Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

No big blog today.

Big party tonight, and all my readers will probably just be there.

Anyway, please leave a comment here, where I was busy with my blog-time this morning.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Overheard From Downstairs This Morning

Mommy: "Uh oh!"

Child: "Oh."

Mommy: "Why did you do that?"

Child: "Hat."

Mommy: "It's not a hat. It's a bowl for your food."


Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas: A Report from the Front

The best film to come out in the past ten years, The Incredibles, has a line toward the end where the bratty kid says "I love my family!" It's a sweet and funny moment with which many of us can identify. When you finally mature out of your sour teenage years and grow up and have a family of your own, that moment may come when you take a look around the Christmas table and are finally seeing everyone eye-to-eye, seeing everyone for who they are. And for all the crinks and nuances, somehow you stayed together and the day finally came where everyone was laughing and everyone was enjoying each other. It's worth the wait.

My "I love my family" moment came this year after Christmas dinner when we performed our traditional singing of the "Twelve Days of Christmas," a tradition that started in 2003. Back then, it was the first Christmas with my new wife in tow, and the first Christmas spent in Vegas with my sister's family. She had just moved there and was feeling somewhat lonely, so was glad to have us all around the table. She really does up the place for the holidays, and had purchased twelve hand-painted wine glasses, each with an illustration of one of the verses from the annoying and endless song. After a few glasses of wine, someone suggested that we actually go around the table and sing the thing, and that you had to sing the verse of the glass you were holding. There was some reticent discussion about it, and then someone hastily launched everyone into a rollicking rendition of it: On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me... The children stood there, mouths agape at their silly parents, and that may have been the reason why we all just kept singing. It occurred to me at the time that this is the way the song was meant to be sung -with everyone fumbling over a different verse, late to the rhythm and in a different pitch- and the only way it could be enjoyed. Even my Dad, who I'd never heard sing a word of any song in my entire life, joined in. We were all laughing and yelling and cheering... It would be the last time most of us would spend with my Dad before he died a month later. None of us will ever forget it.

So we've sung it every year since. This year we only had ten people, so we were short a few verses. We did a go-round and the kids happily picked up the slack and it was fun, as usual. A bit later, a distant family member called in to wish everyone well and we all got to talking -so you can see where this is going. My brother-in-law gets on the horn and begins drunk-dialing everyone in the family. He set up an 800 number conference call and the phones were set to 'Speaker' and placed on the table, next to the roast beast. People started calling in: "What verse am I?" You're number ten! "Which verse is that?" Look, it's your responsibility to figure it out, OKAY GO! --"On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to meeeee..."

It was hilarious. There would be a pause between verses, a bit of distant static from the other side of the country, and then "6 LORDS A-LEAPING" followed by fall-down laughter on our side because everyone knows it's "6 geese a-laying" (referring to the 6 days of creation). We worked our way through the whole song, everyone finally getting it right the twelfth go-round (it helps when you have the glass in hand, which is the pleasure received only by those physically in attendance). We're pretty sure some family members called in late to the song, heard the ruckus being raised, and either sat there in silent awe, or hung up immediately. It was awesome. You had to be there.

So that was the 5th singing of the song. There's almost always a newcomer to the feast, and when this particular holiday element rolls around there's always some pushing away from the table and some shaking of the head -but once the old wagon starts rolling down the hill there's no stopping it, and it's a joy to watch and a joy to sing (like a banshee.)

The rest of Christmas was ho-hum gift unwrapping. Mrs. Ditchman spoke with a friend who had so many presents for her little two-year old to unwrap, that they were forced to sustain the gifts over a few days, everyone suffering from unwrapping fatigue. There is no such ailment in my family, as we go full-bore marathon style. I have 5 brothers and sisters, 6 nephews and nieces, and that's just the immediate family. If you count the in-laws, the roll call goes into the 30s and 40s (no one has ever really counted.) There were 10 of us at this Christmas. If everyone brought each other only one gift, it's about a hundred gifts to unwrap, but everyone gives several gifts. And then there's Santa. It takes all day. We break for lunch.

I know many people who are annoyed and dismayed by all the gifting and I can't understand it. There's so many gifts going around that no one in my family is ever bothered if so-and-so didn't get them something, or so-and-so got you something you didn't like. There are all different income levels and no expectations. And there's a lot of This doesn't fit, don't you know my size by now? And, Would you wear that in public -I can see right through it! And, Look, Grandma wrapped the gift without putting the thing in the box! Again! We all laugh about it, have a good time, and thank each other. The good gifts are the ones we make for one another; pictures in frames, home movies, drawings from the kids. They're wonderful and cherished all year. It really is about the giving.

But I suppose the best gift we all get in my family is the happy, mutual tolerance we share. We accept each other now. There was a time when there was a lot of irritable holiday bickering and so forth, but perhaps we have grown out of it. I guess as you grow older and begin to see your own faults, you realize you're lucky to have anyone accept you at all. So in the Spirit of Christmas, you show up, you give what you can, and you let it all go.

Monday, December 24, 2007

This may be my favorite Christmas album, not that I have a lot of favorite Christmas albums, mind you, I'm referring to the cover. I mean, come on Ray, where does he think he's going?

