Merry Christmas

Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas! We’re enjoying ours around here. I have an almost-four-year-old who is showing off his silly putty mustache as I write this, and an eight-year-old who is studying the instruction book from her new magic set. I think we’ll be watching magic shows for quite some time to come. Somewhere around here Santa also left a bike, and a pogo stick, and some games, and far too many other odds and ends. Just a guess, but I think the kids are happy with the loot.

And now we’re off to read Luke chapter 2, to keep our hearts on the true meaning of this special day. We’ll then be spending the rest of the day and week with family.

Wishing you and your families all the peace, love, and joy that Christmas represents.

Game day

Army and Navy GI Joes watch the big football matchupMy husband, the GI Joe collector, treasures his toys, but 364 days out of the year these collectible characters stay in their boxes, protected from dust and kids.

Yesterday, however, was the exception. Yesterday was Game Day. The Army–Navy game, to be exact. On this day, Kent’s special edition Army and Navy GI Joes are sprung from their cardboard prisons to watch the big game. It’s an annual tradition in our home. It would never be a real Army–Navy game without them. I don’t even know who won, but I can say with absolute certainty that the GI Joe guys had fun watching. Kent, too.

This is typical for my playful husband. In fact, I’d like to share a story. A while back I wrote about my reading superpower. Well, last night we confirmed that Kent has a superpower of his own. We had the pleasure of attending a Sunday School class Christmas party at which the after dinner entertainment consisted of a game where husbands and wives were quizzed on their knowledge of each other, akin to The Newlywed Game. In the last round, there was a bonus question where the wives had to name the one thing their husband does so well that it would be considered their trademark "superpower," should they ever attain superhero status.

Yikes! This was a tough one, but after some consideration, the obvious answer was that Kent, the ultimate kid at heart who loves to play with his kids, would most definitely be a Super Playmate. Later, the husbands were brought back into the room to answer the same question about themselves. Only one couple got the bonus points for this question. You get one guess who. Yes, Kent and I were in complete agreement that play is his superpower. I can’t think of a more fun power to have.

Home sweet home

For years, our family has been telling us that we’ve outgrown our starter house, and it’s time to trade up. They are more than right, but we’ve grown accustomed to our low payments and the security of knowing the house is safe if either of us were ever out of work.

But…

The advice is finally starting to sink in, and today for kicks, we did some research online to see what’s on the market, then drove around sightseeing just to get a feel for the potential neighborhoods in our area that might fit our budget. Our standards are high, because we want to remain in our current zoned schools if at all possible, and it has to be enough bigger than what we have now to be worth the hassle of moving. From the outside, at least, we saw a couple with real potential.

Of course we know better than to fall in love with anything now, since we have some work to do on our own house before we can consider putting it on the market. We’re starting to think about it seriously, though, with a stop at Home Depot on the way home for some home improvement odds and ends. Our first small project of replacing the molding under our kitchen and bathroom cabinets has already been started and completed. In the coming weeks and months it looks like we’ll be busy cleaning grout and touching up paint and doing some long overdue caulking. Not to mention sorting through and disposing of 10 years’ worth of clutter.

Some of the bigger projects will require a handyman, though. Does anyone wanna come help hang drywall? Or tile a shower? Or lay some carpet? We’re hiring.

An honor for my husband

“Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.”

1 Timothy 3:8-13

A couple of weeks ago, my exceptional husband received what is, to him, an important call from an elder in our church. They have invited him to be a deacon. His first thoughts were of his deceased father, who was a deacon in their church when Kent was growing up. He is proud to be following in those footsteps, and I am proud of him.

After meeting with a couple of the elders the following Sunday, Kent accepted the invitation, because, as he put it, "How can I deny the Lord?" So he’ll be on the ballot at our annual congregational meeting in a few weeks. Apparently the elders have had their eye on him for a while. And it’s no wonder—he’s so friendly, and talks to everyone. Kent is one of those people who always manages to find something in common with everyone he meets. I think he’ll be a natural in whatever ministry he takes on.

I’m so thankful every day that God led me to such an outstanding specimen of human being, thankful that God used Kent to lead me to Him, and immensely proud to be married to and loved by someone of such high moral character, who is so selfless in serving others. 

