Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Back to School Date Night

It’s that time of year again! Tomorrow is Back to School Date Night.

Many of you might know it simply as Back to School Night, or BTSN if you’re a hip elementary school insider, but not around our house. BTSN is the biggest date night of the year. Last year we went to Home Depot. It was amazing!

Those of you without kids are probably thinking, “Home Depot? What is he talking about? That’s not a date, that’s an errand. What about going out to a club and staying up until three in the morning?”

No, no, no. Don’t be silly, you crazy youths. Once you have children, “date night” takes on a whole new meaning. When you have kids, a date is anything you can do together without the kids.

You see, the thing you don’t fully comprehend before you have kids is the amount of time you are required to spend with them. Someone has to actually be with them for all of the minutes of all of the days, or else they will pour Comet in the fish bowl, eat a poisonous snail, and then burn the house down. And that’s just the teenagers. Little kids are much worse.

So all of a sudden the ability to go anywhere without kids becomes the most precious commodity in the world. If you ever see an adult just wandering around in a grocery store without a cart or a basket, chances are they are an escaped parent. They have come to the store just to marvel at all the products they actually could notice and buy if they weren’t constantly yelling at someone to drop the box of Froot Loops and climb down off of the banana display.

Now, the reason that BTSN is a big date night at our house is because it’s one of the only nights of the year when we are forced to get a babysitter. Babysitters cost money, therefore we don’t hire one very often.

Children are not allowed to attend BTSN, and since we have three kids, we have three classes to visit. One parent cannot attend while the other stays home with the kids. Two parents aren’t even enough to cover it, really.

Since there are only two of us, every year before BTSN we are forced to choose which child we will ignore. Fortunately for Son Number One’s education, he is never left out. Being the oldest, he is always entering a grade that is new to all of us, so we must visit his classroom and get the important information from his new teacher, like if math will be taught with actual numbers this year, or if we’re sticking with the “new math” from last year that involved a lot of stories about Simone and Raul and grouping their colored balloons into different columns.

So the decision is always between Son Number Two and Three. Which one’s classroom will we visit, and which one will be summarily ignored for the entire school year? All three of them are very smart (which has led me to question their mother extensively, but she insists that they really are my children), so needing to have our finger on the pulse of their education is not super-critical. Usually we just flip a coin.

Whichever way that coin lands, I’m excited about date night tomorrow night. I know we’ll go to the grocery store and wander around holding hands, but if we have time, we might even get to go to Kohl’s and look at shirts. Who knows?

The BTSN activities are always fun as well. I can’t wait to see what Simone and Raul are up to this year. Our babysitter had better be on time, though, or I might not be able to help the boys with their homework. I mean, I can figure out 354 x 98 the old-fashioned way, but with the new math, I need to be retrained every year on which column to put the goldfish in.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sesame Street Blues

As if Legos that now actually fire projectiles and the intolerable addition of swamp-idiot Jar Jar Binks to Star Wars weren’t enough of a slap in the face to my generation, yet another thing from our childhood has changed forever. Sesame Street is leaving PBS and moving to HBO.

The PBS press release was disconcerting at best.

“We here at the formerly nonprofit PBS are sad to see our friends from Sesame Street go, but we are greatly comforted by the giant mountain of money we now have in the middle of the office. We will spend the next few days climbing up to the top and rolling down into the champagne moat we have constructed, and then we plan to take a year or three off and travel the world. As we search the globe for new programming inspiration and expensive shoes, have no fear about a lack of quality content on your local PBS station. For the near term we are rolling out a brand new format of 24/7 live-broadcast fundraisers. Enjoy!”

HBO’s press release was troublesome for the Sesame Street purists, but it met with guarded approval from many industry insiders.

“Since 1969, the Sesame Street franchise on PBS has been an amazing success. Now, in 2015, we here at HBO are thrilled to announce that we are ready to take Sesame Street to even greater heights. All great sums are a function of their parts, and that’s why we have decided to launch the iconic show into several exciting spin-offs.

