Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Special Delivery

Let me just start this by saying I love almost more than my own kids. I get hives just thinking about driving past the mall, let alone actually trying to park and go in, so Amazon is a Godsend. Plus, I like to shop in my underwear, and they kick you out very unceremoniously when you try to do that at the mall.

I especially love Amazon when it comes to Christmas shopping. I can get everything I need from the comfort of my own underwear, and the Amazon website never makes snide comments about my mental health or tells me to join a gym.

I love that about them, and apparently, quite a few other people feel the same way, because this time of year the UPS drivers come in pairs – one seasoned employee to drive the truck while sipping a pumpkin spice latte, and one poor sweaty bastard from a temp agency to run up and down approximately ten million driveways every twelve-hour shift.

Despite all my love and devotion to Amazon, I do have to take issue with something I’m seeing as the holiday delivery season ramps up. I’m not sure if UPS and FedEx just can’t handle the whole load, or if Amazon just thought Uber was a cool idea, but they are now hiring private individuals to deliver some of the packages.

That’s great and everything, but it’s becoming glaringly obvious that these folks haven’t completed the same rigorous package delivery training courses that the UPS and FedEx drivers are required to take. And if they have, it seems some of them were absent for theft deterrent day.

Porch piracy is a big problem these days, prompting millions of Americans to install cameras in their doorbells, so they can use their mobile device to actually watch their packages being stolen from their porches in real time while they’re at work. They are then able to post an out-of-focus video to the internet, asking if anyone has seen this blurry thief, possibly either male or female, between the age of thirteen and seventy-two, who may or may not have been wearing clothes.

Besides amazing camera technology and complaining on the internet, one big deterrent of porch piracy is simply keeping the packages out of view from the street. Our porch, for example, has a few good-sized nooks and crannies, and one large post that could hide a new refrigerator fairly well. That’s why I was more than a little surprised by the package delivery location my amateur Uber-esque delivery guy chose the other day.

Our Blu-ray player can still play DVDs just fine, but it decided to stop playing Blu-ray disks. Go figure. So, in my rich tradition of combining things we need with my wife’s birthday and Christmas gifts, I got her a new Sony Blu-ray player from Amazon.

The skilled delivery guy pulled up in his Nissan Sentra and, scanning the porch area and all its good hiding spots, decided the best thing to do would be to PROP THE BOX UP ON THE FRONT DOOR THRESHOLD, so as to be as visible as possible from the street. Maybe he likes to admire his deliveries one last time as he drives away? I’m not sure.

What an idiot, you might be saying to yourself. But wait, it gets better. In another turn of events that I guess constitutes one more thing I need to chastise Amazon about, the box of Sony thief candy was not packaged inside an Amazon box. It was just delivered unwrapped, in its store display Sony box, that said SONY in big letters. And to be extra helpful to the thieves that might be experiencing some degree of illiteracy, the box artwork included nice color pictures of the expensive contents.

So Captain Delivers-A-Lot basically put a poster on the bottom of my front door advertising “Free Blu-ray players! This porch only! Supplies are limited! Act fast!”
I mean, he may as well have just left it in the street.

Speaking of leaving things in the street, I guess it could have been worse. When I came home, at least I would have wanted to pick up my new Blu-ray player out of the gutter. While my guy skipped anti-theft day at delivery school, at least one contract delivery driver extraordinaire right here in the greater Sacramento area missed the all-important “don’t poop on the street in front of the customer’s house” seminar.

I’m not making that up. Some guy in Sacramento has blurry, but-good-enough-to-see-what-you-really-didn’t-want-to-see video footage of a lady in a U-Haul van, squatting in front of his driveway and leaving him one Christmas delivery that you just can’t buy on Amazon.

I guess there’s a minuscule chance that she was trying to help. She may just be an outside-the-box thinker when it comes to theft deterrent methods, and she was setting a trap for any would-be porch pirates, but something makes me doubt that as a possible motive. I think she’s just a crappy delivery driver. (Get it?)

Seriously, Amazon, I love you, but what kind of fly-by night, poop-by-day operations are you hiring to bring us our boxes? Do us and yourselves a favor and put a few more people in the Delivery Driver Qualifications and Standards Department. You don’t want any more customers having to say, “Hey, I didn’t order this crap!” (Last one, I promise.)

Oh, and U-Haul – you guys might not want that van back. There didn’t seem to be any wiping happening on the video.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, November 29, 2017

Canine vs. Teen

Today is Son Number One’s thirteenth birthday, and the new Lab puppy is officially five and a half months old. It’s tough to say which one of them smells worse.

You might not think it, but besides their general malodorousness, there are a lot of other striking similarities between a teenage boy and a half-grown dog. Let’s stack them up against each other and see which one you’d rather have in your house, shall we?

Obstinance is a key similarity. Both are testing their personal authoritative boundaries by pretending not to hear my voice. This rarely ends well for either of them. This is a draw.

Urine continues to be an issue. For the dog, she has mostly stopped peeing in the house, with only an occasional excitement dribble now and then. For Son Number One, toilet spray issues have not improved for the last eleven years. Advantage dog.

Constant noise – For the dog, it’s barking. Thankfully, not at night {sound of me furiously knocking on my wooden desktop}, but many times during the day, both inside and outside. For the boy, it seems to be a lot of excess energy escaping his body via his mouth, like a boiler’s pressure relief valve. He emits a near-constant stream of random noises in the form of yelling nothing in particular at the top of his lungs, incoherent screaming, singing, clicking, popping, smacking, yelling at his brothers, and occasionally, being dumb enough to yell at us. We have purchased an anti-bark training collar for the dog that vibrates and beeps at her when she barks. It seems to be working. So far, I have not been able to find any such (legal) device for the boy. Advantage dog.

