Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Yellowstone, Red Face, Purple Feet

We are in the middle of our epic family road trip adventure to Yellowstone National Park (Motto: America’s Hot Tub, with Bears).

Everything hurts as I write this – my back, my face, my knees, my feet, my wallet – everything. 

Yellowstone is the nation’s largest national park, covering ninety-eight percent of the lower forty-eight states, and much of Canada. On our first day in the park we entered through the South Gate, which is in Arkansas, and exited though the West Gate, located on the Oregon coast.

One thing you don’t realize about Yellowstone until it’s too late is that the entire park is above thirty thousand feet in elevation. Not only is there very little oxygen to share with your fellow hikers, but there is way too much sun.

Yellowstone is tricky, however, and fools you into forgetting about the sun by giving you late June temperatures in the low teens and sixty mile per hour winds.

In addition to a wicked sunburn that hurts my face, I also can’t feel my feet anymore. Besides sitting in the car for forty-eight hours, waiting to make a left turn into a particular geyser’s parking lot, once you find a parking spot a few days later, the geyser is still six or seven hours away on foot. They should really warn you that flip flops are not the way to go.

I tried to suggest wider roads and drive-thru geysers to one of the rangers, but he said something about fragile geothermal areas, blah, blah, and I tuned out.

I also suggested to another ranger that they put the geysers on a more regular schedule to make planning your day easier. I mean, Yellowstone boasts eighty percent of the world’s geysers, and the only one they have on any kind of a schedule is Old Faithful. And they can’t even seem to nail the time down on that one to anything closer than a twenty-minute window!

As far as all the other ones go, you walk three hundred miles to see the geyser and it might not even geys! That can be disappointing for the kids, and lead the adults to wish that each geyser had a bar, which is another suggestion that the rangers seemed to dismiss a little too quickly. I’m not too sure about these people.

In addition to all the geysers, they keep quite a few animals in the park, not the least of which is the grizzly bear. I’m not sure why they think keeping dangerous bears near all the human tourists is a good idea, but then I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, based on how the rangers dismissed all my reasonable suggestions for park improvements.

My theory is that they keep the bears in the park to boost sales of bear-repelling pepper spray. Bear spray is like really industrial strength Mace, and comes in a pressurized spray cannister the size of a soda can. I’m not sure how much Mace costs, but bear spray retails in the park for a little under five thousand dollars an ounce.

But you can’t put a price on the safety of your family, and by “you” in this case I mean my wife. I can put a price on our safety, and it’s well below five thousand dollars an ounce, but my wife strongly disagreed. And she strongly disagreed with that look. You guys know the look. So now we own bear spray.

Thankfully, the bear spray cannister remains fully charged after our first day in the park, which is much more than I can say for myself or any of my lobster-red family.

Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go ice half my body and apply heat to the other half. I’ll catch up with you after we get done with our National Park adventure. Hopefully I will still have a full can of bear spray that I can sell to you, cheap. I’ll let you have it for the low price of only three thousand dollars an ounce.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Psychic Travel Log, Volume IV

We leave tomorrow on a two-week family vacation. We are taking a road trip halfway across the United States to Yellowstone National Park to see hot smelly water shoot out of the ground at inexplicably regular intervals.

I’m really not sure what we were thinking. I mean, Yellowstone sounds amazing, but we have to get there first. And we have to get home. And we’ll all be in the same car. Together.

We’ve been home, all together, for the past couple weeks, ever since the schools were rude enough to tell us not to send our kids there anymore. Our house is over three thousand square feet in size, not including the garage and backyard, and yet our children cannot seem to find enough space to stay off each other’s nerves. Or ours.

They are, quite simply, really annoying. Two of them are teenagers, which means they are permanently in a bad mood. The other one is a teenager catalyst. Son Number Three is the vinegar to their teenage baking soda. It’s a burbling mess when they are together.

So, in a moment of complete stupidity, we have decided to reduce their available square footage from three thousand down to roughly ten. That should go smoothly.

Since I will probably be a sobbing mess, or heavily medicated, during the non-driving hours, I anticipate being unable to keep an accurate travel log. Instead, I have once again channeled my psychic powers of clairvoyance to envision exactly what the trip will be like, in order to write the travel log beforehand…

Day 1 – Rocklin to Winnemucca, Nevada – We threatened the children with their very lives seven times before we even reached I-80 (six blocks). We stopped the car in Reno and made the kids run laps around the Atlantis Casino while my wife and I went inside and ro-sham-bo’d to see which one of us got cocktails. I lost. Nevada is hell. Winnemucca is every bit as magical as it sounds.

