Monday, November 30, 2009

Mrs. Ditchman has not had a full night's sleep since before we were married, six and a half years ago. I know this for a fact, since we've not been apart more than a month's time, total, in all those collected nights. I treasure them.

I don't think it's what she agreed to, when she said yes to me seven years ago today on the edge of that Grand Canyon, both literal and otherwise. For that matter, I'm not sure I knew what I was asking. If we knew then what we know now, would she still have said yes? Would I still have asked?

And the answer is a resounding Yes. For all those sleepless nights are the price you pay for those full days -that full life, brimming with the joy that only such precious, dedicated, familial camaraderie can bring. Our cup overflows. It's how we asked the angels to fill it, (hoped they would, anyway.) Later that night it snowed, and some would say, expectedly so. She thought we were going camping in it, and she still said yes! It was a cold, wet snow, but the sun came out the next morning. And I was quietly prepared for bad weather: I'd reserved the best room in the lodge.

She was itching to get out to exercise this morning, even though she's sick, and after being up all night. At 5:30AM she was holding the baby in the dark, in the hall, and I got up because I couldn't stand the thought of her standing out there any longer. When she saw me, she turned her back to me so I could see the kid, and she asked in a whisper if I could see whether the Little Digger's eyes were closed. They were, finally, and she exhaled. A few hours later she was angling for the front door for her workout, but she stopped, and then encouraged me to get my run in first. She knows it's important to me, which is what made me move fast to get back home, so she could get out there, too. For me, the day was a mess, but she managed to get groceries. She knows just what thing will occupy the children for the ten minutes she needs to make that business call. She let me complain about every useless thing, and responded by asking if I needed my laundry done. She made dinner. She did the dishes. She looked good. She bathed one kid and I bathed the other. She fell asleep on the couch towards the end of House, but she woke up and leaned over and puckered up to kiss me before she went off to bed tonight. When she does that, it doesn't matter what happened, or didn't, today. Everything's going to be fine tomorrow.

Somehow, seven years back, I made the right call.

And I'm taking credit for it. I own all the love I have for her, but it's hers for the taking at any given moment.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving accomplished. We won.

The slump is history. Now we shall slink into December with all its shimmering promises of a celestial wintertime beauty. Okay, it's Southern California. Let's not overstate things. I'm dreaming of a brown Christmas.

But we're feeling good, now. Nothing like piling on the relatives in close quarters and jamming food and wine down their throats to upturn recent melancholies and kickstart the prevailing mood. Seriously now, pull all the big tables together and throw a large sheet over it. Light some candles. Make the kids sit somewhere else. It's Thanksgiving.

One of my nephews, who is eight, announced that he would like to start a family Thanksgiving tradition. Hooray! we all said, and the new tradition was that we should go around and each state what we were thankful for. Brilliant! So we did. But everyone said essentially the same thing: that we were thankful for each other, that we were thankful for family, and that we were thankful that my mom was there and feeling better and looking good. (Also, it was mentioned, immense spontaneous gratitude for not having any homework this weekend. Praise be.)

I would have thanked my mom for having six kids so that we could all have so much family to enjoy and be grateful for, but then I realized that that might put a certain undue pressure on my wife and I -a pressure we could never withstand. And then it made me want to thank my mom all the more.

There were the usual two turkeys cooked by the usual two turkeys, my brothers-in-law. One bird was fried, one roasted, and the two turkeys cooking them remained mostly sober. They were, all of them, excellent company, and the tasty meat was just left out on two platters where, like some sort of strange, holiday vultures, we picked at it until midnight and then again this morning over coffee.

The women are out shopping now, and the men are down at the park playing ball. I am here alone with the baby, who sleeps, which is a good and necessary thing, though it is a sickly kind of sleep. I have a laptop out on the patio, and I am sipping a "Bud Lime" before noon, trying to think up a clever retort when someone calls me on it. Hey, I'm relaxing -let's all try it! Anyway, Mrs. Ditchman (and I, by extension) were up all night with that sick crying kid. It feels like 5PM on a Saturday, so a Bud Lime is in order. Why Bud Lime? Don't know. It was here, in a cooler, a few feet from me. Why not?

The clan held the annual ornament exchange last night, and it was the usual Black Friday Eve riot. It must be seen to be believed, but if you haven't heard the story, my family goes all out on this event. Everyone buys and wraps an ornament -some fantastically ornate, some gaudy and obnoxious- and we put them all on a table and draw numbers out of hat. Number 1 goes first, and all successive numbers retain the option to steal any previously-opened ornament, or choose a fresh one. Sounds fun, until you realize that families work deviously together, teaming up to purloin the good ones, retreating into dimly lit corners to plan out a strategy to obtain that Tiffany icicle or that dangling seahorse -the one blown from European glass by Bavarian artisans. It gets way out of hand, which is the entire point, and everyone is a good sport about it. Ornaments are only allowed to be stolen three times before they are considered "dead", so there is a lot of horse-trading and illicit wrangling to get the good items off the market. (You should know that exceptions are made for the innocent ones. The Little Ditchman got her hands on a blinking, singing set of waxy, hanging polar bears and she held it in such high regard, with a steady gaze of such adoration, that no one would dare think to steal it. She won.)

