Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Tenth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Kudos to you, Lifetouch. I had no idea how diversified your great company was until we got our new puppy.

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you, so first off, I want you to know I’m still looking forward to spring pictures. It’s the first day of school here today, and I’m already giddy with anticipation about what we might get from you after winter break. If I send Son Number One in a pirate costume with a Sharpie marker “arggh” speech bubble drawn on his cheek, will you still take his picture? Will you still send me reams and reams of pirate pictures I didn’t order, along with handy plastic rulers and keychain fobs of the young buccaneer?

If I send Son Number Two in a stained wife-beater T-shirt, gold chains, a temporary tattoo of red lips on his neck, and no picture order form in sight, will you still sit him down on that silly fake rock you have that looks like a giant cow turd and snap a picture of the little gang banger in a magical field of daisies?

Time will tell. I hope so!

Also, I just wanted to remind you that we’re breaking up with you for the fall pictures. It’s just been too many years of Chronic Forced Smile Disorder, wild uncombed hair, food on the faces, etc. I don’t feel like you and I need to rehash all the reasons. You know how you are.

The real reason I’m writing you today is to congratulate you. After all these years of bad school pictures and questionable business practices (where you send me huge packets of pictures I never ordered or even authorized and then pretend like my only two options are to pay for them or send them back to you), I had never realized you were good at anything.

I foolishly just assumed that your only business was taking pictures of students with noticeable milk mustaches and one side of their shirt collars sticking up. I never imagined you took good pictures of anyone, or anything. Then, we got a puppy.

Now granted, we’re on day ten of having her in the house, and I’m going on an average of three and a half minutes of sleep per night, but I think my judgement was sound in this case. We took our new puppy dog to the vet on Monday, and there, in the front office, your other line of work was showcased.

You take portraits of pets! Who knew? Well, I guess maybe you guys knew, since you do it. Although, based on some of the decisions I’ve seen you human school portrait folks make, maybe you might not be aware. Go ahead and ask around. If the pet portrait thing is another division, can you please let them know they’re doing a good job?

There were big canvas portraits of dogs and cats, all over the walls in the waiting area. Bigger than life-size, the ten or twelve black and white photographs showcased the animals perfectly.

I’m not sure if they were the fall or spring pictures from obedience school, but they were really great. None of their smiles looked forced. None of their collars had any parts sticking up. Their hair wasn’t messed up, there was no food stuck to any of their faces, and none of them were covered in chalk or paint.

Plus, they were all just head shots of the dogs and cats, so your pet people even figured out how to avoid the embarrassing cow turd chair problem.  

Just an all-around outstanding job by the pet school portrait division. Again, please tell them good job, and while you’re over there, you human school portrait guys might want to ask them for some pointers. Just a thought.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What Were We Thinking?

We had an amazing two-week vacation on the east coast with my family, but I arrived home to a mountain of paperwork and a to-do list a mile long. The top of the list is my new book. I finished writing book three of The Sycamore Detective Agency series last month, and my editors are starting to return manuscripts, so I am anxious to get on the revisions and get the book that much closer to being ready.

So, what’s the absolute stupidest thing you can do if you have a bunch of work to get done? Get a puppy, of course.

The boys wrote up a puppy contract just before Christmas last year, and have been harassing us to sign it ever since. It states that we, as the parents, will need to do nothing and pay for nothing in regard to the puppy. In exchange for agreeing to board the dog, they would handle all the care, feeding, and paying.

We were naturally skeptical, based on previous smaller-scale pet experiences. We have watched them literally forget that we even owned goldfish three days after bringing them home from the fair. Also, as far as the financial side goes, between the three of them they have seven bucks, so footing the bill for a dog seemed like it might stretch them a little thin.

After some major private parental deliberations, we decided we would let them slide on a few of the finer points of the financial contract, and bit the bullet. It was time to get a dog. We broke the news to them while we were on vacation, which resulted in some extra security and cleaning fees, since we had to scape them off the ceiling of our Airbnb.

We arrived home from our trip late Saturday night, so naturally, Sunday morning we got up and drove to get a puppy.

