Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hot Lunch

Based on current projections, we will not be able to afford college for any one of our boys, let alone all three of them, since it is currently estimated to cost $8000 per minute to attend a university in the year 2024. So, I have been actively preparing our boys for either a life in the military, or life in prison. It could go either way.

When I say “preparing,” I am really just talking about school lunches, and when I say “actively,” what I really mean is that I became lazy and now this is the new plan. I started out strong, but we are currently running on fumes here in the school lunch department.

When I began this school year in my new capacity as Mr. Mom, I was a lunch all-star. I was regularly coming up with new and inventive lunch ideas. Alright, that’s a bit of a stretch. I was willing to take suggestions about what should be for lunch that day, and I agreed to many of the ideas. OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, too. But I hardly ever yelled “No!” at them when they asked for something more difficult than sandwiches. And one time I actually sent them with clam chowder, so there’s that.

Any flexibility I had at the beginning of the year with school lunches has ended. I’m not going to lie. Around mid-February, my enthusiasm for variety went to zero. They literally had the exact same thing for lunch every day from Valentine’s Day to Memorial Day.

Son Number One: Salami and mustard sandwich, baby carrots, goldfish crackers
Son Number Two: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple, goldfish crackers
Son Number Three: Peanut butter and honey sandwich, baby carrots, goldfish crackers

I kept that up as long as I could, but even that strenuous menu is getting too much for me in the waning days of the school year.

To add to the strain, when I took over the lunch-making duties from my wife, she told me that I had to write cute little notes for them to find and read when they opened their lunches. Those notes have gone downhill faster than the menu.

Beginning of the year note example: “Great job on your piano yesterday, and good luck with your spelling test today. You’re going to do great! Love, Dad”

Note from earlier this month: “This is the note in your lunch. From, Dad”

Now that I have moved to a life-lesson, bleak-future-preparatory stance with my lunch making duties, I don’t think the little notes are necessary anymore anyway. They won’t get cute notes in the military, and you certainly don’t want them getting cute notes in prison!

While I am obviously losing steam in all lunch-related categories, I am still too cheap to let them have the school-provided hot lunch. Questionable nutrition aside, for me it is a simple matter of arithmetic. Hot lunch costs $2.50 each, and with my prison-style meal plan, I am feeding them for less than that. (Drinks are not included in my meal plan, because the cafeteria has a drinking fountain.)

Their grandparents think I’m mean, and when they come and stay with us, they usually take pity on the inmates and give them money for hot lunch. This is a huge deal for our kids. If you tell them they get to have the school-provided corndogs and chocolate milk, they think they won the lottery. Somehow, somewhere deep in my soul, that makes me feel proud.

The boys might think hot lunch awesome, but it has led to other issues for their mom and me. When grandpa hands them money for lunch, we have to take it to the front office and put it in a little deposit envelope to get it into their hot lunch account. We could just let them hang onto the money and bring it directly to the lunchroom, but I actually want them to eat, and they have trouble keeping track of their own shoes, let alone a pocket full of loose change. Anyway, the depositing of the money isn’t the problem, it’s the account balance. They have only had hot lunch maybe three times this school year, but somehow, one of their accounts became overdrawn by $1.50.

If you ever want to be mercilessly spammed, look no further than the school district’s lunch program and their automated computer of doom. Go ahead and overdraw your lunch account, I dare you. Be prepared for one automated phone call to every phone number associated with you, and one email to every address, sent daily, multiplied by the number of children you have in the school district, because the computer can’t figure out that we all live in the same house. Heaven help you if it happens to occur the day before spring break, like it did for us, because the computer also can’t figure out that we can’t do anything about it when no one is at the school. We received approximately 500 individual messages in various forms from the lunch computer over a one-week period in April.

When we finally got our school district-budget-breaking $1.50 balance paid off after Easter, it was only to receive this printed notice in May:

There will be no more lunch credit issued through the end of the year. Students must have a balance in their account, bring cash, or they will not receive a lunch. In such a case, a courtesy meal of crackers and fruit will be provided to the student.

Hmm… Free crackers and fruit you say?

We’ve only got seven days of school left, and I have already checked out. Their normal boring prison lunch is a thing of the past. Yesterday I just gave Son Number One a salami. Number Two got the old jar of peanut butter and a spoon. Number Three got a can of olives. I just assumed someone in the lunchroom would have a can opener.

I’m spent. I can’t make another sandwich. Baby carrots are too much for me now. Maybe we overdraw those lunch accounts… Crackers and fruit sound better than what they’re going to get from me tomorrow. Right now it’s a three-way tie between plastic baggies of dill pickles, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and uncooked bags of microwave popcorn.

I would shoot for the free courtesy meal in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for the impending tsunami of messages from the lunch computer over the summer.