I have left the game with good ornaments in years past, but was fully shut out this year, having had one after another stolen and killed. It was I who ended the event last night by opening the last gift. I still maintain a change in the constitutional rule, that after the last person goes the first gets a chance to steal, but none will have it. I'm not sure why no one will go for it, but I guess if you start changing the rules one year, Thanksgiving will degenerate into desultory shin-kicking within a decade, and who wants that?

There were five pies. There was A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which always feels a bit forced. There was some more wine and a lively discussion about iTunes and the fate of "the album". There was a failed attempt to Skype. Then we all fell asleep watching Elf, which is danged funny, but we'd all seen a hundred times. It was a good day.

And in that distant past of yesterday morning, a hundred miles away, I ran the Oceanside Turkey Trot 5K and came in 5th in my division! Number of runners in my division? Hmmm, I think 5. Gotta go. Bud Lime's getting warm.

Enjoy life, eat out less often!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

"None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy. " -Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Inspector signed off on the cover yesterday -the cover with the big, deep holes filled with concrete, a ton of steel in the posts and headers, and a thousand bolts into the house- so I can finally put that all behind me. More or less. A friendly man is coming to install solar panels atop the overwrought aluminum edifice next week, so I may have to field a few questions. Otherwise, the permit is initialed and the box is checked -the one that says READY FOR OCCUPANCY. Burden lifted.

Also finished another one yesterday and signed up at least one for December. Though the year is slowing down to a close, with our income flow reduced to a trickle, I am very grateful. I need a bit of rest.

But there's no time for that! Gotta get up at daybreak for the local Turkey Trot! And then drive 125 miles to Thanksgiving, where the Little Ditchman has been promised she would get to build a gingerbread house. And then later this weekend: Christmas lights.

I actually had the foresight to purchase some lights the other day, knowing that they all sell out by Saturday, and since last year I found myself stuck mid-strand, without a workable set to move forward with. You see, our house requires a very specific type of light string with a "random twinkle" effect. This is different from the "blinking sparkle" effect, which will not do. Putting up these lights is a whole day affair, somehow, but I will blast Christmas music and pack away everything pumpkin and replace it with all things pine and winter. It's here. Time to stock up on the necessities: firewood, wrapping paper, ribbon, tape, cards, stamps, gifts, and other sundry items.

I was impressed with myself for a few hours, having bought the lights before that inevitable crisis of '08 was repeated. I was at Lowes and found the display box of my needed lights empty and I almost ho-ho-hollered in despair -until I saw an unopened crate of them buried up and behind the rack. I got it myself. Whipped out my key chain x-acto and began stocking shelves. No one said a thing. (My contractor work shirts happen to be a Lowes blue and, as a result, customers are always asking me where things are. Unfortunately for corporate, I usually have a quicker answer than the employees. No, seriously. I was waiting at an empty checkout counter the other day and the guy behind me asked sarcastically if I was going to fire up the register or just stand there looking stupid. I almost took his money.)

So I was impressed with myself for being ahead of the game, but when I turned up my cul-de-sac at day's end I noticed that one of the Jims had his lights UP AND ON! The Monday before Thanksgiving! The bastard! And then I drove past another Jim's house and HE HAD CHRISTMAS GARLAND HUNG AROUND HIS GARAGE! This was especially intimidating because I know he happens to be in Guantanamo, but damn, he is on top of it this year! So I gave up, and decided that Saturday I would give them all hell for going at it early. Later that night I went out to fetch the mail. Another neighbor had his ladder against the house. He was hanging lights in the dark. They were already plugged in. Damn you, Rod! I shaked my fist.

But it actually makes perfect sense, since you can more easily tell which bulbs are out when you're hanging them in the dark. So that will be my weekend, amid a paltry few other chores. What am I thankful for? So many things, but my family and my country more than anything, since just about all else can be remade. Gratitude wards off ruination, and is the key to happiness. It's not a key I intend to misplace.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We're still in that slump slumping slumpiness, as delineated in yesterday's post. It has to do with old sicknesses and ailments segueing into new ailments and sicknesses with no remarkable transition points. Like when I was on a bus in Europe going from Paris to Amsterdam. At one point we stopped for a pee break for 5 minutes and then got back on and kept going. Someone asked me how I liked Belgium. "That was Belgium?" That was Belgium. And when people ask me if I've ever been to Belgium, I say yes and snicker to myself.

Now that I think about it, "I have to go to Belgium" is a great personal euphemism I may employ in the future.

We're getting used to the slumpiness, actually, except that I never really seemed to have gotten used to the previous overriding slumpiness of parenthood, so, oh bother. This seems a new sort of parenthood, with two kids. Parenthood redefined by simple quantity. People think that the addition of kids changes things. It doesn't. It changes you.

I know little, or nothing, of who my parents were before us kids came along. I suspect that, at least to some degree, my mother -who is in her seventies- still sees herself as that shimmering youth with her fine arts degree and on her way to ballet class. But then -poof!- six kids came along and eventually transformed her into the glowing matriarch she is now, with her back bent from picking up children her whole life and an innocent smile that belies the immense fortitude we all know she has for managing her incorrigible husband all those years. She's been battling cancer for nearly a decade, but you wouldn't guess it unless you asked her about the noticeable weight loss and gain that comes and goes between treatments. She just sucks up about it. It's what parents do, and she's gotten good at it after all these years.

I, by contrast, suck at it. I'm predisposed to complain. And I still see myself, in so many ways, as that long-haired, struggling artist, daydreaming about future travels (to Belgium!) and what I'm going to say in the next pitch session. But that horse died some time ago, and instead of letting it go, I'm prone to just changing sticks and beating it some more.

