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Friday, 14 April 2017 01:10

IMG 3867 atsize

If you haven’t read it already (and you haven’t just eaten), you might skim the last blog about the vermin-vomiting dog. It’ll get you in the right dog mind. Or left one. (Is there actually room for two?)

Unexpectedly, I’m riffing on the service dog. Turns out that animals (and kids) actually do provide a fodder for stories that I never thought I’d tell. Those poop stories I listened to when I was not a parent – the very stories I swore I would never, NEVER, be reduced to even whispering aloud when I became a parent – were the only stories I had in my sleep-deprived-parenting-save-me-from-myself-and-my-pooping-infant brain almost immediately after I gave birth. And yes, I told those very stories with great angst and relief.

And now it’s my turn. Again.

Fast forward 4 weeks from the vomit-car-simonizing event.

Think much larger and now much smarter dog. (Then ratchet back those thoughts a notch. It’s only been four weeks – she’s a lab dog, not a lab experiment!)


I am, tonight, the Great Mom. I send my kid out for a night by herself to a place that isn’t ready to deal with service dogs-still-in-training. My teen deserves a break. I can watch a service dog for a few hours. Really, I can.

Well, maybe you can. But the dog awful truth is ...

I can’t.

I’m bored. The dog is bored. The dog is mournfully missing her bonded-to-person. The dog is vying for Moodiest Dog in the Whole Dog World award. I’d give her the damn award AND a treat the size of an Emmy but I’m too damn moody to be a fair judge of winner vs runner up. (Besides, I might switch envelopes at the last moment and then I’d have to deal with a whole new fiasco.)

How can I suck at this so thoroughly?

I am a parent, after all. And parents play with their kids.

Except the reality is that I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was not a good parent-player-with-kids. (You can ask my girls whether that’s just my memory. If they say otherwise, they are polite liars.)

Or just ask the dog. She knows my secret!

I read to my girls. A lot. We were library fanatics as soon as they so much as toddled and waddled. We’d book it to the library in our “purple chariot” (read: purple jog stroller for two with plenty of room for books underneath. And snacks. And diapers. And water. And bandaids …)

So, we read. A lot.

And we talked. A lot.

We told stories. A lot.

And now I’m trying all this out on the dog. She appears mildly interested but is clearly not into my babbling and isn’t anticipating page turns with even the slightest show of polite curiosity. She’s bored.

Good grief. I’m boring the dog!

But, I remember! I also played board games with my girls! Educational ones which were engaging for us both. (And no, for the record it did NOT matter who won. I’m not entirely evil.)

The dog, as it turns out, actually loves board games. Loves eating them, that is. She eats the boards, and then moves on the to the game pieces, and paws at the spinner like that’s the entire game. She chews on the money like it has no value and listens to the timer with mild disinterest. Then she’s done, and it’s back to yawning and whining. Dogs do this. Just like kids. They yawn and whine when they don’t love the game but then they just want to chew on dice. And it occurs to me that the dog just isn’t into strategizing.

Or so I thought.

I decide the dog and I need a walk. Car (cleaned weeks ago of the vomit) is the first fun zone we find. There’s plenty of kisses from the back seat before she settles to eating anything left on the floor back there. She quickly recognizes that no one is dreaded “dog car monitor” (akin to the dreaded “hall monitor” of our elementary school days … oh wait! I was one of them. Forgive me?) and that her driver (me) may indeed have eyes behind her head but they can’t see through the seats. So she’s cool to drool.

Soon the dog is sticking her snout and ears out her window – an achievement that I now understand can only be truly appreciated by other dog owners as I stare in wonder at my driver side mirror and proudly (and quite oddly) consider all of the camera angles that take into account the sun and the glare and the ugly pickup behind us but clearly don’t account for how many hands I’d need for a camera AND the steering wheel…

rory rearview 02 IMG 1665

<< I pause here to recognize that I have fully entered the conversational land known only to pet owners and parents. I am now talking the language of those who converse in poop and wind-flapping dog ears. >>

We hit the park. And park.

We begin to walk.

