Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writing the Wrongs

Help! I’m in North Carolina, vacationing with my extended family and they’ve turned against me. It seems they’ve taken exception to some of the things I’ve written about them in the past. They’ve threatened to lock me in a closet and hijack this column.

Here they come now… Don’t believe a word they say…

Hi All,

Marc is on vacation this week. Today’s column is brought to you by ghostwriters who may or may not be related to Marc, and who may or may not be on vacation with Marc in the Outer Banks. Many of the numerous ghostwriters herein may or may not have been previously featured in Marc’s columns, and may or may not see this as a prime opportunity to have “equal air time” so they may enlighten you… as there are two sides to every story.

Those of us in the family have realized that any time Marc is bored, or does not want to empty the dishwasher, suddenly it becomes “time for him to go write this column.” We’re on to you now. [This week, it’s suddenly “time to go crabbing,” which is just a clever substitute for “it’s time to write my column,” because we know HE is not writing his column.]

While the vacationing columnist will frequently take literary license, everything you are about to read is 100% true. Authenticated and verified.

Sugar Grandma pleads the Fifth on the aforementioned Slurpee Incident….and says indignantly, “This from the guy who when the curtains are pulled and the neighbors aren’t around eats chocolate chips straight from the fridge, and can’t pass a up a three-gallon fill-up on a road trip because he’s out of Peanut M&M’s.” [And, by the way, it was AUNTIE who bought the donuts this morning, NOT her.] Considering the fact that she’s spending the week in a house with seventeen of his closest relatives, and he controls access to her grandchildren, she has wisely opted to limit her comments to the obvious:

1. Once you reach a certain age - that being the age you are when your first grandchild is born - you can do anything you want, so why wouldn’t you?
2. All the furniture, clothing, sports equipment, toys, camping gear, and generally cute “stuff” she has brought to his house with love, are just things he won’t have to clean out of her house later when she dies.
3. Whatever made him think free babysitting wasn’t costly?

Sister, Slayer of the Nutritional Yeast and Purveyor of the Mahvelous Margarita goes on record as saying that anything positive posted about her is absolutely true, and anything negative, well… see the aforementioned Sugar Grandma pleading the Fifth thing. And, I too, am a fan of the Oxford comma. Punctuate on.

Niece Abby, aka Abbazabbadoodle: He’s AWESOME! And he took me crabbing. [The vacationing columnist agrees and has approved this message.]

Son Number One: I didn’t do it.

Son Number Two: It wasn’t me.

Son Number Three: What happened?

Nefarious Nephew… when pressed for comment: He’s awesome and he’s good at building stuff. [The vacationing columnist agrees, and is forwarding Nefarious Nephew’s twenty-dollar payment post haste.]

IAArena008: I have writer’s block. Good thing I don’t normally write this column.

Papa Doc: Which of us has not suffered the slings and arrows of Smidge, the Mad Columnist? It’s only fair that the anonymous masses get a chance to speak their piece… perhaps not so anonymously.

Auntie M: I’ve met the rest of the family, and I’m no longer going to believe a word he writes.

Youngest Cousin and Last Shrunken Head on the Charm Bracelet: He did teach me all the words to Love Shack at an inappropriately-young age. Rusted.

Nana (mom): I want the world to know that all of Marc’s Lifetouch photos from his school days were absolutely perfect.

The Wife: There is simply not enough space in this column for an adequate retort to nine years of suffering my husband’s “literary license.” In the interest of preserving my fifteen-year marriage, I’m going to stop there. Ditto to Sugar Grandma’s pleading the Fifth.

We are having trouble finding anyone else willing to comment. They seem to fear a backlash of “literary license” in future columns. Go figure. So, we will close by taking this opportunity to mention that all writing credits from the columnist’s literary catalog should also give honorable mention to moms, moms-in-law, older sisters, dads, aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins who contribute free fabulous editorial and marketing support.

We have to wrap this up now, anyway. We need to let Marc out of the closet we’ve locked him in. It’s time for him to go crabbing again.

See you soon,

-Relatives of Smidge

Copyright © 2017 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, July 19, 2017

Shopping for Crap

Apparently, forty-five is the age that I’m finally being honest with myself. Not about my fitness level or body fat percentage, obviously. (I’m still in amazing shape and have the body of a teenager.)

