The Big Picture

tvnowork2My kids are constantly asking me to look at something. Usually it is a YouTube video of a buzzer beater or the latest animal to become an internet sensation. I have gotten less and less adept at feigning interest in these moments. Well, except the dog that shuts off the Roomba vac. That dog deserves his moment in the sun.

So, on a recent Saturday night when my son told me I should come see something, I ignored him. Right up until the point when he nervously said the basement television wasn’t working. Because I am the mother of three boys, any time something is not working, I assume there is a story behind it. A story that has been crafted and rehearsed to shed the best possible light on my off-spring despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Even after a few beers with dinner, it was obvious that the multi-colored lines across the screen and black blob in the corner were all wrong. To make matters worse, the black blob was smoking hot to the touch. Fueled by the annoyance of burning my finger, the interrogation began.

Like prisoners of war, the boys were not ceding to the enemy. They swore they were just as flummoxed as I was. I took them at their word. After all, the boys had the most to lose since this was technically their tv with a gaming system attached.

Fearing the screen was going to burst into flames, I turned off the tv and got another beer. I rationalized that it was more productive to watch the Wizards go down in flames instead. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn tv. After all, it was only a year or so old.

Pretty soon I was going to be hopelessly mumbling about how things don’t last the way they used to, the good old days and the weather.

I tried to remember when we purchased it. Let’s see, I knew I volunteered to run a bake sale the day the guy was coming to install and the bake sale was in May. It was crazy; I mean everything happens in May, why would I volunteer? Anyway, using that timeline, it seemed we were within the year warranty period. Now, no, wait. We had it installed then, but I recalled sitting at a baseball game and having a very public, very testy phone call with the installer debating an earlier date because we had bought the tv two weeks beforehand.

The only way I can keep track of days and time is to chart them through my kids’ past events and the accompanying volunteer slot. So was it a year? Less?

The only way to find out was to leave my comfy chair and find the paperwork. In times like these, I love my overly organized husband the most. The paperwork was in the drawer with all that other warranty stuff instead of being in the bottom of one of my piles with all my good intentions heaped on top of it.

And the date on the yellow and blue Best Buy receipt?

April 22, 2016. Exactly one year from that very day.


I grabbed the mountain of paperwork I found in the drawer, the phone and my beer and headed for the dining room. Everyone in my house knows, the serious phone calls happen in the dining room. The only time that table sees any action at all.

First up, Best Buy’s Geek Squad. The snarky gentleman who answered informed me they are only helpful if you purchase extended warranties, service contracts and put them in your will. Having done none of the above, they sent me packing with a number for Samsung service.

I dialed the number and took a giant swig of beer to cushion myself from what would, no doubt, be a long wait. After I followed numerous prompts, listened to detailed instructions on replacing defective, exploding Samsung phones and counted the nail pops in my dining room ceiling, a rep came on the line.

I was smart enough to get the serial number off the back of my flat screen before our call. Armed with info, I expected things to move along quickly.

I am just a fool.

What followed was a 2-hour odyssey that I was not qualified to embark on. I ran self-diagnostics with the remote and buttons on the tv itself. I took pictures of the screen from the front, from the back, from the side, with the power on, and with the power off. I then uploaded those pictures to some random email address. I had to scan and upload a picture of my receipt from Best Buy and send it to another email address after I got a prompt. I had to unplug everything from the television (attached with approximately 50 wires) and run the diagnostic with the remote again. I ran up and down the stairs, crawled around on the floor, sneered at my family every time I passed them sitting watching the Wizards game in the family room and burned my finger again. Oh, and I asked the rep at least 100x to confirm that we were still under warranty.

Somehow, the least tech-savvy person in the house was jumping through some pretty serious Samsung hoops while everyone watched. I would plot revenge later, now I had work to do

I did not get any confirmation of the warranty from the rep before we got off the phone. She said all documents would be evaluated and a technician would come to my house and assess if we were warranty worthy. It was 11pm, my beer was warm, the Wizards lost and I was exhausted.

A few days later, the technician came out and most importantly vindicated my children. He sucked in his breath when he saw the black blob and told me that it was a burn mark on the screen. One of the LED bulbs had exploded and singed the tv. I am sure I used some prehistoric term, like picture tube, but he was kind enough not to laugh at me, his face showed something more like pity.

After replacing the screen (sort of like they do for a cracked iPhone) I asked about the warranty for the new one.