My kids don't see me that way.

One of the blessings of having children is that you get to remake yourself. It is the truest of graduations, and, really, the only time in your life that everyone you know will let you do it without hassle. It also happens to be the only time it actually matters. Here, suddenly, midstream in life, are some new people who look to you, depend on you, love you more than anyone ever has, and in ways you barely understand, and they don't care who you ever were. All that matters is who you are to them now, how you treat them today, and if you were an ass in some previous life, if you lied and cheated and hurt the myriad of strangers and so-called friends that passed through your space in some B.C. ("Before Children") well, it can all be dismissed now. Just don't do it again, Dad.

Unsullied forgiveness like that makes it easy to dig some trivial ditches and pour some brainless concrete and build some dopey aluminum patio covers in the sun. You do it for the money, you do it for them -and you don't mind that part about it. Just keep at it. You're allowed a few bad days.

My mom, in the middle.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Spent the weekend learning several new functions on Photoshop. It takes a good long time to learn new Photoshop functions, then experiment with them, and then -finally- administer them to your project. But it takes an inverse amount of time to forget said functions, and, since you won't have to use the functions again for a few months, nay, a year, you will live out that Saturday afternoon all over again some day, re-learning the same several new functions on Photoshop. Additionally, this blog will be repeated.

Also spent some time in the attic, tinkering with the furnace since I'd rather not pay the few hundred dollars to have someone come out and fix it properly. I think I got it, but an hour or so later Mrs. Ditchman came downstairs to say that it smelled like something was burning in the office and that the heater was making noises again. So I went upstairs to check it out, and detected no such thing. It could be that the burning and the noises were coming from some totally new problem for this week. Stay tuned.

I will say that I heard a noise this morning, when the furnace powered off. It sounded like the wheels of a 747 touching down on some heretofore unnoticed runway in the attic, and then, reverse thrusters, brakes applied. I'm going to ignore it for now and just go to work. The whole house is in a slump. I didn't run all last week, and this week's work is a mere continuation of last week's work. Neither is Mrs. Ditchman achieving her exercise or work-related goals. And this week: Thanksgiving, with its inevitable sequel holiday, Christmas. Reverse thrusters. Brakes applied.

Things are still growing in the garden, though it seems at a diminished autumnal rate. Temps have been in the low forties every night, and I think we're on Day 160 of "no detectable moisture", so the garden is experiencing a certain weary malaise. I think it all just wants to be pulled and composted, recycled for some future, more productive Spring. I know the feeling.

Even the tortoises are experiencing some seasonal languor, as they move unhurriedly about the pen, wondering whether hibernation arrives on its own, or if they should just settle in somewhere and will it to be so. One tortoise actually escaped yesterday. Dug his way out of the pen and made a break for the house, by way of the lavender bushes. I caught him in the nick of time -a few more days of my neglect and he might have made it all the way to the barbecue.

Fishes? Same. If they could bang on the glass and demand an immediate 10% seawater change, well, they would. You know something's up when you go to feed them and they're all giving you the middle flipper. Oh yes, we'll take the food, petty, dry human, but one of these days the ice caps will melt and aquaria everywhere will rise up and overthrow, drowning you all. Build an ark. We will scuttle it. At least they're warm, and at proper tropical temps, (the lucky bastards.) All summer they suffer in the heat, since we lack air conditioning, and it's not until the fall that I can properly manage their water temperatures. Of course, none of that matters if a stable Ph is thrown aside, the salinity is out of wack, and the protein skimmer is on the fritz. Sorry, fish friends.

The real issue around here is the Little Digger, who has not exhibited a sustained night of sleep in, I don't know, weeks. It is a matter of some concern, since none of us are sleeping much as a result. Mrs. Ditchman is bearing the brunt of it, as she fetches the little guy over and over through the night, but only after 10 minutes or so of his half-awake, anguished, half-voiced moaning. We think it's the molars, and then some added peppery sickness. There seems to be a reaction to the recent pox shot, giving him a minor set of pox symptoms. Anyway, he looks miserable, mottled, and, alternately every hour or so, cute. (But in a be-poxed sort of way.)

And the Little Ditchman. Though she is the envy of the household since she has discovered video games and has the time to play them, she has a garbled, throaty, phlegmy cough -so we've missed church and preschool and all other appointments as a result. It's hard for the mommy to be cooped up like this, and then I run off to dig ditches or pour concrete or build aluminum, or some such thing. Suffice it to say, no one is particularly happy to see each other at the ends of these days. (Bummer!)

But we did catch Up! which is not the accomplishment it sounds but rather another near-perfect Pixar flick, (it was better than WALL-E, and this time Pixar was able to pull off a capable follow-through after that usual, unfathomably sublime, first 10 Pixar minutes.) And I did indulge in a tasty pinot over the weekend. And there has also been some diverting talk of getting a new coffee maker -we're just taking our time deciding on this simple purchase, examining different models and deliberating over this neat feature, or that one. The brewer we have is on its last legs, and is actually the backup coffee maker for our primary coffee maker, which recently expired and crossed The Great Divide between garage sale pile and garbage can. One should always have a backup coffee maker, for emergencies, but one should not use it too often, lest it break and whereby one must then buy two. Two coffee makers! I can't handle all that decision-making, what with the holidays on the doorstep.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Dear Sean,

You made some off-handed remark yesterday about not using recycled plot points, but your blog is the same whining and complaining every day about work and kids and not having money and stuff. It's the same every day! All you do is recycle plot points! Get it together! Use some effing creativity! Try writing something of substance! You're better than that. Or, at least, you were once.

