Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Summer Cell-cation

On the surface, summer seemed like a good idea. No more school meant no more lunches, homework, carpool, crying parents, etc. But what we didn’t factor in was that the boys would be here. In the house. All. The. Time.

That wouldn’t be so much of an issue if they didn’t seem to hate each other. On second thought, “hate” might be unfair. Loath is probably more accurate.

Since the last school bell rang, they have fought continuously. UFC fighters should come here to get a lesson on stamina. Yelling, screaming, tears, wrestling, punches… and that’s just first thing in the morning about who gets to use the bathroom.

There are three of them. We have three bathrooms…

You should see what happens when they get to the toaster. We only have one toaster. Blood has been shed over toast, my friends.

My wife and I want to leave, but the amount of time we have in mind would be considered an act of criminal negligence.

Our home phone, on the other hand, decided it had had enough. It went on vacation without us. I mean, the actual body of the phone is still here on the kitchen counter, but apparently all its internal virtual phone-ness has left. It has moved to Huasna, CA.

We have one of our old cell phones as a home phone for the boys, because we try very hard not to appear criminally negligent. Right there on the home screen, reporting a much nicer day, weather-wise, than we are having, our phone inexplicably thinks it’s in someplace called Huasna. (Since I have no idea how to pronounce that, I am going with “Wah-snah,” but you are free to pronounce it “Who-as-nay,” or “Fresno,” or however else you see fit.)

I don’t know exactly what happened. I’m not sure if our phone got as tired of the boys’ constant fighting as we did, or if it just needed a break from the big city hustle and bustle here in Rocklin. Either way, it picked a place where no one would ever find it.

I looked up Huasna, CA on Google maps, and let me tell you, the middle of nowhere is Times Square compared to Huasna. I’m not sure how my phone decided to go there, since I have never been within a hundred miles of downtown Huasna. And when I say “downtown,” I mean the intersection of Huasna Road and Huasna Townsite Road, where there is nothing.

If my phone has been there more than a week, I’m assuming it’s already the mayor of Huasna. I think it will be a fair and just leader of the Huasnians. It has been a reliable and trustworthy phone, and it has all the answers, since it has a Google search bar on the home screen.

I have to assume that the Huasnians have no electricity or running water, so they might never have seen a cell phone before. For all I know, they are worshipping our home phone as a god. I hope the power doesn’t go to its head.

Speaking of power, I also have to assume it will be home soon, since it will have no way to charge itself in the rolling hills of the Huasna countryside. And I’m guessing it hasn’t called to check in because the Huasnians have never heard of cell signals or wifi. Someone will probably bring it home in a month or two in a cart pulled by donkeys or oxen.

No matter, though. Even if it gets back soon, we don’t need a home phone for a while. In a few days we’re going to all get into a car together and drive across the country.


Sitting right next to each other with our knees touching. What could possibly go wrong?

Maybe they could drop me off in Huasna to visit the phone?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Ask Smidge - Special Graduation Edition - Repost

Son Number One “graduates” from eighth grade tomorrow and moves on to high school. (It’s not lost on me that this is happening on D-day.)

There is going to be a big “promotion” ceremony tomorrow. They are going to have a ceremony, but at least they are too embarrassed to call it a graduation. Do you know what the promotion ceremony was called when I left junior high?
“The last day of school.”

Do you know what the ceremony consisted of?
The bell. Because we weren’t graduating.

So, in honor of another “graduation” for our oldest son (his fourth so far), here’s the Ask Smidge column from last year’s graduation season. Enjoy!

Due to the incredible popularity of recent Ask Smidge columns (and we’re using the word “incredible” in its literal meaning here), we have been flooded with questions at the new email address –

A number of topics have been queried, but we have noticed a majority of you have graduation-related questions this time of year, so we’re doing a special graduation edition this week.

We don’t have kids yet, but my sister just invited us to our niece’s preschool graduation. Is that really a thing? Do we bring a gift?
Kidless in Carson City

Dear Kidless,
Sadly, yes, preschool “graduations” have become a reality. It’s a bunch of two-foot-tall paste eaters whose only requirement for graduation was that their parents kept paying for them to be there, but they’ll “graduate,” nonetheless. Don’t be shocked if they have them in little caps and gowns! (You may, of course, be appalled at the self-celebrating state we have devolved to, just don’t be shocked.) The best gift you can bring is a flask of clear liquor for yourself, and a promise never to put your future children in a preschool that has graduation ceremonies.
Good luck!

Our son’s kindergarten teacher just emailed us about a “small graduation ceremony” they’re planning for the last day of school. Graduating from kindergarten? My son still can’t use scissors correctly, he licks the other kids, and he’s barely even aware that he was in school. What am I missing?
Confused in Columbus

Dear Confused,
Please see answer above and just sub in “kindergarten” every time you see “preschool.”

What’s with these weird flat mortarboard hats?
Graduating in Grand Rapids

Dear Graduating,
Funny story! The flat mortarboard cap with the tassel that every graduate dons today actually started as a fraternity prank at Tulane University in 1893. Apparently, there was quite the rivalry between Phi Delta Gamma and Kappa Kappa Theta back then, and the Phi Delts came up with a real zinger at the end of the year.
They convinced the Kappas that it was a new school policy to wear a “uniform” at graduation. Then they proceeded to get incredibly drunk and come up with the dumbest looking hat they could think of: a flat board sewed onto a skull cap, with a darling little tassel hanging off one side.
They added the gown to the mix and convinced the Kappas that it was super cool to go naked underneath. Come graduation day, the Phi Delts showed up in their caps and gowns, so the Kappas thought nothing of it. But just before hitting the stage, all the Phi Delts tossed their mortarboard caps in the air and took their robes off, unrolling their suit pants from their knees and putting on their snappy fedoras they had been hiding under the robes. They strode across the stage in their three-piece suits, leaving the poor, duped, and naked-underneath Kappas with no alternative but to wear their ridiculous caps and gowns to accept their diplomas.
The prank worked perfectly, but it backfired on the rest of us. The Tulane dean, perhaps still drunk from Mardi Gras, loved the Kappa’s outfits and adopted them for all future graduation ceremonies. Deans from neighboring colleges, not wanting to be seen as non-hip, went along, and the rest is history.   

