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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I have a theory about this year of miracles. (And, yes, it was a year of miracles -it snowed on Christmas in Las Vegas for crying out loud!)

I haven't fleshed it out with fancy words, but it goes something like this: if the purpose of a miracle is to instill faith, then the face of God will be revealed. And, of course, faith can't be had without any real trial, and this plane of existence recoils in His presence. So amidst the redemption of any set of miracles, you can expect a fight, and some ugly, indignant pain in the worldly underbrush. It would be easy to get dragged under, thrashing about in that dry, prickly pride -never recognizing the full healing power of His glory. And, on the other hand, if we are willing and repentant, we are lifted safely above it all.

For the record, we are not elevated apes. We are more like degenerate angels, and if not capable of the miracles themselves, then at least qualified to perform the next best thing.

And so begins a new year.





~

Tuesday, December 30, 2008



Evidently it was one of the most viewed videos of 2008, and I missed it entirely. And evidently I cruise the Internet byways, instead of the highways, and I end up clueless as to what people are really looking at -like traveling around the world and skipping the Seven Wonders. (No, seriously. I got rickroll'd so many times I just thought everyone found that music video as funny as I did.)

But it's brilliant. The hi-res version is here, and is much easier on the eyes. I've been to a paltry few of those places, enough to know what international travel is like, but this guy nails the enthusiasm to the wall and points at it -which is what the Internet is for. He filmed the whole thing on his little Canon Powershot, according to the FAQ, and he seems a pretty unassuming guy. What's amazing is how he captured perfectly such a sublime truth about life, by way of the virtue of mere enthusiasm.

What is that truth? Look, if it's not immediately obvious to you then get thee to a nunnery. It cannot be explained, but it's that thing you're looking for in your twenties -when you slip on your boots, grab a backpack, and announce to the room that you're going to go "find yourself". It sounds brilliant and ballsy to other people who haven't found themselves, but to everyone else who already has, well, it's like the angry man at the party who mistakenly exits into the closet.

Kurt Vonnegut said that. He also said, "We are all experiments in enthusiasms, narrow and preordained." That quote had a profound effect on me as I pondered it in my travels. I can't abide Vonnegut anymore, but he was right about people and enthusiasms. I'll add that it's an attractive quality, regardless the object of the enthusiasm, and anyone without it is a miserable, insufferable bore most of the time. (Of course, some people are enthusiastic about pain and suffering and self-mutilation. These folks should be avoided at all costs.)

I traveled alone, mostly, and found loneliness everywhere I went. But when I needed a friend, I found it easy and free to get one; in the train station, the youth hostel, the pub. Follow the signs to any tourist viewpoint and standing there at the end of the path you'll find someone with whom you have something in common and something worthy to share, even if all it is is that you both went there to see that. I went to a lot of magnificent places, and when I got there I was always greeted with the same question: "Where are you from?" So eventually I went home. It seemed like everyone in the world wanted to go there.

And that's what Matt nailed to the wall: everywhere in the world, it's the same. People are trying to live, work, raise their families, make their homes, and they all want to dance -even if in some small enthusiastic way. And what is dancing but that pointless and daring enthusiasm that separates man from the animals? Oh and, by the way, the world is a beautiful place. (And take it from me, you don't even have to leave your back patio to see it.)

I appreciate that Matt goes (literally) all over the world and is able to limit his exploration to a single political statement. It happens at about halfway through the video, and it's him doing that silly jig in the demilitarized zone of North Korea, a member of the People's Army eyeing him suspiciously. I assume they didn't let him in to the country, and I imagine that if one DPRK citizen handed a camera to another and said, "Film me dancing in the square," he'd be arrested and interrogated on the spot. (Let alone ever actually see any of the places in Matt's video.) It hurts to see the shot, all three flawless seconds of it, and it's all the bitterness you need to convey a heady truth about life.

I'm happy to leave politics behind in 2008, and find some other things to be enthusiastic about this year. I'm sick of hearing everyone complain about things they have little or no control over, like polution in the sky over Antarctica, when they don't even pick up the trash on the street where they live. We are not gods, and nor are our leaders. And every path to every truth starts and ends at home. And no one is going to define "home" for you in such a way that you will believe it. It's on you.

Thanks, Matt. It's perfect.


~

Monday, December 29, 2008

Made it home from Christmas yesterday with our sanity intact (no small feat!) Friends and family dropped in and out of my sister's place in Vegas over the five-day period that we were there, and it was a welcome pleasure to have it staggered like that -it kept the overwhelmingness of the holidays at a manageable level.

My brother-in-law pointed out that the theme of this year's holiday was music and it was an astute observation, given that everyone got iPods and we spent Christmas night engaged in a spirited "Guitar Hero: Rock Band" competition on the Wii. As well, I mentioned previously that Hark! The Herald Angels Sing had become the Little Ditchman's new favorite song on the road trip out there, demanding to hear it over and over and over again (and to our delight -there are a few things we could listen to our little girl sing repeatedly.) We had it on the iPod (from the Peanuts soundtrack) and it was "Again!" and "Again!" and "I wanna hear hark the angels again!" for the last hundred miles or so. We obliged. It was kinda nice, actually.

But imagine the little girl's astonishment when Uncle Chris received a certain oversized Christmas card from his kids and his wife. This was a record-album sized card with the perrenial image of the Peanuts around the little Christmas tree, and when you open it the thing bursts into a ten second clip of "Hark! The herald angels sing..." sung by those cartoon kids, the tinny sounds emanating from a hidden microspeaker in the folds of the card -fad gift of the times. Well, she immediately took the card, called it her own, and opened it up to sing along every ten seconds. She had it wired after the first fifty times, but interestingly, Hallmark chose to cut off the song before it sings the phrase "God and sinners reconciled" and it just goes, "Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and si..." and trails off. So that's how the Little Ditchman sings it. I can't get her to retain the controversial "sinners reconciled/joyful all ye nations rise" part just yet, but it's cute all the same, and she carries it along wherever she goes, flipping it open and closed, singing along joyfully. Also, she doesn't exactly get the "herald" part either, so there are several significant lyrics missing. We'll work on her for next year.

Somehow she began referring to the card as "My iPod!" and demanded to know where it was if ever it was misplaced. I think the connotation was acquired when we were in the car the following day and she demanded more "Hark the angels" and we told her we accidentally left the iPod at home. When we got home, she saw the card under the table and screamed, "My iPod!" and ensued in another half hour of "Hark the angels," flipping the pages open and shut. Uncle Chris never got to keep the card, by the way. He was forced to relinquish the thing. We have it here in Oceanside now, and are ruing the day the batteries die (but it's the cheapest iPod you can buy.)

Yes, we sang "The Twelve Days of Christmas" around the dinner table, as is the tradition in my family. It was a tremendous rendition, with the Little Ditchman fully into it -though she was actually singing "Hark the angels" and opening and closing the card between verses. We had a nice bottle of wine or two, and the oven broke early on with a loud POP, some smoke, and the reek of burning electrical components, which forced us to microwave the roast beast and cook everything else on the stovetop -but it was terrific all the same. There are more stories. Come to my family's house for Christmas dinner and stories are made, not told.

As if to make it all picture-perfect, it began to snow after dinner and the family all moved outside to see the Las Vegas miracle. The Little Ditchman was most impressed by the sight of snowflakes falling beneath the glow of the festive house lights and she wanted to stay outside, regardless of the freezing temperature. My brothers and sisters and cousins shivered and rubbed their elbows as they headed back inside, but me and my kid -we stayed out catching snowflakes on our tongues and repeating lines of dialogue from the Charlie Brown Christmas ("Needs sugar!") I'll never forget any of it.

Our section of the clan finally made it home to the suburbs last night and ordered some pizza for dinner. Mommy went out to get it and I flipped on the tv to find The Sound of Music airing in HD. I turned up the sound as that beautifully choreographed opening aerial shot of the Austrian countryside came on, the music swelling, and Julie Andrews spinning there in the field and launching into it:

The hills are alive with the sound of music,
with songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music,
my heart wants to sing every song it hears...


The Little Ditchman heard this and stopped in her tracks. She gazed at the screen, mouth agape, drool rolling down her chin. She couldn't take her eyes off the screen, and Julie Andrews continues to sing that wonderful song:

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds,
that rise from the lake to the trees.
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies,
from a church on a breeze.
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over stones on its way,
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray...


And watching my little girl watch this irresistible classic, getting totally swept up by that entrancing quality that only good cinema has, I just knew the movie was reaching in and wrapping its fingers around her little soul, like it had mine when I was a kid. Hers is a heart filled with song and dance, I know, and here was the ultimate Hollywood had to offer and that tinseltown magic was working right before my eyes. Like the Charlie Brown Christmas, The Sound of Music is another timeless classic, a story told with truth and beauty that will capture the hearts of generation upon generation. I watch it and am always taken away by it. I see the movie and I am twenty-five in Austria again. I am a child again. I am in love again. Only a true cynic, retired in isolated despair, can resist it.

