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I celebrate and adore this picture of my mom, taken long long ago. I discovered it today while scanning dozens of our family photos in order to digitalize them. It will probably surprise her to find that I posted it (HI, MOM!) but I just love it.

So young, so full of life, and so free…I love it.

This looks like joy, to me. I want to go swing on a rope over a lake just like this… Why must we remain on the ground, be grounded, down-to-earth all the time? I want to be soaring and floating in the air, feeling the sky.

I am finding joyful treasures as I organize the family pictures. The stuff of legends and legacy.

 

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Bill gave me a beautiful gift: The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II (published 2008). Many of you probably know that I am an absolute nut over musicals, especially those from Rodgers and Hammerstein (although several others, as well). Just today we filled the house with the score from Oklahoma! (“Oh what a beautiful morning/Oh what a beautiful day…”). In fact, my life is often a musical. I am happier when I sing, the children too, so I tend to sing all the time. I don’t claim to be a really great singer or anything like that, but I can hold a tune—and I sure love it. In my fantasy life, I am always a singer, sometimes on Broadway or sometimes I imagine being Stevie Nicks.

It is difficult not to sing. I find myself singing before I even realize that I ought probably to be talking. I sing to Eric about the snaps on his onesies; I sing to Katie about putting on her shoes. It helps to keep the mood calm if we are trying to get out of the house to go somewhere, and it is fun to sing when we cook, play, or dance. Most of the time, I fear that my children will think we live in an operetta. I am not comfortable singing around everybody, but Bill has always made me feel that he loves my singing and that he isn’t judging it. I figure Katie and Eric are too little to judge it and just soak up the mommy-love it represents. The music class that the children and I take has helped me to feel more comfortable singing (especially to or with my children) in public, but if I really could get away with it, I probably would sing everything instead of talk…at the grocery store, in the bank, at Starbucks ordering lattes. Singing feels like an absence of stress, to me.

So I love Rodgers and Hammerstein, naturally. Friends who have been reading my blogs for awhile, you know already that one of my favorite musicals ever is The Sound of Music. I have a dream someday to take the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. The first song I ever sang to Katie the night she was born was “My Favorite Things.” We sing it daily, and her first birthday had a “My Favorite Things” theme. (For example, both of us wore “white dresses with blue satin sashes”). I love, love, love the lyrics to that song because we are reminded to look for the blessings “when the dog bites/when the bee stings,” and when we feel sad. If there is one message I hope to impart to my children in life it is to look for the good even when it is hard to find.

I pondered Eric’s special song for most of my pregnancy. What to choose? There were many options, but in the end I wanted to connect it as much as possible to Katie’s special song, and I chose “The Sound of Music.”I sing it to Eric every night as I tuck him in, just as I still sing Katie’s to her when I tuck her in.

The hills are alive/With the sound of music,/With songs they have sung/For a thousand years./The hills fill my heart/With the sound of music—/My heart wants to sing/Ev’ry song it hears/My heart wants to beat/Like the wings of the birds that rise/From the lake to the trees./My heart wants to sigh/Like a chime that flies/From the church on a breeze,/To laugh like a brook/When it trips and falls/Over stones on its way/To sing through the night/Like a lark who is learning to pray!/I go to the hills/When my heart is lonely;/I know I will hear/What I’ve heard before—/My heart will be blessed/With the sound of music,/And I’ll sing once more.

Reading my book about Hammerstein’s lyrics, though, I learned something interesting. The actual lyrics are still officially written in the published libretto as “To laugh like a brook/When it trips and falls/Over stones in its way/…”

Julie Andrews, in the movie soundtrack, was the one to sing it as “Over stones on its way.”

One slight preposition of a difference. In vs. on.

It probably doesn’t really matter too much, but I’ve given it some thought—being a total fan and absolutely gaga over word choice in any case.

I prefer Julie Andrews’ way. In her version, the brook (representing the spirit of a person) is still the primary agent; the stones merely are there, doing nothing of notice, or, if they are impeding the flow of water, it is implied that the symbolic mirth of the brook is much more powerful and superseding. Obstacles may be on our path, but they are never totally in the way.

If the stones are “in the way” it is implied that the impediments have much more power and potential to divert the happiness of the brook, of the singer, of the ability to find goodness.

At least, that is how I read it. A lyrical Rorschach.

I am reminded of how much perception influences how we view the obstacles we face. Do we acknowledge and pass by them on our own way, on our own terms? Or do they sometimes stand in our way, head on? What is the role of our joy? The sound of our music that we sing to shore up our hearts?

A little bit to ponder!

Of all the pictures arranged on the memorial table at my Grandpa Yoder’s funeral reception last week, the picture of the old Yoder farmhouse, a red wooden structure surrounded by trees, in Indiana took up the deepest root in my mind and heart. He had kept it in his office, and I’d never seen it. Some part of me comes from there. So often I have felt a fundamental connection to my Amish Mennonite ancestry; in fact, my dad’s side of our family also hails from generations of farmers in California. Farm blood is my blood. I celebrate the attention and reverence that farm values place upon working with our hands and finding glory in a job well done, upon the simple pleasures and basics of life, upon the importance of family and working together. The down-to-earthness.