As always, Big Bird leads the pack, and his new show is no exception. Our giant yellow friend will star in “Big Daddy,” a gritty New Jersey crime drama about one bird’s rise from the mean streets of Sesame Hill through the drug gangs and organized crime rings of the big city. He’s in for the fight of his life to stay on top and keep his massive empire from crumbling when his top lieutenants start to believe that someone else might really be calling the shots. Is the mysterious Mr. Snuffleupagus just a drug-induced hallucination of the giant feathered crime boss, or is he the power player who’s really pulling the strings?

Oscar the Grouch reveals his dark side in the new bone-chilling murder-mystery, “Trash Day.” A mysterious year-long rash of pet disappearances on Sesame Street ends abruptly one cold week in January. Hardened SPCA detective Elmo Van Buren’s gut tells him it’s the work of a serial killer, and he can’t ignore that the last report coincides with the disappearance of one of Sesame Street’s most notorious figures. Oscar “The Grouch” Plovich, the trash can-dwelling derelict from the wrong side of the street, has vanished. With his marriage on the rocks, the fuzzy red detective follows Oscar’s trail all the way to the Louisiana bayou, where Oscar’s trash can has been found in an abandoned shrimp processing plant. Tensions mount when Elmo learns the truth about Oscar’s past. Could the dirty green hobo be his long-lost father from a loveless Dumpster encounter thirty years before? Reports of missing pets have spiked in Cajun country since Oscar’s arrival, and now Elmo must unravel the mystery. Coincidence or murder? What will the squeaky-voiced detective find when he lifts the lid?

The neighborhood grocery store is the setting for our new paranormal thriller, “Hooper’s Revenge.” Since Mr. Hooper’s mysterious death in the ‘80s, Hooper’s Store has had unsteady management at best. David was left the store in Mr. Hooper’s will, but soon he couldn’t wait to sell it. Mr. Hanford took over the reins, but quickly sold out to good-natured and unsuspecting Alan, the current proprietor. None of the owners could ever manage to get any of the Sesame Street regulars to work in the store for any length of time, or even help out on weekends. What are the puppets from the street hiding? What do they know? Alan soon finds out what many have suspected for years. Mr. Hooper may have died, but he never left the store. Alan struggles to maintain his sanity as the ghost of Mr. Hooper wreaks havoc on his life and his business. Will Alan uncover the truth behind how David really acquired Hooper’s Store? And will Alan find a buyer before he buys the farm?

Bert and Ernie team up again, this time as detectives on the San Francisco police narcotics squad in “Partners in Crime.” The City by the Bay has a major new player in town, and he’s brought in the highest grade heroin anyone has ever seen. Overdoses are rampant, and the mayor is breathing down the police chief’s neck to put a lid on the new smack, quickly. Bert is forced to go deep undercover into the seedy world of underground nightclubs and motel room drug deals, while Ernie can only watch helplessly from the sidelines. Tempers flare on the job and at home as Ernie confronts Bert about his reckless behavior. Bert knows that to bring down this kingpin, backup is not an option. As Bert seems to spiral out of control into his undercover role as a high-priced male escort, will Ernie be his lifeline, or will the duo finally be forced to split, permanently?

And last, but certainly not least, comes the new original series, “Crank Street.” Fun-loving, mild-mannered, and mustachioed science teacher Gordon has lived an ideal existence at 123 Sesame Street for years. His perfect life is suddenly turned upside down when he’s diagnosed with Bubonic plague. Hit with the realization that he only has twenty-seven cents to leave to his family, he levels his sights on a grim future. Gordon’s knowledge of chemistry is the one thing he has to work with, and as his health rapidly deteriorates, he lures Grover, the neighborhood meth tweaker, into his web of despair. The brownstone at 123 Sesame Street soon becomes one of the most productive meth labs in the tri-state area. More innocent victims soon fall prey to Gordon’s insidious plan to leave his family millions instead of pennies. Count von Count can hardly keep up with the influx of drug money in need of laundering. The Cookie Monster regrets his decision to join the crew as the enforcer, but the steady supply of Chips Ahoy from Gordon keeps him reluctantly on the payroll. As rival gangs move in on the crew and Grover becomes more and more self-destructive with guilt, Gordon struggles to keep his meth empire intact. Will he cash out before the plague - or his own enterprise - does him in?

We here at HBO are excited about the acquisition of Sesame Street, and confident that the resulting new lineup of shows will blow you away!”

