Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Rainbow Loom

Just when you thought that video games and smartphones were going to render an entire generation of youngsters completely socially retarded, I may have found a glimmer of hope. I think I just came up with a way to save them from themselves. It involves sweatshops and forced labor. We’ll get to that in a minute.

I volunteer in Son Number One’s third grade class every week. By “volunteer,” I of course mean that my wife forces me to go. Any healthy, sane, adult male would never enter a room full of 25 eight and nine-year-olds willingly. The other day I took the Xanax she provides me to steady my nerves, and in I went. I was tasked by the wide-eyed, frazzled-looking teacher to help the children with their subject and predicate worksheets. Being a professional writer, I had to quickly Google what the hell a predicate was, and once I re-learned that, I was ready to help them. The assignment was to come up with a subject to go with the provided predicate, and make a complete sentence. For instance, if the predicate provided was “jumped into the lake,” you would provide the subject “I,” or “The frog,” and then write the sentence “The frog jumped into the lake.” Simple.

Most of the children came up with subjects for all the different predicates that you would expect, such as “Sally,” “My sister,” “My mother,” “The boys,” etc. One kid, however, was on a slightly different wavelength than the rest of the class. When I went to correct his worksheet, I thought at first he might have been writing in some language other than English. The first subject he had come up with was Ratblaster1879. The next one was MegaMinecraftOne, and so on. After a second, I asked him, “Are these user names for video games?”


“OK. Can you please sit back down in your seat? Everyone else was going with things like actual people and actual animals. MonsterBattle595 isn’t really a very good subject. It isn’t even English, actually, without the spaces.”

“How come your son doesn’t have any video games? I asked him what he had and he told me he didn’t have any at all. Do you really not have any video games at your house?”

“Nope. None. Can you please sit back down in your seat?”

“Why not?”

I fought off the urge to say, “Your worksheet here is the reason,” and instead just went with, “We don’t like them very much at our house. We have books instead. Can you please sit back down in your seat?”

He just stared at me blankly. I don’t think his little eight-year-old brain full of far-too-rapidly-vibrating electrons could comprehend a world without hand-held controllers and 950 gigabytes of input per second.

Hmm… This kid is not going to be able to carry on a normal conversation in a few years if his video game habit keeps up. Which brings us to my plan…

The glimmer of hope I have found is the Rainbow Loom. It seems to have the same transfixing properties on children that video games have, but without the negative side effects. If “looming” has not hit your town yet, rest assured that it is looming right around the corner. The Rainbow Loom is roughly 59 cents worth of plastic that sells for $19.95 at a store near you. It consists of 3 rows of pegs, 39 pegs in all, that you stretch tiny colored rubber bands over, weaving them into ornate patterns by hooking and unhooking them over each other with a 10-cent plastic crochet hook. Add a 1/2-cent “C” clip to hook the ends together when you’re done, and voila, you have an ornate bracelet made out of rubber bands.

My boys got their little plastic loom on Saturday, and have made approximately 300 bracelets in four days. I consider it to be a pretty decent use of their time, since it is a craft, and since it enhances fine motor skills. Also, I now have some pretty killer rubber band bling on my wrists. You’re jealous. The only problem I can find with looming is the expense. Apparently, rubber band looms are like computer printers. The initial cost of the device is low, but the ongoing supplies are expensive. In fact, the little colored rubber bands make printer ink look cheap. My kids are cranking though about $2000 worth of rubber bands per minute. Add into that the inevitable vacuum cleaner repairs in my future when enough of the little bands get sucked from their hiding places and wrapped around the beater bar, and looming might be a bank-breaker.

The negative financial aspects of owning a Rainbow Loom are not the glimmer of hope I spoke of earlier. The glimmer came when my wife first used the word “crochet” to describe to one of our sons what he was really doing when he hooked together the individual rubber bands to form a braid. Wait a second, I said to myself, these boys are learning to crochet with this thing?

Dollar signs lit up in my head. Not the outgoing dollars signs from the apparently gold-plated little rubber bands, but incoming dollar signs from my brilliant, partially formed new plan. You see, my wife is a lightning-fast crochet-er. She can whip out a baby blanket in a few short hours, and if you gave her a few days and enough yarn, she could probably make you a boat cozy. She runs the hook without even looking at it. She also happens to be pretty impressive with a sewing machine.