I can just picture the record company talking Ray into it: "No, man, no -you look great! Okay, hold this. Good! Smile, Ray!" And the look on his face is priceless. It's like he's saying, "Hey, uh, what am I holding again? Fellas? Hello?" You can just hear the entourage snickering in the background, out there in the forest. It's like the cover of a comedy album. The thought of a blind guy in a blue tux behind the reins of a big-ass, one-horse sleigh dashing through the snow across the countryside makes me laugh all day long. And you gotta love how they cropped that horse.

Don't get me wrong, it has some stellar tracks on it. Ray's cover of "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" are plainly the best versions of those songs anywhere. His organ playing is catchy, spirited, head-wagging stuff. And when Ray sings it, it's "He'll say: 'are you married?', we'll say: 'no, man!' but you can do the job when you're in town, brother." Also, he sings "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in that I'm-begging-you-stay-here-and-have-sex-with-me-all-night-long sort of way that only Ray can do. And if there's anything Christmas needs, it's more sex!

But other tracks are lacking, unless you like the sounds of Ray Charles singing like he's been putting back fully-leaded eggnogs all season. There's a song entitled "Christmas Time" where he's either blasted drunk, or bound to a legal contract, or both. It's a laugh the first time, unlistenable every time thereafter.

It saddens me, but if you go looking for this CD you may find it in somewhat less-inspired repackaging, looking like this:

Oh well. I guess someone clued him in. Also, it doesn't have exactly the same songs. Stupid music industry.

My other Christmas fav is B.B. King's "A Christmas Celebration of Hope", not pictured. Don't let the lackluster album title and boring cover mislead you. It's just plain great B.B. at his best. No one sings "Back Door Santa" like B.B. Then again, no one sings "Back Door Santa". Sample lyric: Well, they call me 'Back Door Santa' I make my rounds about the break of day. I make all the ladies happy, while the men are out at play. I ain't like old St. Nick, he don't come but once a year... And so forth. Like Ray, B.B. knows that if there's anything Christmas needs, it's more sex! Hilarious.

Both are worth the price of admission. The Ray Charles album I bought at a record store twenty years ago solely on the merit of its cover art, and today it's the only record I have left. I used to have hundreds, but they all left me somewhere along the line, sadly. Not sure why I kept this one, probably because it ended up in my box of Christmas decorations. Strangely, when I got married it was the only Christmas decoration I owned. I still pull it out at Christmas and put it on the shelf. Gets a smile out of me every time.

As if Hawaii wasn't Christmasy enough, we'll be spending Christmas day in Vegas (baby) making the seasonal sister-visit trifecta complete. It's always a pleasure to be out there with my family, as this sis really knows how to put on a rollicking good party and is a terrifically gracious host. You don't know holiday living until you've joined in with my family singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas"! There are hand-painted wine glasses to help you through the song (the wine helps, too). And driving across the desert is a treat, and we'll time the drive with Michael Medved's lecture on Christmas. Just like his lecture on Thanksgiving, this one is every bit as interesting and informative.

I suppose one of these days the Ditchman family will swell in numbers and Santa will be summoned to Oceanside, but for now we spend Christmas Eve away from home. The kid doesn't know the difference just yet, but she'll have Christmas altogether mastered sometime in the next 48 hours.

I love Christmas. I love nearly everything about it. At church a few weeks ago the pastor said something like, "I'm sick and tired of hearing people say 'the meaning of Christmas is getting lost'. If you think it's getting lost than do something about it." He's right. Stop complaining.

Well, it's never been lost on my account. What's difficult about Christmas is the part where you grow up. The perspective on the holiday takes on such a radical change through to maturity, that it's a challenge to keep the meaning all in focus. It will never be like it was when we were kids, but the magic is still there, however it looks from this side of life. And it was always about the same things: Gifts. Giving. Children. It started when those three wise men brought gifts to that child in the barn, who Himself was a gift to us all.

In many ways it's a story only a child could tell. Case in Point.. Talk about Christmas miracles. What a story.

And what a Story.

And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 18:3 (New International Version)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mrs. Ditchman and I were doing a few holiday chores around the house this afternoon, listening to Christmas music on the AppleTV, when a song came on...

"Uh Oh," I heard from the other room.

I was thinking the same thing: Uh oh. Something's amiss in our AppleTV Christmas music playlist.

Then I listened to the lyrics.

What was me failing to pay attention all those times I heard it on the radio, was suddenly a nice little Christmas miracle. (They always come from the wiliest of places.)

The jingle bell in the background is a nice touch. It should have been the giveaway.

And, lest I be misunderstood, believe me: anytime the Christ story ends up on a pop culture hit list, it's a miracle.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Cards are away!

Well, more or less. Nearly a hundred and fifty of them. We send them out to our clients from the last year with a nifty photo of an aluminum cover. It takes a little extra time, but that's the way we do business around here. We really are grateful for your business!

