Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year

It is February 29th today. There is not supposed to be a February 29th. Not normally, anyway. It’s a leap year. The whole concept of leap year, and our calendar in general, is very strange. I have never agreed with how our calendar works, and I have decided that it is time to stop the madness. I hereby propose that the world adopt the Smidge Calendar.

Our current calendar is complicated. This stems from the fact that the earth takes 365.2422 days to go around the sun.  If we didn’t do the leap years, we would lose six hours off the calendar every year. That’s 24 days off in a hundred years. Not good. I mean, what if your birthday was in that lost month? No party for you. What if the lost month turned out to be October, and we lost Oktoberfest? Totally unacceptable.

A long time ago, Julius Caesar, a huge fan of Oktoberfest and birthdays, introduced leap years to correct for the 0.2422 day problem. Julius decided they would do a leap day every four years no matter what. That is actually too many, since the day fraction is 0.24 and not 0.25, so things started getting out of whack. Fifteen hundred years later, after people got tired of spring starting in the middle of summer, someone developed a formula. To be a leap year, the year must be evenly divisible by four. If the year is also evenly divisible by 100, then it is not a leap year, unless it is also evenly divisible by 400. Simple, right?

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, and I don’t really have a problem with the leap year math. It’s necessary. What is not necessary is having our months all different. Why have some months with 30 days, others with 31, and one with variable days? It’s too complicated. When I was a kid, my dad taught me a way to tell how many days a month has in it. You count on your knuckles. Start on the knuckle of your index finger as January. Count the months down your fist, landing alternately on your knuckles, and the valleys between your knuckles. When you get to your pinkie knuckle (July), start over on your index knuckle (August). If you are on a knuckle, the month has 31 days. If you are in a valley, it has 30, unless it’s February, then you have to refer to the complicated formula.

The knuckle trick is handy (get it?), but it shouldn’t be necessary. With the Smidge Calendar, you will never need to count on your knuckles again. My months will all have 28 days. Gone will be the days of not knowing what day of the week the 12th of March is. The days will always be the same number. The month will always start on Monday the 1st. Sundays will always be the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th. Simple and easy.

Holidays will always be on the same day. You will always know when Thanksgiving is going to fall, and with the new calendar, we can move some of the more flexible holidays to always fall on a Monday or a Friday. Three-day weekends made easy.

Now, with 28-day months, we'll need to have 13 of them, to make a year.  We’ll have to come up with a name for the new month. We'll make it fun and have a national contest, and pick the most popular submission. This will be a worldwide calendar, of course, but we'll retain naming rights. This is our idea, and everyone else can just get on board. It won't be a hard sell, due to the New Year’s factor.

Thirteen months at 28 days each only gets you 364 days. The all-important 365th day will occur on what is currently known as January 1st. However, it will be known only as New Year’s Day. It will not have a number. It will not be a Monday. It will simply be "New Year’s Day," and it will be a freebie. No work will occur. Nothing will be accomplished. It's a phantom day that doesn't exist on the calendar. Relax and enjoy!

Since we can't do anything about the 0.2422 day problem, we will continue with the current leap year formula, and any leap year will have an extra bonus day, known as New Year’s Weekend. Two totally free days every four years. Winning!

While you will be encouraged to do nothing on New Year’s Day and Weekend, inevitably, a certain amount of children will be born on these phantom days. This is where the Smidge Calendar also has a bonus financial planning aspect. Any parent having a child on New Year’s Day will get to choose whether their new child's official birthday will be December 28th or January 1st. This will allow them to decide which tax year they would like their new deduction and tax credit to fall in. Just a happy bonus feature of a new and improved system.

In fact, I don't mean to brag, but the Smidge Calendar has no discernible flaws. It's way better that the current random 12- month system. The only potential downside I can see is a slight long-term hit to the calendar industry, since calendars will now be reusable.

Now, before all you accountants out there have a conniption fit, screaming about financial quarters, please try to relax. We'll still have quarters, they're just 13 weeks long now. You're supposed to be good at math, so deal with it. Like I said, no flaws.

I anticipate immediate adoption of the Smidge Calendar as soon as the word gets out. The only thing left to do is figure out where to put the new month. I'm thinking between September and October. They always seemed like they needed to be separated a little more. We could call it Smidgetober. It would be a fun month. We could introduce Smidgetoberfest, the Oktoberfest pre-party.