Kids get the hang of bracelet making in no time on these plastic looms, so why couldn’t they just as easily learn to crochet a blanket, or a sweater? And if crocheting comes so easily to them, why couldn’t they run a sewing machine with a little instruction? The Rainbow Loom has the magical power to keep them mesmerized and busily occupied for hours, so why wouldn’t kids have just as much fun sewing together a pair of knock-off designer jeans?

Just think of all that positive creative energy that could be channeled away from video games and silly rubber band bracelets and put to good use making counterfeit clothing that I can sell on the black market at a ridiculous profit. Simple. I am off to get 30 or 40 used sewing machines and supplies. You can send your kids over after school on weekdays and all day on weekends, and we’ll have them back to you before bed time.

Freedom from mind-altering video games, learning a new skill, and no more rubber band expenses should be payment enough for their time, don’t you think? Plus, I will read them classic literature over a loudspeaker, expanding their brains while their little fingers work to make me millions. It’s a win-win-win.

That kid in Son Number One’s class can thank me later.

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, September 18, 2013

Fun Dip

You can’t always know what is in your food. Anyone who is foolish enough to believe that they always know every single ingredient that goes into their body has obviously forgotten about all the times they ate Chinese food. There is simply no way to identify all the weird meats and vegetables that are in chow mein. There are things in there that are completely unidentifiable as to domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, etc., like the thin, black, rubbery, squiggly things. Meat? Vegetable? Thinly-sliced seaweed or thinly-sliced fish liver? No telling.

Then there are times when you can know what’s in your food, but you choose not to. Chorizo is a good example of this for me. I loved chorizo and eggs for a long time, and I didn’t ask any questions. Then last month I accidentally read the ingredients on the package:

Pork (salivary glands, lymph nodes, and fat (cheeks)), pork, paprika, soy flour, vinegar, salt, spices, red pepper, garlic, sodium nitrate.

Well, that’s it for me and chorizo. I’m no health expert, but I’m pretty sure God didn’t install salivary glands and lymph nodes into pigs because they were savory treats. Never mind the cheek fat, how come you guys didn’t use the pituitary glands, too. Do pigs not have them, or were they all snatched up by the guys who make the discount hotdogs? I guess chorizo just goes to show you, if you have enough sodium nitrate in anything, you can make it taste good.

My chorizo scare has led me to start reading the labels on a few more of my shadier culinary loves. Turns out ingredient lists can be pretty handy if you are concerned about what goes into your body. Who knew?

As laissez-faire as I have been with my ingredient intake, there is one group of “foods” that I have always avoided, and I keep my kids away from as often as possible. That would be any food or drink that is neon in color. This includes Froot Loops, sports drinks, and most types of hard candy. Basically, if the color doesn’t exist in nature, I’m not eating it. I have never had to read a label to figure that one out.

“Dad, can we get a Gatorade?”
“You mean the electric blue drink over there?”
“Aw, man. What about the orange one?”
“Let me ask you a question. What makes it orange? Do you think it has actual oranges or bell peppers in it?”
“Then, no.”
“Aw, man.”

When did we decide that the only way kids will like something is if it’s a scary, unnaturally bright color? What’s wrong with brown food? What’s wrong with normal colored drinks? Apple juice and beer both look like pee, and they’re delicious.

I am used to fending my kids off at the baseball park snack bar, or at places like the county fair or the movie theatre, but I had some nutritional issues arise from an unexpected source the other day. Son Number Two came home from piano practice with Fun Dip.

In case you are unfamiliar, Fun Dip is a bag of unnaturally-colored granulated sugar. The delivery method is a white, solidified sugar stick that you suck on to get wet, then stick into the metallic-purple sugar crystals to coat it, then lick it off and start over. He came home with the bonus pack, which includes two sugar sticks and three different pouches of lab-created death sugar. Yum.

His piano teacher doesn’t normally give out sugary treats, but he won a prize for being most improved in his group for the week, and he got to pick something out of the prize box. For whatever reason, Fun Dip happened to be one of the prizes, and our kids never miss an opportunity to try and get away with eating something we don’t normally let them have.

Up until that point I hadn’t thought too much about the piano prize box, but I guess I would have expected prizes from piano practice to be a little more cerebral. Maybe a pack of crayons, or a small coloring book, or even a miniature plastic Beethoven bust. Getting a bag of colored sugar for doing well at a music class struck me funny, sort of like getting a bobble head as a giveaway item from the opera.

