Saturday, February 27, 2010

The chicken chronicles

"Where's Papa going with that ax?"
-- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
(First line)

I blame the whole thing on Michael Pollan. Everything. Every single bit of sordid drama that has played out in our back yard over the past three and a half years, involving certain feathered, egg-laying creatures that -- alas for us! -- have names.

You see, when Tim and I read The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals we became convinced of our need to know where at least some of our food comes from. While our small patch of land within city limits could not sustain a herd of grass-fed cows, or even a decent crop of corn, we could do backyard chickens. And so we did.

"We are NOT going to give these chickens names," The Professor warned the children on the way to buy our first crew. Five minutes after they left the feed store, he called to report sheepishly that they were bringing home Feather, Chirp, Cluck, and Kiki.

Over the years, we've had our share of possums, egg-eating snakes, midnight forays with the pitchfork or pellet gun, chick-coddling, chasing runaways through neighbors' yards, etc. Also, lots of eggs.

We never quite knew what our pets' life expectancy would be, because really, when do chickens ever live to old age? Recently, it became clear that Madelyn was ailing. The Professor consulted the wisdom of the backyard poultry list. "Put her out of her misery," the group advised. I looked at him like a gimlet-eyed martinet. "I do NOT want to know about it," I declared very sternly.

I can be very firm that way.

He tried, one morning. (By this time, Madelyn was in the isolation pen, poor girl.) But he made the mistake of looking her in the eye before ... uh, before the deed was done. Attempt aborted.

We could hear Crystal, the hen we purchased at the same time as Madelyn (about 3 years ago), caterwauling away in the larger pen. Clearly, she was heartbroken at the separation from her bosom friend.

Either that, or -- more probably -- she's just a vocal chicken with big needs. But still.

Two days ago, Madelyn spent the day motionless, eyes closed, breathing oh-so-slowly. We brought her food, clean water, the Rolling Stones on her iPod -- anything to jazz her up a bit. All in vain.

The next morning, the Professor woke me with the news that he had just buried Madelyn. "You said you didn't want to know any details," he reminded me. So, I don't know. Did he use the meat cleaver? The axe? An overdose of Tylenol? Did he get Sayid to do it for him? Ignorant I am, and ignorant shall I remain.

They say that kids who grow up in a farm have a more matter-of-fact relationship with all aspects of nature, including the facts of life and death. Apparently, we have a little outpost of all that right here in our little urban patch of green earth. When we say we want our kids to love and appreciate nature, I guess we tend to think romantically of children chasing butterflies or studying leaves under the microscope. But a relationship with the natural world encompasses far more, including the poignant lessons that caring for smaller creatures also means accepting their loss.

I think Mr. Pollan may have given us a bit more than we bargained for.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chicken and Pasta with Cilantro Pesto

This recipe arose out of my desperate need to deal with my growing accumulation of cilantro, courtesy of our weekly Greenling box. We like cilantro all right, but a forest? That's when we take action.

I have to say that my kids, who have pretty discriminating taste buds, snarfed this down. The folks in my home meeting did the same, three nights later. I think that qualifies this dish as a crowd-pleaser.

Oh, and if I were cooler, I'd have a mouthwatering photo for you. But it's like I tell my kids: We get to use our imaginations!

Chicken and Pasta with Cilantro Pesto

Blend in food processor:
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
1 handful almonds/walnuts/whatever nuts you have on hand
3 garlic cloves
salt & pepper
3-4 kale leaves (optional but recommended)

1 16-oz. package short pasta, such as rotini

1 lb. chopped chicken breast
3-4 kale leaves, chopped (optional)

Drain pasta, add cooked chicken (and kale), and mix in the cilantro/kale pesto. Yum!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Opposite of Anxiety

The Eddie Bauer catalog arrived a couple days ago.

The good news for Eddie: I wanted everything in it.
The bad news for me: I wanted everything in it.

I've been getting better about just chucking these things when they come through my door, so I don't know what I'm missing, but it's sort of a two steps forward, a step-and-a-half back kind of thing.

I thought about this as I pinned my gentle cycle load to the clothesline on Sunday afternoon, enjoying a fickle burst of spring weather.

We had just returned from eating lunch at Good Luck Grill, a little place at the intersection of a few horse pastures in Manor, TX. My in-laws treated. They're awfully kind that way. The Professor had chicken fried steak (he's a bit deprived in that department). I had a huge salad with grilled shrimp. Being gluten-free has its way of keeping you on the straight and narrow.