And then Julie Andrews finishes her song:

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely,
I know I will hear what I've heard before.
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music,
And I'll sing once more.


And she's late for church. She runs off.

I had a big smile on my face and nudged the Little Ditchman. "Do you like this movie?" I probed.

She turned to me, as only a child can, and asked,

"Any animals in this?"


~

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Excellent day! Don't shoot your eye out!


~

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve! And there's no snow yet, in case you were wondering, but we're hoping for it. It was a long haul yesterday across the desert, and we beat the storm and the traffic, so it will be a good hangtime with a bunch of family this afternoon, as we prepare the home for Santa's arrival.

HE WILL COME. (In case there was any question about it.) The Little Ditchman heard the story once and didn't question it for a second, so she is sufficiently stoked. Of course, she's been asking for gifts that are outside of the parameters of mom's and dad's wishes, so there will be a certain amount of magical Christmas diplomacy going on. Her cousins are right at the age where if Santa's existence is challenged, well, the gifts simply won't come. Ah, yes.. The Age of Prudence. Anyway, if they ruin it for the Little Ditchman, no gifts shall ever come again. This, I think, everyone gets.

The kid has seen A Charlie Brown Christmas enough times now that she quotes it back to us, which is an entertaining feat, given the amount of sarcasm in the show. It's my favorite Christmas movie, a work of timeless perfection, and if I watch it alone with a glass of wine, I sob uncontrollably. Last night we watched it again, and I had the wine, but the family was all around. It took everything I had to contain myself. However could I explain?

If I had the time and the wherewithal, I'd write a dissertation on it, and perhaps I will one day, but today it's last minute shopping and picking up family from the airport and nice bottles of wine and ho ho ho, so I'll spare us all. But I will mention that "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" is the Little Ditchman's new favorite song, and suddenly it's mine too. After the Peanuts basically crucify Charlie Brown and Linus gives everyone the Message, it's the song they all sing together in the end. It's an interesting choice, when you think about the others that could've easily fallen into that slot. But they sing it all the same, and not in the rousing jubilant fashion as it's often sung, but with the quiet humble voices of a choir of children, and as John Wesley's brother (Charlie) originally intended. The Little Ditchman doesn't know the words, doesn't know what it means, but sings it all the same, too, and hearing her do it... I can barely hold it together.

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"



Merry Christmas.


~

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Getting ready to go to my sister's in Vegas for the holidays! Vegas, baby! Yeeaaahh! The tortoises are hibernating, the gun-toting housesitter is in place, and we're just scratching our heads wondering if the old 4Runner can handle the trip. We're checking the weather reports and there's a break in the storms today, so we're considering heading out early. There are a few mountain passes between here and Vegas, if you don't know, and last week they got all snowed, halting traffic. For the record, Las Vegas is not the sunshiney poolside holiday adventure you might think it is. Here's my sister's house just last week:


I wonder... are they're keeping the pool heated for our visit?

So perhaps we'll get a white one, which would be a nice first for me. There is some concern about the vehicle, with its 4 worn cylinders and leaky sunroof. The tires are verging on pattern baldness and the wagon will be weighed down with luggage, the wrapped goods, and our growing family -which barely fits in the car nowadays. Our plans last spring to have a successful business year capped off with a new SUV come Christmas were dashed when we, well, didn't have a successful business year. (Who knew?) Anyway, there's always room for another Hawkins Family Adventure. Bring the camera. The stories make future holidays all the more interesting in the retelling. (All the same: breaking down in the middle of the snowy high desert on Christmas Eve, my wife breast-feeding the crying infant behind the fogged windows of our beat-up Toyota, while I'm out in the inclement weather without a cel signal, trying to flag down a tow-truck... doesn't sound particularly charming.)

The Little Ditchman still doesn't understand such advanced concepts as "tomorrow" or "Thursday" -so you can understand her consternation at not being able to open the powerfully alluring presents sitting beneath the tree. She'll survive. Were a Christmas morning family, I have so decided, and patience is a learned value I hold dear. Also: excitement, anticipation, hope... Always have something to look forward to and you'll stay young. I learned it when I was done with college. One day, out of nowhere, my life lacked a "summer break" and I felt half my hair go gray right there at the thought of it. (I've found time for summer camp since then, however.)

Time for the bottle feed. Gotta go.


~

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Merry Christmas!" he cried defiantly, though he's been sick for a month, stomach in knots, crying children all around, wife complaining that he's not pulling his weight around here. Since you have an audience, you can't really complain on a blog. (After all, that's what diaries are for.) But I suppose if you make it entertaining enough, you can get away with it. Everyone in all blogdom tries.

I've had a hard stomach for a few days, and it's not that hard six-pack stomach like on Brad Pitt or Misty May Treanor. Rather, it's a hard stomach from swallowing all the snot welling up in my sinuses. At least, that's what my wife says. It sounds awful, which is how I feel, so who am I to argue? So we called The Doctor for that magic pill that cures you before the holiday. He said everyone wants one today, the Monday of Christmas week, so he's been keeping pretty busy. Better give me a few extra, just in case, Doc. It's the most wonderful time of the year, you know.

Mrs. Ditchman politely asked me what we would do without her. I think we would all just die. And it would be a slow, painful, unrelenting torture of a death. No, none of us could possibly go on without her. Why, we'd be ruined! We are so grateful.

The Mythbusters proved the other night that one could seriously torture someone else by strapping them down onto an emerging culm of bamboo. The bamboo grows right through you, and it takes a few days, so it would be hellacious in its agony. Bamboo grows fast, a foot or so a day for some varieties, and I guess the ancient Chinese figured it out. I hesitate to think about the gardeners who have to clean up that mess. (The Torturer's Gardener -my new novel for 2009.) Anyway, that's what it would be like if Mrs. Ditchman wasn't here to take care of us. Like being stabbed with a spear in one slow, three day long thrust.

I know it sounds crazy that bamboo grows that fast, but it's true. I have some bamboo at my house and I've seen it. I spent some of the weekend tending to it, actually, because we're getting to that season where it all comes out of the ground again. It happens in one week. You don't really notice it at first, and then one day there's twice as much. Quite amazing really. The Mythbusters tied a thick latex crash test dummy to a pot, and sure enough, the stuff grew right through him. I've wondered about it since I was a kid. Now I know.


This is where I tie the three together in a nifty metaphor: the growth rate of bamboo, the swift, time-flies raising of the children, and painful, inventive tortures. I could do it, but it's Christmas, and the imagery mightn't be pretty.


~

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A SATURDAY POST!

And yet another most significant thing:


A little Millard! A girl! Born yesterday! No other details as of yet, since she was born in the most remote (civilized) location on the planet, (Hawaii) and news is only trickling in.

Best wishes to Christina and Shane and Madison in the land of twice-as-loud crying. (It's fun here!)

UPDATE:

Tanner Kailua Millard
12-19-08
8:28am
7lbs 11.9 oz
19.5"

Family is doing great!


~

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lileks: I don’t know why they say “busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest,” because he would have fallen over right away and been six arses behind by the time he got up. “Busy as a two-legged man in a butt-kicking contest mostly dominated by four-legged men” would be more accurate, especially if the four-legged guys were configured so they could simultaneously kick in three directions. Right? But then it would be difficult to imagine how anyone would have kickable butts. So they’d have to bring in people to be the kicked butts. Can’t see how that would work. Unless they were running around, trying to avoid the four-legged ass-kickers. You couldn’t blame them.

See what genius is going on over there at his blog? I mean, this is the stuff I wonder about all day long.

I'm not that busy. I'm busy in my head with everything I want to get done, but I'm not that busy. I take it easy. I sit and think about the next thing I'm going to do and then I'm handed one of the children. When I set them down, I forgot where I was going and then sit down to think about it. And then one of the children starts crying or is handed back to me. So this has been a December of only perceived accomplishment. Nothing's getting done, but I think about it all the time.

It's cold. Last night I had a dream where I was standing at the edge of San Francisco bay in the middle of the night. I was dressed down to my skivvies, getting ready to jump in the bay for a freezing winter swim when a throng of people arrived with a news crew. They were there to cover this old man in a swimmer's cap who was going to be the first to dive in for the "San Francisco Bay Winter Nights Polar Bear Event". The brazen old guy began to make a speech, and then I jumped in before him. The crowd gasped.

Did I mention that I can see snow from my house? It's right there in the hills. Feels much closer, as the heating unit is on the brink. It will work hard for a time, a few days maybe, and then just fall into a lapse like its owner, forgetting where it was going, like, what was I doing? Oh yeah, heating the house! Unplugging and plugging the thing usually works, but that involves ladders and climbing up into the attic and shuffling all the boxes around. Last night it occurred to me that I could just go to the electrical panel outside and flip the breaker on and off, which is when the unit decided to break in an entirely different way, so back into the attic for me it was. Seems I have a faulty Control Valve, and sheeeeeitt -I coulda told you that! I know this because I counted the blinking red lights and looked up the code. What do I know about control valves? This: it's probably just got itself stuck because of dust or something. So I whacked it. On it came. Heat all night, not like last night.

