Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pinewood Derby

Son Number Two is a builder. He started with Legos, but long ago abandoned them in favor of my Dewalt driver drill and 4 x 8 sheets of plywood. He has his own tool belt. His favorite Christmas gift this year was a Home Depot gift card. He buys construction screws in bulk.

He builds mostly weapons and shelters. He would have been a good medieval villager. He has a “fort” on the side of our house – fully visible from the street, so as to curry favor with our neighbors – made of OSB plywood, discarded fence wood, and random 2 x 4’s. It looks like an Afghan refugee camp from the outside, but inside it has furniture and running water, which most Afghan refugees would probably love. Come to think of it, his fort might actually have an afghan inside since he also crochets.

So, when our neighbor came over and asked if he would like to compete in their cub scout troop’s annual Pinewood Derby race, he naturally said, “What’s a Pinewood Derby?” After they explained that you built a car and raced it, he was all in. He was slightly less enthusiastic later when I explained that he wasn’t allowed to add a motor to the car, but he got over it and remained adequately enthused.

We have never been involved in scouting, but we did see the movie Down and Derby, so we were already alert to some of the tendencies of dads to take over the project, to the detriment of the child’s overall experience. No way was I going to make that mistake! As a recovering engineer, I would definitely need to refrain from interjecting myself into the design of his car. I would help with the cutting of his wood block, but past that, I’d let him do all the work.

After discussing his plans with him, it turned out he was only planning on sanding, painting, nailing, and gluing. When I asked about his plans for 3D prototype printing, honing, powder coating, dynamic balancing, and wind tunnel testing, he just stared at me blankly. It was his project, so I let it go.

One minor area I helped with was reading the instruction sheet. He was given an official Pinewood Derby kit, with all the materials included he would need to build the car. Immediately sensing the piece of paper with all the annoying words was useless, he tossed it aside and got right to work. I had a feeling that whoever bothered to type the words on the paper might know a little more about the Pinewood Derby rules and car specs than us, so I retrieved it from the garage floor, making an old man noise as I bent down, as is my custom, and read the instructions.

You are allowed (and encouraged) to sand your axles down for less wheel friction. Since the axles provided were basically just nails, I seconded the encouragement to sand them down. He sanded for a few minutes and got bored. I tried to explain the disastrous negative effects on forward gliding motion as a result of increased wheel bearing friction to him, but he just shrugged. I found some time to sand in the evenings.

The car can’t be longer than 7 inches. He drew his car-shaped design on the side of the pinewood block provided in the kit, and asked me to cut it out. I told him no way I would consent to cut it out, because his design was less than 7 inches long. Why would you shorten a car that is supposed to go fast? Who does that?

Once we had a 7.000-inch-long car cut out, it was time to think about where to mount the axles and wheels. The car came with standard slots for the axle nails, and guess what? Captain Derby wanted to use those. Hello?? McFly??? The rules state that you could increase the wheelbase, as long as the wheels don’t stick out past either end of the car. Why would you use the shorter wheel base? Are you trying to lose? We will of course be drilling new axle holes for the longest wheel base possible.

You can only use dry lubricant on the axles. He asked me if we had any and I said no. He just shrugged and said, “I guess we won’t use any then.”

What? Are you crazy? No lubricant? Didn’t it ever occur to you that we could go online and order a special aircraft-grade Teflon/graphite blend, guaranteed to obliterate the standard dry metal-on-plastic coefficient of friction, from a custom dry lubricant manufacturer in Dayton, Ohio? What the hell are they teaching you in the sixth grade?

The car is allowed (and encouraged) to be painted. He just wanted to use spray paint from the garage shelf. Well, that sounds like a great way to lose. Why don’t we just put glue and feathers all over the outside to slow it down even more? No, we’ll be getting a three-part acrylic resin underlayment with an epoxy top coating that we can buff to a mirror shine. You go to bed, I’ll handle the fourth and fifth coats.

The car can’t weigh more than 5 ounces. When I explained that you wanted it as heavy as possible, he actually said, “We’ll just get close.” Good call, son. Maybe when we drive to the race, we can just get close, but not actually go inside. Not only do we need to be 5.0000 ounces on race night, but we need to run a whole battery of tests to decide proper weight placement and distribution. I’ll take it from here if you want to go play.