Even sent one to the president. Our apologies for the dark pic. Mrs. Ditchman picked them up yesterday and noted to the Costco guy how dark they were. I understand he just shrugged that he'd seen that before. OH, swell. Said it couldn't be fixed on the E-mailed files. Couldn't be fixed! ALL THE TECHNOLOGY IN THE WORLD! You mean to tell me that I can collect an image digitally, alter it to my liking on my computer, send it into space and around the world and back down to Costco, where it merges with a Christmasy layout and a large machine prints out 150 of them an hour later, but it can't be fixed! Oh well. Serves me right. The same thing happened last year.

So you go through all the trouble of picking out the best photo of your family, and the Christmas card comes out looking like you're all decked out in blackface in a mining tunnel with a foggy lens and no flash. Dammit. I guess you can't expect much at thirty cents a piece (including envelope.)

It's Friday. Christmas is Tuesday. Raises the hair on your hindquarters, doesn't it? Should make for a fun weekend at the mall, which I will try to avoid. I may end up down there anyway. When I was a kid I kind of liked going to the mall when it was super-busy. It's like watching the rain coming down during the worst storm of the year. Quite a sight, really, but you don't exactly want to go out in it. Actually, now that I think about it, I kinda liked going out in that when I was a kid, too. Things change.

There will be a full moon on Christmas Eve -another reason not to go out shopping. Is there any significance to these things? Something in my head always tries to make a connection. A full moon on Halloween, Christmas landing on a Sunday -is it any more better? Of course it is. If something goes bad, there's your excuse. Remember the year the tree caught fire? Oh yeah, that was the full moon Christmas. And when Great Uncle Dain barfed up his eggnog because you made him laugh by singing "don we now our gay apparel" in the elf voice? Yeah. Full Moon Christmas Eve. Unforgettable.

But the thought of looking up at the sky as a four year old, having run to the window because you heard a distant "Ho ho ho" and a "Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Dunder and Blixem!" and swearing that you just saw eight tiny reindeer silhouetted against the full moon... it could happen! Anyway, it's a nice thought. People who don't celebrate Christmas are just being mean to kids.

And yes, I do mean Dunder and Blixem. Check this out if you don't believe me. A reindeer named "Vixen" I cannot account for, though I'd like to see what she looked like. Evidently it gets lonely out on the Norwegian Tundra.

So have an excellent weekend. Try to enjoy it! Me, I like wrapping and unwrapping presents, lighting a fire, cooking a hot meal, and swilling cider under tree. Sure, it's Southern California -all the better! We finally got our rain for the year, and today there's not a cloud in the sky. Also, family is immensely more tolerable now that I'm an adult. Though it could be the alcohol.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas cards go out today! (Finally.) Costco has the best deal on Christmas photo-cards, if you didn't notice, and we're gonna pick them up this morning and mail them out tonight, hoping with all our might that they reach their destinations before Christmas Eve, lest we suffer outright mortal shame. If you don't get yours, give it a week. If you still don't get yours, E-mail me your proper address, for crying out loud -I wasted a stamp!

BTW, this year's prize for First Christmas Card Received goes to the Harringtons of Oceanside, CA! Excellent work! They were expecting a child around Thanksgiving, and had the foresight to recognize that there would be no time in December for this foolishness.

I've always had mixed feelings about Christmas cards. There were the years I sent EVERYONE a card and then there were the years I sent NO ONE a card, followed by the years where I received none. Then there were the years I sent out "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings" cards, not wanting to offend anyone who didn't subscribe to any particular faith-based federally-recognized holiday. I can count the Hanukkah cards I've received on one hand, and I don't think they were sent to me from Jewish people.

For a few years, I sent out Christmas E-mails. Boy, that was lame. My sister really chided me for it, as she had nothing to hang on The Wall.

Now that I'm older, (and though not exactly wiser I am less stupdi) I really enjoy getting the cards. Most people I know have a Wall, or at least a Door or a Mantle or a Someplace to put all the cards they receive. I have one, too, and I love it. I especially enjoy seeing all the families and their kids and pets and seeing how much they've grown. Everyone picks a photo that they think is their family looking its best, or at least typifies their family sensibility. Last year, our Christmas card was a pic of us in our Halloween costumes, looking our best.

Checking out our own wall, I've noticed that there are a number of pics without the parents -just kids. We considered sending one with just the Little Ditchman looking super-cute, but when we received so many sans the other folks we love hearing from, we decided against it. I'm not sure why people choose to leave themselves out of the picture. It may be that they just couldn't find a good photo of everyone, or that their family is so big it's impossible to flip the shutter when everyone is smiling at the same time. "Ah, 2005! Yes, I remember that year! It was the one where we were all diagnosed with clinical depression because of that awful neck rash -medical costs forcing us to wear dated fashions... Little Billy looked great though!"

I've also noticed that fewer cards are going the politically-correct "Happy Holidays" route, and that there are more "Merry Christmas"s this year. Political Correctness seems to be losing the battle recently, having overplayed its hand. I've never really understood it. Are there people who are actually offended upon receiving a holiday salutation from someone of a different faith? If you wish someone a happy Your-Religious-Holiday-Here, are you not wishing them well? If a Buddhist wished me a "Happy Buddha Day" I would love it!