We had a FROST ADVISORY (Yes, I know. In Oceanside.) so I made all this business with the heater a priority. Anyway, we're all still sick here, so being cold was not something we could tolerate any further. I blame the kids for the illness. Which ones? All of them, including yours. If someone had told me I was going to be sick this much after we had kids I might have just moved to Spain right then and there. I guess I could still move to Spain. It'd be warmer. And Spain has less children, I believe. Maybe after Christmas.

Well, I've got to go haul aluminum around the world. Better get a move on...

Quick note: this morning my sister went to the hospital to have a baby! Just thought I'd mention it. We're praying for her and looking forward to hearing the news. (Here's to Friday baby deliveries being better and more reliable than Friday construction work!)

Have a winter wonderland weekend!


~

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas cards are away! What a task! It's amazing, really. That it's all done, I mean. Sometimes I wonder why we do it, as if in some grand insecure pursuit of the sustainment of social relevance, but I think it may be that it's just nice. And it's good business. There's a lot of cards; enough for an army! (Okay, we only sent out eleven. If you got one, consider yourself extraordinarily loved.) We sent out more this year than last year, and fewer business ones. I guess we spent more time with friends last year than customers. That explains our diminished bank accounts.

There are some good ones coming in to our house this season, by the way, and of course I spend some time psychoanalyzing them over a hearty winter brew (see bottom of sidebar.) It's interesting to me to review how each family chooses to present itself in the photos. I know everyone does this, which is why I had my family pose as inebriated gypsies and squat in the forest behind a log, devouring gruel. We also use mailing labels, and have the whole thing shoot out of the computer spreadsheet, to make it all even less formal. Gone are the days of hand writing each address on every envelope for us. Oy. It's enough to make one want to convert to one of those religions where they don't send out holiday cards. (Are there any? There used to be.)

Some still hand write theirs, I've noticed, and I appreciate the effort! A few still type out stories of the past year, which I always enjoy and I considered this time around, but then I have this silly blog and I'm not sure I'm capable of winnowing down my loquacious tome of personal anecdotes into a hundred word abstract that would encapsulate all the magic, wonder, and excitement of the past 365 days. So it's just an informally stamped "MERRY CHRISTMAS" with no punctuation. Meh. Maybe I should have just stamped the blog web address on it. (Probably best I didn't.)

The storms are behind us, so after work today I get the job of cleaning up the devastation that Mother Nature hath wrought in my backyard. (Where is Father Nature in all this? Can't the guy get up off his heavenly couch and pick up some of the slack around here? I mean, come on, we've got global climate change for gosh darn darn!) It got pretty windy there for a bit, and our patio umbrella lifted into the air like a Chinese dragon kite at a crowded beach, taking out everything in its doomed flight across the yard. We lost the chiminea, which is a million pieces of damp terracotta now. As well, there is broken glass from a collection of busted candle holders, the remains of upturned succulents scattered about the patio, and a single sad thermometer filled with water on the inside. Also lost were my adored summer dragonfly lights, but they're old and it just isn't the season for them, and they didn't make it.

Everything is waterlogged, which I think is dandy, and my rain gauge measured a good 3 and-a-half inches worth (not counting the stuff that blew sideways.) The day it really started coming down we got a letter in the mail from the water company describing the current drought situation and the "recommended" water-rationing program we are to start soon, under the threat of jacked-up water bills. In the trash, that went. Coming on this blog in February: me complaining about the water bill.

Some say more rain is on its way next week, and wouldn't that be nice? We'll see. Since when can weathermen predict the weather, let alone the future? I say, take your best crack at it, but keep an umbrella in the car. That is, unless you live in Southern California, where it's illegal to sell umbrellas. (We smuggle them in from Washington.)

Work today is me fixing all those leaky patio covers I built over the summer. And I told them it never rains here.


~

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Today is Christmas card day, and we're sending one to every viable human entity; friend, family, and customers alike. It's a good day for it, with this dismal wet weather, so we'll be inside licking and sticking. Everyone within sneezeshot of this family has either been infected, or infected us, with the inummerable colds and flus going around, and when you get our Christmas card, don't worry: I'll microwave them.

It's also that time of year where we update the address databases. (We have several. I'm not sure why. I think it's a PC/Mac thing.) The Christmas cards that come to us go up on the HOLIDAY WALL OF HONOR and their envelopes go in a pile on my desk. I sift through them all, making sure I've got updated addresses on everyone. There are few things at year's end that are more demoralizing than a returned Christmas card in your mailbox on December 27th, because it's usually addressed to someone you haven't connected with in a while, which is why the address is wrong, and your feeble attempt to "keep in touch" failed. Someone out there wonders why you never call.

So, there's that. If you don't get a card from us it's because I'm mailing it to your old college apartment addressed to your maiden name. Try not to be offended. The freshmen who inherited your dorm probably ripped it open looking for gift certificates to Best Buy. Don't worry. We didn't send out gift certificates to Best Buy.

Speaking of gift certificates to Best Buy... I was on the phone with my bank -WESCOM, the greatest bank in all the world- doing some year-end debt allocation and balance transfers (gotta keep up with the lowest rates, don't ya know), and the good people at Wescom reminded me that I have about 12,000 unused rewards points! 12,000! I'm in the club, I guess. They suggested that I use some of them right away, as about a thousand of them were set to expire at the end of the year. So I went on line to book our family vacation in the Caribbean and, lo and behold, I need about 600 million more points for that. But, hey, I was able to get myself about $80 in gift certificates to Best Buy. This was good news, as I was wondering how I was going to afford that new router. So, note to everyone: check your clubs for rewards points for free stuff.

My router problems have been routed, in case you were wondering. It vexed me for a good long while so I educated myself in CAT and WAN and LAN and DSL and GIGABIT and USB and ETHERNET and all that fiery, nerdy jazz. (I was very popular at the Moms Group Christmas Party with my AppleTV solutions.) Seems one of the router ports was bad, so I hooked the printer up to it and just jiggle and smack the thing when nothing prints. Awesome. By the way, when are the gigabit cable modems coming out? The technology is there, so what's the hold up? Let me know.

So... crying babies, illness all around, cookies, pine needles, dampened spirits, broken patio umbrellas, cold and bothered tortoises, arthritic cats, dance recitals, family issues, and boxes, socks, pajamas, and diapers. Busy day, but I'm upeat about it all.

Keep in touch!


~

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Last night after the house went to sleep I was on the couch, not sleepy. It was strange, as I had been nodding off about 45 minutes earlier. I switched over to the Sundance channel right at nine o'clock, and figured I would watch whatever it was they were showing. It was one of those rainy nights, perhaps you've had one, where, for no good reason, you're a bit lonely and a bit bored, and that fully-hopped beer you just had and that Christmas tree shimmering in the other room are having no effect, and you're in the mood for something artsy or esoteric. You're somewhere else. But you're nowhere. Or maybe it's just me and I'm the only one who ever feels that way.

So I turned on the Sundance channel and found a terrific documentary on Stanley Kubrick called Stanley Kubrick's Boxes. If you don't like Kubrick you probably wouldn't get into it, and truth be told the film feels longer than the hour that it takes to watch it, with its slightly droll and excessively pensive narration, but it was a Kubrickian kind of night, and I couldn't resist.

The whole documentary is here, if you're interested, and it's about how when Stanley Kubrick died he left behind thousands and thousands of boxes that kept the oddest assortment of things, mostly research for his films. If you know anything about Kubrick, you know he was masterfully attentive to detail, and here it's shown how he meticulously filed it all away in boxes. Kubrick made a film about every seven years or so, (probably as a result of the slow, painstaking research) and many consider him the greatest director who ever lived. You don't have to agree. Many find his films to be boring, offensive, haunting nonsense. They may be. All the same, this is the type of guy who demanded that he be the projectionist at the premieres of his films -because the projectionist has the last creative input on a film. This is a guy who read, annotated, and filed away every fan letter ever written to him in boxes labeled by region and city. This is a guy who had location photographers shoot thousands of pictures of things like gates and doorways for a scene in a film that would last only seconds. This is a guy who was shy, friendly, intelligent, and yet crazy, obsessive, and brilliant. (They ended up shooting that doorway on a set.)

The documentary itself is about the boxes -because Lord knows there's been enough commentaries on Kubrick's filmmaking. I found it completely enthralling, and it may be because I have my own set of boxes stacked around the house. They're in my bedroom, here in the office, and piled high in the attic waiting for a fire. I have winnowed them down over the years, but they still follow me. It's only because I don't own a Kubrick-sized estate that I have as few boxes as I do. It's painful to trash anything in them. I go through them and I don't know what to do with the stuff. File it away in more boxes. Kindly Mrs. Ditchman tolerates it all, like Kubrick's wife did (she's interviewed in the film.)