“Ninety days, ma’am”

“Only ninety days? What if this happens again?”

“Ma’am what happened to your tv only happens to like 1 in every 15,000 tv’s”

This news did not make me feel special like it should have.

All in all, I put more time into this repair than the technician who came to my house. In thirty minutes he evaluated, replaced, reconnected wires, turned on the tv to prove it worked and hauled away the trash.


This time it was me who had something to show the boys. And their look of gratitude to have Netflix, PS4 and their connection to civilization back in action was worth every minute of invested time.

Now if we could just fix the Wizards….

DOGtv Might Just be for the Birds

dogtv1When you write for a living, people are always suggesting topics to cover. I ignore most of them because my life is fodder enough. And because I am inherently lazy and writing about the old homestead takes zero research. But, recently I received a survey about DOGtv that simply could not be ignored.

Yes people, DOGtv.

A television station developed specifically to entertain dogs while owners are gone.  While I was cruelly leaving my dog, Murphy, to languish in his own thoughts, I could have been wowing him with videos about a day at the dog park or nature’s sights and sounds.

I expect the SPCA to come knocking any minute to address this gross mistreatment.

So, of course, I had to check it out.  As I suspected, DOGtv was not included in my basic satellite package but the guide did verify that it is a real thing.  I then turned to trusty Google to find out more. That led to a bonanza of Youtube videos with DOGtv samples.

I clicked on “Dog Park” and watched as various breeds scampered across my computer screen against a sound track of giggling children, random ringtones and birds chirping.  There was a lot going on.  Was thinking that if Murphy was watching this video all alone, it would really piss him off.  Sort of like me watching “My Lottery Dream Home.”  Entertaining? Maybe, but it does not make me feel so great about my current situation.

That video—fittingly– was in the stimulation category so I switched to a sample of the relaxation videos. As the camera spanned bluffs and lush greenery, soothing music played. I sort of got it. But would Murphy?

There was only one way to know.  I was hooking Murphy up with some canine cinematography.  Since he was currently lounging at my feet, it was as simple as turning the dog park video on full screen mode and leaving the laptop on the floor.


Even if you count Murphy opening one eye when a child said, “Good Boy,” as a bonafide reaction, it was lackluster at best.

The survey I received said that most large US cities (New York, San Francisco and Seattle) were streaming DOGtv on the regular. Washington DC was in the top ten as well.  The DOGtv website touts all kinds of credentialed individuals like scientists, dog trainers and the Humane Society endorsing this programing. So, you know, basically everyone was wowed by it but me.

I thought back to the time when we watched “Hotel for Dogs” in the car and Murphy went nuts barking at the speakers and jumping all over the car. He was miserable and we almost crashed a couple of times before I finally hit pause. So our history in the dog viewing category was not stellar.

What was I missing?

In the middle of my quasi-scientific research, my youngest son wandered into the family room.  I know you will be shocked to discover that my kids had been playing Youtube videos to get a reaction out of the dog for a long time.

Teens and Youtube = peanut butter and jelly. A matched set.

Classics like “Squeaky Toy” and “Howling Dogs” were bookmarked on my son’s phone.  The first got a slight head cock from poor Murphy but I think mostly he wanted us to leave him alone.

Which is like anti-DOGtv.

I looked at the survey and info again and read that many dogs with anxiety found this type of programming helpful and healing. Murphy does not suffer from anything except an overdose of love and treats, a layer of excess fat and an unrelenting quest to catch a squirrel. Perhaps his cushy life accounted for his indifference.

But clearly, millions of people in major cities all over the country were utilizing DOGtv to alleviate guilt or improve their pet’s life or both.  I was still ruminating over the mechanisms available to gain feedback from the dogs about programming, when I noticed one of the top cities on the survey was Cresco, PA.

What the hell was going on in Cresco that warranted record numbers of DOGtv enthusiasts? Cresco is nestled in the Poconos and is home to a pretzel and candy factory. And that’s about it. I think maybe the people of Cresco are mesmerized by DOGtv just like the animals. Some 5,000 residents can vouch for the fact that there is NOTHING else going on there.

Unfortunately, there is not going to be any DOGtv going on in my home, nestled in here in the ‘burbs.. It’s more lack of funding for extra channels than lack of fondness for our old boy. I mean, not many other dogs’ antics are featured in a blog. That will have to be excitement enough for Murphy, I know it’s more than enough stimulation for me.