Day 2 – Winnemucca, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah – Correction: Nevada is worse than hell. The boys are taking turns to keep up a continuous stream of complaints and everything is ugly and brown. During a lunch disagreement I was hit in the back of the head with a flying turkey and cheese sandwich. Eventually the three boys got into a full-on fist fight in the car and we just let it go, because it was our only hope to break up the soul-crushing monotonous boredom of I-80.

In an unforeseen turn of events, Utah is even worse than Nevada because the road is completely straight. There is literally nothing to do - not even steer. I set a Chevrolet Suburban land speed record while everyone was asleep after the melee. An hour later, I fell asleep for fifteen minutes and it didn’t matter. The road is that straight. Boring is no longer an adequate word. After approximately three months of driving we made it to Salt Lake City. Mormons everywhere. We fit right in in our Suburban.

Day 3 – Salt Lake City, Utah to West Yellowstone, Montana – We have left I-80. We are now on I-15. That is the single most exciting thing that has happened on this trip so far. My wife bought a blackout sleeping mask and $8,000 noise-cancelling headphones from a Best Buy in Salt Lake City and has completely checked out of the vacation. I do not blame her. It’s every man for themselves now. We made it to West Yellowstone by making two of the three boys ride on the roof rack for the last seventy-five miles. It was the only way.

Day 4 – Yellowstone National Park – We drove directly to Old Faithful, which only took eight hours, since our line of six thousand cars drove three and a half miles an hour in between bison traffic jams. The boys complained that the buffalo weren’t exciting enough. We took a picture of an elk. Everyone fought over the camera. The camera broke. We missed Old Faithful by three minutes and had to wait sixty-one minutes to see it again. Those were the nicest sixty-one minutes of the trip, because we were all waiting one hundred yards apart around the perimeter of the geyser.

Old Faithful was amazing. Then we had to get back in the car. Two million buffalo later we were back at the hotel. My wife and I had a long talk that lasted thirty-five seconds, and we decided that we had definitely seen all the good stuff already.

Day 5 – Yellowstone National Park to Idaho Falls, Idaho – After a drive that I have permanently blocked out of my memory, we sold the Suburban for well below market value in Idaho Falls and purchased plane tickets home, with all five seats in different rows.

The boys are home now, and my wife and I are at an undisclosed hotel where they can’t find us.

Happy summer travels, everyone!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, June 12, 2019

Summer Cell-cation

On the surface, summer seemed like a good idea. No more school meant no more lunches, homework, carpool, crying parents, etc. But what we didn’t factor in was that the boys would be here. In the house. All. The. Time.

That wouldn’t be so much of an issue if they didn’t seem to hate each other. On second thought, “hate” might be unfair. Loath is probably more accurate.

Since the last school bell rang, they have fought continuously. UFC fighters should come here to get a lesson on stamina. Yelling, screaming, tears, wrestling, punches… and that’s just first thing in the morning about who gets to use the bathroom.

There are three of them. We have three bathrooms…

You should see what happens when they get to the toaster. We only have one toaster. Blood has been shed over toast, my friends.

My wife and I want to leave, but the amount of time we have in mind would be considered an act of criminal negligence.

Our home phone, on the other hand, decided it had had enough. It went on vacation without us. I mean, the actual body of the phone is still here on the kitchen counter, but apparently all its internal virtual phone-ness has left. It has moved to Huasna, CA.

We have one of our old cell phones as a home phone for the boys, because we try very hard not to appear criminally negligent. Right there on the home screen, reporting a much nicer day, weather-wise, than we are having, our phone inexplicably thinks it’s in someplace called Huasna. (Since I have no idea how to pronounce that, I am going with “Wah-snah,” but you are free to pronounce it “Who-as-nay,” or “Fresno,” or however else you see fit.)

I don’t know exactly what happened. I’m not sure if our phone got as tired of the boys’ constant fighting as we did, or if it just needed a break from the big city hustle and bustle here in Rocklin. Either way, it picked a place where no one would ever find it.

I looked up Huasna, CA on Google maps, and let me tell you, the middle of nowhere is Times Square compared to Huasna. I’m not sure how my phone decided to go there, since I have never been within a hundred miles of downtown Huasna. And when I say “downtown,” I mean the intersection of Huasna Road and Huasna Townsite Road, where there is nothing.

If my phone has been there more than a week, I’m assuming it’s already the mayor of Huasna. I think it will be a fair and just leader of the Huasnians. It has been a reliable and trustworthy phone, and it has all the answers, since it has a Google search bar on the home screen.

I have to assume that the Huasnians have no electricity or running water, so they might never have seen a cell phone before. For all I know, they are worshipping our home phone as a god. I hope the power doesn’t go to its head.

