Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Weight of Christmas

Christmas used to be simpler. And harder.

It’s complicated.

One thing’s for sure, Christmas definitely used to be lighter.

When the boys were younger, there was a lot more to the Christmas prep. We had to be careful what we said. We had to make sure we visited Santa Claus somewhere at least once before Christmas Eve, ideally nowhere near a mall.

We had to “mail” letters to the North Pole, which really meant we had to make sure we read the letters without anyone finding out, then I was in charge of making the letters disappear. And make no mistake, that was probably the most life-and-death job I’ve ever had as a parent. The world would have come down around our heads if one of the boys had ever seen me shredding their Santa letters and hand-decorated envelopes. Thank the good Lord they never insisted on walking them down to the mailbox themselves!

We had to put out carrots and milk and cookies for Santa, and I had to eat the cookies and drink the milk. That job was tolerable. But I also had to chew up the carrots and spit them onto the lawn, and collect dirt and freezing cold hose water to make mud in order to manufacture reindeer “hoofprints” on our front walkway at midnight. That job was cold and messy and tasted like carrots, which are not nearly as good as cookies.

Basically, we had to lie a lot and stay up late. But at least the gifts were smaller.

I mean, sure, I spent my fair share of Christmas Eves assembling new bikes and Fisher-Price scoot-around cars, or whatever, but they were all manageable one-man jobs. The boys are older now, and the big gifts have grown with them.

This year was almost too much for me to handle. Son Number Two and Three got an eight-foot-tall lacrosse bounce-back from us this year. The UPS guy could barely get the box up our driveway. He and I managed to get it stored in the garage out of sight, but last night I had to put it together. It’s basically a trampoline the size of a large coffee table, sitting vertically up on a tube steel frame. It has various places where it folds up for storage, but God help you if you fold it all out, stretching all the springs tight, before you thoroughly read the safety precautions section of the manual.

There are two places that require safety bolts to be placed through the hinges before you move on to assembling the rest of the very heavy framework. If you don’t put the safety bolts in, it’s possible for the whole thing to fold in half very rapidly as the springs collapse, beating the holy hell out of your right foot that happened to be standing on one side of the frame. That situation is also very sudden and very loud, which causes your heart to stop for three to four full seconds, which can’t be good for you.

The problem was the giant upright trampoline turned out to be the light, easy gift to assemble. Son Number One wanted a weight bench. I bought it at a local sporting good store, and between me and the five-foot-two-inch female store manager, we managed to get it into the back of our SUV. Just imagine a full-size wight bench with all the weights and everything, tucked into a reinforced cardboard box the size of a standard filing cabinet.

I had to keep it in the box in order to hide it in the garage. Ironically, Son Number One would have been an excellent choice to help me move it there from the back of the car. His brothers couldn’t be trusted to keep the secret safe, so I handled it myself. Luckily, that was about a month before Christmas, so I had time to recover from the hernia surgery before I had to assemble it last night.

It was all actually going pretty well, taking locking plate #24 and using two #37 bolts plus two #78 washers and #45 nuts to secure crossbar #17 to main beam #12. That was fine. It was the un-numbered items that gave me a little trouble. Specifically, the twenty-five-pound plastic-coated weight that slipped out of my tired fingers around midnight and bounced across my already spring-loaded right foot.

That kind of thing never happened with the Fisher-Price stuff. Like I said, Christmas used to be lighter.

On the upside, the boys didn’t wake us up at 4:30 this morning like they used to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to continue to ice my foot.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

Until next year,


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, December 18, 2019

The 2019 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

You’ve gone and done it again this year, haven’t you? You waited until the last minute and still don’t have your Christmas letter written. Like everything else you did this year, it’s going to be too little, too late now. When will you ever learn to stop procrastinating? Maybe next year, huh?

Well, don’t start drowning your sorrows in Jim Beam’s famous eggnog just yet. At least wait until five o’clock like a civilized holiday lush. And no, conquering procrastination does not begin with drinking earlier!

At least wait until you hear the good news. I can’t help you with your crippling lack of motivation or willpower, but I can get you out of this Christmas letter mess. You see, I anticipated your folly yet again this year, and created yet another Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter, just for you. No need to thank me with a card I’ll probably get in June. I’m happy to help. It’s what I do.

So, grab your #2 pencil, pour some of that holiday cheer on the rocks, and start bubbling in the appropriate choices. It’s time to get this letter handled!

