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

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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!