Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dirty Chicken Kissers

Want to reduce your chances of becoming just another statistic in the latest salmonella outbreak? There’s an easy solution, says the Centers for Disease Control. Stop kissing your chickens.

The headline “CDC Warning – Stop Kissing Chickens” landed in my news feed a few days ago, so naturally I dropped absolutely everything else I was doing and read the story. A Fox 10 News station somewhere in Arizona gave me the grim numbers.

Over the past 25 years, 13% of chicken-related salmonella cases were caused by people kissing their chickens. Over half admitted to snuggling with the baby chicks, and almost half admitted to keeping the chickens in the house.


Arizona residents, in my head: “Oh, great! Not only do we have to stop kissing our chickens, but we have to stop snuggling them too? And give me a break. You mean to tell me that I’m supposed to keep my barnyard animals outside, instead of next to my bed? What kind of monster are you?”

Come on, people! While ‘Dirty Chicken Kissers’ would obviously be a great name for a rock band, it’s no way to live your life. Was it just Arizona? Are there other states where salmonella is decimating the chicken kissers? I must know! Off I go to the CDC website, where I learn... holy puckering poultry, Batman. There’s a nationwide epidemic of dirty chicken kissers! Arizona is the least of our worries. The biggest offenders are highly concentrated in the Great Lakes states and the upper north east.

Just a Smidge PSA:
Hey up there. It’s wicked bad to kiss your chickens, eh. And don’t let ‘em inside to sit on the davenport with ya, OK? Salmonella is wicked bad. Keep ‘em outside in the yaahd, eh.

That should take care of the problem, but just in case, the CDC did come up with a wicked good poster. It’s a yellow silhouette picture of a baby chick with the title “Don’t play chicken with your health. Wash your hands.” – I’m not making that up.

Inside the outline of the baby chick there’s a handy salmonella outbreak chart by year, showing the number of outbreaks caused by handling live poultry, with the outbreak indicators as cute fuzzy little baby chicks. Again, not making this up.

Our most dangerous chicken kissing year as a nation was 2012, with eight baby chicks stacked up on top of each other. Ranked second-worst was 2009, with six baby chicks stacked, and four chicks stacked on 2015 puts it in a five-way tie for third worst with four other years since 2000.
The poster shows us that 1992 through 1994 were the happy times. Zero stacked chicks for those years suggests that chicken kissing was apparently still frowned upon back then.

This unnerving spike in chicken kissing got me thinking. Why in the hell would anyone kiss a chicken? Also, I thought, this must be due to the seemingly recent increase in the amount of people who have converted the back 0.000344 acres of their suburban backyards into chicken farms.

I can only assume that this practice has something to do with ‘sustainability,’ or ‘homesteading,’ or getting ‘off the grid.’ I doubt too many people wake up and think, “You know what we should do? We should become commercial poultry producers! Wait, we live in town and own no land. Oh, well. Let’s throw a tiny coop and four chickens in the backyard for now, and we’ll expand into a multi-million-dollar operation when we can.”

The ‘sustainability’ aspect got me thinking some more. In this case I guess sustainable means someone will keep selling you chicken feed. But does having backyard chickens that you can kiss and snuggle and bring indoors make financial sense? What’s the national average price for a dozen eggs? How much does it cost to keep a kissable chicken alive and making eggs? Why in the hell would you let a chicken live inside your house? And where? In the kitchen? Living room? Chickens don’t even have lips as far as I know.

There was a lot going on in my head.

Because the internet is awesome, I was able to look up all the information I needed in my normal exhaustive two-minute Google research time allotment. Chickens definitely do not have lips. Also, I was able to find a website apparently dedicated to tracking the price of a dozen eggs on a nationwide scale. That beat my prediction of “there’s no way anyone has a website that tracks nationwide egg prices” by one hundred percent.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say that a dozen eggs will run you about two dollars right now, if you live in Anywheresville, USA. My public school math tells me that equates to seventeen cents per egg.

Purina Premium Poultry Feed costs fourteen dollars for fifty pounds. That would be twenty-eight cents a pound not counting tax. Yet another website reveals that an average laying hen eats about a quarter pound of feed a day. So your four chickens are downing twenty-eight cents worth of premium chicken feed every day.