Oh well, mac n’ cheese it is. If the lunchroom people can’t cook it up for them, the boys can always suck on the noodles until they get soft and pour the cheese powder directly into their mouths.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Bay to Breakers

We live near San Francisco. That is to say, we live far enough away from it that our house didn’t cost five hundred thousand dollars per square millimeter, but close enough that we can drive there in less than two hours. A short drive into San Francisco is a great way to escape the United States for a day. If you haven’t been, you should really consider keeping it that way.

I take that back. San Francisco does have two redeeming features. For reasons unknown, Mike Rowe lives there, and the Giants play there in one of the best ballparks in the nation. I have no idea where Mike lives, but if you can get across the bay bridge on I-80 before the many construction errors and omissions cause it to fail and drop into the water, and make a hard left after you finish thanking the Lord that you made it across, and duck into AT&T Park for a day game, you won’t regret it. Just don’t get lost on your way out and accidentally wind up in ANY other part of the city.

If you do get lost and venture more than three feet in any direction from the baseball safe haven, do not leave your vehicle, unless you enjoy “aggressive panhandling.” This is San Francisco’s cute term for verbally abusive and violent bums. Don’t want to give up a dollar? Well then be prepared to be followed for a few blocks while the nice man provides you with your own personal obscenity sound track. If you visit enough parts of the city, you can get that soundtrack in over thirteen different languages.

Looking for tips on the proper way to shoot heroin? No problem. Just visit any one of the city’s numerous parks. I would suggest Golden Gate Park, since it’s the largest, offering over one thousand acres of helpful drug addicts and prostitutes. Yes, prostitutes, too. Want a hooker with your smack? You’re in luck. San Francisco is the of prostitution; you name it, they have it.

In keeping with this proud city’s complete lack of any sort of moral code, this past Sunday they ran the 102nd annual Bay to Breakers.

From the official website:
San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers is the oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world, a staple to the City by the Bay since May 1912. With a starting point near the San Francisco Bay, a few blocks from The Embarcadero, the 12K race runs west through the city and finishes at the Great Highway where breakers crash onto the Pacific Coast’s Ocean Beach. A quintessential San Francisco experience for 102 years, the race is interwoven into the fabric of the city and is a true reflection and celebration of life between the breakers and the Bay.

Now, I assume that in 1912, it was an actual race, but in 2014, it is anything but. Actually, it is a lot of butt. The Bay to Breakers had devolved over the years into nothing more than a drunken, naked mosh pit. It’s sort of like if they held Burning Man on your street. Excessive drinking and rampant nudity – everything you look for in a good road race. Any other city in the free world would choose to go one way or the other with it; actual road race or huge all-city beer garden orgy; but the City by the Bay is still pretending it’s a real race while completely unable to control it. The San Francisco city council is the government equivalent of the parents who first tell their child no, then immediately cave when the kid throws himself on the floor in a fit. Except, in the city council’s case, they never said no in the first place.

The race starts only after everyone has successfully blown a 0.19 or higher on the Official Bay to Breakers Breathalyzer. As a convenience, the course is extremely straight, not unlike some of the participants. This minimizes the amount of runners who get lost on their way west. I think this year over one third of all the starters actually found the Pacific Ocean. On a map. Days later. The course conveniently heads straight through the heart of Haight-Ashbury, so if you’re low on hash or plastic rainbow beads mid-race, you can refuel. The crowd of runners then continues on through Golden Gate Park, where many of the park’s inhabitants wonder, “Oh man, is this a raid?” The race ends at the ocean where you must cross the finish line completely naked and immediately blow at least a 0.23 or higher on the Official BtBB in order for your time to count. If you cannot do this, beer bongs are provided until you qualify.

If you were not already familiar with this “quintessential San Francisco experience,” please DO NOT Google any images of the event. You will not be able to un-see what the internet will bring you. You have been warned. That being said, those that are unaware of the “nature” of the race - as it were – will be very misled by its website. I would urge the Bay to Breakers webmaster to update it as soon as possible.

One glaring error I found from the FAQ’s:
Is alcohol or other substances allowed on the race course?
Absolutely not. All alcohol and other illicit substances will be removed from the race course immediately. The person with the item will be ejected from the event and is subject to arrest.

This was obviously cut-and-pasted from a real race’s website. I think what they meant to say was, “Of course, but only if you’re naked or in a ridiculous costume, and only if you share.”

There are too many other errors and deficiencies to name here, not the least of which is the front page copy I shared earlier. I assume by “celebration of life” they obviously meant “graphic public how-to demonstrations on how life is so often created; drunk naked people.” And I hope, for San Francisco’s sake, the website is also wrong about the race being “a true reflection” of life in the city. They are in worse shape than I thought if that’s the case.

