Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Sixteenth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

School is only a month away from being over, and we never saw you on campus this year. I think it’s been a year and a half since we’ve seen each other! Surely you have finally had time to read my previous fifteen informative letters to you about your ridiculous business model and your general lack of photography skills. You desperately need to do so, because despite all my efforts to help you, on our last meeting, you actually said to the girl in front of Son Number Three, and I quote, “Oh, c’mon, give me a real smile.”

So as of early 2020 anyway, your hiring practices were still the same as they’ve always been:

Lifetouch: Are you currently breathing?

Unemployed person: Yes.

Lifetouch: Will you pass a background check?

UP: Yes.

Lifetouch: You’re hired.

UP: Umm… you guys heard me when I said I have no photography experience or experience with kids whatsoever, right. I actually thought this was a McDonald’s interview.

Lifetouch: Yep, you’re a perfect fit!

You’ve had a lot of free time and now that you’re owned by Shutterfly, surely you all have seen some of the pictures other people take to put in photobooks, on coffee mugs for grandma, mousepads, etc. You have to realize by now that it’s possible to take good pictures of children actually smiling. So, I assume you’ve spent the last eighteen months studying up on photography techniques, how to get children to genuinely smile, and what all the buttons do on your cameras, right?

No? Didn’t think so.

Here’s the crazy part, and the reason for my letter today. People with a phone that doubles as a camera (or the other way around, really) are able to take fantastic pictures of their smiling selves by just holding the device at arm’s length.

Do you realize what that means for you, the “professional photographers?” If people with a phone can take a better picture of themselves than you can of them, which you have proven time and time again to be the case, then that automatically invalidates the “professional” in your name.

It’s like going to a restaurant and paying $37 for a piece of burnt toast and the only jelly available is marmalade. We can make fantastic toast at our own homes for basically free, and we have a wide array of jam, jelly, and preserve options in our own refrigerators.

What I’m saying is, as far as photography goes, you make overpriced, crappy toast.

So here’s my new idea for you: Eliminate your photographer problem with the new Lifetouch Selfie App. On school picture day, kids will grab their cell phones and take selfies, then upload the one they want to your app. The school photos would then magically show up at their houses, printed on the fun glossy paper you guys have with the cool swirly blue school picture background automatically added in.

Photographer and COVID problems solved all in one little app. You’re welcome. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Although, based on your previous track record, you will probably try to charge $39.99 for the app, it will freeze up and fail on Android devices, and only print pictures in sepia, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for you!

I will leave it with you and your app developers to handle the details, but I’m thinking your tagline could be, “Reach out and Lifetouch yourself!”

Or, maybe not.

Best of luck,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

2021 Hybrid Sports

Our school district decided they might as well let the kids go back to campus full-time after spring break, for the whopping 42 days left in the school year. Better late than never, I guess.

This means the kids also get to play sports again. But trying to schedule and accommodate all 26 high school programs at once has proven to be impossible, so the schools are being forced to combine some sports.

For instance, football, cross country, and golf have been combined to create a new co-ed hybrid this year, tentatively being called cross footgolf. A full 18 holes will be played, with the downs allowed being double what par used to be. So, on a traditional 560-yard par 5, teams would get 10 downs to reach the green.

The football will be advanced with running plays using the cross country athletes, but the entire opposing team gets to hit drives at them from the line of scrimmage on each down. Five offensive linemen may attempt to rush the golfers from the front if they choose. Any time the ball carrier is struck with a golf ball, the play is dead. (and often times, so is the runner and much of the O-line.) Reaching the green with downs to spare is considered a touchdown, and extra points are gained with putts from the fringe. The team with the lowest score for the 18-hole round wins.

Water polo has been added together with lacrosse to form watercrosse. Swimmers will now swim with lacrosse sticks and touching the ball with hands is no longer allowed. Lacrosse helmets will be worn for safety, which should be interesting. To allow for all 20 swimmers and proper lacrosse spacing, games will be played in Olympic-size pools, utilizing the entire 50 x 25-meter area, with floating goals in the field of play to allow for exciting behind the goal action. No survivors are expected.

Swimming and volleyball have been mixed and will be played in your neighbor’s pool with chips and hotdogs for everyone after the game. Please don’t splash dad over at the grill.

Tennis and basketball have been combined to form tennisball. A regulation-height tennis net will be added across half court, with full basketball teams on both sides along with two pairs of mixed doubles. The tennis players are allowed to defend with their rackets, while all other basketball rules remain in place. Touching any part of the net while transitioning down court results in penalty free throws, while the opposing mixed doubles team hits serves at you from anywhere on their side of the court.

In an easy and intuitive mix, softball, baseball, and soccer have been combined into one giant kickball game. The fun added twist, however, is the addition of the wrestling team. Wrestleball will feature two defending wrestlers stationed at each base, including home plate. In order to advance safely to the base, you must first get through the wrestlers. To even out the odds, runners are allowed to bring their bats. Should be fun.