As we digested our various lunches, talk turned to the fact that we haven't had a lot of progress lately on the Professor's quest to become a Real, Live Professor. Most of the time I'm okay with this, since I know that a tenderhearted Father is in control of our lives and future. But so many well-meaning folks ask me about our status, that it's hard not to think about it, and hard to keep delivering the verdict: "No news yet! But I'm sure we'll be fine! Thanks for asking!"

Our very dear friend Bonnie, who is about twenty years older than I and infinitely more wise and experienced, offered up the following observation: "The opposite of anxiety is not faith. It's thankfulness." There at the lunch table, surrounded by vintage wall art and antique tricycles, we talked about how easily we all fall prey to anxiety, and how quickly that monster shrivels when we start thanking God for His blessings.

So there I was, pinning my sweaters to the clothesline, acknowledging that desire for newer, nicer, better. At that moment, I mentally stepped back, as if awaking from a stupor. I saw a woman, who owns an electric dryer, making the choice to dry her clothes out in the sunshine. I saw the sun warming her face and tiny green buds appearing on the branches above the clothesline. I saw enough sweaters for every day of the week, their colors contrasting against the clean blue sky. I saw her three healthy children shrieking happily as they jumped on the friendly neighbor's trampoline. I saw ten toes wiggling freely in a pair of flip flops. I saw ten fingers clipping the laundry to the line. I saw her husband working to clean up the yard. I saw none of it costing her a single cent.

I saw that rich woman, and she was me.

And she was thankful.

P.S. I've recently discovered SimpleMom.Net, a great place to find workable suggestions for simplifying your life. Check it out!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Pinewood Derby

The other day Ian announced to us his intentions of becoming a Grand Master in tae kwon do AND an Eagle Scout.

I'd say the scouting venture we began this year has been positive. And I'm actually glad that we didn't join up when he was six, since I have a feeling that blush would be off the proverbial rose by now. Instead, he's enthused about Cub Scouts and has his sights firmly fixed on joining a Boy Scout Troop a year from now. And the activities he has access to through Scouts have certainly enriched our homeschooling.

Saturday's pinewood car derby was no exception. Here's Ian waiting his turn with two of his buddies. The friend in the middle is Sawyer. The friend on the left is Jack. The guy trying to manipulate their destinies from behind is Jacob.

No. Just kidding. The friend on the left is actually Timothy, and the innocent by-sitter would be Anonymous. Sorry. I'll get Lost with my private jokes now.

This is the face of suspense, my friends.

And this is a blurry photo, but I had to post it anyway, because it totally captures the moment -- the ecstasy, the completely life-changing exhilaration of winning a heat in the pinewood derby.

He won three out of four heats, but somehow didn't make it into the championship round. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

Of course, how disconsolate can you be when you have faces like this cheering you on?

We brought Sawyer home with us for the afternoon when the race was [finally!] over. He's a real character. I listened to the two boys carrying on in the back seat, essentially talking AT each other, just barely waiting until each finished a sentence before the other chimed in with the far more important thing HE had to say. (Do you know adults who still do this?)

About two minutes away from, Sawyer suggested that he and Ian walk the rest of the way home in order to reduce our carbon footprint. I pointed out that while we are always -- always! -- desirous of reducing our carbon footprint, I would have to drive the van the rest of the way home, regardless of their presence.

Kids. There's nothing quite like 'em, the whole world wide.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympic Records

The Professor and I always get a kick out of the background babble of the commentators at the Olympic Games. Particularly, we enjoy the very meaningful stats they lob our way.

"No American man has won the Olympic gold medal in figure skating while also being the world champion in figure skating since Scott Hamilton did so in 1984."

Wow wow wow. Let me file that away for my next appearance on Jeopardy!

Some we haven't exactly heard yet, but find entirely within the realm of possibility:

"This is the first skater with a blind, left-handed father ever to place seventh in an Olympic Games held on a year ending in zero!"

"This is the only snowboarder EVER to land this particular combination in competition while wearing eyeliner AND lipgloss on a Wednesday since 2009!"

"This is the highest score ever awarded by this panel of judges since I started scratching my left shoulder!"

One day, you'll encounter us in a game of Trivial Pursuit, and we will make you shudder in fear.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to Use a Curriculum

Surely a title to thrill you to the fingertips, no?

