America Phones it in

It is American Thanksgiving, which I will be calling Yanksgiving from now on, so that it is not confused with Canadian Thanksgiving (Canucksgiving). Americans started wishing me a Happy Yanksgiving about a week ago, which I found confusing. Everyone has been getting ready for Yanksgiving for weeks. They have been making Yanksgiving plans, mostly talking about food. OK, here is the part where I risk alienating readers and, if my editor was editing this, she would insert a comment right here like: “Can you soften this a bit? Most readers will not be able to relate.” That is the beauty/horror of a blog. There is no one to save me from myself. There is no one to tell me that perhaps I shouldn’t rant about how awesome it is to be childless or about my disdain for most major holidays. (This is my blog on disliking the holidays, more on being a baby-eater in a future blog. Stay tuned.) This is my blog. It is unedited and unplugged. I have one friend who texts me my grammatical errors after I post my blogs, but that’s about it. Other than that, I’m on my own and it’s getting crazy. I hear my editor’s voice in my head, warning me, and then shake it off and carry on anyway. I’m a bit of a honey badger when it comes to this blog.

This past week, we were welcoming a new batch of veterinary students to their oncology rotation and breaking the ice with introductions and a question: “What is your favorite holiday, and why?” I horrified everyone, who said either Yanksgiving or Christmas, or both, by saying that I don’t really care for either, but I think my birthday is pretty boss. I think that my colleagues now feel sorry for me and they would like to find a way to give me back a little Christmas magic. (Bah Humbug!) If I had to choose between Canucksgiving and Yanksgiving, I would say that I prefer Canucksgiving, because the Canadian edition is Thanksgiving-lite. It is more mellow, it is shorter, and it does not require a month-long lead up. There is less pressure on Canucksgiving. It is just about the harvest and being thankful and taking a Monday off in October. There is also no Pilgrim-Indian situation, which I appreciate. Also we don’t say Indian anymore in Canada.

This period in America, that starts just after Halloween and lasts until a week after New Year’s, is called “The Holidays”. Saying “The Holidays” is a bit of a misnomer, because people don’t take very many days off during this period. However, paradoxically, very little gets done during “The Holidays”, because it’s “The Holidays”. (Here comes some hard-core internet research to prove what I have always suspected to be fact. I love when this happens.) In America, there is no legal requirement to provide paid vacation time to employees and, even when people have paid vacation days, they rarely take them all. This is in contrast to our friends in Europe, where there is a legal requirement for a minimum of 20-30 paid vacation days off per year for all employees. And despite the fact that Americans put in more days and hours at work per year than anyone, the GDP per capita in America is not that different than France or Germany. I am no economist, but I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that this discrepancy in hours worked and comparable GDP is largely due to “The Holidays”.

Here is my interpretation of the situation. It’s a cycle. It starts in the summer. Holidays should have been taken, but weren’t. Now it’s Fall, people are feeling ripped off, burnt out and a bit entitled to work less due to extra hours put in over the summer. They hang in there for Halloween, which is joyous because it represents the start of the beginning of “The Holidays” and because there is candy and you can dress like a sexy Ebola aid worker. When the holidays come around, a lot of time on the clock is spent decorating, undecorating and redecorating the workplace for: Halloween; then General Fall motif (complete with fake deciduous leaves in the glorious colors of fall, which makes no sense in Florida); then Yanksgiving (Turkeys, Pilgrims, Indians, Turkeys in little pilgrim outfits, more fall leaves); then Christmas (complete with fake snow, and fake or real pine trees, which make even less sense in Florida). Then holiday-themed decoration selfies are taken, and the splendor of the holiday-themed work place is documented on Facebook. There are also tasks such as organizing secret Santas, finding unique and hilarious places and situations for the Elf on the Shelf (and documenting this on Facebook), and organizing/attending work Christmas parties. It’s a busy time. Somewhere in here, everyone gets lulled into a turkey-L-Tryptophan-induced haze that doesn’t wear off until the New Year. They will then spend the rest of the year trying to catch up and this results in not being able to take time off in the summer because it is too busy, and it all starts again. America, I’m begging you, please take some time off.

