Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Post-Easter Egg Hunt

We learned a few things this year when we had our annual Easter egg hunt. We do a traditional event with a few real hardboiled eggs that the kids colored the day before, and then a lot of snap-together brightly colored hollow plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, M&Ms, and miniature candy bars. The eggs are hidden by the Easter Bunny, and the kids go haywire trying to procure as much sugar as possible in a limited timeframe.

The first thing we realized was our kids are surprisingly bad at finding small semi-hidden things. I always figured they would be really good at it, since they are closer to the ground. Not so. Most of the time, we had to stand over the egg, pointing to it, because verbal directions were just not cutting it. “It’s the only bright pink thing in that otherwise completely green and brown bush! Come on, dude! How hard is that? I can see it from all the way across the lawn!”

Maybe they’re all colorblind? That would explain a lot of the shirt/shorts/socks combinations that Son Number Two comes up with. My wife thinks their lack of ability to find things stems from the fact that they share my DNA. Many times she has accused me of going completely blind as soon as I open the door to the refrigerator or the pantry.

“Honey, where’s the hot sauce?”
“In the door, right in front of your face.”
“No, I already looked there. It’s not in here.”
(Sound of wife coming to the refrigerator, sighing heavily)
“Here it is.” (Handing me the hot sauce 0.13 seconds after arriving at the open refrigerator)

I have been certified completely un-blind by the DMV, so it is obvious to me that she has these things ingeniously hidden somewhere and then pulls a David Copperfield when she steps in front of me to retrieve the obviously hidden item, magically making it seem as if I am a doofus and it was right in front of my nose the whole time. I have no idea why she does that, but she’s good at it. She could have her own gig in Vegas.

Anyway, the second lesson we learned this Easter is to count the eggs before you hide them. If we had done that, we would at least have some idea of how many are still missing, because we have no idea where they were all hidden. That brings us to the third lesson we learned: Be careful who you have doing the egg hiding.

My wife and mother-in-law had spent the night before Easter filling the plastic eggs with candy, and as previously stated, neglecting to keep a count. On Easter morning, we all woke up, had breakfast, and headed for church. Not really one for a lot of churchin’, my father-in-law volunteered to stay behind and play the part of the Easter bunny. It had been on-again off-again rain in the early morning, and it was not clear which direction the weather was headed, so to be safe he opted to hide half of the eggs inside the house, and half of them outside. He did a very thorough job. The only problem was that apparently, as soon as an egg was hidden, its location was immediately erased from his memory.

Well, we got home from church and the kids immediately went at it, gathering as many eggs as they could while running at top speed. It was like watching a polo match without the horses or giant croquet mallets. Little colorful eggs getting kicked everywhere by children too excited to slow down long enough to actually pick them up on the first try.

When we had seemingly run out of places to look, the kids finally slowed down enough that we thought we could get a rough count of the findings.

“How many have we found?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t trust the boy’s math.”
“How many did we make?”
“I don’t know. A lot.”
“Dad, how many did you hide?”
“I have no idea.”
“Do you think we got them all?”
“I have no idea.”
“Does this look like how many we made?”
“I can’t tell. They’re all open now so it looks like twice as many.”

After some conferencing by my wife and her mom, and some rough guesses as to how many the kids had found, and some unanswered questions to the hider remaining unanswered, we decided we had probably not found all of them. The kids were already knee-deep in candy, so they didn’t really care, and we were getting hungry, so the Easter egg hunt unofficially ended with some debate about whether or not it was really finished.

I am here today to tell you that it was not.

We had rounded up and bagged all of the kid’s candy after they had devoured as much as they could get away with, and put it in the pantry for safekeeping and future orderly distribution. Later that day, however, the kids were a little too quiet upstairs and I went to investigate. I found them sitting silently around a pile of plastic egg shells and empty candy wrappers, chocolate smeared on their faces, dazed looks in their eyes, just one or two milligrams of sucrose away from three simultaneous diabetic comas. They had stumbled upon a previously unexplored section of the game room, and came up with two or three eggs each. So much for dinner.