I will never know, however, since I will continue to maintain my two-hour perimeter, here in the safe zone, where we leave our reasonably-priced homes to run our road races sober and with our clothes on. Crazy, I know.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day Exile

Exile Log, May 11, 2014, Day 1:
I found out that today was Mother’s Day. Shortly afterward, my wife kicked me out of the house. I have made several attempts to get back in and have been met with heavy resistance. I have taken refuge in the backyard play structure. More to come…

Exile Log, Day 2:
Things aren’t looking good. I tried to get into the house again this morning, but my wife still looked angry. She glared at me through the back window, so I retreated yet again. I don’t think she’s any happier than she was yesterday.

Things in the play structure aren’t as comfortable as you might think. Sure, it’s a big play structure, and it has a roof, but it still has drafty open sides and a limited amount of floor space.

I am sore from sleeping in a curled-up position. I tried sleeping with my legs hanging down the slide, but I kept ending up in a heap on the ground. I just want to go in and take a shower and maybe have a sandwich, but she doesn’t look ready.

I was able to establish a decent network connection today from the neighbor’s Wi-Fi after he took pity on me and gave me the password. His wife had instructed him not to speak to me, but The Man Code won out. Unfortunately, The Man Code has its limitations, and I had to promise to mow his lawn for the whole summer. In exchange, he’s snaked an extension cord over the fence for me and has given me a few beers and some pop tarts when he could. Things could be worse, I guess. 

Exile Log, Day 3:
It was cold last night. I have redwood splinters in my butt. I’m sore from sleeping with my head on a soccer ball. She’s still not ready to let me in, but I think she is softening. She threw a bottle of water and a bar of soap out the back door this morning after she saw me trying to drink from the lawn sprinkler. I’m not sure if I am supposed to bathe in the sprinkler and drink from the water bottle, or vice versa, but it’s at least a glimmer of hope. I wish we had a pool.

I’ve had a lot of time to think in the play structure. I am beginning to think this has something to do with Mother’s Day. It was this past Sunday, or so she told me, which happens to be the day she threw me out. I think those two things are connected.

The boys have been no help whatsoever. Not only did they fail to remind me that Sunday was Mother’s Day, but they haven’t visited me once out here since she kicked me out. She is keeping them inside, and as far as I can tell, they have made no effort to sneak out and help me in any way. I have done a poor job of teaching them The Man Code.

If she leaves the house today I am going to attempt to break in. I need clean underwear.

Exile Log, Day 4:
After another fitful night of sleep interrupted by the horrifying sounds of either two cats mating or a raccoon molesting a set of bagpipes, I have come to the conclusion that this whole thing must be about Mother’s Day. I managed to get into the house for a short time yesterday when she left to pick the boys up from school. The Salad Spinner we bought her is still in its box on the kitchen counter.

I have replayed the events of Sunday over and over in my head. I am fairly certain that she was upset by the fact that the boys and I didn’t know it was Mother’s Day when we woke up. I am also pretty sure that she didn’t like the fact that she was the one who had to tell us what day it was, after she had made her own breakfast.

What I can’t understand is why she was still upset enough to throw me out of the house after we totally redeemed ourselves. Sure, we might have forgotten all about Mother’s Day, but when she reminded us we promptly jumped in the car and headed to Walmart.

Not more than a half-hour later we returned with possibly the best Mother’s Day gift ever. I mean, who doesn’t love the Salad Spinner? Right?

Plus it was a really timely gift. I had accidentally broken her old Salad Spinner a few days earlier when I was using it to get the sweat out of my gym socks so I could get another day out of them. I mean, it’s a great gift in the first place, plus she needed a new one. That’s a win-win. That can’t possibly be the reason she’s mad.

Maybe it was because I bought it with the $10 Walmart gift card I got her for our anniversary? No telling, I guess. I’ll just have to stay out here and wait until she cools off.

Maybe next time she goes out I can retrieve the new Salad Spinner and use it really quick. I figure if I’m going to be out here for a few more days I can probably rinse my underwear in the sprinklers, and that Salad Spinner should do the trick to dry them off.

Don’t worry, I’ve learned from the socks incident. I bought the heavy duty model this time.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wild Turkey Bacon

Turkey bacon is probably the worst invention ever. I don’t even understand it. I assume the reason behind it was that someone wanted to eat “bacon,” but was afraid it was bad for them, so they searched out a “healthier” meat. Turkey is super healthy, so it was a no-brainer. Then, to seal the deal on healthiness, they added about a wheelbarrow of salt per 10-ounce package, some laboratory-created chemical mixture that gives off a semi-bacon-like smell, and some nutritious coloring agent in order to dye it in a striped pattern, making it look just like the real deal.