“Welcome to the Metropolitan Opera House. You are in the orchestra section, row E, seats 23 and 24. Here are your complimentary Puccini bobble heads. I see you have brought your giant foam fingers with you tonight. Bravissimo! Can I interest you in one of our Met dogs? They are a full foot-long all beef kosher dog, with mustard and relish. How about a Miller Lite? We have three sizes: The 12-ounce Madame Butterfly, the 16-ounce Carmen, and the 24-ounce Barber of Seville, which comes with a commemorative plastic cup for only $18.50.”

Anyway… He was really excited about his Fun Dip, and since he won it as a prize I didn’t want to simply take it away from him. I offered to trade him for a Ziploc bag full of white granulated sugar from the pantry, seeing as that would be healthier, but apparently sugar is more fun to a kid if it glows like a 120-watt purple light bulb. I told him since he got the big bonus pack he would have to share with his brothers, in part to help our ongoing efforts to instill a sense of sharing and fairness in our children, but mostly because I wanted to reduce his exposure to Irradium Blue # 40 by a third.

I kept trying to find a good time to let him eat half a pound of nuclear sugar isotopes.
“Can I have it now?”
“No, you have baseball practice in an hour and I like your coach.”

“Can I have it now?”
“No, your brother has soccer practice in an hour and I’m not willing to sit next to you after you eat it.”

“Can I have it now?”
“Right before homework? You must be joking.”

I managed to put it off a whole week, but the pressure was building. Each day his desire to devour his insanely unhealthy treat grew stronger. Finally the perfect time occurred to me.

“Hey, buddy, it’s fifteen minutes until piano practice. Come eat your Fun Dip.”

As I sent him whirling toward the door of the piano studio with his wild-eyed stare and his stained blue lips, I could see it all playing out in my head. He’d be like a miniature Jerry Lee Lewis on crack, kicking over the piano bench and trying to play the keys with his feet, and maybe even his head.

That’ll teach her to have Fun Dip in the prize box.

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, September 11, 2013

The Bear Box

We’re going camping again, and I really don’t know why. You may recall my June 22, 2011 column entitled “The Mama Bear,” recanting the harrowing tale of my wife’s brave battle with some bat guano-crazy bears at Lake Tahoe. If you have not read it, please do so now. We’ll wait for you.

OK, now that you’re back, we’ll continue. My wife and our friend Carrie have not fully recovered from that incident, and I’m not sure they ever will. After the Tahoe trip, my wife quickly abandoned her Rambo-like bear hunting persona, and reverted back to a more recognizable version of her old self, complete with her former healthy respect for bears, and now an additional non-healthy fear and loathing of bears, brought on presumably by some sort of bear encounter PTSD.

We have been “camping” since the Tahoe trip, but only in cabins. Our last adventure with Carrie and Jeff was earlier this summer at Manzanita Lake in Lassen National Park. Our cabins had four thick wooden walls, a roof, and a door that closed and locked, so the ladies were moderately at ease. Each cabin also had a large steel bear box, located outside the cabin, just like the one we didn’t use quite right in Tahoe two years earlier, so the ladies were also moderately on edge. I figured the Lassen bears were probably just regular black bears, and not the Cheetos and hotdog eating, quasi-domesticated, lethal house pets posing as bears that roam the campgrounds of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, so I tried to put their minds at ease.

“We’re far more likely to be killed in the night by that giant volcano right there than by a bear. There have been a lot of little earthquakes here in the last few months. This place is ready to blow its top. The bears probably already left.”

They didn’t seem any more comfortable after that pep talk. Go figure.

Since there was no way I was going to get away with any type of behavior regarding the bear box other than strict adherence to the policies that my wife is now intimately familiar with, I began my Lassen trip by “cleansing” our vehicle of any food, food related products, and anything that has a smell of any kind. That was easy. The hard part was figuring out what to do with the kids’ car seats. If you had enough glue, time, and patience, you could reconstruct an entire case of granola bars from the crumbs hidden in the fabric and crevices of each seat. Even though the ten pounds of crumbs are old and stale, they still qualify as food to a bear, so what do I do with these seats? Cleaning them out is not an option. If I was ambitious enough to do that, they wouldn’t be full of crumbs in the first place. I can’t fit all three of them in the bear box and still have room for the actual food, so now what? I finally decided to just remove them from the car and set them on the ground. I figured if a bear wanted them, he could have them, but at least he wouldn’t total the car in the process.