The next morning as I was heading out the door to go to work, I found about six neighborhood kids in my front yard shrubbery. Most of them scattered like roaches when the light comes on, but the few brave souls who didn’t make a break for it informed me that a kid on his way to school had noticed a plastic Easter egg under one of our whatchamacallit bushes, and upon further investigation, had apparently hit the mother lode. It wasn’t too long before we had nine or ten kids searching our front yard and by all accounts, doing quite well for themselves. My apologies to their teachers that day!

After work that evening, I made a concerted sweep of both the front and back yards and came up with another basket full of eggs that had gone undiscovered the previous morning. Much to the boy’s dismay, those went into the trash under the guise of candy going bad if it stays outside too long, what with all the ants and ticks and fleas and whatnot. Everything except any mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, of course. Those don’t go bad, and need to go into Daddy’s tummy.

Well, I thought that was that. I had surely found them all.

I am here today to tell you that I had not.

The next evening I mowed the grass. The front lawn was uneventful, but the back lawn was downright exciting. In a surprising and painful kind of way.

About midway through the back lawn I ran over what I can only guess were two or three candy-filled plastic Easter eggs that had somehow remained hidden through all the various searches. If you have never hit a plastic Easter egg with a lawn mower blade spinning at 3600 RPM, I can assure you it is eventful.

Any chocolate that was in the eggs was instantly vaporized into a cloud of shiny gold and silver tinfoil dust. The plastic egg shells splintered into roughly 8000 individual shards of pastel-colored shrapnel and assaulted my shins and ankles with a fury that any military superpower would envy. Luckily, this all happened very quickly, so the other projectiles were away from the energy source and heading for their targets before the egg shell shrapnel had dropped me fully to the ground. It was the jelly beans that were the real weapon. Thankfully, I only took a direct hit from one of them, and it was on the side of my shoe where it was only able to cause major damage to one of the bones in my foot. The rest of the jelly beans dispersed from the bottom of the mower at about 400 MPH in all directions. Thankfully, our wooden picnic table took the majority of the beans heading toward the house, saving our sliding glass door from certain death. Many of the others were slowed slightly below lethal velocity by ricocheting off of nearby toys, trees, and bushes, but one or two of them got away clean and had a straight shot at the fence.

There are at least two holes in the fence that I’m pretty sure were not there prior to the jelly bean Claymore mine touching off under my mower. I’m pretty sure at least one of the high-velocity treats hit the neighbor’s dog… or one of their kids. I heard a high-pitched yelp, anyway. I would have investigated further, but I was down and crawling for cover.

The moral of the story is simple: If you’re going to hide eggs, people, keep an accurate count! And a map! And shinguards.

Besides my injuries, and possible unknown injuries to our neighbor’s pet or offspring, I have one more real concern. We know for a fact that there were eighteen hardboiled eggs that the kids colored, and we have only accounted for thirteen of them.

We are just praying they are all outside. We’ll find out soon enough.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wordy Endings

We all know about the dreaded “Dear John” letter, and maybe you have even received one in your day. Chances are, if you have, it went something like this:

Dear John,

When we first started dating I thought we would be together forever. But, as the months have passed, I have found us growing farther and farther apart. I have tried my best to work through our differences, but it is clear to me now that we just want different things out of life.

I don’t want to drag out a failing relationship any longer than necessary, so I am leaving you. You will always have a spot in my heart, but I must move on. I wish only the best for you in your life without me.


Things are a little different these days, with more and more segments of our population seeming to have their own languages. Among other things, these new forms of communication have drastically altered the way some of us say goodbye.

As an example, here is a recent “Dear John” letter from a corporate executive:

Dear John,

As we efforted to leverage our core competencies to grow a win-win valueship, at first I was convinced we had a winning solution set with massive back-end upside.

However, as mission-critical as your role has been in the framework of our enterprise, it seems that I am tasked with the lion’s share of the heavy lifting. Even in times of narrow bandwidth and actionable strike points, when we needed to be “all hands on deck,” you remained unincentivized. At the end of the day, we need to effort to be future-proof, and our current paradigm cannot be scaled to leverage a win-win without a dynamic, value-add synergy.