Walking for the Warriors

In the predawn darkness, in a sea of pink, I began the journey I had prepared for throughout the summer. Countless hours spent training, fundraising and planning brought me to this place. I soon learned, however, that all of my hard work would do little to truly prepare me for the experience that is the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk.

I was completely out of my element as I joined an experienced 3-Day team for this journey. I was happy to let them usher me along to the Opening Ceremonies at Nationals Park in DC. As we shuffled closer to the stage I struggled to read all the t-shirts, in varying shades of pink, designed to honor breast cancer victims. Our shirts were neon green to better track each other and were emblazoned with our team name and motto “The Walking Talkers….Walking and Talking Until We Find A Cure.”

And talk we did.

For three days as we endured driving rain, humidity, mud encrusted paths, roads with no sidewalks, blisters and fatigue we talked to everyone we encountered. Sometimes it was just a quick “how you doing?” offered to a walker who was alone. Other times, we swapped cancer stories with strangers and learned what prompted them to sacrifice three days and their bodies for the cause. Often, it was a quick exchange with the road crew who safely led us across large intersections as we thanked them for volunteering and they encouraged us to keep going. Sunday, the final day, the conversation was in the form of a group sing along that my team instigated as we encountered an intimidating hill in DC. That sing along continued to pick up participants and lasted for miles until we stopped for lunch.

Everyday citizens and non-walkers talked to us as well. Horns beeped along every avenue. Folks came out of office buildings in the rain on Friday just to clap for us. A man passed us on the sidewalk Sunday in Friendship Heights and simply said “God Bless You.” At a stop to refuel near the end of the race two gentleman hanging outside a restaurant and watching the parade of walkers told us of their family members who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sidewalk chalk decorated driveways with the pink breast cancer ribbon. One homeowner simply hung a pink t-shirt on the door. Supporters lined the streets offering candy, mints, band aids and kind words.

All of these experiences spoke volumes to me. I heard the voice of humanity loud and clear. I understood that men, women and children can unite for one cause and feel—even for the briefest of moments—that they can make a difference. I listened to my heart and cried almost every day for the losses suffered, for the kindnesses offered and the first glimpse of my children who came to meet me on Saturday.

After the closing ceremonies Sunday where we raised our voices in unison one last time, I came home to find a present from my sons. A welcome home sign and a pink balloon containing one single word “Courage” awaited me. I shed my final tears of the weekend as I hugged the boys and thanked them for the tribute.

On Monday my son Drew said he wanted to talk to me. He proceeded to ask if we could let the balloon they had given me go up to heaven. Moments later all three boys released their grasp on the balloon’s pink ribbon and we watched it float upward. We were silent as we followed its ascent until it looked like it touched the clouds. We quietly went back into the house as the balloon drifted out of sight knowing that sometimes words can’t do the moment justice.

Sooner or Later

They say that opposites attract and I guess my marriage is living proof of that. While we share the same fundamental values, our approach to everyday life is a study in contrast.  My neat husband tolerates my love of piles and I overlook his need for an organized plan when flying by the seat of my pants has gotten me through 50+ years relatively intact.

The one thing that always tripped me up, however, was my husband’s chronic lateness.  As a border-line neurotically early person, this was a huge hurdle in our early years together. So much so, that he never actually saw our wedding invitations because we flat out lied and told him the ceremony time was 30-miutes earlier than the actual event.

I may or may not have been a Bridezilla, but that is another column.

Over the years, I have come to view this tardiness in another light and it has helped me cope. Think of it like a kaleidoscope. From the outside; it is simply a plain tube. But if you take a minute to view the interior, you see the light and sparkle that makes it something else entirely.

Using that filter as my guide, I now understand that this lateness is the result of some pretty amazing traits like the following:

Overachiever:  My husband has a to-do list that waits for no one. He crams as much as humanly possible into every minute.  Because I never write anything down and have no such list, there is nothing but the current time-line for me to focus on. He is late because he knows he can squeeze in just one more thing. That kind of work ethic should be admired even if it sometimes leaves everyone scrambling for the door.

Optimist:  He truly believes that stop light karma will be on his side. That if he just drives a little bit faster and takes that shortcut, he will indeed arrive on time. Often, my husband is correct. Although we leave the house later than I think we should, we do get where we are supposed to when we are supposed to be there. That kind of blind optimism—and driving skills– cannot be taught.

