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A reader and a longtime friend (and also a colleague) of mine, LB, commented on yesterday’s post:

I am sure you cringe every time I write. I was never formally trained in college-level English …I break many rules and don’t even know it….I just write so it sounds good to me.

Thinking about you editing my writing sends chills down my spine!

LB is not alone: thinking about anyone editing my writing sends chills down my spine, too! Asking someone to be your second set of eyes is not easy; it is an act of faith and trust. We make ourselves vulnerable when we do that.

I truly believe that it is not ever very probable that anyone—myself included—will write a perfect draft of anything the first time. Is it possible? Sure. Likely? No. There is always something to fix, hone, improve, reword. The craft of writing never ends.

And just when we think we have it, there are new ways to push ourselves, new writing games we can play. A favorite teacher of mine in high school, Mrs. A, gave us a list of words we were not to use in some of our compositions. This list included common verbs such as “is” and “was” and “were”….plus several “helping words” like “there” and so forth. At first it took hours and hours to compose an essay around these rules. How do you write without the “to be” verbs?? Some students grumbled. Yet it remained our challenge, and we had to blossom creatively. I could feel myself stretching, and I loved that feeling as a student. Mrs. A will always be one of the truly great teachers in my life.

Our age of technology and quick written communication—blogs, e-mails, Facebook comments, text messages—seems to coincide with favoring efficiency and developing a more colloquial language. We do not read over our Facebook comments a dozen times before we post them, and we do not use our finest eye on our text messages. If we put these forms of writing through a rigorous and time-consuming editing/proofreading process every time we set out to communicate in this age, we might as well get out the ol’ fountain pen and stationery and make a trip to the post office. Sure, I am an advocate for writing as cleanly as possible so that you will be understood, but we must also understand that most blogs, for example, are first drafts, perhaps revised as we go.

That’s what editors are for: we can be the second eyes that take the piece through a clean-up time.

It is funny: ever since I declared English as my major at Stanford, and especially since I became an English teacher, many people—even my family! especially my family!—imagine that I am in “English teacher edit mode” all the time. I wish I could explain how much that is not the case. I majored in English because I love to read—to read others’ thoughts and to interface with those thoughts, to analyze and to learn from those thoughts, to have conversations across centuries. So most of the time, I read to savor and enjoy, to relax, to ponder. I read blogs and Facebook comments for these reasons…and also because I am just a plain old busybody. It takes an extra effort in my mind to switch into “edit mode.” Most of the time, I don’t push that switch because when we start pulling apart writing, we are looking at it in a mechanical way. Good writing often needs to be enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake.

I like what LB says about writing “so it sounds good to [her].” YES! An editor is no editor (and a teacher no teacher) if, at the end of instruction, the writer has lost her voice. And LB is right even further: we must begin writing by listening to the poetry and rhythms in our inner ear. Our own personal cadence. Grammar concerns arrive on the scene when a writer realizes that adhering to certain rules makes it more likely that readers will better understand her.

So no, I don’t cringe. Not unless I am asked to. 😉 The times I am most aware of cringing with respect to Facebook or blogs, for example, is when a poster uses words to spread negativity or discordance. Words are powerful, and my emotional responses to them tend to be permanent. Words should be used for the Good. I am a big believer in that.

And I am willing to receive the feedback in return. Another friend and reader of mine, Miss M, mentioned the other day that perhaps joy should not be “gathered” but rather something one “feels.” I have been pondering the difference in those verbs for days…and I thank her for drawing my attention to the nuance of it. Not only does it mean we are communicating in a purposeful way, but also it means that she is letting my writing take both of us to new places in our philosophical outlook. Isn’t that what writing is for?

Finally, one of the greatest challenges of my life (as a person who is often concerned about earning respect from my colleagues and fearing my weaknesses) also turned out to be one of the biggest blessings. Still a young teacher, I was surprised when a colleague of mine, SH, (now a dear dear friend) asked me to team-teach with her a couple sections of 9th graders in classes that would combine GATE clusters with the special ed clusters and still meet the old rule of 20:1 students with a 9th grade teacher. Those clusters never would have intersected otherwise in 9th grade English at the time. We had a total vision for the double class, and the school gave us a double room and an extra adult. We were able to do some mind-blowing, amazing things together with our students. It was a time of great learning for me, for all of us.

That first year, I had to learn to trust the feeling of my colleagues watching me hone my pedagogy, watching me in both glorious moments and red-faced moments. I had several single classes of my own, too, and I know well how much revision goes on in a single lesson plan from period to period. Imagine revising lesson plans and teaching strategies with another teacher, being honest about what worked and didn’t, where I did well and where I didn’t. It was the same for SH. We could see and hear everything about each other as professionals. We even got to the point where we could revise together by just a glance or few words in the middle of a period, in a split second. We got to know each others’ teaching rhythms. We helped each other reflect. There was no room for anything but total trust.

That experience, combined with how I tend to think about life generally, opened me to whole new ways of sharing and gathering knowledge, on reflecting with someone else about what goes well and what doesn’t. There is not a place for critique (good or bad) of others without a supportive, open-hearted attitude. We can’t go into it feeling that knowledge is a zero-sum game, or that it is anything less than a true sharing without judgment. If two people are really communicating, the learning is always bi-directional.