Why I check in on your blog every day is symptomatic of my habitual, addictive character defects. I'm going to a doctor, so I can quit you.




Dear Sean,

You are SO funny! I LOVED your video the other day with you pouring concrete! That was HILARIOUS! One question, did you tell the customer that you were making a movie at his house? I would TOTALLY hire you to build me a patio cover, except that I rent a room from my mom's trailer, and I don't think they would go for it.

And I LOVE your daily quotes, except that I don't really understand most of them. And I think lampreys are NEAT. I have never heard of those before!





You are wrong about everything. Your ideas are thoughtless and shallow and your "facts" are clearly stripped from Wikipedia. And you drink too much. There's no way you get more than 6 hits a day. What a pretentious title. The only thing 'significant' here is that you are even able to get up and type it out every morning. What a waste of your patio-cover-building time.

And did you really run 28 miles the other day? Good for you.



Hey Sean!

I had no idea U had a blog! It's awesome! Do U make money from it? I just read a big article on Yahoo about how all these people are making money with their blogs. U should look into it because U R so creative.



Subject: Fwd: FW: Windfall

Good luck to us all! Here's to Your Pocketbook! The future has a way of arriving unannounced!

(Hope she works -J)

A little Angel for you......

You have just been sent a Financial Abundance angel! Pass her to two people, and be rich in four days. Pass her to six then be rich in two days. You ARE already rich!!!

I am not joking; you will find an un-expected windfall. If you delete her, you will never know how she works….. She really does work like magic! NO Pass Backs. Pay HER forward *** Pass it on.

Windows 7: It works the way you want. Learn more.



I'm emailing you from downstairs because I can't get through to you. You are going to be late for work again. I am going crazy with these sick kids. I've been up all night and they'll be driving me crazy all day and you're just sitting there blogging again. Did you get the check from the XXXXX job? We're going to be late with the mortgage if we don't get that check. Don't forget you have the kids all day tomorrow because I have appointments, and also on Monday.

The heater still doesn't work. Didn't you fix it?




My brother, my brother,

What's your website again? I keep forgetting. Also, I lost your phone number and home address and that shirt you gave me shrunk and now it's too small. Do you have another one that's bigger?



Dear Sean,

Your domain name(s) will expire in 60 days. Act now to avoid any disruption to email or website services and avoid losing your chosen name(s).

The name(s) due for renewal are:

Domain Name, Expiry Date
themostsignificantthing.com, 2010-01-17

Please send payment to [NAME WITHHELD].

We thank you for your continued business.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life is like a comedy sometimes. But it's not like one of those Jim Carrey comedies. It's more like one of those offbeat comedies with a cult following, where some people find it all-out hilarious while the rest of everyone wanders around, intellectually bumping into one another, not getting it.

The kids are sick with colds, and it's been cold, and last night the heater failed to. So I spent the morning trying to fix it. This is very similar to the previously covered experience with the dryer not heating, and then, a few more months back, that attic fan failing -so I'm not going to go into it. If you want recycled plot points, try network television.

Now I'm late for work, and I'm going to run off with the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I may have missed something in the furnace and now the house will burn down.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Okay, enough about the holes. ENOUGH! They're filled, already. I know I've been whining about work a lot lately. I admit it. (Now I know where my 3-year-old gets it.) But, man, I am sore. Seems to be my lot in life. I just can't get these jobs finished. They're dragging on like daytime soaps. (As The Concrete Trailer Turns, The Guiding Shovel, or, my favorite, General Contractor.) Enough!

At least the lampreys have migrated on. You know you've been working a lot lately when you come home and the kids' vocabulary has doubled. Also, they start asking bigger, smarter questions. Probing questions that cut to the heart of matters. Just the other day, the Little Ditchman asked "Where does money come from?" to which I had a million-and-a-half snappy, sarcastic retorts. Mommy fielded the question, though I didn't catch what she went with. I guess I would have just bit my tongue and said "work", but I have a feeling that wouldn't satisfy the toddler sensibility. A kid sees their parents go off to work and just thinks, Sheez. Won't play with me. How selfish.

Just for fun, I'm gonna go ask her right now where she thinks money comes from...

Back. She said, "When you go to work and you build them a patio, they give you money." Hmm. Impressive. Then she hastened to add, "Also, I can give you money from my piggy bank." Let it be known that today I prefer the latter.

So, she must be well-coached. I wonder what she thinks all the other parents do for money, more patios? Anyway, I can't help but wish she had described some other passionate or artistic endeavor of mine, but alas, that's life. Art is worthless. If you're getting money for making it, it's a commodity whose integrity is influenced by that burning need for cash. (That's not necessarily a bad thing, although I think the preferred term for art is "priceless".)

Gotta go out and get some money. What do you think I do? Sit around and blog all day for free?



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In case you're wondering, it took two full trailer loads.

(And cleaning the thing was a b!tch.)


Monday, November 16, 2009

I was supposed to be up with the concrete guys, but I'm running behind. And "running" is an overstatement since I ran 28 miles yesterday. So I'm lagging behind, with a bit of joint pain. The individual pains aren't too bad, it's just that it's everywhere. But I have to pour 10,000 pounds of concrete today, which involves me renting a concrete mixing trailer and then wheelbarrowing it out back a hundred times or so. (Sh!t! Last week never ended!) Anyway, I consider it all "cross-training."

