Monday, March 31, 2008

It was a swell weekend. Nothing weird happened, and for that we can all be grateful. Mrs. Ditchman and I had a lovely time out to dinner, leaving the little one behind with Granny and Great Aunt Barbara. Now that I think of it, just the occasion to go out into the real world without a child was a "weird" experience. Your field of vision takes on a certain tunnel vision when you have a child, for, wherever you go, the kid never leaves your sight. When you ditch the little one, it's as if the Lord God Almighty has reached down out of Heaven and lifted your head by the chin so you can see, for once, that it's a big wide world! "So this is what restaurants are like!" quoted Mrs. Ditchman upon our arrival at the place. 'Going out' was always something we intended to do more before the kid came along, but it was one of the multitude of plans made and dashed along the wayside in the ride of familyhood.

I suppose we originally thought it would be easier to secure a trustworthy babysitter, but truth be told we just enjoy saving money making our own meals and being around the kid in our nice home, so we don't go out much. We went to one of our favorite restaurants (actually, it was only our second time there) and were led to our favorite table, our table (okay, so it was just the table we had last time.) It was wobbly, so I used the butter knife to tighten the screws that held it together. At the table next to us were a middle-age couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bling. She looked to have just filled the bank account of Doctor Breast Augmenter, and her husband was gnawing her knuckles between sips of chardonnay. No, really. The waitress brought me the wrong beer. Mrs. Ditchman had a non-alcoholic Mojito for $9.00. There were dead bugs on the window sill. Also, the table was sticky. The Ditchmans detest restaurants with sticky tables -I guess we're snobby like that. Anyway... so many disappointing restaurants, so little time.

But it was nice. At around 9:15 we couldn't think of anything else to do, so we just went home. Earlier that day we went to the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and had a pleasant time carousing with the fishes. Scripps currently has an impressive Global Warming exhibit! And by "impressive", I mean impressive in its audacity. I tend to fall on the doubting side of the global climate science. (Sorry!) It's not that I don't think pollution is a problem, it's just that we seemed to have had an Ice Age a few thousand years ago and it's been getting warmer ever since. When they explain the global warming on Mars, I'll pay more attention. I guess I've just been reading too many articles like this. Anyway, the seahorse display was neat! Also enjoyed the whale fountain in the parking lot!

Since we were prepped and in the mood for environmental controversy, we went down and checked out the seals at the "Children's Pool" in La Jolla. I don't have a side in this debate, as both views sound fairly reasonable to me. I must say that downwind it smelled like an upturned PortaJohn, and I feel for the poor multi-millionaires who have houses there. Anyway, the crowds and the traffic are even less tolerable than the stench of the seals, making this blogger appreciate the suburbs all the more. The beaches in La Jolla are nice, but we went to see the seals! The kid liked it, it was a nice day, we easily found a parking place, then home for naps.

This week brings the fateful promise of rain and plenty of work to keep me occupied, lest I become too opinionated in my spare time. I could sit here and type all day, but how could I live with myself when all the aluminum in the world is so long and sits uncut!


Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Beloved
I choose to truly love you
With kindness, faithfulness, and respect
Through every circumstance life may bring.

As we together face the coming days of joy and sorrow
Sickness and health
Poverty and wealth
It will be my joy to support, comfort and encourage you.

When I do wrong I will confess
When I have been wronged I will forgive
When conflict dims our days I will exercise the patience of true love.

I will be the guardian of your solitude.
I will honor your unique gifts.
I will provide you with inspiration.
I will give you safety with my affection.
I will journey alongside you through the adventure of life.

You forever have my attention.

I will provide you hope,
Christ will guide our passion.

I will rejoice and thank God for the gift of you
And through His Infinite Grace
No matter what may come
I will remain by your side
With enduring devotion
Till death do us part.


I love you truly, Marci.
I'm a lucky man, five years running.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Oh, the woes of a morning without coffee. There was some discussion about it last night around dinner time. "We're all out of coffee. I'm going to the store to get some."

"At this hour?"

"You'll be glad about it tomorrow."

I talked Mrs. Ditchman out of it, for some dumb reason. After a long day of work, driving to the store for coffee I would not drink for twelve hours sounded more painful to me than waking up without it. And here we are. I had tea, which is like pouring lemonade into a gas tank. When I was in England for a few months, I had tea every morning, and actually grew to enjoy the stuff, but that was when I was young and virile and didn't need crutches.

So no coffee. I'll live. (Only slower.)

Time for the roundup of this week's news of significance...

From the University of Bored Scientists Flushing Away Your Tax Dollars. Imagine the possibilities! We could avoid moody people by merely farting in their general direction!

From Space, The Final Frontier. The Japanese orbital closet has been delivered and installed! They celebrated by eating lunch with chopsticks in zero gravity. No, really. Next up for those innovative Japanese astronauts: launching paper airplanes from the space station. Cool!

State wildlife officials in Ohio are posing as fishermen. Yes, that's right, undercover fishermen, to bust people who catch more than their limit. Don't worry, though. In the future, the fish will catch themselves.

Remember when we put the Arabs in charge of American shipping port security? And then we outsourced the manufacturing of the Air Force to France? And then there was that time when we accidentally sent nuclear missile parts to Taiwan? Well, now our passports will be made in Thailand. Don't worry, the Mexicans are sending troops to the U.S. border. Wait, what? Wake me when we win the War on Terror.

More signs the End is near. God is drunk, living in Ipswich, and refuses to appear in court for his traffic violations. In other The-End-Is-Near news, the inventor of the egg mcmuffin has died.

I'm looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend. I'm going to take it easy in the yard, and smoke with the tortoises.

Enjoy life!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Do I believe in crop circles? Of course I do. Why, there was one in my backyard just the other day! Okay, so it wasn't in my backyard. It was just down the street in the field near my house. I caught a glimpse of it coming over the hill on the way home recently. (That day, everything was "weird".)

