Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Gift of Life

Of all the modern-day Christmas miracles out there, the one that stands out the most to me is the female of the species. Sure, there are many miraculous things about women; pregnancy, childbirth, ability to multi-task, willingness to ask for directions, and the list goes on and on. But I am talking about a very specific skillset that only women have, that gets highlighted during the holidays: The ability to wrap gifts.

Sure, anyone with opposable thumbs can wrap a box up with paper, but women possess the unique ability to do it without having it end up looking like it was done by a drugged chimpanzee with an unnatural love for Scotch tape.

I am a reasonably smart guy, insofar as I can brush my own teeth and dress myself. I can drive a car, heat up canned food without burning the house down (knock on wood), and even do algebra problems with less than two variables. I was trained by a world-class university in California to be an engineer, and they even gave me a diploma. (Although it was never signed... When I asked them about that, they said, “Just take it and go!”)

Legitimate college diploma or not, you would think that a man who can set his own alarm clock would be able to get better at gift wrapping as the years went on, but sadly, that is not the case. I seem to be getting worse, actually. I don’t even bother trying to put bows on gifts anymore. The bow was meant to increase a gift’s appeal – adding to its beauty. My attempts at bows have the exact opposite effect, making the gift look even more like it was attacked by wolverines prior to ending up under the Christmas tree.

I apparently lack every skill necessary to make a present look attractive, because I can’t even use gift bags correctly. When they first became popular I thought gift bags were my salvation, until my wife informed me that you must put tissue paper on top of the gift, and have some of it stick out of the top of the bag. Sounds simple enough, and she makes it look so easy, but try as I might I cannot even put a simple piece of tissue paper in a bag and have it protrude properly. It always ends up looking like I am giving you an unappealing bag of used tissue paper instead of an enticing and mysterious gift.

There is an upside to my total lack of skill with wrapping paper, however. I am never asked to help with the Santa gifts. We want Christmas to remain magical for as long as possible with our boys, and even my five-year-old would know something was amiss when he saw my ridiculously lopsided end folds.

I only had to wrap one present this year. I took my time, concentrated, started over a few times, and it still looks like I wrapped it with my feet. I am just never going to be good at it. While I may be horrible with the wrapping paper, I must say, I am a genius when it comes to the gift itself. This year I got my wife the gift of life. My life.

What better gift for a spouse than a gift that helps ensure her partner will be around for many more years to walk through this crazy world with her, hand in hand? What magical gift is this, you may ask? The answer is simple. I bought my wife a new shower mirror for me.

Confused? So was she. Go figure.

It’s really quite simple. We have a mirror in our shower that I use to shave. It’s a 6-inch round plastic-framed mirror that is attached to the shower wall at my face level with a suction cup. The suction cup is getting old. Twice in the last few months, the suction cup has failed to do its job of sucking, and the mirror has fallen loudly off the wall and down onto the floor of the shower. Both times this happened it was the middle of the night. When the shower mirror bangs around at the bottom of the shower in the middle of the night, the glass shower walls have an amplifying effect that makes it sound as if a truck has just driven through the wall of the bathroom and completely destroyed the shower. When I hear a truck drive through a wall of our house in the middle of the night, I sit bolt upright in bed with my heart going approximately 5000 beats/minute. Over the roar of the blood jack-hammering in my ears I hear my wife mumble, “It’s just your shower mirror,” as she casually rolls over to go back to sleep. I have no idea how she stays so calm, but I am positive that my heart cannot take a third shower mirror suction cup failure.

So, to ensure that my wife has a live husband going forward, I bought her a new shower mirror. This time with a more permanent wall attachment than a suction cup.

Thoughtful? I thought so. All she said was, “Oh look. You gave yourself a new mirror. What a great gift for me.”

I assumed that she would have immediately understood the underlying implications of a long and happy marriage that will be given to us by this simple new mirror, but her tone of voice seemed more than a little sarcastic. Hmm…

Well, it might not have been the most well-received gift ever, but at least the wrapping job sucked.

Merry Christmas, baby.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, December 18, 2013

The 2013 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

It’s only one week until jolly old St. Nick shimmies down your chimney, and you’ve put off writing your Christmas letter again this year, haven’t you? There is no way you’ll get it written in time at this point. Why do you do this every year? Well, never mind that guilt trip! Pour yourself another glass of 100-proof eggnog and relax. Once again, I’ve got you covered. I have created another handy do-it-yourself template to help you whip out your 2013 Christmas letter in no time flat. As with previous years’ templates, just fill in your last name(s) in the blank and circle the appropriate choices, and you're in business.

Christmas 2013

Seasons Greetings! We here at the __________________ house are very (grateful/fed up) with all of the (blessings/crap) we have received this year.

Life is (good/a pain), and we hope this letter finds you feeling the same. Our year was a whirlwind of (good news/disappointments). Mom and dad are still (going strong/comatose) most days with their (volunteer work/heavy drinking), and they continue to find life (rewarding/miserable). Dad still says (lovingly/bitterly) that mom is the (best/worst) thing that ever happened to him. They are (inseparable/insufferable), and we know they will be (right beside/the death of) each other the rest of their days.

Dad still finds time to play (bocce/eight) ball down at the (park/Stagger Inn) every week and had a (championship tournament/close call) in July with a group of (seniors/bikers). He came home with a (second place trophy/concussion).

Mom lives for her (grandkids/Bunco night) and spends as much time (with them/rolling dice) as possible. She spoils (them/the mood) incessantly, and more than a few (tickle fests/fist fights) have broken out this past year. The (kids/Bunco ladies) are always thrilled to see her (coming/go).

Sister was recently (engaged/incarcerated) and is on (cloud/cell block) nine. She and her (fiancĂ©/cellmate) are planning a (large/secret) (wedding ceremony/prison break) for next summer. We are helping as much as we can without getting (in the way/arrested). She jokingly says they are both looking forward to the big event, but can’t guarantee they won’t (elope/get shanked) before it happens.

Brother received another (pro/de)motion at work, and has moved (offices/nowhere) yet again. They obviously seem to think he’s doing a (good/lousy) job! He is always (modest/dejected) about his career and says that he has a (great/worthless) team constantly (supporting/undermining) him, and he (couldn’t/could) do it without them. He and his (wife/roommate) are looking to move out of the big city and find a place in the (suburbs/country) with less (crime/neighbors). We are (hoping/afraid) that means they’re planning to start (a family/cooking meth)!

As for us, it was another year of (blessings/bitter disappointment). Our children continue to (thrive/whine) at almost everything they do, and so far, this has been another (joyous/trying) school year. Both kids have already received the principal’s (award/wrath) more than a few times for (excellence/insolence) in the classroom.

Junior has been (swimming/eating) competitively for the last few years, and he really excels at (butterfly/sitting). He has come in first place in (meets/nothing) (twice this year/ever). He just might be the next (Michael Phelps/patient) for the (Olympic team/gastric bypass surgeon).

Our daughter has a real knack for playing (the piano/her mom). She manipulates (the keys/her mother) with amazing ease, and the (music/money) that pours forth is astounding. With her (teacher’s/mother’s) help, she continues to outdo (herself/my paychecks) at every (recital/mall). I am doubly (blessed/cursed) that she also has her mother’s (voice/taste). They both (sing/dress) like (angels/hookers).