This translates to: I walk. She sniffs. She stops suddenly while I am still in a forward motion. I lurch backwards. I wait. I sniff the air, too, and try to appreciate the ways of a slower evening while contemplating the aroma of mulch vs poop and how to decipher the difference at this time of year.

Then I walk. She sniffs. She stops … This is just the first lap, folks. She’s not in working / service dog mode so I allow her the quick stops and she allows me the immediate, unintentional tug on her halter as I brace myself against whiplash. Whatever she is smelling – I don’t want to know about. But it better be amazing with a cap/bold A. Walk on.

And then I see it.

It’s almost dusk, and no one is around. The parking lot is empty. The sign doesn’t actually list “No dogs allowed” in its rules; just something about “for tennis players only”. But, I don’t know what that means, this “tennis” thing. So we enter. I latch the door. We unleash.

And puppy goes wild.

As in happy.

As in psychotic.

She runs wildly in all four; no, twenty-four; no, a gazillion directions. She hits full speed. She stops short. She spins 229º and goes at it again. She hits the net. She actually bounces off. My lifespan knocks off a few months and hers gains a few. She spins out at 147º and – holy cow/dog! – runs straight into the chain link fence thing (a design recently submitted to the Border Crossing Artistic Committee). It turns out that she is made of rubber. Several fewer months for me. Plus 10 for her.

She is a dog on speed. She’s into new math and watching my lifespan decrease in increments and excrements. She is one happy psychotic dog.

She avails herself of a water break and then we leash up. We walk, sniff, lurch another loop. But she spots the high-fenced, running field thing with its white painted lines and the net to race around (or into). I check again.

No cars in the lot.

Same mysterious sign.

We re-enter. I unleash her and …

I drop my glasses.

And the well-trained service puppy picks them up.

And decides that this is THE WORLD’S BEST. STICK. EVER. She can tell just by my reaction. My sudden need to get my glasses back from her must mean that we are about to play something better than any board game with chewable pieces. This is better than any book because she can hear me laughing-screaming-crying-peeing as she races around joyously participating in Drop It! (No), Give! (No), and Leave It!! (No). No. No. No.

She’s got THE stick. Duh! This is THE BEST STICK EVER. E-V-E-R.

She has me playing TAG-I’M-IT! (And for the record, there was an ear touch that she outright ignored. Cheater.) and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (I clearly couldn’t). Oh amazing dog day! She is gloriously giddy.

She mocks me. She tosses the glasses up and catches them. She sprints and stops and spins and drops and pushes thoses glasses (glass side down, of course) along the rough pavement before she carefully picks them up again just to show me that she hasn’t forgotten them and isn’t about to step on them. Apparently, I am supposed to praise her for that.

As it turns out, I have been a perfect role model for her in these games of CHASE ME, I’VE GOT THE STICK when I’VE had the stick. It turns out that she was a good study because it’s clear that she has mastered those rules and now has run away with the fun.

She is actually strategizing at her game.

Damn dog. This thought is followed by increasingly clearer visions of a nice clerk showing me expensive frames and the expensiver << new word >> lenses that are now clouding that vision. DamndamndamndamnDAMN.

And then, out of nowhere, there’s a worldwide monetary alert that, for once, has nothing directly to do with American politics. And I stop seeing the dollar signs of replacement glasses.

Suddenly, I can only see the $20K vermin-vomiting dog chowing down on the “glass” part of “glasses”. That’s when my parenting superpower returns in that my-child-is-running-into-a-parking-lot way… I am superfast. I am superhuman strong. I am superparent gentle. (Never scream at the child. You can teach a lesson in fear but never in anger.)

Game over, Superexpensive Superdog. I win. (As if it mattered to her who had the glasses in the end.)

This was a double tag wagging moment for us both. She is super happy and super exhausted – something every parent hopes to achieve by dusk; I am super happy and also super exhausted, the latter of which I had kind of hoped NOT to achieve because I still had a lot to do. But I had just saved her life without, I must point out, willfully killing her for costing me a minor fortune in eyeglass replacement.

The only other good news? She has already pooped. And the park – thank you, dear park – has doggy poop bags. I’ll save you the description. (There are limits. I know that now. Send me a direct message if you really want the details. No photos. She doesn’t do selfies; even a dog likes her privacy.)