My pot-smoking grandson is graduating from high school with a 2.3 GPA. What should we get him for a graduation gift?
Unimpressed in Olympia

Dear Unimpressed,
A McDonald’s application and an alarm clock.

Our daughter is graduating from Dartmouth after six years. It took her a while, and more than a few student loans, but she is finally getting her art history degree. We are so proud! Any ideas for the perfect graduation gift for our little princess?
Beaming in Boise

Dear Beaming,
$350,000, a McDonald’s application, and an alarm clock.

Happy graduation, America! Now get out there and tackle life! Or first grade.

(And remember, be sure to email all your burning questions to

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Once Upon a Time, 2019

I have been lucky enough over the last six years to get to help young elementary students write stories each week. In the past I’ve worked with kindergartners, but this year I got to write stories with first graders. At the end of each year, I compile them all into a real book that their parents and grandparents can buy.

Here are a couple samples from this year’s edition. Prepare yourself for a trip deep inside the mind of the American first grader… Enjoy!

Chocolate Surprise (alternate title: Extremely Questionable Dentist)

Once upon a time there was a boy named Sparkle who was eighteen inches tall and always busy looking for one of his friends. He was friends with a three-foot-tall girl named Elsa who had fire power. They were both friends with a tall girl, who was at least seven feet tall, named Lilly, who loved playing with all her friends more than anything in the world.

One morning Lilly and Elsa were helping Sparkle find his friend. They found him at the beach in Hawaii where they also found one hundred baby kittens in a treasure box. When Elsa opened the box, all the kittens jumped out and some of them even jumped onto the faces of the three friends. While the friends were trying to get the kittens off their faces, some of the little furry cats got away and ran up a large hill.

Once all the kittens had jumped out of the chest, the friends saw brown treasure in the bottom of the box that the kittens had been sitting on. The whole box was filled with chocolate pennies!

Just then, a giant cat came bolting out of a cave near the water and ran up the big hill after the kittens. All of a sudden, a spaceship crash landed in the volcano that was next to their beach. The three friends grabbed the chocolate pennies and ran for the volcano, climbed up, jumped into the spaceship after the space man had gotten out, quickly fixed it, and took off into space.

They flew the spaceship for a whole two seconds until they arrived at Planet Forest, where they landed. As soon as they landed, strange forest creatures attacked their ship, took it completely apart, grabbed the three friends, and threw them all the way back to Earth, where they landed in New Mexico. Luckily, Lilly had hung on to the chocolate treasure, none of which melted on reentry.

Meanwhile, back in Hawaii, the spaceman had climbed out of the volcano, saddled up the giant cat, and rode it all the way to New Mexico to go beat up the friends for stealing his spaceship. As soon as he arrived in Santa Fe, the fight began.

The massive cat ran over and scratched all three friends on their faces. Elsa took immediate action and used her fire power to set the giant cat's tail on fire. The cat screeched and ran a mile away, with his tail burning all the way.

But as he ran past, his flaming tail swished back and forth wildly, and it hit all three friends, picking them up, and throwing them all the way back to Hawaii, where they landed next to their house and their pet pony.

To celebrate, they ate all the chocolate pennies at once, then felt a little weird, so they went to the dentist. He told them that they all had cavities which could turn them evil if they didn’t take care of them, so they all decided to get them filled with candy, which was a special the dentist was offering that week.

The end.

Unexpected Love Song (alternate title: Ratt Sings Cheap Trick?)

Once upon a time there was a monster named Horn, who was microscopic and lived in the ocean. He was friends with a carrot named Backpack who lived in the mountains. They were both friends with snake named Sprinkles who was only two inches long and lived in the forest.

One morning the three friends were waking up from a sleepover at Sprinkles’ house in the forest. Suddenly, they saw a giant rat inside the house, coming right for Sprinkles the snake. The mean old rat bit Sprinkles right on the tail. Backpack the carrot sprang into action and grabbed his friend Sprinkles and pulled him into the snow outside the door.

Horn, the microscopic ocean monster, grabbed the big rat by the tail, swung him around in the air three million times, then slapped him across his ugly rat face and sent him flying five thousand hundred million feet away. [Just under ninety-five million miles]

Horn and Backpack took Sprinkles the snake to the animal hospital which was two hundred feet away from the house, and the veterinarian used his magic powers to heal the little snake's tail.

When they got back to Sprinkles’ house, they went inside and sat down to rest, but all of a sudden Sprinkles started to yell. The rat had returned somehow and had snuck out of a hole in the wall and jumped onto the little snake's back.

This time it was Backpack's turn to teach the big rat a lesson. The carrot reached under the sink and got a huge rat sticky trap and threw it at the big rat that was attacking his friend. The rat became hopelessly stuck to the trap, and the three friends picked it up and took it to the rat jail that was only ten miles away.

But the rat was so strong that eventually, he unstuck himself, and broke out of the special rat jail, and ran the whole ten miles back to Sprinkles’ house. Instead of attacking them again, he sat outside the house and sang a very special song about love.

As soon as the three friends came outside to hear the lovely song, the rat attacked them again. The song had been a trick!