"Buddha Day" or "Visakah Puja" is traditionally Buddha's birthday. The holiday celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha on the same day, the first full moon day in May (except in a leap year when it is celebrated in June).

I would say "Merry Christmas" to this Buddhist, and I'm sure he would love it.

Then again, the Jehovah's Witnesses came by my house yesterday offering me a copy of The Watchtower. I turned them down and unwittingly wished them a "Merry Christmas!" They didn't exactly break out into "O Come All Ye Faithful".

If you're not a Christian and yet you celebrate Christmas and send out Christmas cards that say "Happy Holidays", that's cool. But since when is it poor form to express your own faith on your own religious holiday? I'm referring to Barbara Walters, of course, who got all in a lather about the president again.

Anyway, in our family we love getting the pictures, whoever is in them, whatever they're celebrating. It's nice to see that you're not the only one enduring time's wear, and it's good to see those with whom you've lost touch. I save them all in a nice red velvet Christmas box and pack it away with the Christmas stuff. I put it on the table and flip through the box once a year. I guess it's not so foolish after all.

The cards I chuck.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Well, we're back, but you know how it is. We're not really back until a round of household chores are done, a good hard day of work is completed, the pets recall your contributions to their existence and the memories of vacation altogether go dim. Back into the swing of things. Back to the routine. Hey, why am I a week behind schedule? And hey, what happened to all the money in my bank account?

Then you're back, and the year-end scramble continues. It was nice to come home to a house draped with Christmas lights and a Christmas tree, though I don't remember decorating the thing. The Little Ditchman woke up the next morning and was surprised and impressed to suddenly be in such a familiar place. We were all happy to be back. When you have a nice home as we do here in Oceanside, a journey to an exotic locale loses its allure. All the pining for ESCAPE! that I had in my youth is gone now, thank the Lord. It's been replaced by Contentment, and it's good to be home.

That's not to say that I don't long for some good old Rest and Relaxation, ho no! That's different. My sister, whose house we stayed at in Hawaii, was somewhat disappointed that we had little interest in leaving the cabana and venturing out to see the island. She didn't seem to grasp that we really just wanted to sit for a week, maybe stroll on the beach, have a few beers. We've seen enough of Oahu to know the place, but we've also seen enough action in suburban Oceanside to want to leave it all behind for a few. But, we're back now. Back in the middle of the Christmas season, back in the middle of a tough year-end workload, back in the middle of getting the accounting in order and beginning the tax filing. Mrs. Ditchman has been honorably dedicated to it all, and for her I am grateful.

It was a typical Ditchman family vacation. There was a lot of wind and rain, flight delays, everyone getting sick, the airline lost some luggage, then the viruses were exchanged and everyone got sick again. We saw a few neat things, however. The Pipeline Masters surfing competition was going on and we caught a day of that -pretty entertaining. Ran the Honolulu Marathon in the driving rain, which was a hoot, though I ran solo for the first time, missing my running buddies. Caught a local small-town Hawaiian Christmas Parade, which was unforgettable. All of these stories I could expound upon with some well-placed adjectives, verbs, and punctuation, making all the TMST readers out there swoon breathlessly and click over to www.hawaiianairlines.com to check ticket prices. And nothing was more enjoyable than watching the Little Ditchman play with her cousin, who is a few months her senior. That was worth the price of admission, the price paid in the lavatory, the amount spent on Zicam... And we did get one good day at the beach without any wind and rain.

On the last day, we put all the toys in the rental and journeyed to the leeward side of the island to famous Waikiki beach, where we pitched a towel on a patch of sand between Japanese tourists and sat. Shoulda done this all week, I thought to myself. It wasn't for a lack of trying. My sis lives a block from the beach on the windward side of the island and, well, it's winter if you hadn't noticed. It may be the tropics, but those clouds blow across the ocean for a thousand miles collecting fresh water to dump on the first land they hit. Hawaii isn't green cause it's warm and dry, folks.

But the Little Ditchman was smart. She sidled up to the ocean with her bucket and shovel, plopped right down, and did this for an hour:

She's the smartest one in the family.

And that's the way I'll remember the vacation. (You don't take pictures of the painful moments in life.) Sure, she'd been irritable to the point of exhaustion in the days previous -you would be too, if you were standing there in the rain with green snot running down your nose, diarrhea in your shorts, and you threw up on yourself in the minivan. Life comes at you waves. For every crest, there is a trough, and the deeper that trough, the higher that crest. God help those with no storms in life, as they know not the real joys of clear weather. There's more to life than waiting for the storm to pass, too, for when it finally does, you've got to pick up your bucket and shovel, walk down to the water, and get back to living.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I've got a little bit of time this Aloha Friday, so I thought I'd post some more about the 2007 Honolulu Marathon...

Earlier, I'd mentioned that the marathon was not nearly as organized as the reunion area of the 2006 Marine Corp Marathon. If you were there, you remember the strangling, stifling, claustrophobic feeling of 20,000 tired, sweaty runners and their families funneling over a small bridge in Arlington. It was awful, and we missed the entire post-race festival as a result.