I love you, Kent, and I’m very proud of everything you do.

Can you believe it, I have been 29 for seven whole years! Today is my 29th birthday, yet again.

And let me just tell you that getting home in time for this monumental event was no easy task. Wanna know why? Here are my recent travel woes, in all their excrutiating detail. Because once I realized a potential blog post was in the making, I whipped out my trusty pencil and notebook and began chronicling the events as they unfolded.

Tuesday, November 7

1:00 p.m.: I arrived early at the airport, like a good little international traveler, for my scheduled 3:15 p.m. departure. I was advised that the incoming flight was delayed, but they would deplane quickly and chances were good that we’d still leave on time.

3:15 p.m.: My flight is CANCELLED due to a mechanical problem on the arriving plane. Followed by a mad dash to the ticket counter for rebooking. The only problem is, this is the booming metropolis of Saskatoon, hardly a major airline hub. This was the last scheduled flight of the day for this tiny regional airport. I’m unexpectedly stuck here for another night. In what will turn out to be the only piece of good news for the next 24 hours, the first leg of my rebooked flight tomorrow morning has been upgraded to first class.

4:30 p.m.: The hospitable staff at the Radisson Saskatoon are quite delighted to welcome me back again so soon.

Wednesday, November 8

4:30 a.m.: Early wake-up call for a 7:00 a.m. flight. A very nice bonus of my extra night in Canada is that upon checking out, I discover that it is snowing outside—a beautiful and rare sight for this Floridian. But I should have known the snow would mean trouble. I should have known.

7:05 a.m.: We pull away from the gate, and all looks good. Except for the ice. The plane must be de-iced before we can take off, because, hey, this is Canada, where it’s cold.

7:40 a.m.: De-icing is finally completed. Just in time for someone in charge to decide the snow is coming down too hard to keep the runway clear, and our plane is too heavy to take off in such slippery conditions. By about 10,000 pounds. According to the pilot, it’s a toss-up as to whether we’ll wait for the weather to clear or return to the gate and kick a few people and their belongings off so we’re light enough to take off. Great. Either way, there’s no way I’m making that connection to Orlando now. All I can say is, they better not kick off any of the people who had already been rebooked from yesterday! We sit around for a while as they decide what to do.

8:25 a.m.: After a couple of parking attempts in which the pilot cannot see the indicators marked on the ground because of the several inches of snow that have already accumulated, we make it back to the gate. The flight crew decides to deplane all those with only carry on luggage, and no checked bags. Rats. That’s me.

8:40 a.m.: As luck would have it, there is another plane available to take those of us who were left behind on to our next destination (the same plane cancelled yesterday due to mechanical problems). We’re directed to wait in the jetway, even though the aircraft has not made it to the gate yet. At least the jetway is heated.

9:00 a.m.: The plane arrives, the jetway hatch opens, and with no warning that motion is about to occur, the jetway is extended into position against the plane. It’s probably against every FAA regulation for passengers to be in a moving, open jetway, but I suppose the FAA doesn’t have much jurisdiction in Canada.

9:15 a.m.: After I’m safely ensconced in my new first class seat, I learn that the "mechanical problem" which caused yesterday’s flight to be cancelled was just a corner of an overhead panel in the cabin that had come loose, and only needed a dab of glue. Apparently there was no maintenance crew on duty at the time, not even a guy with a gluestick. On the bright side, I’m reassured that there are no worries about major mechanical failures aboard this particular aircraft.

9:35 a.m.: We’re ready to go, but the other plane, the one from which I was kicked off, the one that still has people on it, gets to leave first. We have to wait our turn for push back and de-icing. Those lucky ducks. Almost makes me wish I had checked some luggage.

10:15 a.m.: De-icing, take two.

10:45 a.m.: Finally airborne, only 19 hours and 30 minutes late.

11:05 a.m.: First class—aaaah, this is the life! So THIS is how the other half lives!

12:30 p.m.: Arrival in Minneapolis, exactly 2 hours and 10 minutes after my connecting flight to Orlando has already departed.

