Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last Week of 2011: Recap

Well, it's been an interesting week.

One week ago today we were loading the car for my husband's Big Family Christmas Eve Celebration and Pierogi Festival.  It was a busy, loud, good day.  I got a kick out of the little kids:  these are the children of the cousins who were little kids when I first met my husband!  Although we don't all get together much, the kids were quite sociable and comfortable around the adults and each other--what a credit to their parents.

My mother-in-law came back here with us after Christmas Eve and spent Christmas with us.  As we have done for the past several years, we spent Christmas at home.  Now that there are teenagers in the house, we let the kids open gifts as they wake up instead of waiting for everyone.  The folk group played at the 11:00 Mass, and we had a FULL choir area.  I don't think we could have fit one more person in there, and the 5 guitars had a lot to do with that.  What a testament to the group, ranging from age 62 to the 5-year-olds who come along with their parents!  We're there because we love what we do.  And on Christmas, everybody sings along.  There's no better way to give God the glory.

After church we came home to prepare dinner and just hang out.  Big Brother's girlfriend came over to have dinner with us.  We had a gift for her, and I had gotten her a funky stocking and put some fun stocking stuffers in with the gift as well.

On Christmas:  The Day After, we dropped off my mother-in-law and then headed to my parents' house.  It was a full house with both my siblings and their families, my parents, my great-aunt, my uncle, one cousin, and one niece's boyfriend.  The day featured lots of presents, lots of laughing, lots of food, and lots of cousins playing card games like "Old Maid," "Go Fish," and "B.S."

Then it was Middle Sister's birthday, a big chunk of which my husband spent in the Verizon store procuring iPhones for me and Middle Sister.  That's a gift neither of us thought we'd ever receive and I've been having some fun with it--though there's plenty still to be learned.  I made her a giant cookie cake AND an apple pie. She spent some time with her friends, and after dinner, our neighbors came over for dessert.

TheDad had been talking all week about going to Pittsburgh; no one knows why he wanted to go to Pittsburgh in December, but he did, so we did.  I refused to leave the house until he'd made a hotel reservation--there was no way I was going to play the "No Room at the Inn" game after driving for 5+ hours. We drove across Pennsylvania, with a detour to Shady Maple Smorgasbord for lunch.  There was all the usual bickering that driving 5+ hours with 3 kids involves.  For a few minutes there I thought there might be bloodshed in the buffet line (thanks, boys...)

TheDad's new GPS totally failed Pittsburgh.  Maybe the highways are just too close together, I don't know, but we were driving on "unnamed roads" a lot of the time, according to TomTom, and spent a good bit of time being told to make a U-turn when we were in a cattleshoot of Jersey barriers on a four-lane highway.

I found a Penzeys Spice Shop 5 blocks from our hotel.  Look at all the cool stuff I got my hands on there!  They had 5 kinds of cinnamon (I restrained myself and only got 3).

We went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and had Pho.  I'm glad I picked up some lemongrass at Penzeys, because I want to learn to make this soup!

We spent the afternoon at the Carnegie Science Center (consensus:  it's cool, but Franklin Institute is way better) and then took a ride up and down the Monongahela Incline.

And bright and early yesterday morning, it was back on the road again to head home.  We were back by 3 and I've got plenty of laundry to keep me busy all day.  Though I love the Hampton Inn's comfortable beds, it was wonderful to be back at home in my own.

I really am a homebody.  It was an enjoyable trip but I do love being in my own home.

We'll ring in the New Year with friends, as usual, at their home.  I look forward to it, except for the staying-up-late part.  I turn into a pumpkin at about 9 PM.

Today, besides laundry, I'll be cooking or baking something to bring along with us tonight--as soon as I figure out what that will be!

Except for that 3-day detour to Pittsburgh, this has been our usual Christmas vacation.  I'm kind of looking forward to Tuesday when they're all back at work or school and the house is quiet once again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Waiting in the Wings

Today's the day!  Before we leave for the Christmas Eve festivities, Little Brother will place all the figures in the Nativity scene.

Except, of course, for the Three Kings.  Those guys get to hang out behind the stable until Epiphany.

This morning, I unboxed and unwrapped all the figures and lined them up so they're ready to take their places.

The scene is's almost time...places, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sometimes I feel like Clark W. Griswold

As Christmas gets closer, I look forward to it less. I know that, like Clark, I "set standards that no family activity can live up to."  So by the 23rd of December, I've kind of had enough of it all already.