[heading and date]
O   Christmas 2019
O   Holidays 2019
O   2019 Holiday Season
O   Festival of the Nativity, Anno Domini MMXIX
O   2019, End of Fourth Quarter and Calendar Year
O   Wednesday

O   cherished loved ones,
O   family and friends,
O   mostly family and friends and some other obligatory holiday greeting recipients,
O   mostly marginal acquaintances,
O   bunch of names on the list my spouse provided me,

O   Merry Christmas
O   Happy Hanukkah
O   Happy Holidays
O   We’re Buddhist, so Happy Public School “Winter Break”
O   We’re Bengals fans, so Happy Last Two Weeks of this God-Forsaken Season
O   Yo Ho Ho

from the
O   Smith
O   Gonzalez
O   Lee
O   Johnson
O   Other


[obligatory opening line]
O   We just can’t believe the year is almost over!
O   Where does the time go?
O   Wow, Christmas is here already!
O   Christmas is upon us again! Time sure does fly!

[letter body]
O   We had a great year here at the (last name here) house.
O   We had a good year here at the (last name here) house.
O   We sure had a year here at the (last name here) house.
O   We’d like to forget the year we had here at the (multiple last names here) house.

O   (first child name here) won another award this year for (activity or service merit here).
O   (first child name here) almost won an award this year for (fourth place finish here).
O   (first child name here) got a participation ribbon for (sport or activity no one cares about here).
O   (first child name or inappropriate nickname here) ain’t never gonna win no awards for (skill or activity they are bad at here).

O   (second child name here) continues to excel in both (school level and sport here).
O   (second child name here) continues to excel in (school subject or sport here).
O   (second child name here) continues to attend (school level or sport here).
O   (second child name here) continues to misbehave and nearly got expelled again from (school name here).

O   (mom’s name here) had another fulfilling year of volunteering at (charitable organization here).
O   (mom’s name here) had another exciting year of working at (multinational company name here).
O   (mom’s name here) had another year off her life working retail at (major store chain name here).
O   (mom’s name here) had another year added to her sentence at (correctional facility name here).

O   (dad’s name here) continues to enjoy retirement, keeping busy with his (hobby here).
O   (dad’s name here) continues to navigate retirement, with his latest adventure being (hobby here).
O   (dad’s name here) continues to be on disability, and can’t seem to keep busy since he hates (hobby here).
O   (latest baby daddy’s name here) continues to enjoy unemployment, getting busy with (female neighbor’s name here).

O   We wish you all the best in the coming year, and a joyous holiday season.
O   We wish you all the best in the coming year.
O   We wish you all the best.
O   We wish we could be more like your family.
O   We wish this year had never happened.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

You’re welcome. Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

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, December 11, 2019

The Smash Gift of the Year

What do you get the person who has everything? That age-old question is actually easily answered this time of year. You get them the gift of life, of course, in the form of the Emergency Car Escape Hammer and Seatbelt Cutter.

You would never give someone one of these for their birthday, but for some reason it seems to be a perfectly logical gift at Christmas. What says “I love you” at Christmastime better than a tool that cuts through your seatbelt and breaks tempered auto glass so you can escape through your driver-side window after you’ve driven your car off a cliff into the frigid water below?

Obviously, nothing. And there are so many options these days. They all have the standard pointed hammer and safety-recessed seatbelt cutter blade, but there are new upgrades coming out every year.

Some of them glow in the dark now, because, let’s face it, most of your unscheduled cliff diving happens at night, am I right?

Mine not only has a light, but also an electronic tire gauge that will tell me my tire pressure in PSI and also in kilopascals, which will be handy if I ever drive my car off a cliff in Italy.

Mine is standard blue, but many of the new models are coming out in a variety of fashion colors, including pink, making it much easier to accessorize.

There’s even one available called the Car Cane, that doubles as a convenient handle to help you get out of your car through the door during normal circumstances. You simply slip the hammer end into the steel U-shaped latch receiver on your car’s door frame, and, presumably, scratch the holy hell out of your paint as you use the rubber-grip handle to support your weight getting out of the vehicle. I might argue that if you need a crutch to get out of your car in the Target parking lot, you might not be able to Dukes of Hazzard your way out of your driver window while the car is upside down and underwater, but who knows? Adrenaline is an amazing thing.

I found one that doubles as a phone charger, plugging into your cigarette lighter. It has a light on the end that includes LED low beam, high beam, and red strobe light. Unfortunately, the light points toward the driver when plugged into the dashboard, so the only possible scenario would be the red strobe getting activated by a childish passenger, causing the driver to become blinded and resulting in them swerving off a cliff. At least they would then have the tool that they needed to save themselves handy and easily locatable, but one could argue that the tool might not be the best gift if it causes the accidents in the first place.

