Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Driving Me Crazy

Here’s the problem: A millennium or so ago, I used to be a sixteen-year-old male with a brand-new driver’s license, and I remember what I was like.

***Spoiler Alert*** I was not a good driver.

Within three days of passing my driver’s test (with a score of one hundred percent, I might add) I managed to get my parents’ car up on its side in a ditch.

I didn’t waste any time proving that test scores and real-life common sense are two completely separate things. I mean, I didn’t even have the actual plastic license yet before I learned my first major motor vehicle physics lesson. I still had the temporary printed half-sheet of paper folded up in my pocket when I stood on the passenger door and climbed straight up out of the driver’s window.

Well over the posted speed limit on a country road, plus a ninety-degree corner, plus an idiot driver equals one pretty banged up Audi 5000, and thanks to the miracle of seatbelts, three unscathed moronic teenage boys.

Fast-forward through many more hair-raising automobile exploits and an eventual increase in calm and skill level, and we arrive at yesterday – the day my wife had me scheduled to take Son Number One, who is almost fifteen, out to an abandoned parking lot somewhere and start the process of teaching him to drive.

I just don’t think that’s a good idea at all.

I successfully stalled long enough yesterday and again today to run out of time. Things just “kept coming up.” But there is very little chance, and by very little, I mean zero, that she’s going to let that happen again tomorrow.

She keeps saying, “He has to learn, and the sooner the better,” but I just don’t agree. I see no upside for letting him get his license. Ever.

I know what he will do. It will not be pretty. Tires will smoke. Brakes will howl. Metal will crumple. Insurance claims will be processed. Sleep will be lost. Metric tons of money will vaporize from our bank accounts.

She keeps trying to make the argument that he won’t be as bad as I was. I keep agreeing with her. Based on what I’m seeing from him, he’ll be much worse.

But she won’t listen to reason. In the end, she keeps defaulting to the argument I hear other people make all the time. They say it’s great when the first kid starts to drive because they can take over shuttling the younger siblings to school and sports.

But as far as I can tell, that’s probably the worst argument for it. When I put our Audi on its side, I was with two guys I actually liked. We were all getting along, and no one was mad or yelling at each other.

I can’t imagine what will happen inside the car when it is only occupied by our sons, whom, based on our observations, alternate rapidly between hating each other and just barely tolerating each other.

They might drive off a cliff. (Which, incidentally, I also almost did in my parents Jeep, about three months after getting my license.)

Please pray for our family. And our eligibility for auto insurance.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Thou Shalt Not Floss

Our three boys spent the last week off at church camp. The two younger ones were here in town, while Son Number One went all the way down to Los Angeles with his high school group.

He and I got up before dawn on Saturday to head off to the busses. His bag was ninety-nine percent packed the night before. When we woke up, he was supposed to brush his teeth and then pack his toiletries and his phone charger.

Off we went to the church to get him loaded up onto his bus. “Do you have everything?” I asked him.

His ears filtered my question through his small, inoperative fourteen-year-old brain, and he answered, “Yes! Quit asking me!”

I wrestled a hug out of him and sent him on his way. Fast forward to last Thursday afternoon when I picked him up. We had no contact with him all week, since the youth group leaders took everyone’s phones away on the bus trip there, and gave them back on the bus trip home. That made packing his phone charger the morning of the trip kind of a moot point.

What wasn’t supposed to be a moot point was packing his toiletries. As we were walking to the car and he was busy answering my questions about the week with super-descriptive one-word answers, he suddenly remembered something noteworthy.

“I forgot my toiletries bag, so I couldn’t brush my teeth all week.”

*record scratch*

“What?” I asked, hoping I had misheard his incredibly long sentence.

“Yeah, I totally thought I packed it, but it wasn’t there.”

“I watched you pack it,” I said.

“I know, I thought I did. I thought I put it in the same pocket as my phone charger.”

“I think you did, too. Did you take everything out of the bag to look?”

“Trust me, dad, I looked a bunch of times.”

“So, you just didn’t brush your teeth all week?” I asked, still not having fully wrapped my brain around what was coming out of his mouth, besides the halitosis. “Did you at least floss?”

“I chewed a lot of gum.”

Oh, great, those four out of five dentists will be thrilled. *sound of a blood vessel bursting in my brain*

“Did you tell somebody?”

“I’m not going to use someone else’s toothbrush. That’s gross.”

*sound of an even larger blood vessel bursting in my brain* “Um… not to use someone else’s toothbrush. To get you your own!”

“No. No one’s going to have an extra toothbrush, dad. Geez.”

*more blood vessels breaking, calming breaths*

“Why didn’t you at least ask someone to borrow floss? That’s a one-time use product.”

“I told you, I chewed a lot of gum.”

“Where did you get all this gum?”

“Our group leader took us on a walk to a gas station to get snacks. I bought a two-liter of root beer, too.”

“That’s nice. Do you know what else they sometimes sell at gas station convenience stores?... You know what, never mind.”