This is kind of a how-we-do-it homeschooling post, partly for my own records and partly in case anyone's curious. (Truth be told, some days I think "how we homeschool" is just that we create messes and and try not to trip over them. But anyway.)

So, for the first time, I decided that since we tend to give short shrift to scientific matters around here, I'd order a science curriculum. A textbook, actually. Egads.

The result is that in four weeks, we've almost made it through two chapters of Exploring Creation with Zoology: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day. Although we normally eschew anything resembling a textbook in favor of what Charlotte Mason calls "living books" or "whole books," this volume is inspired by the Charlotte Mason method and is written in a conversational style that I tend to use as a springboard to even more conversational ad-libbing. We stop, I ask questions, I paraphrase, we discuss tangentially related matters such as the existence of Martians. It's all good.

But the text has only been a starting point for us. We've found supplemental picture books at the library. We've read The Boy Who Drew Birds, a beautifully illustrated biography of John James Audubon for primary-aged kiddos. We've spent some time looking through our Audubon field guide. We've drawn pictures and taken photographs (usually after a reading session, I ask the older two to draw something for their folders). We participated in last weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count. We'll be getting Winged Migration from Netflix.

We've been listening, coincidentally, to The Journey, from Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'hoole series, which has Ian prowling for sequels at Half-Price Books. One day on the couch, leafing through the Audubon guide, the kids were thrilled to find real-life photographs of the owls personified in those books.

This sense of how everything connects is one of the things that makes the toil and tears of homeschooling worthwhile to me. Here, let someone more eloquent than I say it:

“Learning to look around sparks curiosity, encourages serendipity. Amazing connections get made that way; questions are raised—and sometimes answered—that never would be otherwise." - John Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic (an interesting read in itself, although I confess I never finished it.)

Tomorrow, we'll be cooking up some suet to lure unsuspecting feathered friends to our yard for tasty treats. I'll be letting this whole bird adventure unfold (and maybe keeping up a sidebar about it) until my troops run out of gas and let me know it's time to move on to other things. As the weather warms, I hope we spent plenty of time just sitting outside and watching, letting our own imaginations take flight.

P.S. I already posted this on Facebook, but in case you missed it, there's philosophical homeschooling inspiration for the taking right here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet 3-D valentines

I've been spending all my verbal energy (and spare time) on crafting an article on this wonderful place for this magazine. The deadline looms. The brain perspires.

Also, there's Apolo Ohno. He asked me to be sure to cheer for him, and I simply can't disappoint. You know how it is.

But, I wanted to show you the valentines we made for the girls' co-op classes. They came out PDC (pretty darn cute), if I do say so. My little ladies marched in that door this morning on a wave of generous pride.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Are you ready?

I am!

P.S. Not to be shallow, but are all Olympians talented AND gorgeous? Hmm. Is it too late to start curling?

P.P.S. Dear Shaun White, can we trade hair? Yours is totally wasted on a guy. I think I could wear it pretty well. And it's a big improvement over the 'do you used to have. Just sayin'.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What I Cannot Be, a.k.a. Thankful Thursday

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of things you need to teach your child? Everything from character to personal hygiene to long division to why Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon to how to pump on a swing -- man, sometimes that just feels like a tall, tall order. There are moments when I feel like a one-woman band, and am absolutely positive that one of the snare drums on my back ain't gonna get hit, baby.

Especially since we homeschool. I can't fall back on, "Oh, her teacher will cover 'how to put on your jacket without bunching up your sleeves' or 'how to play in a group without excluding anyone.'

But then I have other moments, probably the truer ones, when I realize that there are things I'm not meant to do, areas in which I cannot suffice -- and that's a good thing.

Last Saturday, my eldest participated in a Bible Quiz competition with his AWANA club. He and one other boy represented the fourth grade males for our club, and I'd love to say we studied hard every single day, but I'd been lying to you. See discussion above.

But he did prepare decently, and on Saturday we shoved off at some unholy hour for the competition, armed with bagels and cream cheese.

He did well in the multiple choice round -- I know, since I was a scorekeeper (not for him).

Then came the bright lights, the big city -- no, just the bright lights. Of the stage, that is. About twelve boys, perched on the stage in front of a sanctuary full of beaming onlookers. All armed with buzzers that would light up a screen when pushed. First one to buzz in gets to answer. Only word-perfect answers accepted. (Oh, in case you're wondering, participating in the Quiz was totally his choice.)