Organized: If you keep everything in its place, you can afford to get a little side-tracked on the way out the door.  You make that time up by having your shoes exactly where they should be. In fact, my kids should be paying attention to this because nothing is ever where it is supposed to be. Oh wait, they get that from me… damn. Anyway, my husband gains some serious ground through organization and rote. He knows when he reaches for his phone, wallet and keys they will be right on the counter because he puts them in the same spot every time he comes home.

Insightful: My husband, unlike me, realizes that there are more late people than early people. Most folks are scrambling and running; it’s a sad fact. So, when we end up with idle time waiting on others or for an event to begin, I see his point.  He also knows me well enough to know that I will take care of myself and the kids so he can do whatever it takes to get him going.

Gracious: If, despite all the optimism and organization, we end up arriving late; he owns it.  He does not think his time is more valuable or anyone is less important. Sometimes, he simply is a victim of his own awesomeness (my rationale, not his).  I mean who can’t relate to that?

All in all, I think surviving marriage with a spouse, who was a fully formed adult when you met, boils down to perspective.   Life would be pretty boring if my husband and I approached things the same way. Even if our differences can be maddening on the daily, it is the contradictions that bring movement and color to our marriage. Yes, opposites attract but we are living proof that it can be a beautiful thing if you know how to spin it in the right light.

Lottery Did Not Change My Life

I believe there are two kinds of luck. You can be lucky in that you land on your feet time and time again despite little effort and even less logic. Or you can possess luck that lets you win things; random contests, the lottery and big money raffles.

I am Irish and an eternal optimist, so I should have this luck thing all sewn up. Alas, I have discovered that you cannot be lucky twice over. Not that I’m complaining, but I have always been the nine lives kind of lucky. I never win anything. EVER.

That doesn’t stop me from trying, however, as I buy scratch offs, Powerball tickets and enter online contests by the dozens.

I was just meant to be a winner, I know it!

Recently, I received a scratch-off lottery ticket in a birthday card. And not just any scratch-off; it was a $5 ticket. See, people who never win anything only invest in $1 instant win tickets because spending more would be like driving down the road and throwing $5 out the window.

But I was perfectly willing to waste someone else’s $5 and that ticket burned a hole in my purse the entire way through dinner.

When I got home and looked at the ticket more closely, my first reaction was confusion. The expensive tickets have a crap ton of directions. I mean, this was the War and Peace of scratch off rules and procedures.

I was savvy enough to know this was Maryland Lottery’s way of weeding out the weak. Make one mistake—erase even one unscratchable box—and the whole thing was null and void.  I was not falling for that like some kind of amateur.

Instead, I read every line of teeny tiny print twice, grabbed a quarter (my lucky coin) and began scratching. Moments later a mound of steel gray shavings indicated I was done.

The card was a sea of numbers and dollar signs so it took me a few minutes to match everything up. On first glance, it looked like I won. On second glance, it still looked like I won.

There it was plain as day, I was a winner, dammit.

Now, I realize that winning $5 is not earth shattering news. But, to the winning challenged it means you broke the seal; like going scoreless in the first half of a basketball game and getting that first bucket.  It signals a change in momentum.

Could this be the birthday gift that changed my life forever?

The next day I excitedly tucked the ticket in my pocket as I headed to the grocery store.  I was giddy as I presented it to the woman behind the counter.  My smile faded as she proceeded to inform me that the machine was being temperamental so she couldn’t verify just then.

I volunteered to leave the ticket with her as I shopped and return to collect my crisp $5 bill later. I had my wallet open and ready when I stepped back up to customer service with its shiny, red lottery machine.   Unfortunately, the only thing that was crisp was her tone as she said,

“It’s not a winner. The machine says it’s not a winner.”

I opened my mouth to protest but she had moved onto the next customer and their urgent cigarette needs. Fine, I thought, I will take the ticket somewhere else and get my money. What did she know anyway?

The following afternoon, I stopped at 7-11; the holy grail of scratch-offs and all things lottery. I grabbed a diet coke for a little celebratory toast and handed over my ticket. Imagine my surprise when the clerk said,

“This ticket has already been paid out.”

What the what?

I explained my experience at Giant and the nice 7-11 lady handed me a slip of paper confirming previous payment and location. Oh, and then she wanted $2 for my diet coke. That stung. I planned to pay with my big payout.

So far, being a winner was less fun than I imagined.