During “The Holidays” no one wants to be at work, but no one takes days off because they don’t want to look lazy and/or because of peer pressure and/or because they are saving their days off for the summer (but then they don’t take days off in the summer either). Also, taking days off when you know that everyone is goofing off seems like a total waste. It’s paradoxical. The work culture in American punishes the efficient and celebrates martyr culture. It fails to differentiate between physically being at work and actually getting work done. It’s a complete bastardization of the American work ethic, which is, frankly, a little tired. Adding to the insanity, we now have phones that tether our brains to work, even when we are at home or on vacation. There is an expectation that we either created or perpetuate, that emails are deserving of in an instant response because it is so nonintrusive to answer an email. So everyone should be checking their email every 8 minutes, regardless of where we are, what time it is, and whether or not we are on vacation. It’s truly crazy-making and there may be some co-dependency involved.

The line between work and not work has become blurry. Instead of trying to find work-life balance, I think we need to search for work-life difference, meaning that you can distinguish between the two. We are plugged in to both work (email) and not work (Facebook, Twitter) activities all the time. I have recently taken my work email off of my phone and I try (really hard) not to check work emails during evenings and weekends. Once you look into Pandora’s inbox, you are screwed. Whether you answer the emails or not, they will occupy the place in your mind that is supposed to be for not work. I have been off email cold turkey for about two weeks now and, although this is not quite long enough to be habit-forming, and I have fallen off of the e-wagon once or twice, I am happy to report that I feel lighter, happier, in control of my life and the world did not end without my instant email presence.

So this Hallowsgiving Eve, resolve to take some real time off, enjoy your family and friends without being distracted, unplug, have fun, and come back to work ready to tackle your overflowing inbox and the Valentine’s Day decorations.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Seven Ninety-Three

Seven Ninety-three

I was back in Canada this summer driving from Toronto to Ottawa with my dog, Rumble. I stopped at one of the ONRoute rest stops/best stops, service centre extravaganzas. (Must pause to admire the double-intendre of ONRoute. Nice job You can get all of your travel needs met in one place. I filled up with gas, went through the drive-through for an all-Canadian Tim Horton’s deli sandwich, and ate outside at a picnic table with Rumble. I managed to do everything I needed to do without having to go inside, leave my dog in the car, or take him into the service centre. I just had one problem. I had to pee. I saw the sign on the door with the X through the dog. I went over the to gas station kiosk to see if there was an outdoor entrance to a bathroom. No luck. The guy told me to go into the main service centre. I weighed my options. Leave dog in the hot car. No. Pee on the side of the 401. No. (Works if you have a penis or possibly a female urination funnel, but I had neither.) Tie up dog outside rest stop along highway. Not happening.

OK Rumble, we are going in. I tried to sneak into the bathroom for a quick pee. As soon as I entered, no less than three uniformed ONRoute employees came running towards me, saying that I could not bring my dog in here. One of them was yelling. I tried to explain. I’m by myself, do not have penis, just need to pee, will only take two minutes, too hot to leave dog in car. But they would not be convinced. The rules say no dogs, and Canadians follow rules. It was a dilemma. My friend who is a physician had offered to write me a letter saying that I needed Rumble as a “therapy dog” to make my travels with a dog this summer a bit easier. There were a few moments when I wished I had taken him up on this offer. Those moments were: the moment that I had to fly Rumble cargo, and I saw how terrified he was as they wheeled him away from me at the airport; the time that he barked all night in the hotel room in Calgary when I went out for dinner with friends; and this moment right now, when I needed to pee at a rest stop along the 401. If I had a real or faux Therapy Dog vest, I wouldn’t have to deal with this crap, and I’d be peeing right now, but I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair to the real service dogs and their real people. Anyway, what kind of a world would it be if we had a bunch of really nice, well-socialized dogs everywhere, and women who felt safe travelling, who could pee when they needed to, and walk to their cars alone without being afraid? Who would want to live in a world like that?