Eating food as fast as I can prepare it – The dog eats like an industrial suction truck, but at least I can buy a thirty-two-pound bag of her food for under thirty bucks. The boy is an avowed carnivore, just like the dog, but he eats more than she does, and his food seems to always cost way more than a dollar per pound. Advantage dog.

Rambunctiousness – Both animals have a ton of excess energy, but I can usually pair them up with each other or one of the other boys to burn it off. Draw.

Chewing up shoes – The dog will maul any unsupervised footwear she can find, sometimes even while it’s on a foot. The boy chews up shoes almost as quickly through scooter riding and general outdoor play, but he’s growing so fast, it tends to be a moot point. The only real issue with his shoe abuse is that Son Number Two gets fairly shredded hand-me-downs. (We help assuage Number Two’s concerns about this by reminding him that life isn’t fair, and to shut up.) Advantage boy.

Dog breath – they both seem to have it, but only one should. Advantage dog.

Messing up the house – They both come tearing in the house leaving a trail of muddy footprints behind them almost every day, so this aspect is a draw. They also both spread clothes and toys all over the house like it’s their job, but occasionally, under the right circumstances – usually involving threats upon his life – I can get Son Number One to pick up after himself. Slight advantage boy.

As we can clearly see from this list, it is far more enjoyable to raise a puppy than a boy. Simply getting another dog based on this evidence doesn’t make any sense, though. It would need to be a trade, ideally with a full-grown and matured dog that’s well-behaved, for my teenager. But besides the fact that no rational person would consider that a fair trade, it’s also probably illegal, so don’t even think for a second that I was seriously considering it. (Unless you know someone who could broker the deal.)

Happy birthday, Son Number One. You get to keep living here, for the time being. Now go share your dinner with the dog.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day traditionally filled with family, love, turkey, and yelling at the ref that that pass interference call was crap.

Along with those things, as with many families, we have a tradition around the dinner table of naming the things for which we are thankful. And also, in my case, overeating.

I thought I would get my list together today, before I am too stuffed to think straight (and breathe correctly, for that matter), so this year I might come up with something to be thankful for other than Tums.

Here are a few things off the top of my head:

Peach Snapple
Ziploc bags
Breweries large and small
Four-wheel drive
My books
Other people’s books
Dr. Seuss
Garbage disposals
A/C in the car
AC/DC in the car
Tabasco Green Pepper Jalapeño sauce
Indoor plumbing
Babies (other people’s)
How babies are made
Kids (sometimes even my own)
Puppies (other people’s)
Dogs (sometimes even my own)
Pork products
Family and friends who bring pork products
Opposable thumbs
Toilet paper
Duct tape
Dave Barry
Forever stamps
The five-second rule
Braces (not paying for the braces, just the braces)
Every day it’s not windy
Rick Riordan
The San Francisco Giants (most years, not this one)
Getting to be a coach
Getting to be on a couch
Fortune cookies
That travelers’ checks (cheques?) are no longer a thing
Every day without a school project
The fact that the book is always better than the movie
Compound interest
Lifetouch School Portraits, for all the humor they bring into my life
J.K. Rowling
Any time the house doesn’t smell like boys’ shoes
Our church
When my phone works through buttons and speakers in my car
Google maps
Whoever invented the refrigerator
And most importantly, my amazing wife.

That’s probably enough for now. Feel free to steal any of those for your own tomorrow.

Have a great Thanksgiving,


Copyright © 2017 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, November 15, 2017

Coast to Coast Dirt

It is time once again for our annual house cleaning. When my beautiful wife went back to work full-time and left me here to type away on this computer and forage the cupboards for midmorning snacks, I promised her I would handle all the cleaning.

Looking back on it, I think she probably figured I would keep the same cleaning schedule she had been maintaining. She obviously figured wrong.

We’ve had lengthy discussions on this topic, and piecing together all the information I’ve received from her over the years, I think her philosophy is that you’re supposed to clean things almost on a daily basis, so as to keep the house clean.

That makes no sense to me. If you clean every day, the house will never be dirty. Where’s the sense of accomplishment in that plan? That’s like being a cop in a town where no one ever breaks the law. Bo-ring! I don’t want to be Sheriff Andy Taylor from the sleepy little town of Mayberry. I want to be Dirty Harry Callahan from the mean streets of San Francisco. I want the house to become filthy, so when I clean it up, people actually notice.

My wife, bless her heart, doesn’t understand the Dirty Harry movies.

Even though she fails to see the brilliance of Clint Eastwood, she tends to emulate some of his scarier character traits when the house gets a little too dusty, or “disgustingly filthy,” as she calls it. Let’s just say this time of year, when the holidays approach and house guests are imminent, I am glad she’s not armed.

So, the time is upon us once again for the annual deep cleaning. It’s time for this Dirty Harry to send the filthy dirt packing, just in time for the family Thanksgiving week.

At least, it was time, until my entire house cleaning philosophy was turned upside down yesterday by an article on an art exhibit in New York City. A plucky young journalist named Kyle Chayka on a blog called The Paris Review wrote a piece about something called The Earth Room.

Foolishly, I had been concentrating all these years on removing the dirt from my house. I am an idiot. What I apparently need to do is bring more dirt in. A lot more. If I can cover the second floor of my home in a twenty-two-inch deep layer of dirt, I’m in business. If I can do that, my wife and I will never have to work again, the kids will be taken care of, and we can even hire someone to look after it for us.

How so, you ask? Simple. Fill up a second-floor home with dirt, never clean it out, and invite the public to come check it out. Duh.