We count this chance to connect with you among our (blessings/obligations), and we hope you can (be with/get away from) your family this holiday season. We look forward to (seeing/not hearing from) you in the coming year.

Merry Christmas!

You’re welcome! Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, December 11, 2013

Remote Training My Kids

I have decided what I really want for Christmas. Shock collars. For my kids. I know shock collars are traditionally put on hunting dogs, but I see some real potential for them in the arena of parenting. Actually, they are now known as “remote trainers” in the hunting world, since most of them have a feature where you can first send your misbehaving pooch an audible tone instead of a shock. If they don’t get the message to heel from the beep in their ear, then you can hit them with the voltage to straighten them out.

That’s a good system, and “remote trainer” is a good name for what I want to outfit my children with. I’m not sure a big dog collar is really the way to go with kids, but it will have to do until the technology catches up and we can have implantable chips behind their ears.

The idea hit me the other morning while I was in my office. My boys were in the game room down the hall watching early morning cartoons, and my wife was still sleeping. They were forgetting to use their whisper voices during an argument about Phineas and Ferb, and I was forced to get out of my chair and walk down the hall to shush them. Since my wife was sleeping in the next room, I couldn’t just remain seated and yell for them to be quiet.

Besides the obvious irony of yelling “Be quiet,” we are trying to do less remote voice-activated parenting, not more. Standing in one place and yelling castigations at your kids is a very Walmart style of parenting, and we are looking to parent at at least a Target or Costco level. The remote trainer would help tremendously in that effort, since our house is 3200 square feet. I don’t want to yell, but I also don’t want to walk up all those damn stairs again just to quietly tell one of my boys to stop sitting on the other one.

The children’s remote trainer I’m envisioning would go much further than the canine version, since we are dealing with humans here, even if the difference is hard to perceive most days. The kid’s collars would obviously have the shock feature and the audible tone, but they would also have a two-way intercom, a closed-circuit video camera, a muted listening mode, and even a heart rate monitor.

Picture the scene:
You are lounging comfortably in the living room with your favorite (insert time-sucking device here). You hear one of your offspring fail to use his or her nice words. The situation is escalating, and soon there will be hurt feelings (or noses) if cooler adult heads do not intervene. You call out for your spouse, but they have obviously fled the house in search of a more peaceful environment. It is up to you to discipline your children. Drat.

If you are striving to parent above a Walmart level, this is when you would normally have to resist your natural urge to yell “Knock it off!” at the top of your lungs and actually move your butt out of the chair. No need! Enter your saving grace, the Smidge Long distAnce Parenting Electronic Module, or SLAP ‘EM, for short. Just pull up the SLAP ‘EM app on your smartphone, choose the offending child from the home screen, and pick your mode of action. A friendly audible tone to alert the offending youngster that punishment is coming if immediate action is not taken to apply the golden rule and use your nice words, or perhaps a friendly conversation with the tyke on the intercom located just below his or her chin. After getting laid out on the carpet a few times with the 2000-volt “enforcer” mode, your little cutie pies should straighten up and fly right at the first hint of sound from their new collars.

Afraid they might try to remove the collar and negate its effectiveness? Not to worry. Any unauthorized tampering with the locking clasp and the enforcer mode is triggered. Zap! They won’t try that twice.

Things a little too quiet in the next room? Check the video feed and listen in to see what your angel is up to. You can check their vital stats, too. Monitor heart rate and breathing for their safety, and also to make sure they didn’t somehow Houdini the thing off and leave it lying on the floor while you mistakenly think they are just having an impromptu nap.

With a 20-year battery life and the app running off your Wi-Fi at home, and your cell signal when your child is roaming, the SLAP ‘EM will have an unlimited range, so you can use it when they are in elementary school all the way through grad school. You can monitor their school day from the comfort of your couch, or if you prefer, shareable access codes to the smartphone app will allow other parents and even their teachers to keep them in line at all times. Sleepovers will cease to be the chaotic nightmare they once were when all the kids see their names on your SLAP ‘EM home screen.

“What about my younger kids?” you ask. Although we no longer have any toddlers in the house, I remember them as being a handful. They make toddler leashes, but do you really want to step over that line and put your toddler on an actual leash? Of course you do. You just don’t want to be actually seen in public with your kid on an actual leash, but in public is exactly where you need it. Problem solved with the SLAP ‘EM! You have your cell phone in your hand at all times anyway, so why not let that fact put the fear of God into your little munchkins? It’s an electronic leash, with no unsightly, shame-inducing actual physical tether.

No kid will be safe when you can always reach out and SLAP ‘EM! (All rights reserved) Look for them at fine retailers -- or at least at Walmart -- by next Christmas.

What will all this surveillance and instant punishment do to the next generation of children? No telling, but I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, December 4, 2013

I'll Trade You My Leaves for Your Fruit

Once a leaf falls from my tree, is it really my responsibility anymore? That is the question I find myself asking around this time each year. (Our leaves are still falling here in California. I know for you folks in the northeast that happens in late July, but we have mild weather here. There are earthquakes, though, and you don't want any of that nonsense, so stay where you are!)

Sure, that fallen leaf is only ten feet away on my neighbor's side of our connected front lawn, but where does it end? What if the wind blew it five blocks away? You can't expect me to chase it down and collect it then, can you? We have to draw the line somewhere, and in this case, there happens to be an actual property line. This is usually denoted by a fence, but in the case of our front yards, it’s denoted where the dead, patchy, multi-variety grass of my lawn gives way to the lush, green, homogenous grass of my neighbor's side. He’s an overachiever.

The offending (and offensive) tree I speak of is The Tree of Death. (I gave it that name because of how bad it smells in the spring. You can read more about that here: The Tree of Death, and Other Hilarious Stories) I didn’t plant the tree. It came with the house, and I really don’t even know or care what kind of tree it is. It’s really beautiful in November, as it turns from green to yellow and then bright orange and red, which almost makes up for its offensive springtime odor. Almost.

The tree and I get along fine in the summer and the dead of winter, but the late November start of the leaf drop brings me renewed feelings of malevolence toward my tree. Neither of our next-door neighbors have leaf-dropping trees in their front yards, so any leaves on their lawns are usually a direct result of my tree. This puts me in a strangely uncomfortable position, leaf-wise.

“Hi neighbor. Good breeze yesterday. I see you ended up with most of the leaves off my tree. You’re welcome!”

If we had fences it would be one thing, but it’s all out in the open in the front yards. What am I supposed to do? Stand under the tree with a Hefty bag and catch them all? I can’t rake every day. (Actually, I could rake every day, but let’s be serious.) Every time I walk outside and see my neighbor’s usually pristine lawn covered with my leaves, I get a slight twinge of guilt, and it makes me dislike that tree just a little more. Why couldn’t you have been a pine?

Speaking of fences, I think the rules on fence/tree ownership are fairly clear. If someone else’s tree hangs over your fence, you are responsible for all tree trimming and leaf collection on your side of the fence. In exchange for that annoying and unsolicited responsibility, you are entitled to any fruit on your side. Simple. Here’s the thing about my neighbors, though. They own fruit trees and I don’t. Fruit trees don’t drop nearly as many leaves as annoying “decorative” trees like The Tree of Death. Also, they do not own any annoying decorative trees that drop any leaves on my property. All the annoying ones are mine, front yard and back fence. So, the relationship is as follows: I give them leaves that they have to clean up, and they give me fruit.