In the end, we had a great time building the car together, but I really wish I had more time to dedicate to the project. I wasn’t totally happy with the car on the morning of race day, but I was able to take the day off and do some tweaks and modifications while he was at school. By race night I thought we had a pretty decent product. Certainly good enough to take first place in this small town rinky-dink division.

We came in fourth out of eleven cars. Fourth! I’m deeply disappointed, not in our design, but with the other dads. I am seriously questioning the shaping and ground clearance specs on Dad Number Three’s car. I guess nothing else got done that week at his aerospace firm. I’m assuming Dad Number Two owns a machine shop specializing in turning, grinding, and polishing miniature axles, and don’t even get me started on Dad Number One’s custom recessed underside lead weight arrangement. Talk about hijacking the project from the kids.

I’m glad my son and I didn’t fall into that same trap. We had a great time together designing the car. I think he really enjoyed penciling in the car’s initial profile on that block of wood. And I think he learned a lot when I explained to him why his design was crap.

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to get back to the design and prep work for next year, and I need to figure out where those other dads buy their wheel lubricants.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What's in a Name?

Usually, at the beginning of each year I do an “About the Author” column to help our new readers get to know me a little better by learning some incredibly interesting facts, like my favorite breakfast cereal, and which shoe I put on first.

Recently, however, I have begun to notice how many other Marcs there are on, so in lieu of a “getting to know you” column this year, I thought I’d go with a “getting to know who I’m not” theme.

When you go to Amazon looking for one of my books (two-thirds of my sons think they’re really great), and you start typing my name in the search bar, things can get confusing.

For instance, if you just type in “Marc,” there can be a lot of misleading suggestions dropping down for you.

Marc Jacobs is not me. Apparently, he’s some big shot fashion guy from New York. He seems to only design things for women. In contrast, I know nothing about women and even less about women’s fashions.

Marc Anthony is a singer who is also not me. I can’t sing. I think he also dances, so that’s strike two. He might also have a line of expensive women’s hair care products. I don’t know anything about women’s hair care or even men’s hair care. I don’t even have any hair to care for. Strike three.

If you type in my first name, but have no idea how to spell my last name (and who could blame you?), but you suspect it might start with a consonant, you’d be right! Being the shrewd guesser you are, you would probably choose the right one and type “Marc S.” This still presents problems.

One of the first drop-down suggestions Amazon will give you is Bruno Marc shoes. Marc is my first name, not my last, and I don’t make shoes. I own shoes, but none by Bruno Marc. His shoes seem fairly affordable, though, so maybe I’ll grab a pair.

Marc Secchia might be your next choice. You’re getting closer, because he’s an author too, but he writes prolifically about dragons. I can’t even spell prolifically, and I don’t write about dragons.

You might be tempted to click on Marc Singer, but I’ve already told you, I don’t sing. And I was also not the super-buff star of the 1982 smash hit The Beastmaster, even though people get me confused with that guy all the time.

I am also not Marc Shapiro, even though he’s an author as well. He seems to write unauthorized biographies on semi-famous people. If I were going to write a biography on someone, chances are I would get their permission first. I hate getting sued.

If you happen upon Marc Stevens in your drop-down choices, beware. He writes what appears to be very low-budget erotica. I am a children’s book author. Those two things don’t go together.

Marc Simont and Marc Silvestri are also not me. They are illustrators of books. I am not. I wish I was, but my stick figures don’t even look like people. It’s sad, really.

If you have a near-photographic memory and somehow remembered that my last name starts with “Sch,” you can still get into trouble. Typing in “Marc Sch” brings up more issues.

Marc Schelske is a Christian author and also seems to be a singer. I’m a Christian, and also an author, but “Christian author” usually gets you a specific type of book. And we’ve been over the whole singer thing. The world does not need to hear me try to sing. The unruly crowd at the karaoke place made that abundantly clear.

Marc Schoen, a man who is also not me, is a Ph.D. in something or other who has also written books, two of which are entitled When Relaxation is Hazardous to your Health, and Your Survival Instinct is Killing You. He sounds fun, huh? I, on the other hand, want you to live a long, healthy life. And I think you should relax and take a break whenever you want, unless you’re my pilot.

Marc Schorin is not a real person, but I am. His name comes up because a lot of people who want to learn how to stop relaxing keep misspelling Schoen.