I have “opened the kimono” on our valueship and actioned to effort a paradigm shift in our synergy, but to no avail. After gaining some tribal knowledge from our core associates, it seems we are at a tipping point with our core values and core principles, and despite my immersion in the efforting, at the end of the day, without buy-in from your side, our valueship just doesn’t have a long tail.

Therefore, I am hereby diverging our win paths and dissolving our current enterprise. Going forward, I will be efforting to leverage my core competencies in new markets.

Best regards,

If you thought that was cryptic, get a load of this “Dear John” letter from a local realtor:

Dear John,

When we first started dating, I thought our relationship was as solid as granite. You had fantastic curb appeal, you were well maintained, low maintenance, and very well appointed. We were both “original owners,” and I thought that meant our relationship would be a great investment.

As the months went buy, however, I have begun to notice some quaint features about you that are too numerous to mention. When I realized our relationship needed TLC, I was willing to negotiate. Maybe I was just being a motivated buyer, or maybe it was a seller’s market, I don’t know which, but I was willing to put in the sweat equity to keep us from being back on the market.

I had thought you were a gourmet, but it turns out you are more “granite feel” than “sub-zero.” I thought you were a low-maintenance man who was in move-in condition. In reality, you seem to have a lot of deferred maintenance and are more of a fixer-upper than I had anticipated.

At this point, with what I have found after the initial inspection period, I am going to “back out of escrow” and make an offer on another fully furnished model. He’s a ranch style guy who has gorgeous features and really shows well. Sorry for the short sale on our relationship, but I have to move quickly. He’s priced to sell and going fast!

Bringing your dreams home,

Yikes! If you thought that was hard to follow, wait until you read this recent example of a “Dear John” text from an unidentified teenager:

To: Jonny327
From: cool-jane-girl99
u used 2 m8k me :)
u used 2 m8k me LOL
now u m8k me :(
i m de-friending u on fb and xing u from my contacts
:( :( :(

As much as I don’t like the new abbreviated texting language, all things considered, I like the third option the best. You can’t understand any of them, so if you’re being dumped, at least the text is a faster read. They say brevity is the soul of wit. It may also be the soul of breaking it off!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


If you have been on a freeway in the last 20 years, I think you’ll agree that we need a better solution to the obvious problem of rush hour traffic congestion. You may be someone who believes that the gasoline automobile is a detriment to the environment in some way, or you may be someone who just really doesn’t like only going 7 MPH on a road that was designed for 70 MPH. You may even be both. Whatever your point of view, I think we can all agree that there are just too many cars on the freeways during commute hours.

It seems pretty obvious at this point that our governments – on a city, state or federal level – have become far too cumbersome to do much of anything worthwhile on a public works basis anymore. I doubt any government entity anywhere could get a 10-foot by 10-foot backyard redwood deck built inside of a year, so simply building us some new or wider freeways to relieve the congestion is probably out of the question.

Fortunately, as with most of life’s little quandaries, I have a plan. It’s called Smidge’s Wonton Interstate Traffic Congestion Household Employee Relocation and Optimization Operation, or SWITCHEROO. And, like almost every other aspect of your life, the IRS can help with this, too. The fact that we must drive to work is not going to go away, so let’s all just severely decrease the amount of miles we need to drive. The IRS already has very detailed records of who goes to work, where they work, and where they live, so the math is almost done already. We simply link up the IRS databases with the new SWITCHEROO algorithm, and let the computer tell us where to go.

Here’s how it will work: The computer will crunch the data and find matched pairs of gainfully employed people. To keep things on a somewhat equal footing, the computer will match men with men and women with women. I’ll explain why in a minute. The algorithm will note that Joe Blow works within one mile of John Smith’s house, and John works within one mile of Joe’s house, but they both live over twenty miles away from their own jobs. Since Joe could be the CEO of a bank, and John could be in charge of the sour cream gun at a Taco Bell, switching jobs doesn’t make any sense. I mean, can you imagine if a bank had someone in charge who was making risky decisions? Unthinkable!