And he did pretty well -- but not as well as he wanted. He answered three questions and got two wrong (minor wording issues), which meant he had to leave the stage. The moderator could not have been more kind and encouraging to the kids, letting them know that any effort they made was worthy of praise, and the audience applauded every attempt, successful or not.

But my guy -- oh, he was not pleased. As he slid into the pew next to me, I could see the puffy eyeballs glowing Grief Red. Other kids may have accepted defeat with equanimity, but that's never been the name of his game. As I opened my mouth to begin my sympathetic chat about his going up to bat being the whole point, and some kids not even taking a swing, but if you swing sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss, blah blah blah, three adults swooped in. Three leaders from our club, dedicated parents who show up week after week to shepherd these kids because they care and they're called, period.

One of them's tall. Really tall. Like maybe 6'5". He leaned in, made contact with those tearful blue eyes, and spoke seriously to him.

"Ian. You have NO reason to hang your head. You got up there and gave it your best. You hid God's word in your heart, and that's the whole point. We are all very, very proud of you." Each word flew like a balm-tipped arrow, finding its mark in a disappointed heart. The other two adults spoke a few more words of encouragement to my son, as I wiped my own tears of gratitude away.

Within ten minutes, my boy was sitting, dry-eyed, in the hallway playing with another boy on his DS. He never said another word about that supposed "failure," and neither did I.

It was unnecessary. As it turns out, I can stop worrying about that snare drum. The Lord may have extra work getting this truth through my thick skull .... but there are plenty of other players in this band.

P.S. This photo was taken immediately after the competition. Would you ever guess that it's the boy on the RIGHT who didn't do as well as he'd hoped?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Lovebox

Here's the thing about family traditions: a few of them are their very own living, breathing, organism, crawling into existence from some primordial soup without any intelligent design on your part. They just happen. Like the way my dad calls us on our birthdays each year and says, with a breath of fresh originality, the following: "Well, thank the Lord He's given you another year." It's like clockwork. If he misses a year, part of Antarctica slides into the Waddell Sea.

But most family traditions require some effort. Some effort, some creativity, sometimes when you least feel like calling things not being as being.

Take last weekend, for example. I wanted to do something for the kids in celebration of February being sort of the Month of Love. But at the same time, I have this Japan class I'm teaching and have to prepare for each week, I have a big article deadline coming up, etc. My brain felt sluggish, lazy, inert. Creativity lay gasping and blue-lipped on the floor.

But a little voice in my head reminded me that traditions, which both anchor and adorn a cozy home, are worth a bit of exertion. So I just got out a shoebox. I knew the annual AAH Valentine's Party wasn't going to happen for us this year, as tempting as it was to reunite with old friends. The kids would have loved it, but cranking out sixty valentines plus a box by Tuesday morning just ... well, pardon the pun, but ... wasn't in the cards.

But a shoebox, we can do.

And with a pile of paper scraps and a bottle of Mod Podge, the girls and I went to work. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds, and we finished our Love Box as The Professor and the Boy watched the second half of the Super Bowl. (Meh. No Patriots. Who cares.)

Here's the result. Note! Let us all repeat the Cardinal Rule of Crafting with Children: Forget the vision, people. It's all about process ... and letting go.

The idea is that for the rest of the month, or until the zeal wanes to its embers, we leave little notes for each other inside the box, to be opened at dinnertime. A pad of pink paper lies at the ready. Here was last night's harvest:

There were some shining eyes and secret smiles warming our dinner table, I can guarantee you that.

And we beheld the work of our hands, and it was very good.

P.S. We're also memorizing the famous passage that defines the true nature of love from 1 Corinthians chapter 13. Check it out here.

Three Links

I ran across these sites over the weekend, and since I was always taught to share, thought I'd pass them along like a good, socially advanced, little preschooler.

Alice at Savory Sweet Life ran a weeklong series on feeding your family on a tight budget, something she practiced scrupulously for Hunger Action Week. She fed herself, her husband, and her two kids for $122, which frankly kind of knocks my socks off. I love Alice, ever since she taught me, virtually, how to make my own frappucino (TM) at home.

And speaking of living on a budget, check out PearBudget, a site that helps you build a monthly budget and then stick to it by entering your receipts. That latter step is my nemesis, and why I tend to fail at accurate budgeting, but I! am! determined! to give this a good shot. PearBudget makes it so easy. Besides, what's not to love about a [non-bruised, non-mushy] pear?