That’s how the houses came when we both bought them, but I can’t help but feel a little guilty about the imbalance. It doesn’t help matters that my neighbor doesn’t really fully grasp the fruit rules, either. He thinks I am entitled to only the fruit that is hanging on my side of the fence, if we were to extend an imaginary fence line straight up in the air. I argue that I am obviously entitled to any fruit that I can reach without a ladder. I think he’s mad because we have sort of a short fence, and I can reach most of the lemon tree.

It’s not my fault I’m 6’-1”. I’m sorry you didn’t get that many lemons, but you should blame nature, or whoever built this fence. Or whoever left this stepstool here.

Speaking of feeling guilty, on an entirely different subject, I am a little fuzzy on proper neighbor etiquette when it comes to trash cans. Christmas is coming up, and with it the inevitable increase in trash volume caused by all the used wrapping paper, boxes, holiday cards, and whiskey bottles. The question is this: Is it OK to put trash in your neighbor’s can if yours is full and theirs isn’t?

If they weren’t going to use all the space, then what’s the harm, right? The trash company charges them the same amount to pick it up every week whether it’s full or not, right?

Now, let’s say you have a neighbor who almost never fills his trash can up all the way. Maybe he’s a neighbor who has fruit trees, hypothetically speaking. And what if you asked yourself a while ago, why do I need to pay for my own trash service if he never uses all of his can?

The question is, hypothetically, is it right for him to get mad and threaten to call the police if you have hypothetically cancelled your own trash service and are topping his trash can off for him every week?

I mean, what’s the big deal? Why should he be so concerned about my trash in his trash bin all of a sudden? His green waste bin is already full of my leaves! What’s the difference?

I don’t understand why he’s so grumpy. I think I’ll go have a nice tall glass of homemade lemonade and ponder that one for a while.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, November 27, 2013


It is that time of year again, when we sit down and reflect on what we are thankful for in our lives. Every year I count my wife and kids at the top of the list, but this year I am re-thinking that. My wife is still at the top of the list, no doubt, but the kids? Being home full-time with our three boys has caused me to examine my feelings toward them. I have been directly in charge of their care and feeding for a while now, and for the most part, they seem to do three main things:

1) Rather ungratefully wolf down food that I prepare for them
2) Make one seemingly never-ending mess with that food, and their shoes, toys, and clothes
3) Argue with each other and with me

Hmm… Am I really thankful for that? Truth be told, if they were someone else’s kids, I would have already handed each one of them a twenty dollar bill, shown them the front door, and wished them the best of luck. Since that is probably breaking some sort of law or statute when they are your own kids, I have kept them around. Plus, my wife would notice if any of them were missing, and she’d be mad.

What am I really thankful for with regard to my boys? I am thankful that our elementary school hasn’t kicked any of them out yet. I love our elementary school for that fact. I volunteer there one day a week, and I have the teachers and staff fooled into thinking I do it because I am just a nice guy, but I’m really there to keep my ear to the ground and make sure that I can head off any potential disciplinary problems before they get out of hand. They think my boys are nice kids, but I’ve seen them at home. I know better. I know that if any one of my boys ever got kicked out and I had to spend all day with them, seven days a week, I would not make it. Or they wouldn’t. So, I trade one day a week to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Since Son Number Three is the biggest wildcard, behaviorally speaking, I spend the most time volunteering in his kindergarten class. The other day his teacher asked me to help five of the kids make their “apple turkeys.” The rest of the class had made them the day before, so I had already seen Son Number Three’s. It was really cool. They had taken a plain old apple, and turned it into a big tom turkey using toothpicks and candy. The neck was made from two mini marshmallows with a full-size marshmallow as the head. He had raisin eyes, a gumdrop mouth, and a red Swedish fish for a wattle. (You may now Google either or both of those things if you don’t know what they are). His tail feathers were made from five toothpicks with three different colored gumdrops on each one. The only anatomically incorrect aspect was the three toothpicks necessary for support legs, instead of just two.

His teacher handed me the small plastic tubs with all the candy and toothpicks, gave me five plain apples and the example finished product, and said, “Good luck.” (She may have also laughed maniacally under her breath, or I may have just imagined that.)

About three minutes into the project, I realized something about myself. I am not mentally or emotionally cut out for managing one five-year-old with a Thanksgiving food craft/project, let alone a group of them.

I had a broad spectrum of interest levels, crafting skills, and outright hunger in my little group of angels. One little girl took immediate initiative with the toothpick tub, turning her apple into a pincushion. Another little girl was sitting with her hands in her lap, unwilling to do anything on her own, and constantly saying, “I need help. I need help.” Over and over and over. And over. Another girl was determined to make her turkey upside down, and one of the two boys was just sitting at the table, alternately stuffing gumdrops and mini marshmallows into his mouth. He probably ate at least four turkeys’ worth.

Nothing was going right, and it wasn’t going right in five places at once. All the turkeys’ tripod legs broke immediately. None of the full-size marshmallow heads would stay on. The wattles were falling off. None of the raisin eyes looked right. Most of the turkeys looked cross-eyed, and one looked drunk. None of the mouths were right. A whole gumdrop was too big for the mouth, and the example had a quarter of a gumdrop, but no indication of how the gumdrop was quartered. It turns out you can’t pull a gumdrop apart with your fingers and have any pieces remain recognizable enough to be an apple turkey’s mouth. It also turns out that it is possible to cut gumdrops with kindergarten scissors, but I doubt you can use the scissors for anything else productive afterward. Even with scissor-cut gumdrops, the turkeys all looked like they had collagen-injected lips, and turkeys aren’t even supposed to have lips, let alone, luscious ones.

Besides my mental back-and-forth about whether or not I could sneak out of the classroom mid-project and just go home, the other thought that kept running through my mind was, “I’m shortchanging these five kids.”

The turkeys looked nothing like the example. They looked nothing like the one my son brought home the day before. His looked like a cool tom turkey made from an apple and some assorted candy. The five I had just helped create looked like the result of a bomb going off near a wooden crate of apples inside a candy factory.

The kids didn’t know any better. They thought they were great. But I knew. I knew their parents would have to smile and say, “That’s really great, sweetie,” all the while thinking, what the hell is this thing supposed to be?

That was my fault. I took what was a fun holiday moment for my son and me the day before, and turned it into a “just another weird art project from school” moment for five families. I wanted to send each kid home with a note apologizing to the parents, and a picture of the example. “This is what your kid’s apple turkey would have looked like if a professional had been helping them. I am not a qualified kindergarten teacher. I am only a dad, and I am sorry for my deficiencies with regard to fruit and candy art.”

I obviously joke about it, but truth be told, I am very thankful for my boys, although, usually when they are sleeping. This year I am also very thankful for teachers. Kindergarten teachers, especially. I am thankful that I am not one, and I am incredibly thankful that there are folks out there crazy enough to want the job! You’re the best!