And finally, stunt has been paired up with track and field. All traditional running events are now required to contain a minimum of six front flips or back handsprings for every 100 meters. Relay events will have the same flip requirements, and the baton will be replaced with a giant hair bow, that must be transferred and perfectly affixed to the next runner’s hair before they can advance.

Javelin, shot put, and hammer toss will all be performed from the top position on the human pyramid. Pole vaulting will remain unchanged, because that event is crazy enough on its own.

Best of luck to all participants! I would tell you parents to enjoy the competitions, but unfortunately, spectators are still not allowed.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, April 14, 2021


You probably woke up this morning wondering, “What wacky geographical oddities can come from the accidental or purposeful intersection of cryptography and cartography?”

Am I right?

Of course I am, and the answer is quite obvious: Point Roberts, Washington.

If you are not familiar, I will give you a few minutes now to look it up on Google maps…

OK, you’re back, and you obviously just said to yourself, whose idiotic idea was that?? Was the guy drawing the map drunk?

The answer is, probably yes. (And also, The Tipsy Cartographers would be a great name for a rock band.)

No matter the sobriety level of the map makers, after the war of 1812 they created a goofy little puzzle on the upper left corner of Washington, but couldn’t quite put their collective finger on the glaringly obvious answer.


British and American map meeting:

OK, so about midway across Minnesota we’re gonna stop following the rivers and just draw a straight line across this sucker on the 49th parallel, and boom, we’ve got ourselves a border.

What about Vancouver Island out in the Pacific? That line will go straight across the middle of it.

How about we make the line angled and squiggly once we get into the water? The British can have Vancouver Island and the U.S. will take the San Juans? Cool?


OK, great work everyone. Let’s go have some more beers.


A month later:

Um, we have a little situation out in Washington. We checked a little closer, and the 49th kinda cuts off a little piece of what should totally be Canada, right up here in the corner, see?

What the hell, Roberts? You drew the line. What were you thinking?

Sorry, sir. We didn’t know that little point stuck out so far. But it’ll be an easy fix.

Nope, Nothing we can do now.

Um… all I have to do is squiggle the line a little sooner.

No can do.

But nobody lives there, yet. It’s less than five square miles.


Um… so the plan is to have a small American town that you literally can’t leave by road unless you go through Canada?

That’s exactly what has to happen now, Roberts. We’ll pretend we planned it. No other way around it.

But there is a very easy way. Like I said, I can just…

Roberts! You’re being insubordinate! Just for that I’m going to name it after you, so you’ll always remember your failure.

Um… yes, sir.


A month later:


What is it, Elm?

We have a little situation in Muskeg Bay in Minnesota…


See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A Seventh Open Letter to the School District

Dear folks in charge of the decision making down at the School District,

On March 13, 2020 you sent our kids home from school and told us we were all going to quarantine for two weeks to “flatten the curve.”

Yesterday, 389 calendar days after we began our 14-day curve flattening, our kids finally attended classes on campus for a full school day.

Since you are in charge of the schools, I assume you can do the math on how lame that is, but then again, maybe not.

There isn’t anything you can do to make it up to the high school seniors who graduated from home in their pajamas last year, and not much more you can do for the current students, other than to make sure you never do this again.

And before you start getting all defensive and telling me that it wasn’t your fault and there was nothing you could do, and you did your best, blah, blah, I have to ask you - Whose job is it to keep the schools open and running? And be careful with your answer, because if it’s not you, then we don’t need you…

Now that you’ve come to terms with how poorly you’ve done your job over the last 389 days, there is one group of people that you can definitely make it up to. Your inability or unwillingness to do the one thing you’re actually supposed to be doing has caused our teachers more grief than they ever should have had to deal with. They already have to deal with teenagers, for goodness sake!

Between all-virtual, back on campus, and some mix of the two, my boys’ teachers have had to completely change the way they taught their classes a minimum of four times this year. I realize that doesn’t affect you over at your offices, but rest assured, it greatly affected the folks you’re charged with shepherding – the students and their teachers. Not to mention, you turned me into a very unwilling homeschool teacher, which wasn’t good for anyone. Trust me!

Here’s what I propose you do for our teachers: Take a good hard look at your staffing levels over at the district office. Make a list of the absolutely essential personnel, and really drill it down to just the bare minimum amount of folks required to run your operations.

When you have that list in hand, fire all the people on the list and keep all the people you regarded as non-essential. Maybe they’ll keep the schools open next time. No doubt they’ll do a much better job than you did.

They can choose to stick around and run things at 50% of their current salaries, and we’ll take the other 50% along with the massive salaries freed up from all you “essential” personnel and give it all to the teachers – this year and going forward.

That’s the best solution. The teachers are, as evidenced, the only ones working for these kids.

Full disclosure: My wife is a teacher, so this is all very self-serving on a number of levels, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Yours in educational excellence through continued partnership,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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