So, this is how this story ends:

The dog falls asleep on the back seat on the way home. She’s lost interest in chewing on anything attached to the car. She has no energy for window snout.

Her owner (remember her?) had a good night out with her peeps at the film festival which her service dog will attend next year, fully trained.

I have been a successful parent on all fronts:

  • The daughter had a lovely breather and a chance to be untethered by her still-puppy service dog.

  • The very clever, momentarily untethered dog will live a very long life.


I spend the next day attended to by a nice clerk showing me those expensive frames and expensiver (presumably dog-proof, but I buy the extra warranty) lenses.

The better to see her with.

Game on.

rory backseat 01 IMG 1663

*YAGBTS:  You Ain't Gonna Believe This S&^%

Tuesday, 14 March 2017 22:58

blog 201703 rory mouse IMG 3731

Not just a mouse.

A dead mouse.

Not really freshly dead, but not exactly shriveled up and odor-free, either.

And not just an almost fresh dead mouse, but a dead mouse who may have ingested rat poison that the landlord used in our newly rented home while the house was between tenants.

And there’s more.

Because Rory-the-mouse-eating-dog is not just a dog.

She’s a service dog-in-training. A 6-month old puppy who just passed round 1 of her service dog tests. This is one brilliant dog. (Mouse consumption notwithstanding.)

However, she has become the gold-plated dog. The dog who costs just that much more with pet insurance and personalized training sessions to meet my daughter’s particular needs.

The dog who oozes the promise to give my 18-year-old her independence – in about 2 more long-short years.

So here we are in the story: Dog eats dead mouse. Mom/driver is not home. And you know this scenario, because these situations only happen after an excruciating long day. The kind where you at least remembered to eat the banana on your way out 10 hours ago. Where you scrounged for a few apple chips. Where there was some water intake at some point but I know my PCP and probably The Surgeon General are not particularly happy with me.

It’s 8:30pm and I’m on my way home. Dinner. Quiet. Collapse. In that order. That is the plan. HA. It’s when parents believe this, dream this, need this, that we can’t possibly achieve the plan. It will never happen.

It didn’t happen.

So this is the panicked call from my daughter in short: Dog ate mouse. Dead mouse. Rat poison?

Now you also need to know that the dog doesn’t eat the dead mouse during normal vet hours; she waits until 10 whole minutes after closing. So the ER vet advises: get the dog to the ER vet hospital where vomiting will be induced.

Dead mouse + rat poison → dog vomit.

My resourceful, calmly panicked daughter finds out what to do to get a dog to vomit. (Check with your own vet.) She administers the fluids and waits while I am driving and hoping and trying not to share the same very real fears of my daughter but, of course, I am fearful. For the dog. For her. For our finances. For the guilt I am feeling over thinking about finances “at a time like this”. And I am exhausted. And still driving.

20 minutes. 10 minutes. 5 minutes . . .

I approach the house, bluetoothing <Hey Merriam Webster: new word alert!> my daughter on her phone to get the dog ready to race to the vet. Because, of course, the dog won’t vomit.

Now, here’s the secret – not the point of the story but the secret – that every dog owner who needs their dog to urgently vomit must know: It’s not the liquid alone that will work (not all the time, anyway). It’s a combo package: liquid and …

moving car.

Because 1 (one) block from the house, that dog starts projectile vomiting all over the back of the car. She covers it. Floor. Backs of front seats. Fronts of back seats. And of course the seat itself. She misses nothing. She’s on a roll. She covers every inch. Every seam. Every crevice.

People within a two-county radius probably heard my daughter screaming that the previously digested mouse is now emphatically undigested and "swimming" straight toward her in this newly created river of dog liquid.

This is my daughter: “My thighs hurt!! I can’t sit!! The mouse is underneath me! But I’m okay!! I’m okay!!” and of course: “EWWWWW!”

Followed by more dog hurl.

Me? I’m driving. Singularly focused: Get dog to vet. Getdog tovet. Getdogtovet.

My daughter is calling the same ER vet. “Hold, please <endless line buzz> . . .  Oh, the vet-on-duty just said there was no need for your dog to vomit because the amount of poison ingested by the mouse would be so small.” No joke. All vomit. All over.