The Inspector approved my massive footings. He was well-pleased. He asked me if I had dug them myself, and when I replied that I did, he just smiled and said, "Good for you." which is a statement that has always bothered me. "Good for you!" When someone says it, I just hear: "I don't really care, but it sounds like you are pleased with yourself." I deplore a world where no one can share in someone's passionate, hard work.

I'm off to pour some 38x38x38 footings. A nice, solid place for Archimedes to stand. (Buckle up, Earth!)


Friday, November 13, 2009

I don't really hate my job. I hate doing the same dumb thing over and over and OVER, day after day, without anything passionate and spectacular happening. I suppose "passionate" and "spectacular" happening day after day would eventually lead to some boring redundancy too, but at least it once was. I'm not sure my job ever was anything. At least, I don't recall in the early days of contracting leaping out of bed at dawn with a big smile on, rushing to put on my clothes and skipping out on brushing my teeth so I could GET OUT THERE AND USE A HAMMER! And next week: SHOVELS!

Oh well, that's what hobbies are for. Never let anything get in the way of your hobbies. Something about hobbies: make "work" one of your hobbies and you'll never make a dime, but if "family" is not one of your hobbies, the family will make you suffer no matter how much, or how little, you work. They'll resent you for it. Meanwhile, if you find time for your hobbies and truly enjoy them, all the miserable people you work with will resent you, too, so you can't win. That's life. The unhappy resent the happy, and thus will never take advice from them. And the happy know better than to take advice from the unhappy, because that just doesn't make good sense. None of it matters anyway because eventually we all get sick, making us unhappy. At that point the previously unhappy say "it figures", where the previously happy scream out "OH GOOD GOD, WHY ME?!"

Which brings me back to the voracious brain lampreys making their spawning run in my cerebral cortex. I had them at bay for a good night's sleep, but they awakened with me, emerging this morning and slithering in after my first cup of coffee. There must be a connection, I thought, but I went ahead and had a second cup anyway. I love coffee. It's like a hobby.

I think I have a sinus infection, actually. It happens from time to time. I feel that snot dripping down the back of my throat. Nasty. Such images should not be put into words. But how else should I describe "snot dripping down the back of my throat"? Anyway, it all hurts just beneath my face. At least it's Friday.

But it's Friday the 13th! Sh!t! Now I just know the inspector won't approve my very large holes. There's something vaguely soul-diminishing about having to call a city official and make an appointment with him so he can come and inspect and approve the holes that you dug. You just stand there with your shovel, thinking about all those university courses you took. Just yesterday, Mrs. Ditchman received the new booklet of bills for her old college loans. They come in a booklet! You tear one off and write a check and mail it in every month, wondering -since you never hear from them otherwise- if you are the victim of some decades-long, money-sucking scam. Anyway, I saw the booklet on the kitchen counter when I came home yesterday. It was like the government sending you a list of the next thousand holes you have to dig.

And you must dig them properly, according to state and local laws. They are subject to approval upon inspection.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

More lampreys.

Seriously, the headache won't let up. I think I've had it for a week now. This happens every so often, the headache that won't let up. At first I think it's a side effect of my nightly three-beer regimen, or a lack of fluids after a long run, or perhaps the combination of those dehydrating elements and a long work day without Gatorade. But then the headache lasts through a beer-less, work-less, sitting spell, through the weekend and into the following Wednesday, and I just write it up as a head cold or a sinus infection, or, lampreys.

Interesting creature, the lamprey. After using its sucker to latch on to an unsuspecting trout or cod, it rasps away the skin and scales with its toothy mandible, and then secrets a strange, unnerving anti-coagulant so that the fish will bleed slowly into its lamprey gullet. Disgusting. It has no paired fins, no swim bladder, one nostril on the top of its head, and is not classified as a true fish. One suspects God must have created the lamprey by mistake, or as a despaired first draft of the more sleek and slightly less ignoble eel.

In Europe the lamprey is a delicacy and is overfished. Google "lamprey recipes" and you get lamprey pie, lamprey jelly, and that lipsmacking favorite, "Portuguese Lamprey Rice." King Henry I of England is said to have died from eating "a surfeit of lampreys" which makes one wonder if it was the lampreys that got him, or the mere surfeit. In North America we don't eat lampreys, so, of course, the invasive species has taken over the Great Lakes. It's a real problem, since the dumb lamprey has no natural predators. Our best scientists are working on ways to sterilize the male lampreys to control the population. Your tax dollars are at work on the lamprey problem. Why there isn't money to be made on lamprey exports is proof that European lamprey pie really isn't that good.

For thousands of years, the Niagara Falls protected America from the lamprey invasion. The Niagara Falls! But then we built that canal around it and doomed ourselves. Slowly we are taking the Great Lakes back, just as slowly am I taking back my brain. Today I switch from shovels to sledgehammers, a step up in tool complexity. Who knows. By Saturday I may be using a pencil.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I can't blog today. I just can't. Did I mention that I have a headache? Oh, that's sounds so trite. What is happening in my head is more than an ache. It's a week-long pounding of voracious, burrowing brain-lampreys, is what it is.

Here's something funny: "I Never Believed the Letters I Read in Penthouse Until it Happened to Me". (It's not what you think.)