Marc Schiller is a real person, who wrote a real book about his really weird life story. He’s the real-life victim of the insane kidnapping and murder plot by three steroid-junkie Miami personal trainers known as the Sun Gym Gang in 1994. Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson play two of the idiot bodybuilding criminals in the recent movie, Pain & Gain. I have never, to my knowledge, been kidnapped by muscular lunatics.  

Once you’ve got as far as “Marc Sch,” if you’re good enough to guess the next letter correctly as “m,” you should be home free. I think I’m the only “Marc Schm” on the Amazon suggestions list.

So there you go, new readers. Now you know a little about who I am and a lot about who I’m not, as well as how to avoid the pitfalls and successfully navigate to “Marc Schmatjen” on Amazon. Thanks for joining us! Browse around a while and see if there’s anything that catches your eye. And for any of you veteran readers who already have some or all of my books, I would sincerely appreciate an honest Amazon review from you or your kids. Thanks in advance!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Roar of the Antioxidants

I know what you did on Sunday night. No, not that. The other thing. Yes, on New Year’s Eve you declared to yourself and the rest of the party guests that you had a resolution. Some of you may have even remembered what it was the next morning.

This is the year you’re finally going to eat healthy.

You fool. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Sure, healthy eating sounds great and all, until you really hear it. It made me deaf.

I was like you once. All full of New Year’s resolution, ready to kick those junk food habits and eat clean. It was going to be great. A few years ago on January 1st I fired up my new healthy diet. And what’s healthier for breakfast than a fruit smoothie? Answer: nothing.

Bananas, apples, peaches, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, and even some spinach thrown in there. How could I go wrong? Just toss it all into my wife’s Vitamix blender and flip the switch.

Holy horsepower, Batman, this thing could blend a brick. And wow is it loud! I mean, I’ve made my fair share of margaritas over the years, but those old blenders never sounded like this. Even crushing ice with the “frappe” button when the Oster was switched to “high” wasn’t half as loud as this Vitamix just chopping up some fruit.

Sweet mother, I’m only at 7 on the 10 dial. What the hell does the “high” switch do? Oh, it makes the blender sound less like a NASCAR engine and more like one of the jets on a 737, that’s what.

Wow! This thing is insane. Our antioxidants are going 400 mph. I just made a fruit smoothie in 2.6 seconds. I love this blender!!

Turbo smoothies became a morning staple, and eating clean was going great until one night a few months ago my whole family started getting agitated and walking around the living room saying things like, “Where is it?”, “Who has it?”, and “Is it in the couch?” Everyone was annoyed but me, and I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.

“What are you looking for?”
“The watch!”
“What watch?”
“You don’t hear that?”
“Hear what?”
“You’re joking, right?”
Now they were all staring at me incredulously instead of looking for some watch.
“You don’t hear the watch alarm going off in this room right now?”
“What watch alarm?”
“You have to be kidding.”
“Here it is,” said one of our boys, finding the offending digital watch under the corner of the couch. He held it up. “Hear it now?”
“Hear what?”
At this point they all can’t believe what they’re hearing (or more to the point, what I wasn’t), and I think they’ve all conspired against me in some half-assed and altogether idiotic plot to make me think I can’t hear anything. Then they handed me the watch. Holding it in my hand, I was still convinced I was being punked. But when I held it up to ear – literally pressed against my ear - I could finally hear the beeping. Faintly.

Hmm… that can’t be good.

A few weeks ago I took the boys to their annual check-up visit at the doctor. As part of the initial tests, the nurse put headphones on them and checked their hearing. All three boys laughed and told the nurse that I was the one he should be checking. He offered to check my hearing when he was done with them, so I put the headphones on and prepared to raise my hand when I heard the beep.

It was a long time before I ever raised my hand.

At one point, I stopped and told the guy I thought the headphones weren’t working. He assured me they were working fine. He knew they were because everyone else in the room could hear the beep coming from the headphones – located ON MY HEAD – and I still hadn’t raised my hand.

Apparently, as kids we are supposed to be able to hear sound frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Your standard middle-aged man can hear between 20 and 16,000 Hz, and an old man should be able to hear between 20 and 8,000 Hz.

Normal conversation happens at 4000 Hz and below, which is good news, because I could hear the beeps below 4000 Hz. It’s above that where my problem lies. I seem to be just fine from 20 – 4000 Hz, but severely iffy between 4000 and 5000.

Above 5000 Hz I have the hearing of a grapefruit. Nada. Zip. I max out 11,000 Hz below my own age group, and old-timer grandpa can hear 3000 Hz more than me.

