-eve,” while chapter two gives details of the Christmas decorations in Dick Dewy’s thatched cottage. The perfect happy-end book for Christmas!

3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – I probably don’t have to explain the Narnian’s fear that their land would be forever under the spell of the White Witch, who made it “always winter, but never Christmas.” Thankfully, that wasn’t the end! Experience the land of Narnia with this video while you step into this wonderful book.

4. Little House on the Prairie/A Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I know of few more heartwarming or dramatic Christmas scenes than when Mr. Edwards wades through a stream in a blizzard, carrying his clothes on this head, to deliver Christmas gifts to the Ingalls family. “Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.” Oh, for simpler times! This video will take you right to that scene!

5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – This very manageable-sized story never ceases to make me smile. Instead of watching the transformation of the miserable, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge, why not read about it yourself, accompanied by this Victorian London Ambience video? And don’t say, Bah! Humbug!

6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – You might not consider this a Christmas book, but it has plenty of winter cheer and Christmas scenes to make it perfect for this time of year. Anne did say, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are white frosts.” (AOGG, ch.18). And don’t forget the Christmas ball! Find “scope for your imagination” with the Anne Christmas ambience link below.

For Anne-inspired ambience for Christmas reading, click here !

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday  ❤

❤ For LITERARY INSPIRATION for Heart & Home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here! ❤

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To open a book is to step into another world. We book lovers know that! Oh, but what if there was a way to make that journey more real, more immersive? To engage all your senses, making it almost possible to believe you’re really with Anne Shirley that first night at Green Gables? Or really on a dark London street watching Sherlock Holmes solve a crime?

I have a secret–it’s called Ambience Videos or ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and is described as a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation in the scalp and down the back of the neck. The appropriate reaction to a good book! *happy little sigh.*

What if there was a way to make that journey into a book even more real?

I’ve selected Ambience Videos to immerse you into 12 Classic novels. Simply tap below links to play on your laptop or cast to your TV to create the perfect mood for each book and delight your eyes and ears. Next, brew a cup of tea or coffee to delight your taste and smell (which drink or cup would suit each book?). Finally, get a cozy blanket and get ready to step into your book in a whole new way! OR simply use as a peaceful background during your morning quiet time or as you go about your day.

*Note – some videos include soothing music, while others have relaxing sounds such as rain, a crackling fireplace, or murmured voices. I included two videos for each novel, so choose the one that inspires you. Adjust the volume to add to your reading experience, not distract from it.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Who’s coming to visit? Could it be Bingley and Darcy? And what secrets are Bennet sisters Lizzie and Jane sharing as they get ready for the day?

  • Bennet Family Lounge (Pride and Prejudice) by Overarch
  • Sunny Morning Bedroom (18th Century Georgian/Colonial) by Ambience of Yesteryear

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – Will you stay at Bilbo’s cozy hobbit hole, or venture into the Shire?

  • Hobbit Study Session by ASMR Weekly 
  • 6 Hours The Shire ASMR by ASMR

3. Middlemarch by George Elliot – Does Casaubon’s library inspire you, or does the dreariness of pouring over manuscripts alongside Dorothea make you long for a visit to her sister’s country estate?

  • Relaxing Library – Relaxing Rain, Thunder and Crackling Fireplace by Cozy Moments  
  • English Estate Morning Tea by Scenic Inspirations

4. The Complete Father Brown Mysteries by G.K. Chesterton – What mysteries will you solve alongside this eccentric sleuth as he pokes around his quaint English village (occasionally stopping for tea), or hops aboard a train in search of clues?

  • Edwardian Parlour with Tea & Fireplace by Ambience of Yesteryear
  • 1940s Train Journey by Overarch

5. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery – Can you hear Anne (with an ‘e’) poor herself a cup of tea in her peaceful bedroom at Green Gables? She will need it, in preparation for her upcoming exam at Queen’s!

  • 3D ASMR Anne of green gables | Anne’s Bedroom by ASMR Movely
  • 3D ASMR Anne of Green Gables | Queen’s Entrance Exam by ASMR Movely

6. Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Would you prefer sipping tea in 221B Baker Street, or joining Sherlock on the streets of London as he masterfully works to solve the latest crime?

