Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I am going to Alaska for a week and I’m only allowed to bring two pairs of pants. They are apparently very strict in Alaska about what you can and can’t bring with you. They gave us a packing list that we must follow to the letter. All of our clothes must fit into a 10” x 17” x 24” carry-on. Thankfully they are allowing me to bring five pairs of underwear, but that’s it. Not one pair more!

I guess maybe it’s not really the whole state of Alaska that is regulating my wardrobe. I think the list actually came from the fishing lodge. My wife’s folks are taking us to an all-inclusive fishing resort in southeastern Alaska. “Southeastern Alaska” is another way of saying, “the funny little hanging down part on the right side of Alaska that is really basically just the western coast of Canada.” So really, my wife’s folks are taking us to western British Columbia, so we should be able to get good strong beer but we don’t need our passports.

Whoever it is that is telling me I can only bring five pairs of socks, I think they are possibly concerned about the float plane. They are not the only ones. We fly on Alaska Airlines into Ketchikan, which is located on the southern tip of the U.S. portion of western British Columbia, Canada, where we will spend the night. In the morning, as the fishing lodge’s brochure tells us, a float plane will pick us up at our hotel. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I must assume our hotel is floating on a wharf in the middle of a large body of water. I can’t wait to sleep there. The float plane then takes us directly to the floating fishing lodge. Yes, the entire fishing lodge is also floating. Apparently everything in Alaska has to float. That could be why they limit the amount of pants you bring to their state. Too much heavy luggage and the entire state could go under.

Float plane… Hmm… The only parts of the float plane trip I am really worried about are the takeoff, the flight itself, and the landing. Everything else should be fine. A float plane is basically a fuselage with boat parts and plane parts that is not good at being either a boat or a plane. Who thought that was a good idea? I mean, I’m all for adventure and everything, and life is about taking risks, but let’s face it; you’re going to try to take off from and land this thing on the ocean. Do you know what a concrete runway never does? It never goes up and down. Do you know what never jumps up in front of planes taking off and landing on concrete runways? Humpback whales, that’s what.

As far as the flight itself goes, the boat parts of the float plane do absolutely nothing to help the plane fly once it’s in the air. In fact, they create quite a bit of what pilots call “drag.” Too much extra weight - let’s say from carry-on luggage containing excessive amounts of pants and underwear - and that drag can become a problem, causing the pilots to do something they call “swearing,” and something else they call “ditching.” You do not want to be in the same plane as a pilot who is saying the word “ditch” or anything through his teeth that rhymes with it.

I am thinking only of my children. I am not personally scared of float planes, or of any other type of obviously dangerous multi-use craft that appear to be the unholy spawn of a drunken hookup between Boeing and Boston Whaler. I am far too manly for that. The thing is, there is a very minute chance that something could go horribly, horribly wrong with the virtually foolproof task of removing a top-heavy catamaran from the choppy, wavy ocean at high speed using a propeller and wings, flying that boat in the air for miles and miles over a large, wide island that you cannot land on even if you wanted to, and then putting it safely back down in the whale-infested ocean. I mean, I’m sure it will all go fine, but on the off chance it doesn’t, I would simply prefer not to orphan our children in one fell swoop if we can avoid it. So I’ll try to get separate float plane trips for me and my wife, but if we have to fly together, I will personally go through each passenger’s 10” x 17” x 24” bag and count their pants.

My wife, on the other hand, was never worried about the float plane ride. (At least, not until now.) Since we’re talking about Alaska, and we’re talking about my wife, naturally she was worried about bears. She heard “Alaska” and thought, “No way. Too many bears.” Then she heard “floating lodge” and changed her mind. No problem! We’re out in the water. Bears can’t get us. Let’s go!

I heard “floating lodge,” took one look at the aerial photograph on the website (no doubt taken from a flying catamaran of death), and noticed that the lodge was in fact floating in a nice, protected horseshoe bay, but it was only twenty or thirty feet from the shore on one side. It might have even had a little gangplank.