Today in the Honolulu Advertiser was this story. Now, I'm not sure how to explain this to race planners, but runners' times are very important. This cannot be overstated. The NBA may as well play without scoreboards.

But the truth is most of the twenty-four thousand or so of us out there are just running to finish. We all have watches, we all know it takes 10 or 15 minutes to even reach the start line after the gun goes off, so we just laugh it off. Unfortunately, the timing fiasco wasn't what bothered me about the race.

First I'll say I was prepared for the rain, it is Hawaii after all. I was ready for the sweltering conditions, which Galloway says adds about twenty minutes to your time, on average. I was even prepared for my own unpreparedness! I knew that I wasn't particularly ready for this one, having only gone fifteen miles as my furthest training run, but I'd been pretty active altogether for the past few months, and so I thought I'd take it easy on this race and integrate the Galloway walking breaks, which I'd never tried before.

I'd run five minutes and then walk one minute, the idea being that you don't wear yourself out early on, and still have something to run with in the second half. Let me tell you: it works! Though I doubt I will adopt the Galloway method as a whole (I like to run) I believe I will utilize it in future training runs. His theory is sound, though it sounds crazy at first. Walk more, run faster and further. If you don't buy it, try it. (I'm not going to be able to convince you.) His swell book is here. It's worth every penny.

Galloway won the first Honolulu Marathon years ago, incidentally. There were, like, 500 runners and 200 finishers. Today the marathon has swelled to one of the top five biggest in the world. The reason for this is all the Japanese folks that make an event out of it. Honolulu is a big vacation destination for the Japanese, and it turns out that there are very few marathons in Japan that are open to everyone (you must have a qualifying time). All these multitudes running together is one of the things that makes a marathon fun, so I was looking forward to it, and I knew there were going to be a lot of Japanese running in it, but... WOW. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was just a few days previous. 50 years ago you would never have imagined such an event in Hawaii, of all places.

But unfortunately, the event organizers cut corners by catering the race to the Japanese culture and seemingly have little experience with how marathons are run stateside. The Honolulu Marathon's biggest sponsor is Japan Airlines (JAL) and JAL puts together group packages for their patrons. At the finish line, for example, is a big JAL tent with masseuses and hot meals and plentiful first aid -it looks wonderful! Of course, they wouldn't let me in. Either I was too white and too tall, or I didn't have the JAL tour-group wristband. JAL actually had party tents along the course, too (okay, "running stations") which we homely folk were also not allowed into. It was a demoralizing sight, really, to see all of these exclusive tents. At the finish festival there were numerous groups like JAL that were happy to help their own, but all I got was a couple of dry, sugarless cookies and a Red Delicious apple. I hate Red Delicious. Too mushy.

This is exacerbated by the fact that when you crossed the finish line, you were handed (handed!) a cheap shell lei, not unlike the kind you get at the airport, or Hilo Hattie's if you spend over 3 bucks. No medal. I almost cried. Then you're immediately greeted by the "Volunteer Lunch Tent" with their plates of kalua pork and rice and a side of fresh soup, but you are hereby directed across a parking lot and through a large muddy field to the "Runner's Tent" to get your paltry ration.

Then (if you can find it) you stumble to a tent on the far side of the festival, past all the private parties, where they hand you your T-shirt. Only finishers get T-shirts in this race, which I find amusing (the shirts all say "Honolulu Marathon Finisher" on the front.) At the convention (which was also relatively threadbare given the size of the event) they hand you a near-empty bag, and then another bag, and then more bags. I guess the Japanese like bags. I must say I was relieved to finally get an actual medal, however, at the T-shirt tent. It was an unattractive key fob in a plastic baggie that I immediately unwrapped and tied to my shell lei -as walking around post-marathon without a medal around your neck is really depressing. It was a bummer not to get the friendly "Congratulations!" from a volunteer, like I'm used to. And there's no hanging out on the beach and jumping in the Pacific for a cool dip -the finish "festival" is cut off from the ocean by the last mile of the course, which is fenced in.

That last mile was a tough one, too, as you see the FINISH banner hovering there in the distance, straight ahead of you. It's a tough course. There's the humidity and the rain that's expected of the tropics, but the start time is also at 5AM, which means we woke up at 2:30 or so to get down there. It's not so bad if you're from the mainland, really, because of the time change, but still! Anyway, the reason for this is to avoid the heat, and this is appreciated, but more than half of the runners expect to finish beyond the five hour mark, which would land them square in the middle of the afternoon at their most tired. There is no no cut-off time for this race. You run past A LOT of people.

As well, the race goes up and over Diamond Head about six miles into it (quite a hill) and then up and over it again at mile 25! SUCK! Miles ten through 22, more or less, are on the same road running right next to each other, so it's just a long straightway out and back, watching everyone coming at you. Some people don't mind this, but I find it irritating in a long run, just going straight forever and then making a U-turn. (Oh well, it's an island. I guess I can't expect much.) Sure you run along Waikiki beach for the first few miles in the beginning, but remember: it's pitch dark and you can't see a thing. You may as well be running past a thousand naked supermodels beneath the Eiffel Tower, it don't matter.