Joy in the sharing…

Few things in life surpass the delight of being mostly asleep and feeling someone lay a blanket over you to keep you warm. It is a magically cozy feeling, a coziness that starts way inside the heart and through dreams. It is one of those simple gestures of love that one person makes to another.  A way to say: I am loving and thinking about you and your comfort; I am protecting you while you sleep. To cover someone with warmth and love is to give a true gift. So simple, and it costs nothing: the glow of coziness.

The kiddos and I had a busy morning: we took a long walk and played at a nearby park. When we got home, Eric was sleepy. Katie went to get one of their blankets, and she gently covered him after he had already fallen asleep.

Big Sister tucks in her little brother for a small nap.

 

She tucked him in, saying, “Swaddle him, swaddle him.” Such sweetness…

While he napped, we made lemon bars from some lemons my mom and dad brought back from my grandpa’s land. We talked about how the scent of the lemon zest reminds us of his land and of him.

Using the pastry cutter, Katie helps to make the shortbread crust for the bars.

We also worked on today’s craft/lesson: wax paper “stained glass” hearts. We shaved crayons onto wax paper, folded over the paper, ironed, and then cut out heart shapes. Pictures of the final product still need to be taken, as we have yet to hang them up. That will be tomorrow…

Katie said this project was “the best one we’ve ever done!” (And that’s really saying something, because we have done many, many art projects together. She loved choosing the crayons and color blends. I also let her help with the ironing (carefully).

Katie works on making crayon shavings.

I love my two little people so much. My wish for them is that they will always be the kind of brother and sister to cover one another with a blanket when the air is cold, that their bond will triumph over any test life brings. I see in Katie the loyalty of a big sister and in Eric his totally adoring and trusting eyes. Because one is three and one is 5.5 months, I am often bouncing from one’s needs to the next—and it can get hectic to have them so close in age and still so young. Yet then there are a great many magical moments like today, when I am beyond thankful that they are so close in age and will travel through many of the same life phases together.

And there is so much joy for me, as a mother, to watch my daughter gently tuck in her brother the way I have done for her so many times. It means that she knows, at some deep level that she cannot verbally express, just how much I love her.

It was time for a family adventure, and so last night Bill and I talked about ideas for a day-trip or something fun to do with our kiddos today. Since Katie has been asking to visit the snow again, and since she routinely points out the snow on the mountains we can see in the distance from Temecula, we decided last night to head toward the mountains in search of snow. Right before she fell asleep last night, Katie listened as I told her, “In the morning, Daddy and I have a surprise for you. We are going to do something very fun tomorrow! It will be a surprise!” She was so excited, and she woke up wondering what the day would bring. Isn’t it neat how easy it is to create delightful anticipation in our children? To turn an ordinary day into an extra-special day?

We weren’t sure if Idyllwild would still have snow since it hasn’t rained for a couple of weeks. It seemed possible, though, and since Idyllwild is a special place for our family, we decided to head up there today. Sure enough, we got lucky with patches of snow along Strawberry Creek, right by the inn Bill and I try to visit yearly for our Anniversarymoon.

This was Eric’s first time to visit Strawberry Creek out of the womb. He actually has been twice already (last year’s snow day in February and our Anniversarymoon this past May). Katie burbled over with memories of last year’s snow trip, and she is starting to know some of the special spots at the inn: the chairs Bill and I sat in to talk about what to name her when I was pregnant with her, for example. She feels connected to this beautiful place in some of the ways we do.

Eric was delighted. I hiked with him in the Bjorn carrier (I wish I’d had this carrier for Katie), and he bobbed around making happy noises at everything. He especially loved the chickens, and he was so curious to touch the snow. Both Katie and Eric come alive in nature, and we all loved the scent of pine needles around us. Although last year’s trip to Strawberry Creek was the discovery of a winter wonderland swath of snow all along the creek, we really found only a few patches this year. But no matter. The point was for all four of us to be together, to make a memory, to have an adventure, to see what we could find and celebrate the beauty there was.

After playing and hiking by the creek, we drove more into town, went to the restaurant Bill and I ate at our first honeymoon night several years ago, then found a candy and toy store and poked around a bit. We had a nice day together.

Some pictures from today:

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.

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!

The kiddos and I had a playdate this afternoon at my friend Sana’s house. I have met few people as genuinely open and welcoming as Sana is, so full of light and so able to incorporate anyone into the natural good flow of energy through her home. It is a true spiritual gift Sana has: bringing others into her good word. The busyness of her home is a happy busyness. Children play and learn; there is a freedom to be oneself. There are many things to learn from Sana…

She is a connector. I first noticed this when I met her in Toastmasters and then from reading and editing her blog. She is the kind of person everyone loves to be around: positive, non-judging, uplifting, sincere, comforting, gracious.

Sana reminded me today of how important and beautiful it is to connect with others. Life is brighter, more creative, and honest when we do. Some of us will work on our ability to connect all of our lives; those, like Sana, who are graced with the natural gift of it, can teach us how. I think it starts with authenticity, and using one’s authenticity and warmth to bring out the best in other people.

Katie, and Eric, and I had such a fun day! I want so much to write more tonight about the way that the Universe gives bits of light to us in the forms of people, and we have only to listen to uncover great truths. Yet I am needed elsewhere at the moment by one of my children. So, until next time, thank you for connecting with me, my friends who read these words.

Let us gather our joy by connecting with others and bringing out their inner lights.