I didn’t bother to mention to my wife that not only can bears swim really well anyway, they could probably walk to the lodge. I want her to come with us.

Neither of us have ever been to Alaska, and we’re looking forward to it. After looking at a map, it turns out it’s pretty big. I have relatives who live there, (in the real Alaska, not western B.C.), and when we were invited to come along on the fishing trip, my first thought was, “Hey, cool, maybe we can go see my cousins.” Then I looked on a map and realized that was like living in Florida, going to Wisconsin on vacation, and while you were there, trying to swing by California to visit someone.

Maybe we can catch a quick ride over to see them on the float plane.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School Again

I cannot express to you how happy I am today. There are not good enough words in the English language to describe it. Did I win the lottery multi-million dollar jackpot, you ask? No, I’m happier than that.

The boys went back to school yesterday. For the stay-at-home dad, that’s like heroin.

I am back to having a full six hours per day without kids. I am about to be the most productive human ever to have lived. Do you know why Thomas Edison was such a prolific inventor and had over one thousand patents? Because there were no kids in his workshop.

We had a whirlwind summer full of travel and goofing off, and we were actually at our own house for only about twenty minutes since school got out in June. We had a good time, and for the most part the kids were self-entertaining everywhere we went. Then it all fell apart when we came home and my wife selfishly went back to work two weeks ago.

There I was. In our unfamiliar home with three boys looking expectantly at me, asking me questions like, “Where are we going now?” and “Which one is our room again?” and “Are you sure this is our house?”

“Yes, this is our house. Now go play, I have work to do in my office.”

“We’re bored. There’s nothing to do here.”

“We have almost all the Legos in North America in our game room. Go build something.”

“Oh, yeah, we forgot about the game room!”

And so began the most impressive two-week Lego building extravaganza the world has ever seen. Morning to night, the three little elves were in their workshop, creating everything imaginable. Everything imaginable, that is, by my nine, eight, and six-year-old, which seems to consist mostly of castles, spaceships, and dragons. They built and built until there was an intergalactic feudal space kingdom plagued by a nasty dragon problem that covered every flat surface in a room the size of a three-car garage. 

There were epic battles, too. Not between Lego figures and monsters, mind you, but between my three sons. We have approximately two hundred little Lego men, but everyone only wanted the one guy. We have approximately nine hundred pounds of Lego bricks, but everyone only wanted the one piece.

I tried to get work done, but at the end of the two weeks, I had written about three and a half sentences, and two and a half of them were crap. I had also broken up at least two hundred fights and refereed two thousand arguments. Is nine thirty in the morning too early to start drinking? Not in the final two weeks of summer!

After much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and several trips to “Daddy’s aisle” at the grocery store, Meet the Teacher Day finally arrived on Monday. I dragged each boy to his respective classroom and apologized in advance for the entire school year, begging the teachers to let them stay no matter what might happen.

“I just need them out of the house,” I told their teachers, with wild desperation in my eyes.

“We know,” they said, with the gray-white pallor of impending doom showing on their faces. “We know.”

As I was doing the happy dance at the school drop-off yesterday, I found that, strangely, many of the moms had a different take on a childless house than I do. While some of them shared my elation, a lot of the ladies were outwardly sad that they would be going home to an empty house. Since I had no possible way of understanding that emotion, I was not able to comfort them in any way. I was only able to shout, “WoooooHoooo,” and I don’t think that helped. Sadness about sending the kids off to school is strictly an emotion of the female gender. At the prospect of time without children, ALL dads will jump for joy. No exceptions. “I love you kids, but get out. Come back for dinner.”

After the kids had all gone to class and I had finished my happy dance, I made my way to the school’s front office. I went in to question them as to why the elementary school day is only six hours, and what we could do to bump it up to eight or ten.

They didn’t seem willing to work with me on that. They just asked me if I thought eight o’clock in the morning was too early for them to start drinking.