The lamprey:


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The old 2002 iMac, our downstairs computer, has finally given up the ghost. It's one of the last of the pre-nuptial possessions, so I guess it just never felt like it fit in. The little beast was a workhorse, as I must've burned DVDs in the hundreds on it, and then there were all those times I dragged it out over the ocean to that dusty desert island every summer. In its final days it served as an Email, Internet, and Facebook hub in the family room, as it could barely handle the processing demands of much else. It never could play a YouTube video without a thousand hiccups, but now that it's gone you realize how much you used it, how you miss it. *tear* *sniff*

We'll have to buy a new iMac then! As if. The reasons for buying a new computer are 1, whereas the reasons for not are a thousandfold. (Lord in Heaven, how will we survive?!) But if a thousand dollars drops out of the sky today, I might just go throw it at the Apple Store, though there are countless other stores clamoring for it to be thrown at.

Just got off the phone with the guys at the aluminum plant. I told them where their engineer can stuff these 38" square footings. He just laughed. Seriously, we're not building the Eiffel Tower, here. It's a patio cover, folks. "But it needs a lot of lateral support!" to which I would reply with a lateral faceslap if I was standing in the room with him. So, I'm still digging. Can't wait to see the look on the inspector's face. I just know he's going to shake his head and ask me just how many bodies I was planning on burying in there, exactly.

The customer is friendly about it. I'll be glad when this week is over. It's supposed to rain Thursday, which was the day I wanted to pour the concrete, and then next week's job will get backed up. Slow. Fast! Slow. Fast! My back hurts. My head hurts. My hands are blistered. It's Tuesday. Yesterday's toil diminished my camp high considerably, but that's how it goes. It's as if all the elements of the world conspire to remove you from a godly setting, leaving you like a fish on the sand, fins slapping, gills flapping. It's like that, but it's just Tuesday.


Monday, November 9, 2009

I was pleased to see, when I got there, that they had kept that old, high slide, up on that stainless scaffolding. It was always high and steep enough to scare the bejeezus out of a junior high kid, and yet thrill him all the same. Of course, it seems smaller now, but it retains a certain bold highness.

It's at Forest Home, where my church held their annual Family Camp this past weekend. A couple years ago, when we were auditioning churches, the simple fact that the church often chose Forest Home as the destination for their youth camps garnered high marks from me, and kept me interested in attending with my family. I wanted my kids to go to Forest Home, if only because it's where I went, and it worked for me. It was there one week in August of 1982 where I had an authentic religious experience. It was an experience that was real enough, moving enough, and convincing enough that it has never ended, despite its (often daily) fits and starts, doubts and ecstasies, overwhelming losses and profound moments of redemption. From that moment during that summer at that camp, I have been cured of my most loathsome regrets and given hope to my dying day. It was a religious experience that only began there, is ongoing, and hasn't let up since.

I went to camp at Forest Home year after year, and on several occasions as a leader -though then it wasn't the same. Eventually I ended up out at Camp Fox, where so much history and devotion lies for me today. But I was never a camper at Camp Fox, so it always comes as a shock to those Camp Fox devotees when I speak of another place, a better place -or at least every bit as good- where I grew up going. Mrs. Ditchman, whom I met at Camp Fox, is one of those. She'd never been to Forest Home, so I was a bit nervous taking her, as I hadn't been back in 15 years or so. It all turned out all right. She approved. We had an excellent time.

The camps are just locations, of course, and are soulless and lonesome wastelands without the people who make them special. Our time last weekend was a sweet one being together in the forest, meeting some of the people of our congregation, and getting to know some church staff. It's hard to put in words what happens at these camps, but it's essentially a time of renewal, a time away from all that mess and noise of life so you can hear some of the things God's been saying. We had a first rate speaker, which would not have been my favorite element of the weekend if they hadn't provided inspiring and reliable childcare. But they did, and it was.

On second thought, no. My favorite part of the weekend was just being there at the camp with my family. The kids loved it. The Little Ditchman got to sleep atop a bunk bed and the Little Digger got to ride in the baby backpack. Though the unforgettable chocolate chip shakes of my childhood are now half the size and twice the cost, and though the camp is today all zip lines and climbing walls, (stuff that didn't exist when I was a kid) the same buildings are there. It's amazing that you can have so profound a love for a place. Being there was like walking through some old home where you grew up, where you took your first steps, though there's a different family living in it now, all the while loving it every bit as much as you did. I moved between the cabins and through the clubhouses, past the campfire rings and lodges, and down creekside paths through the forest, and I felt so many kid memories washing over me, stuff I couldn't help but share with my wife, who humored me with her patience, (as if she needed another child to tend to this weekend.)

Though it's just a camp, Forest Home is quite a place. In the picture above (click it to embiggen) you can see a cross and a tall rock in the right of the photo, on the far side of the lake. It's a nice, inspiring spot that overlooks the valley. There's a marker on that rock that mentions Billy Graham. The story goes that Graham was having a crisis of faith just as he was about to embark upon his historic evangelical ministry. Someone whom he respected had called him out on Darwinian evolution, among other things, and had accused him of committing "intellectual suicide" by his claiming that the Bible was the infallible word of God. Graham was at Forest Home at the time, just weeks before the launch of his famous crusade. He went out one night, threw his bible down on a stump, dropped to his knees, and prayed...

"O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can't answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising."

I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. "Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word by faith! I'm going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word."

When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.