I foolishly assumed I was done with the bear box and other bear-related issues after I had finished unpacking the car and cleaning up after dinner. Boy was I wrong. We stowed all the food and coolers back in the big steel locker with the creaky door hinges and locked ourselves safely in the cabin for the night. Or so I thought.

3:00 A.M.
"Dad, wake up. I need to pee."
“OK, go for it.”
"Don't you dare send him out there alone!!!"
“Hey, buddy, why don’t I come with you?”
Creak, groan (the sound of my body moving at night)
“Dad, do we have to walk all the way to the bathrooms?”
“No, of course not. We’re camping. Pee on that tree.”
“OK… Dad, my foot got pee on it.”
“Important lesson here, son. When you’re wearing flip-flops and peeing on a tree in the dark, stand on the uphill side.”
“Never mind.”

Back to bed

3:30 A.M.
"Honey, wake up. I totally forgot about the Tupperware container in one of the tubs. It has dish soap in it. We need to put it in the bear box right now."
"No we don't. The bears aren't going to do dishes."
"Yes we do, it's scented. Plus I really have to pee, and you need to come with me."
"These are Lassen bears, sweetheart. Not Tahoe bears. The Tahoe bears were certifiably insane. These bears are normal. They don't want to eat dish soap, and they don't want to get you when you pee."
"Wake up!"
"Oh, well. I have to pee too, anyway."
Creak, groan
“Go to the uphill side of the tree.”
“What tree?”
“Never mind.”
“Get the Tupperware into the bear box and then walk me to the bathrooms. Hurry up, I’m cold!”
Whap. Creeeeeeeeeeak. Slam. Creeeeeeeeak. Bang.
“Be quiet!”
“It’s a bear box, honey. It’s not a quiet thing.”
“OK. The soap is safely in the bear box. Let’s go to the bathroom. Watch out for bears.”
“Shut up, that’s not funny!”

Back to bed

4:00 A.M.
“Honey, wake up. I have ChapStick in my purse!”
“No thanks, I don’t need any. Why are you waking me up to offer me ChapStick, anyway? Wait, do you want to make out or something? Sure, I’ll take some.”
“It’s not for you, idiot! It needs to go in the bear box!”
“No it doesn’t. It will be fine in here.”
“My purse isn’t in here. It’s in the car.”
“It’ll be fine. The smell of your rosy hand lotion will overpower the ChapStick, anyway.”
“I forgot about the lotion! You need to go get them both!”
Damn you, mouth. Listen to it inside the brain before you just say it!
“OK. I’ll go take care of it.”
Creak, groan

“Did you put them in the bear box?”
“No, the bear box is too loud. I didn’t want to wake everyone up again, or worse yet, attract the bears. They know what the bear boxes sound like, you know.”
“Shut up, that’s not funny. What did you do with them?”
“I put them on one of the car seats.”
“Great, now the bears are going to eat our car seats.”
“If they haven’t come for the granola bar crumbs yet, they’re not going to show up for ChapStick and hand lotion.”

Back to bed

4:30 A.M.
“Are you sure it’s going to be OK to leave the lotion outside?”
“Honey, I love you, but I’m going to pull all the food out and make you sleep in the bear box if you don’t stop waking me up!”

This next trip coming up is going to be an actual camping trip, where we sleep in tents, not cabins. That should be great.

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, September 4, 2013

Health Care?

Have you ever applied for health insurance on your own? If not, let me suggest you never do. The application process is enough to give you a health condition.

I am applying for a health insurance plan for my whole family, and there are five of us. That meant that when I filled out the 28 page online form, I filled it out five times. I can’t even do that math, but I know it’s a lot of pages. Lord help you if you answer yes to any of the questions, because down drops another page with 56 follow-up questions.

There was all sorts of stuff that made no sense to me, like the height and weight questions. I understand asking about the adults’ dimensions, but the form was the same for the kids.
Son Number One - 8 years old - height and weight?
There was no button for “standard.”
I don’t know how tall he is, he’s 8. He’s short on me, but the same as every kid in his third grade class. Weight? Too heavy to carry, still light enough to knock over easily.

They wanted actual numbers, so I had to leave my computer and round up the boys.
“Get my tape measure from the garage and meet me at the bathroom scale.”
Son Number One – 8 years old – 4’-5” tall, 70 pounds. Like those numbers mean anything to anyone.