Sprinkles, who had had just about enough of this rat, grabbed it by the tail, and began slamming it into the ground. The rat was undeterred, and he got away from the snake and chased the three friends away from the house. But the three friends were much faster than the rat, and they led him all over everywhere on a wild goose chase, and eventually the rat got lost and ended up at a Target store.

Since the rat had a little cash on him, he decided to buy gentlemen’s pants, shirts, hats, and a fake mustache and beard. He dressed up in his new clothing and went back to their house, pretending to be a person, and when they answered the door, he tossed a fishing hook into the house, hoping they would bite it.

Horn the microscopic ocean monster bit down on the hook, because he wasn't fooled, and knew the gentlemen at the door was really the rat in disguise. When the rat started to pull on the hook, Horn was planning to clobber him again, but the snake yelled, "Stop it! We know it's you. You're not being nice."

The rat said, "I’m sorry! I was only trying to get you closer so we could be friends, because I never had any friends."

They invited him in to be friends and then the four of them had a play date at the park with juice boxes and tomato soup.

The end.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

47 at 47

I am turning 47 years old in a couple days, which is hard for my brain to accept, since it regularly tells my body I’m still 25. My knees, my back, and my hamstrings, however, agree with the calendar.

They say with age, comes wisdom. I wish that were more true. Nonetheless, in honor of living through another trip around the sun, I have added to my list of thoughts, observations, and acquired “wisdom.”

Here it is - one for each year. You’re welcome, America.

1.  There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who prefer the toilet paper to come off the top of the roll, and those who are wrong.

2.  If beds were advertised the same way as tents, a queen-size mattress would “sleep nine adults comfortably.”

3.  The three-second rule has a lot of leeway depending on if what you dropped was the last one.

4.  People who say things like, “We’re going to cross-functionalize and parallel task your mission-critical bandwidth,” don’t understand what they’re saying any more than you do.

5.  And I don’t understand why disappointed is not the opposite of appointed.

6.  Pi and the circumference of a circle have a similar relationship to pie and the circumference of a person.

7.  Here’s the main difference between men and women: Men can look at an ad for women's underwear and get excited. I’m not talking about women in underwear, just the underwear itself. Women do not get excited looking at pictures of boxer shorts.

8.  You are wholeheartedly fooling yourself if you think the government is efficient at anything except taking your money.

9.  The clearest evidence that capitalism beats communism is that the Red Bull beverage company put a man in space. Take that, North Korea. Anheuser-Busch can probably shoot down your nukes.

10.  If you give enough money to the right charities, you will never have to buy address labels again.

11.  Owning a pool in the winter is like making payments on your new snowmobiles all summer.

12.  You cannot use the phrase, “To be honest with you...”  without giving the listener the impression you aren’t always being honest.

13.  When pulling out a stump with your truck, make sure the roots don’t have ahold of your water main. Trust me.

14.  When packing thirteen suitcases into the car for your wife, is it impossible to have ten of them be “on top” so she can get to them easily.

15.  If one of my boys saw their brother in a fight, I'm certain they would jump in and help. I'm just not sure which side they'd be on.

16.  You can ask someone to do something, or you can tell them how you want it done, but you can’t do both.

17.  A good indicator of where you are in life is this: Does the advertisement of free food still affect your decision making?

18.  Fabric softener sheets go in the dryer, not the washer. Just FYI. I’m not saying I didn’t know that.

19.  There is no “t” or “t” sound in the word across. There is no “b” or “b” sound in the word supposedly. Please pronounce accordingly.

20.  Men are far more likely to clean things with spit than women are.

21.  Money and toilet paper have something in common – They’re both easy to take for granted until you run out. Also, in totally opposite, but equally dire situations, they can be substituted for each other.

22.  Drive while driving. Always.

23.  If you ask any guy to tell you a story about a time he almost died, he will have four stories just off the top of his head, and one will be from this year. If you ask women the same question, most of them will look at you like you’re crazy.

24.  One sure sign of getting old – When you start sitting down to put on your pants.

25.  Children and ceiling fans are simply incompatible. It’s science.

26.  In life, it is very important to remember where you are and why you're there. That way, when your podiatrist tells you to drop your shorts, you’ll ask some questions first.

27.  Your dog thinks it has saved you from being murdered at least a thousand times by barking at the front window, yet you remain completely ungrateful.

28.  Hold out as long as you can before putting on your first pair of magnifying “reader” glasses. The second you do, your eyes give up like a marathoner crossing the finish line.

29.  People who don’t use their cruise control on the freeway should be pulled over and water-boarded.

30.  There are 21 words in the English language that need to be used more. They are: bailiwick, hootenanny, skullduggery, scofflaw, ballyhoo, shenanigans, donnybrook, catawampus, chicanery, cajoled, hullabaloo, besmirch, boondoggle, haberdashery, melee, befuddled, flummoxed, hoosegow, wiseacre, tomfoolery, and kerfuffle. Please begin immediately.

31.  Pointing out that Van Gogh’s “girlfriend” was actually a prostitute during a fifth-grade art docent lesson is not helpful for anyone involved. Again, I’m not saying I did this; I just want you to know.

32.  You cannot claim to be a grown woman, fully capable of taking care of yourself, and also claim that you do not know how to operate a toilet seat.

33.  We, as humans, all share a universal reaction – the automatic flinch when the driver hits the button and starts rolling up the car window under your arm.

34.  Don’t waste your time trying to have a logical conversation with a teenager. Their brains are physically incapable of sustained logic. Instead, just give them healthy food in large quantities and cross your fingers that they leave your house at some point in your lifetime.

35.  To be or not to be is not the question. The real question is, which towel in the guest bathroom am I allowed to use to dry my hands?