“But,” says my daughter with her quivering thighs, “I just called a little while ago and you told me to make her throw up.”

Answer: “Well, you don’t need to bring the dog in any more.” (Now, just for the record, the next day, the dog’s real and actual doctor said yes, please get the dog to vomit vermin. So there. Justice in the world exists even for dog-eating-vermin with loving-panicked owners and loving-but-exhausted moms.)

I pull into a convenience store and my daughter proceeds to wipe out the car, dead mouse and all. (Apparently, we carry paper towels in our car for just such occasions.) And yes, the mouse is relegated to its own bag, jic (just in case) there is a need for the mouse autopsy. What do I know? Saving the dead mouse seems relevant.

I also know enough not to help. Partly I am just certain that if I move from the driver’s seat, exhaustion will shove me over the cliff. I will lie prone near the gas pumps mumbling “dogmouseprojectle”. I stay in my seat reciting my new mantra: Getushome. Withdog. Getushomewithdog.

But, I also know that this is one of those mean mother moments that my daughter will grow from more by my not helping, not taking over, not just getting it cleaned up faster or better or whatever I may not be clearly thinking. I know enough to know that I don’t want to clean up vomit and dead mouse any more than she does, but if I do, she won’t. And she needs to. And she did – while crying from relief, laughing at the insanity, and collapsing from her own exhaustion. Rory is no longer vomiting, by the way. Rather, she seems quite content to not help and just supervise with her puppy dog eyes as she plops herself down on the seat. (Yes, now dog is covered, too.)

In the back of my addled brain, I somehow know that life with a service dog, living independently one day a long-short time from now, will mean handling the vomit and the vermin that come her way.

While my job was to be the driver (she cannot drive), my bigger job was to let this be my daughter’s journey and to let her lead the way. GPS be damned.

And that is the point of parenting.

Saturday, 31 December 2016 20:40


holiday sandwich TT style 2016 1231

For many around the world - but certainly not all – the month of December has turned into this chaotic time warp. And time, as we once knew it, has turned into “Apple time” – you know when the time for installation and upgrades alternates (versus counts down) from 75 seconds to 43 days to 27 minutes and so on and then . . . TA DA! Done! What the hell? Who counts like that? And how did the holiday time become some sort of “iTime”?

The rush into the holiday season has turned into a crush of the holiday season. Every place is more crowded. Every person moves faster. (And if they aren’t, they should be!) Every decoration is bigger, more glamorous (or more gaudy). Every thing is wanted, not needed; and every thing that is needed is unaffordable. Exceptions are made that should never be made but are made anyway. Just this once . . . or maybe, twice . . . It becomes harder to breathe, much less be happy, jolly, merry or whatever the season calls for.

Families that should never visit for more than a few minutes arrive for the day or sometimes several such that it rolls into another unit of time, commonly referred to as “a week”. Relatives say exactly what you wish you couldn’t hear but expected to hear and it still irks you anyway. Sometimes they don’t say anything but somehow you know – you just know, dammit – that they are thinking it and probably saying it to each other when you’re not within earshot! And that irks you as well. And you walk around irked – which by the way is a really cool word and you may borrow it or just have it. (I won’t be irked, but I’ll need that word back in a little while. You’ll have to share it.)

Friends who should visit can’t because their own families are visiting and they are dealing with their own festivities, aka holiday madness. They are calling you instead of visiting. They are ranting about all the things that their relatives are saying (or not saying) that are irking them.

Are we having fun yet? Who knew a single short season could be so irkful? Irkulous? (And yes, I’m riffin’ now.)

 But we hare having fun. Because, thank goodness, there is the wonder of small children with their eyes still sparkling, reflecting the lights of whatever holiday you observe. If we do a good job, we hide the chaos from them. We hide the worries. We hide the financial-what-have-we-just-done panic. We hide the work projects that demand our attention because their deadlines, of course, are at the end of the month. We hide how we feel about our favorite relatives because they are (mostly) favorite, just not necessarily right now. In general, we actually just hide from our children. It’s safer that way. Let them enjoy the season on their own. Let them ooh and ahh.

And then, unless Hannukah goes even later, the chaos screeches to a halt and stops. Or so we believe.