The smart thing to do is to have Joe and John switch houses.

Now, this program is meant to ease freeway congestion, not to cause a nationwide family upheaval, so the families will stay put. Only the workers will move. This is why we have matched men with men and women with women. Joe and John will switch houses, and inherit whatever family situation comes with the house. John may be a lifelong bachelor who suddenly finds himself with a wife and three kids. Joe may instantly become single again after many years of marriage. Who knows what new and exciting home life may await you when you get your SWITCHEROO relocation notice in the mail!

Every attempt will be made to match the switching pair’s ages as well, but there can be no guarantees. It will be quite a challenge just to keep the pairs the same sex, so age may become an issue in some instances. But what is life without fun challenges, right? The twenty-one-year-old single girl from the big city may suddenly find herself as the mother of a nineteen-year-old. If that teenager happens to be a girl, a wonderful friendship could result. If the teenager is male, all we can do is just hope his father has control of the situation.

Suzy, the twenty-something newlywed may suddenly find herself married to Fred, the eighty-something widowed Wal-Mart greeter. In that case, I think we all need to look on the bright side and say, good news for Fred!

Besides the age issue, sexual orientation is simply too complicated a subject to be entered as a parameter in the SWITCHEROO program. Also, as far as I know, the government wouldn’t have any record of this kind of personal data anyway, would they? Probably not. As with all large-scale operations such as this, there will be some unavoidable hiccups. A husband and father of four kids may suddenly find himself living with a gay man. Again, I think it’s best to look upon these unforeseen consequences as fun little challenges. This could be an opportunity for both of them to start dating again, or an opportunity for one of them to discover a whole new lifestyle. Who knows!

Besides the fun new interpersonal relationships that will develop from the program, an unexpected and pleasing change in your financial situation may result as well. Since the IRS has loads of data on your finances, as with the age issue, the SWITCHEROO program will make every effort to match income levels whenever possible. We must not lose sight of the main goal of the program, however, which is traffic elimination. For that reason, the program will optimize the moves based first on commute distance, and then attempt to factor in all the other ancillary issues such as age and tax bracket. Again, I think we need to keep sight of the goal, and take whatever disparities are inadvertently caused in stride.

Your 850-square-foot dark and gloomy apartment might suddenly become a sprawling 8000-square-foot estate house with a full-time maid. On the other hand, your overwhelming $5000 monthly mortgage payment might instantly become a trifling $150/month space fee for your new double-wide at Shady Acres Mobile Estates. It will be important to focus on the positives as we move forward with this invaluable operation.

Speaking of positives, the possibilities are almost limitless for unexpected and interesting changes in the lives of our commuting workforce.

Do you have massive personal debt? It could be wiped away forever.
Hate your neighbors? Get new ones!
Unsuccessful in raising your own kids? Get a fresh start with a new batch.
Only time will tell what powerful and inspiring stories will result from this much needed program.

SWITCHEROO should be a boon for our economy as well, since untold millions of hours will be freed up each day to devote to work instead of driving. No doubt, each and every one of us will use this new found time wisely and in the best interest of our employer, helping spur on a vibrant and flourishing America.

I know what you’re thinking. “It will never work. It will be too messy. I won’t be able to understand the forms.” Not to worry, folks. We have thought of everything. The IRS will handle all the paperwork for you. There won’t be one single form for you to fill out, because you don’t even have to apply for the program. You’re already signed up! All you have to do is report to the address shown on the SWITCHEROO relocation notice that you will be receiving shortly, and you’re done. Your transition to your new life will be seamless, effortless, and a whole lot smoother every morning without all that driving!