After I had gone through each family member’s complete medical history, explaining every cough and sneeze we’ve had in the last 5-10 years, they asked, “Has any person on this application, for any reason, seen a physician in the last 5 years? If so, please explain.”
There was no button to click for “see above,” so off I went again down medical memory lane. Multiple hours, and all my medical records later, I hit send, only to get an email a few days later asking me to call them to answer a few additional questions.

I innocently dialed the number thinking, this should only take a minute, since I answered 6000 pages of questions online. What more could they possibly ask me?

“Thank you for calling. My name is Nancy and I am a doctor. The underwriters have a few follow-up questions regarding your health, as well as that of your sons.”

“OK, shoot.”

“Please state your address, including city and ZIP code.”

What does my address have to do with my health?

“Has your weight fluctuated by more than 10 pounds in the last two years?”

I’m a 6’-1”, 210-pound man. My weight fluctuates more than 10 pounds if I forget to eat breakfast.

“Are you currently expecting a child with anyone besides your wife?”

If I am, you’re going to need to sell me life insurance, not health insurance.

“So, the last time you were at the doctor was October of 2012, for a chest cold, is that correct?”


“What was your blood pressure at that visit?”

“I have no idea.”

“Was it normal or abnormal?”

“Uhhh… normal I guess. No one said anything.”

“And did the symptoms clear up?”

“Of my blood pressure?”

“No, the chest cold.”

Are you asking if I still have the chest cold I had a year ago? I thought you said you were a doctor?

“Has your health situation changed in any way since you completed this application?”

You mean, besides my blood pressure during this call?

“Let’s move on to Son Number One. Please state his address, including city and ZIP code.”

“The same as mine.”

“I need you to state it for the record.”

I just did. Same as mine. He’s 8 years old. He lives with us. He doesn’t have his own apartment.

“You say that Son Number One takes Flonase, is that correct?”

“Yes, for seasonal allergies.”

“What is he allergic to?”


“I mean, is it grasses, pollen, pets, dust, or mold?”

“Whatever comes out in spring. Grasses and pollen, I guess.”

“How often does he have symptoms?”

“Every spring.”

“No, I mean how often in the spring?”

“Once, then we give him the Flonase.”

“OK. Has Son Number One, in the last 12 months, used tobacco or nicotine patches or any kind of nicotine substitute? And I apologize for that question, since I know he’s 8 years old.”

If you know he’s 8 years old, why are you asking the question? If any of your underwriters are parents, I’m calling Child Protective Services.

“Let’s move on to Son Number Two. Please state his address, including city and ZIP code.”


“Does he live with you?”

You just made me say the entire address again. It’s the same as the last two times. If you would just accept “the same as mine” as an answer, you wouldn’t have to ask the stupid follow-up question. Yes, he’s my 7-year-old son, so we keep him here at the house.

“You stated that his last doctor’s visit was in 2012 for a flu shot. Was everything normal at that time?”

“Yes, it seemed like a pretty normal flu shot.”

“OK. Has his weight fluctuated more than 10 pounds in the last year?”

“Uh… maybe. He might have gained 10 pounds in the last year, but he’s 7 years old. I don’t know how much he weighed when he was 6.”

“OK, let’s move on to Son Number Three. Please state his address, including city and ZIP code.”


“Son Number Three broke his right femur in October of 2011, correct?”


“We have a claim for an office visit with the orthopedic surgeon in 2012. If he broke his leg in 2011, why were you visiting his doctor in 2012?”

“Because he broke his leg in October. His cast came off at the end of November. The year 2012 was only a month later.”

“So this was a follow up visit?”

Yes, I guess the orthopedic surgeon figured he might not be doing his job if he just sawed the cast off our 3-year-old and said, “Good luck!”

“There were x-rays at that same time. Were those also for the follow-up visit?”

Yes, the way I understand it, the doctor has a hard time seeing the bone without them.

“OK, thank you, Mr. Schmatjen. You should hear something back in 10 to 15 days.”

That seems like a reasonable amount of time to look up the proper weight for the average 8-year-old, cross-match all our addresses, and do the math on the 2011-2012 broken femur time discrepancy.


Strangely, the underwriters did not have a single question regarding the lady who gave birth to these three children. I guess they figure if she’s still alive, she’s plenty tough enough.

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!