So it's not the best course. When I finished, I felt like I just crashed somebody else's party all excited-like, and then found that I didn't know anyone there. Hordes were still crossing the finish line three hours later when I was down on the strip at a restaurant having a beer. (No, there was no beer garden, and no, I did not get a free cocktail when I showed them my finishers shirt.)

All that being said, I am, of course, stoked that I ran it. Every marathon is great, and doing one in Hawaii was a terrific novelty. I will never forget standing in line for a Port-a-John at 4AM when the rain started coming down in sheets under those 10 million candlepower lights rigged up on the cranes. I was glad I'd plopped down 25 bucks for a hat at the Nike booth the day before.

And yes, there were not nearly enough Port-a-Johns at the start line. We all waited in line for over a half an hour, and I felt bad for the long line behind me, as we had only a few minutes to spare before gun time.

I will also remember the fireworks -which were pretty cool. We were standing there, a head taller than everyone as far as the eye could see, and there were a few BANGs and POPs, and you look up and see the lights exploding in the sky, betwixt downpours. Sleepy vacationers ventured out onto their Waikiki verandas high above the crowds to watch, and then we began to amble forward. There was no national anthem. Announcements came over loudspeakers in Japanese. They were followed by announcements in English, equally unintelligible.

I will also never forget running down the boulevard as the rain POURED down on us, shuffling through the puddles. The recently placed Christmas lights of the city reflected some life in the otherwise empty streets, and all the many thousands of us ran silently forward, the sound of a million synchronized foot-splashes ahead and behind. You could see the rain falling from great heights, and there were few spectators at such an early hour, and we ran silently forward. The lack of speaking may have been a cultural thing, or we may all have been miserable beyond words, but it was 75 degrees and we were in Hawaii and we were 3 miles into a marathon. It generally makes one quiet down.

Something I will never forget: there was one quick-deliver Japanese restaurant full of employees, out on the sidewalk of the storefront. They appeared to have taken a break from the early cooking of the day's sustenance for the needy masses of tourists, and they were out on the street in the rain, banging pots with ladles and spoons. They were laughing and cheering us on. I remember thinking of those moments of levity from my own days working at restaurants, and here I was, years later, in a very different place. It took my mind off the daunting pain for a moment, and it was awesome.

There weren't very many spectators, actually, which was really a disappointment. The early hour combined with the rain, and who knows what else, just didn't lend itself to it. I've run other races where the streets were lined with folks happily cheering you on all 26.2 miles, but this was not one of them. It was unfortunate, but oh well. You can't expect it. That's not what you run for.

This was my ninth marathon. It's amazing how different they all are, and yet all equally unforgettable. One of the big reasons I keep doing it is because it's new and different every time, and yet I still hit the finish line with that feeling of having reached an unimaginable height, having accomplished what few attempt. It's the only sport in the world where you are competing with the professionals in the exact same event! It's the equivalent of playing an NBA game with Michael Jordan, or golfing in a tournament with Tiger Woods. You may not be as good as them in the competition, but the fact that you were willing to try at all... it's like Tiger saying, "Come on in!" as he hands you a club, or Magic just tossing you the ball.

I passed the lead runner about halfway through the marathon, actually. Okay, so he was going the other direction, but still! He is The Best in the sport, and I was only an hour behind him. At least I tried. I finished a marathon before 9:30AM last Sunday morning. Half the people I know were still in their jammies.

That's something.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yes, that's us at the finish line! There's plenty to say about it, but I'm on vacation.

Picture me on the beach with my mac laptop, doing a little leisure writing in the hammock, reflecting on the events of the previous few days, pausing only to tip the boy with the towel over his arm, tray of Mai Tais in hand. The scent of my hand-made plumeria lei wafts upward, inspiring me with each word I type. This is some of the best work I've ever done! And the children playing in the warm ocean waves crashing gently on the beach, my wife with her eyes closed, smiling to herself during a nap on the grass...

I ask you to picture it this way, as the reality is somewhat less glamorous. We all have runny noses and lidocaine patches on our legs. The rain hasn't stopped for more than a few minutes, pouring down and drowning out the hacking cough that erupts out of the Little Ditchman at random intervals. Some of us are fighting the urge to vomit, but there's enough diarrhea to go around as a distraction. Haven't had a wink of sleep in a week, it seems. The blisters on our feet from the waterlogged running shoes are pretty nasty, but the pain from them is overshadowed by the pain from the muscles and joints. You runners know the feeling.

There's more to say, of course, but I'd like to heal first, and it's a little tricky using a PC for the blog for the first time (it's my brother-in-law's.)

Still, we are pretty proud of ourselves, and it was another terrific accomplishment. My time was 4:21, which is what I ran last time I ran a marathon in the driving rain. Of note: the Honolulu Marathon as a whole wasn't nearly as well organized as the reunion area of the 2006 Marine Corp Marathon, but at least they had English subtitles and translators for the hundred or so Americans who ran the race. I was the tallest one there! Japanese heads in front of and behind me as far as the eye could see...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

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100TH POST! Unfortunately, it will only be celebrated with Gatorade, as pre-marathon hydration is necessary in this humid climate. Gun time is at 5AM! If all goes well, beer will be served at 9:15. See you at the finish line, that is, if I do not succumb to the stomach flu first.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Forecast for Hawaii is RAIN for the next week. And stomach flu. Bookend it with a six-hour plane flight and the trifecta is in play.