Just food for thought.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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, February 22, 2012

Edible Stroller Recall

After we had our second child, Son Number Two, as we lovingly refer to him, my wife caught me at an extreme moment of weakness and convinced me to buy a stroller. Not just any run-of-the-mill stroller, mind you, but the Cadillac of strollers. Dare I say, the Ferrari of strollers. The B.O.B.

Those of you without young kids are probably saying to yourselves, “What the heck is a B.O.B.?” That’s what I asked when my wife said she wanted one. (It turns out, the original name for the stroller was Beast of Burden, but it was shortened to B.O.B.) When my wife told me how much they cost, I politely told her that it would be a cold day in Hades before I ever spent that much on a stroller. She then started spouting statistics about the B.O.B. resale values. I laughed and said I would rather spend the extra $20 and buy a mid-sized car for the boys. She then began telling me how unbelievably agile they were. I told her that gazelles were agile, too, and it would cost less to have a live one trapped and shipped to our house from Africa on a chartered plane. We could put a leash and a saddle on it, and the boys could just ride it instead.

Then, apparently she drugged me, or hypnotized me, or something, because the next thing I knew I was at REI test-rolling a B.O.B. Revolution Duallie, and saying, “Man, this thing is easy to push and can turn on a dime! And I love the shocks. Plus, the front wheel locks, so I could take the kids jogging. Wow, this is a nice stroller! It’s like the baby-buggy equivalent of a Jeep or a Hummer! This thing could fit three kids in it. Tell me more about the resale values again, honey.” Ten minutes later we owned a B.O.B.

What can I say? They really are pretty awesome, as far as strollers go.

Anyway, I told you that story so I could tell you this one. We used the bejeezus out of that stroller over the next five years or so. I would have almost gone as far as to say we got our money’s worth out of it, but that’s hard to do with a stroller that costs as much as a home mortgage payment. However, when Son Number Three was no longer in need of too much parental mobility assistance, my wife sold our B.O.B. to a nice couple in town for a surprising amount of money. Turns out she was telling the truth about the whole resale value aspect of the B.O.B. phenomenon, and after I wrestled the stack of cash away from her, and bandaged the bite marks on my hand, I felt a lot better about the purchase five years earlier. We really did get our money’s worth!

Anyway, I told you that story so I could tell you this one. Somewhere along the way, the B.O.B. stroller people got our name and address, because I received a safety recall notice in the mail recently. Since we no longer own the stroller, normally I would have passed that information on to the new owners, but since the entire sale was brokered on Craig’s List and transacted in the parking lot at the mall with cash, I have absolutely no record of who we sold it to. Normally, I would be concerned that the new owners should really be alerted to a potential safety issue with something like this, but after reading the Safety Recall Notice, I am not very worried.

“Our records indicate that you may have purchased a BOB Stroller that may present a potential safety hazard. The stroller canopy’s embroidered logo’s backing patch can detach, posing a choking hazard to babies and young children and must be removed to safely use the stroller. BOB is recalling this product in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) and Health Canada.”

I looked at the recall repair instruction sheet included with the letter, and the logo’s backing patch is a soft piece of fabric about the size of man’s thumb. Holy cow, that is dangerous! Since sitting in a stroller is the only place on earth where small children would ever encounter a rogue piece of fabric, I can obviously see the CSPC’s concern on the matter. If a small child ever took enough time off from trying to eat their own shirt, or their stuffed animal’s arm, they might be tempted to swallow an embroidery backing patch. Oh, the horror!

I read the recall notice and was immediately disgusted with lawyers, yet again. Not insomuch for the ridiculousness of the recall itself, but for their sheer lack of initiative. A group of lawyers decided to spend their time and energy to target the B.O.B. stroller company on a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time and money, yet they were so pathetic and small-minded, the best they could come up with was an embroidery backing patch? Have they ever even seen a B.O.B. stroller? I mean, come on! This is one serious piece of hardware, folks.

It has over-center cam-locking latches to hold all three wheels on. A kid could crush his or her finger in those latches, if an adult were present to help them close them tight enough. It has sprocket-toothed gears on both rear wheel hubs that mesh with a spring-tensioned emergency brake bar that you flip down with your foot. If your child was lying under the stroller when you flipped the brake bar down, the spring tension alone would be enough to knock them out cold. And don’t even get me started on what might happen if the kid was riding in the underside cargo compartment while the stroller was moving and they reached out and grabbed one of the wheel hub gears or got their hand or arm between two of the five-point molded plastic wheel spokes. Emergency room, here we come. Then there’s the ever-present danger of over-inflated pneumatic tire explosions and their resulting debris cloud and associated hearing loss issues. Also, there is a pull cord on the back of the stroller, and when pulled hard enough, two latches let go, and the entire stroller folds in half for storage or travel. Did anyone think what might happen if a parent folded their child up in the stroller on accident? Hello internal injuries and claustrophobia! Plus, the entire stroller is just plain heavy. I’ll bet our Duallie model weighed a good 35 or 40 pounds. Talk about dangerous. Add a kid or two, and you’ve got a 120-pound rolling menace on your hands. What if you hit another kid with it, or your kid jumps out and gets run over?