12:45 p.m.: The brilliant minds at Northwest kindly rebooked me on another airline, but geniously on a flight that I had no hope of making, given that I had to go through customs, exit the security area, cross to the ticket counter at the opposite end of the airport, re-check in with the new airline, and clear security again. All in just 25 minutes. Of course when I arrived at the ticket counter I learned that it was too late to check in, but that for only $25 I could guarantee a seat on the next available flight. I’m sure you can guess how I felt about THAT. But do not fear for my financial loss, dear readers. I told my sob story and got that $25 fee waived right away.

12:50 p.m.: I arrive at the screening checkpoint only to learn that my airline (which one? Northwest? American?) has selected me for "additional screening." Huh? I’ve flown quite a lot this year and have never experienced this before, but apparently there was a secret code on my boarding card that identified me as a potential terrorist or something. I guess the Canadians aren’t the only ones who think I’m up to no good. Or maybe the American Airlines ticket agent was punishing me for daring to fight the $25 fee. In any case, the TSA agents pulled me aside, searched all my luggage, and patted me down, then, deciding I’m no threat after all, sent me on my way.

10:40 p.m.: Two more delayed flights later (completing my perfect track record for this very long day), I finally make it to home, sweet, home. Almost 24 hours later than originally scheduled. But still in time for my birthday.

Thursday, November 9

12:00 a.m.: Happy birthday to me. I deserve it!

 

Cloud sandwich

Greetings from Saskatoon! And just where in the world is Saskatoon, you might ask? Oh, you geographically challenged children. Saskatoon is a lovely Canadian town right smack in the middle of … nowhere. But that’s okay. I had never heard of it either, until someone said I had to be here. I guess no one else was dumb enough to agree to a trip in which sub-freezing temperatures were on the menu.

Apparently, the hunting is good around these parts at this time of year. That seems to be what brought several of my fellow travelers to this remote locale. They even had a special greeter to welcome them with details for obtaining their hunting licenses or paying their hunting taxes or some such thing. I don’t know what they are hunting, though, because surely all the smart creatures are tucked in for the winter, all snug and cozy in hibernation, with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.

I also must note that Canadian customs was the toughest I’ve ever encountered. They didn’t search my luggage for illegal contraband, but they positively grilled me on the reason for my visit, down to the minutest details like who I was doing business with and what exactly I meant by "conducting a training session" and just when I was planning to get out and quit tarnishing their country with my presence. Okay, so they didn’t say that last part exactly like that, but it sure seemed like it was what they were thinking, what with the third degree and all. Cuz I know I look like such a troublemaker with a secret terrorist, or maybe drug smuggling, agenda.

But none of these things are the reasons I set out to write this particular blog post. What I want to tell you about is the interesting cloud formation I witnessed during the plane’s descent through Canadian airspace. As we began our approach into Saskatoon on this gray and dreary day, the plane sliced right through the solid layer of clouds beneath us. Nothing unusual about that; that’s what planes do as they prepare to land. What I found curious is that after we emerged from that layer of clouds, there was ANOTHER parallel layer of clouds further below. A flat layer of clouds above us as far as the eye could see, and an identical flat layer spanning out below us, with our plane gliding through open air sandwiched right in the middle. I’m sure there’s a meteorological explanation for the phenomenon, but I don’t recall ever noticing such a cloud pattern in flight before. I was fascinated.

That’s all. No earth shattering revelations. Just an interesting observation for today, eh?

Today, boys and girls, we take a brief time out from normal blogging for a little lesson in punctuation. Today, I’m going to educate you about the underutilized mark known as the em dash. Never to be confused with the lowly hyphen.

Folks, way too many people out there are using a hyphen or two (like this ​-​ or this -​-) when they mean an em dash (like this —) or maybe its cousin, the en dash (like this –).

So what is an em dash and why should you care? Humor me for a moment while I explain the difference. Then I’m going to teach you how to create these misunderstood punctuation marks for yourself.

A hyphen (-) is the smallest dash, except that technically, it’s not a dash at all. The hyphen, as it is accurately called, is used for compound words, to hyphenate words at line breaks, and to separate strings of numbers that don’t represent a range, such as your phone number (800-555-1234) or social security number (123-45-6789). Or you might use it when spelling out a word, like h-y-p-h-e-n. That’s pretty much it. Just about any other use of this key on your keyboard is incorrect, typographically speaking.