Here’s a few snippets from Kyle’s column:

On SoHo’s cobblestoned Wooster Street, tucked above North Face and Lululemon boutiques stocked with neon athleisure, there is an otherwise empty, white, second-floor thirty-six-hundred-square-foot loft filled with 140 tons of dirt. It’s open to visitors from Wednesday through Sunday, noon to six P.M.

This is The New York Earth Room, an installation by the New York–based artist and musician Walter De Maria

In October 1977, the German art dealer Heiner Friedrich hosted The Earth Room as an exhibition at his gallery, which then occupied the Wooster Street space, where the dealer also lived in a front apartment. The installation was meant to last for three months, but it never left, and in 1980, Friedrich helped found the Dia Foundation, an art organization that has pledged to preserve De Maria’s work in (more or less) perpetuity. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of The Earth Room’s quiet persistence, which Dia is marking with commemorative events and ongoing exhibitions of De Maria’s work.

De Maria might have created The Earth Room, but its public face is Bill Dilworth, a sixty-three-year-old abstract painter who has been caring for the installation as its curator for the past twenty-eight years. Walk into the back office room past the glass-protected aperture that opens out onto the field and most days you’ll find Dilworth behind a high wood desk. Tall, gregarious, and preternaturally youthful (a result of dirt therapy?), he has thought more about this particular piece than just about anyone. “My life and my experience here is immersed in art, earth, quiet, and time,” he told me. “It’s a continual growth of time.”

I’m not sure if I have too much in common with Walter De Maria, but Bill Dilworth and I are like long-lost brothers. My life has been a continual growth of time as well, and both of the places we work are dirty.

De Maria called The Earth Room a “minimal horizontal interior earth sculpture.” I am now referring to my desk as a minimal horizontal interior dust sculpture.

I’m not sure how much my dust is currently worth on the open art market, but the Earth Room installation is estimated to be worth about a million dollars. A million bucks! And that’s just the dirt, not the apartment it’s in, which is undoubtedly worth more than that.

Hey, no sweat, aspiring New York artists. You want to build your own dirt room, but can’t afford the hefty price tag? I can hook you up. I have twice that much dirt in my backyard, and I’ll sell it all to you for half that price. While you’re here, I’ll even let you come inside and view the dust in my office. The admission is twenty-five dollars for adults. Seniors get a five-dollar discount, and kids ages twelve and under are half-price on Wednesdays.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go look up the words “athleisure” and “preternaturally,” and then I need to start hauling dirt upstairs.

I’ll be holding curator interviews soon, so send in your resumes now.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, November 8, 2017

When Life Gives You Lemons, Start a GoFundMe

I just wanted to take a quick second and update you on the fabulous progress of our lemonade stand fundraiser.

If you will recall, two months ago I started a GoFundMe page in response to the heartwarming and totally logical outpouring of support for the Berkeley, CA hot dog vendor who was running an illegal, unregulated, and most-likely unsanitary hot dog stand outside a football game. The police arrived to shut him down, and took his sixty dollars into evidence.

A nice man filmed the episode while kindly giving the police officer career advice, and then put the video on the internet and started a GoFundMe page to help the then-unnamed hot dog scofflaw with his legal expenses. Naturally, they have raised $93,000.

Not wanting to let that kind of largess pass my neighborhood by, I started my own GoFundMe to raise money for our possible legal fees if our unregulated and unsanitary lemonade stand was ever shut down by local law enforcement. And also in case we needed tacos.

You can find our ongoing fundraiser page at:

Again, here’s the compelling verbiage from our campaign:

Describe who will benefit:
Me (and also my poor, deserving children, maybe)

Detail what the funds will be used for:
Possible legal expenses and loss of income if we are ever hassled by the police over business license issues.
And tacos.

Explain how soon you need the funds:
ASAP! Who knows when we could be unfairly ticketed or shut down.
Plus, we want tacos.

Talk about what the support will mean to you:
After the recent outpouring of support for the Berkeley hot dog vendor, I just figured, hey, people love to support other people who run non-licensed and totally unregulated street food operations, so your donation to this campaign will mean the world to me!

Share how grateful you will be for help:
I will be so grateful for your support, I might even "pay it forward" by giving this money (after any upcoming legal and taco expenses, of course) to my good friends at RPAL - the Roseville Police Activities League - an amazing non-profit organization that helps kids in need, and steers them in the right direction, so they don't grow up thinking they have the right to run illegal businesses.

Well, as you can imagine based on the success of the hot dog guy’s campaign, our lemonade stand fundraiser has taken off like a rocket. Thankfully, we have not incurred any stand-related legal expenses to date, and we’ve been mooching tacos off the neighbors, so just this evening we were able to present the entire amount raised thus far to the amazing folks at RPAL.

Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of good folks like you, our steamrolling juggernaut of a fundraiser has collected an astounding $49.44.

I was proud to present the oversized cardboard check to RPAL tonight at the gala awards banquet. It was tough to get a handle on all the emotions of the evening, due to the media frenzy surrounding the check presentation, but I think I kept my composure admirably.

Remember, you can find our GoFundMe page at:

While we are basking in the glow of high achievement tonight, we must remember a lot of work remains to be done. We’re thrilled with our progress so far, but we’re still about $99,945.00 shy of our goal, so please continue to give generously.

Thanks for your continued support!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, November 1, 2017

Frighteningly Safe

I hope everyone had a safe and sane Halloween last night. It is my sincere wish (as well as the wish of our National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics) that none of you or your children were injured, sickened, traumatized, frightened, scared, worried, startled, disturbed, rattled, jolted, displeased, inconvenienced, set on fire, or over-exercised last night.