At the age of forty-five - which could possibly be mid-life if I beat the odds on fitness level and body fat percentage - I am finally being honest with myself about woodworking.

My dad is a woodworker. A long time ago he bought me a really big worm-drive Skilsaw and then taught me the cool carpenters’ trick of holding a 2x4 off the ground on the top of your foot and cutting it in half right next to your leg one-handed.

He also gave me his huge radial arm saw when he was beginning to pare down his garage. If you ever need to cut something big in half - like a structural beam, or a bison - I recommend a radial arm saw. I used it exactly one time to launch a section of plywood like a Stinger missile across my garage and into the sheetrock on the back wall. Literally, six inches into the sheetrock.

In hindsight, my dad may be trying to get rid of me for some reason...

My grandfather was a woodworker, also. He had a shop full of power tools, and when he died, I inherited quite a few of them. Suddenly, my garage magically transformed into a woodshop. I was excited. I was minutes away from producing fine cabinetry, elegant porch swings, cribs, rocking horses – you name it!

I had a band saw, a drill press, a table saw, a small Skilsaw, a big worm-drive Skilsaw, a router, a nail gun, and a power sander. Not to mention a radial arm saw that I was terrified to turn on.

I had enough power tools to build anything at all. The world was my oyster.

Do you know what the first thing I made was? I built a huge workbench for my garage, so that when I did all the amazing woodworking projects, I would have a big bench to work on.

In the last fifteen years, I have not done a single other woodworking project with any of my shop tools.

Why? I think a big part of the reason is that while I inherited a lot of tools, I did not inherit any of the woodworking skills to go with them. And then there’s the boys. Looking around my garage a few weeks ago I noticed something that made me take stock of the situation. Every flat surface on every large power tool was covered with crap. Just tons and tons of crap. Who did all the crap belong to? The boys.

There was not a single square inch of the top of my nearly two-acre workbench that I could actually see. It was just a vast ocean of crap, all belonging to the boys.

I stood there, surveying the scene, marveling at our family’s ability to hoard crap, when it hit me. If I have less flat surfaces, there will be less room for crap. And then I took stock of my woodworking future and came to terms with it. It’s simply not going to happen.

A few days after my moment of self-honesty, we had a garage sale, and I priced my power tools so that no man with a pulse could walk past them without throwing money at me instantly. We sold everything in fifteen minutes. The massive table saw was bought by a guy in a Honda Civic. He spent an hour on our driveway disassembling it so he could get it home.

I was happy to help those guys out. And I’m thrilled for their families. Now they have more flat spaces to store their crap.

As for my garage, well… It looks a little more open, but there’s still no room to walk around. Now all the crap is on the floor.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, July 12, 2017

Pandora's Orange Juice Can

My mom was a health food nut before it was cool, which meant, as the third child, I was an unwilling participant in eating healthy from birth.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very thankful for this fact now, but there were times when I considered it extremely unfair that my friends got Froot Loops for breakfast and I was eating Grape Nuts with wheat germ sprinkled on top. I am not making that up.

She wasn’t a crazy militant “organic” nut; she just made sure that the things we ate were made with actual food products. We were not subjected to carob chips and we didn’t sacrifice our backyard and compost our own dung to attempt a “sustainable” gardening lifestyle. We shopped at the regular grocery store, but you could be damn sure we weren’t buying any soda or Pop Tarts. The bread was whole wheat and the juices were 100% juice.

Now that I’m a parent, I totally understand where she was coming from, and I’m grateful for how she fed us. My boys are not as grateful, but they will be some day, if they ever have kids of their own. They see their friends drinking neon-blue Gatorade and complain to me about my rules – specifically my food and drink color rule – if you can find me anything that grows in nature that is that same color, and then you can prove to me that they used that food to create the color, then you can have it. If they used sodium hydrochloric dimethyl acetate to make that color, you’re out of luck, kid.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think drinks should glow in the dark. I really believe that a lot of our health and allergy problems in this country can be attributed to processed foods, lab-enhanced sugars, and food dyes. Just read the label on a diet soda and think long and hard about whether aspartic acid and phenylalanine seem like things you really need to add to your body.

If someone approached you and said, “Hold still while I drip some aspartic acid and phenylalanine onto your skin,” you would punch them in the throat. But the Coca-Cola company and our incredibly trustworthy government say it’s cool to drink it, so we pour it down our throats. Not the best idea, in my opinion, but I digress.