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, November 20, 2013

What Does the Fox Say

“Bite me, Ylvis.” That’s what the dad says. I have no idea what the fox says, but I can assure you it is not, ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding, or wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow, or even hatee-hatee-hatee-ho, or any of the other frustratingly catchy ditties you came up with.

If you don’t have any idea what I am talking about, I envy you more than you will ever know. I long for that time of innocence. A simpler time, a few weeks ago, before some Norwegian idiots asked, “What does the fox say?”

If you have not seen this viral YouTube video yet, or more to the point, if you have not heard the song yet, do not even think about going to look for it. I will attempt to describe for you the indescribable. Please do not get curious and think you can handle it on your own, recklessly Googling “What.”

Yes, that is correct, these two pickled fish-loving yahoos that go by the name Ylvis have gone so viral that all you have to type in the Google search bar is “what,” and the first auto-fill suggestion is “what does the fox say,” with the next option being, “what is twerking.” There has never been more clear statistical evidence that we are doomed than Google auto-fill.

This music video is the most ridiculous thing you will ever see, and that includes every Richard Simmons workout video and every Paris Hilton/Kim Kardashian interview ever filmed. The good news (for Ylvis, at least) is they were not attempting to make a serious song and music video. They are a Norwegian comedy duo -- either brothers, or a gay couple, since they have matching last names -- and this video was just another one of their parody/gag songs.

The song is basically one man’s deep inner thoughts about the fact that he doesn’t know what sound a fox makes, and that concerns him, due to his deep, abiding love of foxes. The video starts out at a cocktail party where all the guests are sipping champagne and wearing animal costumes. We find out that the mouse goes squeak, the elephant goes toot, the fish goes blub, the duck goes quack (pronounced in Norway English as “kwok”), and the seal, arguably, goes ow, ow, ow. But, what does the fox say?

We then cut to the forest at night, where an old man sits in a rocking chair under a lamp, reading a book to his grandson, surrounded by what appears to be the entire wait staff from the local Olive Garden, wearing fox ears and whisker makeup, dancing in front of a laser show. The comedy super-power duo of Ylvis dance in their full-body fox outfits, theorizing what annoyingly catchy phrases a fox might sing.

And because that wasn’t awesome enough, the song switches to more of a love ballad in the middle, as the two full-size fox-men rise into the air to hover over the all-you-can-eat breadstick and salad dance troupe, and croon their undying love for the fox, singing “you’re my guardian angel.”

It’s really special.

Normally with this kind of thing, the world would just simply ignore it. The problem is, this idiotic song is really, really catchy, and that seems to be why every kid in America is currently singing it, including my three boys. And why it is stuck in my head.

I hate you, Ylvis.

This could have and should have been stopped. What do we even have the NSA and the CIA for, anyway? Can you guys over there please get off our cell phones for a minute and pay attention to the incoming threats from other nations? I realize you might be concentrating on the sand countries, threat-wise, but I really think you are dropping the ball when it comes to Scandinavia. In addition to this current fox jingle breach, back in the mid-seventies, you failed to prevent the spread of ABBA into this country, and nearly 30 years later, that lack of action resulted in my wife tricking me into seeing Momma Mia! live on stage. I am still not happy about that.

And don’t think you guys from YouTube are blameless here. This ridiculous video has over 234 million hits at the time of this writing. Do you have any idea how many parents are being affected by this epidemic? Probably no less than 468 million to date. You have the power to stop that! Just shut it down.

“But the hit count says that this is what you want to see,” you YouTube executives might say.

“No!” says us. We do not want any more of this infernal Nordic nonsense. This video is like a car accident. When we drive by, we have to look, but we would have preferred to not have the accident happen in the first place. You guys over at YouTube can clear up the accident right now, but you won’t do it. Delete this damn thing! What are you worried about?

Freedom of speech? They’re from Norway! Our Constitution doesn’t even apply to us anymore. Why would it apply to them?

Censorship laws? You’re YouTube! You’re owned by Google. You have more money that the rest of the world put together. If they sue you, just buy Norway and tell them to go hike a fjord.

But you won’t do that, will you, YouTube? It’s all about the hit count with you, isn’t it? No regard for the wellbeing of our nation’s youth, or the sanity of their parents. Oh, well. I guess I shouldn’t expect too much from a website founded on Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Hey, Ylvis. I have a deal for you. All 468 million of us parents will each send you a dollar if you never make another song. I’m not sure what that translates to in Norway-bucks, but it should make for a nice retirement.

What do you say?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, November 13, 2013


I don’t like mosquitoes, and I don’t know anyone who does. If I make it to heaven, the first question I’m going to ask is, “Why mosquitoes? Why!?!”

As much as I do not understand their incredibly annoying existence here on earth, I must at least smile at God’s sense of humor about them. He gave the world mosquitoes, which as near as I can tell, serve no good purpose, and then to combat them, He gave us bats.

Rabies-infested flying rodents are the fix for the annoying biting insects. That’s a good one. Maybe, like Richard Simmons workout videos, the mosquito-bat relationship is meant to be a tiny glimpse into what hell is like, in order to make us straighten up and fly right.

I say I don’t like mosquitoes, but that is not entirely accurate. I hate them. That is more accurate. My strong feelings for them no doubt stem from their collective love of me. I am a mosquito magnet. If you are curious how many mosquitoes are in your backyard, just invite me over. I will stand still and you can count them all.

This time of year is when I really ratchet up my hate for mosquitoes to more of a loathing. That’s because I am a duck hunter, and ducks live in the same places as 90% of the world’s mosquitoes. My friend and duck hunting partner, Heath, does not get bitten by mosquitoes. This causes me to hate him a little this time of year, too. I have tried to figure out what I am doing wrong or what he is doing right, but as near as I can tell it comes down to body chemistry. There are two main differences that I can see between us. Heath is always about ten degrees hotter that everyone else, and he only pees once or twice a day. I am a normal temperature, and I pee about every fifteen minutes. That turned out to be the problem a few years ago. (The peeing, not the temperature.)

It was opening day in October, and we were tramping out through the marsh lands in our camouflage duck hunting overall waders. It was a particularly bad year for mosquitoes, and they were so thick that even Heath had sprayed himself head-to-toe with Off. I had so much mosquito repellant on my body, I was shiny. There were so many mosquitoes that if we tried to talk to each other we would get a mouthful. Have you ever had a mouthful of mosquitoes? I don’t recommend it.

Make no mistake, we weren’t doing the nice, friendly, camping-trip application of the bug spray, where you put a little on your hand, and gently rub it onto your cheeks and forehead, being careful not to get any in your eyes. No, we were just closing our eyes and spraying the can directly at our faces from six inches away. I was actually hoping to get some up my nose, just so the mosquitoes wouldn’t try to go there, either. Ever had DEET on your chapped lips? I don’t recommend that either.

I began the morning with two full cans of Deep Woods Off, and by the time we had hiked and slogged out to our hunting spot I was already starting the second can. I’m not even really sure what DEET is, but if it’s flammable, I had enough of it on me that morning to power a large jet engine. Our faces and hands were the only exposed skin, but we were spraying the Off all over our hats and shirtsleeves just to be safe. It was actually doing a really good job of preventing them from biting, but there were so many of them they were still crawling all over us and swarming near our heads. At one point I had a cloud of mosquitoes in front of my face so thick I couldn’t see through them. Once, when there were no ducks in sight, I actually fired a shotgun blast into one of the mosquito clouds, just to kill a few of them with the hot gasses. It’s the small victories in life that make it worthwhile.