Got kids who like computer games? At Cool Math for Kids, they can play all sorts of games that promise to make math fun -- puzzles and the like. Ian successfully test-drove this yesterday.

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, February 5, 2010

If couches could talk ...

Friday's Finest is a new meme hosted by Steff & Justine from A Bookful of Thoughts.


~Post a quote that really stuck to you after reading it in a book.
~Make sure it isn't a spoiler!
~If you'd like, expand on what you think it means and why you chose it.

"Now, the old sofa was a regular patriarch of a sofa -- long, broad, well-cushioned, and low; a trifle shabby, as well it might be, for the girls had slept and sprawled on it as babies, fished over the back, rode on the arms, and had menageries under it as children, and rested tired heads, dreamed dreams, and listened to tender talk on it as young women. They all loved it, for it was a family refuge, and on corner had always been Jo's favorite lounging-place." -- Little Women

I found my twenty-something-year-old copy of this book tucked away in a blanket chest at my parents' house during my visit last weekend, and reread all 561 pages. I'm not sure whether I loved it properly as a girl, but as a mother, who hopes for my children to always find home a place of roots and wings, I loved it all the more. The "little women" aren't angels (well, perhaps except for Beth), but real girls who struggle to reconcile their desire to break out of relative poverty into a more affluent existence with the real contentment of their simple life.

Do you have a piece of furniture in your childhood home like that? Do you have one now that's helping your children build memories? My parents still own the armchair that we refer to as "Peter's chair," for the way my brother would stumble down against his will every morning and before joining us at the breakfast table, take a few minutes in the armchair to make himself fully human again.

Just like my son now does, nestled in our own red armchair, morning by morning ...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thankful Thursday

Tonight I'm taking my cue from my friend cJoy (not sure if it's OK to link to her) and copping an attitude of gratitude. Just read somewhere yesterday that it's a great way to combat seasonal depression, but that's not why I'm doing this. I'm just thankful today for:

1. A son who offers to help me clean up the milk I so klutzily spilled and then, when I later make a point to thank him, says carelessly, "Yeah ... it was the right thing to do." Once in a while, we parents need those little road markers that say, "You're on the right path!"

2. A daughter who declares to a full house tonight, "I want to be a mom when I grow up ... and nothing but a mom. Just like YOU [jabs the air imperiously in my direction]!"

3. A morning begun by watching two faces turned toward each other on one pillow, smiling sleepily and whispering the day's opening thoughts. Yesterday I reminisced to a friend about how three-year-old Ian informed me one day that he wanted the seven-month-old Eliza to "not come out of your belly, Mom. I want her to go back." How far they've come.

4. Friends who fill our house every Thursday night -- sometimes two, sometimes ten -- with music, fellowship, appetites, and a way of drawing my mind away from its self-centered concerns and my hands toward the dish-filled sink. Basically, God in human forms.

5. The mountain of laundry awaiting folding -- it means we have clothes to wear. Holey socks and all.

6. A husband who helps me prepare for the Japan class I'm teaching at co-op in the morning, doing the grunt work I request of him when he'd rather be reading a Patrick O'Brien book.

7. Friends from said co-op who so generously stepped up last week to teach the last fifteen minutes of my class, supervise my kids, and express their care and sympathy during my family emergency last Friday. This is definitely an above-and-beyond sort of group.

8. LOST. If you'll excuse me, I need to go email my brother with a few crackpot theories on the heels of this week's season premiere.

And to make a miniature Japanese garden.

Sounds like tomorrow morning, I'll be thankful for ...

9. Coffee.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Project Life

A few weeks ago, I posted about finishing up Project 365 for 2009 and then starting anew for 2010. Well, guess what arrived via UPS last week?

My brand new, gorgeous, Project Life by Becky Higgins kit! I'm swingin' from the chandeliers!

(It might be a good idea to actually START on the project instead of just ogling it.)

In putting the final touches on my 2009 family album, in which nearly every day has a photo and an accompanying short journaling card, I felt a joy rush coming on. Had I stuck to traditional scrapbooking, making lush two-page layouts for every series of photos I had, I'd be woefully behind and mired in discouragement. Y'all, I homeschool. I have constant laundry. The do-list, it never quite empties. I needed a solution that fit into my actual life.

Here's my title page for 2009:

It was so freeing not just to record the "biggies" in our life, the built-in stories: vacations, birthdays, etc. Now I could tell the tiny stories that make up all the many days in between -- the moments I used to think I'd remember forever ... before my powers of memory liquefied and slipped out through all that breastmilk.