Sesame Street was brought to you today by the letters H, B, and O, and the number $.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mule Salad

I have to ride a mule next summer. That, in and of itself, is no big deal since people ride mules all the time, I am told. The problem is I have to ride a mule down a two-foot-wide crack in the wall of the Grand Canyon (approximately 70,000 feet above the canyon floor, based on the videos on YouTube).

Lots of people, including my oldest son and my mother-in-law, would consider that to be a fantastic adventure. For me, however, it’s a small-scale version of The Biggest Loser.

The mule ride company’s rules state that each rider must be under 200 pounds, fully dressed. I would argue that they need to buy sturdier mules, but they are very adamant about the weight limit, even throwing in the verbiage “No Exceptions” for good measure.

My initial weigh-in on Monday morning was 214 pounds, in my boxer shorts.

So, I need to lose some weight. Actually, quite a bit of weight, since I figure I better be 190 at most in my boxers. That’s assuming the mule ride company will accept shorts, a T-shirt, and flip flops as “fully dressed.”

If my rudimentary writer math is correct, I need to lose just over 11% of my body weight. Possibly more, since my wife thinks our bathroom scale is lying to us. I wonder if any POW camps offer monthly membership packages?

I’m not going to lie. Things look bleak at this point. That is possibly due to the fact that our family went to Europe this summer. We visited Italy, Austria, and Germany. Do you know what they have in Italy? Margherita pizza. It’s basically a cheese pizza, but Italy has some kind of culinary voodoo magic that makes everything ten to fifteen times better than anywhere else. I basically ate an entire margherita pizza (with sausage added, because, sausage!) every day for lunch. What makes that possible is the pizzas are thin crust. What makes that not great is they are fourteen inches in diameter.

Italy also has pasta carbonara for dinner, which is pasta with eggs and bacon. The perfect complement to a whole pizza for lunch. They also have really good red wine and pretty decent beer.

Austria and Germany have schnitzel. Schnitzel is meat of any variety, pounded flat, breaded, and fried. (Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.) I ate at least two per day. They also have really good beer every place they serve schnitzel, which is every restaurant.

Basically, Europe made me fat. If it wasn’t for all the walking and hiking we did, I would need to lose fifty pounds right now instead of twenty-four. I blame the euro exchange rate. It was basically one to one with the dollar, so I was forced to eat and drink about 1.7 times more than I would have in previous years. Damn you, euro.

The only ray of hope that I have for not being the guy that didn’t get to go on the mule ride - or worse yet, the guy who ruined the mule trip for everyone by somehow faking out the scale and then dying when his hopelessly overloaded mule fell of the cliff - is that I have been under 200 pounds before. Sure, it was in high school, but still...

In fact, I think I weighed around 180 pounds my senior year. Of course, back then I could eat the entire left side of the fridge and lose a pound. I’m pretty sure I bulked up in college, though. A diet consisting mainly of Top Ramen and Keystone Light is a great way to pack on the manly pounds, apparently.

The idea of getting back to my college weight, let alone my high school weight, seems a bit daunting, but I have to try. The highlight of an entire summer vacation depends on it.

In order to lose 11% of my current body weight, the only mathematical solution is to stop eating. Stop eating anything that tastes good, anyway. Sugar and bread are out, which is really unfortunate, since I have survived for the last few years on a diet consisting mainly of chocolate chips, chocolate chip cookies, and sandwiches. (The sandwiches had no chocolate chips... normally.)

Pizza is my favorite food. Pizza is out.

And beer is out.

I don’t want to talk about it.

Breakfast now consists of fruit, and lunch is now a salad with a little chicken on top. I call it mule salad. I’m on day three of mule salad and I’m already sad. Dinner consists of a glass of water and some air. It’s going to be a long year.

Plus, the sugar withdrawals are giving me a headache. Or maybe it’s the kids. My wife selfishly went back to work this week and left me here with all three of them for the whole day. Every day. Just me, three boys who love to argue with each other, and mule salad. (Normally beer would mitigate some of that, but like I said, I don’t want to talk about it.)

The boys go back to school next week, so that should alleviate some of the headaches, but I’ll still be here with my mule salad. Every day. With no sugar and no bread of any kind.

I’m sad.