Speaking of power, I also have to assume it will be home soon, since it will have no way to charge itself in the rolling hills of the Huasna countryside. And I’m guessing it hasn’t called to check in because the Huasnians have never heard of cell signals or wifi. Someone will probably bring it home in a month or two in a cart pulled by donkeys or oxen.

No matter, though. Even if it gets back soon, we don’t need a home phone for a while. In a few days we’re going to all get into a car together and drive across the country.


Sitting right next to each other with our knees touching. What could possibly go wrong?

Maybe they could drop me off in Huasna to visit the phone?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, June 5, 2019

Ask Smidge - Special Graduation Edition - Repost

Son Number One “graduates” from eighth grade tomorrow and moves on to high school. (It’s not lost on me that this is happening on D-day.)

There is going to be a big “promotion” ceremony tomorrow. They are going to have a ceremony, but at least they are too embarrassed to call it a graduation. Do you know what the promotion ceremony was called when I left junior high?
“The last day of school.”

Do you know what the ceremony consisted of?
The bell. Because we weren’t graduating.

So, in honor of another “graduation” for our oldest son (his fourth so far), here’s the Ask Smidge column from last year’s graduation season. Enjoy!

Due to the incredible popularity of recent Ask Smidge columns (and we’re using the word “incredible” in its literal meaning here), we have been flooded with questions at the new email address –

A number of topics have been queried, but we have noticed a majority of you have graduation-related questions this time of year, so we’re doing a special graduation edition this week.

We don’t have kids yet, but my sister just invited us to our niece’s preschool graduation. Is that really a thing? Do we bring a gift?
Kidless in Carson City

Dear Kidless,
Sadly, yes, preschool “graduations” have become a reality. It’s a bunch of two-foot-tall paste eaters whose only requirement for graduation was that their parents kept paying for them to be there, but they’ll “graduate,” nonetheless. Don’t be shocked if they have them in little caps and gowns! (You may, of course, be appalled at the self-celebrating state we have devolved to, just don’t be shocked.) The best gift you can bring is a flask of clear liquor for yourself, and a promise never to put your future children in a preschool that has graduation ceremonies.
Good luck!

Our son’s kindergarten teacher just emailed us about a “small graduation ceremony” they’re planning for the last day of school. Graduating from kindergarten? My son still can’t use scissors correctly, he licks the other kids, and he’s barely even aware that he was in school. What am I missing?
Confused in Columbus

Dear Confused,
Please see answer above and just sub in “kindergarten” every time you see “preschool.”

What’s with these weird flat mortarboard hats?
Graduating in Grand Rapids

Dear Graduating,
Funny story! The flat mortarboard cap with the tassel that every graduate dons today actually started as a fraternity prank at Tulane University in 1893. Apparently, there was quite the rivalry between Phi Delta Gamma and Kappa Kappa Theta back then, and the Phi Delts came up with a real zinger at the end of the year.
They convinced the Kappas that it was a new school policy to wear a “uniform” at graduation. Then they proceeded to get incredibly drunk and come up with the dumbest looking hat they could think of: a flat board sewed onto a skull cap, with a darling little tassel hanging off one side.
They added the gown to the mix and convinced the Kappas that it was super cool to go naked underneath. Come graduation day, the Phi Delts showed up in their caps and gowns, so the Kappas thought nothing of it. But just before hitting the stage, all the Phi Delts tossed their mortarboard caps in the air and took their robes off, unrolling their suit pants from their knees and putting on their snappy fedoras they had been hiding under the robes. They strode across the stage in their three-piece suits, leaving the poor, duped, and naked-underneath Kappas with no alternative but to wear their ridiculous caps and gowns to accept their diplomas.
The prank worked perfectly, but it backfired on the rest of us. The Tulane dean, perhaps still drunk from Mardi Gras, loved the Kappa’s outfits and adopted them for all future graduation ceremonies. Deans from neighboring colleges, not wanting to be seen as non-hip, went along, and the rest is history.   

My pot-smoking grandson is graduating from high school with a 2.3 GPA. What should we get him for a graduation gift?
Unimpressed in Olympia

Dear Unimpressed,
A McDonald’s application and an alarm clock.

Our daughter is graduating from Dartmouth after six years. It took her a while, and more than a few student loans, but she is finally getting her art history degree. We are so proud! Any ideas for the perfect graduation gift for our little princess?
Beaming in Boise

Dear Beaming,
$350,000, a McDonald’s application, and an alarm clock.

Happy graduation, America! Now get out there and tackle life! Or first grade.

(And remember, be sure to email all your burning questions to

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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!