I opted to simply drive out of the parking lot in silence and continue the silence all the way home, for fear of having a full-blown stroke while operating a moving vehicle. I tried to think about dogs playing fetch. That’s a nice thought.

When we got home, he grabbed his sleeping bag and pillow and asked if I would get his duffel bag.

“Sure,” I said, still thinking about Labs and border collies leaping in the air for sticks and Frisbees. I carried it by the shoulder strap and was halfway to the front door when I looked down and saw it.

*second record scratch of the day*

I walked into the house where my wife was already getting super-descriptive one-word answers to her questions.

“Please tell me this whole thing was just some kind of elaborate and really stupid joke,” I said, falsely hopeful. “You brushed your teeth all week, right?”

*first record scratch of the day for my wife*

“You didn’t brush your teeth?” she asked.

“No, I couldn’t. I forgot my toiletry bag.”

“This one?” I asked, trying very hard not to have a totally paralyzing stroke, even though I was not driving anymore. “This one, here, in the end pocket of your duffel bag? The MESH end pocket!? The pocket on the outside of the bag that I can see right into without opening the bag or even needing to unzip it? This toiletry bag right here under your phone charger!?!?!?”

“What? There is no way that was in there the whole time. I totally looked, like, a bunch of times.”

As I stared into my wife’s beautiful eyes for some shred of logic or reason, I heard the sweet, welcomed sound of the rest of the blood vessels in my brain exploding.

No, no. Don’t call me an ambulance. Just get me some gum.

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, July 17, 2019

No Kids at Home Improvement

All our kids are gone! All our kids are gone!

I’ll probably shout the same thing when the third one finally ships off to:

A) College
B) Boot Camp
C) Taco Bell New Employee Orientation Day

(Complete toss-up at this point)

This happy occasion, however, is the result of church camp. All three boys are gone for the whole week, so my wife and I are doing what every healthy, loving, happily married couple does when they finally get the house to themselves – home improvement.

We dropped the boys off on Monday afternoon and immediately raced to dinner, followed by a romantic trip to Home Depot to browse the aisles in peace and quiet.

Then we headed home to get some more ice and Advil. My wife seems to be doing a little better than me after our week of chiseling off our old hardwood floors. I’m still nursing a few sore muscles and joints, pretty much everywhere on my body that I have a muscle and/or a joint. Back when we were first married, we could renovate all day long, but now we need to take it a little slower.

Our first full day without kids was spent hanging out with Jason, Paul, and Larry – the three gentlemen who are installing our beautiful new fake hardwood floors. Thankfully, the new floors do not get glued down, because after last week, if anyone ever tries to glue anything else down to my concrete slab, there is going to be a fight.

The first thing the guys did was remove half the downstairs baseboards, so we were immediately able to start our kid-free week off right – by sanding and repainting our old baseboards. They look amazing!

Today we had breakfast with Paul and Larry and then retired to the pool area to sand and paint. Around noon, we were able to get away for an intimate lunch at the hotdog shack in front of Home Depot when we made a run for more paint and rollers.

When we were finally finished with the morning’s allotment of baseboards, my wife had an amazing idea. She whispered it in my ear. It seemed like the perfect time, so we snuck off to the guest bedroom.

And started to paint it!

If you need us the rest of the week, we’ll be here, in the throes of renovation.

We might even paint the living room!

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, July 10, 2019

I'm Floored

My fingers are numb and my hands hurt whenever I breathe. Also, the rest of my body hurts. I’m typing this with the end of a ballpoint pen I have duct-taped to my wrist.

You see, we are having new floors installed in our house next week, partially because my wife has wanted new floors since the day we moved in, but mostly because our Labrador retriever retrieved a bottle of blue food coloring from the counter one afternoon and ate it on the carpet.

It looks like someone murdered a Smurf in our living room.

Half of our downstairs is carpet, and the other half is hardwood. It’s the hardwood part that has crippled me.

You see, along with the rather large sum of money our flooring guy quoted us for the actual installation of the new flooring, came a slightly smaller, but still substantial amount of money quoted for removing our existing hardwood.

He explained that we were more than welcome to remove the old hardwood floors ourselves, but the $1600 quoted to remove them was such a big amount in order to cover the possibility that the floors were installed with the Devil Glue.

He explained that when you try to remove the first board from the concrete floor, you will see one of two colors of glue underneath. If the glue is dark brown and hard, the old boards will pop right off the concrete like they just can’t wait to get out of the house. And if the glue is light tan and spongy, your best bet is to sell the house and move somewhere with dark brown glue.

I laughed. “Ha, ha,” I said, “it can’t be that bad.”

On Monday I popped up a four-inch section of the first board, after fighting with it for about twenty minutes, to reveal the dreaded spongy tan Devil Glue.

That wasn’t so bad, I thought to myself. And $1600 is a lot of money. I can do this.

I cannot do this. Our hardwood floors are apparently installed to withstand a category five tornado, and a category one thousand hurricane, combined.