Have fun with it, America, and enjoy your new life! I can’t wait to see where I’m going!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Don't Keep the Change

Lately, when I go to the local 7-11 to get my daily tanker-truck-sized barrel of soda, a strange thing has been happening. They have been resisting giving me my change. For a while now, if they owe me a penny back in change, instead of giving it to me, they will simply close the cash register drawer and look at me as if the transaction is complete. Sometimes if I stand there long enough with my hand out, they will hand over the copper coin, but often they will just continue to stare at me with a blank expression. In those cases I simply retrieve my rightful change from the "give penny - get a penny" change dish on the counter. Invariably, if it is a certain male clerk working the register that day, he will laugh at me!

The other day, one of the female clerks stepped it up a notch. She owed me two cents back and did the same thing. Register closed, blank stare.

Now I know what they’re thinking. It’s just a penny and we all shouldn’t have to bother with it. And I know what you’re thinking. Take it easy, Scrooge McSmidge! It’s just a penny. Loosen up a little!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not such a miser that I am incredulous about being shorted a penny. What I am is logical, and what I am incredulous about is the lack of logic associated with beginning to ignore change in any form. If you take a minute to think it through, you have to ask, “Where does it end?”

We have already clearly delineated the end point in the dividing up of the dollar. We all decided not to go any further than 1/100 of a dollar. One cent. That’s where we stop. (With the exception of gas stations which use 9/10 of a cent in a ridiculous attempt to trick you into thinking their gas is one cent less than the other guy’s. Seriously, fellas, you’re not fooling anyone!) So if we all decided that one cent is where we’re going to draw the line, then what happens when someone starts ignoring the lowly penny? The logical progression is easy to follow.

There are two possible motivations for the anti-penny behavior. Either they are ignoring the penny because it is a physical coin that they don’t want to deal with, or they are ignoring one cent because it is an amount they do not want to deal with. Both scenarios are fraught with problems.

Problem Number One: If you are attempting to ignore pennies because you don’t want to deal with the physical coin, then you have a legal problem. As long as pennies are still in circulation, then it is legally OK for me to pay you with pennies, and therefore your convenience store penny phase-out program is doomed. You don’t feel the need to give me my penny back in change, but I am quite sure you won’t just give me a case of beer for free because I want to pay with 2000 pennies. So you are both philosophically and legally in a bind.

On the other hand, if you are attempting to ignore the idea of one cent, based on its perceived smallness or insignificance, you run into an even stranger dilemma. Problem Number Two: Besides the obvious problem of deeming the building block of the entire monetary system as invalid or worthless, there is a math problem that is ugly. If you deny me my one cent, you are saying in essence that we are only working with whole dollars, because the dollar is the only logical end to the anti-cent sentiment. They have already begun the progression by trying to ignore my two cents change, so why couldn’t I make the case that if I’m five cents short, or ten cents short, what’s the big deal? It’s just ten cents. Two cents, ten cents, what’s the difference? Give me my soda! If I can ignore ten cents, why not twenty-five, and so on, and so on. As soon as you are willing to ignore cents in any amount, you are defaulting to whole dollars.

The whole dollar system would work fine in theory, as long as everything in the store is priced in one dollar increments. The big problem is, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. I’m not willing to pay a dollar more for the 44-ounce soda than I would for the 32-ounce one, and the store won’t sell them both at the same price, so here is the dilemma my local 7-11 is faced with. If they really want to start ignoring cents, then they must be willing to deal in whole dollars. If they can’t price everything in increments of a dollar, then they must be willing to round. That’s where it gets ugly.

Rounding will not work for one very obvious reason: If you are going to round up, you must be willing to round down. I am not willing to pay a dollar for something that is priced at 51 cents, and I’m quite sure that 7-11 is not prepared to accommodate the hordes of bums and teenagers that would flood their stores to “buy” all the items priced under 50 cents for free.

I might try to spend an extra three minutes or so one morning explaining to the clerk why their change ignore-ance program isn’t going to work, but there’s a problem with that, too. At my 7-11 there is enough of a language barrier across the counter that I will never be able to adequately convey my point. My only hope is that this written explanation gets circulated through my store as well as every other convenience store in America, and someone can properly translate it when necessary.

Until then, I guess I will just have to keep my hand out and demand my pennies, until the clerk gets around to reading my two cents.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!