Drastic measures need to be taken. Hearing aids? Of course not! Hearing aids are for old people. I’m just going to stop using the Vitamix. Fruit smoothies have obviously destroyed my hearing, so fruit smoothies must go before I start hobbling around with a cane saying “Eh?” to everyone I meet.

Be careful what you wish for. Eating clean has been proven to be incredibly dangerous. That’s why this year my New Year’s resolution is to get back to my old habit of eating Oreos for breakfast. Oreos are silent. Oreos can’t damage your hearing. It’s science.

Happy New Year,


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Be Best Life! - Repost

It has been 364 days since I posted the column below about my favorite Christmas gift of all time, and to this day, my family and I are still quoting Son of Wang.
“The simplicity is comfortable.” Enjoy!

I got the best Christmas gift EVER this year. It’s a crappy ninety-nine-cent as-seen-on-TV plastic bag sealer that is really hard to operate and works poorly. I could care less about the bag sealer. I am in love with the little cardboard box it came in.

The WORKWONDER SUPERSEALER is made in China by a Chinese company that obviously has two copywriters. One of these people has some background in using the English language. We’ll call him Bob. The other has to be the owner’s son, and after disappointing performances in many different departments, copywriter was the least harmful position his dad could think of to stick him. We’ll assume the owner’s name is Mr. Wang. Mr. Wang doesn’t know any English either. Bob is obviously terrified of Mr. Wang and won’t tell him that Son of Wang partied continuously for four years at the international university in Beijing and knows no English whatsoever.

In a few places on the box, Bob invites me to Just slide SUPERSEALER across bags to seal in freshness!

Son of Wang tells me, Relaxed onepulls, guarantees quality to retain freshness. Based on what we get from Son of Wang in his main paragraph, I guarantee Bob helped him with the last half of that sentence.

Here’s Bob’s effort on selling us on the amazing benefits of the SUPERSEALER:

Finally an inexpensive and easy way to perfectly reseal unused poutions of food. This amazing new SUPERSealer creates an airtight seal that locks in freshness.
You simply slids SUPERSealer along the edge of any bag and it’s sealed airtight. It’s that easy. You’ll not only save on storage bags, but you can save even more buying bulk at warehouse clubs. Just use your SUPERSealer to reseal any unused portions over and over again!

I never claimed that Bob was great. I just said he has some background in English. He’s not the best speller, but I do have to give him credit for using American sayings like, “locks in freshness,” and “it’s that easy.” That would suggest that he has a better than average grasp on American English than your standard WORKWONDER employee.

Here’s what Son of Wang had to offer us. I swear, I am not making any of this up, and keep in mind, folks, this is written on the SAME BOX as Bob’s paragraph.

Have sometimes been able to affect your state of mindbecause of a lot of situation such as damp , becomingmildewed , depraved , water leaking from in the dailylife, have used you feel very vexed , good under this , have had the convenient plastic bag of new model seal implement , have all have made stable , no matter howvexed your nonutility be. Collection such as all food , clothing and other articales of daily use , postage stamp, you have put plastic bag lining inside as long as with them , seal machine has taken form lightly with convenient adheaive tape of new model as soon as the fault , one have protection against the tide , mould proof, the herm etic sealing bag retaining freshness. Such is simple , the simplicity is comfortable, be best life!

After reading the box about a hundred times (and laughing out loud every single time), I have to assume this conversation took place at the WORKWONDERS office prior to printing the box:

“My dad wants you to proofread my copy, Bob. What do you think?”
“This is the most unintelligible thing anyone has ever written. What the hell, Wang?”
“My dad is the owner. I’ll have you fired.”
“Looks great. Let’s print that box!”

Thank you, Son of Wang, for giving my family our new motto for 2017.

Be best life!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The 2017 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

You’ve done it again, haven’t you? It’s December 20th and you haven’t written your annual Christmas letter yet. The stores were sold out of holiday stationery three weeks ago and you just don’t have the energy to think up a bunch of lies about how “successful” everyone in your family has been.

You were probably thinking the situation was hopeless, but like every other important decision you made this year, once again, you’re wrong. Finally, for once this year, there’s hope. I’ve got you covered! The 2017 DIY Christmas letter is here, just for you.

So, pour yourself another 100-proof glass of eggnog, bubble in the appropriate choices with a #2 pencil, fill in the blank if needed, and you’re all set.