It's past midnight on Thursday morning as I write this. I'm tired. I ache. The city of Oceanside is coming down on us because the BIG job we have to fit in before Christmas is a commercial gig and not residential. If you don't know about these things, trust me, bureaucracy hyperventilates at the commercial level. Unanticipated last minute headaches abound, though I will get a certain amount of pleasure ordering lengths of aluminum from the beach in Kailua.

That's the pain of having your own business. It follows you wherever you go, and I do mean IT FOLLOWS YOU. There's no going home at the end of the day and forgetting about it until tomorrow (and as well you should.) And then when you run the operation alongside your wife... well, let's just say there's always something to discuss over dinner.

"How was your day, honey?" takes on an all new meaning, too, as I'm sure you can imagine. I have to submit a report. She has her job, too. Sure, I grab a beer out of the fridge and slink away some nights, but I slink right back and we discuss work on the couch in our pajamas while we watch, you know, whatever is on that will take our minds off work.

So here we are with a planned vacation, but no amount of planning seems to allow for it. We signed contracts yesterday and were all set to place the last order of the year and hang out in Hawaii while they processed it, but no. The city needs to review this one. Engineering needs to be reworked. The Manager wants a corbel cut on the rafters, the Board wants scallops. So be it. And Mrs. Ditchman took the bulk of it on herself today, too, God bless her.

And there's Christmas. The Little Ditchman seems to be getting in the swing of the holiday as she knows the important words; "kissmasstwee", "ornornament", "lites", and "snowman". We were hellbent on not missing Christmas this year, so on the way tonight to measure out the job and draw up some new plans, we stopped at Lowe's and picked out a tree. The kid pointed at the first one she saw and she loved it. We loved it, too, and into the truck it went. I might add that I ditched a few responsibilities today so that I could hang the lights. A week from now I'll wonder what I was thinking, but for now, it was worth it.

It'll be nice to come home to. I'll have to report back from the tropics on how they celebrate it all out there. Not that we have snowmen here either, but at least the temps can drop below 70. And then there's Christmas in Vegas for us, with the family -strange as it sounds. I suppose one of these years we'll just have to be home for the day, so Santa can drop down our chimney good and proper. The kids will appreciate it.

So I bid you a fond farewell and aloha. Stay tuned, as I will be sure to mobile-blog a few pics when I get bounced out of this latitude. We return on the 17th. Attention burglars: our housesitter is an expert marksman and has the keys to the shotgun locker. I'm paying her to clean the rifles, so be aware that she will always have a weapon on her lap.

Tomorrow: flags go out. Pearl Harbor Day. Our grandparent's 9/11.

P.S. This is the 99th post on TMST! I hope it has all been significant enough for you these past few months. The hundredth post will be me on the beach in the tropics. I deserve it!

(Uhh, don't I?)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's amazing how your attitude about snot changes when you have a child. What used to be sooo disgusting has just become another thing. One orifice just starts looking like another, and what does it matter? They all need to be wiped down anyway, and you're the guy to do it.

3:45AM: cries of Daddy! Daddy! from the other room. Glancing at the clock I felt it was safe, all the little demons back in their respective household spider holes, and I fumbled into the Little Ditchman's room to try and do... what? What am I gonna do? Stroke her back, comfort her, offer her some water, pray she goes back to sleep -and soundly. She did.

Welcome to parenting. There's no way out. It occurred to me last night, in the middle of the night, that I had no idea what I was doing. If the child had not fallen asleep, I would have just waited until my wife slogged in to hand me my ass. I did the job well enough, however, and headed back to bed. The last thought that floated through my head before the train to Sleepytown arrived was that this child would die if it wasn't for Mommy. I'm just not capable. The survival rate in my fish tank isn't even 70 percent.

House is still the best written show on television, despite the fact that last night's episode (rerun) broke the glass ceiling of total barfing shots in a one-hour television drama. Rerun! Striking writers be damned! I have no sympathy for these people (sorry). It's clear that everyone in Hollywood is overpaid (just look at the sum product) and furthermore, there are plenty of struggling writers out there who would do the job for less (me).

Last night's rerun of House, by the way, almost lost the title of "Best Written Show on Television". The trophy fell off the mantle when the patient was going under the drill for an obviously unnecessary brain surgery, and one of the diagnosticians was at her house, investigating her basement. When he found that fumigation pesticide was coming through a drain pipe from the neighbor's, why, she didn't need brain surgery after all! He picked up his cel phone and called the surgeon in the OR, stopping the drill just as it was being sunk into the patient's skull -in the nick of time!


It wouldn't have been so bad if they hadn't had all these set-up shots of the doctors shaving her head and powering up the drill,cue the moody music and cross-cut with the diagnostician at the patient's house, putting on a gas mask and discovering her dead cat. Anyway, Hugh Laurie saved the show, as he always does. The guy is terrific, though I'm having a hard time taking him seriously since I noticed him as Jasper, the greasy henchman in the remake of 101 Dalmations (1996).