In another serendipitous common thread winding among events happening in my life, my mom gave me several cross stitch projects and supplies for Christmas. Knowing of my love for all things Amish, one of the patterns she gave me features an Amish countryside village with horses and buggies. During Christmas, I had a chance to glance at only briefly as I was helping Katie with her gifts.

Today I pulled the gift back out. In one of those amazing life coincidences that leaves one speechless, I noticed for the first time the wording on the top of the pattern. To be stitched above the scene are the words “BIRD IN HAND.” I could almost feel the breath leave my body. She bought that pattern months ago; I had been considering titling this blog “birdinyourhand” for some few days before Christmas, before ever opening the gift. What are the chances of all these elements—my ancestry, my core values, my outlet for expression (my blog), etc—coming together right at this one time? I am going to have to ponder this one…

My dad, Richard Matics, and I were speaking of  down-to-earth farm values this afternoon, in fact, as we discussed the main values of his real estate company. He owns Matics Realty Inc, and we’ve been working on writing the content for his website. My brother’s MIL (mother-in-love) Lorraine Ryba, one of the owners of PuterWerkZ, has been designing the site. Only the completion of the written content is needed for official launch, and so my dad and I sat down for a second writing session today. My dad and I work well together: he talks about what he values and the facts, and I write and edit the content into paragraphs. It gets a little hectic at moments with the two kiddos as busy as ever—I can’t exactly report that I have quiet working conditions—but there is joy even in the loud loveliness. My mom came over, too, and she and Katie both were squealing in delight while playing hide-and-go-seek.

I am a creature, by nature, of the quietest and calmest and most solitudinous times of night. Always have been. Learning to work, think, and exist amid the bustle and delightful squeals and chatter and clinkings of toys has been a great challenge for me as a mother.  As much as I have always encouraged joyful noise and singing, still I sometimes crave a moment of silence with every fiber of my body—and it might only be 10:00 in the morning. Thank goodness, again, for my previous career in teaching, which conditioned me well to have patience and postponement and to embrace different needs and different voices craving recognition all at once. Thank goodness, too, for four years of living with roommates and dormmates in college, and for learning how to create a personal space in one compartment of my mind that I can go to for a five minute breather when I need to tune back in to my inner calm.

It is the time when life seems the busiest that we must return to our fundamentals. We return to our inner farm, and plant the authentic seeds of ourselves anew. Let us gather our joy—and our wits and our written voices and our moments of personal calm—in the midst of life’s most bouncy bustle.

If December is a time of watching Christmas movies, baking batches of special cookies, reaching in philanthropy toward others, and festooning every space with ornament, then certainly we must give January its own special traditions in order to keep the merriment thriving in our hearts. Why not have a holiday spirit all year? So goes my thinking.

For many, January may represent a season of making changes. True: the new year is a natural time to take stock of our lives and resolve to make improvements. Yet even as we ponder the ways we might use change as a means of quantitative betterment (lose weight, as a popular choice) , perhaps we should also remember the birds in our hands and use our very fundamentals to improve the quality of our lives.

January, in contrast to the festive month of December, has the potential to make us feel stranded and isolated as we relinquish the shared feeling of the international celebration of Christmas. It seems all the more important, then, that we figure out ways to make this month as meaningful, cheery, and blithe as we can.

A couple of years ago when Katie was still young enough to take naps daily, and when I had not yet had my second child, I would put her down, watch a movie, and work on my scrapbook for a couple of hours. All through January, I worked on my scrapbook and revisited all of my favorite musical films and discovered new ones, too. Last year, taking my real estate courses and preparing for my test, I used all of my free time very differently. This January, however, I am eager to make our January musicals part of our new tradition. Musical films are so much a part of my Yoder-Mitchell side of my family especially, a way to connect to parts of life that members of my family have loved. January I have now turned into McGaugh Family Musical Film Month. (Well, at least for three of us. 😉

In prepping our dinner menus this month, I have also decided to focus our January meals on old family recipes and our traditional family comfort foods. Recipes and dinners that my Grandma and my mom have made many times will become part of my children.

We are working also on redoing many of our picture frames. In addition to some of the newer images of moments we’ve loved and shared, we are going through our archives of photographs, scanning some, and have plans to fill our frames with more images of our ancestors. I am clearing a spot on the upstairs linen cabinet where I hope to gather these photographs of our ancestors, some many generations away from Katie and Eric, so that we may pass by them daily and remember the men and women from whom we come.

I want to ground my children in the fundamentals this month: the hobbies, traditions, and history of our family. Joyful January, filled with our own celebrations, I feel as eager for you as I did for December.

