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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.

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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.