Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm Not Thankful for Fake Trees

I am thankful for many things. My health, my family, HDTV, microbreweries, and the list goes on and on. One thing I am not thankful for, however, is fake trees, especially around the holidays.

I’m not talking about my well-documented struggles with our Fine Corinthian Christmas Tree, although the epic battle between man and eight-foot, pre-lit, faux pine tree will commence all too soon. No, I’m talking about the fake trees that “live” in our house year-round. We have three of them; two in our living room and one in our bedroom. They are about six or seven feet tall, with about six thousand little green leaves each, made out of some sort of space-age nylon fabric that looks surprisingly like actual leaves. I have no idea why military camouflage isn’t made out of the same material.

As Mr. Mom, one of my duties besides keeping the children alive all day is cleaning the house. My wife stays involved by constantly occasionally offering helpful suggestions on what needs to be cleaned. I take her suggestions into consideration, but usually we’re not on the same page regarding the urgency of the matter.

She becomes more and more inflexible on the subject of cleanliness as the holidays approach, and she shifts to downright immobile a few weeks before Thanksgiving. We host the family for turkey week, and somehow in my wife’s mind, that translates to “we shouldn’t have any dust on anything, and the toilets shouldn’t have pee on them.” Go figure.

Last year she wanted me to start cleaning the house two weeks early. Can you imagine!? A wise person once wrote - on one of those Facebook e-postcard things - “Trying to clean a house with kids in it is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos.” When I bring up those sage words of advice to my wife, she just scowls at me and hands me a rag and a bottle of some type of cleaning solution. Some people just don’t appreciate solid internet wisdom.

So I dust. And scrub. And mop. And dust some more. Which brings me to my dislike of our fake trees. Everything else that I have to dust has some kind of purpose. The TV brings me life-sustaining sports programing, the refrigerator keeps the microbrews cold, and the bookshelves hold all the books that make it appear to guests as if we read a lot. Even the family pictures on the walls serve a purpose. They remind us of a simpler time when the boys were younger and weren’t as annoying. A time when they didn’t bring home so much homework, or so many school projects that I have to complete.

But the fake trees do nothing except collect dust as if they were in charge of attracting it from not only our house, but the entire neighborhood.

Every fiber of my male being wants to simply take them outside and hose them off. My wife has conveniently eliminated that option by rigidly fixing them inside giant decorative, painted clay flower pots that weigh roughly eight tons each. I think she got tired of having the trees fall over onto the kids. You only have to ruin a few of those clay pots by trying to roll them across the patio before you get the message loud and clear to stop doing that. Even if I could find a way to get them outside without severely retexturing their surface, the base inside the pot is covered with about five cubic yards of moss. I can’t tell if it’s fake moss or real moss, but either way, trying to get it out of the way would create a larger mess than the one I’m trying to clean in the first place.

So, I am simply stuck trying to clean the trees in place.

If our house looked like I always wanted it to, this would not be a problem. I would simply hose the trees down in place, because the walls and floors of our home would be stainless steel, and there would be a drain in the middle of every room. My wife insisted on plastered, painted walls and carpet, however, “just like all the other normal people have,” so here we are. Dust rag in hand, cleaning each and every individual leaf, one at a time.

Believe me; I tried to figure out a way to avoid a leaf-by-leaf cleaning. The air compressor and the vacuum were problematic to say the least. And I thought the “shaking the tree while running the whole-house fan” method would be much more effective than it was. I did manage to shake out two Lego guys and a sock, but no dust was removed. I even tried attaching the dust rag to my grout mixer bar and running it with my cordless power drill, but that just ended up twisting the little plastic tree branches up in a ball and ripping them out of the fake wood trunk. As a result, much like a real Christmas tree, one of our fake trees has a bald spot that needs to face the wall. Don’t tell my wife!

At least I learned that lesson with only one of the three trees. Actually, wait… come to think of it, we have four of them. Dammit! There’s one up in the game room that I missed. Sorry, I have to go now. I need to spend the next five hours of my life dusting individual leaves.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I really don’t understand why we can’t have drains in the floors.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Bat Rays and the Bees

We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium this past weekend.  We saw trained sea otters perform amazing tricks like swimming in circles and eating fish. We saw huge bluefin tuna swimming at dizzying speeds in order to eat squid. We saw swirling silver clouds of sardines and anchovies eating krill. Basically, everything was eating. Except us. We did not have a spare two hundred dollars to drop on five sandwiches and a bottled water.

I say everything was eating, but that's not entirely true. The bat rays were engaged in another kind of life-sustaining activity. We were at the petting zoo portion of the aquarium, where you can lean over the edge of the shallow pool and pet a bat ray as it swims by you. I was on one side of the exhibit with our two older boys, and my wife and Son Number Three were on the other side. Suddenly, a great commotion arose around them. Thrashing and splashing could be seen from the water in front of them, and the crowd around them erupted in a mixture of oohs and aahs and laughter. All we could see from our side was the splashing.