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, August 13, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge (Sadly) Declined

I received two notices yesterday. The first was from my cousin, publicly calling me out on Facebook to take the Ice Bucket Challenge, or #IceBucketChallenge for all you hashtag-inclined folks out there. This is a semi-viral phenomenon going around the interwebs, where you film yourself dumping a bucket of ice water over your head, which of course raises awareness and money for ALS research. This drenching practice started about five seconds after the semi-viral internet phenomenon of setting yourself on fire was invented, but I’m not quite sure how it became related to Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Anyway, once you are done giving yourself an external ice cream headache, you name other people who must take the challenge and/or immediately donate to ALS research.

I was all set to get out my Home Depot bucket and raid the icemaker when I unfortunately received the second notice. This one was in the form of a letter from the Placer County Water Agency. They told me – in bold print, no less – that due to the extreme drought conditions here in California, The State Water Resources Control Board (emphasis here on Control) recently adopted statewide emergency conservation regulations requiring local water agencies to implement water restrictions.

Pursuant to the state’s action, the following uses of potable (treated) water are prohibited by PCWA customers:

(Note - They didn’t go into a lot of detail as to how they were going to prohibit our actions, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that it has something to do with taking more of our money.)

The list of all the things they are now somehow prohibiting me from doing includes: (I’m going from memory, here)

Watering of outdoor landscapes more than once every other year.

Watering in such a manner that any amount of said water touches anything that is not a living plant.

Owning a hose without a permanently attached shut-off nozzle, now also known as an outlaw hose, renegade hose, or Minnesota hose.

Washing anything that isn’t an article of clothing, a dish, or a body part.

Owning a decorative water feature. (I assume this includes pools.)

Using any amount of water between the hours of  4 A.M. and 11 P.M.

Showering for longer than 35 seconds.

And, turning on the tap at any time while brushing your teeth or shaving.

They also provided a handy list of suggestions for other ways we could help meet the state’s goal of 200,000% reduction in water usage: (Again, going from memory, here)

Limit the amount of children living in the house to one or fewer.

Obtain hydration from the leaves of your plants and trees instead of drinking tap water.

Collect any - albeit highly unlikely - rainwater for use by immediately tarping your entire property.

Reduce showering and bathing to once a month, and then, only in groups of five or more, and then, only if absolutely necessary.

Purchase or build a small home distillery to further refine all your alcoholic beverages to 200-proof, collecting the excess water for home use, and consequently, making all your parties more awesome.

And, if feasible, move to another state.

Strangely enough, there was one more restriction placed on us; the hot, sad, parched, smelly, thirsty Californians.

Addendum: You are also prohibited from using water – either in a frozen, liquid, or combined state - in any sort of filmed internet stunt purporting to be an awareness and/or fundraising program for any disease or diseases that have been linked to a current or former Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer.

I know, I know. I was as shocked as you are to see such a specific exclusion, but there it is. I would obviously be risking heavy financial penalties, and possibly also federal imprisonment, if I accepted the #IceBucketChallenge.

So, sadly, my cousin, I must decline.

It is important to note, in case the authorities happen to be reading this, that my cousin lives in Oregon, where they have been selfishly hoarding all the rain on the west coast for decades, so thankfully he was able to pour as much ice water as he wanted over his head and onto the ground. Hopefully, some of his Oregon buddies can keep the viral video dousings going. I, as stated previously for the record, sadly, do not have that luxury here in California.

Apparently, the Golden State has about thirty-eight gallons of water left, and we’re all trying to figure out who gets to use it. I promise to donate to ALS research as instructed, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to give. I have a feeling my water bill is about to get pretty expensive.

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, August 6, 2014

Whole-House Fan Fan

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I failed to fix our broken air conditioner, but on the plus side, managed NOT to barbeque myself with giant exposed electrical cables while doing some amateur and ill-advised work in our electrical panel. All good news aside, I am sad to report that our air conditioner is still broken.

I’m not going to lie to you. It has been rough here. Tensions are high. Nerves are frayed. Wits are at their end.

It is hot inside our house.