All I’m saying here, lawyers, is apply yourselves a little more. I mean, if you’re really going to try and keep us all safe, let’s concentrate on the steak and not the peas!

I have a feeling if the Consumer Product Safety Commission really had their way, the embroidery backing patch on the shade canopy would probably be the only thing on the entire stroller that the good folks at B.O.B. would actually be allowed to sell. 

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

I am coming up on ten years of marriage, so I thought, this Valentine’s Day, I would help all you guys out by imparting to you all of my knowledge about women. This should be pretty quick.

All you guys out there who have been married longer than ten years can refute this entire article, since marriage is an ever-changing, dynamic situation. All those of you out there who have been married less than ten years, treat this advice like the gospel itself. I know what I’m talking about!

All my vastly limited knowledge about women boils down to what I have learned about “quality time.”

In the beginnings of marriage, usually, unless you did things in the reverse order from the standard procedure, you don’t have any kids. You both work, and other than that, you have no responsibilities whatsoever. It’s awesome. You come home from work, and spend the entire evening together. You go out to dinner all the time, and you have more money than you know what to do with, even though, at the time, you think you’re poor. Boy, were you wrong.

Then the kids come and you find out the true definition of poor. When the kids are newborns, you foolishly think that you have no free time, but again, you are wrong. It is only when they grow up and start going to school and playing sports, and karate, and piano that you truly have no free time.

As your married life progresses and the kids get older and stop staying where you put them, your couple’s together time gets less and less. After almost ten years of marriage and three children, hypothetically 7, 5, and 3 years old, you and your wife see each other for about 20 minutes a day.

As with anything in life, when you start running out of time, you invariably are forced to concentrate only on what is critical. For example, if you were only given five minutes per day to eat, you would not spend any of that five minutes chatting or doing the dishes. You would be stuffing your face with anything that was even remotely edible within arm’s reach for the entire five minute period.

I think, as a general rule, guys tend to be much more pragmatic in those squeeze-play situations than women do. For instance, if a guy is on a boat and the captain suddenly starts shouting orders at him in an excited voice, most guys will tend to just grab the winch handle and start cranking it clockwise like they were told to do. It is more of a female trait to pause for a moment and wonder if the captain doesn’t think they can follow orders without being yelled at, or if they did something earlier in the day to make him angry with them.

When the couple’s together time gets squeezed down to 20 minutes per day, both parties naturally agree that they’d better make that time count, and make sure it’s all “quality time.” This is where the differences between men and women come into play. Both parties yearn for “quality time” with each other, but unfortunately, both parties have different definitions of “quality time.”

Now, like it or not, us men are pretty simple animals. Our “quality time” standard is universal, and does not involve clothing. Enough said.

Women, on the other hand, are very complex and complicated creatures. Their definition of “quality time” is a fast-moving target, based on a multitude of different factors that may or may not include the weather, the rude clerk at the department store, the temperature inside the house, their awesome boss, the cable company, their idiot boss, the smokin’ deal on spaghetti sauce in the paper, the kids’ reaction to dinner, the tone of your voice, the cost of living, the note from the teacher, the situation in the Middle-East, your cute text this afternoon, your son’s snotty attitude, the neighbor’s stupid dog, and any number of other things that you cannot possibly know about, but have a heavyweight bearing on the situation.

Nine times out of ten, your wife’s definition of quality time that day involves you doing a lot of listening, and cuddling on the couch, usually fully clothed. When that is the case, guess what you’ll be doing?

If you thought that you would be receiving some incredible nugget of wisdom or some sage-like advice at this point, you were dead wrong. I’ve got nothing. I don’t know any more about women than I did ten years ago. In fact, all told, I know a lot less.