I half-yelled over the water to my wife, "What's going on over there?"
"Uh... They're wrestling..." (sound of adults in crowd snickering)
"Is that right?" I replied, skeptically.
"Yep. Wrestling. Silly bat rays. C'mon, son, let's go see the otters again."

Since the bat ray petting pool is geared toward kids, I would expect the aquarium to try and limit any hanky panky by the bat rays to the holding tank in the back room. In their defense, however, I would imagine it’s pretty tough to tell the males from the females, given they all look like a squashed cartoon head with wings.

Speaking of inappropriate animal behavior, do you know what else is not geared for kids? Bat orgies, that’s what. The bat ray incident reminded my wife and me of another captive animal nookie situation we encountered a few years ago. I can’t remember if we were at the zoo without our kids (which seems highly unlikely), or if we had just abandoned them to fend for themselves (which seems totally plausible), but somehow my wife and I ended up in the bat exhibit without kids. That turned out to be a good thing. A very good thing.

The crowd in the bat cave was stirred up by something. Nervous laughter, giggling, exclamations of “Oh my!” and “Honey, close your eyes!” greeted us as we made our way to the glass. Inside the bat enclosure we were treated to a sight that still haunts me to this very day. Hundreds of horny little bats were engaged in what can only be described as a Sodom and Gomorrah-type free-for-all. It didn’t seem to matter to the male bats if the freaky winged mammal they were hanging next to had compatible reproductive organs or not. Bats apparently have a “love the one you’re with” mentality.

Bats are scary enough just in general, but what we saw that day cannot be unseen. I felt like I might need therapy afterward, so I don’t even want to imagine the fallout if our kids had been with us. I can tell you that a lot of little bats babies were probably made that day, along with a lot of uncomfortable situations the next day at the bat coffee shop.

“Oh, Jim, look. It’s Dave and Marcie. Let’s go say hi.”
“No! We’re leaving, honey. Don’t make eye contact with them. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I’m just saying, zookeepers of America, a little sign or something at the door would be nice. “Warning, bat orgy season. May not be suitable for children or most adults.”

At least put a coat hanger on the bat cave doorknob to warn a guy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize nature is going to take its course. And, nowhere is that more evident than the sleepy little beach town of San Simeon, California. It is sleepy for most of the year, actually, except when the elephant seals are in town. For reasons known only to these ridiculously large sea mammals, they show up every year on the same beach to breed.

A few years ago, we were visiting the coast, and we were told by some locals, “You must go see the elephant seals. They’re amazing!”

So we went to see them. When we got there and witnessed the scene, my wife and I immediately wondered why the folks that told us to go there didn’t mention what the seals were doing there.

The seals go there to do other seals, if you know what I mean. Seeing two gigantic male elephant seals fight is pretty impressive. Seeing a gigantic male elephant seal “wrestle” with a female elephant seal is also impressive, but in a much different way. Boy, can those things wrestle!

Like the bats, they really aren’t too shy, either. The San Simeon Elephant Seal Voyeuristic Society has even erected, if I can be so bold as to use that term, a nice wooden boardwalk overlooking the breeding beach, with fun facts about the elephant seals.

“Never go near an elephant seal, especially during breeding season.” Yeah, based on what I’m seeing here, that one didn’t really need to get written down. It’s fairly obvious that I do not want to get in the middle of any of the activities I’m seeing here.

Luckily, the kids were all pretty young at the time, and the “wrestling” up on the beach was explained away, and we could fairly easily divert their attention back to the bloody tusk fights taking place out near the water.

“Why are they fighting, Daddy?”
“To see who gets to… uh…”
“To see who gets to do what?”
“Uh… to see who gets to eat all the food. They’re very hungry. Speaking of food, let’s go get some in another town.”

Son Number One is in the fourth grade now, and the boys are already coming home from school with all sorts of fun “facts” they learn on the playground. I know it’s getting close to the time when I’ll need to start having “the talk” with my boys, but I’d like to put it off for a while longer. And I’d like to have that talk on my own terms. I’m not interested in having any unplanned visual aides to explain. Bat, bat ray, or otherwise.

One thing is for sure. If we are going to keep taking the boys out to view the birds and the bees, I need to have the talk pretty soon, or “wrestling” is going to start taking on a really weird connotation for them.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Solar System Projects Include Pluto

I’m trying to figure out what I did to make our elementary school hate me. I must have wronged them in some way and they are getting back at me. That’s the only logical explanation for why they would make me do the third grade projects all over again.

This is our second year in a row with a third-grader. (I know what you’re thinking, but no, it’s not the same kid. Son Number One and Two just happen to only be a year apart in school.) Imagine my surprise when Son Number Two came home last week and announced that he had to do a solar system project.