Homesteading websites tell us that we can expect an average of one egg per day from each of our healthy, happy hens. If chicken feed were all we needed, we’d be money ahead with our flock, getting eggs for a mere seven cents each. A full ten cents cheaper than the store brand. I think we all know, after perusing the chicken feed store websites that mere chicken feed will not do it. Our hens need to be happy.

The thirty-ounce bag of Happy Hen Treats Mealworm Frenzy – I swear I’m not making that name up – costs twenty-five bucks. I don’t know how many mealworm treats it takes to keep my hens in a laying mood, but thirty ounces doesn’t seem like it would last that long. Especially if these mealworms are so good they cause a frenzy, as advertised.

So you have unspecified mealworm expenses, and let’s not forget the initial set up costs. Not the least of which is your Williams-Sonoma Cedar Chicken Coop with Planter that set you back fifteen hundred dollars – you heard me – or the designer chicken toys to keep them engaged and mentally stimulated.

Add in your inevitable ER visit for salmonella poisoning, and I think this chicken raising business is costing you about nine hundred dollars per egg, give or take.

I think I’ll stick with the eggs from the commercial poultry producer. He keeps the egg shelves at the store full for me, which I find very convenient, and when I don’t want eggs, I just don’t buy them. Try that with your flock.

He’s smart, too. You know what that commercial poultry producer never does? Kiss his damn chickens, that’s what.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rubik's Rubes

I just boxed up a broken Pyraminx Speed Cube to return it to Amazon. How many times have you said that, huh? If you’re like me, never.

I have a feeling it won’t be the last time. The problem is my kids are smarter than me. Don’t ever tell them I said that.

What is a Pyraminx Speed Cube, you ask? It’s obviously a four-sided pyramid-shaped Rubik’s Cube. Why are they calling a pyramid a ‘Cube,’ you ask? Good question. I have no idea. Why would anyone need a pyramid-shaped Rubik’s Cube, you ask? Obviously for when the regular square one gets too boring.

When Son Number Two first asked for a Rubik’s Cube, I had an immediate flashback to my childhood. I was there when the Rubik’s Cube became an overnight sensation, and I remember my first encounter with the cube like it was yesterday.

My sister handed me a Rubik’s Cube that was all scrambled up, and told me that I needed to switch all the squares around so each side was a solid color. I twisted and turned the colorful plastic cube for at least an entire minute. Then I threw it at her head and went outside and played freeze tag.

The only other time I ever touched it was when I needed to kick the infernal little Hungarian torture device across the room on my way to get my comic books. I hated that thing. It was impossible. Whatever part of the brain is responsible for being able to even begin to figure out a way to start possibly coming up with the beginning of a partial idea for how to solve a Rubik’s Cube – I was born without that part.

I looked at Son Number Two with rightful suspicion. Should I bother to spend the ten bucks to get you a Rubik’s Cube that history shows you will probably abandon within three days? Do I need to get out the box of abandoned fads?

Let’s see what’s in here. Ah, the five thousand dollars-worth of Rainbow Loom stuff. I remember this. Do you want to make me another multicolored rubber band bracelet, or are we done with this for good? If you need any of the little rubber bands, they’re all still tangled in the vacuum’s beater bar. All the little plastic clips are in the vacuum’s bag.

Oh, look, here’s the big stack of cups from that worldwide sensation you couldn’t bear to miss out on – cup stacking. Yes, stacking cups and then unstacking them really fast. With special expensive plastic cups. I remember the six minutes that lasted. Good times.

Hey! Here’s the three Kendamas we have, because each of you needed your own. Remember? It was dubbed “The Japanese yo-yo.” I never understood that. It’s a stick shaped like a hammer with a wooden ball tied to it. It’s nothing like a yo-yo. What it is is a great way to hit yourself in the face with a wooden ball. Do you remember playing with these for hours? No? That’s probably because you only played with them for three minutes.

What’s that there? Oh, the little spiky tray that the fuse beads go on. You remember the fuse beads, right? You used to store them in the carpet for safe keeping. Those microscopic colorful cylinders that melt together when you iron them to make a plastic drink coaster in the shape of a Christmas tree or a turtle. Those were useful. You could make something with them now, but all the fuse beads are in the vacuum bag with the Rainbow Loom hooks. Sorry.