All I really do know is that you’d better get on board with her definition of quality time if you ever hope to have her get on board with yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and good luck out there, men!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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, February 8, 2012

Low Tech, Low Fat Kids

My wife and I recently won two tickets to go see the Sacramento Kings play the visiting Portland Trail Blazers at Power Balance Pavilion. Since real babysitters cost money, and both sets of grandparents were out of town, we decided that I would take our seven-year-old, Son Number One, to the game and she would stay home with the other two. Win for me!

They were really good seats, down close to the court, so I was almost as excited as the seven-year-old, but he beat me out on the excite-o-meter since it was his first professional basketball game, and he got to stay up way past his bed time, on a school night, no less.

Almost immediately after we sat down in our seats, I became skeptical about the appropriateness of our surroundings for my son. The rap music that was blaring during the pre-game show contained some language that was less than desirable, and I had to answer some pretty interesting questions about the Kings' cheerleaders’ dance moves. Then there was all the swearing from the stands once the game started. (Actually, that was me. The Kings couldn't get a rebound to save their lives.)

It ended up being an enjoyable evening all around, but it served to reinforce my belief that I need to keep my children insulated from the hip-hop/sultry dancer/foul-mouthed sports fan side of life for as long as possible. There is a lot of trash out there, and it is just waiting to be a major influence on my kids if I let it.

The way I see it, the main way that the trash is attempting to enter my home is through the television and the internet. Technology, in general, seems to be my enemy in the battle to raise mentally and physically healthy children. Technology and fast food seem to be my top two foes. Anyone who has witnessed the crack addiction-like effects of television and French fries on a five-year-old cannot argue that point.

My kids sometimes think I'm being mean when I tell them they can't have a Wii, or can't eat every meal at McDonald’s and Taco Bell, so in an attempt to explain my position, I offer them this:

An open letter to my children

I love you very much, and I want you to grow up to be strong and smart. That is precisely why I have these rules:

You will be the last kid you know to have a cell phone. You don't need one. There will never be any hypothetical emergency situation that you can dream up that will change my mind. For the rest of your life, you will always be within three feet of eight other people's phones. You may get your own phone when you can afford to buy one and the airtime plan to go with it. It will be a flip-phone with no Internet access of any kind. If those are no longer available ten years from now, you will be out of luck.

You will never have an iPhone, an iPad, and iPod, an iTouch, or an iAnything. Apple products are expensive -- arguably overpriced -- and you don't have any money. My money is not for buying you iPads. My money is for buying you heat and shelter and food.

We will never own a Wii, an X-box, a DS, a PS3, or any other random string of letters and numbers denoting a video game console. The reason for this is two-fold. For starters, you get enough screen time as it is, since your mom and I taught you how to turn on the Disney channel in the morning so we could sleep in every once in a while. We're not proud of that, but when you have kids of your own someday, you will understand. I do not want you becoming pasty-white, fat little drooling slobs. At our house, your Wii is the back yard. Secondly, I do not want to spend my money on video games. I know you will get all the video game time you will ever need at your friends' houses, and that is a much more financially prudent solution for me.

You will be allowed to have a Facebook account when you are 18 years old, and not a minute sooner. You will be allowed to use the Internet under strict parental supervision to research school papers and look up cool videos of lions attacking zebras and such, but other than that, it is off-limits. If you need to talk to your friends, you may ride your bike to their house, or talk to them at school. If you are the only kid at your whole school that doesn't have a Facebook or Twitter account, I will take that as a sign that I am doing my job. If you don't like that answer, you may get your own job, your own house, and your own computer, and go crazy.

You have already eaten at more fast food restaurants in your few short years of life than I did in my first eighteen. As much as your mom and I try to avoid them, they are somewhat a fact of life these days, but the food at almost all of them is bad for you. I know it’s delicious, but it will kill you early. That is an important life lesson in and of itself. This is the reason that you have to eat all of your broccoli at home, and you never get soda. You will notice that whenever you complain about eating your vegetables, I smile. That’s because doing my job makes me happy.

In short, in an effort to make sure you grow up healthy and fit, your mom and I will feed you right, and strive to make sure that the only technology you ever own as a child is the GPS tracking device that we will have surgically implanted under your skin to keep track of you in your early teen years. You’re welcome in advance.

With love,

P.S. – No, you may not go get a second opinion from your mother.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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, February 1, 2012

Sippy Cups

We did a happy dance at my house a few days ago. We are finally finished with sippy cups. Son Number Three is finally old enough to use a regular plastic cup and keep it at the table or the counter when he drinks. No longer is he allowed to roam free around the house holding a sippy cup of milk. This is a BIG deal for us, and I’m guessing that only parents who have experienced the modern-day sip cup can really relate, but I will try to explain.