I'm anticipating what I know will be difficult moments.  I've got 3 days of family festivities coming up:  Christmas Eve with my husband's huge extended family, Christmas Day at home, just us and my mother-in-law, and Christmas:  The Day After with my family in the Great White North.

There will be people with whom I've never really gotten along well, and we'll have to make nice.

There will be people who've hurt me, and I'll have to pretend I've let it go.

There will be people who like to give me "career advice" because my kids are "too old" for me to still stay at home with them.

There will be an extremely shaggy dog that sets off my asthma, and I'll have to be extra careful about that, because I have to sing at church on Christmas Day and I don't want to sound like Bonnie Tyler in "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

It's not going to be a picture-perfect three days by any stretch of the imagination.  To be honest, I'm dreading them.  That shot in the arm of Christmas spirit I got from our Festival of Lessons & Carols?  It's pretty much worn off.  I feel less and less like celebrating, and more and more like I've got to just grit my teeth and get through it.

(It's for the kids, after all.  And I think one of them still believes.)

All of that does nothing to shake that feeling I've got right now, that "we're standing at the threshold of Hell."  The feeling that this one, as bad as I am expecting it to be, is going to be better than the one next year.  It's all downhill from here, for various reasons, and I'm not feeling up for it.

Like Clark, I want it perfect.  It's never going to live up to that dream, and I know it.  Let's face it:  the very first Christmas sure didn't live up to Mary's dreams.  Maybe that's what Christmas is all about...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Still to be done

I'm not done shopping--for my husband's gift, the kids' gifts, and food for Christmas dinner.  Not to mention gifts for Little Brother's teacher and bus driver.

Nothing is wrapped.

I haven't even started baking, and my cookie recipe makes at least 10 dozen and takes at least a full afternoon.

Little Brother has a rehearsal tonight, so it will be another late night (that makes 4 in a row!)

Last night, though, I spent two hours sitting at the front of a church with my guitar, and my son and his bass, and a children's choir that included Little Brother, and various string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments, and a group of about 30 amazing singers, one extremely talented pianist, and an awesome music director who kept us all together.  We celebrated a "Festival of Lessons and Carols" with beautiful music and nine readings from the Old and New Testaments.

Four hours before the festival began, I still wasn't sure if I could play one of the songs.  It was unbelievably difficult.  I spent part of the morning transposing it.  Then I practiced, and practiced again.

I won't say it was perfect by any means, but I'm happy that I got through it decently enough.  What a challenge!

Last night was a gift.  50 people shared their talents last night--and for many nights before at rehearsals.  Every one of those people could have been doing something else, like Christmas shopping, or homework, or watching football games, or sleeping...but this is what they chose to do.

I suspect that all 50, if asked, would respond the same way I do:  it was definitely worth it.  So worth it.

The rest of it will happen.  If I had it to do over again, I'd put off the shopping and the baking and the housecleaning (who am I kidding--I'm always ready to put off housecleaning).  I'd put it off in a second to be able to be a part of an experience like that.

What a wonderful early Christmas gift.  I am tired, proud, and very grateful.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Enough Garbage Already

In my continuing quest to win the Mother of the Year award, I've been having a bit of a battle of wills with Little Brother.  He's 9 and really feeling his oats these days.  And I've pretty much had it.

He's the one who's home more often than not, so he's the one who gets the chores that fall into the category that a certain camp director I once knew termed "Duties As Assigned."  Basically, that means "do whatever the person in charge asks you to do."  With a shortage of teenagers around here these past few weeks (Middle Sister's been involved in the play at school), the only one around to help with Duties As Assigned is Little Brother.

There has been much moaning, groaning, weeping, wailing, and let's not forget the gnashing of teeth, about how he's expected to do all the chores around here.  Must be why he's so at home in the theatre; he certainly does have a flair for the dramatic.

Last night we were all home for dinner for the first time in several weeks, and we got up from the table and opened up the boxes of Christmas ornaments to decorate the tree.  That done, we remembered that there was still a kitchen to clean up.  TheDad asked all the kids to help me get that done.

Two teenagers headed in and got water running and started emptying clean dishes from the dishwasher.  I handed Little Brother the silverware basket, and he began removing forks and placing them on the still-unwiped table where I'd carved the roast chicken earlier.