Super dumb idea.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been involved in taking care of an eight-week-old dog, but they are just ridiculous. They’re like having a crawling infant, except you can’t put diapers on them. Human babies rarely shred their diapers with needle-sharp fangs.

We’ve only had her for three days and she’s peed and pooped on our carpet - and this is just a rough guess, since I’m sleep-deprived – about three thousand times. You do not want to visit right now, and if you do, do NOT sit on the carpet.

Actually, on second thought, please visit. You can puppy sit for a night or two! It’s a blast. (Plus, I’ll get some sleep.)

The night we brought her home, my wife told me that I got the first shift since she needed to get up early for work. Fine, I said. No problem. I foolishly thought she meant I would get to sleep in my own bed and just get up when the dog needed to go out. Turns out that wasn’t what she meant at all.

I was getting in bed and she looked at me like I was an idiot. (I get that a lot.)

“What are you doing?”
“Umm… is this a trick question?”
“You said you’d take the first night.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“Then why are you getting in this bed? You and the dog are downstairs in the guest room.”

So, I slept downstairs in the guest room with the puppy. That was fun. Between her being in a new house without her mommy, and me being three feet from her, and both of us crying, the dog and I got a combined total seven minutes of sleep.

The next day, while yawning continuously, I got exactly nothing done. I was able to say things like “Potty,” “No,” “Good dog,” and “Dammit, my ankles are not chew toys!” about a million times, though, so I felt good about my day.

After another night of being awake in the guest room, day two provided zero opportunities for getting any work done either, but I did spend about half the day in the backyard asking the puppy to go potty in a designated spot. It was majorly fulfilling. I got to praise her a couple times when it actually happened correctly, but I spent the remainder of the day cleaning up all the spots on the carpet where it happened incorrectly. That was great, too.

Night three in the guest room provided a little more sleep for both of us, as she seems to be getting more comfortable in her new surroundings. Maybe I’ll get to sleep in my own bed tonight? Wouldn’t that be cool.

As for today, the only thing I’ve managed to do between puppy training is write this, and I have to stop now, because it’s time to go potty again.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll publish that third book when the dog is two or three years old.

Puppies are fun. You should totally get one.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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 2, 2017

I'm a Little Crabby

My extended family and I were in the Outer Banks last week on vacation. In case you are unaware, the Outer Banks, or OBX, as the locals call it, is basically a sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean just off of North Carolina. It runs half the length of the NC coastline and varies in width between a staggering five neighborhood blocks wide and just wide enough for one bicycle and one jogger to pass each other if the jogger turns sideways.

The first people to visit the OBX were Native Americans in the early 1500s. They took one look at the North Carolina Highway Department’s ridiculous layout of having the only two bridges from the mainland connect smack in the middle of the two hundred-mile-long stretch, and said, “Forget this mess. Traffic is going to be a nightmare.”

They were right.

The next group of people to visit the OBX were the Europeans, who arrived in the late 1500s and stayed, even though the prices for crab cakes and hand-churned ice cream bordered on gouging. A group from the Netherlands built the first three-story home on the beach, complete with ten bedrooms, eight and a half baths, a pool, a hot tub, and a gourmet kitchen with two dishwashers. The Germans immediately opened a real estate office specializing in vacation rentals and offered to represent them. A day later, an English immigrant sold them the first hurricane insurance policy in America’s history. Within a week they had one hundred percent occupancy from a vacationing Virginia dentist and his extended family, and the OBX was born.

I’m sure a lot of notable people have vacationed in the OBX over the years, but certainly it’s most famous visitors were Orville and Wilbur Wright. They were on more of a working vacation, busy running up and down sand dunes dressed in three-piece suits and snappy patent leather shoes. Sure, they managed the first powered, controlled flights in history, but unfortunately for aviation, they chose a field in Kitty Hawk. Amazingly, they were only three or four blocks from the town of Kill Devil Hills! Think of how much cooler the history books would sound. I’m not sure what they were thinking. At least they didn’t choose the town of Duck. (Yes, Duck, NC. No, I’m not making that up.)

For those of us less visionary visitors who go to the OBX for non-working vacations, we are forced to choose a side each day. There are two sides to the OBX – the ocean side and the sound side.