It was an uncomfortable situation, to say the least, but it was manageable… until I had to pee.

The way I saw it, I had three options, and holding it, unfortunately, was not one of them. The 32-ounce Coke I had at 3:00 A.M. was not going to wait, and we were literally miles from the nearest indoor plumbing.

Option Number One: Pee in waders.  
Considerations: Although camouflage duck hunting waders are made out of wetsuit material, peeing in your waders is decidedly NOT the same thing as peeing in your wetsuit. Peeing in your wetsuit makes you warm. Peeing in your waders just makes you wet and smelly and gross. (I am just making an educated guess here, since I have never been foolish enough to pee in my waders. I have peed in many a wetsuit, and that is delightful in the cold North Pacific Ocean.)
Decision: No.

Option Number Two: Pull waders down and pee, as if everything is normal.
Considerations: Seven billion hungry mosquitoes, combined with their natural affinity for me, combined with the fact that we’re talking about the absolute least desirable area on my body to have mosquito bites.
Decision: No.

So far, Options One and Two are tied for dead last, which brings us to…

Option Number Three: Stick can of Deep Woods Off down pants and prepare man parts for exposure to the horrendously mosquito-infested outdoors.
Considerations: Dammit!!!!!!!!!
Decision: This is my only option, so… dammit!!!!! Yes.

Ever had DEET on your you-know-what?

I don’t recommend it.

I hate mosquitoes.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, November 6, 2013

Time for a Change - Repost

I understand time zones. Since the earth is round and rotates, they are necessary to make sure half the world doesn’t have to eat lunch in the middle of the night. What I don’t understand is Daylight Savings Time. I mean, I understand the concept of wanting it to stay lighter in the evenings, and I’m all for that. What I don’t get is why we swap back and forth. It presents all sorts of problems, and I am convinced that whoever came up with the brilliant plan to mess with the clocks twice a year never had kids.

We “fell back” this weekend, and when that happens, the news people always mention “the extra hour of sleep” we’re all supposed to get. Not at my house! On Sunday night the kids were literally falling asleep in their dinner. (And, yes, I am using literally correctly, there. We actually had to fish Son Number Three out of his macaroni and cheese for fear of him suffocating at the table.) And guess what happened on Monday morning? I can tell you what wasn’t happening. Sleep. Any mythical “extra” hour of sleep I received on Sunday was promptly nullified when I woke up at 5:00 A.M. to find Son Number One and Two fully dressed and sitting in front of the television, watching cartoons.

“What in the world do you two think you’re doing? It’s five o’clock in the morning!”
“But, Dad, we woke up at four o’clock and it was taking forever to get to six.”

Thanks a lot, Daylight Savings Time!

And why do we always change the clocks on Saturday night? I think the theory is that if you take care of it in the middle of the weekend, the people who forget won’t be late for work. So, let me get this straight. They’re OK with me being late for church, but not for work? Something tells me God doesn’t see it that way, but that’s not even my main objection. If I’m going to have to go through this hassle, you should at least give me the opportunity to have a semi-legitimate excuse for being late for work twice a year. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I’m already tired from my kids either waking up in the middle of the night in the fall, or having to drag them out of bed and give them CPR just to wake them up in the spring.

A Sunday night time change would be great. It would be called “time change Monday,” or “DST day,” and no one would expect you in the office before noon. It would end up being a holiday for the school kids, since, in my experience, school districts rarely miss an opportunity to take a day off.

And don’t even get me started on the actual clocks. My cell phone, my computer, and my Blu-ray player all automatically adjust themselves, and that’s fine. They are connected to the internet, so I trust that they’ll do it when they are supposed to, and even if they don’t, what do I care? I don’t use them to wake up on time for work. My alarm clock, on the other hand, has an optional setting for DST. This is possibly the worst “feature” on an alarm clock ever. I never know if the DST function is activated or not, and how the hell should my alarm clock even be able to know what day it is supposed to adjust the time, anyway? It’s not connected to the internet. I end up setting my clock ahead or back before I go to sleep, and then waking up three times in the middle of the night, comparing it to my wife’s clock to make sure it didn’t automatically change itself again at 2:00 A.M.

Then there are all the other clocks I have to deal with. At last count, that included the microwave, the stove, four bedside clocks, the house phone, two wristwatches, the VCR (yes, we still have one of those), two thermostats, the automatic sprinkler timer in the garage, a wall clock in my office, and two cars. Since the microwave and the stove clocks are right on top of each other, it takes me twice as long to set them, because I have to make sure they are exactly synchronized, or it will bug the bejeezus out of me when they say different times. One of our cars takes forever, too, because we have an aftermarket stereo in it, and we can never remember how to set it. My wife actually had to take it back to the electronics place where we bought the stereo once, just to get them to show her how to do it, because we gave up trying to figure it out.

And if the clocks themselves weren’t confusing enough, what about the states? Hawaii and Arizona do not use Daylight Savings Time, and half of Indiana doesn’t use it, while the other half does. What the hell is up with that? Trying to do the math on time zones is already enough of a headache, but when some states are allowed to further complicate the issue by going renegade on us, that is too much. I mean, come on, Indiana, half and half? Really?

I have first-hand experience in how confusing this can be. When I was in college in California, we went to Arizona for spring break. Arizona is on mountain time, so we knew we were in a different time zone, and needed to adjust the clocks ahead an hour, but someone knew that Arizona was either always on DST or never on it, but didn’t know which. Since we didn’t know whether they were permanently sprung forward, or permanently falled back, and no one was really even sure when we were supposed to change the clocks in California, we didn’t know if we should leave our watches alone, set them ahead an hour, or set them back two hours. Since this was before the internet and cell phones, the end result was a vacation where no one could agree on what time it was. Fortunately, the beer supplies held out, and no one really cared.

I personally think we should put all 50 states on permanent DST and be done with it. Sure, the winter mornings will be a little dark, but who cares? We’ll still have longer summers evening hours to play baseball, and no one will ever have to change the time on 17 clocks again, or deal with a seven-year-old who’s body doesn’t adjust, no matter what the clock says.

Like I said, the time zones are confusing enough. Let’s be done with unnecessary time changes and all the “spring forward, fall back” nonsense. Why overcomplicate things? As long as we’re on the subject, I also think it should be illegal for a state to have two different time zones. If you lived right on the line, how would you know when the store opened, or what time your favorite TV show comes on? How would you ever plan anything?
“Meet me at three o’clock.”
“Which three o’clock?”

 What if you lived in one time zone and worked in another?

That would be my idea of hell. I can’t even imagine what those poor folks in Indiana are going through right now.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, October 30, 2013


I am old enough to remember way back when Halloween was a holiday for kids. It has now been completely hijacked by two separate adult groups, the partiers and the worriers. The partiers use Halloween as an excuse to dress up and go get drunk. I have been a part of this crowd, and they are a fun people. Many women in the partier group use the Halloween costume as an excuse to dress, let’s just say, a little more provocatively than their normal persona.