Hilarious. And talk about writers deserving more money! This is evidence that there is both untapped talent in the universe, and horrible overpaid writers. For every remake and sequel in Hollywood, there is a hack cashing a hundred-thousand dollar check. Still, they strike! I think we should have a viewers strike, but then that would be called a protest, and it would smack of politically incorrectitude. I'll protest bad work all the same. You pay these people to entertain you. If they were working on your house and did a bad job, you'd complain.

Well, today is a day off of work so I can bust my ass around the house! Packing for a trip is an exhausting endeavor for the Ditchman family, and it always provokes ire. It doesn't help that everyone is feeling under the weather in one way or another. I was informed last night, when I got home from work, that my sister's family in Hawaii is experiencing a household epidemic of the stomach flu, causing my brother-in-law to stay home from work for the first time ever.

It almost moved me to tears.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Well, this day is going to be a long one."

That's the thought that went through my head at about 3AM this morning when I was shaken awake by some odd noise in the house. Well, I thought I heard a noise, but my wife didn't stir -so I must've been imagining it. Still, when you hear a noise at three AM, you know it must be the devil in your house. 3AM, that's the Devil's Hour, you know -12 hours after Christ was crucified. Also statistically when most nighttime deaths occur. And Princess Diana was in that terrible accident right around 3AM, right? See the connection? So I hear something in the middle of the night, and I check the clock. If it's around 3, clearly demons are scrambling around downstairs, using their guise and wiles to sabotage the house for the rest of the day, and I just lay there in bed helplessly.

Then the Little Ditchman wakes with a hacking cough and holy fever and my wife responds to it immediately. I roll over to see if she hears it at all and she's already gone, Power Mom that she is. Mom spent the night with daughter -who cried and wheezed through the dark hours. (Actually, I think it was Mrs. Ditchman who did a lot of the crying.)

When I finally awoke with the crink in my neck, mom handed off the child and went forthwith to her workout (how does she do it?) while I got ready for the long, long day.

Hopefully the little angel's cough and snot will slip away before the six hour plane flight on Thursday, and hopefully it won't slide dormant into my own immune system, only to manifest the day of the marathon.

Anyway, I've got to move. Hanukkah begins at sundown. If you have those messianic Jews in your family like I do, (yes, we honor Hannukah and Christmas) you may appreciate this Christmas album. I particularly like "Oy to the World", which will be the soundtrack to the video I make some day of my wife's Jewish kin at Christmastime, and our family's tradition of having me over to decorate Great Aunt's holiday tree for her.

Monday, December 3, 2007

If you think it's cold where you are...

It's a fascinating article. Attention, oh Writer of Fascinating Article: you had me at "walrus dicks". It's kind of long, and kind of depressing, but if you ever wondered what life is like out on the far, desolate reaches of America, it's explained here. I envision a similar article with its subject being Suburbia. "The average person in Suburbia knows how to use every part of the suburbs in order to survive." And so forth. It'd make for more fascinating stuff, but I'm too busy for all that.

On the other hand, only four short days to tropical paradise! (Okay, my sister's guest room in Hawaii.) The housesitter has been prepped to handle the menagerie we have here on Eastview Court. The livestock should be fine without us for a few. It's been real busy around here, what with trying to make the bills and wrap up the business for the year. I've got one job this week, small one, and a large job after Hawaii and before Christmas, so it doesn't look like it's going to let up any time soon. After the marathon I will sit on the beach and forget the phone somewhere, have a beer. Then again, the weather forecast shows rain in Hawaii all week, so I may be drinking that beer on the veranda, picking at the blisters on my toes. As long as it stays above 80, fine.

Christmas seems to have been nudged by the wayside, here. Just no time to get the lights up, and what are we decorating the tree for? The housesitter? As much as she would appreciate it, I'm not sure I can pass muster. Yesterday I had a few hours to myself and just decided to scan old photographs into the computer as part of the Great Archiving Project. Mrs. Ditchman caught me, "What are you doing that for?!" I had no good answer. Obviously, there were more important things to be done. When I get overwhelmed, I just start a new project. (How's that pond coming?!)

The picture above is one of the recent inductees into the family record. Scrawled in pencil on the back it reads: "Dick out in the road". I have no idea when the picture was taken, who "Dick" is, or where that road is, but the snapshot must have been important enough to have been kept for 75 years. From surrounding photos I gathered that Dick was a mailman and that he had a dog named "Suzie" and that that year the snow bank was higher than the cars. I assume this is Iowa, land of my forebears. Evidently, there is a road there and one year Dick, that crazy bastard, got out in it. Looks cold there, too, but not Alaska cold. My family was smart enough to get out of the winterlands and move to California, and since one of my sisters moved to Las Vegas and another moved to Hawaii, it seems the family is still in the midst of migrating to warmer climates. Another generation and we'll be in Polynesia, which would be fine with my wife. It dips below 70 here in Oceanside, and she hugs her elbows, shivers and exhales, and goes looking for fuzzy socks.