Real crop circles are an impressive display of fractal geometry:

Oceanside crop circles look more like this:

You really have to see these things from up high to get a good look at them. I may have to rent a helicopter. Visiting aliens? Government experiments? Drunk farmers? Bored teenagers? The best explanation I've heard is that they're all created by inebriated, underpaid alien interns making a few extra bucks from the galactic office of interstellar marketing by placing brand logos from galaxy-wide corporations on our world's farmland in preparation for Earth's forthcoming admission into the Galactic Federation of Planets. It only makes sense.

These things go back a few hundred years, before aliens existed. Back then it was always The Devil. Oh, give me the olden days, when the unexplained was just the trivial ball-tossing of the gods! Why, if that was the usual explanation, we could all just shrug, cross ourselves, and get back to work when something weird happens.

But I'm not stupid. I got out of the car and hiked in to get a closer look. Everyone knows you have to check these things for:

1. Elongated apical plant stem nodes.
2. Expulsion cavities in the plant stems.
3. The presence of 10-50 micrometer diameter magnetized iron spheres in the soils, distributed linearly.

(In order to distinguish them from the fakes.)

My determination? UFO landing. No, really. I know because I nearly broke my ankle when it got stuck in the hole the craft's landing gear made. It probably landed the other night when we had all that fog. If I'm lucky, the aliens will disembowel the neighbor's cats for research. Those cats keep crapping in my yard.

And I wonder why I'm always late for work.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

See what complaining can get you?

They really did a bang-up job! Tire tread marks streak the street now, which I'm sure someone will complain about. This whole episode lasted about three or four months. The remainder of our cracked street goes unrepaired, as I expect it will for some time. Also, my key sticks in my mailbox, which has no street light over it. The intersection down the way desperately needs a stoplight. I would like the graffiti on the neighbor fences to be painted over at a faster turnaround. And then there was the day the hydraulic line failed on the garbage truck, releasing its mechanical bowels and dumping a puddle of brake fluid at every house in my cul-de-sac, staining the street with a large blotch and a trail between them. The street cleaner fails to mop up every time around, and we're still parking on the lawn when he rolls by every other Thursday with the parking citation specialist. I would like the Dept. of Mosquito Abatement to take care of the standing water problem in the abandoned house next door. Others on my court are concerned about the level of street noise from the adjacent boulevard. I guess it could use resurfacing.

I jest, of course! In a minute I could tell you what's wrong with this country, but it takes a while to figure what's right with it. That's human nature, unfortunately. This is why I always encourage people to get some travel in while they're in college. For the perspective. You should see the size of the potholes in, say, Mexico! Potholes are a fact of life in most countries, I believe. They probably don't even have the word "pothole" in most of the world. They're just called "roads".

What's the average turnaround time on pothole filling in most American cities? I imagine it's about the same as Oceanside, depending on the size of the pothole and the size of the city. Americans see a pothole and they curse their wasted tax dollars, not considering that we have the safest, widest, best-designed streets in the world and we don't have to slip the cop an extra 50 bucks just because he pulled us over for the broken tail light.

I drove from Mexico City to Acapulco once. It took a couple days. Truth be told, a good section of the highway was actually in excellent shape. It had just opened, so it figures. The older roads were a disaster, which says more about the politicians than the highway workers. Seems everyone will rally behind a "New Road!" but few hurrahs are heard for maintaining the old ones. Federalis stopped us every eighty miles or so just to check us out. The same friend and I also rented a car and drove the length of Great Britain from London to the Scotch highlands to Wales -on the other side of the road, mind you. It was impressive how nonsensical the road signs were, and how all of the lines on the streets were white. I remember the sign crossing the border into Scotland: WELCOME TO SCOTLAND -STAY ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD.

I've driven from Mexico to Canada and from the Pacific to the Atlantic and hardly needed a map. In college, I used to drive to Tucson from my home in L.A. and all I'd have to do is get on the 10 heading east, drive 500 miles, and get off at Tucson Blvd. and be at school! If I had kept going, the 10 would've taken me all the way to Jacksonville, Florida. Want to go to Seattle? Take the 5 north. Want to go to Las Vegas? Salt Lake City? Helena, Montana? Take the 15. Even numbers go east-west, odd numbers go north-south. Simple. American roads are fine, well-made things and I suspect it's because Americans are travelers and explorers at heart. 500 years ago, everyone just headed for the frontier and ended up on the edge of the map in a vague, unmade place called AMERICA. Then we kept going west, and invented the airplane, the Cadillac, and the rocket ship along the way. Even today the only thing stopping us are all the complainers.

Last week they repainted the lines on the surrounding streets in my neighborhood (the street dividing line is a bright yellow -GENIUS!) Our system seems to work pretty good. They haul off your trash for you, clean your streets, deliver inexpensive water, gas, and electricity to your house (and yes, I believe it's relatively inexpensive when you consider the ease-of-use.) We have freeways, public transportation, clearly written signs that tell you where you are and where to go, and the city lights up at night. When you flush the toilet it all goes away. There's schools, hospitals, parks, harbors, airports, bridges and, generally speaking, you can go outside and not worry about getting blown up.

What a country!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

So much for spring sunshine, I thought to myself this morning when I saw the coastal fog wrapping itself around the trees and streetlights. I saw it roll in last night at about two AM when I awoke on the couch worried about the day of work I had before me (a few tricky problems awaited solutions I have yet to uncover). The fog just wafted inland on its own, came up our street, floated over the new asphalt patch a few houses down, and then drifted in my wide open office window and found me downstairs on the couch, where I had pitched sideways in the middle of Dancing With the Stars and could not be roused. This drives my wife nuts -not because I can't stand Dancing With the Stars, but because once I fall asleep on the couch, I can't stand at all. There I lay until about 2 AM, at which point I somnambulantly stagger to bed.