The sippy cup full of water is no big deal, but water isn’t why you bought sippy cups in the first place. You bought them so that your kid would stop splashing milk on the furniture and the carpets. A sippy cup of milk is no big deal either, until it goes missing.

Now, nobody has just one sippy cup. You have to wash them on a fairly regular schedule, and you might even have more than one sippy cup-using rug rat, so chances are you have at least two and probably more. This seemed like a good idea at the time. “We’ll just buy this convenient five-pack of sippy cups, that way we’ll always have them available for our precious offspring, plus they’re cheaper this way. Aren’t we smart!” No. As it turns out, you’re stupid, because now, since you have multiples, when one goes missing you don’t notice right away.

The problem is compounded by the multiple colors that the sippy cups come in. The ever so misleadingly non-convenient five-pack has five different color sippy cups. That makes sense at first glance, because you’re thinking you’ll be able to keep track of them better. That might actually be the case if the right color lid ever stayed with the right color cup. And they might if it was just the parents handling them. Insert kids into the mix, and suddenly it’s chaos. Blue cup with yellow lid. Purple cup with green lid. Anarchy. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a sippy cup in my house with the correct color lid.

What’s the big deal, you might ask. Well, I’ll tell you what the big deal is. The big deal is that when your wife asks you if you’ve seen the purple sippy cup in a while, you have no idea. You’re pretty sure you saw the purple one this morning, but it may have just been the purple lid you’re remembering. Or was it the red lid on the blue cup? Now this conversation is going to take a lot more of your time than it really should. Whatever you were doing is put on hold until you can verify the whereabouts of the purple cup and/or the purple lid. No luck? Well, sir, that’s not good. Now we’ve got a broken arrow. A sippy cup is officially missing somewhere in the house.

The modern day sippy cup is the result of years and years of post-moon landing-era engineering and material science. They are incredible. They only let the milk out when you suck on them, and they don’t let air in or out. They have plastic air-tight screw tops and removable silicone rubber one-way valves in the lids. This makes them expensive, hard to clean, and indispensable for parents who enjoy owning furniture that does not smell like sour milk.

It is their air-tight, spill-proof nature that is both their greatest feature and their fatal flaw. Since it is in a perpetual state of hermetical seal, a sippy cup full of milk can remain hidden under a couch or behind a desk for weeks without anyone noticing. It will only be searched for when its absence is noticed, not because it smells. Once you finally realize that you haven’t seen the purple one in a while, you have absolutely no idea how long it’s been gone.

Anyone who has ever owned a gallon of milk and a refrigerator has surely experienced what happens when the milk gets too far past its sell-by date. It develops a little film on top and starts to smell a little sweet. Let it sit in the fridge a few more days and you may start to see some curdling taking place, and the smell gets a little stronger. You then take it out of the nice, cold fridge and pour it down the sink while holding your nose and lamenting the fact that you didn’t get your money’s worth out of that gallon-gone-sour. Oh, well.

That is nothing like what happens to milk in a sippy cup under a couch.

Milk in a sippy cup underneath a couch at room temperature goes a whole different kind of bad. It undergoes a special kind of chemical transformation that is usually reserved for things at the dump or things in hell, and turns to a cross between tapioca pudding and beige house paint. The smell is almost indescribable. Crack the lid on a rogue sippy cup and you will be wishing for the carefree days of the sour fridge-milk smell. And, unlike the jug from the bad gallon of milk, you are obliged to try and salvage the sippy cup itself, since they are expensive. So, you are left at your kitchen sink, fighting back your gag reflex, and scraping chunky house paint that smells like death itself out of all the little cracks and crevices in the cute purple sippy cup.

Every time you do that, you think to yourself, "Man, I can't wait for the day I get to throw these things away. I don't ever want to smell this smell, ever again, ever."

It occurs to me, as my boys grow up, that much of the early parenting experience is marked by milestones that involve getting rid of smelly or annoying and inconvenient stuff. All told, I can't remember very much about the last seven years, since much of the early parenting experience involves sleep deprivation. I remember very clearly, however, the day that each one of them was done with powdered baby formula, and baby food, and diapers. I clearly remember the days that Number One and Two graduated out of their car seats, and I will always remember the day, just a few short days ago, when I threw away the last sippy cup we will ever own.

I mean, I think it was the last one. I hope it was the last one! It better have been. Although, come to think of it, I'm not sure I actually saw the purple one... Dammit! I'd better go check under the couches.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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!