What's in my boxes: college notes, letters, articles, journals, poetry, screenplays, novels, songs, unfinished projects, research, character histories, lists of names, notes on self, jokes, anecdotes, story outlines, notable locations, encyclopedia entries, drafts upon drafts of the same work -some with only minor word changes. And then there's the boxes of photos, manuals, books, calendars, receipts, star wars action figures, an odd array of striped pebbles. I kept most of my college textbooks. I have every movie stub of every movie I have ever seen in a theater. I'm not kidding. Ask me about it and I'll show you.

It's a disease. Still, I think I have it under control. Like I said, I've winnowed the boxes down to twenty or thirty or so. I don't know whether or not I should save all my old bad writings from years ago. They're terrible. If I had become some genius artist like Kubrick, and like every twenty-something thinks he is, these boxes would find a place in some research library after I'm long gone, but alas... If I were to revisit some of the subject matter some day for some big creative project, they might pose as useful -but I build aluminum patio covers now, so I can't be sure such usefulness will come of them. I don't know. Tomes of bad writing no one's ever read, and no one ever will. Was it all a waste of time?

I wish it was all on a hard drive, but it was done in the woody days before such things. If I had the time I might go back and read it, perchance learn something about myself, but I doubt it would hold my interest. Still, if I had an ancestor who had boxes of inept writings, I would consider them a treasure! I would pore over them at great length, fastidiously digitize everything, and become an expert on the man and his times! But, woe to my decendents mired in the boxes of this piffle. I even began to archive these blog entries for a while, but then I started to feel sorry for myself. It's all a poor man's hubris. "I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself." D.H.Lawrence wrote that. Scholars would kill for boxes of his old crap.

Right now my garage is filled with empty boxes, of all things, and come Christmas morning, empty boxes by the millions will be curbside in America. I suppose this is the season of boxes. (December 26th is "Boxing Day" you know.) Filled boxes have a use, and empty ones are trash. Kubrick, the mad artist, invented his own box at one point. He was frustrated that lids were too tight on some, walls and bottoms not strong enough on others. He designed one with dimensions in the folds that measured down to the millimeter, and then had them specially made. An internal memo from the box-maker, who had no idea who he was, reads: Pushy customer - Very touchy about his lids.

The empty boxes in the garage are for the Christmas ornaments. They'll be filled again after the new year and shuffled away in the attic, next to my never-opened ones. I wonder what will become of the Christmas stuff when I die. And what of the other stuff? Will the kids clamor for the ornaments? Will they trade journal for bulb from one box to another? Whatever happened to the boxes of Christmas ornaments I grew up with? I remember them all so well, and one day it all just flatly disappeared.

But there is stuff, and then there are the other things -the works and efforts. All that work. All that effort. I would say that man is a funny animal, but it's the stuff in those boxes that makes him something else entirely. And not at all an animal. Sooner or later man feels sorry for himself, and tries to make sense of it in his work. Now I make aluminum patio covers, and they have far more purpose. Besides shade, they feed my family. The boxes in the attic never lived up to their promises. That is, except for the Christmas boxes.

In the documentary they focus a bit on the box Kubrick invented and it's his Rosebud -that useless thing unwittingly tossed in the fire after Citizen Kane's life, but contains all the indecipherable secrets of the man. Every man has a Rosebud, boxed or otherwise.




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Monday, December 15, 2008

The rain outside is blowing sideways (!) which is really affecting the readings on my rain gauge. It makes one wonder about all those dire global weather predictions from the windblown Arctic tundra. One assumes the snow blowing sideways affects the research instruments there, too. (One might also assume that their instruments weren't purchased at Home Depot for $2.00.) I have a tree outside that has stubbornly refused to relinquish its leaves for the year. The leaves themselves are clearly dead, altogether wilted things, but the tree holds onto them like those awful National Geographic documentaries where the animals refuse to abandon their dead young. The tree has obviously fallen prey to the enthusiasms of global warming, rebuffing the belief that a wet winter is coming, much less, actually here. "Mother Earth is heating up! We're in a drought!" it bellows in the shivering, wet wind.

The tortoises are bothered by the rain, too, I might add, and clearly miserable. They never get visibly upset, but they do have that quiet look of dismay that only the last of the surviving dinosaurs can elicit. I brought them inside.

Enjoyed a nice Christmas party over the weekend where there were more children than adults. We didn't point that out to them, so as to avoid an uprising, but they did engage in the illicit tactics of biological warfare and infected us with nasty colds. Perhaps we shouldn't have all used the same harmonica, but that was their cute strategy. Anyway, it's all over the moms group facebook pages: "Whose?!" But it was a fine party. My Secret Santa gift was a bottle of wine, though I had my eye on the sample bottle of Patron everyone else was stealing. At the end of the party, as usual, there were the requisite half-finished bottles of beer sitting around, (which always chaps my hide) but this time there were a few half-finished bottles of baby formula -so I guess this is the stage my life is in.

There has been some discussion about this year's New Year's Eve party. Last year's was THE BEST PARTY EVAAR! so it would be a tricky challenge to top. I say it would be a tricky challenge because half of last year's attendees have twice as many kids this year. In some ways the effect of having all these new chillun is that a Very Big Party is altogether more desired, but then that parental shrug and slump kicks in and you trudge off to bed -for perhaps a good night's sleep is more in order to brace ourselves for the coming year of unrelenting toddlerhood.

The past four years I've put together a collection of slideshows and videos to recap the year's events. Some partygoers bring a few, too, and it makes for a nice little friends and family film festival. As tired as I am of 2008's pitfalls and prayer-a-thons, the thought of just blowing off this past year's events just depresses me. I admit that I was tempted to altogether axe the idea of a "Year In Review" party because the year was a "bad" one, until it dawned on me what a losertarian forfeit that would be, shuffling me in with the victims and quitters of the world. In actuality, this was a great year, and I say that as someone who desires to measure the greatness of the year by how well we fared given the circumstances that befell us. If a good year is a collection of happy vacations, then the accountants can decide the good years and classify them based on income acquired, (and this year would not be categorized as a "good" one) but if I desire to be a man of integrity, then a great year will be appraised on the basis of how well one did with what one was dished out. And I happen to think we did pretty well with 2008!

Also, my son was born in 2008, destined to carry on the family name for at least another generation, so he will never hear me say that 2008 was a bad year -ho no, it will be quite the contrary!

So I've been putting some videos together for posterity, looking through the old pics, and I find that 2008 was a wonder, filled with miracles, and thoroughly demands a rich celebration. LET IT BE KNOWN that at this house we are going full throttle with the YEAR IN REVIEW party, and everyone within net-reach of this dumb blog is invited! (Yes, that's all six of you.) So you see, the Ditchman Family are not losers, quitters, or victims, and this is going to be one swell party -and we're gonna do it without that nasty antifreeze that we had in the punchbowl last year! No, we are going to open the best bottles of wine from the rack and we are going to dine on the finest CRAB appetizers you've ever tasted and we are going to do it on paper plates and napkins so no guest will be sullied by the daunting task of doing a million dishes at year's start! We're going to break off all the doorstops! The videos are going to be terrific, and the chidren will bring their harmonicas!

You're invited to bring the kids for a massive sleepover, as these things go, and you're also invited to stay at the nice local Marriot just a few short miles from our house if that suits you better (New Year's Eve AAA rate: $149.99) -but you have to bring some videos or memories of 2008 and the fanciest bottle of wine you can afford. Who's going to be there? Can't say. But I know four people and a giant corkboard who are ready and willing to take on whatever destiny the fates are willing to serve up in 2009!

And if 2009's a bigger challenge than 2008, with more sick nights of worry and successive rainy day marathons, why, the wine will be even better at next year's party, won't it?



See you there (here)! (Email me for details.)


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Saturday, December 13, 2008

A nice pre-Christmas weekend with the family and some friends brings you...

A SATURDAY POST!

Thought I'd link this fine article by Dinesh D'Souza from November's Imprimis.

One of the best things about Christmas is that it's a wonderful tradition for all Americans, sometimes even despite the fact that the holiday has the Christian faith as its foundation. You don't have to be a Christian to find the lights beautiful, the music sweet and sentimental, and the general good cheer thoughtful, earnest, and contagious, and personally, I can't imagine a cold, dark winter without this perfect family holy day. I happen to think God intended it this way overall; somehow one can either intently or passively dismiss Christ, and yet still receive the joys and blessings that come astride His presence. And I believe He's glad to give them and glad they're received -whether or not He gets the credit (though I suspect He prefers getting credit.)