I was pretty tired yesterday. All the Easter hopping about caught up with me, I guess. I was having a vivid dream I was on a snowy mountaintop with a group of skiers, who took off without me and caused an avalanche to chase them -like in one of those sporty, x-treme vids. I was without skies, so I just stood there with my video camera, waiting for the chopper to fetch me, but it never came. I ventured to the edge, thinking I could hike down, but every time I did an avalanche kicked off below me, and I knew I could never outrun it. Meanwhile, hikers were arriving at the summit to greet me -I guess going uphill didn't cause any snow to fall. One of the hikers was my yearbook advisor from high school. She said she was getting a divorce from one of the guidance counselors at my school and was working through the settlement. At one point she admitted she had done cocaine and that it may be something she'd have to pay for.

Fog's gone. I looked out the window downstairs and thought I should bring a sweatshirt to work. Went upstairs and looked out the window and it was blue skies to the horizon. Huh. It's possible it's going to be one of those days where the waking life is like a dream, with weirdness at every turn. There is weirdness at every turn, you know. It's just that some days you notice it more.

I tend to be someone who seeks it out, if only to entertain myself. A friend of mine, when he encouraged me to start this infernal blogthing, implied that I wouldn't have trouble with it because, as he put it, "I find your life much more interesting than mine." It's not, really. It's just a matter of enthusiasm and curiosity and an appreciation for the "Newness" in things -and the connections perceived between them. Life can be pretty boring if you don't regularly satisfy your interests. I try to have something to say about it.

But if nothing happens, there's always the dreamscape. So then this guy arrives at the mountaintop, someone who I haven't seen in nearly twenty years. An old high school chum. He points out the red shirt I'm wearing, heretofore unnoticed, that claims in bold white lettering how many feet up I've climbed. Knowing I'd taken a helicopter, he demands I give him my shirt. I refuse. I wake.

This guy was a good friend for a few months, way back when. I remember him being overweight and kind of nerdy, and our friendship didn't last too long. He had never had a girlfriend, but I remember him at one point saying that when he got married (optimistic!) he wanted me to be the Best Man. I demurred, and that moment alone may have led to the end of our friendship -which petered out, as I recall, with no conflict or event. Sometimes it happens that way. What's funny about the story is that about a year or two later he got married to this very pretty, tall, blonde, smart woman and we were all impressed. I wasn't even invited to the wedding! A year or two after that I saw them at a restaurant, a few tables over, and they were in the midst of a heated argument about I-don't-know-what. After dinner I went over to say hello and they both froze, smiled, and chatted with me -like there had been nothing going on. I'll never forget that awkward moment, the very human looks on their faces, and how it made me laugh how human we all are. I haven't seen either one of them since. Until my dream last night.

I heard they had kids! Man, those kids must be in high school by now. Probably the same high school we went to, with the same yearbook advisor. Life's funny, that way.



Monday, March 24, 2008

Woke up this morning before the Little Ditchman, for a change. Evidently yesterday's lack of a nap caught up with her, dear thing. The Easter Bunny came and hid the eggs after he mowed the lawn (we were having guests). We set the little girl in front of the television to keep her distracted and I came in after "mowing the lawn" to tell her, "I think I saw the Easter Bunny hiding some eggs outside!" She palmed my face, pushed it away and chided, "Little Einsteins countdown."


It was a fine spring Sunday of God's whole glory in our little backyard. Had ham with some family and friends and a pleasant white sangria, which Matt drank out of a mason jar. These are the jars I use for barbecue sauce, but are on the glassware shelf for decoration, really. "Makes it taste like summer!" he proclaimed. Wish I'd thought of it.

Topped off the day with a relaxing game of Bocci. Bocci! The old man's game! The game of life! After the first few tosses of the stone spheres down the court, the Little Ditchman came out to join in. She happily picked them up and brought them back, and the balls were ruled 'still in play' according to local Ditchman game regulations (shooting Volo is disallowed, for example.) There was no talking her out of it, of course. You'd have a perfect throw, inches from the pallino, and then the two-year-old would go over and move the balls, thus changing your game standing and score in one random hazard. The metaphor was recognized immediately. Bocce is life. And then you have kids. No wonder it's an old man's game.

The game ended in a tie, or something. The rest of the weekend was spent trying to get some rest, and I was able to catch the first few episodes of John Adams on HBO, which was seriously great. I got the sense that, like United 93, this is a film of historically accurate proportions and one which every American should see. It's also pretty moving emotionally, well-photographed, well-acted, and with some stunning sets and skillfully subtle effects mattes that make you feel like you're really there. It's worth purchasing when it comes out, and will be shown in high school classrooms for years to come. Think Band of Brothers with the American Revolution. It's that good.

Also woke up this morning to find I was going to be late to work. Had a hundred things to take care of that I'd completely forgotten about. (Typical contractor.) Headed out the door and down my street to find this:

Well, God bless the City of Oceanside Dept. of Public Works! I ran around to see the fist of Godzilla breaking through the soil, but alas, I must've missed it. Look how good these guys can stand around!

Just kidding. I'm glad they're there.

Spring sunshine brings the best out of everyone.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Thank God it's Friday! Or well, thank God for Friday, and this one in particular.

Took yesterday off to deal with the truck servicing. My truck repair bill came out to 666 dollars, which should come as no surprise. You'd think they'd add a dollar, lest we discover who's actually running the service center. Evidently my brakes had a "hot spot" and needed the rotors replaced, which cranked the bill up a few hundred. It was one of those things, you know? Where you hear the brakes squealing around Christmastime and you put off the repair because of the cost? Well, now I'm really paying for it. Save yourself a few hundred: take the vehicle in when it starts making the flying saucer noise. Don't wait until spring.

Also, they claimed I needed a "throttle flush". They claimed this before and I said NO. I'd had it done twenty-five thousand miles ago and thought it was one of those things they tack on to the bill to fill out the form. Ink companies are making a killing. They also said I needed a "brake fluid flush". Compromise: I accepted the former and rejected the latter, and told them where to flush it. Cost: another few hundred. The whole concept of "throttle flush" pretty much nails how you feel you're being treated during the process.