If you celebrate Kwanzaa, this is your week to celebrate – possibly with some of the issues noted above.

But, many of us have the hanging week. The dangling week. The week that is sandwiched between Christmas (and sometimes Hannukah) and numerous other holidays that are celebrated in countries around the world at this time . . . and . . . New Years which is celebrated by everyone around the world at this exact time.

For parents, our kids have no school and this is our week not just to return and exchange gifts in long lines in stores and post offices; not just to visit family (see above); not just to clean up the decorations and find places for all the gifts; but to spend quality time with tots to teens.

Quality time. Together. Family. Our own family.

In the age of technology – of movies that no one has to agree upon because we can all watch separately on our separate devices, where board games have become boring because tech has re-engineered our brains for constant color, faster pace, and more to do, to score, to level up, to win – this concept of family time is hugely challenging.

So we spend the week trying to avoid the guilt of demanding our kids be with us or subtly avoiding our kids all together. We send them to play with their new toys. We make play dates with friends. We continue the visits with relatives who are still here and we try to coax our kids out of their rooms to visit and take the pressure off our own visiting which then, of course, increases the pressure.

And then when school starts again, when work requires that we return, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming of runaway moments and lost opportunities to make real connections. We are often a lot more weary and are scratching our heads at all the ideas for what we could have done for fun but never did.

Why didn’t we?

News Flash:
You can still do it.

You can still find 2 board games and play for 15 minutes each. (Don’t demand hours. Ask for 15 minutes per game. A good game will last longer by default and no one will want to leave. After 15 minutes, anyone can choose to sit out and wait for the next game. But add a rule: no tech while waiting. Watch. Read a book. Hang out. Pretend there is no wifi. Deal with the panic of 15-30 minutes of no pings, rings, or dings.)

You can still agree on a movie by agreeing on several movies. Everyone picks 2 and each then narrows it down by agreeing on 1 of each person’s choices. Then schedule movie moments (afternoons or evenings) that can only be rescheduled in dire emergencies. Dire. Make snacks. Divert all other tech. (For the purposes of this exercise, microwave popcorn does not qualify as a “high tech” item.)

You can still toss everyone into the car and head to a museum – everyone chooses their fave (art, science, history, zoo,  . . . ). The key? Set a timer for an hour. Big family? One museum every two weeks. Everyone goes. One hour. If, after an hour, people want to stay, only by unanimous agreement (teens included), you can choose to agree to another 30 minutes. After that, time is up – else you risk sudden meltdown and mutiny. Much better to leave with everyone (or most everyone) wanting to come back.

You can still toss everyone back into the car and head to a park, playground, hiking/skiing trail – again, everyone chooses a favorite. If you have mixed ages, get creative about what people are allowed to bring along. But leave the tech off. In fact, bring tech only if you have a crew likely to split up on trails; then tech is safety (unless, of course, the preferred tech requires an extension cord). Whether your weather is snow and cold or warm and summer, get the heck out there. Take a walk. Together. Even the grumpy kids will walk, particularly if they have a target in space or time. Maybe they’ll go faster, maybe slower – but make an effort to occasionally go their speed; talking is optional with grumps but walking together is not.


The holiday sandwich is not always likeable. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t always have the right ingredients so that everyone can enjoy.

Sometimes, in the chaos of “iTime” we need our routines to appreciate unscheduled time.

If you are a believer in “2016 Sucked”, then you are in luck. 2017 has arrived just in time. And the best way to make 2017 even better is to talk, spend time with your kids. You may not be able to change the world but you can alter your small part of it.

Resolve: A little less tech. A little more talk. A little more time.

Then go find something to do. Together.

blog sandwich week 2016 1231 m

Monday, 19 December 2016 17:59

The original start of this post:

Not only have we relaunched our website (Again? Yes!! AGAIN!) but we are also in the news and on the road at shows
and festivals and conferences and giving talks and being featured in blogs and online holiday gift guides and . . . and . . . and . . . 

But it just got better.

 tiffintalk in the news 2016 1219

Today, Monday, December 19, we were featured on the front page of the business section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. (also here at philly.com)

How's that for exciting news? Go there – but come back here because there's more. Much more.