You don’t have to thank me. It’s just what I do.

Christmas 2017

O   family member,
O   close friend,
O   friend from thirty years ago that I probably wouldn’t recognize even if we were introduced,
O   co-worker who sent me a Christmas card last year so now I’ve added you to the list,
O   ex-co-worker who I rarely, if ever, see, but it would be awkward if I took you off the list and then saw you in January,

Merry Christmas from the
O   Smith Family!
O   Gonzalez Family!
O   Lee Family!
O   Johnson Family!
O   Other _______________!

We feel so blessed to
O   have you in our lives.
O   see you once in a while.
O   hardly ever run into you.
O   have been able to avoid you that one time at Walmart by ducking into the bedding aisle and hiding in the pillow display.

We had another
O   amazing
O   nice
O   disappointing
O   mind-numbingly bad

year around here!

Dad has been
O   keeping busy
O   mostly staying out of trouble
O   incarcerated
O   embarrassing the family

all year. He continues to
O   work and enjoy his job.
O   goof off more than he should.
O   add time to his sentence for bad behavior.
O   avoid his responsibilities at all costs while making a complete ass of himself.

Mom still
O   works with kids
O   lays on the couch
O   abuses her Xanax prescription
O   shoots her mouth off

every day, and we’re all amazed at her
O   energy level.
O   ability to do nothing.
O   incoherent speeches.
O   ability to make every other life form on the planet dislike her.

Sister has a new
O   fiancé
O   iPhone
O   idiot yappy little Taco Bell dog
O   street corner
O   all of the above

and we are all getting
O   excited for the wedding.
O   way too many emoji texts and stupid duck-lip selfies with graphics added to them.
O   money together to hire a doggy hitman.
O   tired of bailing her out of jail.
O   all of the above

Brother and his wife are
O   expecting their third child in a few months
O   coasting, relationship-wise
O   moving further away from us
O   finally splitting up

and we
O   can’t wait to meet the newest grandbaby!
O   don’t think they’ll make the long run.
O   only wish they were moving further.
O   are thrilled to see her go because none of us ever liked her in the first place.

The grandkids continue to
O   grow like adorable little weeds
O   break things at our house
O   grate on our nerves
O   be a constant source of shame to our family

and they
O   couldn’t be smarter, cuter, or more talented.
O   never offer to pay for anything they break, the little cheapskates.
O   are completely without manners or decorum in any and all situations.
O   make us seriously consider just leaving them at a rest stop.

We certainly hope your year has been
O   as blessed as ours
O   filled with joy
O   better than ours was, for your sake
O   free from the need for police intervention
O   better than your last year, you sorry bastards

and we count you among our
O   dearest loved ones.
O   B-list friends.
O   annual holiday obligations.
O   list of people we keep in touch with for comparison, to make us feel better about ourselves.

If you’re ever in town, be sure to
O   stop by!
O   text us and maybe we can grab a coffee or something, if we have time.
O   see the new mall.
O   keep driving.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

You’re welcome. Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Golfing with Bob - Repost

The world recently lost a great man. Bob Loperena, Sr., my wife’s grandfather, passed away last month. He was just 99 days shy of his 100th birthday.

He smoked a pipe and ate nothing but sugar and bacon his whole life, so let that be a lesson to you kids out there.

The family got together over the weekend and had a wonderful memorial service, telling stories and remembering his long, successful, and amazing life. Anyone who ever met him was better for the experience, and us lucky few that were related to him count our time with him as a true gift from God.

Here’s something I wrote about him in July of 2011:

Bob is 93 years old. He can't hear, can't see very well anymore, and can't walk very fast. He has his own golf cart, and when we drive up to the first tee, the starter knows him by name.

I am 39 years old. I can hear and see just fine, and I can run when I need to. I don't own my own golf cart, and the starter doesn't know me from Adam.

We step up onto the first tee box at Morro Bay on a beautiful summer morning with the slight ocean breeze making a gorgeous day just that much better. Bob has lived in this idyllic beach paradise for 60 years. I just visit occasionally.

I swing my club back and forth in large exaggerated arcs, trying to stretch the muscles in my back. Bob laughs at me and says that I'm wasting a lot of precious energy. He does not warm up.

It is the 4th of July weekend, and my family and I are in town to celebrate our nation’s independence with my wife’s family. Bob knows a thing or two about liberty, and what it takes to keep it. He was the pilot of a Navy bomber at an early age during WWII. He fought for the freedom of the civilized world, and returned home in one piece to tell about it.