They also said I needed a new air filter element for 30 bucks! I said, no thank you I'LL DO IT MYSELF and they all shook their heads at me. I ain't no spring chicken. I stopped at Kragen Auto on the way home and picked up an air filter and when I went to change it out, which took all of sixteen seconds, I took a close look at the two. They were exactly the same filter. No, really. They were EXACTLY THE SAME FILTER! They had the same guide marks from the same plastic mold in Israel. Only difference was the Toyota sticker on the original. Lesson to us all: FRAM is the brand that Toyota uses. Toyota cost: $30. Fram cost: $10. Toyota mark-up: middle fingers all around.

Glad that's over. They reminded me that my "Check Engine" light is on. I reminded them that the light has been on for a few years and that it doesn't seem to affect the performance. "It won't pass emissions." Well, I've never had to pass emissions. Also, the 'D' light doesn't work on the dash. I always take pleasure in pointing out that there's no particular delight in this entire exchange.

But that's all over and done with until next year! I drive that truck pretty hard, so it's expected, and it's all a tax ride-off anyway. Now my bank account has a "hot spot". Seems I'll never learn.

Had a good easy day, otherwise. Went to the farmers market with the Ditchmans. Gave the fiddle player a dollar and felt good about it. Got some flowers, vegetables. Ate a gyro. Came home and gave the tortoises a throttle flush out back in the sun. They seemed to appreciate it. I also hooked up my new water filtration system! A birthday gift from Mrs. Ditchman, I originally thought it was going to save us a ton of money on fresh water, since I've been buying my aquarium top-off from Sparklett's. Now that it's all hooked up I see that it takes about 5 gallons of water to produce one pure one. This waste of water I find irritating, annoying... ackk! So now I have plans to plumb the waste water out back to water the plants. Perhaps I can do it through a nice little water feature on the back wall near the spa. I'll need a decorative basin.

A new project!

Happy Easter.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

I'm getting ready to take the truck in. Lord help me. I'm not sure all the household charms and well-wishing are going to do any good, seeing as we used up our luck last weekend with the unexpectedly good weather we had for the party. I need to get the brakes serviced. Should be about a couple hundred, right? I'll bring some extra checks and credit cards.

[Hold on-- in an attempt to get my attention, the resident two-year-old just pushed my wife's office chair down the stairs...]

IT'S THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING! Or maybe it's tomorrow. Must make all necessary corrections to blog and garden. My Ronald Reagan calendar is not specific on this, but it does inform me that Grover Cleveland's birthday was the day before yesterday. (And you all clicked here looking for the Grover Cleveland Essay, didn't you? Here's the only interesting fact I have on Grover Cleveland: We had a president named "Grover". Isn't that enough?)

So it's Spring, more or less. I knew I shouldn't have just put the seeds in the garden beds like I did. The local birds and bugs just pick the helpless little things off before they even have a chance. So I'm going to have to do it again, this time in protected trays. Then there will be more waiting, while the baby plants get strong enough to go out on their own. I don't know how real farmers do it, to be honest.

I come from a long line of farmers, but I'm not one of these people who claims to have a green thumb. I don't believe in "green thumbs", or any wonder-digits for that matter. My garden is fraught with successive failures. Any success I may have growing things outside is some odd construct of hapless diligence. One thing I do have in my blood is a love of the earth. There's an Anoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince) quote that goes "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." That's about right.

On my father's side are merchant marines and sailors from the United Kingdom. On my mother's side is FARMERS. Farms as far as the ancestral eye can see, to pre-revolutionary days. Not sure how my family survived, truth be told. My dad once boasted that his grandfather was on three sinking ships, and with my inability to grow a few simple seeds in the backyard, well, the New World might be better off without the Ditchmans.

There is life around here, however. I might save typing about it for another day. Gotta take the truck in. Horrors await. Best not to delay the pain, and confront it head-on.

(That's my grandfather on the Iowa farm. Third kid back in the middle, crouched down, adjusting his hat. Two mighty good crops of what, exactly? Can anyone guess what they're growing there? Click pic to embiggen.)


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Yes, Mrs. Ditchman made a "Rocket" cake for the Little Ditchman's Big Party last weekend. I was duly impressed. Some things you don't learn about your spouse until well into marriage. Like, for example, that your wife has a knack for making cakes in the shape of rockets. Anyway, it's quite a talent!

The party was a rousing success, with all manner of friends, family and neighbors arriving to indulge in the new sandbox and play in the cooler full of hearty Irish brew I provided. (These Little Ditchman parties always seem to take on the sub-theme of St. Patrick's Day, oddly.) We buried an assortment of goodies in the sandbox and the chillun went manic a'digging for them. And, no, the neighborhood cats did not get around to burying their assortment of goodies in the new sandbox before the party (but if anyone has any pointers on this potential problem, TMST would love to hear them.)

The hellions really made a mess of things, though (as expected.) Garden plants were uprooted, buckets of sand emptied into the pond, and bits of cake and candy crammed into every nook and crack of the playhouse. At one point, a strange kid ran past me carrying my garage utility hammer. There was no explaining it.

Monday and Tuesday were spent trying to catch up on last week's unfinished business, among other, ahem, family duties. It's been a circus around here, but that's how March is for the Ditchmans. It's like a second December. There's all of our birthdays and the anniversary and Easter, which is our holiday, so with every group that leaves the abode, another one is arriving. We enjoy it all, of course, but there's been an unexpected amount of stress this year. Still, there's St. Patrick's Day, which brings with it a certain, shall we say, relief effort.

To the child who gave the Little Ditchman a cold for her birthday: we already have plenty and would like the gift receipt.

The nicest thing about the party time is that since I go full bore on the Spring Cleaning & Planting, when everyone gets around to exiting there's a nice post-party glow to the yard with all the recently planted flowers and mowed lawn. Also, there's all that leftover beer!