An en dash (–) is slightly longer than a hyphen. Often the same width as the letter N, to be exact. Hence the name “en” dash. It is generally used to connect ranges of numbers or related text. If you can substitute the word “to” in place of the dash, an en dash is your correct choice. For example, you would use an en dash for:

  • pages (pp. 28–35)
  • dates (Monday–Friday; November 2–5)
  • times (8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.)
  • Bible verses (Matthew 28:18–20)
  • a relationship between two locations (New York–Los Angeles flight)
  • sports scores, vote counts, and other number relationships (we won 27–2)

Sometimes the en dash can even be used instead of a hyphen, but consult your handy dandy reference manual for the precise rules around this. This blog post is not titled “The mighty mighty en dash,” after all—though there is a correctly used example of en dash as hyphen within this post, if you can spot it. In any case, only the punctuation nazis (that might be me) are going to notice if you sneak in a hyphen where an en dash is required. I’ve been known to do it myself, out of sheer laziness.

An em dash (—) is the longest dash, the width of the letter—say it with me—M. My beloved em dash is a super comma of sorts. It sets off a thought or phrase within your sentence in a way that is stronger than a comma, less severe than a colon or semi-colon, and less interruptive to your flow than parentheses. It’s not right for every parenthetical or explanatory thought—or even most such thoughts—but it has its place in the annals of punctuation. And it’s been overlooked by far too many people.

But that’s okay, you deprived non–em dash users. You have a good excuse. Do you even know how to create an em dash on your keyboard? I didn’t think so. Not many people do, unless they are power em dash users like me. You really have to love the em dash to go to all the trouble of adding one to your document. Lucky for you, I’m going to show you how. It turns out that our good friend Bill Gates has given us a few cumbersome, but not too difficult to remember, ways to do this.

EM DASH (in MS Word)
EN DASH (in MS Word)
From the menu:

  • select Insert
  • select Symbol…
  • select the Special Characters tab
  • Select Em Dash
  • Select Insert
  • Select Close
From the menu:

  • select Insert
  • select Symbol…
  • select the Special Characters tab
  • Select En Dash
  • Select Insert
  • Select Close
Using Autocorrect:
(if you have this feature turned on)

  • Type two hyphens (-​-) with NO spaces on either side.
  • When you finish the word after the second hyphen, the hyphens will automatically correct to an em dash.
Using Autocorrect:
(if you have this feature turned on)

  • Type two hyphens ( -​- ) with ONE space on either side.
  • When you finish the word after the second hyphen, the hyphens will automatically correct to an en dash.
  • In most uses, the en dash should not be surrounded by spaces. You’ll need to go back and delete the spaces.
Keyboard shortcut:

  • Ctrl+Alt+Num-
    (Num- is the minus sign on your number keybad, NOT the hyphen/underscore key)
Keyboard shortcut:

  • Ctrl+Num-
    (Num- is the minus sign on your number keybad, NOT the hyphen/underscore key)

By now, the observant ones among you are asking, “But what happens when I’m not using Word?” I feel your pain, fellow bloggers. I feel your pain. Like right now, for instance, as I write this blog in an application not dreamed up by the fine minds of Microsoft. Friends, now you know. For every em dash you have ever viewed on this website, I have painstakingly typed out the arcane combination of Alt+0151 (Alt+0150 for the en dashes). It was not easy, but for you, I have committed these cryptic numbers to memory.

Why do I bother, you might ask? True, it’s hard to be pro em dash in a blogging world, but I’m sticking to my guns. I care because I’m a perfectionist. Case in point: I have a friend who told me recently that she’s never seen a typo in my blog. Ever. While that’s giving me more credit than I deserve (but go ahead and try to find a typo that hasn’t already been found and corrected by me, I double dog dare you—a prize might be involved for whomever finds one first), I AM a stickler for the rules. Allowing for creative license, of course.

And also because I happen to like the beauty of the em dash. Two hyphens? Well, that’s just ugly. It’s fractured punctuation in need of repair.