All things considered, my two sisters and I really didn’t know any better growing up, and we were perfectly content. That is, until the fateful morning when frozen concentrated orange juice shined a light on our mom’s dietary hijinks.

One morning my oldest sister, Jill, took it upon herself to make the orange juice for the first time. Our mom always bought the frozen concentrated juice in the cardboard cans with the metal lids that were removed by pulling on the white plastic sealing ring. Those cans were always a losing proposition, because when the juice was still frozen solid, there was no way to get a good grip on the icy plastic seal, but if you let it thaw enough to be able to open it, you were guaranteed to spill some when the lid came off and the flimsy cardboard container buckled under the pressure of your grip. Good times.

So after cleaning up the spill, Jill proceeded to read the instructions on the can, and made the OJ. Minutes later, my middle sister, Heidi, and I were drinking the results.

“This is the best orange juice I’ve ever had! What did you put in this? It’s amazing!”
“Why does this taste so good? You added a bunch of sugar, didn’t you?”

"No," replied Jill, smiling. "I just didn't put the yeast in it."

You see, my mom used to add nutritional yeast to the orange juice. If you are unfamiliar, nutritional yeast is a vile, dirt-like substance that has the consistency of dandruff and tastes like hay. My entire life, up to that point, my mom had me convinced that orange juice was supposed to be gritty and have little brown flakes floating on top of it.

My sister opened Pandora's frozen concentrated orange juice container that morning, and it was the beginning of the end of my dietary naïveté. I fear that I accidentally did the same thing with my boys yesterday morning.

Most mornings, I make them a fruit smoothie. They all love them, and it's really the only proven method to get a piece of fruit into them with any regularity. The standard smoothie recipe is one apple, one banana, some milk, the secret ingredient – Hershey’s chocolate syrup – you heard me, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and cherries (without the pits), and a handful of spinach.

The smoothie turns out to be a pretty gross-looking color of off-brown, but it’s delicious. Like I said, the boys love them. At least, they used to.

Yesterday, my brain was obviously malfunctioning, and I forgot to put the spinach in.

As I poured the smoothies into the cups, the back part of my brain was casually remarking, “Hmm, this smoothie seems much more reddish-pink than normal. I guess I put in a lot of strawberries this morning, or something.”

I am an idiot.

Son Number One took a sip and immediately asked me what was in it. I said the usual. He asked for the ingredient list. I told him. He said, “So, you put everything in it except the spinach?”


“This smoothie is amazing, Dad! Can we have it like this every day?”

For years, my wife and I have been a united front, reciting the same old line - “You can’t taste the spinach.”

Well, apparently you can.

And I’ll bet you can’t guess what happened this morning, can you?

Yep, this morning they all begged for yesterday’s amazing smoothie without the vile green weed. Sorry fellas, spinach is back in. “That was your imagination because of the color. You can’t taste the spinach!”

I’m not going to let up on the healthy eating, but they’re right. That spinach-less smoothie was pretty damn good!

They should just be happy I’m not adding nutritional yeast to the recipe.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, July 5, 2017

Freedom isn't Free - Repost

The Fourth of July is a special time for me, and not just because of the magnificent pairing of beer and explosives. I have always loved celebrating our freedom, but the last few years have been extra special, because it was around this time in July of 2013 when I extricated myself from the business world to become a full-time writer.

Now, when I celebrate our freedom as Americans, I also have a little mini personal celebration of my daily freedom from having a boss. I guess I should say, a boss that I’m not married to. A few years ago I traded one boss for another, but my new one is much easier to work with, and I can sleep with her without it being an ethical issue.

Prior to my incredibly liberating decision to quit my job, I had an eighteen-year career in engineering. While I don’t miss much about the working world, I do miss the people now and again. I worked with a lot of good, smart people, a lot of good but not-so-smart people, and a few folks that can only be categorized as brain-dead.

Strangely, it’s the brain-dead ones I miss the most. They were never easy to work with (or for), but if you could survive the frustrations, they did provide a level of entertainment that you just can’t get anywhere else. 

Sure, now I’m home with my kids, and they say ridiculous things.
“Dad! He hit me in the nuts with an X-wing fighter.”
“Only because he just bit my butt.”