So why should I believe this Rubik’s Cube you want isn’t going to end up in this box? Oh, well. I guess we’ll give it a shot. What do we have to lose except ten bucks?

It’s been a few weeks now and I’m happy to report that having a Rubik’s Cube has drastically increased the requests for screen time, since there is now a treasure trove of videos and step-by-step instructions on how to solve the cube out there on the internet. There’s even a site where you can input exactly what your cube looks like and it will give you the exact turn sequence to solve it.

Just one more thing this spoiled, entitled generation will take for granted. Back in my day, we didn’t have the internet. We had to peel off the stickers and rearrange them to solve the Rubik’s Cube. That was the only way.

In just a few short days of total Rubik’s Cube immersion, Son Number Two was already looking for a new challenge. Enter the Pyraminx. A pyramid-shaped Rubik’s Cube. As soon as I saw it I had the overwhelming urge to throw it at my sister’s head and run. But Son Number Two jumped right in and spun the pieces around so many times in the span of a week that he wore it out. In the process, he got pretty fast at solving it.

It appears that the Rubik’s Cube might escape the box of abandoned fads for at least another week or two. My children amaze me. At one point or another all three of them have complained loudly about how hard the Rubik’s Cube is, but not one of them has thrown it at the other’s head and gone to play freeze tag. They just keep trying. Go figure.

The Rubik's Cube part of the brain must skip a generation. Or come from the mother's side.

At least I gave them freeze tag.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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 14, 2016

An Eighth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

Just wanted to shoot you another quick letter and let you know that I’m super excited you and I are back together again for Fall Picture Day tomorrow. Getting those picture packets is like opening a box of Cracker Jack every year – I just can’t wait to see what we get.

In my fifth letter to you, I very helpfully detailed how much your website sucks. I assumed you would use that information to improve the website up to at least an level of user-friendliness. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

I wanted to take a minute this year and let you know what a total suckfest your website still is. To focus on the positive for a minute – When ordering my picture packets, there were only six annoying options to click ‘no thanks’ on this year, instead of the forty or fifty I had to wade through last year, so I take that as evidence that you actually have an IT guy. Although, based on everything else, I’m assuming it’s still that fourth-grader. Actually, I guess he or she would be in fifth grade this year. Tell them congratulations for me.

Back to the suckfest - I already had an account with a username and password from years prior, so I logged in and was happy to see my information on the screen, but the momentary hopefulness dissolved quickly as I noticed the system had not saved my sons’ info. Why? Why would you not save that? They’re the ones getting their pictures taken.

On the front page you invited me to ‘add students,’ so I did. It went OK, but I’d like to point out that once I tell you what state and city our oldest boy lives in, and what school he attends, it might be nice if you were to auto-fill that info in for the other two boys instead of having me have to start completely fresh every time. We don’t have one of our elementary school children in California and another in Idaho like I guess you assume most people do? We all live in the same house.

Once I was done with the longer-than-it-needed-to-be process of typing in the exact same information for three kids I was absolutely thrilled to see that when I actually tried to order pictures, I had to type in all that information again. Separately. Three times.

Apparently I was only ‘adding students’ to my new Lifetouch ‘My Rewards’ program that I thought was the start of the order process, but is actually not related to anything helpful about ordering pictures. You did offer me a ‘FREE Hi-Res Digital Image’ through my new My Rewards account that now remembers my boys’ names (but again, I feel I need to point out, does not transfer them through to the actual order process, which would be the only reason anyone would want your website to remember their kids’ names). I didn’t get the news about the amazing free Hi-Res image deal until after my purchase, and there does not seem to be any way to add it to my order now, so thanks for nothing, really. It’s OK, though. We’re really a Lo-Res family anyway. We get too Hi-Res and we might start to notice the mustard stains on their faces and shirts.

I also see that you have completely done away with that annoying family plan, where I got to pay less because I had more than two kids at the school. Thanks. I hated saving that money.

A half-hour later I clicked ‘complete order’ and logged off in disgust again this year. You have one of the only websites that makes people wish they were on the DMV’s website instead. Congratulations for that, I guess.

