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Today was a beautiful day in Southern California—warm, clear, fragrant with the promise of springtime. The perfect day, in fact, to celebrate Christmas with my Nana and our family.

Originally, Bill and I thought we might surprise Nana on Christmas Eve on our way to dinner that night. There has never been a Christmas when I have not spent at least part of it with Nana. When we received the call, though, telling us that Grandpa Yoder had taken a turn for the worse, we drove immediately to the hospital and knew that Christmas with Nana would need to be shared on a different day.

She left her tree decorated, and we could see it through the slider window as we all ate lunch outside by the pool today. Aunt Jenny and Aunt Anna set up the ping pong table and found a new model of the old Toss Across game, which we set up for Violet and Katie. We all enjoyed the time outside, time with family. It was still Christmas, because we were all together. Yes, the kiddos may have been in rompers. Yes, we ate sandwiches instead of prime rib. Yes, we all broke a sweat in the hot sun playing ping pong. Yet, it was just as full of the Christmas spirit as any time we’ve been together on the holiday. What a blessing to know that Christmas can truly last all year in the heart, and in the gathering of family.

Eric was able to take his first “generations” picture. The four of us have been together before, but we had yet to all be pictured together. I remember on that last visit with Grandpa Yoder at his home in November, it crossed my mind to take a “generations” picture…but I didn’t get around to it that day, and I thought “We’ll have another chance soon.” I wish we had one of all four of us, like we do for Katie.

Eric met Great-Aunt Jenny today. If Eric had been a girl, we had decided that he was going to be named “Jennifer” after her.

Eric and his great-grandmother, June Mitchell.

Learning how to play Toss Across.

How fortunate we are to have had this day together, to make these memories. In a life where we must say goodbye to those we love all too often, happiness is taking time with one another while we have each other here.

Gather your joy in your family, and celebrate the love that spans generations and years.

Rooting around in the garage this afternoon, Eric harnessed to my front and Katie painting with watercolors, I found in a box of my old playthings a snow globe I’d once received from Grandma and Grandpa Yoder for Christmas. Gosh, it must have been a Christmas as long ago as 1986 or even 1987 or 1988. A Christmas back when we all were here: Aunt Lark, Uncle Eric, my grandparents, my young parents.  I wasn’t much older than seven or eight years old when I received it, and it was before we moved to Temecula, I know. I remember being little and holding it in my Yorba Linda room and watching it for hours, of being an age when the world was perfect, an age when my parents could still protect me from almost everything.

It is no longer really a snow globe (the glass broke long, long ago, maybe in the move), but the music box part of it still works fine. There is a clown holding three balloons, and the tune it plays is Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”—more of an up-tempo version.

Dusting it off, bending the wired balloons back to standing, I placed it on our family room bookshelves. As I thought about the song it plays—a poignant song originally, full of regret and disappointment and the irony of missed timing (the Judy Collins cover always makes me feel weepy)—I also pondered how much it draws our attention, really, to finding and celebrating all the moments when timing is right, all the times when we aren’t the fools, or clowns,  that Shakespeare warns us mortals about.

So there were blessings today.

Eric had a check-up and vaccinations with his pediatrician this morning. My brave little boy. He is “long and lean” in Dr. Camacho’s words, at 26.5 inches in length, and 15 lbs., 6 oz. A good check-up is always a blessing. My mom came to help, and that is always welcome. Katie entertained her brother while we waited, by jumping and making up funny things to say. He laughs and laughs at his sister—I love it!

Later, my dad came over to help with a couple of things around the house. He took Katie for a walk and to lunch while Eric napped, so I had a little personal time this afternoon and time to work on my editing. I held and cuddled Eric as he went to sleep and just savored holding him for awhile while I read through some new recipes I’ve been wanting to try. I spent time studying his little baby face, marveling that I have him here with me now—as he was always meant to be. I began to ponder: what if the timing of Bill and I deciding to have a second child had been just the tiniest bit off? Would I not have had Eric? Impossible to fathom. He is as much a part of my destiny as is Katie.

Eric was still napping when Katie returned home, and she saw that I had put him down on her bed (a little closer to where I wanted to work). I asked her if she minded that he was on her bed, and she said, “No, he can be there; he’s my little brother!” She is so generous with her heart and her love for Eric. She is beautiful in her big sister role. And he adores her, too. I hope they always will love each other as much and as purely as they do right now. It is beautiful to witness.

And it is beautiful that, after so many years, my snow-globe-turned-music-box returned to my life just when I needed it, right at the time it would be most meaningful. While it reminds me of times that I miss and long almost too much to return to for just a moment, it becomes a talisman of childhood, a symbol of protection for an age I hold dear. It symbolizes what I most long to protect in my own children: innocent joy, free of worry, a joy of life.

This past year, I became a believer in love at first sight. Before Eric was born, Katie had plans for him to live outside in the fort of her swing set (or glued to the ceiling of the laundry room, her words). Yet from the moment she first saw him, I witnessed a bond develop between them that I know will last their whole lives. She immediately kissed him and held him when she came to see us in the hospital, and her eyes shined with love. She has been loyal and true to him ever since, making up songs about how much she loves him and patiently sharing her mommy and waiting her turn for things that she never had to wait for when she was an only child.

Eric loves her in return. The magic between them is tangible. They both want to see each other first thing in the morning. I am so glad they are as close as they are in age, because they will have the chance to be in the same phases of life together: both teenagers, both in college, even both married and having children. Katie says she never wants to live far away from Eric. To see them together is to see sweetness embodied. He laughs and laughs at her three-year-old antics and expressions. My main goal as a parent is to foster this between them, so that they will always have each other even when I am one day gone.

Of course before Eric was born, I wondered about how Katie would feel sharing her toys. To see her willing and generous heart has been a blessing. Even baby toys that were her favorites, she shares. She includes Eric in our imagination play: he was Mr. Smee this morning. She shares her figurines and princesses and blocks.

It helps that some of Eric’s Christmas toys appeal to Katie, too. Some of those toys Santa picked very intentionally so that Eric could share them and offer reciprocity (like a set of duplo Legos—he can’t play with them now too well, but he can share them and it offers him an “in” to mix with Katie’s Legos later, if technically he owns half of our total Legos). Santa addressed some of their toys to both of them. Santa is not above a little strategic planning to foster the bond. 😉

This morning, we took out our Mega Blocks. Katie has a pink set from her first birthday, and Eric got a fire truck with primary colored Mega Blocks from his grandparents for Christmas. We played together, building a boat, and then I helped Katie to build a tower. “We have twice as many blocks when we share, don’t we?” I emphasized. “Let’s see how high we can build the tower now!”

We managed to build it a little bit taller than Katie’s height.

Eventually it toppled! Time to start anew!

Dressing for the day, Katie and Eric had another sweet moment. Katie shared her “cozy” with her little brother. The “cozy” is the blanket around here. Extremely important. I have to sneak it away sometimes just to wash it.

Eric seemed to know the significance of having “cozy” put on him, because he got a HUGE smile!

Sweet Eric face, so happy to be with his sister.

So, love at first sight does exist, it turns out. I might never have believed in it, except to see it in its pure form: between two little siblings, so pure in their childlike bond.

I gathered my joy through the love between my children today, and I am thankful.

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.