We splurged and got a couch cover. This may sound insignificant, but NO! Our old red couch was a stained, rank dismay that gave our living room that found-in-the-alley college frathouse appeal that we do not desire. Target was having a sale, and after a few trips to multiple stores for the matching sizes and styles, and then a good few hours of wrestling the fabric around the things, the home suddenly looked clean. I don't know what possessed us to get a red couch to begin with. The novelty faded out (literally) a few months after the purchase and though the thing is super-comfy, we've been tolerating it ever since. Kids and animals are always cruel to a couch, so we've held off on a replacement. Also, there's the minor detail of the cost, but when you consider how you use the thing EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE, you really can spare no expense. The couch and the TV. The couch and the TV and the car. The day may come when we break down and purchase a new couch. May it come sooner than later.


Friday, March 14, 2008

What's the significance of this day, you wonder? Andrew Jackson's birthday? Why, no, silly, that would be tomorrow. It's the Little Ditchman's birthday, of course! She's two, though she still says "One!" when you ask her. No concept of time, these kids. Mommy's got all sorts of things planned for the day: Easter egg hunt, petting zoo, all the buddies. Me, there are mounds of molded aluminum that need tending to.

The ten day forecast shows nine days with suns and one with a thunderhead and a lightning bolt blasting out of it. That would be the day we had planned for the little kid's party. (What? You mean we could have gone camping?!) It figures, poor Little Ditchman. I anticipate the day when she's in her pre-teens and arrives home from school, clothes torn and covered in mud or some such ordure, and she comes in sobbing. I'll sympathetically sit her down, hold her close, and explain... "You're a Ditchman, honey." There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. She'll paint her fingernails black and doors will slam.

But that's ten years from now! Today we have a vibrant two-year-old with as much to gain from the world has she has to lend it! Anticipating her birthday, she got up an hour early, excited about the prospects (or it may have been the DST.) She opened a few gifts and played with all of them at once. Like a forest squirrel, she never dropped a single one -which is funny when you consider the toys: plastic fruits and vegetables (for her Little Kitchen), a new duck-shaped ice-pack (can't have enough of those around here), and a towel. Somehow, she made it work. Such is the imagination of a two-year-old.

To say they grow like weeds is an understatement and an insult. The weeds you remove from the garden. The kids grow like you want the flowers to grow, and given the choice I prefer the kids to the flowers. Gardens often can thrive on neglect, whereas a family takes infinitely more patience and attention. No MiracleGro needed, as it's a miracle all in itself. A bit back I postured that life goes through all the seasons in succession, but if you have a family you get all the seasons at once. We're still in winter here in SoCal, with a rainy day on the horizon, and I may be headed toward the autumn of my life, but listening to her playing in the other room with that little singsong voice and happy dance, it's a bright, bloom-filled spring day.

A year ago:

This morning:


Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'm a slow waker. I could stay up all night for a pittance, but couldn't be roused in the morning if the four horsemen of the apocalypse were watering their steeds on my lawn. I fought it for years, wanting to be a fast waker, but alas, I am not. Some nights I wake in the middle of it and it's like nothing happened at all. Full awareness. But most mornings I have sunk so deep in the mattress, there is no small hope of bestirring me. That last hour of sleep between, say, six and seven AM, I am on a distant frontier of dreamland, and it's a long haul back.

When I finally make it downstairs I need my pot of coffee and the couch to get the day going. I like to have the news on, the one lasting effect of 9/11, but today there was nothing. Lead story: middle age man and wife go missing in South Carolina, their cel phones remain unanswered. It might be a big story, but they might just want to be left alone. When my wife and I go on vacation, it's to get away from those phones!

So I got my news from the Internet this morning:

Lead Story/International I consider this to be good news, as a few paragraphs down is mentioned how many suicide attacks were pulled off in Afghanistan last year. 160. 160! 160 suicide bombers blew themselves up last year! In one country and in one year alone! That's a lot of crazies. Who brainwashes them and why? Seriously? Let me know when you find out. Meanwhile, international forces will do their level best to blow them away before they all, uh, blow themselves away.

Politics This answers the age-old question: What if we held an election and no one turned out to vote? Answer: your fate is decided by others. No one seems to care that their neighborhood will now be annexed. I love how if just one person turned out to vote, it would have decided the contest.

Science and Technology Work on the space robot, DEXTRE, continues. The astronauts are described as performing "demanding construction work". Yeah, pushing a wheelbarrow in zero gravity must be exhausting. You have to go to the last paragraph to get to the more significant news item, that the Japanese orbiting closet, KIBO, is in a temporary location until other pieces of it are hauled up in May. That's interesting. Have you ever heard of a remodel that didn't encounter shipping delays? Me neither. Kibo, by the way, is Japanese for "hope", so I guess it's a big, expensive, outer space hope chest.

Nature Anthropomorphization of the dolphins continues around the globe as they perform their moral obligation for all the humans to see. Could it be that they just looked like they were guiding the whales out to sea? And perhaps merely swimming alongside? Don't get me wrong, the bottlenose dolphin is a graceful and beautiful creature, but a "great capacity for altruistic activities"? You never hear all the stories about the dolphins great capacity for humping the swimmers in the petting pools in Hawaii, Australia, and the Caribbean. Seriously, it's true.

And finally...

Local This item confirms what my own neighborhood street has established. I spied some workers out there yesterday, just standing around chatting with the residents. Nothing was accomplished. The neighbor closest, the old man who decided not to run his garage as a polling place this year, has been circulating an email. In it, he refers to a "water eruption" and "underground water streams" which I find fascinating. I look forward to the excavation and propose we bottle the spring water. Also, he demanded that something be done about his water-stained sidewalk.

I'm not sure why, but it always makes me laugh when I hear people say, "Seriously! I demand something be done about this!" It implies that they are not being taken seriously, that their demands are not being met, that we're all unwitting victims, and so forth.