That's when it got ugly, so I just sent him to bed, which involved me spending the next half hour repeating, "Good night, Little Brother" until he finally gave up (Curses!  Foiled again by Mom's Broken-Record Parenting Technique.)

After lunch today, I asked Big Brother to please take out the kitchen trash.  He said, "OK" and started to get up.  Little Brother chimed in, "GOOD!  I don't have to do all the chores around here for once."

You know where this is going, right?  Here's what I said next:  "Big Brother, sit down.  Little Brother, please take out the kitchen trash."

That had better be the end of it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making a List, Praying It Twice

So when you've got a huge list of people who need your prayers how do you handle it?  Do you write them all down so you can remember them?  Do you try to keep track of them all in your head?  Do you make a list on your smartphone?

And is it copping out if you just pray:  "Lord, you know all the people I care about and have promised to keep in my prayers.  You know their needs and their concerns.  Help them to know that you are with them in their struggles, and may your will be done."

That's pretty much where I am right now.  So I hope that will be sufficient, because I am out of words.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent: Sublime, Ridiculous and Sentimental

In honor of Gaudete Sunday, I brought out the Christmas decorations yesterday.  I used only about half of what I usually do, though I will bring other things out of the box if my family asks for them.  (At this point, I'm wondering what decorations are holiday "musts" for them, and which ones can go.)
My collection of handmade Christmas trees surrounds the empty manger.

We've had the Advent wreath and the empty stable out since the first Sunday of Advent.  The trees went up over the weekend.

This is our Advent wreath.  A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law found this wreath among her Christmas decorations.  It's the one they used when my husband and his brother were kids.  We'll use it until those plastic greens fall apart (each year we lose a little more of it.)

That's really what Christmas decorations are all about--the sentimental value (like each and every tree pictured with my manger).  My most precious Christmas ornaments are not the pricey Belleek ball or the Lenox "baby's first Christmas" giraffe.  The ones I treasure most are the popsicle-stick picture frames with my Big Kids' pre-K pictures in them.  The kids' favorites are the ceramic pierogi and the penguins, and they fight to see whose penguin can claim the highest spot on the tree.  It wouldn't be Christmas decorating without that battle, which is why our tree did not go up on "Pink Candle Sunday" this year.  Big Brother will be home by the weekend, and we'll get it done then.

Here's one item that's not going to last beyond this holiday season:  Snowman In a Bowl.

Little Brother picked this up at Lunch with Santa on Saturday.  It's a substance with the consistency of egg white.  You pour it out of the little snowman jar.  Eyes and nose come out of the jar too.  The jar lid is the little hat, which you then pop into the bowl.  12 hours after opening this, it's still jiggly and viscuous.  I'm glad I gave him a dollar-store bowl that I don't mind sacrificing, because I do not know what is IN this stuff, but it's pretty disgusting, especially when Little Brother constantly picks up and relocates the hat.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

From the Department of "How Did THAT Get There?"

Things found on the living-room corner hutch while decorating for Christmas:

--one giant oak leaf, almost too big to fit in a Ziplock gallon-size bag
--two complete decks of cards
--the three of hearts from a third deck of cards
--one guitar pick
--six pieces of Lego U-Build Battleship
--one sea shell (clam)
--one nonfunctional laptop battery
--two Cub Scout awards
--one penny
--one "little black book" of Lent reflections
--one big black patch with a white star and Indian chief pictured on it (I'm guessing this belongs to one of my Scouts?)
--one video camera
--program from MAME
--Middle Sister's certificate from her school's fall Honors Assembly
--one blue plastic frog
--and a black-and-white plastic chicken foot, broken off some long-tossed action figure.

This is, of course, in addition to all the stuff that's supposed to be on those shelves:  photos of all the cousins, our framed wedding invitation, and a statue of St. Joseph.  That cabinet is my living room's very own, very dusty Black Hole.

Peace and All Good

It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

What an appropriate reflection for this very busy time of year.
Thanks, Dawn!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spelling Errors

Little Brother sorted through the mail after school yesterday and found some Christmas cards to open.  After I reminded him to save the envelopes for me so I can check return addresses and remove the cancelled stamps for the mission collection, he got busy opening the cards and inspecting the photos he found inside.

But since he wasn't just shredding the envelopes like he usually does when he opens mail, he took a few seconds to notice the names and addresses.

"Mom, guess what?  On both of these cards, our last name is spelled right!"