Then, moments later in my inbox, you made up for everything with your order summary email. I was thrilled to see that you thought enough of our relationship to include the following inspirational statement and handy link:

We're excited for your student's Picture Day! Click here for advice from kids on how to prepare for Picture Day!

I clicked here, and there was apparently supposed to be a video at the top of the page, and I’m sure it was adorable – probably super-cute kids giving hilariously precious advice to parents, like, “Make sure you feed your kids doughnuts on picture day, because doughnuts make you smile,” and stuff like that. I wouldn’t know, because the video failed to play. You can go ahead and make another note for your fifth grade IT guy.

Then came the five pearls of wisdom:

Use these tips to help your child get ready for a great-looking school portrait that you’ll treasure forever.

1) Help your child pick out clothes and colors that look good on them. After all, your child is the star of the photo—not their shirt, so avoid slogans, logos, and big patterns. Small jewelry and accessories are fine but nothing too big or distracting. Make sure to check your flyer to see sample poses for your Picture Day. Some poses may show pants or skirts, so plan the complete outfit.

Look, it’s either pick out the clothes for them, or get what you get. They can’t be involved in the decision making. Case in point would be that time you took a picture of Son Number Three wearing a T-shirt featuring a bear in full road leathers and gloves, riding a green motorcycle in front of a U.S. flag shaped like an outline of the United States. That ‘no logo’ advice would have been handy then.

And thanks for the pose advice. Where was this nugget a few years back when you had my kids sitting on a plastic “rock” that looked like a giant cow pie? I sent them to school in soccer shorts and your pictures ended up just showcasing all their knee injuries.

2) Glasses are okay! Lifetouch photographers know all the tricks to reduce glare.

So we should let Son Number Two wear his glasses on picture day? Thanks for the heads up. Now I feel like a jerk. A lot of those knee injuries were from trying to bike to school without his glasses that day.

3) Any hairstyle works for Picture Day. Schedule haircuts a few weeks ahead of time to allow hair to grow back a little, or you can go for a fresh-cut look.

I like how you give me so many options. One question, though. By ‘any hairstyle’ do you also mean bed head? Because bed head is by far our most common hair style for our boys on any given school day.

4) Keep kids relaxed and ready to be themselves. Smiles can look fake if they’re practiced ahead of time. Remember, smiles are like french fries—they’re better when they’re fresh.

I guess this sort of applies to Son Number Two. Son Number Three however, has never relaxed. Unless you want to take a picture of him sleeping, you’re going to have to deal with wild and crazy. And as far as Number One goes, no amount of relaxation or French fry jokes are going to help with his Chronic Forced Smile Disorder. The struggle with CFSD is real and we’re still looking for a treatment center.

5) Don’t worry about “perfect”! That hair that always sticks up or a missing tooth shows your child just as they are right now—and you’ll enjoy looking back on that for years to come. On Picture Day, teachers and volunteers will help straighten collars and check posture. And, if you like, we have retouching options for scrapes and blemishes.

Really? We’ll enjoy looking at bed head for years to come? Tell that to my wife. I’m not sure she’s buying it.

And teachers and volunteers will help straighten collars and check posture, huh? Hmm... I guess that might be true, but I think sometimes they might get sidetracked dealing with little Johnny making fart noises in line and blaming it on Suzy. Either way, could you do me a huge favor? When you look through the lens and see something other than collars or posture out of place – oh, I don’t know, like maybe food stuck to my son’s face - in two different places, I might add – could you maybe grab a wet wipe and help clean him up a tad. We’re not worrying about “perfect” over here, but we’re not going to send the grandparents a picture of our boy with an entire noodle from his macaroni and cheese stuck to his cheek.

And yes, I know all about the retouching options. I spent ten minutes clicking ‘no thanks’ to all of them before you’d let me order. I’m not willing to give you money to digitally edit out the mac ‘n cheese noodle. Napkins cost less. Let’s use them.

That’s it! Our experienced photographers are pros at making a fun and worry-free Picture Day.

OK, if you say so. Thanks for all the good advice. We’re excited about Picture Day, too.

I’m over here just giddy with anticipation. Good luck tomorrow.

All my best,


Copyright © 2016 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 7, 2016


Some Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door yesterday, and since I was in the midst of a living hell, having been without internet service all day, I actually talked to them for a few minutes instead of throwing water on them like I normally do.