“I already did that last year,” I said.
“Huh?” he muttered.
“All third-graders do it,” my wife said.
“You mean I have to do the same project three times!?” I asked.
“The kids are supposed to do the project, honey,” my wife answered, probably thinking she was helping.
“Are you kidding me? The kids don’t do the project. I do. I need to call the school”
“Don’t you dare,” she said.
“Huh?” muttered Son Number Two.

I thought elementary school was for kids. When we got married we talked to other people, including our parents, about the fact that we wanted to have kids, and not one of them warned me that elementary school was going to involve me so much. The endless school fundraisers are one thing, but “student projects” take things to a whole new level. The school may as well just call me up and revise my to-do list for me. Who do they think they are, my wife?

“Good morning, this is the school calling. We know you’ve got a busy week, but we’re going to need to add a few things to your plate. We’re going to need you to change the oil in both your cars. What’s that? No, not at Jiffy Lube. We’re going to need you to climb under there and do it yourself. Oh, and we also need you to paint your house, too. Yes, inside and out. And it all needs to be done by this Friday. Thanks!”

The paperwork that came home with Son Number Two regarding the solar system project was laughable. It kept referring to “the student” working on the project, and “the student’s” deadlines, etc.

Do they have any idea what a solar system mobile would look like if “the student” was solely responsible for the project? I’ll tell you, because I’ve seen it. It would look like five irregular, circle-like shapes cut from a single piece of construction paper, labeled in pencil. The planet names would all have been poorly erased and re-written two or three times, but still spelled wrong, and there would only be five of them because the student couldn’t remember the other four, so they just left them out. The abbreviated solar system planets would all be duct taped to the side of the kitchen counter, out of order, and without a sun, so not only would the student be unable to deliver the project to school without a power saw, a crowbar, and a moving van, but life on “erth” would have already been eradicated by the eternal sunless frozen winter.

Of course I have to help, and in this case, “help” is defined as “doing all the stuff.” I’m not doing everything because I’m some kind of overprotective, perfectionist parent who wants everything their child produces to be flawless. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t really care if erth is yellow and the same size as both mercery and Jupter. I’m simply trying to keep Son Number Two from damaging himself and my house, and not necessarily in that order.

Did I let my son cut the sides off a cardboard box with a razor blade? No. I think he’ll want to have all ten fingers for as long as possible.

Did I let him spray paint the cardboard box black? No. I like my cars and my house to be monochrome, without black accent stripes.

Did I let him drive himself down to Staples to find Styrofoam balls? No. My wife wouldn’t let me.

Did I let him paint the Styrofoam balls unsupervised? No. See spray paint reasoning above.

Did I let him clean up the paint and brushes? No. General paint issues already stated.

Did I let him Google “Uranus” on his own? No. I don’t have extra money for therapy.

About the only thing he did on his own was draw the stars on the inside of the black box. And I even “needed” to be a technical advisor on that so the universe looked properly infinite and didn’t end abruptly like a Hollywood movie set.

When I was done “helping” him hang the planets in the infinite shoe box-sized universe, I told him it was time to make the labels. When we came to Pluto, he protested.

“That’s not one of them, Dad. Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.”

This is my project, Son, and I’m including Pluto. Pluto was a planet when I was a kid, and I’m not willing to ignore it just because some yahoos in The Hague (as if that’s even a real place) decided it wasn’t.

I don’t really care what your elementary school says. If they’re going to make me build solar systems every year, I’m going to include Pluto. When NASA says it’s not a planet, then I’ll let it go.

If your teacher wants to take off points for including it, that’s fine with me. I already graduated third grade.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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 5, 2014

An Open Letter to the Hershey Company

We are in the salad days of post-Halloween parental candy confiscation bliss. Actually, health-wise, it’s kind of the opposite of “salad” days. What the hell does that term even mean, really? Who equates good times with salad? Shouldn’t it be the “cheeseburgers and beer” days?

Anyway, back to the candy. Halloween candy confiscation day is my favorite day of the year. This year being an election year, it’s even better. That’s because every year on November 1st I teach my children about taxes.

Ok, boys, bring those pillow cases full of loot in here and pull up a chair. It’s time to pay the piper. Forty percent of your candy earnings come right off the top to go into Dad’s General Fund. After that, we need to discuss the highway taxes. You used our city streets to obtain this candy, did you not? Well, then, you’re going to have to pay to maintain them. Caramel-based candy is best for road taxes. And let’s not forget, we need to talk about property taxes. You live here “rent free” for most of the year, but today the bill comes due. A few 100 Grand bars ought to cover the base rate, but don’t forget that we need to service our bond obligations. Yes, boys, the voters approved massive bond expenditures last go-round, so I’m afraid the chocolate needs to keep coming my way. That bullet train down to Bakersfield isn’t going to pay for itself, you know.