This essay discusses the values that Christianity has brought to America, and the world at large, and that one does not have to be a Christian to appreciate them. It begins:

"Christianity is largely responsible for many of the principles and institutions that even secular people cherish—chief among them equality and liberty.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he called the proposition “self-evident.” But he did not mean that it is immediately evident. It requires a certain kind of learning. And indeed most cultures throughout history, and even today, reject the proposition. At first glance, there is admittedly something absurd about the claim of human equality, when all around us we see dramatic evidence of inequality. People are unequal in height, in weight, in strength, in stamina, in intelligence, in perseverance, in truthfulness, and in about every other quality. But of course Jefferson knew this. He was asserting human equality of a special kind. Human beings, he was saying, are moral equals, each of whom possesses certain equal rights. They differ in many respects, but each of their lives has a moral worth no greater and no less than that of any other...

This idea of the preciousness and equal worth of every human being is largely rooted in Christianity. Christians believe that God places infinite value on every human life. Christian salvation does not attach itself to a person’s family or tribe or city. It is an individual matter... "



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Friday, December 12, 2008

Well, it's not exactly "Star Wars: The Musical", but it's scary close. Please. Would someone stop George Lucas before he goes completely raving taun-taun mad? Oy. Did anyone else see the latest Star Wars installment, by the way? It's that digitally animated thing, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, with its accompanying tv show. Oy, again. And it's considered canon! Why Lucas would want to take the most advanced cinematic technology on earth and then use Thunderbirds Are Go as the inspiration is either an act of visionary artistic defiance or a blatant shock-and-awe attempt at insulting the last of his fans who refuse to let go of the wookie universe, move out of mom's basement, and get on with a life.



It was fake-looking when it came out, but today it has that timeworn, artsy hip look that only comes with the death of its makers! It's something I'm not sure Star Wars will ever be. I suspect that if Lucas had just retired in Maui (as he probably should have) that old trilogy would be as cool as ever now, and there would be a grand re-imagining of the stories, like they've done with Batman, Superman, James Bond, et al (and soon, Star Trek!). But instead we get Jar Jar Binks and now this goofball series, soon to be followed by the live-action tv show, also to be "official canon". Okay, me fessing up: I will watch it. But it's only getting a couple of viewings out of me. Fringe was "the show everyone was talking about" remember? I think everyone was talking about what a disappointing stench the show had left out on the broadcasting wasteland.

How about Star Wars with marionettes? I'd watch that! And I mean actual marionettes, not animated ones -which would be cheating. Anyway, the Little Ditchman has taken quite a liking to the whole Skywalker universe and we watched a bit of Phantom Menace the other night and guess what? She laughed at everything Jar Jar Binks did, so go figure. We can all sit there in the dark and throw insults at the screen, but Lucas will be at the bank cashing the checks. Good on him.

In other news, what mysterious different place was I in yesterday? My backyard. See? I told you it was no place interesting. Finally tore out those scraggly pygmy date palms that were bound to poke some child's eye out and bring on a lawsuit that would cause us to lose everything. Was it fun? No. I'm sore all over today, but I appreciate that bare spot back there now. A blank landscaper's canvas, empty holes in the ground waiting for some real planting.

Have a sweet weekend. Pray for rain.

P.S. And this year's winner of the first Christmas card arrival contest goes to Joyce Dakin of Lakeside, California! Congratulations, your fruitcake is in the mail. Note: World Vision sent us a nice one that arrived the day before but the distinguished 501C3 organization has been disqualified because of the card's accompanying request for a donation. If you want to win, you have to play by the rules and send an honest-to-goodness greeting without some hidden agenda. Well done, Joyce! (And thanks!)


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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sorry, folks. I'm not here today. I'm somewhere else. Nowhere interesting, just a different place entirely. Sometimes you just have to get out away from the screen. So no big blog today, *sniff*. Yes, I hear your cries of anguished disappointment. Such torment! It's just a dumb weblog! Get a grip!



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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What beautiful weather!

Sorry, I've got nothing, so that's about it with my creative take on the weather. It could be the most perfect day in the world outside, with sunny skies, sleeping dogs, synchronized lawn sprinklers, and angels descending from the heavens to hand-deliver unto you a newspaper with the headline: LOCAL ECONOMY ON REBOUND! -but it wouldn't stop the baby from crying inconsolably, having been recently diagnosed with colic. I don't see what the problem is, I've been colicky all my life. Actually, I do see the problem with colic, and it's that it drives everyone else insane, so even if your street has been re-slurried and it's a stunning blacktop beneath a gentle autumnal sunrise, it matters not.

But it's nice! You may recall the problems we've been having with the recent random mineral spring "upwellings" and then the garbage truck's bursting hydraulic lines staining the cul-de-sac all the way to ugly and just shy of "art", so when you see the nice new asphalt, why, it makes you want to re-envision the landscaping on your property!

We have no HOA, so a lot of us really let it go, I'm sorry to say (you all know who you are.) One guy started to paint the green trim on his house last year a whole new color, orange, but only got halfway done. Or maybe he thinks he is done. Not sure. I suspect he didn't have a tall enough ladder, which is why many of us haven't gone the distance with our Christmas lights. I usually back up the truck onto the lawn and put the ladder in the bed -it gives me the extra few feet of height I need- but this year with the twinkling/flashing problem, I haven't gotten around to it. But: new slurrry! Yes, new life has been breathed into the suburbs!

Our street really needed it, but I suspect it's no accident that property taxes are due this same week. Just when you're signing that check you think, what has the county been doing for me this year, anyway? And then the slurry truck goes by. But, cheeseandfries! Am I paying for the whole street myself?

Probably. Oh well. Not much I can do about it. Anyway, we were locked inside for all of yesterday and it was for the better. I think we got a couple things done around here. I mean, at least we are still alive, which is what I've been fond of saying lately. You just never know what burdenous pitfalls could bedevil you today. You could be walking across the street, minding your business, and get hit by the slurry truck. It's a dangerous world.


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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Last week, Lileks wrote this about the weather:

Oh, it’s cold. It’s cold in the morning when we wake, because I turn the heat down to avoid getting bills with commas in the balance due. It’s cold in the afternoon when I come back to the house. It’s briefly stifling in the early evening when the house gathers all the heat and gives everyone the Requisite Toasty Feeling, then it’s cold when I go downstairs to watch some TV after midnight. It’s just cold. Dark, and cold. The sun slinks down like it made a mess on the rug and doesn’t want anyone to notice; the wind is all beaks and claws, and the thin snow on the lawn reminds you that there’s more to come, and it’ll be here a while, and die hard. Even the raw scrape of March seems tropical from here.

"Beaks and claws" -I love it. I mean, is there anyone who's ever been in a dry, biting cold who doesn't know what he's talking about? He mentions the weather and writes about it at least a couple times a week, and I've always been impressed by how he keeps it interesting, new, and fresh -without sounding utterly redundant. I thought about trying some daily writing about the weather for a time, as an excercise, but then I realized that Lileks had the advantage of living someplace that actually has weather. I'm not sure my skill sets are up to the creative challenge of making "72 and sun" sound arresting for 360 days of the year (the other 4 days are cloudy, 1 has rain -and when that happens it's all too shocking to ignore the annual STORM WATCH.) I try sometimes anyway. And fail. Like the weather.

Case in point: it tried to rain here yesterday, but really it was more like the gods were having a heated discussion about it and we were just getting the spittle. It's really too bad, too, as I reseeded the lawn a few weeks ago and the stuff is all laying out there under a slim layer of mulch, looking up at the sky like, well? My gorgeous springtime lawn will go the way of birdseed, I know. I see those infernal sparrows out there now, pecking away at the tiny green shoots and lawn seed. Unfortunate. I have such high hopes for my yard next year. So we plant, and plant again, with all that waiting in between the battles. That's life.

In related news, I have an awesome crop of tomatos right now! A truly startling arrival this mid-December. There's no explaining it, but I am grateful all the same. I made a hefty batch of salsa last week, actually, and all with ingredients from the yard: jalapenos, onions, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, lime. (Okay. So the cilantro and lime in my garden wasn't ready. Store purchase.) It tasted splendid, but then... it's December -not exactly a salsa month. I found it at the bottom of the fridge today, where it had decomposed into a petri dish of spores, molds, and fungus (from the yard!) and I dumped it in the insinkerator. Perhaps I'll make another batch today for lunch -a small bit of pico de gallo I can finish on my own. Now that I think of it, my chips have gone gummy. Anyone want any tomatos?


They taste perfect, by the way. They're the most sweet and luscious red things, fruit of the angels. I'm convinced it's from all the blood meal and bone meal I worked into the soil last October. I'm not sure why I did it, I just had a feeling -but it's possible that "feeling" was "desperation" and I was ready to try anything. (I was having soil problems, if you'll recall.) Sad, but I think if I break down the cost of each tomato based on how much cash I spend on fertilizer and water and starter plants, it's about twenty bucks a fruit. But we gardeners don't do it for the food, you know, we do it for the therapy -so if you break it down that way, I'm saving my family thousands in bills from the headshrinks.