You may be saying right now, “Well, yes, Smidge. As a matter of fact my children were slightly startled in one brief instance last night, and I’m still hopping mad about it.”

If that’s the case, you probably did Halloween wrong. You may not be current on all the latest Halloween safety tips and procedures. Unfortunately, that makes you a bad parent. But before Child Protective Services needs to get involved, we’ve all decided to give you one more chance next year.

Please spend the next twelve months reviewing the list below so you’re ready to be a good parent next year.


Select a safe area for trick-or-treating.  Choose streets that are well lighted and landscaped so you can be seen.  Avoid trick-or-treating on streets you are unfamiliar with, and try to go out before it gets dark.

Were you trick-or-treating after 3:30 P.M.? Shame on you. Did you go to the porch of a house that didn’t have perfectly manicured front hedges? That was incorrect.

Always keep the adult who is watching you in sight.  Never go into a stranger’s home while trick-or-treating.  Never get into a stranger’s car or go anywhere with a stranger.

Cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks.  Do not walk out from behind parked cars or try to cross in the middle of the block.

Did you let your kids jump into the stranger’s van to go get the candy that they forgot at their other house? That was wrong. Don’t do that. Did you cross your neighborhood streets at any place other than an intersection? You are an idiot.

Wait until you get home to eat your treats.  Your parents should inspect each item carefully, looking for needles, open packages and other signs of tampering.  Do not eat homemade items prepared by strangers.

This is equally important – If you did find needles, it is not OK to re-use them.

Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for greater visibility.

If any part of your child’s costume was a dark, non-reflective, or ill-fitting garment, your children probably already realize you don’t love them.

Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes. Makeup should be tested ahead of time on a small patch of skin to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises on the big day.

If you have found the first properly-fitting decorative hat in the history of the world, please let the rest of us know where you bought it. Any makeup or face paint that says “made in China” is radioactive. Seeking medical attention at this point is futile.

When shopping for costumes, wigs, and accessories look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.

This is especially important, since every trick-or-treater attempts to stick his or her head inside your jack-o’-lantern, as is customary and traditional.
(Side Note: While fire retardancy is a paramount issue on All Hallows Eve, “The Flaming Wigs” would obviously be a great name for a rock band.)

Do not carry or wear sharp objects that may poke others or damage eyes.  Objects like swords, wands, canes, etc., should be left at home.  Do not carry toy guns that look like real guns.  A citizen or a police officer can mistake a toy gun for a real gun.

Did your child lose an eye last night? That plastic Harry Potter wand was the problem in that instance. Were your kids pinned down behind your neighbor’s SUV for hours in a firefight with local law enforcement officers? Next time simply leave the toy guns at home.

Carry a flashlight to light the way and to alert motorists of your presence.  Never carry candles or any other flammable object.  Do not use candles for decorations or displays.  They can easily be knocked down or can set fire to a nearby curtain or costume.

Did you set yourself, your curtains, and your neighbor’s curtains on fire last night? The candelabra you were using to light your way was the problem. Most cell phones have a flashlight app now. Look into it.

Motorists need to be extra careful on Halloween.  Watch out for careless children who may run into the street without looking.  Expect the unexpected, and anticipate the actions of others.

If you were not “expecting the unexpected” last night, I loathe you. I will spend some time making a list of all the unforeseen issues that might arise in the next year and send it to you, so that you may stop sucking at life.

Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.

Correction – No one should ever carve pumpkins. It’s a slimy, messy job that attracts fruit flies and makes your hands stink like pumpkin guts. We should all stop.

Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and not on a porch or any path where visitors may pass close by. They should never be left unattended.

In summary, a concrete and stucco porch is no place for a small flame encased inside a wet, sticky, flame-retardant gourd. Keep the fire inside your home, on a surface made entirely of combustible materials.

A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.

We’re not sure who wrote this, but they obviously had never met a youngster before.

Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.

Definitely consider doing this if you’re tired of not having toilet paper in your trees, eggs on your house, and soap on the windows of your cars.

Hopefully this list will help you have a much safer and more enjoyable Halloween next year. I know that was a lot of information at once, but you have a whole year to study.

But if you are ever in doubt, just use common sense. You can start by asking yourself five simple questions.

Have I fastened my child to his trick-or-treat buddy with reflectorized tape?

Is my child carrying anything other than a piece of Styrofoam that I bubble-wrapped for safety?

Is the sun still high in the sky?

Are there any dangerous jack-o’-lanterns with insane open flames inside them within a two hundred-foot radius of my child?
You are doing great.

Have we come into contact with any candy whatsoever?
You are a great parent!

Enjoy your Halloween done right next year!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, October 25, 2017

A Twelfth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I have lost the ability to be surprised by how many letters I need to write you folks. Your capacity to suck at your jobs apparently has no limit.

I just felt like you might want an update on the saga of Rat Boy - my fourth-grader whom you took a photo of a few weeks back. As you can tell from the proof sheet you sent us, your photographer managed to capture Son Number Three inexplicably doing his best impression of a hungry rodent on the trail of a delicious odor wafting through the air.

Thanks, again, for that. I thought it was hilarious, but his mom is still holding out hope that you might take a decent picture of him some day, so here we are.

I assume you are aware that today is the day you scheduled for picture retakes. And, once again, you didn’t disappoint in the we-picked-the-worst-possible-day-for-this category. You have managed to schedule your picture days so poorly for so many years I have developed a new theory. I used to think you didn’t have access to our school events schedule, or you had it but didn’t care.