Vampire? No. Sexy Elvira vampire? Yes.
Witch? No. Sexy bikini top-wearing witch? Yes.

The guys’ costumes can vary, but are usually pretty low-effort. Guys are basically just there to see the sexy bikini top witch. One year in college I went to a party as a Christmas tree. I put on a green shirt and brown pants, wrapped myself in miniature Christmas lights, headed to the party and plugged myself in. Since I needed to stay within three feet of an outlet, I plugged myself in near the beer keg and offered to run it all night so I could serve everyone and mingle from a stationary position. Looking back on that, it’s amazing I didn’t electrocute myself.

The worriers are the parents. I am now part of this crowd, although many times these two crowds can overlap.

“Be on your best behavior for the babysitter, kids. Mommy and Daddy are going to a grown up costume party. Daddy is going as a cowboy and mommy is going as a smokin’ hot zombie with cleavage.”

Halloween used to be a night where kids went out, expecting to trade the possibility of being scared to death for the opportunity to score some free candy, and maybe pull a few harmless pranks on the neighbors. These days, the worriers have scrubbed this “holiday” clean of any actual fright or mischief, and turned it instead into a three-week-long event that far more resembles a cheery Disney parade than a foggy night ride through Sleepy Hollow. Our job, as parents - as we now see it - is to suck all the “I can’t believe I lived through that!” out of Halloween night and replace it with the October equivalent of July Fourth “Safe and Sane” fireworks, which suck, plain and simple.

As an example of how sanitized Halloween night has become, we received this handy set of safety tips for tomorrow’s big event from our local police department:

Select a safe area for trick-or-treating.  Choose streets that are well lighted and landscaped so you can be seen.  Avoid trick-or-treating on streets you are unfamiliar with, and try to go out before it gets dark.

Oh, boy! Let’s trick-or-treat before dark. That should be really scary. What is your jack-o’-lantern supposed to be? I can’t tell because it is still daytime. How come you don’t have the candy ready yet, lady? It’s already 3:30 P.M.!

Always keep the adult who is watching you in sight.  Never go into a stranger’s home while trick-or-treating.  Never get into a stranger’s car or go anywhere with a stranger.

Cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks.  Do not walk out from behind parked cars or try to cross in the middle of the block.

Use the buddy system.  Parents or older brothers and sisters should go with young children.  Older children who are going out with their friends should be given a specific time to return home.  Parents should know who their children are with and where they are going.

Most of these helpful instructions are written as if the kids are the ones reading them, which totally renders the whole thing useless. If a kid is about to go out trick-or-treating from a home that doesn’t give a rat’s hindquarters where he goes or what he does, I seriously doubt he is going to seek out these helpful tips on safety from the local police department. And vice-versa, if the adults need to be reminded to pay attention to where their children are and who they are with, they’re probably not doing a lot of reading police safety tips, unless this list was included with their bail hearing notice.

Wait until you get home to eat your treats.  Your parents should inspect each item carefully, looking for needles, open packages and other signs of tampering.  Do not eat homemade items prepared by strangers.

Because this is the year we’re finally going to start seeing all those needles and razor blades in the apples!

Costumes should be light-colored so motorists can see them.  Use reflectorized tape to increase visibility. Costumes should not be too long or too restrictive.  Masks can make it difficult for children to see or hear.  Consider using make-up instead of masks.

Do not carry or wear sharp objects that may poke others or damage eyes.  Objects like swords, wands, canes, etc., should be left at home.  Do not carry toy guns that look like real guns.  A citizen or a police officer can mistake a toy gun for a real gun.

So, our miniature soldiers and policemen will all be unarmed? I guess they could all go as U.N. soldiers and British cops, which would also explain the reflectorized tape. (Is reflectorized even a word? What happened to reflective?) Our superheroes will not have capes or masks, so you kids should just feel free to wear loose-fitting, yet properly-sized business suits and go as Clark Kent and millionaire Bruce Wayne, instead. No ties, though, since ties are both long and restrictive. You need to go with more of a ‘Clark and Bruce on casual Friday at the office’ kind of thing. You want to be Harry Potter, instead? No cloak, wand, or Nimbus 2000 for you. Have fun, kids!

Carry a flashlight to light the way and to alert motorists of your presence.  Never carry candles or any other flammable object.  Do not use candles for decorations or displays.  They can easily be knocked down or can set fire to a nearby curtain or costume.

So, no candles in my jack-o’-lanterns? Hmm… And why are you, as a police department, concerned about my indoor candle usage? Unless you meant the very real possibility of setting fire to my large array of front porch outdoor curtains with my dangerous jack-o’-lantern candles? And I mean, come on, setting fire to a costume? Has there ever been a safer burning candle than the jack-o’-lantern candle, each one completely housed inside a rotting, sticky, hollowed-out gourd? I dare you to try and burn something with that one-inch-tall candle buried inside its protective, organic, fire-proof shroud. I double dare you.

Motorists need to be extra careful on Halloween.  Watch out for careless children who may run into the street without looking.  Expect the unexpected, and anticipate the actions of others.

In order to decrease vandalism and improve pedestrian safety, avoid parking cars on the street.  Whenever possible, park vehicles in the garage and light up your front yard.

Ah, the always helpful, but completely impossible “expect the unexpected” advice. Yes, I will try that again this year. While I try that, if you guys could please give me a list of all the unforeseen issues that might arise, that would be great. And I should light up my front yard? Really? On Halloween night? Why don’t we just have Halloween in June?

Have fun out there kids! Remember to wrap yourself in bubble wrap and Styrofoam, tape yourself to your buddy using reflectorized tape, don’t eat any candy or carry any pointy objects, stay away from any house that has one of those dangerous candles inside a pumpkin, and get home before the sun goes down. Enjoy!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, October 23, 2013

Driving Ages

I’ve got a problem with the DMV. Actually, I have many, many problems with the DMV, but I really don’t have the time or energy to cover them all here. The specific problem I want to discuss today is the lack of safety programs with driver’s licenses. For starters, the expiration dates. My license expired on my 41st birthday this year, and my new one is only valid for five years. I had my previous license for at least 10 years. Here’s the problem with that - The renewal period is backward. I was a terrible driver when I first got my license. Only now am I getting any good at it.

Progression of Driving Safety Level as an Adult:

Age 16 – You are the worst driver on the planet. You are more of a safety hazard than a Jamaican bus driver on meth, but every fiber of your being is so intent on acquiring an official license to drive a car that you are able to concentrate for hours at a time with laser-like focus in order to pass the tests. Truth be told, it would be safer if we gave your license to an untrained 10-year-old, because at least they would be scared to be behind the wheel once set free.

(Side note - Do you school officials and PTAs out there want to solve all of your low test score issues? Simple. Tie every high school subject to the driver’s license. No ticket to ride unless you get a B or higher in every class. You’ll have to constantly raise the state standards just to keep up with the level of effort you’ll see pouring out of every pimple-faced knucklehead at City High.)