His commitment to liberty has remained strong his entire life. He has been retired for many, many years now, never having had a boss. He worked for himself his whole life, free to schedule in as much golf as he could get away with. He scheduled in a lot of golf! I only manage to find time for golf when I’m on vacation. I don’t play much.

It’s time for us to tee off on the 480-yard par-five. I'm up first. I square up with my driver and let it rip. My backswing comes way over my head with the club shaft coming parallel with the ground, and my follow through comes all the way around so the club's shaft is vertical behind my back. It's a picture-perfect amateur’s swing. My ball takes flight and rockets out away from the tee box. As I admire its trajectory, it defies my wishes, slicing to the right, leaving the airspace over my own fairway and ending up coming to rest 270 yards away under a small tree on the other side of the cart path. Bob laughs at me and says, "Boy, if I could hit the ball as far as you do, I'd be unstoppable." He takes his driver out of the bag and shuffles up to the box. His backswing barely gets more than 10 degrees behind his legs, and his follow through is non-existent. He hits it 100 yards. It goes straight up the middle of the fairway. 

We hop in Bob's cart and drive to his ball. He gets the 3-wood out of his bag and hits it again, 100 yards, straight up the middle of the fairway. He keeps the 3-wood handy as he gets back in the cart, knowing he'll need it again. We drive straight up the middle of the fairway to his ball, which he hits again, 100 yards, again, right up the middle of the fairway.

We then take a sharp right turn off the fairway to find my ball. My ball is under a tree and the tree is between my ball and the green. The smart move is to hit a short sideways shot back onto the safety of my own fairway. Not always one for the smart move, I opt to try and knock down a 3-iron, under the tree, at a slight angle to the green, making up some ground and possibly getting to the edge of the green for a chance at birdie. I let it rip. I am an idiot. My ball skips off the side of the tree I was under, and hits the neighboring tree square in the trunk, sending my ball ricocheting backward at a 45- degree angle onto my own fairway. I have lost 50 yards with my second shot. Bob chuckles and tells me that I’m going the wrong way. I thank him.

We drive the cart away from the green toward my ball. I really get ahold of my 3-wood on my third shot and hit the ball almost 250 yards again, slicing to the right again, landing almost pin-high, but to the extreme right of the green, almost on the tee box of Hole 2.

Bob hits his fourth shot 100 yards, straight up the middle of the fairway.

Bob hits his fifth shot 70 yards, onto the green, 5 feet from the pin.

I chip my fourth shot all the way over the green, landing near, but luckily not in, the sand trap on the left side of the green.

I re-chip for my fifth shot, onto the green, 17 feet from the pin.

I putt my sixth shot to within 6 feet of the hole.

Bob easily makes his 5-foot putt for a bogie six.

I miraculously toilet-bowl my 6-foot putt into the hole for a double-bogie seven.

Bob has beaten me by a stroke on the first hole. This continued all morning.

He never hit the ball more than 100 yards at a time the entire round. I got ahold of one drive on Hole 13 that I swear went 320 yards. Big deal. He beat me by 11 strokes.

Bob shot his age. At 93 years old, he shot a 93. I don't want to talk about my score.

Bob has shot his age every year of his life since he was in his 60's. If you aren't a golfer, suffice it to say, that is something that all golfers – including the pros - wish they could do.      

I have had the pleasure of getting beat by the old man for quite some time now. Bob is my wife’s grandpa, and a fantastic Great Grandpa to my boys. When I started playing golf with him, he was in his early 80’s and he beat me by 20 strokes or more every game. I’m not getting any better.

He teaches my boys to putt whenever they slow down long enough for him to hand them one of his ancient wood-shafted putters and show them how to line up to play the break of the game room carpet. Maybe they’ll be good.

On this Independence Day weekend, when I reflect on my many blessings as an American, getting to spend time with Bob is on my top-ten list. He is one of the people in my life that I hold in the highest regard.

He has taught me a lot about the importance of controlling the golf ball over the years, and one day I might just start listening.

He has taught me much more about the importance of liberty over the years, and I have hung on every word.

He has never needed to lecture me greatly about either subject. His actions, his happiness, his success, and the story of his life do the majority of the talking for him.

Thanks, Bob. Happy 4th of July!

We’ll sure miss you,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

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 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!