But this same scheduling debacle has occurred so consistently that now I see the truth. You must have our schedule, and you must be reading it very carefully, choosing the most conflicting days on purpose for some maniacal reason I’m not able to comprehend because I was born with the urge to be good at my job. There’s just no possible way someone could pick random days that conflict with our schedule so many times in a row. You would be making your living at a roulette wheel instead of behind a camera if that were the case.

So, I just want to congratulate you on your choice of days this year. You obviously know that this is Red Ribbon week at our school, where we take a stand against drugs by wearing whacky clothes. (Normally it’s the drug addicts who wear weird clothes, but we’ve flipped the script, as the cool kids say.)

Today, of course, is Pajama Day. This schedule overlap has happened multiple times in the past, as you know. It stands to reason, now that I know you’re doing this on purpose. You must be thinking, “All of our pictures are amazing since we’re so damned good at our jobs, so if those ingrate parents didn’t like the picture we took of junior in his Sunday best, I guess they want a portrait of him in his footie Power Ranger jammies.”

That makes perfect sense.

Besides being Pajama Day for the rest of the school, I’m not sure if the fourth grade event scheduled today was on the calendar you received. Just in case it wasn’t, I’ll give you a heads-up.

Each year, our fourth-grade classes learn all about the Gold Rush, culminating in a three-day, two-night field trip to Coloma, CA - the very spot where the first obnoxiously-large nugget of gold was discovered by James Marshall, who then immediately bought the first obnoxiously-yellow Lamborghini.  

A big part of the gold rush experience is getting all dressed up in their 1849 clothes for the trip.

They leave today on the bus.

Thankfully, they are able to get their retake pictures done before they load up. So, the boy you captured the first time looking like a hungry rat will now be re-shot dressed as Clem the intrepid Missourian prospector.

The hat and bandana he’s wearing should play nicely with the theme, but what will really seal the deal is if his teacher can find some black stickum or some electrical tape for his dental work.

If she can’t find what we need, can you guys do me a favor and just digitally edit out most of his teeth? That will complete the look perfectly. I’d really appreciate it.

Thanks a million!


Copyright © 2017 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, October 18, 2017

Witch Books Don't You Like?

I was selling and signing books at a recent event, and a grandmother was perusing my table, asking various questions. She was looking at my picture books for her kindergarten-aged grandkids, but she also had a fourth-grade grandson.

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but I recently released the third book in the Sycamore Detective Agency series. It just came out last week. I think your family will like the series, and I was pretty sure her grandson would, too. So, I was trying to steer her in that direction.

I showed her the books, highlighting the shiny yellow cover of Case Number Three, hot off the press, and inquired about his reading level. I asked what kind of chapter books he was reading.

She responded that she didn’t know.

Trying a different angle, I inquired about what I consider to be the modern universal benchmark for assessing elementary-grade reading ability. (Plus, I just like mentioning my books in the same conversation as hers.)

“Has he read any of the Harry Potter books yet?” I asked.

That’s when things got weird.

She said, with total conviction, “Oh, I hope not. I hate Harry Potter.”

Umm… huh?

To me, as a father, an author, and a human, this idea simply did not register.

I hate Harry Potter. The strange words rang in my ears.


She may as well have said, “I hate water,” or “Puppies are ugly,” or “I hate babies and pizza.” Any one of those things would have made as much or more sense to me.

I was so flummoxed by her comment, I wasn’t even able to continue the conversation. I simply didn’t know what to say.

If she had said, “I’m not sure. I’m not really too much of a fan of those books,” or, “I don’t know. I’ve never read any of them myself,” I might have been able to move forward with the chat. But she didn’t say that.

What she said was she hopes her grandson never reads those books because she hates them. I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask why! I have a life to lead, and in my mind, any person who is going to utter the words “I hate Harry Potter,” is a complete and total conversational and emotional wild card. Asking “Why?” would have been like pulling the pin on a “possibly dead” grenade.

Now, I realize that it takes all kinds to make this world go around, but I wasn’t even aware that this kind existed. Maybe I’ve been living in a literary bubble, but to me, Harry Potter is like a default setting. It’s the taco of the book world. Everyone likes it. At the very least, in the elementary school literary world.

With my mind spinning listlessly into the new reality of the existence of Potter Haters, I struggled to regain equilibrium on my life and on the task at hand – selling my books. After taking a drink of water and willing myself not to run away from my own author table in fear for my life, I said the only logical thing there was left to say.

“These books are nothing like Harry Potter.”

I signed all three of them, “Good luck, kid. You can read these when you’re locked in the closet under the stairs at Grandma’s house.”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Q & Eh?

It’s that time of year again.

Tragically-early Halloween decorations on houses, you ask? Christmas stuff on sale in October at Home Depot, you say?

Well, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s elementary school author visit season for me, and we’re in the peak of it. Reading to and talking with kids ranks in my top ten favorite things to do of all time.

I recently released the third book in the Sycamore Detective Agency series, and I’m thrilled about that, as well. Releasing new books ranks in my top six favorite things to do of all time. I will leave things one through five up to your imagination, and no, one of them is not putting up holiday decorations of any kind.

One of the things that makes school visits so enjoyable for me is the questions the kids ask me about my job. Sure, when I talk to the older grades, I tend to get some silly, trivial questions like, “How do you develop good quality characters?”, and “Can you describe your process for outlining a story?”

Those questions are adorable, so I do my best to answer them with a kind smile on my face, but let’s be serious – that’s hardly what young aspiring authors need to know. Thankfully, the kindergarteners always get right to the meat of the issues.

“Does anyone have any questions for me about being an author?”