Ages 17-24 – You are a true menace to society, but you are convinced that you are the best driver that has ever lived, ever, anywhere. You feel that you are the only one on the road who knows anything at all about driving, and you are amazed that you are not automatically allowed to drive as fast as you want to because you can totally control this car like a boss. (The only reason you manage to not actually kill anyone is that you are still young and have reflexes like a cheetah.) You are in constant awe about how bad everyone else is at driving, and you are beside yourself as to why this old idiot in the fast lane won’t get out of your way, and, like, why is he doing like only 75 mph? You’d better drive less than five feet off his rear bumper, NASCAR-style, to make the point that he needs to move over, and you should definitely text someone right now about this problem. OMG!

Ages 25-39 – You have your first real job and can finally afford a nicer, newer car. This newer car has more torque and horsepower than your previous car, so the bigger paycheck also comes in handy when you need to pay for the extra speeding tickets and inevitable insurance rate increases. You still suck at driving safely, and you still think you are God’s gift to motor vehicle control and handling. Then, usually somewhere in this age range you have your first child. The day you put them in the car to drive them home for the first time, all your previous attitudes about driving safety are thrown out the window, and your driving life drastically changes. This is your first step to becoming a mediocre driver.

Ages 40-44 – You are just learning how to actually drive safely. You are aware of your surroundings, you actually watch for children at play, and you agree with speed limits for the first time in your whole life. In fact, you wish that many speed limits were lower, especially on that crazy-busy street near your neighborhood. You are starting to say things like, “Damn kids!” and “That kid driving that car looked like he was 12,” and “Slow down! What the hell?”

Ages 45-65 – These are your prime driving years. You are as safe as you will ever be behind the wheel. That is not to say that you yourself are automatically a good driver. This age range is just the only chance you have to be a good driver. You may still be an idiot. It happens. Often.

Ages 66-75 – Your neck doesn’t work as well as it used to, and neither do your eyes, so you are pulling out into traffic now more by feel than actual visual knowledge. You spend most of your time behind the wheel either yelling at the other drivers or muttering to yourself about traffic laws, speed limits, and immigration policies.

Ages 76-84 – You are not fully back to being a menace to society yet, but you’re getting close. You have dropped your average speed in any situation by at least 15-20 MPH, and you are yet again constantly amazed that no one on the road knows how to drive except you.

Age 85 and up – You are back to being a full menace to society, but in a much slower and strangely more annoying way. At some point, you will hopefully have a low-speed collision with your own house, and your children will use this incident as the reason for taking your keys away and selling your car, an action they know they should have taken at least five years earlier.

So, you see, the driver’s license should be good without renewal from age 40 until 65. Before and after that, from age 16 to 40 and from 65 on, it should be required to be renewed every year, or even every six months, with comprehensive testing, lots of hoops to jump through, long lines to wait in, and prohibitive fees. That would help to make the roads a lot safer.

In addition to license renewal changes, there should also be a drastic change in the type and size of vehicle that you are actually licensed to operate. No more one size fits all policy.

Age-Based Vehicle Class Licensing System:

Age 16 – Class F - Licensed only to ride a one-person, stand-up motorized Razor scooter

Ages 17-24 – Class D - You may graduate to a Vespa scooter with a gas engine, but only if you put down a $20,000 cash insurance deposit.

Ages 25-39 – Class C - If you managed to live to be 25 you can now drive a car with four wheels, but only a small two-seater under 150 horsepower. If you have your first child while in this age range, you may graduate up to a minivan with proof of birth certificate and car seat. If you have your first child when you are still in the 17 to 24-year-old age range, too bad. Buy a good stroller and a bus pass.

Ages 40-65 – Class A - Go get yourself a full-size SUV and have a ball.

Ages 66-75 – Class B - You’re back to a mid-sized sedan under 150 horsepower.

Ages 76-84 – Class D/G - You’re back to the Vespa scooter, but this time, we will waive the insurance deposit requirement, providing you still have a valid insurance policy. You will also have golf cart privileges, but only on designated retirement community streets and actual golf courses. Mini Coopers and those tiny Smart Cars are also acceptable substitutes for the Vespa in this age category.

Age 85 and up – Class LR - Your only choice is a Little Rascal motorized scooter with a speed-limiter. If you can get yourself to it, on it, and get it going, go nuts.

There, don’t you feel safer already?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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, October 16, 2013

Pet Sitting

We are currently “pet sitting” a friend’s dwarf hamster, and I am nervous. We don’t have a particularly good track record in the pet sitting department. Our family is relatively free from any wrongdoing or mayhem, but a number of our former pets have been murdered by others while we were on vacation. A small measure of comfort can be found in the fact that all of them were fish, and actually, technically, one of them committed suicide.

Our very first pet was a betta fish from PetSmart. I named him Alpha, because I am just witty like that. I really don’t have any idea how we ended up with a betta fish that I didn’t want in the first place. It started when we made the mistake of strolling into PetSmart one sunny afternoon when the boys were very young, just killing time and thinking it would be fun for them to see some of the animals. Sort of like a really low-budget zoo with no admission fee. As it turns out, the admission fee was whatever I spent an hour later on a fish, a fishbowl, and special betta fish food. I still have no idea how that happened.

The boys were super-interested in Alpha for about the first thirty minutes that he was at our house, then he lived out his remaining days being roundly ignored by everyone except for me, who was in charge of feeding him. Actually, technically, he lived out his remaining days at our friends’ house, before he gave into despair and ended his own life by launching himself out of the top of his little round bowl, and suffocating on their countertop. They came home from the grocery store to witness the horrific scene, and were beside themselves with grief and VERY misplaced feelings of guilt.

We got a call from them while we were still on vacation, saying there had been a tragic accident. Alpha had perished. My first thought was, “Great!” Then I was given the really bad news. Without consulting his next of kin, they had foolishly rushed to PetSmart and replaced him with an almost identically-colored betta fish, Alpha 2.0. Not only that, they had purchased a little green fish net, and a few other aquarium supplies, for some unknown reason.

“What were you thinking?” I yelled into the phone. “This was our chance to be done with him. I was a few days away from flushing him myself, and you bought a new one?!?”

I don’t think I took the “bad news” the way they were expecting. Alpha 2.0 lived out his remaining years being completely ignored by everyone in the house except me. I fed him with contempt in my heart every day until his last gasp, then pushed the toilet handle down without the least bit of ceremony. One of the boys casually inquired, “Where’s the fish?” about a month and a half later.

Because my boys were so enamored with our first (two) fish, it was a little bit of a surprise to me when a year or so later they came home from the carnival with grandma holding a bag full of goldfish. I set up the goldfish bowl, all the while giving grandma the evil eye. I don’t really remember how many fish she allowed into my home that day, but after the standard carnival goldfish die-off period, we were left with four good fish. I fed them each day while the children failed to care or even remember they were in the house. Then one day we went on vacation again. The four goldfish went to our next door neighbors’ house, this time with very explicit instructions that if any or all of them were to die, they were not to be replaced under any circumstances.

I’m very glad I remembered to express our no replacement policy, because the Great California Goldfish Cleaning Massacre took place while we were out of town. Their son, who was only one or two years old at the time, decided to feed our fish one evening. He climbed up on the counter, and grabbed the big bottle of “fish food,” which was actually Comet, and shook a liberal amount into their bowl. It turns out that Comet is not very good for goldfish. Instead of just getting really clean, they die. Unfortunately, his older sister realized what had happened a little too early, and managed to save one of the fish.