When you've got a last name like ours, that's a pretty tall order.

I mentioned on Facebook that Little Brother is proofreading all incoming Christmas cards.  That got some interesting reactions, ranging from suggestions that people sending cards to my house should write illegibly to disguise the errors, to the declaration from my sister that she'll spell it her way no matter what.  She's been spelling it consistently WRONG for almost 21 years, being a little extra generous with Z's in an already consonant-heavy name.

One of my aunts, a first-grade teacher, remarked that Little Brother should keep a list of the people who've spelled it right so he can give them a special sticker as a reward.

That brought me right back to the days when I was teaching first-grade Spanish, before Little Brother was born.  Each teacher in that school, no matter what the subject, was to make and use a bar graph that could be regularly updated in the classroom:  quite a tall order for a traveling teacher who had only 35 minutes per group as it was.  I wound up asking the kids to bring in those stickers off the bananas that showed the bananas' country of origin.  We would paste them onto a big poster that I hung on my travel cart.  Every time we got a new sticker, we'd count the number of stickers each country had (it was a good year for Honduras, if I recall correctly.)

It's really tempting to make a similar chart with all the variations on our name...I won't, but it's tempting.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Do Your Best

Twice now, in the past couple of days, the issue of how to properly pray the Liturgy of the Hours has come up.

As a Secular Franciscan, I am committed to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, in union with the Church.  I generally don't get beyond Morning and Evening Prayer, but the expectation of us in this Order is that we pray at least those Hours, whether in common or in private.  Now that my fraternity meets during the day, we have begun praying Midafternoon Prayer at our meetings.

We don't all, however, have the same breviary.  Most of us have the one-volume "Christian Prayer" version, but a few use the four-volume set.  I used to type out the prayer for that day's meeting, but it would change with the week and with the season and that got to be a huge time sink, not to mention the use of ink and paper for 15 copies--so now we just muddle through together, with all the "what page is it on?" and other general fumbling that goes along with it.

We've discovered recently, though, that the folks with the four-volume set expect that the antiphon will be repeated after each psalm or canticle, before moving on to the next.  In the single-volume format, it's not indicated anywhere that this should be done.  This has gotten us into a few liturgical traffic jams recently.

I brought up the issue at our November council meeting, and together we worked out a plan.  Before beginning prayer at the December meeting, we would introduce the idea of the repeated antiphon to everyone--and one of the owners of the 4-volume Breviary would be the antiphonarian.  While we were at it, we worked out solutions to a couple of other technical difficulties that other council members had noticed.  It was all good.

At the council meeting on Tuesday, I reviewed the plan.  We had a few members sitting in at the council meeting, because we had been working on a project before that.  The council did not mind having a more "public" meeting this time; it wasn't like anything sensitive was going to come up.  Most of the members just listened and let us do what we had to do, until we got on the subject of Liturgy of the Hours.

At that point, someone commented, "I don't think God cares very much exactly HOW we do it, as long as we do it."

Well, yes.  And no.

Daria Sockey wrote, yesterday, about the challenge of fitting in the Hours when you have a busy family, a demanding job, or nowhere quiet to pray (or all of the above!)  She quoted G.K. Chesterton:  "A thing that is really worth doing is worth doing badly."

Badly when that's the best we can do?  I can live with that.  I do live with that.  I'm sometimes praying with the theme song from Phineas and Ferb as my background music; other times, I've got Little Brother in my face even though I try to gently remind him that I'm saying my prayers now.  A home with a family in it is not often a quiet refuge for prayer.

But when we can do better, we should.  I think that we should give God the best we've got.  If the best we've got is interrupting kids, then we offer that.  On the other hand, if we are together in fraternity, in a nice quiet location, and capable of making a little extra effort to ensure that we are all united in prayer, we can go that extra mile.

Repeating the antiphon is a little thing--there's no doubt about it.  But it's those little things, those little efforts and sacrifices, that can bring us closer to God, a little at a time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Not What I Had in Mind

Little Brother just came downstairs wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

"It's not THAT warm," I told him.  We were preparing to leave the house for an errand, or it wouldn't really have mattered.

"OK then, I'll put some gloves on," he answered, pulling on his favorite pair of "hobo" gloves (the fingerless kind).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

And Now, for a Limited Time Only

The kids are getting older.  (I'm getting older.  According to Little Brother, I'm only 7 1/2 short years away from "old.")  And while I've never really been the nostalgic or sentimental type--leaving that job to my husband, who's way better at that kind of stuff than I am--nostalgia has been creeping up on me lately, whether I want it around or not.