Speaking of headshrinks, the cabbage is looking great right now, too, unless you get up close and see all the unappetizing aphids. Not sure what to do about them. Ladybugs, the natural aphid predator, aren't around this time of year -so we're missing an arc in the circle-of-life thing. I hate to cover the nice purple leaves with all those pesticial chemicals, since I feed most of the leaves to the tortoises, and then there's just the general concern over substance abuse anyway. (Look for my 'Drunken Ode to Malathion' in a coming blog post.) Of course, there's always the timeworn strategies of "companion planting", which are just lost on me in their maddening complexity. I suppose I could introduce parasitic wasps. Yeah, I'll just stop and pick some up on the way home from work -there's a Parasitic Wasp Mart just down the street! (Wow, that begs for a cheap corporate WASPy WalMart pun, doesn't it? I'll spare you. I'll spare us all.)

And the current crop of onions is coming along and I have high hopes for the asparagus I planted, both should be ready later this winter for a nice, hot February soup. We've also got some squash and eggplant burgeoning as well, still December-odd. I guess, even though my garden both foundered and floundered for much of the year, it appears we're having some late entry success. Barring the usual January SoCal cold snap, everything should come out just scrumptiously. And then there's those damn birds and squirrels -beaks and claws of another kind.



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Monday, December 8, 2008

Perhaps you clicked here looking for a distraction because all your kids were crying inconsolably and you couldn't take it anymore. Perhaps you were overwhelmed with December bills, and this wintry economic climate has you up at night, wondering if you'll be living out of a storage garage and an apartment come Spring -so you decided to read some blogs as an escape. Perhaps you were biding your time on the Internet while you were waiting for the pediatrician to call you back because this collicky madness needs some medication, any medication. Or perhaps you're me.

Oh, it's not so bad. It's just cold out. And by "cold", I mean Southern California cold, which is anything below 64 degrees and 85 percent cloud cover. We have nothing to be depressed about. It's little more than a disenfranchisement from a Sunset Magazine photospread, is all.

Truth is, Mrs. Ditchman tapped me on the shoulder in bed this morning with that look in her eye: you're up. I don't blame her, she was up all night. And then she went off to work today and I got a couple of squirts who refuse to nap like it's their right or something to be awake. Look kids: some things are rights, and some things are responsibilities. There's a difference. If you want the full benefits of our modern society, I suggest you learn what that difference is. And take a nap.

Ahhh, but they're too young. And I should be old enough to handle it. Still. A baby could cry all day in the room and I wouldn't notice -but the baby would wake up the other kid, and then they'd both be crying, and then come meal time: madness for mommy, I get the blame.

It's enough to drive a man to drink, and it all makes me wonder if alcohol was invented by men for just this purpose. You know the stereotype of the deaf old man with the flask of whiskey hidden in the garage? Let me clue you in: he's not deaf. There. The secret's out. (Oh, crap. I've just ruined it for old men everywhere.)

Or perhaps I've just been cooped up in the house for too long. Things aren't looking up: tomorrow they're resurfacing the street and we're not allowed to come or go for 24 hours. I think Mrs. Ditchman is going to "go" early, which leaves me here, imprisoned with the banshees in the Oceanside suburbs.

~

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Orson Bean in his inimitable role in "Being John Malkovich".

Saturday Afternoon Post!

You may not know who Orson Bean is, and it don't matta. But I heard him tell his story on the radio a few weeks ago and found it to be a totally enthralling and yet altogether simply-put story of redemption. He's quite a storyteller. PowerLine has a great write-up on him (he has a new book out), including most of what I'd heard him relay on the radio, and if you're looking for something worth reading for ten minutes this weekend, I suggest checking it out.

Link.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

I've seen Little Einsteins "A Christmas Wish" about a billion times this week. (Didn't everyone?) Still can't understand why they don't just wish for more wish boxes. I suppose it's like the First Law of Magical Dynamics or something: you can't wish for more wishes. I can accept that. But Santa being so wildly negligent as to let gifts just fall off his sleigh willy nilly? It's enough to compel a kid to be bad for a year. If a UPS driver let that kind of thing happen, he'd have to turn in his brown shorts.

ANYWAY. Friday has come and I have frittered away the week. Nothing was accomplished, excepting that patent necessity: the kids are still alive. I think the tree is mostly decorated. Our star broke, and there's nothing more demoralizing than a busted Christmas tree star. And I was never able to find the properly twinkling lights to finish up the house. Mrs. Ditchman came home with several boxes of flashing lights, but these were flashing lights, not twinkling lights. There's a difference. I went to every Lowe's in North County yesterday and found a few boxes of broken strings (I tested them there in the aisle) but was met at every aisle of lights by a hundred other North County folk in the same conundrum. It was nice though, people helping people, everyone generally in a good mood. Some of us know the difference between icicle lights and rope lights, and that tricky string length that accompanies the icicle lights (don't let the bulb count fool you) so we all worked together, a thousand points of light we were, but this week is like the Christmas Eve shopping day for Christmas lights -busy, crowded, bustling. I mean, hey if you can't get them up on the house by this weekend, then what's the point?

What's the point anyway? Joy. Cheer. Merriment. Clearly, I need to calm down and have some. The Little Digger actually slept through most of last night and this morning there's no crying. No crying! And no pus coming out of his left eye and a nice thickly yellowish stool, not liquified. Joy! Our baby is back, or gracious storks replaced him with a healthier boy last night in that few short minutes where we slept -no matter, we're going with the same name.

So the weekend is looking up. Tomorrow is the day we are invited over to the Jewish side of the family to decorate their Christmas tree. Yes, I know. Don't ask. It's become a tradition all the same. But I have the perfect soundtrack: "Oy to the World" by the Klezmonauts. Available on iTunes, it's worth the 10 bucks. I find it seriously awesome, though some may find it offensive (which, in my mind, is part of its awesomeness.) Don't let the silliness of it fool you, the musicianship on the album is quite good, and often stunning. Their hit single, a klezmer rendition of "Joy to the World", is here for free. Love it! (For some people, Christmas can be really depressing, and that minor key the Klezmonauts hit with "Joy to the World" is so perfectly ironic that it would make even the most sullen Christian look forward to seeing his dysfunctional post-modern American family at a full-tilt roast-beast carving.)

If you need a soundtrack for the car while shopping this weekend, I also suggest the same two Christmas albums I promoted last year, my favorites, Ray Charles' "The Spirit of Christmas" and B.B. King's "A Christmas Celebration of Hope" both available on iTunes this year, and the latter of which has nothing to do with Obama. Also, God bless them, they went back to the original album artwork for "The Spirit of Christmas" -the original vinyl I keep in my X-mess decorations box and bring out every year, and every year I snicker. I'm snickering right now just thinking about it! Here:


Ha! And here's the link to my review of the two albums last year. (No seriously, the music is great.)

Have a merry weekend! Don't cut in line. Complement the sales people. They're miserable.

And happy Martin Van Buren's birthday.


~

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Two kids means two kids who need to eat in two separate but equally demanding ways, two sets of diapers with equally demanding diaper rashes, two kids crying equally inconsolably -and all at once. Me: hungry, tired, can't pee holding a baby. It was a challenging one yesterday. When Mrs. Ditchman came home from work there was no cheerful "Hi honey, I'm home!" but rather an ass-handing, knowing nod: "Hard, huh?"

My work was passable: the kids were still alive. I tried not to complain. Everything else can be hard enough, but it's frustrating not to be able to get anything done you'd planned on. Oh well. Life gets hard so that your expectations are pointedly lowered -it's one of the things that makes the smiling child so significant as a be-all, end-all necessity. Also, tv is awesome.

Tv. Unless the sentence structure demands it, I try not to uppercase the thing because its never really deserved it, but I will admit that yesterday I was grateful for its empty, time-sucking existence. I had bought a new Little Einsteins DVD for just this occasion, when the Little Ditchman needed a goodly-size distraction while I managed the other digger. Yesterday's disc: "The Christmas Wish," which involves Annie not getting her gift from Santa because it fell off the sleigh. (Bummer!) The other kids all get "wish boxes," you see, in which you get to wish for anything you want and it happens right there in a *poof*! So did the other kids just wish for a million more wish boxes and hand one to Annie? No. They used their wishes in order to get to the top of Mt. Everest, where her gift was sitting, half-buried in the ice. So did they wish for extra oxygen canisters and climbing gear to get there? No. So did Rocket just fly them to the top and pluck it off with his grab-nabber? No. He turned into a snow mobile and plodded uphill through the snow. And then when Annie finally got her wish box, what do you think she wished for? She wished that she could be with her friends on Christmas, which she already was doing. Silly girl. What a waste of wishes. (Oh, Henry...)

So I was unimpressed, but everyone was quiet in the living room for twenty-five minutes and it was awesome. My legitimate wish of the moment came true, which may have been in the mind of the Disney producers all along. (And God bless them, every one!) I suppose there's a moral construct in which the wishing for what one already has is a good and upright thing, however it's nonsensical. It's enough to just be thankful, without which one can never be happy.