  • Ambience/ASMR: Sherlock Holmes Parlor, 221B Baker Street by Ambience of Yesteryear
  • Victorian London Thunderstorm by Autumn Cozy

7. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper – The peace of the wilderness is calling your name–or perhaps you fancy a venture into the Colonial town?

  • Smoky Mountains Morning by Travel Ambience
  • Colonial New York City Federal Hall by P&E Soundscapes

8. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Begin reading with a trip to the English wetlands, where Pip spent his youth, then move on to the bustling streets of London.

  • English Wetlands by Ambience World
  • 19th Century London by Overarch

9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Rain lashes down outside the March home, but inside, Jo is busy scribbling away on her latest novel.

  • Thunderstorm in the Lake District by Outdoor Therapy
  • Thunderstorm and Rain by Dreamy Sound

10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Jane doesn’t know what to expect as the carriage takes her through the night to Thornfield Hall, but it’s not long before she enjoys conversations with Mr. Rochester in his study.

  • Riding a Carriage by TERAVIBE
  • Rain and Thunderstorm Sounds by Guild of Ambience

11. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – Would you prefer strolling the winding lanes of Casterbridge or sitting beside the fire, listening in as Michael Henchard tells his life’s tale?

  • Cozy Country Village by Dragonfly Mage
  • 19th Century Cottage by Ambience of Yesteryear

12. White Fang by Jack London – Whether journeying through the wilderness with the dogsled team, or finding solace at Weeton Scott’s cabin, it’s sure to be an adventure!

  • Wolf Forest by Michael Ghelfi
  • Cozy Cabin Porch Ambience by The Alley of Ambience

*BONUS! Which book could be read using this 1930s library ambience? It’s one of my favorites.

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

❤ For literary inspiration for your home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here! ❤

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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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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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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 sat across from each other at the table for two. Busy Friday night hum. Instruments and speakers toted past as a band set up for a live show. Between us, two gluten-free Greek pizzas, lavender drinks, and so much to say.

We met on Valentine’s Day, age eight. Instant friendship. From then on, we were sisters–she, and I, and her twin sister, and her cousin. Four kindred spirits. Through the rest of childhood and the teenage years, we shared it all. Our secrets. Our dreams for the future. Our clothes. We blushed over boys. Cried hard tears on each other’s shoulders over heart-breaks and family drama. Made plans for many more adventures together.

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Then early adulthood, and choices were made. And we went our separate ways. I moved to Scotland. With an ocean between us for years, it wasn’t hard to grow apart. That, and we each had our demons to fight. But then I returned, back to the USA. We saw each other once, twice, then several times. And with each meeting came more trusting, more sharing of the parts of our stories we’d missed.

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And as we sat in that noisy restaurant last Friday night, we spoke again of the particulars of our lives. Of our mistakes, our regrets, and how we’d grown. She said something nice about my house. I smiled dreamily as she spoke of her daughter–something I’ve never had. And it occurred to us both–occurred to us that we can never see our own life as it looks from the outside. Did you hear that? Other people will naturally and unknowingly take what they see on social media, what they know of your possessions and your family, and the personality you portray in public, and for better or worse, will construct a movie-trailer-like idea of your life. And this, they will think, it what it must be like to be you. And we, in turn, do the same for them.

We look at other women, and so often we see only what she has that I don’t. That child. That house. That career. That husband. That body. That confidence. And we think because she has some of those things that we don’t, she must be happy. She must feel complete. It’s easy to miss the in-between bits. The hurts and the struggles. The tedious times. The longings each of us have. The depth of each human soul.

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It’s easy to forget all that. Easy to forget that others are praying for what we already have. That we, ourselves, once prayed for the many blessings we now enjoy. So today, instead of comparing your life to the false picture you’ve concocted of someone else’s life, let your mind dwell on the many blessings in your own life. For comparison is nothing but a thief of joy.

Avonlea xo

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

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

MONTHLY Newsletter, Morning Cuppa Tea at happylittlesigh@gmail.com

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