It's what the news is made of.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We can all stop pounding vodka, my emails are no longer in Russian. Unfortunately, my dictionary still is. The problem seems to lie within the Baskerville font this time around, though I still can't say why. I was up all night trying to fix it, and I went to bed with that sick feeling in my stomach like I'd just wasted more time in this precious life. But the garbage men hauled off some large trash items I had placed out there, just as a test, so they saved me some time I would have blown on removing them myself. Perhaps it's all finding its own equilibrium. God bless the garbage men! I'll say it again, these guys have done more for world health than anyone in the last 150 years.

Not that my aluma-garbage poses a threat to world health.

I've been barking and whining about the DST change, but Matt reminded me how great it really is. He's right, of course. I want to wake up with the sun and get home from work before it goes down so I don't feel like the day is done and gone, all spent on bacon-fetching. I prefer taking out the garbage cans in the daylight, instead of dragging them down the driveway in the dark, with the silhouetted neighbors peering through the windows at me, scowling at the ruckus. Taking that first sip of coffee and seeing the morning sunlight casting a shadow of the blinds on the hardwood floor always warms my soul from the inside and revs up the day. Just the sight of it takes me back to some good moments: living the artist's life in that bungalow in Pasadena, waking up in the cottage on the coconut plantation during my honeymoon. I could sit and sip coffee all morning, just watching the shadow slide across the floor. And I have, at times prayerfully.

A moment from my honeymoon, best vacation of my life, nearly five years ago:

So DST is great, if only for the sunlight. And it's becoming easier. When the baby comes, you spend weeks begging the little bugger into a routine, and then she gets a cold and won't sleep through the night, throwing off any schedule you may have mastered, or at least mustered. You finally get her feedings synched with your timetable so you can fit in the rest of life -work, making dinner, doing the dishes- and then DST rolls around. Everyone adapts to the new time just fine, except the child, who is now waking up an hour earlier, needs a nap an hour earlier, is hungry an hour earlier. You'll get her whipped into shape and then she'll get sick again, or you'll go away on vacation and she'll be up late in the hotel, with her sleeping off hours in the car. Then you notice on the calendar that DST is going to roll around again in a couple weeks and you either give up entirely or force the issue -which is all nonsense to a child.

Children have a unique sense of time, alien to us. They understand God's sun and moon and the pangs of hunger and sleep. Clocks were invented by man as if to best God, See? I can measure your daylight! And then we go ahead and change them every six months without admitting their imperfection. To children, the clocks are merely a novel way to display numbers, with the meaningless flipping of symbols, and a way to measure only what they can and can't have right now.

This is why teaching patience is so important, and if you haven't learned it your child will teach you (and it will be a painful experience.) But if this life is a gift, then patience should be more than just tolerating the passing of time with a long wait. Without patience, life is an intolerable succession of inaccessible moments that makes joy fleeting. With patience, comes the moment to be able to reflect on past and current joys and the hope of them to come. It is here that the beautiful details of life reveal themselves to be the once and forever hiding place of God.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Bitchin Factor at work. (Also, your tax dollars.)

Yes, we can launch a shuttle into space in the middle of the night to build robots on the space station but we can't fix the hole in my street!

No sooner did I finish plinking out yesterday's notes did I drive off to work and notice some effort had begun on The Neighborhood Problem. By "effort" I mean that someone came along and spray painted a bunch of lines and letters on the asphalt. This happened once before, but this time the lines and arrows are bigger and the words more descriptive. Is something being planned? Some kind of removal or excavation or... or... well, it could just as easily have been a creative graffiti artist, some frustrated mom with time on her hands after the kids are off to school.

The shuttle launched at 2:30AM last night. Mrs. Ditchman asked if they sleep on the way up there, which I thought was funny, but it's a fair question. It takes about two days for the shuttle to get to the space station, even though it's only a few miles up, and once they're there the sun rises and sets on the station like every 20 minutes. So if my DST lag is getting to me, I'll just think about the poor astronauts.

In addition to the 200 million dollar Canadian robot they're going to build at the International Space Station, they're also going to install a closet. I guess they need somewhere to put the tools. The Japanese Space Agency designed the closet. If that sounds funny, just imagine your closet in zero gravity, so, yes, we're going to have to put the Space Agency in charge for that one. (I imagine a real poofta in his pink NASA jumpsuit, prancing around the space lab in zero G, holding up color swatches and draperies.)

It's a good thing I got most of the complaining in this past week because the inspector signed off on the big job. Yes! I am very grateful to be able to put it behind me. Over budget and overdue by a few grand and a few months. Chalk it all up to experience, that one. On to the next set of headaches. (Note to self: increase contingency dollar amounts.)

I would have posted it to the Alumablog, but I downloaded a suitcase of some wonderful new fonts into my 'puter and somehow my Helvetica got replaced with the Cyrillic alphabet in the process. It wouldn't have ordinarily been a problem except that Helvetica is the font that EVERY APPLICATION USES. All my emails and address books are now in Russian. I can't work on the website. All other projects are on hold. Damn Macs! Curses to these infernal things! They're worthless! Save yourself the brain-in-a-vice pain of Mac OS and buy a PC!

(Just kidding.)

So here's the big beautiful aluminum bastard in case you were wondering what all the fuss was about:



Monday, March 10, 2008

Again, more days where I just can't seem to get anything done. But it was a fine weekend, with godly weather and friendly people. We attended a birthday party yesterday morning for a friend of the Little Ditchman. Hullabaloo was there! My kid saw him come in and ran over and sat down. He said he recognized her, but all the stars do that. (People calling in to talk shows all the time: "You probably don't remember me, Dennis. I called a few years ago? I was the guy with the friend who..." Dennis: "Oh sure! I remember you!") But she woke up that morning announcing that Hullabaloo was going to be at Zach's house, and sure enough, when you wish upon a star dreams really do come true. She's a Hullabaloo groupie! There's two Hullabaloo guys, but I've only seen the one (which, I guess makes him "Hulla") as, if you want both guys, you've got to shuck out double the shekels. They do something like 350 shows a year! Man. Do the math and it sounds like a good living, playing music and making kids happy. I was thinking I could save money and be my own Hullabaloo at the Little DItchman's party, a la Steve Martin in Parenthood. I mean, how hard is it to play "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" on guitar? I would grow a goatee and call myself "Ballyhoo".