Fueled by diet coke and a few episodes of “My Lottery Dream Home” on HGTV that morning, I drove straight back to the Giant.

I impatiently tapped my toes at customer service while a guy wired some money until it was finally my turn.

I gave up the ticket and the payment slip from 7-11 and before I could begin my story, the woman cut me off saying,

“This has already been paid out.”

Well, that was annoying. I had my whole story mapped out, but I guess words are at a premium at customer service; everyone there has a sad tale.

I plunged into my explanation anyway, complete with a physical description of the employee who had wronged me in the first place and a dazzling visual wherein I emphatically pointed out the winning line on the card.

She was clearly annoyed but when you have three boys, you spend a lot of time at the good old Giant. They knew me. As far as they knew I had never scammed them before but she was still conflicted about whether to pay out the money. So, I did what any rational person would do.

I threw my kids under the bus.

“It’s my kids’ ticket. I mean I wouldn’t make such a big deal about a measly $5 if it was mine. They will be so disappointed. You understand.”

I would just have to go to Confession later. Surely all the meals, messes and mania endured at the hands of said kids amounted to at least $5 worth of trouble.

Well, that did it. The red, shiny lottery drawer smacked her in the stomach as it sprung open. She yanked out the $5 bill and handed it over.

Woot! I was a winner.  Finally my luck had changed.

As I buckled myself in to head home, I made a mental note to thank my girlfriend. And that is when it hit me.

I was not a winner. She was.  She picked the ticket; all I did was erase it and then crisscross the county and waste at least $5 in gas (plus the cost of the diet coke) to get my paltry winnings.

I was still my same boring, non-winning self.

I did have an extra five bucks in my pocket though. And as Garrison Keillor says… “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have.”

Run Toward the Car: Challenge 2017

The night after Thanksgiving a relative got the call every parent dreads. The call notifying them that their 18 year-old son had been in a serious accident. He was a passenger in a car that slid off a winding road, hit a tree, flipped and burst into flames.

The parents were informed that he was alive but badly burned with multiple critical injuries. They were also told that Good Samaritans had saved their son’s life by smashing a window and pulling him through it to safety. Though burned themselves, these heroes stayed with him until he was taken away in the ambulance.

As horrific as the details of this accident are–and with the patient healing nicely– I cannot stop thinking about those strangers who happened to be there and had the fortitude to break into a vehicle engulfed in flames.

I would like to think I would do that. I want to believe I am that person. Yet, never having faced a similar crossroads, it is just speculation. I have no way of knowing how I would react.

However, it made me think about the power of one. About how an individual can throw caution to the wind, intervene and truly turn around someone’s day or perhaps their life. Our world has become so politically correct, no one would have blamed these passersby if they had simply called 911 and prayed for the boys out of fear of doing the wrong thing, being sued or suffering negative repercussions resulting from assisting.

Incidents like this give me hope that our knee jerk reaction is to do good. That despite the divisiveness and contentious nature of our country right now, we are inherently a nation of Good Samaritans.

There are burning cars around us every day in varying degrees. Yet, I still catch myself hesitating all the time. Will an elderly person be offended if I offer to help them with their groceries and cart? Will a mother think I am judging her if I approach to assist her as she juggles strollers, packages and exhausted toddlers?

It is disheartening that the current climate often makes us step back when we instinctively want to step in. We are quick to judge, slow to include and wary of strangers in need. So, I issue a challenge to everyone reading this; the same challenge I am tackling in 2017.

Run toward the car.

Let this New Year bring out the fundamentally good side in all of us. If each of us listens to their gut and extends a hand, soon enough we are linked. We become stronger when we are connected through kindness.

But there’s a catch. The tricky part of this endeavor is to reach out without calling attention to yourself. True compassion comes with neither bragging rights nor bravado. It is a whisper that reaches only those who benefit from the message.

I enter 2017 with an open heart, an open mind and a fierce determination to help my fellow man whenever I am able. I trust that, in turn, that kindness will boomerang back one hundred fold; not only to me but to others as well.

Our example is all we leave to future generations. I think we would all agree that 2016 was not a stellar sampling of living up to our potential. As I embark on this life change, I know I probably won’t save anyone from the clutches of death any time soon. And that I can’t abandon all common sense in search of my cape and shield.

But maybe, just maybe, I can bring light to a dark day or hope to the seemingly hopeless.