It’s all very exciting and one run-on sentence is just not going to do it. Here it is in brief:

Website relaunch:

  • Biggest and “bestest” addition: Look for our new videos! (If you missed the 'placeholder' cat & dog videos, they will be on the website under the "More" menu item, and they're also on the TiffinTalk YouTube channel.)
  • Better visuals: Along with clear explanations of each product line, you’ll find excellent slides (that you can control) so you can see each product and truly know all about it – words for those of you who are readers; pictures for those of you who can’t help but “judge the book by its cover” – no matter what your teachers warned you!
  • Testimonials: Yeah, people love us. And they tell us. And we tell you. So that you’ll try us and love us, too. It's really all one big happy circle of love. (Enjoy it before some new politician makes it illegal.)
  • Easier store experience: TiffinTalk offers 3 products lines, each with multiple options. And there are more coming. It’s not meant to confuse you and we hope we’ve laid it out for you in a simple way. But let’s face it: tech can only explain us to a point! If you reach “the point” and need more, CALL us. After all, we are all about talk and we’d love to talk with you. (1-610 299 1107 – Yup we put it right here. We want you to call.)
  • Better navigation: You’ll find it easier to get around. Period. Boring. But important.


  • Concordia University: Author Erin Jay Flynn featured TiffinTalk in the university’s Literary Resources guide. The article, Card Kits Get Kids Talking and Learning to Think for Themselves, is thorough, readable, and thoroughly readable. You’ll be surprised when you realize you’ve just read every word. She’s that good an author!!
  • We’ve been featured by Motherchic, a blog written by a former-elementary-school-teacher-now-full-time-mom-of-4-boys. She features fashion with a passion and still covers the latest and greatest . . . like TiffinTalk!
  • We will soon be featured in As a Child Grows and have several other Philly mom bloggers setting up calls to talk about TiffinTalk.
  • We’ve been in local online news, Pivot.Today (and that was during our pre-professional video days!) and Media Patch and are thrilled to be covered in our backyard as we make our way into ever larger media sites. (There’s a hint in there… we’ll keep you posted!)

Holiday Gift Guides: Look for us at TiffinTalk in our own store. And since you are reading this, enjoy a 20% discount with our own New Year’s Resolution gift code: techlesstalkmore2017. (Oh, just cut and paste it! We’ll honor it through the end of January 2017 but buy now.) But you can also find us at:

  • Philly Baby Bump - A very cool site for expectant moms in the area. (Yes, we don't quite make cards for infants but lots of babies have siblings who are desperate for talk time all their own . . . )
  • Macaroni Kid – We'll soon be featured in their regional versions for Media, West Chester, Main Line and Montgomery! They focus on the to-do’s across the country with local sites that feature our local areas and local sellers and artists. 
  • And like the infamous Ginsu knives . . .  That’s not all! We’ve got more surprises in (online) store(s) coming soon to a computer near you!

On the road! We’ve had a busy summer with local festivals almost every weekend from June through the end of September. And we’ve also been at:

  • The Philly Baby & Family Expo
  • TACA’s (Talk About Curing Autism) Fall Festival
  • PAGE (Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Educators) Conference
  • PSCA (Pennsylvania School Counselors Association) Conference
  • … and 2017 has us at a major conference in DC with keynote speaker Brené Brown at the PsychNetworker and at a Boston expo for the CEC (Council for Exceptional Children)
  • Plus – did I mention the speaking engagements?! Book now for a talk on the Power of Talk. I speak to groups of all sizes and all ages and tailor the topic toward parents, educators, and/or seniors. Honestly, don’t we all need to talk – now more than ever?! I will never ever claim to be the Talk Expert, but I am the Talk Advocate and I can speak to that and more.

Grandparents . . .  they are asking. Schools . . . they are asking. Counseling Centers . . . they are asking. Inpatient and Outpatient Facilities . . . they are asking (impatiently, I may add). Distributors . . .  they are asking. Non-profit educational groups . . . they are asking. And we are talking and meeting and meeting and talking.

And we’d love to talk to you. And all the people you know.

Spread the word.

New day. New year. New plan: Tech less. Talk more!


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