Little Brother will turn 10 this March.  By then, Big Brother will be 20 and Middle Sister 16.


My kids are growing up on me, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Really, I love being a parent of older kids.  They're toilet-trained, literate, and can make their own toast.  2 out of 3 of them don't need a babysitter anymore.  I love watching my kids try something new, work hard at it, pick themselves up when they fall on their faces, and succeed in amazing ways.  I endured their toddler years to get to this point.

But I'm not ready to give up all of it.  I'm glad that Little Brother is still excited that St. Nicholas would leave some treats in his shoe last night.  He was thrilled to receive a ticket to "Lunch with Santa" from a dear friend. He's worrying that Santa won't be able to get down our chimney (maybe I shouldn't have let him listen to a certain rather macabre holiday tune).  I'm not ready for the time when someone has to burst his bubble.

Again and again I am reminded that my kids are kids for a limited time only.  If I'm not careful I will turn into one of those "older people" who smiles at the moms struggling with toddler meltdowns in the middle of ShopRite and says, "Before you know it, they will be all grown up.  Enjoy this!"  (I really hated those people, by the way.)

I had to request Big Brother's medical records from the pediatrician.  He's too old for examining rooms that feature Scooby-Doo and Disney princesses.  We've been with this same pediatrician's office for almost 20 years--all of Big Brother's life--and we've only got 10 years more to go with them.

I am 2/3 finished with this portion of our program, folks.  In 10 years, Little Brother will be off to college and done with the pediatrician--though with luck, he'll still have a soft spot in his heart for Scooby-Doo.  10 years is not that long.

These are the years in which I finish making the switch from "hands-on" parenting to "step away from the helicopter" parenting.  I have to deliberately hold back, let them make mistakes, offer (unwanted) advice, drive them places, shell out cash, drive them other places, refuse to let them go to some places, and have a hot meal ready for them when they're ready for the hot meal.

In return, I get to see them make the honor roll (2 of them), win awards for hard work at soccer (2 of them), competently and confidently pull off complicated Propsmistress tasks, rehearse for musicals, and score interviews for paid summer internships.  (That interview is today.  Prayers would be appreciated.)  All that has happened in the past 3 weeks.

Those have been good weeks.

Here's to the next 10 years.

Monday, December 05, 2011

How Dry I Am

One of the best ways I get a laugh is being around my kids.  It cracks me up when they use an expression completely innocently--but you can so easily take it another way.

Yesterday Little Brother sat next to me during Mass.  After Communion, which we receive under both species, he returned to his seat and whispered, "That wine really hit the spot!"  I just stared at him, wondering how much of it he drank...and he continued, "I haven't had a drink all day!"

After that, there was no keeping my composure, regardless of the inappropriateness of giggling during prayer-after-Communion time.

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

Middle Sister missed the bus (again) this morning.  As she opened the door of the van to load her stuff in, a video-game cartridge fell out.

"Little Brother doesn't take care of his things," she complained as she threw her backpack onto the back seat, followed by her laptop and enormous sports duffel.

I just looked at her and then at her pile of stuff.

"What?  The IT people test those laptops by throwing them down the stairs!  I think it can handle my 2-pound sports bag."

(She underestimates the weight of this sports bag by a factor of 10.)

"I don't think they actually throw the computers down the stairs," I replied.

"Yes, they do!  My freshman English teacher told us that," she informed me.

"I have a hard time picturing the members of the Technology Department tossing laptops down the stairs," I commented.

"And the keyboards are supposed to be spillproof too!  I kinda want to test that..."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Christmas Rhapsody

Because music touches you in a way nothing else can.

Because Christmas is coming.

Because classic rock is...classic.

Don't miss Bethlehemian Rhapsody!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Not a Musical Genius

One thing I enjoy about having an iPod is the "genius" feature in iTunes.  I can pick a song I like, click the Genius button, and immediately a playlist will be generated from the other songs in my library.  It works great--most of the time.

It does not work with Christmas music.

I wanted some background music when I was baking the gingerbread cookies just now.  Some will go to a bake sale tonight, others to a care package for Big Brother, and whatever's left after that will get eaten here.  I made 9 dozen cookies today, so there's enough to go around.