We have been without A/C for almost three weeks now, and unfortunately for us, those three weeks have been some of the hottest on record here in Northern California. Other places might have been hot as well, but I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. I am afraid to turn on the TV for fear that it will either heat up the house even more or explode.

All I can tell you is our family would not do well in an equatorial country. Last Friday it was 109 degrees outside. Through the miracle of sagging and worn R40 insulation, it was only 94 degrees in our bedroom when we went to bed. Actually, I should say when I went to bed. My wife was sleeping downstairs where it was only 89 degrees. On Saturday morning she threatened to leave me and the kids and go stay at a friend’s house. She had a crazy look in her eyes. “You guys can’t come. There’s only room for me.”

I guess information, whether good or bad, is always handy to have. I now know that our cohesive family bond snaps like a dry twig around day four or five above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and we move into an every-man-for-himself scenario. Live and learn.

There are only two things keeping us from going to a full-scale Lord of the Flies situation at this point: Cold showers and our whole-house fan.

The whole-house fan is really the eighth wonder of the modern world. There are two main types of whole-house fans to choose from. The first is the ducted variety. These have a fan or fans mounted inside your attic, with ductwork that draws the air from the interior of the home. They are very quiet. We do not have that kind.

The second kind is the ceiling-mounted variety. These are basically a slightly smaller version of a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter mounted to the ceiling of your hallway. These are incredibly loud. This is the kind we have.

Deafening prop wash noise aside, all whole-house fans work in the same manner. “The fan creates a ‘positive pressure’ in the attic and a ‘negative pressure’ inside the house, consequently drawing the cooler outside air in through open windows.”

I have not been up in the attic to experience what “positive pressure” feels like, but in the case of our home at least, “negative pressure” can be described better as “a howling 40-knot gale.” Our fan has two speed settings, and if you turn it on high, you have to make sure the children are tethered down.

The loudness and ferocity of the unit might be attributable to its size. We have the biggest model available in the free world. We were smart when we bought it a few years ago, shopping for it in the whole-house fan off-season. Because we purchased it in November we saved at least seven dollars, and were able to parlay that savings into an upgrade. The salesman sold us on the big one, presumably to best fit the size of our house, or possibly because the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Ooh, I want the big one!”
Salesman: “OK. Sign here quick.”

The key point in the operational description of the fan is really the term “cooler outside air.” This is critical, and in the case of our current three-week-long survival experiment, “cooler outside air” didn’t usually manifest itself until around midnight. This put us into a strange schedule of going to bed around one A.M. and sleeping until nine o’clock in the morning. By the time we get moving in the sluggish torpor of our deliciously cool 84-degree house, we are eating breakfast around eleven A.M. and having lunch at four o’clock. Basically, we’re now Italian.

Still, we can’t blame the whole-house fan for the lack of cool outside air. It can only do what it can do with the air it’s provided. On the plus side, even if it is not cooling us off as much as we might want, it is still cooling us down. Also, it provides a nice white noise while we sleep. It’s a lot like sleeping up inside the mechanical housing on an industrial wind turbine.

I love our whole-house fan. Not only for its economical cooling during normal summer weather, but for the safety it has provided us recently. I can say without hesitation that we would be dead without it. It is impossible to say whether we would have perished from heat stroke or from the wrath of mom, but one of them was definitely going to happen.

Thankfully, there was a break in the weather the other day and my wife decided begrudgingly to stay at home with us, and refrain from killing anyone. The A/C is scheduled to be actually fixed today, so our fingers are all crossed. It might just be the heat, but after three weeks of disappointment, I remain skeptical.

One thing is for sure, when the A/C actually does get fixed, we are going to have to ease ourselves back into the cooler temperatures. At this point 85 degrees inside the house actually feels comfortable. We went out to dinner the other night and our teeth were chattering inside the restaurant. I took the boys to the grocery store yesterday and they almost went hypothermic in the refrigerated aisle.

Still, having A/C back is going to be safer for everyone. My wife informs me that there is another heat wave coming, and she looks ready to snap any minute.

If you don’t hear from me next week, send someone to check on us.

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!