Today we enjoyed our rearranged living room (see previous post), spending the morning in there reading, looking at the rain, playing with toys, singing… At some point, we moved into the family room, and while Eric played on his play-gym mat, Katie and I prepped our pot roast. Oh, the delicious scent all day! We started a fire in the fireplace, and Katie worked on one of her presents from Santa: making lip balm. Around lunchtime, we watched Showboat, one of my favorite musical films. I always feel the tears come when we hear “Ol’ Man River.”

It was a quiet day at home, cuddly and comforting.

Let us gather our joy by holding the fundamentals of our family in our hands.

Working as a freelance editor on my friend Sana’s blog Friend to Yourself , I must have revision on my mind. Or perhaps it is the coming of the new year, or even the desire to find new order after the inner turmoil caused by the passing of my grandpa on Christmas Eve. Whatever the cause, I decided to rearrange our formal living room today. The room off of the dining room has not seen too much use since we’ve lived here. Our family room, directly adjacent to my kitchen, usually holds our toys, special blankies, books, and laughter.

With our Christmas tree in our more formal living room this year, the kiddos and I spent many a December morning playing and reading in it. We noticed that that particular room is one of the brightest in our home. It is also one of the only spaces in our house without wooden floors—floors that, even covered with large rugs topped with a blanket, are a bit hard for Eric’s baby body. Carpeted and light, our living room has become a favorite place to play this past month. Still, some of the furniture was not arranged conducive to moving around well. With the Christmas tree now put out, there was space to move our couch in front of the big window, and we were able to keep one of our sitting chairs in the alcove by the stairs, freeing up more space for the flow of our energy. Everything looks, and more importantly feels,  so much cozier, and we have a new play space. What is the sense in having delightful spaces if we reserve them only for formality?

I love to revise my spaces periodically. There is the feeling that we will inscribe new memories upon those spaces. We have a new freedom in that room that we did not have previously. A glorious openness and flow of light energize the downstairs. The “bird in my hand” is knowing that I did not have to purchase anything in order to make the revision—so often we can move around what we already have, both physically and metaphorically as we look for the joys within us and bring them to the surface.

To celebrate, Katie and I shared teatime today in our rearranged room. My cousin Hannah (actually my cousin Brandon’s wife and like a sister to me) gave me a beautiful birthday present: a basketful of English teatime treats. She is English, and she has shown me the delights of Yorkshire tea and PG Tips. I made an herbal tea for Katie, and we both took milk. We shared Walker shortbread and Hob Nobs and a bit of Cadbury chocolate during our tea today. We served our treats on my Uncle Eric’s serving dish. Why not use our special heirlooms and bring new life to them?

Eric played on the floor nearby, and we listened to some of our music in the background, just as the rain began to mist downward to the earth.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” so goes the adage that has been instructive to me since childhood. If we are to create our own joy and our own lives with our own hands, then it has done me well to remember to be grateful for what I already have. A bird in the hand represents, to me, the idea of appreciating what we’ve got. Of looking around and finding contentment in the people, ideas, and moments we hold dear without trying to apprehend more than our share or risking the beauty we already have for selfish or needless pursuit.

It is the lesson Dorothy learned in The Wizard of Oz. To gather our joy, we need to begin in the home, inside of us, in that place deep within where the authentic self dwells. We recognize the birdsong—the freely winging sounds of joy—that are part of all of us if only we take the time to listen to ourselves.

The image of a “bird in your hand” conjures for me, also, an ancient writing tool: the quill. I imagine taking a bird feather, dipping it into ink, dripping that ink a bit onto my writer’s bump, and writing my own story—usually in the thick cover of night, a silent time, a time to hear one’s inner singing voice.

We must each hand a hand in writing our own narratives. As I begin the new year, I am enjoying my first freelance editing client, a friend from Toast of the Valley Toastmasters, Dr. Sana Johnson-Quijada. Sana, a psychiatrist, writes a tip a day on how to be a friend to yourself at http://www.friendtoyourself.com . What moves me most about her work is her authentic voice, a voice which urges readers gently toward self-care. Self-care, like writing, is a process of constant revision. We must constantly revise ourselves, hone the language of our personal stories, and gather our authentic joy.

Blogging for many years, I have most recently been keeping our McGaugh Family blog at  http://sarahmcgaugh.blogspot.com.  Focused on finding beauty in daily existence with my husband and children, it is time to merge my interests of gathering joy, writing, and helping others with their writing into one location: birdinyourhand. Writing is a way to keep our eye trained on our authentic selves, and I would welcome the chance to help other writers to find their voices while continuing to find my own. Periodically I will post excerpts of the work Sana and I are doing together—well, really, she is doing all the work of finding her innermost thoughts to help others, and I proofread it. Other times, I will post my own writing, reflecting upon the way our actions and our perspectives write our history.

The first action is to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, and in this, to remember the bird in your hand.

As the new year begins, we know we have many opportunities to create for ourselves, and to give to others, new joy.

Let us gather our joy through writing together and through listening to our birdsong voice that flutters in our hearts.