Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Construction Rapido – Año Tres

Two of our three boys are in Mexico right now over spring break. Son Number Two would be there with his brothers, but his high school Europe trip for seniors was scheduled over spring break this year instead of right after graduation.

It was actually a tough decision for him, because of how much he enjoyed Mexico the last two years. His brothers are back in Mexicali with a huge group of other high school and college kids from our church, so at this point, I’d like to formally apologize to the country of Mexico for anything my children may say or do while in your beautiful country. Deep down in their hearts they mean well, I think, but they are complete yahoos, especially when in close proximity to each other.

I would also like to formally apologize to Europe. We’d appreciate it if you’d excuse any questionable teenage behavior with Number Two and his friends, and let him come home on schedule.

The group in Mexicali is building houses and holding mini church camps for the local kids. Son Number One is on a construction team building a house for a family in need, and Number Three is on an “Impact” team, getting his butt kicked in soccer by niños y niñas half his age.

This is Number Three’s second year going on the trip, and Number One’s third year. The stories they bring back are amazing. I mean, building houses and serving poor communities is great, and the families are incredibly grateful, and it changed how my sons view the world and got them to understand how blessed they are to live in America with our abundance and prosperity and access to opportunities and all of that good stuff, but that’s not what is most amazing.

The thing that blows my mind about the trips is how fast you can build a house in a country with basically no laws.

If you ignore the whole child labor law hassle it really opens up the workforce. Granted, your average high school freshman isn’t necessarily a huge asset to a construction team, but you always need grunt labor alongside the skilled labor. Plus, you don’t have to spend a lot of time on human resources issues and paperwork with child labor, because they have no rights anyway.

The houses they build have full electrical, with ceiling lights and wall outlets and everything, but that goes incredibly fast when you can just install all the wires and then immediately cover them all up with drywall without waiting for a city building inspector to show up and check everything first.

The same goes for the framing, plumbing, insulation, windows, roof trusses, shingles, etc. Just build it and move on. Get at least one person on the project with construction knowledge and a plan, add the proper amount of high school monkeys, and you can build an entire house in three days.

Literally. Three days. They usually have another day and a half of exterior and interior trim work and painting, but the house is up, functional, and weather-tight in three days.

The trip leaders keep the Instagram feed stocked with daily photos, so we have proof that the boys are alive and well, the house is progressing, and everyone seems to still have all their fingers. That’s a win.

If my Grandpa was still alive, he’d tell you about the time when as a young married man, he bought an empty lot in town, dug a basement, bought an old house across town, moved it over on a large truck, and set it on top of his new basement. My mom grew up in that house, and we got to go see it a few years ago, still standing.

Things used to be simpler, and they still are in places like Mexico. If you bring some construction know-how to the party, you can get a lot done in a short period of time. And it can be accomplished very inexpensively when you rope a bunch of kids into helping.

But only if you’re able to take away their cell phones.

You see, that’s the other thing that makes this all possible. Along with the absence of building inspectors and over-regulation, the kids don’t have access to their phones for the whole week. They are amazingly able to concentrate on and complete tasks.

If they were allowed to have their phones, that three-day house build would turn into six weeks, with 57,000 “I’m building a house” TikTok dance videos and two million selfies posing with power tools.

I don’t think my grandpa would approve.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Truancy for Jesus

We received a paper letter in the actual mail from our boys’ high school a while back. You just know that’s never good…

Turns out it was a truancy notice. Hmm… truancy sounds like something that happens in other families, not ours…

Apparently, the school was under the impression that our sophomore, Son Number Three, was being chronically late to class. They also listed a day that he was late to school, but it was the day of his DMV permit test. That was on purpose, because you know damned well you don’t schedule the last appointment of the day at the DMV, you schedule the first one.

I found out after further reading that the school was very concerned about his chronic truancy, and that we, his parents, could even be subject to prosecution and jail time if his truancy continued.

Now, wait just a minute, here. I’m not the one skipping class! (Anymore.)

This letter was out of the blue for us, and when I saw who it was “from” I got a little suspicious. It was signed by one of the school’s vice principals that I know and really like. They are a very cool, normal, reasonable human.

It was at that point that I realized the letter was just an automated part of a school district bureaucracy trying to manage a one-size-fits-all approach to everything. And I get it, to some extent. Things need to be fair in the eyes of the law, etc., etc., but I had to laugh. Son Number Three is many things, but a scofflaw is not one of them.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I questioned him about being chronically late to class. And when he denied it, I believed him. I know what you’re thinking – classic parent with their head in the sand, but again, if you know Son Number Three, you know. It’s entirely possible – even probable – that when they call roll he’s being so loud goofing off with his friends that he doesn’t hear his name, but I’m positive he’s there.

What really made his mom and I laugh about the automated truancy notice was his grades. This week’s column was in no way intended to be a “humble brag” or anything of the sort, but the fact is Son Number Three is killing it in school. Always has.

Needless to say, when we read the letter, we just kinda laughed and tossed it in the trash. Maybe the automated truancy detection system could add in a limiting factor for GPA, if for no other reason than to save on paper and mailing costs.

Anyway, assuming they haven’t made that software change yet, I expect to get another letter soon. I just clicked submit on the online absence reporting form for today through Friday. Number Three is on his way to Mexico today as part of our church’s advance team that gets the camp set up for the high school Mexicali mission trip over spring break.

There are educations, and then there are educations. A whole bunch of kids are about to get to be a huge blessing on someone else’s life, and simultaneously receive a Ph.D. in how lucky they are to be living in the USA. If the school district will not forgive Son Number Three’s chronic truancy, I’m confident Jesus will.