A final thought on the em dash before I depart the subject. The use of spaces surrounding the em dash is often considered a matter of stylistic preference. My reference of choice, The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, says no to a space between the em dash and the surrounding words. Others say differently. It’s up to you—just be consistent with whatever you choose. Your readers will thank you.

In our household, that bodily organ known to the rest of the English speaking world as the brain, will forevermore be referred to as the "thinking thingy."

Someone’s "thinking thingy" apparently malfunctioned and could not retrieve its own identity, but the "thinking thingy’s" owner (a certain eight-year-old who shall remain nameless, to protect the guilty) is no slouch when it comes to improvisation. 

Do you suppose Roget’s would be interested if I submitted this for consideration as a thesaurus entry? 

Club Maia

The velvet door rope might have been the first indication that this was no ordinary birthday party. The bouncer checking names against the VIP list before granting entry was likely the second clue. This celebration, after all, was an important affair, held in honor of the fact that Maia has reached the ripe old age of eight.

Really, who DOESN’T turn their living room into an invitation-only dance club for their daughter’s eighth birthday?

Those lucky enough to pass muster with the bouncer (dad) and bearing the appropriate cover charge (a birthday gift in fanciful wrapping) gained exclusive admittance into the newly monikered “Club Maia.” These privileged entrants were so acknowledged with a “Girls Rule” hand stamp, to distinguish them from any uninvited riffraff—like three-year-old brothers—who might have the audacity to sneak in. They then made their way to the first stop, the beauty station, to be decked out with stick-on body jewelry and glitter hairspray. The second stop on the dance party circuit was the photo station, for a photo op with the dimpled birthday girl herself. Each girl had her picture professionally snapped with Maia against a tasseled purple backdrop, rimmed with rope lighting. At least it looked like professional photography, with the camera mounted on a tripod and all.

The bouncer, ever alert, checked his headset throughout the afternoon for news of possible disturbances to quell. To his great disappointment, there were none. The guests respectfully honored the “staff only” signs designating backstage areas deemed off limits to them, and no celebrity catfights erupted between girls soused on strawberry-kiwi flavored Capri Sun. But there was no time to lament the limited need for ejecting troublemakers from rowdy scenes of commotion, because the bouncer had a second job. He doubled as the DJ, spinning tunes from a playlist populated exclusively by Disney Channel and American Idol artists, while the guest of honor demonstrated that her years of dance training have been fruitful as she led the choreography on the dance floor.

Meanwhile, the club manager/photographer (mom) rushed to develop the prints of the arrival fan photo shoots, because this party was about more than just Hip Hop and Hilary Duff and Clay Aiken. The guests needed to have a souvenir of the experience, so they adjourned to the neighboring art studio (the back porch) for instruction in making their own personalized magnet picture frames. But what good is a frame without a picture to put in it? As luck would have it, in addition to an art studio, this amazing multi-functional dance club also boasts an in-house darkroom. Otherwise known as the inkjet photo printer.

Following the dancing and crafts and the requisite cake and presents, the guests chose to chill in the private VIP Lounge (a.k.a. Maia’s bedroom) while awaiting their chauffeurs to transport them home. Access to the lounge was via a new beaded curtain veiling the doorway. Probably to keep out paparazzi like me.

I think the party was a hit. How will we ever top this next year?

Random observations

Why do so many people always want to find the reasons why you can’t do something instead of looking for ways that you can?

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How in the world am I supposed to get a post-tonsillectomy three-year-old to drink 40 ounces of fluid per day? He doesn’t even drink that much when he’s well.

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Why do I keep up our subscription to Blockbuster Online when we don’t watch movies often enough for the service to pay for itself?

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How can someone who always has been, and professes to still be, awkwardly shy, be such a motor mouth at times? Sometimes I’m paralyzed by having nothing to say, and other times I can’t shut up.

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When am I ever going to master the art of patience? I think I have gotten worse, not better, as I have gotten older. I want one of those unflappable demeanors for Christmas this year.

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What’s wrong with Friday the 13th? I’m not scared. Bring it on!

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Is football season good for blogging? In my case, it just might be. Our TV is always commandeered by ESPN lately, which ought to give me more time to write. And looking back, some of my best entries from last year were written during football season. Stay tuned… I’m gunning for a repeat performance.

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