Two thirds of the way through the show she bailed out on her own. Went outside and looked at the stuff on the patio. Too much of a good thing, I guess, but of course, I've always said that a short attention span was a sign of higher intelligence.

Also, there is this:

It cannot be explained. Months ago we all noticed an "upwelling" in the center of our street. It was the damnedest thing! It started as something of a curiosity, evolved into "local item of interest", but has since been elevated to "object of concern". Upon close inspection, it looks as if something is erupting out of the street, like one of those bitter man-eating tripods from Spielberg's War of the Worlds. The asphalt started to crack, and then there was another upwelling adjacent to it, and then we noticed that the street never dried. Someone went out and put an old caution horse to it, and calls to The City were made. I heard someone came out and did tests. Evidently nothing can be done about it. No really, that's what they said: "Nothing can be done about it!" Some say it is a natural spring, and with groundwater levels higher from the recent rains, well, we should have all seen it coming.

I'm glad I sealed my foundation before I laid the hardwood floors, is all I can say. Some are worried because they've watched local residences slide down hills without precedent. Some are worried that the street will open up into a sinkhole the size of the Everglades. And still some are concerned about the state of affairs with the city officials and the local Dept. of Works. That's me. The local train stop just opened up last weekend. It was 10 years late and 150 million over budget, and I'm still waiting on a final building inspection of a little shade structure and the deletion of "Roberto's Taco Shop" from my city account.

Add this to the woes of Daylight Savings Time, and suburban living plods on endlessly. DST is tough on a kid, and somewhat worse on the parents. Why, the party yesterday was at 10:30AM, meaning it was really 9:30AM! Earliest birthday party I've ever been to, I can tell you, but at least the Dad served good hearty morning brews out of the fridge in his garage and naptime came after, which is how one schedules these things, (and all of life.) I try not to lose any sleep over it, but it's DST so I did lose sleep over it. Literally. An hour to be exact.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Last night at dinner the Little Ditchman refused to clean her plate. Actually, she refused to eat most everything that was on it, for some reason. We have her trained to ask, "May I be dismissed pleased?" when she's done so she doesn't just slide down and roll around under the dining room table while everyone's still eating. Anyway, she asked to be dismissed to which Mom and Dad simultaneously replied, "No!" She cried and whined, wearing us down at the end of the day -when she knows full well we're already worn down past the tread- and yelled "I wanna be dismissed please!" Mom said, "Eat one more green bean and then you can be dismissed."

The Little Ditchman immediately grabbed one bean, jammed it in her mouth, made a face, and climbed down off her chair.

She's not even two years old yet! I was amazed, since I thought this was five-year-old behavior. This kid understands everything you say, notices everything going on around her, and fills her empty memory with it all. Mrs. Ditchman, less impressed. "I'm with her all day," she commented. She talks like a two-year-old, so it's easy to assume she doesn't know much. (Not my wife, the child.)

And yesterday, the little one commented out of nowhere from the back seat, "Daddy loves tools!" We don't know where she got this. We're not even sure she knows what "tools" are, exactly.

Who knows what else she's got in the little person brain of hers. Probably best to keep a better eye on myself. I said "damn" the other day, only to have it repeated back to me by the toddler. (Whoops.) And another thing, kid, I don't necessarily love tools. I just have a lot of them because of the job. Now shut up and go potty train yourself.

Speaking of "damn" and "tools", this work week is finally coming to a close. The Big Commercial Job is mostly behind us, and we're just waiting on the Dreaded Final Inspection. I'm losing sleep over this because the architect drew up the plans with a two foot front overhang on one section and it's clearly been built at three feet. But I didn't have a choice! The post would have been on the fence line! The inspector is the type of guy who noticed last week that the middle hole was an inch off. And then there's the bureaucrats of the city building and planning departments sending us bills for all those fire inspections we ordered for Roberto's Taco Shop. Now I like mexican food, but we've never done any work with any "Roberto's Taco Shop". I don't believe I've ever even eaten at any "Roberto's Taco Shop", but try and tell that to the people behind the desk under the fluorescent lights. It's torture. "This is your receipt... And this is my receipt for your receipt." Administrative officials really are like terrorists: False sense of power and authority, inability to hear the other side of the issue, their paperwork as effective of a weapon as a a dirty bomb. And as messy. "Mistake? Heh, heh. We don't make mistakes." At least with bureaucrats and paperwork, people don't die. (Just people's dignity.)

So we're waiting on the final inspection. I'm holding my breath. It may come today and it may come next week -since they're closed every alternate Friday, and Jeebus knows what Friday this is. I'm sure there's another Brazil reference for that one. Brazil is one of the greatest films ever made, by the way. Brilliant. Prophetic. Hilarious. Depressing. There's not a government building in the world that I haven't walked into where lines of dialogue from the film haven't echoed in my head. I'd tell you the whole story of pulling the permits for this patio cover at the retirement community, but it'd be easier if you just netflixed Brazil. It's the story of my life. (Before I got married and lived happily ever after.)

"They've gone back to metric without telling us!"

Tell you what: we're closed this Friday, too. Have a nice weekend!


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Some mornings this life is like tactical wrestling. It's grabbing you by the heels and trying to flip you upside while you're looking for an advantage, all the while fending off that ever-present foe, Gravity itself.

The Little Ditchman won't eat her grapes this morning. Won't eat grapes! She also refuses the bagel and cream cheese and pours her cup of water over it. She will only have nuts. Nuts! Nuts, I say. Nuts. Also, I went to get her out of the PJs and into some proper daytime clothes and had her in a shirt that was at least a size too small. Well, we're all older today.