Well played, health nuts. Well played indeed. After all that work, turkey bacon still tastes nothing like bacon, and has the texture of eating a linoleum sample. Next time you buy turkey bacon, just eat the plastic packaging instead. It will be less salty and it’s probably better for you.

Turkey bacon is obviously a horrible idea. Bacon on turkey, however, is one of the best ideas that mankind has ever had.

I have years of extensive and hands-on experience with bacon, because I am very manly, and manly men cannot survive without pork products. Bacon is the very thing that keeps us alive. That, and obviously beer. And nachos. Anyway… I am by no means an expert on turkey. I love turkey, but I don’t know very much (read: anything) about preparing one. Thanksgiving is held at our house now, but my mom still prepares and cooks the bird. Until recently, my closest interaction, besides eating it, was to be in charge of carving it.

Carving a turkey is not as easy as it looks, if you happen to have ever been around one of the four people in the universe who can make it look easy. The apron and carving knife were passed to me from my father the minute we started having Thanksgiving at my house instead of his. It was a moving ceremony, consisting of him saying, “Ha! Now you have to do it. Good luck, buddy!”

When I am finished slicing up an 18-pound Butterball, it looks a lot more like I used a hand grenade than a knife.

“Would you like one of these fist-sized chunks, a few of the pencil-shaped slivers, or a spoonful of the hash-looking stuff?”

Well, just the other day, which was in May, which is nowhere near November, I was forced into learning how to cook a turkey by one of my friends. He called me up and informed me that he had gone hunting and killed a turkey, and it was cleaned and plucked and waiting for me in his refrigerator. My first thought, of course, was, can you cook it for me?, but I didn’t say that out loud. I said, “I’ll be right over,” because I have a strict personal policy against refusing free food.

He wasn’t home when I arrived at their door, but his wife brought me the beautiful 13-pound bird. She is a great cook, so I saw a window of opportunity to gain some knowledge. I told her I had never cooked a wild turkey before, and asked if there were any special instructions.

“We always brine them beforehand, then just cook it like you cook your regular turkeys.”

I just smiled and nodded. “Sounds good,” I said. I didn’t mention that I had no idea what brine was, or what brining meant, and I had never cooked a turkey at all, regular or not. I was really hoping that she would hand me a detailed two or three page set of instructions along with the bird, but I guess that is what Google is for. Off I went with my new turkey.

I called my wife at work on the way home.
Me – “Hey, I just got a free turkey!”
Her – “Good luck with that. Gotta go.”


I called my mom.
Me – “Hi, how are you doing?”
Her – “Can’t talk right now… We’re babysitting your nephew… He never stops moving! Honey, you left the door open!! I have to go…”
Me – “Are you still there? I think you dropped the phone…”


I called my mother-in-law. She was not babysitting. She told me to stuff the turkey with apples and onions and put bacon on top of it.

Bacon, you say? You mean to tell me we can bring bacon into this equation? You are obviously a genius. Continue.

She said two or three strips of bacon across the breast would keep it nice and juicy as it cooked. I love my mother-in-law.

I Googled brining a turkey, which turned out to be a strange way of saying soak it in sugar/salt water overnight. I did that, and the next day I got the turkey ready, but I actually had a hard time pinpointing where the breasts were. Being only familiar with Thanksgiving turkeys, this one was puzzling. It turns out that wild turkeys have small breasts. I guess I should say, it turns out that store-bought turkeys have abnormally large breasts. A Butterball from the local supermarket is the equivalent of the skinny waitress/actress/model that used all her tip money to pay for 36DD’s, while the wild turkey is the super-fit lady at the gym who has her own standard-size breasts, and can bench press your car. Wild turkey for the win!

Once I figured out which side was supposed to be up, I stuffed his hoo-haw full of apples and onions and then it was time to apply the bacon. My mother-in-law had told me two or three slices across the breast. There were twelve slices of bacon in the package. If two or three is good, then twelve must be better, right? Right!

By the time I was finished with him, that turkey was wearing a pork burka. The only exposed skin was on his ankles, as I even spiral-wrapped the drumsticks.

The smell inside the house after the first half hour of cooking made you feel as though you had died and gone to meat heaven. After three and a half hours in the oven, he came out one of the most perfectly cooked turkeys we’ve ever had.

And the best part is, you have twelve strips of perfectly cooked bacon to snack on while he cools down. Perfection.

This has been your Just a Smidge cooking advice column for the year. Use it wisely.
To sum up:

Turkey bacon - Bad. Never use.
Bacon on turkey - Genius. Always do this.
Store-bought turkey - Good bird, appropriate for Thanksgiving.
Wild turkey - Better bird, however involves more work procuring than store-bought variety, unless you are me.
Wild Turkey - Store-bought Kentucky bourbon whiskey. Do not cook. Still pairs well with bacon.
Wild turkey wrapped in bacon – Best thing ever.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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!