The ocean side offers endless wonderful beaches with one main activity – playing in the waves. The sound side offers jet skiing, wind surfing, paddle boarding, boating, fishing, and my personal favorite, chicken neckin’.

No, that’s not what it means.

Chicken neckin’ is marketed by the OBX board of tourism as a fun and surprisingly effective way to catch the delicious Carolina blue crab. All you need is a string, a chicken’s neck, and a public dock on the water. You simply drop the chicken neck down to the bottom on a string, the blue crab grabs on for a tasty meal, and you pull him right out of the water. What could be simpler or more fun for the whole family?

Where do I find a chicken’s neck that I do not have to separate from the chicken myself?, you might ask. Simple. Every tackle shop in the OBX has a freezer full of them in the back.

Do I need to buy an expensive fishing license to catch crabs in the state of North Carolina?
Of course not. Not to chicken neck. It’s free!

What is the limit?
Each visitor to our beautiful state can catch and keep fifty blue crabs per day! Fifty! Per day! That’s enough to feed an entire three-story, ten-bedroom vacation rental every night.

I love crab, and this sounds like my kind of family fun, OBX. Let’s do this!

Off to the tackle shop I went to get my family outfitted for this unique, exciting, and free brand of entertainment. In the back of the shop I found the freezer full of chicken necks, right next to the wall of chicken neckin’ gear.

Here’s the special chicken neckin’ string with a weight and a cool chicken neck attaching wire. That’s handy. Ooh, look! Nets that collapse on the bottom and can catch lots of crabs at once instead of just one at a time. And the great state of North Carolina says I can use five collapsible crab traps without needing a fishing license. Sweet!

And don’t forget your long-handled net to make sure you don’t lose the crabs at the surface when you’re pulling them up hand over fist.

And you’ll need one of these special chicken neckin’ five-gallon buckets to hold the hundreds of crabs you and your family will catch.

We also sell special crab claw-proof rope for those collapsible net traps. You don’t want to be hauling up a mess of blue crab only to lose them because you were using the wrong rope!

And we also sell pliers, because it never hurts to have pliers when you’re fishing.

Oh, and of course, the chicken necks.

That will be seventy-five dollars, sir.

Wow! This “free” form of wholesome outdoor family entertainment is expensive. But let’s keep our eye on the prize. That’s a small price to pay for a week of all the crab we can eat. We’re going to be money ahead in no time. Someone start melting the butter. It’s chicken neckin’ time!

We loaded up the rented minivan with eager chicken neckers, and off we went to the public docks at the old city park – “the best place in the OBX to catch blue crab,” as advertised by every tackle shop and board of tourism flyer on the two hundred-mile stretch of sunbaked sand.  

We arrived on the dock, greeted by a mob of other tourists, all sporting their shiny new buckets and collapsible nets with special crab claw-proof ropes.

“Any luck?” we ask hopefully.

“Not yet,” they reply, returning our hopeful smiles, only with a slight sadness behind their eyes.

We find an open section of dock and get right to our wholesome family fun. After an hour or so of not catching a single blue crab, I start to look around. Hmm… there’s not one scratched-up bucket or weathered-looking long-handled net out here. I get the feeling the local chicken neckers aren’t here with us at “the best place in the OBX to catch blue crab.”  

“Let’s try again early tomorrow morning,” I told the kids, “before everyone else is here.”

That might be a good plan at another vacation destination, but not so much for us in the OBX. The early bird may get the worm, but the early OBX chicken neckin’ tourist gets exactly one blue crab that is too small to keep.

Wash, rinse, repeat for the next week, trying desperately to get your money’s worth out of your heap of surprisingly ineffective chicken neckin’ gear, and do you know what you end up with?

One stinkin’ crab, that’s what. One stinkin’ blue crab that may or may not have just barely made the five-inch size limit, but we were damn-sure keeping.

He was delicious. We split him between all the kids that stuck with the chicken neckin’ effort over the week. We each had one bite about the size of a thumbnail.

We did end up having some good family time together during this wholesome and fun family activity, but I must say, if you thought the OBX was price gouging on shrimp scampi, wait until you spend twelve hundred dollars a pound for crab.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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!