That’s all well and good for a laugh, but it’s slightly tempered because it’s to be expected from young kids. The real true comedy comes from when those inane comments are coming from a grownup. When you get that kind of idiocy from a colleague, a client, or your boss, that’s comedy gold.

Over my career (perhaps sensing that someday I would become a writer), I wrote down some of the verbal gems that I received. Here are some of the highlights:


I was talking with someone about a company’s operations in Thailand, and he kept referring to the workers as “Taiwanese.”
Importing people from a different country seems unnecessary.

I overheard this conversation in a break room once:
World Traveler: “I lived in Europe for two years. My favorite part was driving between all the different countries.”
Geography Major: “Did you ever drive over to Australia?”
WT: “Uh... I was in Europe. I did drive to Austria a bunch of times. It was great.”
GM: “I’ll bet the beaches were nice, huh?”
WT: “Uh...”
I’ll bet if that other company opened a facility in Australia they would staff it with Austrians.

English as a second language – Awesomely, however, every single one of these gems come from people born and raised in ‘Merca

I had someone substitute the word “oversight” for “insight” in a phone call and not skip a beat. “Your excellent oversight with that problem...”
Yes, any time I can help by overlooking your problems, I’m happy to do so.

I worked with a guy for a long time who just made up words. My favorite was “squose.” He believed it was the past tense or past participle of squeeze.  He would say to clients things like, “We squose four into the same space.” It was magical.

“Not the most eloquent solution”
Irony isn’t even a good enough word.

And then, just to really keep everyone on their toes, the same guy said, “In his eloquent way, he picked a Thursday to start the project.”
You aren’t even using the word wrong the same way. How many incorrect meanings do you think it has and what are they??

Someone talking about the honor his son was receiving for high school graduation:
“He’s graduating magna cum lau, or whatever”
So I guess the milkman helped him with his homework all these years?

"I point-blank alluded to him"
Nope, nope, nope, nope.

And my favorite category: Idioms – Know when and how to use them – and most importantly, what they mean. Again, awesomely, all from born and bred ‘Mercans

“Now he’s singing to the choir”
In the context of the conversation, this was a wonderful mixture of “singing a different tune” and “preaching to the choir.”

“He wants me at his call and beckon”
A good example of the rule – if you don’t know the idiom, don’t try to use it.

“This hits home right between the eyes”
It does?

“That’s been their Achilles' heel in their side... or however you want to say it”
However I want to say it? I guess if it was up to me, I would choose one or the other - Achilles' heel or thorn in their side. That's just me, though.

“Take the political middle of the ground”
I think it was a combination of high ground and middle of the road.

“I'm treading on a gray area”
Uh...?Possibly a mixture of “thin ice” and “gray area,” although, one of those is a lot worse than the other, so I’m not sure how serious this is.

“He beat him to the punchline”
Sure he did.

“Squealing like a stuffed pig”
Stuffed... stuck... they all squeal.

“The ship is sailing, but no one's at the helm, and we're not tied up to the port”
Uh... say what?

“I would undress him with both barrels”
Dress down, maybe? Or unload? Or are there some other issues you want to discuss?

“Didn't mean to throw gasoline on an open wound, there”
Fire... salt... who can keep track of all this stuff?

“Just tell them we’re keeping our pulse on it”
I would tell them that, but I don’t want to confuse them.

“I took it as a grain of salt”
Like, it was really small?

“Shot it up the ladder”
This was supposed to be “run it up the flagpole.” The only thing they got right was “it up the.”

“The ball is in my court, but I don’t have a player on the other side of the net”

“We don’t want any black toes on this one”
Yes, frostbite is not a good option. My best guess is it was a hybrid of “black eyes” and “stubbed toes.”

“They’re breathing down my throat”
He meant “breathing down my neck,” but the misuse of the idiom left a visual that I couldn’t unsee inside my mind.

“I’m trying to tread water lightly on this one”
Jesus? Is that you?

They say freedom isn’t free, and that’s very true. I may not be tied to an eight-to-five office life anymore, but that freedom came at a cost. I lost out on a regular supply of this kind of comedy magic.

I mean, sure, one of my sons just told me he accidentally dropped his underwear in the toilet when he was peeing. That will be a hilarious story, but the fact remains that I still have to clean it up.

Happy Independence Day! God bless ‘Merca!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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!