-from 'Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham'

He almost quit. But he didn't, and soon after that he became BILLY GRAHAM, eventually #7 on Gallup's List of Widely Admired People, just behind Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy (#8 is the Pope.) He changed the world for millions.

So some places are just special, with all their thrilling, bejeezus-scaring moments. Even my mom went to Forest Home when she was a teenager, and at about the same time that Billy Graham was there, and now my wife and kids go. No intellect can honestly explain it away, but my faith makes sense of it all, and easily so.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Oh, thank heavens, the weekend has arrived. It was something of a week of FAIL, but at least I lived to dwell on and regret it. Next week, it's back to digging, so there will be plenty of time for my low self esteem then, as I race to the bottom of a hole, digging deeper, if not to China, then at least to the Great Wall of China footings, which none consider. (I can only imagine how deep they run.)

There is no time for that forlorn sense of self this weekend, however, as I indulge with the family in a time of escape and renewal. I'll blog about it on Monday. My phone is off. My email is off. Please don't try to contact me. No, please! My wife needs me! My children need me! And no more can we can bear the heady distraction of the usual weekend routine!

Happy November.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Does your home have a door that sticks? A door that leans open, if left unlatched? Is there an amalgam of dirt, insect corpses and hair from neighbor dogs and the cat that died last year piled in the slider track? If so, then your home is like mine.

Nearly every door in my home has something small wrong with it. The pains are too small to warrant a half hour fix, with most of that time devoted to fetching tools and cleaners, but seem too large to ignore and let me live my life. I move through customers' homes and find their doors sliding and swinging like oiled gears in an airtight factory. In my house, the doors are collected from every decade since the eighties, and exhibit the wear-and-tear of their years of service right through the fresh coats of paint.

My front door is painted black on the outside, and collects the hot morning sunlight on one side in such a manner that by 11:00 it is warped to the point that it's impossible to lock or unlock, such that, in the afternoon, you're better off going through the garage. And my back door has a screen slider on it that I have walked through enough times to know that buying a new one would be like throwing $70 out onto the Interstate on a breezy day, but the damn thing sticks when I shut it. There seems to be nothing I can do about this, short of outright replacement, which is when I would walk right through it again after barbecuing in the evening twilight.

Don't get me started on the shower door, which insults and offends from every angle. There are pieces so decrepit that they defy cleaning. It is perennially disgusting, and we detest it. The thing hurls insults at you on your way in and out of the shower, reminding you that its replacement would incur thousands of dollars in costs replacing the entire shower stall, fixtures, bathroom, et al. One innocuous, tearless day it will shatter into oblivion upon my opening, taking my bank account with it, but it denies me this moment of grace, and continues to mock, suggesting daily that I will emerge from the shower soiled, tainted, and infected if I touch it on my way out, which I have to.

The pantry door in the kitchen has the hinges on the wrong side. The closet doors in my bedroom slide off their tracks, defying anyone to close them fully. All the exterior doors are drafty, and even the garage door openers work intermittently, requiring multiple presses of the buttons, or a careful wrangling of the keypad so that the cover doesn't break off. Again.

The sum of all these tiny nuisances amount to a category of ignored, neglected, tolerated, and, eventually, unnoticed pains. There is no time for the recurring idiosyncrasies, since that time is more wisely spent making dinner for the family, or tickling the children at work day's end. They are like tiny scars on an aging body, old wounds and sores never properly healed, but a collection of which paint a perfect, unique history. A Character. But these doors, with all the safety and security and privacy that they offer and provide, function well enough and, like all the people who open them, enter them, slam them, and move silently behind them, stave off replacement forevermore.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Look! It's a werewolf cupcake! (And the one astride it is an owl.)

My neighbor, the architect of the brilliant Halloween cupcakes, was no doubt

Dammit. I just got up in the middle of writing that sentence, returned, and now I have no idea where I was going with it.

Anyway, she befriended me on Facebook yesterday, saw the blog, and then sent me the pic, justifiably proud of the accomplishment. I thought I'd round out my postings by putting it up, mindful that THE NEIGHBORS ARE WATCHING and I should be cool about what I put on the blog.

There are 5 Jims living in my cul-de-sac, (Okay, 4. I made one up.) so if I ever make a reference to a neighbor, he will be called "Jim". That way, if he doesn't like what's written about him, we can always claim it was one of the other Jims. If we are at a party with all 4 Jims in attendance, all denying what I wrote, I will blame the 5th Jim whom no one has ever met. The 5th Jim owns the house that is seemingly always empty. He lives in another state or country or on the road and has asked me to turn the lights on and off and mow the lawn every so often to throw off potential burglars. He sends me a check every month. I buy beer and iPhone apps with it. The 5th Jim is a helluva guy; smart, clever, impeccably dressed. He's a jet-setter. He has untold adventures. He will not be crossed. But he does not have a wife who bakes bitchin' cupcakes in the shape of werewolves, and because of this he is incomplete, insecure, jealous, and lost. I feel sorry for him, which is why he tells me he will never publish any of my work, even though he has untold millions in the bank and connections with every major publishing house in North America. He humors me.

Oh, hell, it's Hump Day, which never lives up to its name in the manner that you are thinking. I went to bed so tired last night, and I woke up this morning so sore, and I can't seem to explain myself since I did not work particularly hard yesterday. Nor can I complain about it, since my Mrs. Ditchman was up somewhere between 4 and 5, again. I have tons of stuff to do today, and I mean that literally, since I have to figure out what to do about these Hoover Dam-sized footings I have to dig, pour, and set at that house in Encinitas. Curses to the engineers! Curses to the inspectors! I long for just a small, simple cover to build and be done with, but, oh wait, I have one of those today, too.