36.  Give a boy enough time with any object, whether it be a stale Cheerio, a bouncy ball, a doll, or a book, and he will eventually turn it into a weapon.

37.  Getting passport photos taken at Walmart seems ironic.

38.  In order to properly keep up with the hair from a shedding dog, you should own enough Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners to equal the dog’s weight. For instance, a seventy-pound Lab requires six Roombas (running twenty-four hours a day).

39.  The idiots who wear their pants down below their butts and have to waddle with their legs spread to keep their pants from simply falling to the ground are also the idiots who are most likely to try to run from the police at some point. That makes me smile.

40.  The people of Earth can be easily divided into two categories: People you would let watch your kids for five minutes, and people you wouldn’t.

41.  The person who invented the hotel shower curtain rod that curves out away from the tub so the shower curtain doesn’t stick to your arm should receive the Nobel prize.

42.  The problem with trying to raise independent, strong-willed children is that if you are succeeding, you have to live with independent, strong-willed children.

43.  Guys, do you ever have trouble figuring out if you’ve had too much to drink? Here’s a handy guideline:
“There is no way I can scratch that itch on my ankle while I’m standing here peeing, so I will not try.” – You’re still OK
“I can totally do it without peeing on myself.” – You are drunk

44.  A kid’s definition of “pool toy” is different than an adult’s. We think of pool toys as something designed to be played with in a pool. They define “pool toy” as anything they own, if it happens to be brought into the pool. Like a bike or a sandwich.

45.  No matter who you are, no matter where you're from, there is one shared experience that binds us all together as one people: The sheer horror of the ketchup or mustard water falling from the unshaken bottle and contaminating your food forever. I feel your pain.

46.  I just said, “I don’t want you two on top of each other on the couch. Find something else to do,” to two of my sons. I guess I should be grateful, because it probably won’t be too long before I’ll need to say that to one of them and his girlfriend.

47.  If you have to choose, it makes more sense to become a strong swimmer than a strong runner. You don’t automatically die when you stop running.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Google Nesting Place

It was recently announced, in what can only be seen as the beginning of the end of the world, that Google has made the obvious strategic move to team up with Nest.

Google will now be inside your thermostat.

I'm not sure that's a great idea. Do I need to point out the massive failure that was Google+ again? If they can't set up and manage a simple thing like a world-wide social media and networking site to compete with Facebook, what makes them think they are qualified to determine what temperature to keep my living room?

Do they even realize that my wife lives in the house? Sure, Google probably has a lot of smart people behind the scenes, but if they are foolish enough to think they can remove the manual aspect of temperature management inside my home, they obviously didn’t get too much common sense with all that book learnin’!

I mean, do the Google engineers even comprehend the fact that 72 degrees is apparently a completely different temperature, depending on what temperature it is outside. Or in the car?

Do the geniuses at Google understand that my wife thinks 72 degrees is not the same temperature in the summer as it is in the winter?

Do they know that having it be two degrees colder or warmer in an adjacent room or near a window can completely negate whatever temperature it is on the couch?

Something tells me the Google Nest won’t understand the gravity of the situation when my wife says, “It’s cold in here.” The Google Nest can’t possibly learn to read her body language and tone of voice.

Should it immediately spike the thermostat to 95 degrees and retreat to the garage for two hours, or should it bring her a blanket, kiss her on the forehead, and ask about her day? I’m not sure the Google engineers will be able to write that decision tree into the code with any success.

As I understand it, computers work mainly by computing things. I would assume the Google people need to somehow write some code of some kind to run the thermostat, and I assume that code will need to compute different variables.

Off the top of my head, in the last thirty seconds, I developed this short, very incomplete list of variables they’ll need to consider in order to choose the correct temperature for my wife:

Tone of voice
Current temperament and mood
Sarcasm level
Actual outside temperature
Perceived outside temperature
Actual current inside temperature
Perceived inside temperature
Dew point
Relative humidity
Current temperament and mood of children
Wind speed and direction outside
Temperature of garage she just spent seven seconds in
Clothing layers and thickness
Square inches of exposed skin near the ankles or wrists
Shoes vs. boots
Do the boots have fur?
Actual draftiness
Perceived draftiness
Activity level in the last hour
Sock type and thickness
Are the socks “cozy” or just regular?
Hydration level
Pre/During/Post dinnertime?
Amount of wine consumed

I just can’t see them figuring all that out.

But, never mind all that. There’s one central problem that will cause all the rest of these problems to be moot: The Google Nest will be mounted to the wall.

How is it possibly going to duck out of the way of a flying shoe if it’s foolish enough to suggest that she might want to put on a sweater?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

An Open Letter to Shutterfly, Regarding Lifetouch

Dear Shutterfly,

Last November was the first time I heard your name associated with the venerable, dare I say, tour de force of a company that is Lifetouch School Portraits.

It happened when Lifetouch sent me an email with promo codes to create free Shutterfly photo books.

A few days later, Lifetouch sent another email explaining that “We were a little too excited to deliver your free Shutterfly photo book offer so you may have received a code that doesn’t work.”  I guess they included new promo codes that may or may not have actually worked. I’ll never know, because I never tried them.

I never tried the original promo codes either, because the pictures Lifetouch was offering to put into a free Shutterfly photo book were taken by Lifetouch.

I don’t even have to go back and look at them. I just know.

Son Number One will have a forced, pained smile on his face, like he just stepped barefoot onto a bunch of seashells.

Son Number Two’s hair will be all over the place and his glasses will be visibly smudged and probably on his face crooked. His smile is a fifty-fifty toss-up.