If all the major and minor earthquake faults in California triggered at once, and the entire state was ground into a fine dust by a three bazillion magnitude quake, the only recognizable thing floating out into the Pacific Ocean would be our entryway and kitchen floors, still joined by a short hallway, completely unscathed by something so trivial.

Our floor guy’s advice was to use a Skil saw and actually cut the floor into six-inch strips, perpendicular to the length of the planks. I did that. We now have sawdust on every single square inch of the house, including the ceiling. We have sawdust in the pockets of jackets that were hanging in the back-bedroom closets upstairs.

Besides having six months of dusting ahead of us, and some seriously impressive boogers, I’m not sure the sawing effort helped greatly in any other way.

I have purchased every single prying, scraping, and chiseling tool offered at both Home Depot and Lowe’s, and in the past day and a half I have managed to remove about six square feet of flooring – an area roughly the size of two kitchen chairs.

When I was able to stand mostly upright again, I even suggested the idea to my wife of buying a Bosch handheld planer I saw at Lowe’s, and grinding the boards off, one by one. Plus, I thought it was a great excuse to own my own handheld planer. She politely pointed out that that was probably my worst idea ever, since we would need to back a dump truck up to the front door and load the resulting sawdust out of the house with snow shovels.

I told her politely that it was certainly not my worst idea ever, since about three square feet in I was seriously considering whether I could open some windows and adequately contain a gasoline fire that could burn the floors off. And also grenades.

She agreed those ideas were worse.

I’ll tell you what is starting to sound more and more like a good idea: paying our flooring guy $1600 to handle the Devil Glue. When you think about it, that’s pretty cheap compared to the cost of the full body cast I’m going to end up in to get the next six square feet.

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, July 3, 2019

Freedom from WiFi

We are traveling on summer vacation right now. It’s hard. It used to be a lot easier before we had all this technology.

We have three main issues that are taking up most of our time and energy: charging cords, cell signals, and WiFi.

Our three-week vacation apparently required a bag of charging cords the size of a basketball, conveniently tangled and knotted into the shape of an actual basketball. We somehow managed to get them all loose as the miles clicked off, which was a mistake. After two weeks on the road, the boys have managed to get us down to two cords between the five of us. I have confiscated mine. The rest of the family is on their own. It’s like four dogs scrapping for a single pork chop.

Our trip centered around going to Yellowstone National Park, which the government inconveniently placed in the middle of the wilderness. And in order to get there, you have to drive through miles and miles of wilderness that isn’t even associated with the park. It’s a lot of wilderness.

The end result of all that wilderness is a distinct lack of cell coverage. And on top of all that, we just added Son Number One to the cell plan, so ninety-five percent of our data is immediately sucked into the teenager data void. I already upgraded our plan to unlimited texts, because my wife knows more than two people, but I can’t bring myself to go to unlimited data. We have Verizon, and they want what amounts to a monthly mortgage payment on a large house for the privilege of having unlimited data.

On the plan we can afford without moving into a refrigerator box, we are allowed 8 GB of data between all of us. A GB of data is a mysterious unit of measure that fluctuates wildly in size depending on many factors, all of which are controlled by Verizon. It can equal as much as five full days of web browsing some months, and as little as five seconds of a video the next month. We never know which it will be, so consequently, WiFi is our best friend.

Before the advent of WiFi, when traveling, you checked into a new place, unpacked a little, then went to explore the area. Now, we check in and everyone explores their immediate area for the little sheet of paper that tells us the WiFi name and password. Then comes the gathering of the devices – phones, Kindles, iPads, laptops. Then I spend the next two hours either putting all the devices on the WiFi, or repeating the WiFi password (proudweasel264) about a million times to those trying to do it themselves, while they complain that it’s not working, which it doesn’t, when you spell it “weezal.”

The closer we got to Yellowstone, the sparser the cell signals became, and the more rare the WiFi became, until we found ourselves in a hellish three-day period in a house in the woods near West Yellowstone with absolutely no WiFi, and one single fluctuating bar of cell service, which was just enough to make your phone think it might be able to do something, then eventually give up.

We have worked our way back westward toward civilization and are now spending the Fourth of July holiday week with more extended family in a very big, very modern house in Sunriver, Oregon. It had great WiFi… on Monday.

Yesterday, it left a little to be desired. By ten in the morning I was on the phone with the rental agency to let them know that the WiFi had quit and my attempts to reset the cable modem had failed. They patched me into a call with Bend Broadband, who promptly led me through the very same troubleshooting steps I had taken myself, then shrugged on the other end of the phone and said they would need to send out a technician. On Friday. Between one and five o’ clock.

I guess wilderness is not the only obstacle to a reliable connection.

But I can’t complain. Not having WiFi has been very freeing. It has freed me from the confines of the house and the vacation activities.

The folks at this Starbucks all say hello.

Have a great Independence Day enjoying your freedom. Happy Birthday, America!

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!