I don’t know about you, but I am a firm believer that karma looks favorably upon those who have paid into her system. When the day comes that I find myself on a dark road turned upside down by life, I think this good standing will come in handy.

I am aiming to make 2017 a happy and generous one. Won’t you join me? #runtowardthecar

Breaking Point

Did you have a good spring break? Do a little traveling and recharge your batteries?

Great. Great. Good for you!

I know you were worried the entire time you were gone, so I will allay your fears. The Stiles held down the fort while you were gone. Yup, we were the only folks in Montgomery County that didn’t go anywhere.


If you are reaching for Child Protective Services contact info, slow your roll. My kids researched and discarded this idea at least once a day the entire 10 days they were home.

Home. AKA Jail .

Which would make me the warden in a prison of my own making. Well, not entirely my own doing. See, two of our three school breaks coincided with the week after Easter off but my oldest returned to school the Tuesday after Easter.

However, his excessively long 17-day break included a trip to Spain to play rugby. He landed stateside before Easter but the train, plane and bus laden journey through a foreign country made him want to just hunker down at Chez Stiles.

Bye quick hop to the beach, hello bitter siblings.

To make matters worse, my husband and I also traveled just before Easter on a work trip to Florida. I tried to alleviate my guilt by gifting my kids with exotic Floridian trinkets like a jar of Alligator Poop (chocolate covered peanuts) but they were underwhelmed.
What has the world come to when boys are not completely jazzed by a gift with “poop” in the name?

Unfortunately, the boys finally saw first-hand what I had been admonishing for years—social media will come back to bite you. As the Snap Chat stories in exotic locales grew daily, so did the complaints and hostility.

By Day 3, I was drunk from all the whine.

Or maybe hungover without benefit of ever enjoying the buzz.

I ignored a million writing and editing deadlines to offer up every activity I could think of. Movies, the Renwick, Cruise on the Potomac to see Monuments and Cherry Blossoms, Sugarloaf hike and zip lines. Nope, nope, nope, nope and nope.

I got the memo that nothing is fun unless 1) you are doing it in a group and 2) preferably in a group that does not include your mother.

Apparently Three Dog Night had it all wrong; two is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

Just when I was running out of hope and marginally good ideas, there was a sudden shift. The complaints and hatred toward me slowed to barely a trickle. Meaning that the kids were only as miserable as they normally are on any given day.

The boys went outside and invented games. They went to the creek or walked into Mid-town. They even did a little homework and read.

As long as I got them out of the house for something every day and threw in a free meal and dessert, I was golden. Throwing calories at the problem was a significant improvement.

Their spring break was very similar to my experiences as a kid. I don’t even have specific memories of my childhood breaks because they were filled with nothingness which was an adventure in and of itself.

In a world full of everything and everyone spinning at warped speed, isn’t a little nothing ok?

I think so.

I started the week wracked with guilt for my poor deprived children but then realized that they truly had a break. Even the summers are filled with sports and camps so this is one of the few unscheduled times of the year for them.

We didn’t pack our bags or cross any time zones, but staying home did not actually kill anyone. in fact, we recharged our batteries just the same

The Phrase That Makes My Kids Better People

Parenting, in a nutshell, is bossing around the people you birthed for 18 years or so. Which is not as empowering as it sounds. Some days, it felt as if all I did was bark orders at my children. I disliked this one-dimensional approach to life with kids so much that I vowed to change the way I interacted with them.

And it only took two words…

“Thank you.”

Just uttering this phrase after my kids did something I had asked of them made me feel like less of a tyrant. Just because much is expected of our children in the way of chores, school work and contribution doesn’t mean parents are exempt from showing our gratitude. There is a great benefit, I think, in showing my kids how to take pride in meeting expectations.

So, when they take out the trash, I say thank you. And same for doing homework without a nuclear meltdown (I may even add a kiss for that one) or help with the groceries.

While I realize that these tasks are children’s way of paying back and being a valued part of the family unit, I still feel it is praise worthy simply because it teaches gratitude.

To me, part of what is wrong with our world today is that people have forgotten to be grateful for the small things. In a time growing more and more impersonal through electronics and our endless quest for the next big thing, we are losing sight of the personal niceties and the exquisite nature of the here and now.

Yes, putting the dishes in the sink is not earth shattering stuff but I really do appreciate it. It means I don’t have to and that my kids grasp the idea of lessening my burden. It means they are learning life skills. It means they see the world is about more than just themselves and their needs.