All I can say is this better be one spectacular mule ride. Everyone who’s gone says it’s the trip of a lifetime, but even if it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I know I’ll have a good time. I’ll be the one riding the mule down the Grand Canyon while eating a sausage pizza and washing it down with a giant beer and a dozen chocolate-covered doughnuts.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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 5, 2015

A Tale of Two Soakings

Jet lag is an amazing force of nature. When combined with alcohol in adults, jet lag can produce an effect much like getting shot with a tranquilizer dart big enough to take down a rhinoceros. It is even more powerful in children, even without the alcohol.

Mostly, jet lag simply produces long and unexpected periods of deep sleep. Occasionally, however, it can produce unexpected urination as well.

A long, long time ago, when I was an elementary schooler, our folks took us to Europe. I had barely ever left the west coast before, let alone flown half way around the world, so major time zone changes were something new to me. When we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house in England mid-morning, I immediately passed out on the first soft horizontal surface I came to.

I woke up hours later, groggy and feeling like my arms and legs were made out of lead. It was still daylight, and as I wandered down the hallway, I passed one of my cousins’ bedrooms, where my mom and my aunt were puzzling over a strange wet spot on the carpet in the middle of the room. “What could have caused this?” they wondered aloud to each other.

As soon as I saw it, a wave of foggy, dreamlike memories came over me. At some point that day I had “woken up,” needing to pee really badly. I scurried around the unfamiliar house, desperately trying to find the bathroom, but to no avail. When I found an empty bedroom instead, my sleepwalking, jet lagged brain said, “Perfect!” and I peed all over the carpet. Then I just went back to bed.

Once I was actually awake and witnessing the aftermath of my semi-conscious brain’s poor decision making abilities, I was horrifyingly embarrassed. I’m not sure how old I was at the time, but I was surely old enough not to want to cop to something as idiotic as peeing on the carpet. I just shut my mouth and walked in the other direction.

That was my first experience with the power of jet lag.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we took our boys to Europe. Good news; it’s still there! Bad news; so is the jet lag. This time, however, it didn’t strike right away. The adults adjusted quickly, despite the copious amounts of Italian wine that the waiters kept bringing us for some reason. The boys seemed to adjust quickly as well. Little did we know that jet lag would rear its ugly head more than a week into the trip.

We spent a wonderful week plus in Italy (with among others, my mom and my English aunt), then moved on to Austria. That’s when it happened: A similar - yet at the same time very different - jet lag peeing incident involving one of the boys.

Now, we have a notorious and storied sleep pee-er in our house. You have read about his carpet and stair peeing adventures from time to time in this column. Strangely enough, it was one of his brothers, and not him. I won’t tell you which brother, to protect the unaware. He still has no idea any of this happened.

There we were, on our first night in our Austrian apartment near Innsbruck. A magical day of summer mountain luge track racing and gondola rides awaited us. We settled into our beds, with two of the boys on a bed in the living room, and one of the boys sleeping with Grandma in the room next to ours. I was just about to go to sleep when a commotion arose in Grandma’s room. Grandma could be heard saying things like, “What are you doing?” and, “What the hell!?”

I was getting out of bed to investigate when she came out of the door to her room, looking more than a little bewildered and slightly off put, shall we say.

“What happened?”
“He just peed on me.”
“He peed in the bed?”
“No! He got up, came around to my side of the bed, and peed on me!”

No wonder she looked a little miffed.

Apparently, our jet lagged son’s semi-conscious brain somehow mistook Grandma’s side of the bed (and consequently, Grandma), for the toilet. He just got out of bed, walked around, stood there, peed on her, then walked back around and got back into his (dry) side of the bed, still fast asleep.

So instead of going to bed, I did laundry in the bathtub for a while.

Given my jet lag/urination history, I can sort of sympathize with him, but this kid took things to a whole new level. Dude, are you trying to get cut out of the will? You peed on your grandma! Seriously, who does that?

Thankfully we were able to find enough wine the next day that Grandma was able to laugh about it. Briefly. As for the boy, he’s still clueless.

I guess some people just react differently to jet lag than others. All I know is it’s lucky for our boys that I only peed on the carpet when I was their age. I’m pretty sure if I had peed on my aunt back then, I’d still be too embarrassed to make eye contact with her, so we probably wouldn’t have made the trip back this summer.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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!