I'm thankful for my wife, who can handle this child-rearing work like a Tiger Woods golf swing. Me? I swing a hammer, and I doubt she'd much like that, either, though it's good to switch roles from time to time for the perspective. I suppose God created us to need each other, which would be a funny thing to be thankful for. I admit I'm not particularly grateful that God created me with needs, but I am grateful God created her, for my needs are she, and hers, me. (I hope. Which is another thing entirely.) And I suppose that without this Godly two-by-two construct of needs, there would be no wishing at all, and even less to believe in.


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Wednesday, December 3, 2008


BEHOLD! The mighty corkboard is complete! Sincere thanks to all those who contributed, especially to Grandma Ditchman, who donated her vast and thorough collection of Charles Shaw wine corks right at the end there. I had to line the bottom gap of the board with those oversized champagne corks that were vexing the precise symmetry of the project (not shown) and low and behold: I was one cork short! So we popped some bubbly, celebrated the finished work, dated the cork and glued it on. Beautiful.

I found it interesting that everyone who sent me a bag of corks had at least one bottle that they were particularly fond of, but on some reflection I suspect it was the price of the bottle that they were fond of. I was going to list the wines here, but then I figured it might embarrass us. That's not to say that I and my wine-drinking friends are cheap! Ho no! There are more than a couple hundred-dollar corks up there on the board. Anyway, come on over and gaze in awe at the glory of the feat.

Over 1100 corks in all. That's a lot of wine.

I will still be saving my corks. I suspect someone else will ask me for them some day. They're all yours.

Took the Little Digger to the doctor yesterday, as if we hadn't had enough of that lately. Seems he has a blocked tear duct. Now, before you lay the whole how-lucky-you-are-that-he-can't-cry nonsense on us, I assure you that it doesn't work that way. Anyhow, he's fine. Except for the additional lingering illness, which our doctor suggested might be the rotavirus, which is one that hadn't occurred to any of us yet. The Little Digger hasn't been quite himself in the past few weeks (whatever that means -he's only five weeks old) so we're going to get some tests done. Today we will collect stool specimens, in the comfort of our home. How fun. Maybe we'll make a family project out of it, with an accompanying lesson to boot.

I have been informed that we are not getting a robot vacuum until the robot technology traverses the stair-cleaning hurdle. It was a perfectly valid point, and one well taken, as cleaning the damn stairs is a pain in the stool-chute. There's no easy way to do it. Suggestions welcome.

In other news, the Little Digger is beginning to produce some legitimate smiles, which brings joy to all the house. This is great, because we could use that around here -but what, exactly, the little guy has to smile about is beyond me. His mother's dedicated ardor, I suppose, but it could be anything. I have to admit that when it was announced yesterday that we would be taking stool samples, I smiled too. It's possible he's laughing at us. So it begins.


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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Well, December 1st proved to be something of a desultory start to the final month of 2008. Not sure why it didn't pan out. Yesterday's appointments were cancelled with the old we're-not-done-with-our-remodel-yet-and-not-ready-for-December-shade excuse. Then the new Christmas lights didn't twinkle appropriately. And The Little Ditchman had her first visit to the dentist, which by all accounts was like that Nazi dental torture scene out of Marathon Man. You never expect Josef Mengele to be hired as a children's dental specialist, but I suppose if you ask any child, they'll tell you that they're all Mengele. Later, Mommy and child went to the park where the memory was blocked out, forthwith. No, really. Last night I repeatedly asked her about the dentist, and she repeatedly told me about the park.

Also, I hurt my thumb some time ago. I think I sprained it, whatever that means. There is no swelling, only pain. It's the kind of thing where if you asked a doctor about it, he'd tell you there's nothing wrong with it. But what about all the pain, Doc? **looks at you with disbelief and contempt** Well, stay off of it then. So no thumb push-ups for me for a while. It hurts when I do anything, excepting -of course- typing and mouse rolling. It hurts when I turn the ignition, wash dishes, hold the baby. Hey, it even hurts when I hold a beer -but if you can stand the pain then, you can stand the pain now: so, hold the baby. No winners.

Yeah so, it was a Monday. We did get a tree, though! A nice one, too. Went with Douglas Fir this year, even though we usually go Noble. Tossed it in the back of the truck and brought it home, sore thumb and all, and set it up in the living room and then went to bed. Didn't bother decorating it, which is the first time that's happened. Why decorate it, anyway? The thing looks beautiful as is. It's a special tree, of course, unlike the tall, bristly, overpriced piles of sticks and needles it was surrounded by. Nay, this one has a special sheen to it that called out clear across the lot to us, beckoning our little family to take it home and set it up near the fireplace, where it will live out its last few days shedding its spiny self into a dusty pile. Said dusty pile will somehow end up behind the couch with previous years' dusty piles -a problem easily solved if only Santa would bring me that robot vacuum I've been longing for.

Robot vacuums have come down in price and are on sale, I noticed yesterday, for $150 dollars! It's about $100 more than I'm willing to pay, unfortunately. Directly next to them on the rack were the new model super-robot vacuum, which sold for $350, (and if you can afford that, you can afford a cleaning woman.) It looked like exactly the same robot, which depressed the future. Why the thing can't bring me a beer as it sashays across the hardwood floor whisking up dust mites, is beyond me. I mean, for twice the cost it should at least come with salsa.

Mrs. Ditchman is not convinced the robot vacuum will work. Not convinced that the technology is there yet. This from a woman who complains that the current broom doesn't work quite as well as the last broom. I did meet someone who had the robot vacuum and I asked them if it worked and they didn't answer. (But I believe they had a cleaning woman, so I should ask her.) Anyway, I know little of brooming qualities, but I have just the place beneath the stairs for the robot vacuum home base. I imagine it happily emerging from its cubby, twice daily, to make it's way around the house to suck up all the cat hair, children's snacks, and last night's spilled rice, while I sit on the couch and toast it as it rolls by doing its robot work. Some day robots will do all the work, and we'll wonder how we ever got anything done.

I hope. Today we'll decorate the tree, which is human work. No robot could ever do that right. Some things will just never take the place of other things.


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Monday, December 1, 2008

Didn't get everything done this weekend, so I'll have to finish it today. But, ayiieeeee, what about everything else I scheduled for today? I'll have to double up. And the year's coming to a close! There's only a twelfth of it left! (A twelfth? It sounds like an inch! This holiday will be over in no time!)

It was impossible to get anything done this weekend because there was a Star Wars marathon, (and on two channels!) I put it on a few times to see how the Little Ditchman would respond. She knows the dialogue ("Luke, I am your father!" -followed by familiar dark, heavy breathing sounds) but what good is it without context? It's time for her galactic education -you have to start the jedi out very young, you know. Mrs. Ditchman didn't much approve, thinking the stuff would be too scary, but it didn't seem to bother the kid -which was odd. Ratatouille gets swiftboated down a sewer and she breaks into a crying fit of fear lasting through a sleepless night, but Jabba sends an ugly to his gruesome death in the Sarlacc pit (where he will be digested slowly over a thousand years) and there is no reaction. Mrs. Ditchman drew the line of concern when the Emperor does the finger-lightning death zap to Darth in the end of Jedi, so I changed the channel. The real concern, though, was the fact that the original trilogy was being aired on SpikeTV with it's sickening fight cage commercials every ten minutes. I would change the channel, and the two-year-old learned what a commercial break was this past weekend.

Watching Star Wars for the billionth time was kinda fun for me, actually, and I got into it -mostly because SpikeTV was airing it in HD which Lucas has steadfastly refused to do on disc yet (greedy rotten bastard -he raped my childhood!) On HD you can really see all the eye shadow they put on space princesses and it gives you a sense of some of the risks they were taking with those prehistoric (uh, pre-digital) special effects. For example, there is this nice composite matte of Han and Lando standing in front of the Millennium Falcon:


But in HD it looks like Han and Lando standing in front of a government building's cafeteria mural of the Millennium Falcon, instead of the real thing.

Anyway, it was geeky sweet to watch on our 42" tv, even though it was obvious that though Lucas gave up an HD print to SpikeTV, he didn't give them the 70mm version, the jerk. All the same, I noticed several things I'd never caught before, like this one-second insert of a stormtrooper just tossing an Ewok aside:



Yes, it's amazing that the Empire was defeated in this, the decisive battle with the lovable Ewoks. (If they had put that particular stormtrooper in command of the galactic armies, the fate of the known universe would have been altogether different.)

Anyway, this is the month it all gets finished up for the year! I've got some planting to do, photo files to archive, home movies to edit for posterity, and all the rest of the 2008 business files and receipts to log and pack away, ready for tax accounting. And Christmas lights to hang! (I started this yesterday, but got some dead strings. Now I'll have to go a-hunting at every store for similarly colored strings that have lights with matching twinkle patterns.)

And then there's the small matter of the tree.


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Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's November 30th, a Ditchman High Holy day, whereas 6 years ago today I did the wisest thing in recorded family history; whereas I asked Marci to marry me. Whereas, in spite of her keen sense of duty, self-sacrifice, and self-determination she actually said "yes" anyway. Whereas I am eternally grateful.