When you put it in that context, clearing the table is pretty amazing and certainly worthy of praise. And if I feel this way, why on earth would I not stop for a minute and say it out loud? If I am too busy or distracted to say thank you, then I need to rethink my priorities because my children will surely pick up on my cues.

The funny thing about gratitude is its boomerang effect. The more gracious I was, the more my kids reciprocated. My menial and expected tasks such as cooking dinner and driving were soon capped by a thank you from my children.

A mutual appreciation developed over the most mundane things, so when I asked for something above and beyond, the kids knew I would value the effort. These were our first faltering steps toward not taking each other for granted.

There are still spats, bickering and eye rolls galore but each time I see a text with “Ty” either to me or a sibling, I know the foundation of the family is chugging along just fine.

Certainly if we can muster up gratitude for our family—the people who make us craziest– no doubt we could do the same for the world at large.

I guess that’s really parenting in a nutshell–equipping our kids with the skills and example to be the best people possible once they are on their own. I am certainly thankful for the opportunity to do just that every single day.

The Kon of KonMari

Last January we celebrated 16 years in our house. The home we built from the ground up, selecting finishes and amenities we were sure would last a lifetime. I mean, it seemed so big then, like we would never fill it.

What morons we were.

During that time, I had three kids and apparently also birthed a tremendous amount of stuff. Now stuff is not necessarily a bad thing, but I needed to do some serious purging. So I did what every 2k internet junkie does; I consulted Marie Kondo. This Japanese organization expert and her KonMari method make Martha Stewart look like amateur hour.

I did a little research, watched some YouTube videos and television appearances and I was pumped! So sure that a little Kondo would translate into some serious Kan-do.

Yeah, well, not so much.

First of all, Kondo does not speak English or limited English at best. She prattles on in Japanese while we wait, surrounded by our piles, for her wisdom to be imparted by a translator. So, is the translator the real genius here? How do we know? Kondo could be talking about Japan’s average rainfall rates and NO ONE WOULD KNOW.

She is perky and attractive and smiles a lot. Could she be a front for some matronly organizational guru with no charm and spark?

Ok, Stiles, focus. Focus on the message.

Which is: Things should spark joy or we kick them to the curb.

This theory could put my children in grave danger at least once a day.

I’m kidding, really. Sort of.

Anyhoo, I was ready to face a decade and a half worth of possibly soulless, joyless objects with some Hefty trash bags to bolster me.

An hour later, I had filled three bags with broken bits of my sons’ “must have” toys, a few broken bits of my heart and fought back the big ugly cry burning in my chest.

Is this the KonKry Method?

I don’t remember a chapter about tears and trash but I soldiered on. Out went the Barney books which realistically sparked whatever the opposite of joy is. Adios Diego and Dora; you made me miserable in two languages. Puzzles with missing pieces and cars with 3-wheels didn’t make the cut either.

BAM! I was kicking some Kondo butt.

After hauling 8 bags outside for bulk pick-up, I posted the bigger firetrucks and ambulances on my Moms Facebook group. I mean nothing brings joy to a new generation of moms like a wailing siren that, inexplicably, never depletes the batteries.

You’re welcome.

I was on a roll and woke up the next day totally jazzed to tackle the closets. When you have three boys, you end up with a lot of hand me downs. I had bins and bins of perfectly good clothing that my youngest two wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Cargo Pants = death by cotton

Except, I did not want to part with some of those clothes. I could picture the boys—sometimes all three—in a particular outfit and I was a blubbering mess. I laid my head on a pile of Old Navy sweatshirts, stared at the ceiling and wondered if there was Kondo Kobweb method I should be taking advantage of.

However, even I couldn’t support the rationalization that all this emotion was joy; so I closed my eyes and put the clothing slowly into bags saving just a few items that had significance.

Like the homemade basketball uniform that I pieced together in 2009 from the scads of City of Gaithersburg jerseys we amassed. Only the youngest child has a treasure such as this because Mom would NEVER miss the basketball sign-up and subsequent jersey assignment with the first two kids. I begged the coach to let my son on the team, paid the equivalent of a mortgage in late fees, dyed a t-shirt brown and proceeded to glue, stitch and iron on decals to create the ugliest uniform known to man.

It was either my highest or lowest parenting moment ever. Only future therapy will reveal the truth.