Son Number Three will have some sort of food or condiment prominently displaced somewhere on his face or head, and his “smile” will either look pained, quizzical, confused, nervous, or, like last year’s picture, strangely rodent-ish. It will look like anything other than his actual beautiful, joyous smile.

I’m not sure why I would want any of that in a photo book, free or otherwise.

Lifetouch screwing up the codes didn’t surprise me one bit, because I have a long history with them. I have written them many helpful letters over the years (thirteen to be exact) giving them tons of free advice on how to take passable pictures of children, how to improve their business model, and how to just generally not suck at what they do.

As far as I know, no one at Lifetouch has ever read a single one of my letters. They certainly haven’t taken any of my free advice, like, maybe wiping the macaroni and cheese off the kid’s face before snapping the picture, and stuff like that.

You might not have as much direct personal experience with them, but the fact that they screwed up the free promo code email should have been a major warning sign for you.

But instead of running away as fast as you could, apparently you just went ahead and purchased Lifetouch. And according to Forbes, you paid $825 million for them! You really should have called me first. That was not a good idea.

If you really wanted to get into the school picture business so badly, I honestly believe you could have cornered the market for less than ten or twelve thousand dollars by hiring retired postal employees to take pictures at the schools with their personal cell phones. Seriously.

Anyway, today I received a desperate plea from “Lifetouch + Shutterfly” that my Fall Portraits would soon expire, and I was given helpful portrait ID numbers and access codes for all three boys so I could purchase them and have you preserve them forever.

Sounds like you guys over at Shutterfly are trying to figure out how to get back some of those wisely-spent millions. And how do I know those codes will even work?

Never mind that – back to my original point here, Shutterfly. The pictures you want me to buy were taken by Lifetouch. If I wouldn’t buy the individual paper pictures, why would I buy a hardcover book of them? Or a coffee mug? Or a pillow? Or a wrapped canvas wall hanging?

He has mustard on his face!

I have to look at food on his face almost every time he’s actually in the room. Why would I want to immortalize it on my wall, as well?

He’s smiling like he just backed into an electric fence!

Why would I want to put that on a pillow? Pillows are supposed to make people comfortable!

Have your financial people call me. We should talk.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Desperately Searching for Talent

Thanks to all you boys and girls who signed up ahead of time and came out to audition today for the elementary school talent show. And a special thanks to all you kids who added your names to the list five minutes ago, even though it has been posted in the office for three weeks now. Glad to have you here.

We will take the auditions in the order that you signed up on the list. What's that, ma'am? Your daughter who signed up a half hour ago has tennis lessons today and can't stay past 3:00? Well, I'm not sure what to tell you, since there are about thirty kids who signed up ahead of her and it's already 2:45.  Maybe she could come back after tennis, or be late to practice? No ma'am, I have not been told that I'm particularly unreasonable. I'm sorry to hear that. We will miss her version of “I’m a Little Teacup.”

OK, everybody, let’s get started. First, I see, we have Kayden from the 6th grade playing piano.

[sound of individual piano keys being played in an order that does not necessarily suggest music to the listener]

Wow, OK, thank you for that Kayden. Out of curiosity, how long have you been taking piano lessons? Six years, is that right? Well, thank you for sharing your gift with us today.

OK, next up we have… oh, goody, another piano player. Jade is here from the 2nd grade.

[sound of Beethoven coming from a broken down old elementary school piano as an eight-year-old virtuoso’s fingers fly over the keys]

(Praise Jesus) Thank you, Jade! That was magnificent, sweetheart! Kayden, you might want to get the name of Jade’s teacher. No reason, just in case yours ever decides to retire or something.

Now we have Suzy and Kendall from the 5th grade performing a dance routine.

[alleged dance routine takes place intermittently]

Thank you, ladies. One note that I think deserves mentioning – most dance routines out there involve quite a bit of actual dancing. Yours seemed to contain quite a bit of standing and vague, almost imperceptible, arm movements. What’s that? It was for artistic effect? Oh, OK. Is that why you picked such a sad, slow song? Gotcha. OK, thanks for coming today. What’s that? No, no decisions will be made today. (at least no out loud decisions) We will let you know soon.

OK, looks like we have another dance routine. Kylie from the 3rd grade is here. Take it away, Kylie.

[rap song blares and a dance routine starts that would make the folks in a Prince video blush]

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold the music! Um… Kylie, honey, that kind of dancing is a little inappropriate for elementary school. What’s that, mom? Uh, OK, that might be how she dances at home, but you understand this talent show is being held here for the students, right? And that song can’t be played at school, anyway. What’s that? Well, I guess we could try to find a clean version of it, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t have too many words left. OK, go ahead and see what you can come up with. Moving on.

[two excruciating hours later]

OK, thank you for that. One note – try to sing to the back of the room. No, I don’t think you did. We have your microphone turned all the way up and we can barely hear you. Yes, sing to the back of the room. You are only singing to the back of your own throat.

Great, OK, looks like only one more audition and then we can go home (and seriously reconsider our life choices while we have a stiff drink and try to determine how we are going to put this show together…).

OK, hello Avery from the 4th grade. What song will you be singing? OK, and do you have the music? You’re going to sing it a cappella? Umm… OK, well, good luck. Let’s hear it.

[sound of the most soulful, rich, powerful, silky-smooth adult singing voice coming from a four-foot-tall girl, which makes every adult in the room weep with awe and joy]

Thank you so much, Avery, for adding your name to the list at the last minute. And thank you for going to this school!

(We’ve got ourselves a talent show!)

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Happy Birthday, Heimlich

Today is the birthday of the Heimlich maneuver. I don’t mean like when it was invented. I have no idea when that was. I mean today we used the Heimlich maneuver on a birthday. On the birthday boy, more specifically.