“How old are you?”
“Can you read us another book?”
“You’re bald.”
“Could a jackal eat a person? How about a cardboard person? An alien? A ghost?"
“How tall are you?”
“Why are there so many words?”
“Do you know my dad?”
“How did you make the words?”
[pointing to the class library shelves] “Did you write all those books?”
“You have lots of fillings in your teeth.”
“My grandma has those same shoes, but in black.”
“How do you make the words different colors?”
“How do the pages stay in the book?”
“My dad’s name is Mark.”

These are the hard-hitting literary issues that need to be addressed. These are the crucial questions that every budding author should be asking.

My recent personal favorite was in a kindergarten class last week. A little girl in the front row sat pensively for a few seconds after I called on her, then the burning question she had been waiting to ask an author all her life popped into her head.

“Where do you get dressed?”

For a split second, I thought she might be roasting me, and she was going to come right back with, “In the dark?”

She didn’t though. She just gazed up at me and smiled, proud of her insightful literary question.

“In my room,” I responded.

Her eyes went wide. “Wow! Me too!” she gasped.

Well, there you go, sweetheart. You’re practically an author already.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

An Eleventh Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

You know, Lifetouch, I never thought I would need to write eleven separate letters to you, but here we are.

As you know, we broke up with you for fall pictures, so I’m not writing about a problem with my order. There was no order. But after receiving the “you still have time to order” page from you yesterday, emblazoned with Son Number Three’s something-other-than-smiling face on six different fun backgrounds, something needed to be said.

I have tried over the years to help you in many ways. I’ve selflessly shared my time and business knowledge with you. I’ve given you countless nuggets of valuable advice for free, so that you could hopefully begin to see things from a perspective obviously lacking in your organization – that of a human with a brain.

I see now that all my time and effort has been wasted. The 8-1/2 x 11 FujiFilm flyer you just sent me, urging me to purchase beautiful portraits of my youngest son, is glaringly hideous proof that you have not heard a single word I said.

How can I be expected to help you do your job when you don’t even know what it is? You seem to think your job is to sell me pictures of my kids. You are wrong. That is the business you are in. Your job is to take their picture. There’s a difference between the business you’re in and the job you have to do. You can’t survive in any business if you don’t do your job.

I always figured this went without saying, given the business you’re in, but again, here we are. In this country, when people sit down to have their portrait taken, they are expecting to have that portrait actually look like them. It’s their personal choice to smile or not, but inevitably, one hundred percent of them will be expecting to actually see a picture of themselves as the final result.

I imagine by now, you are sensing my issue here, but let me give you some background on Son Number Three just to solidify my point. He is a good-looking kid. And I’m not being an overly proud dad, and I’m not looking at him through rose-colored glasses. Now don’t get me wrong – I think all three of my boys are handsome gents, but Number Three is just flat-out good looking. And so you know I’m not being vain, I’ll tell you he gets it almost exclusively from his mother’s side. He looks just like her father, who looked just like Paul Newman in his younger years.

Our little Paul Newman knockoff has radiant ice-blue eyes and a joyous smile. Neither of those things are apparent in the picture you recently took of him.

Sure, he’s had his past struggles with CFSD (Chronic Forced Smile Disorder), but this issue goes way beyond that. He was one of the CFSD success stories. His last few organized family portraits showed little to no sign of his early issues with the disorder. He has learned to smile for a camera the way he smiles for a joke. You have taken that away from us.

Standing behind the old-timey wooden school chair in the classroom, or the library, or the plain slate gray background, he is squinting like he’s searching for a ship on the sun-glared horizon.

For reasons unknown, his normally room-lighting smile is missing, replaced by what appears to be his facial impression of a rat sniffing for a tasty morsel at the bottom of a Dumpster.

His entire face is squished up, with his lips curled in such a fashion I can envision no other scenario than your photographer asking him to do his best impression of a rodent.

OK, sniff for the delicious garbage. Good! Now curl your lips over your teeth and make the squeaky rat noise. Perfect! Got it. Next.

And a special thanks for the useless free gift at the bottom of this sheet. Your complimentary SmileSafe cards, meant to be an aid to law enforcement in the unthinkable event that my child ever went missing, are completely useless. I would be better off drawing a stick figure of my child and describing his features in Latin to the police than giving them this picture of some random rodent boy. He could be standing next to me when I handed them this picture and they wouldn’t be able to find him.

Tell me I’m wrong, Lifetouch. Give me some explanation, in this age of digital cameras and LCD flat screen TVs, why you couldn’t see how bad this picture was the very second you took it. You have the good-looking happy-go-lucky child right there in front of you. Tell me you could honestly pick him out of a lineup based on the rat picture you just took. I dare you.

The only other remote scenario I can think of that could explain this picture is if you have taken the Americans with Disabilities Act too far and actually started hiring blind photographers.

That would explain this perfectly.

Best of luck,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My Dog is Full of Crap

A month ago, my entire world was consumed by dog pee when our new Lab puppy had a urinary tract infection. It was really great. She was expelling nine to ten times her body weight in urine every hour, fortunately only inside the house.

We got that cleared up with twelve rolls of paper towels and two cans of carpet cleaner for the house, and for the dog, an evil-smelling remedy of apple cider vinegar and Greek yogurt. Personally, I would have rather eaten the carpet cleaner.

Amazingly, even after ten days of ingesting that demonic concoction with her food, her poop remained normal.

All that has changed now.

Now, my world revolves around her poop. Now, a month after the pee issues cleared up, she is experiencing some issues in the bowel region. To put it in layman’s terms, we’ve got poopy puddles and potty problems, people.

By the grace of God, however, she has not pooped in the house.