This exercise was way harder than the toys. I needed a King-sized Kondo Kocktail to help me find some serious joy.

The piece-de-resistance of the KonMari method is the folding of the clothes you have deemed an extended member of the family. If anything is going into a drawer, it must be folded into itself over and over until it is the size of an envelope.

With no experience at Gap, this was daunting for me.

I was pretty sure I was going to get Karpal Tunnel Syndrome by Kondo if I kept this up. Then, I remembered one little factoid in the bio of our fearless, clean leader.

I haphazardly shoved all the remaining t-shirts into the drawer and felt more joy than I had since I started this organizational odyssey. This craziness didn’t apply to people like me and here’s why:

Marie Kondo has one child, who will celebrate her first birthday this summer.


Now it all made sense. She’s not delusional (ok, well clearly she is) but it is just because she is naïve. In fact, when she developed this revolutionary, impractical method, she had no children at all.

Please, write a book when you have multiple kids, backpacks, cleats, clothes that might maybe fit if you ever find the time to exercise, endless photo albums with pictures that make you weepy and, well, STUFF.

Sometimes all that stuff is a reminder of a life well lived and the things we loved while doing it. Ms. Kondo, if that’s Klutter then Kount me in.

The Future Is Now

The box sat in the corner unopened for days. Perhaps we knew once opened, the contents of that box would change our lives forever, so it was critical to get the timing just right.

For in that carton was a robotic vacuum and all of my happiness.
I do sort of hate that I am old now and thrilled by a good, sturdy appliance. Pretty soon I will be talking non-stop about the weather and the good old days. But I won’t be vacuuming while I do it.

Well, the truth is, I never vacuumed in the first place. So the joy derived from this machine is more in the variety of not having to listen to everyone else whining about vacuuming. It’s not easy to get fired from household chores under your own roof, but I did it.

I got demoted from Hoover duty within months of being married. I was smart enough to nab a man who simply cares way more than I do about the state of our floors at any given time. He ran that vac much like he mowed the lawn–meticulously–leaving perfectly straight lines in his wake.

My lame skills didn’t stand a chance.

Once we had kids, we developed age appropriate chores to be done weekly. Now, the boys are responsible for bathrooms, trash duty and the vacuum. The only job they whine about?

The vac.

Sadly, my children have not inherited their father’s love of all things clean. Every weekend it was an epic battle over who was going to be the chump vacuuming the main level. I tried to keep track so no one suffered two weeks in a row but my math skills are on par with my vacuuming skills so often I lost count.

I was tired of listening to my kids complain. I was tired of listening to my husband complain about the kids complaining. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to break my “no vac” streak and do it myself.

Enter Amazon.

**I have to digress for a moment and give a big, fat shout out to our parents who lived full, productive lives despite the inability to buy something without ever leaving the house. Let alone the option of having it delivered in 24-hours. This sort of fortitude and can-do attitude is commendable and makes me think we are all a bunch of wimps**

Fearing the dog hair and lint would be our undoing, my husband ordered the futuristic appliance without telling me. When that box arrived and he explained, I swear I fell in love with him all over again, right there in the foyer.

Once we opened it, I simply stared at it with a mix of trepidation and awe. It is an amazing concept but I couldn’t picture how it actually worked. I was skeptical with so many questions about the stairs, my furniture and doors.

Well, after one rotation around the dining room I was a believer. My husband was sure that the robot would free us up to do other things.

You know, other more important things. Things like w-a-t-c-h-i-n-g the robotic vacuum. We were all mesmerized. It was pure entertainment for the entire family. Everyone but the dog, that is. The dog was sure that this machine must be stopped immediately or great harm would come to everyone he loved.

If it came down to a choice between the dog and the robot that ended the vacuum wars forever, I would be in quite a pickle.

I’m kidding.

Sort of.

Because, let me tell you, once you remove the filter and empty the little canister, it is pure robot love. That circular disc manages to pick up a crap ton of dirt as it bumps along its way. We run it several times a week now and even the dog has gotten used to the intrusion. It is that good.

I had become Jane Jetson; all futuristic and gadgety and there was no going back.

Now, if we could just invent an electronic device that cleans the toilet after visits from three boys with bad aim, my life would really be transformed.

Amazon, are you listening?

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Magnificence in the Mundane

Finding humor in kids and chaos is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

Magnificence in the Mundane

Finding humor in kids and chaos is the best place for your personal blog or business site.