Son Number Three turned eleven years old today, and I talked him into choosing Chipotle for his birthday dinner spot. It wasn’t a hard sell. It’s Chipotle after all.

So, there we all are at a big round galvanized steel table, and I’m just minding my own business, eating my chicken burrito bowl with pinto beans and cilantro lime rice, when someone starts asking Number Three if he’s OK. He happens to be sitting directly to my right, so I was kind enough to take a moment away from my amazing bowl topped with cheese, sour cream, and both pico de gallo and tomatillo green salsa, to glance over at him.

I just thought he was gagging and needed to throw up.

At this point in the story, I think we need to step back a little and give you, the faithful reader, some background on my parenting crisis management skills.

I’m sure if I ever saw one of my children on fire, I would move quickly. Hardly any doubt, there. Short of that, however, I’m more methodical in my crisis intervention. My wife calls it oblivious, but there’s a fine line there I don’t think she’s seeing.

She might have a little bit of a point, though.

I mean, there was the time that Son Number Three broke his femur when he was three. He was crying and going on and on, so I did the responsible dad thing and told him to rub some dirt on it and get back in the game. In my defense, I had no way of knowing it was broken. Only a highly trained ER doctor can diagnose that kind of thing in the waiting room seven seconds after you arrive.

But this whole birthday Chipotle incident was really more like the time Son Number Two fainted. He was sitting up on one of our barstools a few years back, and I had his foot in my lap, working on popping a blister with a needle. As it turned out, the blister was really a wart of some kind, and shoving a needle through it apparently hurt a little. Or a lot.

He let out a little squeal, and I looked up from the non-blister to see him acting kinda weird. He was doing something funny with his eyes, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he was leaning back off the stool, like he was getting ready to do a set of ab crunches. I sat there holding his foot and wondering what his plan was when my wife, from across the room at a dead sprint, informed me he was in the process of fainting.

He hit the floor pretty hard, but I saved his foot.

Now, in my defense, I have only fainted twice that I know of, and I was unconscious both times, so I had no idea what it looked like.

Anyway, today, when I noticed that Son Number Three was gagging and sticking his fingers down his throat and possibly needed to throw up, I jumped into action. As I took another bite of my amazing Chipotle chicken burrito bowl, I searched frantically for someone else’s burrito bowl to position under his chin.

I mean, let’s not throw up all over this nice galvanized steel table. We don’t have enough napkins for that.

Just about the time my wife was trying to shove me out of the way to get to her youngest son, his oldest brother, who was seated on the other side of him from me, solved the dilemma with a modified Heimlich maneuver.

It turns out Son Number Three was actually choking on a wad of tortilla about the size of a golf ball. I would have thought he’d have learned to eat a burrito properly by the age of eleven, but today proved otherwise. Go figure.

I say “modified” Heimlich, because it was really more of a one-handed, single-shot Heimlich to the back. Basically, his older brother open-hand slapped him really hard on the spine and dislodged the offending tortilla wad. They must teach that kind of thing in school now. Modern education is wonderful.

Everything turned out just fine, but for some reason my wife still seems mad at me for not acting faster. I tried to explain my contemplative (almost laissez-faire, if you will) emergency management style to her again, but she just muttered something and walked off.

I think she might also still be a little mad about her burrito bowl.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Happy birthday, Number Three!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Spring Broke

It’s spring break this week for our three boys, which means they are not in school and their teachers are off somewhere getting drunk.

It’s also spring break this week for my wife, who is a high school teacher, which means she’s with us all week. And she’s getting drunk.

Since everyone else in the family is on break, that means I am too, so we decided – possibly while drunk – that we should go to Disneyland.

We logged onto the Disneyland website to buy tickets, chose five two-day park passes, added them to the cart, then opened a new browser tab and logged onto our bank’s website and applied for a second mortgage.

After that, we applied for six or seven new credit cards to get the total ticket price to fit in underneath our credit limits, and we were in business. We hit the checkout button and printed out our tickets to the happiest place on earth.

Then we logged onto a popular travel website and searched for hotel suites near the park that could sleep five. After reviewing our options, we logged back onto our bank’s website and applied for a third mortgage. Once that got approved, we booked our hotel and we were all set.

Two days ago, we headed out on the road for the long drive south. As it turns out, our Suburban will not make it all the way to Anaheim on one tank of gas, so after applying for a new Chevron Loyalty Program credit card, we filled up on gasoline and snacks a few times and made it to our surprisingly small hotel “suite.”

We woke up early and sent two of the boys down to the complimentary continental breakfast with an empty suitcase and very specific instructions. After a hearty meal in our room, we headed for the front gate lines.

Once inside the park, we were alerted to the handy new feature of being able to spend additional money on our pre-purchased tickets by purchasing an add-on called a “MaxPass.” As luck would have it, we needed a separate MaxPass for each person in our group. The MaxPass allows you to get the FastPass, which will in turn allow you to get on the ride you thought you were already allowed to get on when you bought the actual ticket to get into the park.

Apparently, nowadays at Disneyland, if you don’t have a FastPass, you are more than welcome to stand in front of the attractions and watch people go in and out, while Goofy consoles you with a gentle hug, but if you actually want to ride anything, you’ll need to pony up some more money for the MaxPass.

We went ahead and filled out a quick application for a Disney credit card, and then got the MaxPasses purchased.

After a fun-filled morning of waiting for our FastPass time window to occur, and riding that one ride, it was lunch time. We had exhausted the remaining supply of hotel bagels and powdered eggs during our morning wait, so we headed over to the buffet to see what else we could afford.