{sound of me knocking on every wooden surface in the house}

I will spare you the less than appetizing details. Suffice it to say, her poop has been anything but normal lately. If you decide to visit our backyard in the next few days, I would strongly suggest bringing some hip waders and a military-style gas mask.

She’s also having trouble “going” all at once, and has been gracious enough to wake me up multiple times the last two nights to allow me to experience her GI tract problems with her. She’s so thoughtful for a canine.

I just hope this passes quickly, because I am out of ideas. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what she could have eaten that would be causing such bowel-related stress. She has been religious about sticking to the standard Labrador retriever diet. This past week she has only eaten:

Thirty sticks
Six pounds of leaves
One plastic outer coating off a cheap baseball, and half the stitches
Just under three acres of grass
One wayward hotdog, whole
Thirty gallons of pool water
Seventeen pounds of bark chips
A handful of lamb lung toasters –I am not making that up – Treats that consist of little pieces of dried lamb lung with waffle marks on them!
Three-quarters of a foam squishy ball
One pair of swim goggles
Fifty or so Rice Krispies
More or less half a roll of duct tape
Somewhere between six inches and a foot of polyethylene pool noodle
Thirty-six square inches of dog bed plush top fuzz
One paper towel
One Lego man’s head, with space helmet
Half a tennis ball
One gravity-stricken slice of a quesadilla, with sour cream, whole
Two feet of nylon rope
And approximately six hundred little shriveled red plum things off the ground from our neighbor’s tree.

Oh, and about five pounds of actual dog food. But she doesn’t really seem to eat that, so much as suck it in, the way a jet engine sucks in air.

I mean, who knows what could be causing this, what with such a strict diet? Your guess is as good as mine.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

We were LiED to

I’ll bet when Thomas Edison finally got the light bulb to work, he never imagined anyone would look at his amazing accomplishment as an annoyance. But that’s where I am. My feelings on the miracle of electric lighting have tipped. It feels like it’s more trouble than it’s worth right now.

In all fairness to Tommy and his incandescent bulb, it’s the next generation bulbs that I’m annoyed with right now, not his original. I’m talking about LED bulbs, and their blinky, dimmer, and less reliable cousins, CFL’s.

CFL stands for either, Constantly Flickering Lightbulb, or Can’t Freakin’ LightOnTheFirstTry. They are the worst. They were supposed to last seven years and save planet Earth from certain doom. They are not dimmable, and when you turn some of them on, they start as dim as a candle that has just been blown out, and slowly get brighter over a period of ten weeks, give or take.

We had one bathroom where I would flip on the light switch, pee in the dark, flush, wash up, and by the time I had dried my hands, I had just enough light to be able to see the switch to turn it off again on my way out.

And don’t ever break a CFL, because they are filled with mercury and will kill every living thing in a nine-block radius. Also, they cost four to five hundred percent more than regular bulbs.

So why did I spend hundreds of dollars a long time ago to replace every regular bulb in my house with CFL’s? I wasn’t naïve enough to think I was saving the planet. I just wanted to go seven years in between ever needing to change another light bulb.

Besides peeing in the dark, things were going fine until the first one burnt out after nine months. Hmm… that’s less than seven years, I thought. So off I went to the store to enact my constitutional right to a replacement bulb under the Sir Frederick Warranty Act of 1776. It was there, in the lighting aisle at my local Home Depot in Rocklin, California, that I heard possibly the stupidest thing anyone ever said.

Me: “I need a replacement for this seven-year bulb. It didn’t even last a whole year.”
Lighting Aisle Lady: “Did you ever turn it off and on?”
Me: “Yes, of course. All the time.”
LAL: “Well, there’s your problem.”

Uhh… say what?

She then explained to me that the seven-year CFL lifespan only applies if you turn it on once and leave it on for seven years. If you turn it on and off, they do not guarantee how long it will last.

Uhh… say what?

So, never mind the whole mercury thing, how is leaving my lights on 24-7 helping the planet? I reluctantly bought a new CFL bulb and went home to my dim-but-getting-slowly-brighter house.

I waited patiently. Finally, along came LED’s. At first, they cost four thousand dollars per bulb, and didn’t look anything like a lightbulb, but on the plus side, they were bright enough to permanently damage your retinas.

Over time, the light bulb scientists figured out how to make them look more or less like an actual light bulb, and they got them toned down a little on the brightness scale, so now they only cause temporary blindness in people with healthy retinas. And the price finally dropped and leveled out at only three thousand dollars each, or so.

So once again, I spent and exorbitant amount of money replacing the bulbs in my house.

I am an idiot.

LED’s will definitely last ten years or longer, they said. Except one of the two LED bulbs over my head in my office. It will not last ten years. Or even one. It just started failing on Monday. It would go on and off intermittently, plunging my well-lit office into slightly dim, then back to bright. It was like working at a really lame rave.

And don’t even get me started on the dimmer switches. My “dimmable” LED bulbs are a joke. The regular incandescents do a marvelous job of dimming. If you were literally the most boring human on earth and wanted to chart their brightness on a graph in relation to the dimmer switch position, it would be a nice straight line, descending at an angle from “all the way on and bright” to “off and dark.”

My “dimmable” LED bulbs go from “all the way on and bright as the unfiltered sun” to “I can barely tell this dimmed at all and is still so bright I can’t look directly at it,” as you slide the dimmer switch through its full range of motion. A split second before the switch’s “completely off” position, the bulb goes to “momentarily almost dim but still way brighter than it should be,” and then shuts off. It is impossible to keep the switch in a position to maintain the “dim” setting.

I just replaced the bad bulb with a three-thousand-dollar spare, and out of curiosity, I went to the GE Lighting website to see about their warranty.