I sat down this morning to give you a review of what I watched on tv last night, which was V. Here's my review: it was good. I don't feel like writing a review now because I just read the funniest review of a movie I've read in a long time. It's by Charlie Jane Anders and it covers Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:

'Transformers: ROTF' is so long, you'll need to wear adult diapers to it. But the movie's pure celebration of the primal urge, and unfiltered living, will make you rejoice in your adult diapers. You'll relieve yourself in your seat with a savage joy, your barbaric yawp blending in with the crowd's screams of excitement... And yet — and here's the part where I really think ROTF approaches "art movie" status — the movie's id overload reaches such crazy levels that the fabric of reality itself starts to break down. Michael Bay has boasted about how every single shot in the movie has so much stuff going on in it, it would take your PC since the dawn of time to render one frame. After a few hours of this assault, you feel the chair melt and the floor of the movie theater becomes an angry mirror into your soul. Nothing is solid, nothing is real, everything Transforms...

Anyway, have a good day. You can do it. "Yes we can," as President Obama said, even though he couldn't yesterday in New Jersey. I guess some days... we can't.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Busy day. But I can stop and point out to you the vast global conspiracy to hide the truth that STAR WARS WAS REAL. It's all documented at www.iswwr.com. (IfStarWarsWasReal.com)

Don't believe me? Check out the site's photo archives. The stuff on Palpatine Oil I found especially compelling. Why the forces of darkness want to keep us, er, in the dark, is beyond me. Here are some samples:

The truth is out there.

I mean, sometimes it's really out there.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Tired of the mire of unaccomplished things, I was going to make a TO DO list for November. I keep putting it off. I begin, but I pause, and consider the things this month that will get in the way of the list: Christmas decorations, Thanksgiving, unexpected burst water mains and wrecked or broken transport vehicles. The calendar already shows every weekend filled, and I don't know how it happened. I mean, who's skipping ahead and writing stuff in? I should just write the list anyway, and title it "TO DO: FAIL" Because then I'll at least have done something.

It's November 2nd, already, and, if you needed someone to sledgehammer it home, we've got Daylight Savings Time for you. It's so friendly-sounding: "daylight savings!" like an open-door, summer sale at JC Penny's, but I don't know what we're saving. By the sound of it, you'd think by now we'd have scores of daylight that we could just cash in on one glum, dim day when we needed a vacation, but, no, it just feels like another government tax. Whether springing forward or falling back, somehow we all lose sleep over it. Especially if you have kids.

Halloween was a spooktacular fun-fest of paranormal proportions in our cul-de-sac, even moreso than last year. 2009 will be the year that the Little Ditchman "got it", since she was saying "trick-or-treat" and "thank you" and rehearsing the cute routine for weeks in advance. (She got it last year, to be sure, but we had to walk her to the doors mostly, with the prompting of her lines, and then, after a few houses of receiving treats, the look on her face was -Hey! Free candy! This is easy!) We waited for some of the neighbor kids to arrive, and joined up with them on our doorstep.

And then we were off! The hoppy dads hung in back, strutting up and down the block with treats of their own.

(Missing, is Rod, who was an uncanny Praying Mantis. Wish I had him in the shot.)

We strolled the length of the street, saying hi to all the neighbors and pausing at the bottom of the block for cupcakes. It should be noted that the cupcakes were in the shape of werewolves, which is a feat I would not have believed if it was told to me. They actually were in the shape of werewolves. My camera went bad just as I tried to take a pic of them, so it was a bummer, but I did get a shot of the person who baked them, dressed as a Land Shark.

One suspects that she did not bake the werewolf cupcakes dressed as a Land Shark, but with Kendra, you never know.

Then, after much discussion, we all got in minivans to drive across the intersection to the main artery of our tract, a block away, where untold horrors awaited: people caravaning in from miles around to join our neighborhood in The Event of the season. Evidently this has been going on for years, but since we live in the appendix of the tract, separated from all mainstream suburban happenings by a busy multi-lane boulevard, we are sheltered from our own magnetizing celebrity.

There were throngs. So many people, that it appeared that years ago the whole, knock-on-the-door-and-trick-or-treat thing was abandoned for lawn chairs in the yard next to tubs of candy, just to accommodate the crowds. Residents had transformed their properties into cemeteries and haunted houses. And by "haunted houses" I mean a few folks actually constructed legitimate haunted houses, complete with twisting, turning dark tunnels, mirrors and mayhem, and creatures of the underworld peering from the shadows. Really something. One garage was all light and smoke effects, with spooky footage projected into the ether with all the detailed flair of a Disneyland parade. One neighbor had crafted a ten-foot-tall homunculus, operated by a man in back, who moved balanced 2x4s and pulleys to manipulate the eerie arms and head. Amazing.

It was a nice night. Everyone was cheerful, happy, enjoying the scene. I can't abide the ultra-religious who abhor the holiday, as there was nothing evil about any of it. Halloween is an easy, sugary American tradition, and what are we celebrating? Dressing up. Being silly. Acting out, and seeking out the awe and wonder of childhood, whilst diminishing the fears of life and death in this world, and especially that greatest fear of all: the fear of growing up.