She will celebrate the high holy day by being too busy to notice it. She will toil in the kitchen over the din of crying children, making supper and cleaning house, and tonight she'll sleep in 3-hour stints waking intermittently to feed the baby. Researchers have found that interrupted sleep will make a man crazy, but she's too far gone for that: she married me, remember?

Sorry boys, but I'm the luckiest man alive. No man's wife puts up with more and lives to shut up about it. This is a woman who took me on, if only for the challenge, and merrily repeats it day after day. Then she bore my children, which is like suffering through more of me around, and gives them all the impossible love they demand.

When we got married I told her selfishly that I would never be happy working in construction. She took something I hated and made it something I could be proud of. And then when I indulged in my selfish pursuits she left me the checkbook and got out of the way. And when I demanded wine and fruit and pearls, she got me all that and starlight. Again, I'm the luckiest man. I don't need anyone to tell me about it. I'm well aware of it.

She married me, who had nothing and was nothing. It was an endeavor with no legitimate hope of a favorable outcome, and yet she made a man out of me. Now we have a successful business and a happy family and we live in the nicest house in the suburbs. She's a hardworking genius -the Edison of Oceanside- but she's too humble to notice. And too busy. She's an ardent wife, a powerful mother, and the household executive. And she has no expectations that anyone will care.

I may not be cognizant enough to notice it all, but what I see is enough to slay whatever pride runs awry in this domicile and I know enough to at least say thank you, Marci.

And I love you.

You amaze me.



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Thursday, November 27, 2008


Greetings from a windswept and rain-soaked Thanksgiving morning in Oceanside, where Family Ditchman pulled it out early to run the local Turkey Trot, 3rd annual -and three times in a row for us! It rained all night but cleared up just in time for a strikingly beautiful beachside race. It's raining again now, but we got nary a drop on us this morning, and for that we were very grateful, given the regettable fortunes of previous races this year.

It was a good run. All bragging rights were secured, and we shall indulge guiltlessly later today with extra helpings of pumpkin cheesecake. We're headed over the river and through the woods to see grandmother and other parts family, which should be nice. That is to say: it will be a nice long drive up the Interstate 5 in rainy holiday traffic. Oh well. I can look forward to Michael Medved's Thanksgiving lecture (if the kids fall asleep.)

Today's new thing was the "double-jogger stroller" which we borrowed from family Harrington. This is quite a machine! Load up your family and all the gear and go for a nice run. As Kurt put it: "Yeah, it works great! But it's like pushing a Hyundai!" Actually it wasn't so bad, but your typical runner's workout it is not. Still, I got a lot of impressive nods from overly-confident dads pushing their wimpy single-jogger strollers. (But I was sweating more.)

So I let Mrs. Ditchman push it to see how she liked it. And how about that Mrs. Ditchman? Four weeks out of birthing and she's pushing a Hyundai in a 5K! What a woman.

For her, I am very grateful. And also for my healthy family, my loyal friends, and these fine suburbs in this great nation. God bless us, every one.

Happy Thanksgiving.



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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No work today! And for that, I am grateful. Still, when I have a day off it's usually spent cleaning out the garage. Tools and trash and sawdust pile up for weeks on end while I go in and out of there between jobs. I finished the biggest job of the year yesterday and am just happy to have it behind me. The thing is heeeuuujjj! I adjusted the rafter spacing by an inch. I know this concerns you, but it just seemed like there were too many rafters. There were also too many sets of engineering plans. The set I was referring to says my new rafter spacing is fine and dandy, but of course the customer used the other set of plans to pull the permit. There is some concern it won't pass inspection, so I didn't get paid yesterday. It's a holiday week. Who knows when the inspector will come?

But this customer is a real nice guy, (like they all are.) He's recently retired and seemed to be looking for someone to talk to every day, since his wife is at work. He'd wander out on his heeeeuuujjj patio each afternoon and chat with me, while I pretended that I didn't have chronic leaden-stomached nausea. He began to tell me his life story last Thursday and I felt like I was going to hurl the whole time. At one point, I just wondered where the story was going to end. It should have been obvious: it ended with us standing right there on the patio beneath his unfinished shade structure.

Mrs. Ditchman asked Little Ditchman if she wanted to help make a "pumpkin cheesecake" this morning. This got a perfectly cocked head out of her, like a golden retriever hearing a new noise. Seems the words "pumpkin", "cheese" and "cake" aren't really supposed to go together. The kid might be right. We'll see.

I stopped at the grocery on the way home and bought dinner: CRAB. I love CRAB! Love it. It was on sale and I thought we'd celebrate the big job ending, (even though we haven't been paid yet) which is why I went for it. Rung up on the cash register at $54.00 but I had a club card, so it came down to $20. What savings! Gone are the days when things could just be marked down -now you need to be in the club. I'm in a million clubs, and am very popular with junk mail as a result. My uniquely adept form-filling abilities qualify me to be in such a prestigious array of clubs. My wallet is a vast repository of club cards and they drive me beats-all batty when I have to fumble through them at the checkout stand. One time I had a register lady chide me for all the cards I had and I just looked at her like, whose fault is this? Oddly, last week I was overcharged ten bucks for a bottle of wine. Didn't get my club savings, which is the whole reason I bought it. She carded me and I actually showed her my I.D., which screwed up everything. The savings didn't come up in the computer, so it couldn't possibly exist, but I went back and showed her -had to take her down the aisle and point out the tag on the rack. She was astonished that a mistake could possibly have been made, and ripped the tag off right then and there, cursing some thoughtless stock boy under her breath, and depressing some hapless shopper standing behind us. She gave me ten bucks. I guess that's how it works with price increases at grocery stores: Rip, Snarl, Redeem. The free market at work.

There should be one club card. You could have a million clubs, just one card. Put it on your iPod. Bluetooth the thing. Use my fingerprint. Scan my buttcrack. Really, who cares? Has anyone ever actually been denied club savings for not having a card? The checkout person usually has one hanging from her apron and she just scans it for you! ("Club card?" "Use yours.") The whole thing has reached absurd proportions. Still, I am a "Super Saver" with nearly a thousand "Rewards Points" in the current "earn cycle" with a "verified total savings" of well over $30! And that's just in my last purchase! I know it's true because it was verified. Imagine how much I could save if I used my "gift card points", "coupons", and "double coupons": they'd be paying me to take all that wine and CRAB off their busy, troubled hands!

Anyway, I'm going to bring it all up at the next club meeting.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's a good thing we had a boy this time. It's a good thing we had a boy this time because this morning The Little Ditchman actually asked to watch Dancing With The Stars instead of Little Einsteins. Mommy saw this as a cute she's mommy's little girl thing. Dreams of going off trail and scampering up steely boulders deep in the Sierra with my son are now vivid and pronounced.

Seems the two-year-old will get to stay up a little later on Monday and Tuesday nights (and Wednesday is dance class, of all things.) She caught a glimpse of the Hollywood dancing a few weeks ago and was transfixed. Last night she overheard us talking about it and climbed up on the couch a few minutes before it came on, and when the show began... all was stillness, mouth agape. I watched the first dance and then cleared out when the Little Ditchman commented on the nice "red tap shoes" of one of the dancers. She was eating M&Ms at the time. So there they were, Mommy and daughter, sitting on the couch eating chocolate, watching Dancing With The Stars, and commenting on the shoes. Like I said, I cleared out of there. With a beer.

I suppose it was inevitable. "That's my show!" she exclaimed, over and over, after she got out of the bath and prancing naked in the hall before bedtime. So I got the dinosaur book out this morning (a good one -one from my childhood -one I was keeping in reserve) and tried to interest her in some Jurassic pursuits, but eventually she just asked to watch DWTS. I put Little Einsteins on and went upstairs to get ready for work. With a beer. (Just kidding.)

It's just as well. I want to make a woman out of her and Mrs. Ditchman is more qualified to emphasize the feminine parts than I am. But I will teach her the dinosaur names for good measure, just so she doesn't fall into that trap of being unduly impressed by all the precocious boys out there, with their X-Boxes and Bionicles. She'll hold her own. I've already got her waving her hand and saying these aren't the droids you're looking for, so we're off to a strong start. Next spring we'll work on the Alec Guiness impersonation.

But no DWTS for Little Digger. I'll go back to watching Fringe, with all it's sci-fi gore and gunfire, if that's what it's going to take. We're gonna make a man out of him.

And I suppose he has this to look forward to, along the merry way to manhood (from Lileks):

When I was growing up Jane Russell was the old lady in the bra ad. It lifts and separates! It’s an 18-hour bra! These were mysterious concepts. What happened after 18 hours? Did it burst into flames? Did it drop and smush? Even the word PLAYTEX was strange, like some sort of moist clay-like plastic.

Bras are very unnerving to boys of a certain age. A trip to the department store often meant some red-faced time in Bra Land with Mom, looking up at acres of bras hanging like scalps from some strange war only adults knew about.



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