And speaking of missing school, our high school senior, Son Number Two, is about to be truant for two full days WITH his physics teacher AND the very same vice principal who was forced to send the letter to us by the school district bureaucracy. They’re going to Europe over spring break and missing the Friday before and the Tuesday after to see more sights.

I’m not sure what the school district is going to do with that situation, but I think I have a solid case for dismissal if I’m brought up on charges.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 13, 2024

LaCroix Rich

I like LaCroix. I like it a lot. Besides coffee and the drinking fountain at the park on my running route, LaCroix is basically my only source of hydration.

I will drink almost any flavor of LaCroix or any of the other brands of sparkling water, except for coconut. I like coconut shavings on things, but coconut LaCroix tastes like sunscreen and leaves a film on the roof of your mouth the same way McDonald’s fries do. Water should not do that. (Fries shouldn’t either by the way, McDonald’s…)

Anyway, the other day I opened a passionfruit LaCroix, which is probably my favorite flavor, even though I wouldn’t know a passionfruit if you threw one at my face. There was no familiar sharp “crack” when the can opened, and when I took a sip, I figured out why. It was completely flat, which goes against what sparkling water is supposed to be. Zero sparkle.

Strangely, the lack of carbonation also changed the flavor of the passionfruit somehow, making it less good and more weird. I shrugged my shoulders and opened another one with the same result. Then I started squeezing the rest of the cans in the 12-pack and realized there had been a catastrophic and unnoticed failure of the carbonator on the filling line, and my entire 12-pack was flat. (I also wouldn’t know a carbonator if you threw one at my face, but I do know it wasn’t doing its job when these cans came by.)

Now, a normal person might have stormed back to the store and demanded a refund. When it comes to LaCroix, however, I’m not normal. Not even close. Just to give you an idea, I’m on my third one since I started writing this. With my garage stocking levels, losing a 12-pack or two is just a minor blip on the radar. I just set the bad 12-pack on the work bench, popped a new one in the fridge, and went about my day.

Walking into the house the next morning, I noticed the succulents on the front porch were looking a little dry and sad. I made a mental note to water them, and then my “need to get rid of that 12-pack” mental note popped up and I immediately saw the symmetry.

Unfortunately, sometimes a situation or solution that makes perfect sense to you might look a little odd from an outsider’s perspective. Like, in this case, if you were walking up your driveway and saw your neighbor on their front porch with a 12-pack of passionfruit LaCroix, opening can after can, quenching their succulents with sparkling water…

I started to open my mouth to explain, but Dave had already disappeared into his garage. But I saw the look on his face…

I swear, Dave, we’re not rich! If our shared fence falls over in the next windstorm, I’m still going to need you to pay for your half. The LaCroix was flat. We’re not uber-wealthy weirdos who baby their decorative plants. I don’t even think we paid for those succulents, honestly. I think my mother-in-law gave them to us…

Oh, well. At least it wasn’t something imported, like Pellegrino.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Concert-ing My Age

My wife and I went to a concert this past weekend with a group of good friends. She and I have been to a handful of concerts over the last few years, and I must say, I’m not loving the crowds and the noise quite so much anymore. Or at all.

At a normal concert, you get a wide age range that shows up, but the concert this weekend was special. We went to see Tainted Love, which is a semi-local band that does nothing but cover ‘80s and ‘90s top forty songs. Specifically, the songs we grew up with.

So, we discovered on Friday night that there’s a very obvious and almost universal demographic that shows up to a Tainted Love show, consisting of people who graduated from high school somewhere in the late ‘80s to early’90s.

Meaning us. And also meaning, we were all old.

When we got there, it struck me that they had missed a huge opportunity not having the show sponsored by a proctologist.

“Thank you, Roseville! It’s great to be here, and remember, if you haven’t scheduled your first colonoscopy, it’s time! Go see Dr. Phillips at Sutter Proctology. Speaking of doctors, here’s Bad Medicine by Bon Jovi!”

Or if that’s not the vibe the band is going for, at the very least they could be sponsored by a chiropractor or a financial company selling annuities.

Besides missed ad revenue opportunities, I made a few more observations on Friday night:

As an over-50 concertgoer, I like my shows to start on time. I know it goes against the rock and roll lifestyle, but dammit, be punctual. I was annoyed early on when we showed up to closed venue doors and a mile-long line. The tickets said the doors would open at 7:00pm and the show would start at 8:00. It was 7:30. We learned in line from some other annoyed over-50’s that the website contradicted the tickets and had 7:30/8:30 listed.

At that moment I learned that I think 8:30pm is a tad late to be firing up a concert. I’m not going to lie – I like to be in bed by 9:30 these days. To the band’s credit, probably because a couple of the main guys looked to be around my age, they started right at 8:30.

I also learned that I like my rock and roll on the muffled side now. We bought the tickets back in November, so my wife and I gave each other really cool earplugs that another old friend (take that any way you want) told us about. I was even showing them off at dinner before the concert. When the band started (thirty minutes late!) I could hear the music just fine. I pulled one of them out of my ear during the show to see how well they were working, and I was appalled at how loud it was. That was new.

But probably the most humorous observation I made on Friday night was how lame the fights are at an over-50 rock show. You’ll be shocked to learn that alcohol still remains the major – and possibly sole – catalyst for concert shenanigans and general ballyhoo, but things are a little different at a Tainted Love show than an AC/DC concert.

We had a situation unfold in front of us where two guys were pushing and shoving and threatening to throw down, but the potential fight was quickly diffused by my wife and my dentist.

I am not making that up.

Rock on!

(You. You rock on. I’ll be at home.)

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


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