I left the short conversation with my amazing copy of the latest edition of Watchtower magazine, and a sudden flashback memory of the awesomeness that was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

In case you don’t know the story, a very corrupt and devious man, who was also a total genius, came from India in the 1980s and bought an eighty-four thousand-acre ranch in central Oregon. All he needed next were some followers. Two thousand of them, to be exact.

In exchange for the low price of working for free seven days a week, along with giving him all their money, two thousand total idiots got the sweet combo deal of getting to dance naked, and also wave at him every day at two o’clock when he drove by in one of his ninety-three Rolls Royces that they paid for.


Sure, he had tear gas guns hidden in the fenders of his cars. And he tried to rig an election by attempting to poison an entire town’s voters. And he was actively trying to kill quite a few government officials while running the largest illegal wiretapping operation ever seen. But hey, who among us hasn’t done that kinda stuff? Am I right?

So it got me thinking. I’m pretty sure I’m going to start a cult. It seems easier and more lucrative than a real job. Plus, I have first-hand experience in cult operations, so I have a leg up on the competition. I never made it up to Rajneeshpuram in Oregon to see the operation, but I have been to Ratna Ling.

Ratna Ling is supposedly a “spiritual Buddhist retreat” on the coast of California. What it really is is a mid-sized industrial book printing operation that is in no way zoned properly. They have millions of dollars’ worth of high-tech printing and conveying equipment operating daily, with all the deliveries and shipments associated with an industrial operation, tucked back in the woods on small county roads never designed for the traffic or the load.

The only thing keeping them from being shut down is that their workforce isn’t paid. The guru at Ratna Ling has himself some followers. Cult followers, you ask? Hmm... You be the judge. The whole very modern and expensive print line is operated entirely by skinny, smelly, barefoot hippies living in yurts. In exchange for their tireless printing efforts that are no doubt swelling the guru’s bank account, they receive enlightenment and rice with fruit.

I installed a piece of industrial equipment when I was there. I was paid, so in turn, I received no enlightenment whatsoever. I did get an education, though. What I learned is that there will always be lost and misguided people out there in search of whatever kind of “spiritual enlightenment” they think will be the answer to their problems, and they are willing to work for free to get it, and in many cases, pay you for it.

I want to help those people. I want to help them join my new cult... uh, Spiritual Guidance and Enlightenment Center. PorkTown, we’ll call it. Enlightenment through Bacon. That’s our motto.

You see, the major bugaboo with cults seems to be land-use issues. That’s what fouled up the Bhagwan’s sweet gig, and that’s what has Ratna Ling’s neighbors up in arms. PorkTown will operate out of a warehouse in the business district, so there won’t be any zoning problems.

Now, your traditional dirty shoeless cult-goers seem to be drawn to fresh air and trees, which always leads to that pesky land-use issue, but I’m looking for a different demographic. My draw will be a giant sports bar that offers free food and beer. Bacon will be the path to true oneness with the universe. Everything will be wrapped in bacon. Even the bacon will be bacon-wrapped.

In exchange for their daily chores (known as the Participations in Greatness) and/or generous donations to the cause, the Porkers will receive spiritual and galactic healing and tranquility through swine and beer. Only true and compete understanding of the universe can be achieved from the life-altering shock of the Defibrillator of Truth. Much bacon must be consumed to be worthy.

Careful not to omit the major draw to any cult, the Porkers will be allowed to dance naked whenever they want. Of course, this will be allowed only in the special Dance Naked Room that will have no windows, because let’s face it - these people are going to be eating a lot of bacon. There will need to be a Defibrillator of Truth in the Dance Naked Room also. Maybe more than one.

Participations in Greatness at PorkTown will include cleaning my house, making my kids’ lunches every morning, buying me stuff, pool maintenance, giving me money, landscaping and yard work, paying me, interior and exterior painting, paying all my bills, various home improvement projects, buying expensive things for my wife, auto repair and maintenance, family meal preparation, and giving me more money.

Come be a Porker. Your enlightenment is waiting, and it’s wrapped in bacon!

I’ll see you around town. I’ll be the one in a Rolls Royce with a pig as the hood ornament.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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!