After surveying the menu, and realizing that many of our new credit cards were being systematically deactivated, we opted to splurge and get a banana to share between the five of us, and topped it off with some of the flavored ice cubes sitting on the drink dispenser drain grate under the soda nozzles. Then we headed out to wait for our next FastPass time window to arrive.

While my wife and kids waited patiently for ride number two, I caught the monorail back to the parking lot and sold the Suburban in an all-cash deal to a fast-talking gentleman named Stevie (for what turned out, unfortunately, to be well under blue book value), in order to have a remote chance of financing day two at the park.

I made it back in time to hear all about the second ride, and catch the amazing fireworks show, which, surprisingly, was no extra charge.

Day Two has been just as magical, and even started with another surprise realization that the MaxPasses are only good for one day. What fun!

Anyway, we are having the time of our lives here in line, and it would just be amazing if one of you could plan to pick us up at the main park entrance right after the fireworks show tonight.

And please bring food and water. Thanks a million.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

It's Tax Time, You Fool

Your taxes are due Monday. Don’t blame me. I voted against them.

A few years ago, I thought I would try to make everyone feel a little better about our tax bills by calling attention to some of the wonderful government agencies that our hard-earned dollars go to fund.

So, I went to (motto: “Shut up and write a check”), and looked up the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies. After reading for a while, I realized there was no way I was going to make anyone feel better about paying taxes, so instead I bet myself that I could click on every letter of the alphabet and come up with at least one ridiculous agency that should never have been started in the first place.

I lost the bet. I failed to find an insane waste of money under each letter of the alphabet, but that was only because there were no agencies that started with the letters Q, X, Y or Z.

I have updated the list of current agencies for you again this year. Here’s the fun places your 2018 tax dollars are headed to be mercilessly squandered:

Administrative Conference of the United States (motto: Leave us alone. We’re still conferring. Offsite.)

Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (motto: Buyer beware. And seller, too. We’re coming for all of you.)

Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (motto: It goes in the upper right corner, dammit!)

Delaware River Basin Commission (motto: Getting paid to stare at water since 1961.)

Economic Adjustment Office (motto: Please be patient. We’re redistributing your money as fast as we can.)

Federal Consulting Group (From the website: The Federal Consulting Group offers consulting, executive coaching, and performance and customer satisfaction measuring services to federal agencies.) (motto: For your convenience, now completely staffed with direct family members of congress.)

Government Ethics, Office of (motto: We can’t even fit all the irony into one building.)

House Office of the Clerk (Main functions include running the offices of deceased and retired representatives – I am not making that up.)

Inter-American Foundation (From the website: Provides grant support to Latin American and Caribbean grass-roots groups and non-governmental organizations with creative self-help ideas. Can’t we just send them Tony Robbins?)

Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (motto: We will sue you in as many places as possible.)

Kennedy Center (motto: Please stop asking about Marilyn.)

Legal Services Corporation (motto: That might be legal now. There’s been a lot of changes.)

Marine Mammal Commission (We’re investigating the narwhal. He seems like a troublemaker.)

National Agriculture Statistics Service (motto: We’re still excited about that 1957 bean crop!)

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (This is not where we hide all the bribes and kickbacks and stuff. We swear.)

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (Just kidding, we spent it all. Here’s a third of what you were promised. We borrowed it from social security. Shhh!)

Risk Management Agency (motto: We manage our risk with your money. No problemo!)

Surface Transportation Board (We don’t trust those Department of Transportation guys to handle the surface. There’s just too much of it. It covers the whole country, you know?)

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (We changed our name from “Taxpayer Advocate Service” because too many people thought we would actually help. You’re still screwed.)

Utah (motto: The completely unnecessary state.)

Veterans Day National Committee (We’re thinking November 11th again this year.)

Washington Headquarters Services (We’re here to provide services. To headquarters. In Washington. Don’t ask a lot of questions, OK?)

It really bothers me that since I started keeping track of this list, we, as a nation, have failed to come up with any Q, X, Y, or Z agencies yet. We’re only four more ridiculous money-wasting agencies away from having the whole alphabet covered. Just off the top of my head in year’s past, I suggested the Quicksand and other Swamp Dangers Mitigation Exploratory Committee, the Xylophone Standardization Council, the Yo-Yo Injury Prevention Task Force, and the Zeppelin and Lighter-than-Aircraft (Unmanned) Aviation Standards Advisory Board, and not one of them has been added. It’s as if Washington isn’t listening to me at all. Where’s the Federal Consulting Group when you really need them? (answer: golfing.)

As far as the current agencies go, keep in mind, folks, I limited myself to only one department per letter of the alphabet. This list of agencies whose only concern is to justify their funding for next year could go on for days.

If that isn’t scary enough for you, then I invite you to blissfully ignore that and ponder this instead:

According to Congress, it takes around $5.9 billion per year just for them to turn the lights on and run the show. Not all of Washington, D.C., mind you. Just Congress. Not the White House, plus the Supreme Court, plus the Pentagon, plus the army and stuff. Just Congress. Just under six billion dollars. Billion with a “B.” Six thousand millions.

They “work” about one hundred seventy-five days per year. That means we’re talking $34 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work twelve hours per day, that’s $2.8 million an hour.
That’s $47,000 per minute.
That’s $780 per second. For Congress to keep the doors open.

(And, let’s keep in mind that it was Congress themselves who told us how much they are spending. So, in reality, it’s probably a much higher number, since they have a tendency toward not always sharing all the information, on the advice of the Federal Consulting Group.)

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, the U.S. Congress will spend $9,360 of your money (or probably more) on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more government agencies to help spend the rest of it.

Holy crap.

The real April Fools’ Day is not April 1st. It’s April 15th.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The English Sea - Repost

In honor of the release of the Second Edition of my very first children’s book, My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, I thought I’d re-run a column that came out a few months after the First Edition was released.