They have models where the entire handle is actually a large strobe light, for those times when you drive your car off a cliff into the middle of the ocean. Just activate the strobe light and the Navy helicopters will be able to pinpoint exactly where to drop the rescue divers. I assume it also has a dye pack, for daytime ocean emergencies.

There’s even one that has solar panels in the handle, so you can use the sun to charge your phone. That’s handy when you drive off the road, need to extract yourself from the vehicle, then live next to your car for the next six to eight weeks.

These emergency tools are great and all, but here’s the thing - when you are trapped in your vehicle, you have to find this thing in your glove box or center console. But if you need to cut your seatbelt in order to get free of it, I’m going to guess you won’t be able to reach the glove box too easily. And if you keep the knife/hammer in your center console, you might as well just keep it in Cleveland. You can’t find anything in your center console when you are sitting in your driveway. What makes you think you’ll be able to locate your escape tool when you are sitting at a forty-five degree angle with water rising through the floorboards and a deployed airbag in your face?

Maybe this holiday season it’s time for a slightly more useful automotive gift, like a lesson on how to properly use a turn signal.

Or how to merge onto a freeway.

Or how to make a left turn at a four-way stop sign.

Or how to pull forward and not get out of your car in the school drop off lane.

Just some thoughts off the top of my head. If you do want to go the traditional Emergency Car Escape Hammer and Seatbelt Cutter route, just remember - this tool is completely ineffective if the gift recipient is too large to fit out of their car’s window. If that is the case, a better gift might be a personal trainer, or a car with larger windows.

Happy holidays!

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, December 4, 2019

A Fourteenth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

You know, fellas, life is funny, isn’t it? I mean, just when I thought there wasn’t any more advice I could give you about how to improve your thriving picture business, life throws me another photography curveball.

I get the feeling you aren’t reading my letters, so just in case that’s true, here’s where we stand:

I think you’re pretty bad at your overall job of managing the school picture process. Central to that, I think you just kinda suck at taking good pictures of kids. There’s really no other way to say it.

Based on the results we’ve seen over the years from our three boys, I’d guess you land somewhere in the fifty percent range. That’s an F on any grading scale. Unless we’re talking about the elementary school grading scale. We don’t do letters or numbers anymore, so your grade would be “Standard Not Met.” Still sucky.

After thirteen letters to you and one to Shutterfly urging them to back out of their ill-advised purchase of your little photography hobby shop over there, I thought I was just plain out of free advice to give you. Thankfully for you, I was wrong.

You see, as we’ve talked about many times in the past, Son Number One has a bad case of CFSD – Chronic Forced Smile Disorder. Unless you can get him to relax and laugh a little, his camera smile looks like he just stepped barefoot on a pile of Legos.

In your last twenty-one tries - twice a year from his preschool postgraduate year at Transitional Kindergarten all the way until this year in ninth grade - I’m not sure you have ever once managed to get a decent picture of him. Son Number Two and Three seem to have slightly better control of their facial muscles, but you still manage to screw them up quite a bit.

Anyhow, Son Number One is taking a trip soon, and we needed to get his passport renewed. The city of Roseville, CA has a passport office, which turned out to be nice because we didn’t have to go to the post office this time. I don’t know why, but the post office just feels as hopeless as the DMV, but without all the fun people watching.

Anyway, we were happy about the City of Roseville office because they not only let us set an appointment, but they offered picture services as well. We were renewing all three boys’ passports, so it was nice not to have to go somewhere else to get the pictures taken.

I would say that you might be able to see where this is going, but I’ve seen your pictures, so I’m not sure you can see much of anything. I’ll spell it out for you.

A lady who works every single day on a stool at a counter behind a glass wall in a drab and dreary city office building, picked up a handheld digital camera, and against the background of a plain white city office building wall, took three pictures of our boys that are better than anything you have ever been able to produce for us.

She actually took one of the best pictures of Son Number One that we have ever seen. His smile is natural and bright. He looks radiant with joy and brimming with youthful exuberance. The best you have ever done with him is “possibly not constipated.”

So, there it is, Lifetouch. That’s how bad you are. Lifetime government employees in hopeless little square offices take pictures that are a thousand times better than your “professional” photographers can muster. I’m not sure what you can do about that.

I don’t think there are enough city passport employees that you could lure away from the counter, even if you could match that sweet government pay scale and pension plan. There’s probably enough DMV driver’s license photographers out there, which would obviously be a huge improvement to your business model, but you have the whole government pension problem there too.

Maybe you guys could just figure out who trains these city, county, and state photographers who take such amazing identification photos, and lure that training staff away to help with your folks.

I’ll leave it up to you to figure out.

We just can’t wait to send photocopies of our boys’ passport pictures out in the Christmas letters this year!

Happy holidays,


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!