We're sorry if you've encountered a problem with one of our lighting products.
Defective Bulbs - Fast Service
For an immediate solution, please return the product to the retailer where it was purchased.

Oh, sure, like I’m going to fall for that old trick again. And why would I? The geniuses at GE and the other LED manufacturers have figured out the perfect price point for their bulbs. Six million percent more than the old incandescent bulbs that are not for sale anymore, but still not enough money that I’m willing to spend the time to go to Home Depot or Lowes and hassle with trying to return it.

The guy in the lighting aisle is just going to ask me if I made the unforgivable mistake of ever turning it off.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, September 13, 2017

Now Hiring

Two news stories popped up in my feed this week that immediately caught my attention. One had me laughing and the other had me shaking my head.

I laughed at a story out of Massachusetts - a state that is impossible for me to spell correctly on my own – where a man was arrested for fleeing from the police at a traffic stop, and in the process, running over a state trooper’s foot.

The Mass. troopers have something called the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section, and it was one of those guys who had his foot squished by Jose Jimenez. The story didn’t say if Mr. Jimenez was, in fact, a violent fugitive before the traffic stop, but he hurt a cop while fleeing from him, so he certainly managed to check off both boxes last Tuesday.

Unfortunately, that kind of story is not really news these days, but how Mr. Jimenez tried to hide from the police was. They found his Toyota Camry abandoned after the short chase, but Jose was nowhere to be found.

A witness reported to the police that he’d just seen a man run into a nearby Osprey Wireless store. When police entered the store they found Mr. Jimenez – I am not making this up – filling out a job application.

Unfortunately, the story did not provide any insight into what Mr. Jimenez’s plan was. I can only assume he figured a man of his qualifications would be offered a wireless store customer service job on the spot, they would quickly get him a uniform, and he would seamlessly blend in with his coworkers when the police arrived, thus, avoiding detection.

He would then begin his new life as a wireless salesman, possibly even starting a new family, in his new hometown, leaving his old life of crime behind him for good.

Solid plan, Jose. Sorry it didn’t work out. Maybe your new almost-coworkers could help you out with that $250K bail. We’ll put a fundraiser jar in the breakroom.

My joy from reading about Mr. Jimenez and his brilliant escape plan gave way to utter befuddlement when I read the next story about a hot dog vendor from Berkeley, California.

The story itself shouldn’t have been news at all. A man decided to sell hotdogs on the street without a license to do so. A cop stopped and asked him for his business license. He didn’t have one. The cop confiscated his $60 as evidence and wrote him a ticket to appear before a judge.

No news here. Man cheated. Police caught him. Man is in trouble now.

The story only made the news because some yahoo with a cell phone filmed the whole thing while berating the cop for “stealing this man’s livelihood while there are people down the street drinking alcohol in public and lots of other stuff and why can’t you just leave this poor proud man alone to support his family and boo hoo,” or something to that effect.

The internet then became outraged at the police officer who “stole the nice man’s money,” and the yahoo with the cell phone decided to start a GoFundMe page for the hot dog man to help him with his legal expenses, and maybe also other poor street vendors as well.

The GoFundMe page actually said, The funds raised will be utilized to cover legal and personal loses. In addition, funds in excess are to cover other vendors who have been robbed of their hard earned living through citations and removal of their carts. It is my goal to locate Juan in Berkeley.

Besides the fact that he can’t spell ‘losses’ and doesn’t know when to hyphenate, the cell phone guy doesn’t even know Juan the hot dog man, and he doesn’t know how to get in contact with him. AND PEOPLE ARE STILL GIVING HIM MONEY.

I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. The cell phone yahoo started with a lofty goal of $10K “for Juan’s (and maybe others) “legal and personal loses,” and as of this writing, he has raised $73,000.


So, I would like to take this opportunity to announce my own GoFundMe page that I set up this morning. You can find it at:

Here’s why – Like Juan, I also happen to manage an illegal street vendor operation. My sons run a totally unregulated and non-licensed lemonade stand in our neighborhood, and I am their business manager and their original angel investor when they needed start-up capital. So far, their lifetime earnings are less than Juan the hot dog man’s daily take, but after seeing his post-police involvement success, we are encouraged. Maybe we can make a go of this unlawful lemonade business after all.

I would love for any and all law enforcement in our area to immediately descend on our illegal lemonade stand. Please write us a citation, take our nineteen dollars and book it into evidence, and shut us down. (Please just wait until I have my cell phone video camera ready.)

The Berkeley cell phone yahoo has raised over $70K in three days with a target of only $10K. I have done some very simple math and set my target at $100K. That should get us very close to the one million mark in no time.

Here is the compelling verbiage from our campaign:
(GoFundMe gave me very helpful tips to raise as much money as possible, so I followed their template to the letter)

Describe who will benefit:
Me (and also my poor, deserving children, maybe)

Detail what the funds will be used for:
Possible legal expenses and loss of income if we are ever hassled by the police over business license issues.
And tacos.

Explain how soon you need the funds:
ASAP! Who knows when we could be unfairly ticketed or shut down.
Plus, we want tacos.

Talk about what the support will mean to you:
After the recent outpouring of support for the Berkeley hot dog vendor, I just figured, hey, people love to support other people who run non-licensed and totally unregulated street food operations, so your donation to this campaign will mean the world to me!

Share how grateful you will be for help:
I will be so grateful for your support, I might even "pay it forward" by giving this money (after any upcoming legal and taco expenses, of course) to my good friends at RPAL - the Roseville Police Activities League - an amazing non-profit organization that helps kids in need, and steers them in the right direction, so they don't grow up thinking they have the right to run illegal businesses.

Thanks for your support in this time of need.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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!