So I cued up Taylor Swift's "Silent Night, Holy Night" and told the Genius to do its thing.  It went from the sublime to the ridiculous.  The second tune was Rascal Flatt's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," which was very nice.  And then the third tune was "Who's Your Daddy" by Toby Keith.

I don't think that one quite fits the Christmas theme.

I won't be leaving my Christmas music to the Geniuses anymore.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Read While You Eat

Little Brother on "Dress Like a Cow Day" 2010
My mom just called to tell me a story she heard from my great-uncle when she visited him earlier today.  During World War II, Uncle Leo was in the service (I guess the Army; the family just refers to it as "the service.")  I knew he'd been stationed in Japan, because he used to sing us songs in Japanese that he'd learned during the war.

"Did you know," she asked me, "that Leo was stationed in Atlanta during part of the war?  And when he was there, he worked with a man named Truett Cathy.  He even sent Leo one of the books he wrote."

The name sounded familiar, but I couldn't think of the titles of any of his books.

Mom told me that Uncle Leo and Mr. Cathy had stayed in occasional touch over the years, through phone calls or letters.  Then she mentioned the reason the name sounded familiar:  he's the founder of Chick-Fil-A.

We're big fans of Chick-Fil-A.  Good food, great service, unfailingly polite staff, impeccably clean restaurants, and a business that's not afraid to close on Sunday--those things impress me.

When I got off the phone, I was telling my husband about how my uncle knew this man.  As soon as I said the name, Little Brother piped up from the other room, "The guy who invented Chick-Fil-A?"

TheDad turned around and stared at Little Brother.  "How did you know that?"

"They have a whole wall about him in Chick-Fil-A," Little Brother responded.  And apparently he's read the whole thing.

Mending the Mug

Middle Sister is burning the candle at so many ends right now; I'm just hoping she makes it through the week.  This semester she has a demanding course load:  Honors English, US History, Geometry and Studio Art.  Winter track just started for the season (she's hurdling this year).  And tonight is the opening of her school's fall play:  "The Odd Couple."  She's the Prop Mistress.

That's a big job in a play with a small ensemble but a huge props list.  Last week she exported two cases of soda and an entire Rubbermaid bin out of my basement.  I have no idea what she took from the house, other than a few crystal wineglasses that originally belonged to my mother-in-law.  The other day she texted me at lunchtime and asked me to drop off more soda and a tablecloth, and yesterday she took one of my crockpots to school.  (It should be interesting to see how much of my stuff comes back.)

She's been putting in 13-hour days all week, and for the past two days I've been dropping off "meals on wheels" at dinnertime.  She could walk to Wendy's, but I really don't mind bringing a healthier dinner over to her, and frankly, I'm a little flattered that she asked me to do this.  Yup, it was her idea.  How do you say no to a kid who is clearly missing homemade dinner?

Last night when she came home after her long day, she had a cup of something in her hand.  I was in the middle of folk-group practice (we rehearse in my living room so the kids can play), so I didn't pay much attention until she rummaged around in a drawer and retrieved a hot-glue gun, then dumped out a pile of ceramic shards from a coffee mug on my dining room table.  The mug was a prop.  It had been broken, and she was going to fix it.  It's not like they needed this mug, but she needed to fix it.

She spent an hour she could ill afford, trying to glue that mug back together.  People were asking her why she bothered, because it wasn't a necessary item--there are always so many coffee mugs around.  And she really couldn't answer.

I completely got it, though.  She was mending the mug because she needed a mental break from all the other stuff she's juggling right now.  Yes, it required concentration, but it was a completely different kind of task from vocab homework, history assignments, hurdling and prophunting.

When I was in grad school, I started doing the same thing.  Full-time graduate students tend to be very single-minded.  They focus on their studies 24/7.  I can't do that without losing my mind completely, which is why I took my master's degree and left, abandoning all hope of becoming a college professor.  I don't love anything enough to study it 24/7.  I took forced breaks from literature by joining the RCIA program as a sponsor for a fellow student, and by joining the folk group that played at 3 Masses a week.  People wanted to know why I'd spend time doing that instead of in the library; it was precisely because it wasn't the library.

Now I deal with stress by baking.  Whatever works, right?

She wasn't able to repair the mug; there were too many missing pieces.  But I think that hour she spent puzzling it back together, glue gun in hand, was not a wasted hour.  And I'm glad to know that she--however unconsciously--recognizes and gives in to the need for balance in her life.