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Check engine

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This promises to be quite a week. Take a few deep breaths.

Daylight is to be cherished on Saturday, the shortest day of the year. It will also be the biggest shopping day of the year. A good day to buy some candles. Sunday evening brings the year's final full moon, the ominously named (by Native Americans) Full Cold Moon.

For some it will feel like the longest, loneliest, most eerie night of the year. Other more lyrical names are the Winter Makes Snow Moon and the White Frost on Grass Moon.

Beyond the almanacs, newspaper headlines and circulars scream "Last Minute!" in a desperate shrillness sounding more apocalyptic than joyous.

In the hustle and bustle of races to parking spaces, our dented but dependable Toyota delivered its own season's greetings when the "check engine" light came on, and on, and on. It was always something small. We started having to add a quart of oil every week. Then she lost acceleration. A week later, the engine died.

As the car's primary driver, our teenage daughter was well aware of the check engine light. She was well aware that we had started to backslide on our golden rule: When the Check Engine Light Comes On, Take It to the Shop. We were all going in so many directions, very busy, so many important things to do. Yada yada yada. The warning light continued to glow bright.

Around the same time, she was writing 10-page papers and reading three books at once for school. And preparing for a dance performance and doing a few sports on the side. Never sleeping enough, but (of course) keeping up with all beeps and screens in the global social universe. High-schoolers in December are busy kids.

Then she started getting tired, falling asleep two pages into Jack Kerouac. Yawning when she used to be laughing. We propped her up for a few days with chamomile tea and Tylenol and sent her on her merry way at the same dizzying pace.

"I wish people had check engine lights," she commented with despondence one morning at breakfast before school. Clearly tea and sympathy only went so far.

She had walking pneumonia. With a doctor visit, proper meds and plenty of rest, she has rebounded quickly back into her world. We're still stocked up on tea and honey. The car is back on the road, too—with a rebuilt engine.

Sunday night, after you cross off a few nagging notes on your to-do list and turn out the tree lights, peek out the window toward the southeast. Gliding quietly and confidently, filling the night sky, that's the Check Engine Moon.

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