The nice folks at the Roseville, California public libraries have inexplicably asked me to host the kick-off event for their 23rd annual Youth Poetry Contest. Apparently, they consider my children’s book, My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, to be full of children’s poetry. I just thought it was full of rhymes, but who am I to argue? After all, they are the professionals here. They are even billing me as, “Local poet, Marc Schmatjen.” Who woulda’ thought, huh?

Thankfully, they were wise enough not to ask me to judge the event. I will simply be in charge of leading a large group of young children through some rhyming exercises and teaching them about the different kinds of poems. I figured that I could pull it off with a little luck and a lot of ad-libbing, so I accepted the job.

In honor of the event, I thought I would try my hand at some poetry. We’re going off the reservation a little this week, but I don’t want you to worry. I doubt that this will be a permanent thing!

“The English Sea” – A Poem of Sorts

Here in the English Sea, it is tough to grammatically wade.
When you hear English, you see, context must be weighed.

Sounding out a word ewe herd? There may be many ways, not just one.
Four instants, there are three ways two spell too, and to ways too spell won.

Consider this:

A bird with the flu, flew up our flue,
But our brand new gnu knew what to do.

You’ll want to cry foul, but alas, my poor dear,
It’s just a wayward ailing fowl and an African deer.

The sentence is sound, it’s grammatically right,
Although its content isn’t something I’d write.

The words all disagree, on the page or the pane,
But they are pronounced with true sameness. I’d call that a pain.

They have a real name: Homophones, don’t you know?
Do they make the English language neat and tidy? No, no, no!

To know your way through them, you need lots of know-how.
Are they easy and intuitive? No way, no how!

Some of them can serve to make sentences sweet.
To hold up your whole body is a feat of your feet.
And the presence of presents makes your birthday quite neat.

Some of them serve to make sentences insane.
If he rode down the road, you’d see him holding a rein,
But if he rowed down the road, then you’ve had too much rain.

But most of them serve to make you feel like you’re losing.
They’re right there, but they’ve left their chairs there. Is that amusing?
It is certainly not. That’s just downright confusing.

Dew knot give up yet. Try this little tail:

The heir to the throne was thrown through the air.
He gave his horse too much rein and regretted his err.
He ended up in the mud on his derriere.
But the err the heir dared was minor, he swore.
A riding faux pas in the rain, and a seat that was sore.
He knew an err in the reign could cost so much more.
It wasn’t so bad to be thrown from one’s steed,
The heir and his father, the king, both agreed.
To be thrown from the throne would be much worse, indeed.

Sea, now that wasn’t sew bad.

In order for your assistants to kindly deliver your correspondence on your stationery,
It would be of great assistance if your correspondents would kindly remain stationary.

On second thought, theirs no hope two bee had.

It doesn’t make sense, its hard not to err,
When many of the scents travel over the air.

My advice is two get reel good at math before you are grown,
Because this language will only make ewe moan and groan.

English has never made sense, and now you see it two,
Unlike dollars and cents, one and won don’t make to.

I really hope I’m not banned permanently from the public library system after this!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Righteous Search?

The internet is an amazing thing. Prior to its invention, it was not possible for me to spend nine consecutive hours watching videos of the greatest plays in major league baseball history from the comfort of my own home office desk, where my legs have fallen hopelessly asleep like the rest of me should be because it’s three in the morning. But the internet makes that possible.

But for all the obvious benefits, I’m getting a little concerned that there may be some unintended consequences associated with having unlimited information at our fingertips. Especially when that information doesn’t seem to be vetted by anyone with an IQ above that of celery, as I discovered on a recent Google search.

For a reason that escapes me, I was Googling the definition of “righteous.”

The first result was an official-looking box labeled “Dictionary,” with the apparently official definition. I say apparently, because I was more than a little skeptical after I read the whole thing.

Being in the second half of my forties, also known as the “My Knees Hurt” half, I grew up with real dictionaries printed on paper and compiled in book form. They were large, cumbersome, comprehensive, and in all my years growing up and into adulthood, no single person I am aware of ever called into question the validity of a word definition found in one of these books. Dictionaries were, by definition, the bible of definitions. No arguments. If it says it in there, that’s how it is.

I even still have one on my desk, an arm’s reach from my computer, but most times it’s just easier and faster to Google a word. I’m re-thinking that laziness now.

The first definition of “righteous” given to me by Google seemed perfectly legitimate:

(of a person or conduct) morally right or justifiable; virtuous.
"feelings of righteous indignation about pay and conditions"

OK, I’ll accept that. Makes sense.

Do you know what didn’t make any sense? The second definition:

very good; excellent.
"righteous bread pudding"

Um… huh?

I mean, I agree with the initial definition. I grew up using the informal US-based slang term “righteous” to denote anything that was extra cool. That’s not in question. It’s your choice of example sentence, dear Google, that I have issue with.

Bread pudding!? Seriously? You needed to come up with an example of something a hip, informal US slang user would say, and “this is some righteous bread pudding” was the winner?

No informal slang user, US-based or otherwise, has ever uttered the words “righteous” and “bread pudding” in the same sentence. I’m not sure where you’re from, or even what bread pudding really is, but I’m quite sure you’re not from Earth, and bread pudding has never been even remotely righteous.

This utter lack of common sense and culinary decency calls into question every single thing you might tell me ever again. You have lost my trust with your ridiculous example sentence, and driven me back to my trusty, tangible, paper bible of words.

I mean, I expect this kind of thing from Wikipedia, but not you, Google. I thought you were better than this.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to watching the highlights from every world series in history.

Righteous bread pudding! You should be ashamed of yourselves.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!