What’s that? You don’t like it? Welcome to my world. I don’t like it when people who don’t own property get to decide how to spend my property taxes, either. The good news is, when you’re eighteen, you can vote me out of office. Or more to the point, you can vote yourself out of my house. Actually, there won’t be a vote. You’re required to leave when you’re eighteen, but you can register to vote for other stuff.

Much like me after taxes, when the reaper is finished, my boys are left with a shockingly smaller amount of candy. Then I hit them with the hammer; just because you paid taxes doesn’t mean you get to ignore your charitable obligations. We need to bag up over half of your remaining candy to send to the troops overseas.

It’s a fun lesson for me to impart. They are less than enthusiastic, but they have nothing to complain about. Unlike my bank account after taxes and giving, they still have more candy than they can eat in a month.

Just in case you thought I wasn’t serious about my “dad is the government” lesson, I also rigorously inspect and filter the candy earmarked for the troops. I need to double-check that everything is safe and up to our high standards, after all. I mean, we all know that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups cannot travel great distances without turning poisonous, or at least, very gooey. And extensive studies have proven time and time again that coconut is bad for your reflexes. I simply will not allow those dangers near our great fighting men and women overseas. They get the Starbursts.

It was my coconut screening process the other day that led me to a very unexpected discovery. I unwrapped a bite-size Almond Joy candy bar that contained no almond…

An Open Letter to the Hershey Company

Dear Sirs,

What the actual hell? Your production and distribution departments just succeeded in providing me with an Almond Joy candy bar with no almond whatsoever. Is this some kind of sick joke?

This is analogous to Monday Night Football providing me with a bowling tournament instead, or perhaps an actual football game, but on Wednesday morning. There was an implied contract in the name, and you failed miserably to hold up your end of the bargain.

Besides an implied contract, there was also a very specific written one, right on the back of the little wrapper my nutless nut snack arrived in. You printed an ingredients list, and the word “Almonds” (plural, no less) is listed right there after coconut and sugar.

I am willing to overlook the pluralization of “almond” on all the verbiage on your little wrappers, even though every one of the previous twenty or so bite-size Almond Joys I have unwrapped have had exactly one almond-size lump protruding from the top of the bar.

It’s cool. I get it. Times are tough. Costs are tight. It’s a tiny little candy bar. One almond was sufficient. Do you know what was not sufficient? No almonds.

Just to be sure, I looked up the word “ingredients” in the dictionary, and sure enough, it means “what’s in this thing.” It does not mean, “what we meant to put in this thing.”

Speaking of this thing, what should I even call what you provided me? “Joy?” I think not. The joy was removed with the absence of the almond. “Mounds?” No. While those may be similarly nutless, they are supposed to be coated in dark chocolate, not the standard milk chocolate my castrated candy catastrophe was wrapped in.

And speaking of Mounds vs. Almond Joy, what’s up with those names? Almond Joys are the ones with mounds. Mounds bars are flat. Shouldn’t it be Mounds and Coconut Joy?

Forget the naming issue; let’s get back to the real problem. I realize these things are made in massive quantities by a machine, and are not hand-made by Hershey’s candy elves. And I realize that things happen.
“Well, we get 99.9% of them right,” you might say.
Here’s the thing about that: I DON’T CARE! I just had a mouthful of chocolate and coconut with no almond. If I’d wanted that, I would have eaten a Mounds. Do you know why I didn’t eat a Mounds on purpose? Because they suck, that’s why!

The almond is the thing that makes the Almond Joy so good. It is also, as I pointed out earlier, right there in the name. IT SHOULD NOT BE MISSING FROM THE CANDY BAR!

I assume you have some sort of automated inspection devices stationed right after the almond inserting machine that does not insert almonds. They need to wake the hell up! If you can’t find reliable inspection equipment - and judging by my almondless Almond Joy, you can’t - then maybe it’s time to add some people back to the assembly line.

Looking at the wrapper from this little candy abomination, I see it says “Peter Paul” here above the falsely advertised “Almond Joy” with the cute little coconut standing in for the “O” in Joy.  Who the hell is Peter Paul? Or is that two guys? Should I be contacting them about this mess? Maybe you could give them a call on their private tropical island and have them take a break from their coconut candy tycoon lifestyle long enough to come down to the plant and actually make sure the candy that leaves the facility is ACTUALLY WHAT YOU SAY IT IS!

It shouldn’t be too hard. The almond is supposed to stick up, so if the little candy bar is flat on top, DON’T PUT A WRAPPER ON IT AND SEND IT TO PEOPLE WHO ARE EXPECTING AN ALMOND JOY!

Sincerely, without an almond or any joy,


Copyright © 2014 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!