Had a fine birthday, if you were wondering. Spent it building an aluminum patio cover all day and then had dinner with the in-laws. It wasn't the sunset martini cocktails on the beach I had imagined for myself, but you can't have everything. Birthdays are kind of a funny thing for me, as I've kinda been partial to Christmas and Halloween. There were a lot of birthdays in my family, half of them forgotten. My dad's birthday is just a few days after mine, so ours was always kind of celebrated together. Do you like German Chocolate cake? My dad did. So that's what kind of cake I always had on my birthday. Perhaps that's why I've never been particularly impressed by cake.

The best part of yesterday was all of the phone calls and emails I received. Thank you! Thank you, all! I got a call from almost everyone in my wedding party (you know who you are) and a call from almost everyone in my family (you know who you are). I have five siblings and six nieces and nephews, so these family holidays get spread over the calendar rather thinly. Anyway, it was never really a wow-bang day growing up. My dad: "Isn't it your birthday? How old are you again?" Nearly every year.

I admit I'm often the sibling-out on the birthday well-wishing. I don't know what it is, really. I hereby resolve to change! I am going to make my own calendars with everyone's birthday and anniversary on it! From here on out it will be impossible for me to neglect! (Oh, brother.)


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

It's my birthday! No use beating around the bush about it. But it does always kind of spring up on me. I guess that's what happens when your birthday is near the beginning of the month. Oh, it's March! Already? What happened to February? Whoa, hey, it's my birthday! And suddenly I'm older.

And wouldn't that be odd? If you just aged a year in a day, instead of gradually over the course of time? Then there would be no hiding it at all, and an entertainment for everyone else. Oh, look at that poor sap. Must be his birthday today. He looks at least a year older than yesterday.

I'm 38, in case you were wondering. 38. 38! Ah, well. I guess I feel about 38. Actually, now that I think about it, I feel more like 36, but I always was slower to mature. In any case, it's good to be 38. It doesn't really bother me. I'm in better shape than ever, ran three marathons in the past nine months, the weather's good, and I'm finally getting some plants repotted.

Every year I do it. The cold passes and you look out to see all the plants faded and stuffed, their roots clearly strangling themselves in undersized containers. The leaves have gone yellow from too much rain. The buds of spring flowers are stunted from lack of fertilizer. So I re-pot.

No one was making me stay, so I ditched work early yesterday and went to Lowe's. I noticed they had finally got the water plants in so I got some of those for the pond. And then I got a new lime tree to replace the one I killed by having too much clay in the bottom of the pot. (Poor drainage contributed to an iron deficiency, I wager. Sad thing finally just gave up and quit growing.) Also got a nice orange Freesia and a few others. Went home and continued the repotting, busting my hump out back of my house instead of someone else's. That's the way it is. I complain all week about how tired I am, then spend the weekend digging holes and pushing wheelbarrows.

But I feel fit! And I'm beginning to get a tan, so that's nice. My hair is still turning gray, but I think the hairline has stopped its receding. I'm 38!

These are the happy years, I'm sure, the ones that just fly by. The ones where the kids grow like weeds and need repotting daily. You spend so much time with your hands thick in the soil of life that you barely notice the seasons changing. If life has its seasons, 38 is midsummer, with the children's laughter like the summer sun and your slightly graying hair like dry meadow grass missing the spring rains. The earth begins to crack in midsummer, but you don't notice -you're going full bore through life raising a family, building a home, running a business, getting things done. Everything's growing. Harvest is months away to worry about.

Being a kid is a magical time, with the curiosity of springtime and its new growth, bursts of life, and the ever-changing mood of weather, but being a 38-year-old adult is better than being a kid, at least, that's what I'm teaching mine. (If it's not, then what have they got to look forward to?) Adulthood brings freedom, at long last. Unrestrained, unhindered freedom! Independence from others deciding your fate! The full power of self-determination! Oh sure, all the old obligations are still around, but somehow in adulthood, there is joy found in fulfilling them. Freedom is what kids long for all Spring, but will only arrive come Summer.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

When an avalanche falls on Mars, is anyone around to hear it?

Evidently our robot satellites are! I find it more fascinating that we have robot satellites circling Mars than I do that there was a ho-hum avalanche on the red planet. It's a neat photo, with its contribution to science close to nil. It's really all about the Bitchen Factor, which is why NASA exists to begin with. Why do we go to space? Cause we can. Cause it's bitchen! Is there scientific knowledge to be gathered? Sure. Also, it is bitchen. This is a big part of why Americans do things.

"We don't know what set off these landslides," said Patrick Russell of the University of Berne, Switzerland, a HiRISE team collaborator. "We plan to take more images of the site through the changing Martian seasons to see if this kind of avalanche happens all year or is restricted to early spring."

And this is important why?

"Our Mars program is the envy of the world," said Alan Stern, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. "We plan to launch a total of five more missions in the next decade, beginning with the Mars Science Lab rover next year and a Mars Aeronomy Scout mission in 2013."

See? Because it's bitchen.

Like the hard-at-work Martians, I spent my weekend moving mounds of dirt from one location to another, as if I didn't get enough of it at work last week, but this was my house and my dirt. Why did I do this? Because my daughter thinks it's bitchen. It is. I've been building a sandbox.

It puts me in the company of other great earth-movers of the world.

The weather is terrific today, as it was yesterday, making it so much easier to fulfill MY MORAL OBLIGATION TO BE HAPPY! It's amazing how weather can have such an effect on one's mood (or, at least, my own). It was cloudy and overcast last Saturday when I was moving mounds of dirt from location to location. I had so looked forward all week to working in the yard, only to have dreary weather on my Saturday afternoon. "What a drag," commented Mrs. Ditchman. Yes, it was a drag. And that, literally. With the wheelbarrow. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

But today it's beautiful out, and it's work, work, and more work. A drag, yes, but somewhat less so than yesterday, which is why I missed a post.