When we came home, they returned to us one very sparkling-clean fishbowl with one very mangy-looking fish. The chemicals hadn’t done him any favors, but he was one tough little carnival goldfish. He managed to hang on for a few more weeks and finally rode the porcelain highway to goldfish Heaven.

With all of our past pet sitting issues, needless to say, we are a little afraid to own anything larger or more emotionally valuable than a goldfish. We do have a pair of small garter snakes as pets now, but they live in a large fish tank and can go for weeks without eating, so they don’t require any sitting when we leave town. Their food does, though. Guess what we keep in the house to feed the snakes? Yes, goldfish.

I’m back to feeding goldfish twice a day, but at least this time, since they are snake food, I don’t expect the kids to pay attention to them. If one of these goldfish dies, I don’t flush it. They only cost eleven cents each, but I can’t stand to just throw them away, since their ultimate purpose is to expire anyway. Plus, our snakes are actually pretty lazy and prefer the dead ones. So besides the bowl full of live goldfish on my kitchen counter, I have a plastic jug, half full of water and floating dead goldfish in my refrigerator. Let’s just say, you don’t want to go exploring for a refreshing drink at our house without a tour guide.

Anyway, back to the hamster. I am nervous because this is our first real pet sitting experience watching someone else’s animal, and I don’t know if the cloud of pet sitting death that hangs above us is only reserved for our own pets, or if we are universally cursed. We have managed to keep our own snakes alive for months now, but they are very low maintenance. A while ago we watched a hermit crab for a week, but again, how hard can that be? We could have accidentally left it in the car all week and it wouldn’t have known the difference.

Hamsters are a whole new ball game. They are cuddly and furry and soft and cute. They require food and water at regular intervals, and my three boys constantly want to hold him. I’m afraid for the little guy’s life when they start arguing about who gets him next.

The two little boys who own this hamster will notice if they don’t get it back. They might also notice if they get a different one back, so we are playing a high-stakes game here. One reason they might notice a covert hamster switch-out, is this one seems to have a bald spot on its right side. Also, its butt looks a little swollen and funny looking. Hmm… That almost looks like it could be a tumor. Crap!

Was it like that when we got him? Did he already have that bald spot, or is his fur falling out because of the curse? Is he even a he? His/her/its name is Hammie. That could go either way. How do you even tell if a dwarf hamster is a boy or a girl? I guess I’ll Google it.

Whoa!!!! OK, forget it, I don’t want to know! We only have him until tonight, so I’ll just feed him a little more food, refill his water bottle, pray that he gets picked up soon, and pray that I never accidentally Google “dwarf sexing” again.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Hello Kitty Biker Gang

Here’s something I don’t quite understand: An elementary school student riding a motorcycle to school. I’m not talking about in China or Cuba, or one of those other fun countries like France where little kids smoke unfiltered cigarettes and have full-time jobs. I’m talking about my kids’ elementary school here in America. Now, I’m also not talking about a big, heavy, Harley-Davidson either, but the kid rides a motorcycle to school, no question. Actually, there are two kids that do. I think they might be a gang.

The motorcycles in question are the Vespa scooter type, with the platform for your feet in front of the seat so you don’t straddle the bike, you sit with your knees together and bent at a 90 degree angle, with your feet flat on the floorboard. Much like how elementary school children are supposed to sit at their desks or the dinner table, but don’t.

The Vespa-type scooters in question do not have gasoline engines, either. They have electric motors. I’m guessing that’s because an elementary school kid these days can’t afford to buy gas. Elementary school teachers can’t even afford to buy gas these days. I’m also guessing that’s the reason the two kids are allowed to ride the scooters in the first place; because they are rechargeable electric scooters, and not “motorcycles.”

That logic probably explains the brand names on the two scooters in question. One of them is made by Razor, the company that pioneered the two-wheeled stand-up scooter that recently assaulted my middle son’s left wrist, and consequently, my wallet. The other scooter is a Hello Kitty model. You heard me. Hello Kitty. Way back when I was a young kid and saw a Hello Kitty notebook for the first time, I didn’t understand it. Now that they make motorcycles, I still don’t understand it. Nothing has changed with regard to my understanding of the Hello Kitty empire in the last 35 years.

So here we have two elementary school kids riding motorcycles to school.
Well, not motorcycles. They’re more like Vespa-type scooters.
Well, not really Vespa-type scooters, because they don’t have engines.
They’re electric, so they’re like pretend Vespa-type scooters. Toy Vespas, if you will.

Truth be told, the Hello Kitty “toy Vespa” scooter is probably no more dangerous than a bicycle, but I have to draw the line somewhere. A while ago I started seeing kids riding Razor-type two-wheeled stand-up scooters that someone had retrofitted with small gasoline engines, probably off a leaf blower or an edger. It’s technically still just a scooter, but I always thought, “That kid is riding a homemade, really crappy version of a motorcycle, without a license, on the sidewalk. If he was actually on a commercially-built motorcycle, he’d be stopped by the police and marched back home to his parents. Why is the motorized scooter any different?”

If having or not having a gasoline engine is our benchmark for motorized vehicle versus toy, then I have a few questions:

My children cannot legally operate an airplane, but under the new rules, should they now be able to fly a glider or a hot-air balloon to school?

Well, of course not. That would be silly. My kids are terrible at aerial landmark navigation, plus there’s no good place to land at their school.

So flying is off limits. How about one of those new Teslas? Stays on the ground? Check. No gas engine? Check. Can do 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds? Check. Whoops... That kind of raw torque might be a little much for any elementary school student whose last name is not Andretti.

So, if the lack of a gasoline engine is not the deciding factor, what is? Size? The Hello Kitty scooter isn’t as big as a regular Vespa scooter. It’s kid-sized.

Well, a Toyota Prius isn’t as big as a Camry, and when compared to my Ford Expedition, a Prius is kid-sized, too. Of course a Prius has a gas engine, so that’s obviously out, and the Tesla, while small, is way too powerful… but what about a golf cart? They’re really small compared to cars, kids can reach the pedals easily, and they’re electric. Check, check, and check.

No, you say? Why not? If the Hello Kitty scooter can be considered a toy Vespa, a golf cart would have to be considered a toy car, wouldn’t it? That argument could easily be adopted by the logic-savvy middle-schooler.

“You let me ride this electric toy scooter to school, so why can’t I drive your Nissan Leaf? It’s an electric toy car.”
“No it’s not. It’s a real car.”
“OK, then I’ll just take the golf cart.”

Like I said, the Hello Kitty scooter is probably no more dangerous than a bicycle, but I have to draw the line somewhere. One thing that helped me draw the line at electric scooters was the complete lack of exercise. If I’m going to give my kids a mode of transportation, I want it to tire them out. They are far too difficult to deal with when they have an excess of energy. I prefer them lethargic.

Another thing that swayed my opinion was when I saw the kid with the Razor brand scooter try to ride it with his trombone case tucked under his feet, balancing on the floorboard, wildly protruding out both sides of the scooter. He got going, and I lost sight of him, but I knew if he leaned into a turn, the trombone was definitely going to drag. I doubt that ended well.

I am having enough financial issues with injuries from the regular non-powered Razor scooters. I don’t need to add broken ‘bones into the mix. Trom or otherwise.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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!