Honestly, some days I'd just photograph what we were having for dinner. I like to think that in the future, my children and grandchildren might find amusing these threads that wove the tapestry of our everyday life.

And it wasn't TOO onerous to write a couple of sentences about each day. But then, I like to write. Babble, even. Perhaps you've noticed.

I love scrapbooking, even this very simplified version, because unlike some other aspects of the mothering life, the rewards are tangible and immediate. And then there's the double kickback of watching my kids leaf through the album and giggle or reminisce (just as they do with my fancier albums). Ian's gotten to the point of asking me periodically, "Mom, don't you need to work on your scrapbooking?"

Sure, honey, could you cook dinner and pay the bills for me?

So I'm stoked, pumped, charged, to start back up again. Here's today's Picture of the Day, as further proof that there's always a story in the details:

This morning's coffee table tableau: Green hairbrush I've owned since high school, issue of Good Housekeeping being culled by girls for collage materials, Family Album 2009, marker, Pokémon cards (o help!), vintage book of games, Star Wars encyclopedia borrowed from the library, guest book, dregs of Rooibos Chai tea, copies of Transform!: How Everyday Things Are Made and Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought).

P.S. If you'd like to join me, the kit comes in paper or digital form (see here for details on digital). Of course, you can use any old album you want. I'm just a sucker for all things pretty and organized.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Portrait of An American Boy

Just when you think you have your kids figured out, you come home to a printed list like this on the kitchen counter.

Ian’s list of things to do

Bow [archery] practice

Form [taekwondo] practice

Lie in room and shoot darts at various objects

Snitch pieces of food

Play with oscar

See if can go 2 friend’s house or vice versa

Play with legos

Jump on Oscar’s trampoline



Play on computer

Rig booby traps

Play with Knex/Zoobs

Listen to audio book

Play on Wii [Editor's Note: Might be tough since we don't currently own one.]

Have nerf war with dad/friends

Go on tire swing

Play with eliza/caroline


Hide and seek


Watch TV

Listen to ipod

Take nap

Study pets

Play Crazyball

Invent things

Build things


Spy on neighbors

Watch clouds outside

Dig hole outside

Dig in Oscar’s house’s hole

Disappear/go camp out somewhere weird

Look for bugs/snakes

Go to Shoal Creek

I can't decide whether my favorite is "lie in room and shoot darts at various objects" or "snitch pieces of food." Or maybe it's "disappear."

And I can hardly contain my astonishment at not finding "scour and disinfect toilet" or "polish silver 'til gleaming" on this list. Maybe that piece of paper just got jammed in the printer?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rest in peace

Unexpectedly, I find myself in Boston, or a 'burb thereof, this Monday morning. In brief, after complications from back surgery ten days ago, my mom came home, but checked back into the hospital with chest pains on Thursday.

Fact: Chest pains aren't something you really mess around with. They're actually a great way to scare your grown kids!

Opinion: My baby sister, age 22, caregiver-in-chief around here, needed a little break. Not that she said so, plugger that she is. I'm the big sister, and I just know these things.

So here I am, while the Professor and some helpful friends have been minding the fort. Now, when I arrived Friday night, thanks to a last-minute deal on Hotwire, my mom was back home, up and around, and relatively energetic. I'll be painfully honest with you. The thought flitted through my head: Did I really need to cobble together care for my kids and come all the way up here? Do they really NEED me? Did I overreact?

I had a little chat with my Good Shepherd, and He faithfully reminded me that I didn't come here out of a need to be needed. That kind of desire may serve my self, but it just exerts pressure on everyone else. I decided to take the spirit of Mary rather than Martha, and just be present and available, doing exactly what He had for me here and nothing more or less. No Superwoman capes required.

There's rest and peace in that kind of surrender. I've been re-reading Little Women. Visiting with my brother and sister-in-law, youngest sister, and other friends who come by. Reading aloud to my mom while she rests. Talking with my dad while I help him eat. Stopping by the consignment shop in town because, like a dope, I forgot to pack any other jeans than the ones I wore on the plane. Praying. Being NOT in a rush. NOT giving anyone instructions. Listening. Drinking copious amounts of Good Earth tea. Freezing my toes. Talking to my crew on the phone. Looking forward to kissing some little faces in less than 24 hours.

It's all good.