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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.

I am starting to catch up on some of my recent pictures. Here is a little peek at what the kiddos have been up to!

Yesterday morning we put on a ballet, so Katie decorated her brother in a costume.

Katie puts a crown on Eric.

Oh, to be the little brother! I used to dress my little brother up, too. Privileges of being the older one!

In the past couple of weeks, Eric found his feet.

Feet are fun!

I remember when Katie discovered her feet…time goes way too fast!

Katie and I discovered a “new” park—all the play structures in our neighborhood are in the process of being replaced with newer models. We had fun!

Today we had chores and errands to do: grocery shopping, laundry, etc.

Katie likes to use the little shopping cart at the store to help me shop!

Katie ponders which beans to buy (we needed both black beans and pinto beans today).

Katie likes to look at the cards in the card aisle.

After picking out produce, we headed for check-out.

Katie was proud of herself and felt like a big girl today. Not only did she help with all the shopping and crossing out the items on our list, but she picked out her outfit all by herself today: dress, hairdo, shoes, accessories. She loves the freedom to embrace options and choices. Big girl!

Tonight was a three-song night for Eric, although it was a one-song night for Katie. Nightly bedtime is 8:00PM in our house, by the time we finishing reading, bundling, getting water, brushing teeth, etc. Eric is usually so pleased to be in his crib that he falls asleep by the time Katie’s teeth are brushed. He’s my sleeper. Katie is my live-life-to-the-full girl, hardly recognizing her own tiredness. Tonight, though, Eric needed a little extra rocking, song singing, and gum-rubbing. When I came in for his second cuddle, he looked at me with his big baby eyes and reached out to my face. Sure enough, after two more songs, he was peacefully sucking his thumb and both kiddos were asleep by 8:20. My husband now, too, I think. The running joke in our house is what song from The Sound of Music my husband should hear each night? (Katie’s special song is “My Favorite Things” and Eric’s is “The Sound of Music”).

It’s been a busy day, too. In between throwing a stuffed doggy birthday party, going to my annual appointment at Temecula Valley OB/GYN, dancing to Raffi, and sipping some PG Tips from my cousin Hannah, I actually had a moment to get some housework done. Whoa. I am pretty obsessive about vacuuming, and I try to keep up with the bathrooms and kitchen, but today I had a moment to start whittling away at the other little things that always need to be done, such as the dusting and polishing.

Dusting and polishing tends to be toward the bottom of my list when it comes to housework, and yet it is one of the most satisfying chores to have done. All the wood and glass has an extra sparkle, the light bouncing off in new ways. Everything feels twinkly and smells of lemon oil and Windex. Katie usually helps me with her own rag, but today I gave her a break and Eric helped instead, traveling around with me in his Baby Bjorn harness carrier.

When I began today, though, it felt like such a chore. I thought of my aunt’s remark once about why she chooses to clean her own house: “Why pay someone to do it when I can do it myself?” Spoken like a Matics. Today I could think of a million reasons why: chores can be tedious, never-ending, not-so-interesting, not fun. We tried a few cleaning services once, back when I was still working. Neither my husband or I could ever get used to strangers in our most personal of spaces, and one woman turned out toilet seat blue and we came upon another eating our Pez. Of all things. There was another woman, one we liked and kept for a long time, but she had to move. It was near then that I had decided to take a leave of absence from teaching, and I thought it made the best sense to take over the cleaning.

Thank all that is good for parents that taught me how to do chores when I was growing up. It was expected that I would help my mom clean our house, up through high school. Dusting and polishing was, in fact, my main chore, but I experienced all of them. Let me tell you, my parents have a LOT of wood. It took at least a couple of hours to do it all and do it right. I am sure that I grumbled at least a few times, but in retrospect, I am glad they made me pull my weight and valued my contribution as a family member. Moreso, I am thankful they instilled the discipline to do and finish a job right, even in moments when I didn’t want to. It taught me to pull myself up and get-er-done. How many more times I have had to “get-er-done” with respect to many parts of my adult life, I cannot even begin to say. I am grateful for the training.

It’s those old farm values again.

I am a little bit sloppier, now and then, dusting my own wooden pieces, I’ll admit it. Yet every once in awhile, I get back into my groove with my polish and my rag and let my mind wander. I dust my the big picture frame on the wall, and I let my mind wander over the images inside: the lighthouse at Point Reyes, one of my favorite places in the world; my mom and I hiking in Muir Woods; the California coast. I polish my hanging curio cabinet and dust the tiny china teacup and saucer inside: it belonged to my great-grandmother Sarah McClain (who was later Sarah Matics—like me—when she married Guy), and she earned it in 1909 for perfect Sunday school attendance. It is over 100 years old…. Eric tries to suck on my finger, woops, it is too oily…better finish up here and get him settled. Katie is ready, too, for her doggy birthday party.

My friend Sana recently wrote in her blog about this human quality of work and of caring for her home (“Feeling Human. Get to Work.”) She opens her piece with a thought that, I think, is profound:

“Some days, I feel more human than others.  Today was one of those days.  ”Chalk full,” as my Aussie-friend says, with stuff.  Started when I got up with the usual dishes, laundry, breakfast and such.  Thankful for it you know.  Means we’re living here.” (Sana Johnson-Quijada, posted 12/22/2010)

This part, here: “Thankful for it you know. Means we’re living here.” It has stayed with me. I thought of Sana’s words again today. Just at the moment when I was thinking about how there is always cleaning and tidying to be done, how it never is all perfectly returned to order, along came her words of wisdom. Means we’re living here. Yes, yes. Just at the moment when I was tempted to dust off my old nemesis perfectionism… The dishes by the sink, the dust that gathers on the sideboard while I spend days playing with my children instead of polishing, the blocks strewn on the floor, the couch pillow that toppled off: signs that we are here and are alive and rolling with the flow. The signs of my children, and my husband, and myself. Even chores that never end can be perfect in their own way.

Even mess can be beautiful, interpreted through a joyful, open lens.

Today there was a way to gather joy amidst the gathered dust.

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.