It could be argued that, at this point, I actually do have a medical need to bring my dog into this service station with me because I am at risk for bladder atony or rupture or peeing my pants in public. A small crowd is starting to form around us as I plead my case to the ONRoute Law enforcement agency. I’m careful with the volume and number of words I say to the ONRoute officials. Not because I am scared of confrontation, but because I am afraid that the resulting increase in intraabdominal pressure will disturb the equilibrium that is my tenuous bladder. My frustration and bladder volume are both starting to max out, to the point that I fear I can not contain either of them. The peanut gallery starts chiming in. “Just let her pee!” “She really needs to pee.” “It will only take her a minute.” “Just let her take the dog in with her!” This is ridiculous. The leader of the ONRoute crew tells me sternly that I have to tie my dog up outside. My mind flashes to Rumble panicking, getting free somehow and running into an oncoming semi on the 401 and then to scenario #2, which is someone putting him into their car and driving away. I tell Constable Fast Food that I can’t tie up my dog beside a highway or leave him in the car and I try to throw down my veterinary credentials as proof that I am right about this. Then he grabs for the leash and says he will hold the dog. I consider this briefly but decide that leaving my heeler/shepherd cross with an angry man who just ran towards me yelling is also ill-advised. Someone from my crowd of supporters offers to hold him for me. I am actually not keen on leaving him with anyone, truth be told, but I weigh trusting a kind stranger against pissing in the parking lot of the ONRoute and hand her the leash. I run to the bathroom and pee as fast as possible. The relief is indescribable. It’s beyond words. I run out, grab Rumble and head out of the building.

I am a staunch Canadian. I’m the smug Canuck who lives in the States, but constantly goes on about how much better Canada is than America. (So why don’t I just go back there if I love it so much? It’s complicated.) This is the first time that I have ever felt homesick for Florida. I am homesick because of seven ninety-three. That is the minimum wage in Florida. Seven ninety-three an hour does not procure an employee that will go out of their way to learn, let alone enforce rules. When you pay people seven ninety-three an hour, they do not give a shit about whether or not you take your dog into a rest stop for two minutes to pee. It is doubtful that someone making seven ninety-three would even look up from their smart phone long enough to notice that you had a dog with you. I regularly take Rumble into stores in Florida. Sometimes I will ask before I go in if they are dog-friendly, which generally receives the same shrug that means, don’t know/don’t care. I take this as tacit approval to enter. For seven ninety-three, I walk into movie theatres, openly drinking my Starbucks while making direct eye contact with the person taking my ticket, daring them to tell me I can’t have outside food or drinks in the theatre. They never do. They don’t care. You can not cultivate this level of apathy with a living wage.

In Ontario, minimum wage is $10.25 an hour. The extra $2.32/hour adds some value. Although I am not thrilled with my particular situation at ONRoute, and I think it is a serious injustice to women (with dogs who need to pee when they travel solo in the summer months) these employees are taking their jobs seriously. There is something about a living wage that makes people care. The difference between Canada and the States is palpable. And, despite the noise that is made in America about not being able to afford to increase the minimum wage, I would argue that you can’t afford not to. I sincerely hope that they raise the minimum wage in Florida, but, until then, I will exploit the indifference and enjoy the sunny side of seven ninety-three.


Everybody Loves Steve

Steve and Me

Everybody Loves Steve

I am married to the nicest man in the world. That is a fact. Everybody loves Steve. I am good with this and have accepted that all of my friends and family will go on (and on) about how nice he is and what a great guy he is. Some will even tell me repeatedly that Steve is a Saint because he is married to me. That always makes me feel really great about myself. That is because in lame stereotypes, I am a sassy woman, I’m a handful, I wear pants (possibly the pants), I like to shop and I am an independent little lady. I have also tolerated my own mother looking back at the times in my relationship with Steve that were difficult, due to moving to pursue my career and having her tell me repeatedly how lucky I am that he didn’t just dump me right then and there for someone who is a little easier. Thanks Mom. Everybody loves Steve.

It is not just people who love Steve. All animals love Steve too. I have seen him move cattle by gently waving his arm, moving his body and talking to them. No yelling, cattle prod or cowboy antics required. He can also train horses in a round pen and make them want to follow him like a dog. Just like in the Horse Whisperer movie. I have witnessed as he calls over the free-range pigs that he is caring for and the 250 pound sows come running over to him like dogs. He will then jump the fence and drop a sow to the ground by giving her a shoulder rub. She will lie there, all four legs in the air, asking for a belly rub, eyes closed, and smiling. (Yes, pigs really smile)

Then there are our pets. They also love him more. When I lost my 18 ½ year old cat, Cool (who also loved Steve more), to a spectacular bout of renal failure and pancreatic cancer and being really freaking old, Steve declared a cat hiatus in our household. He wanted a feline holiday, a break from cats stomping all over the bed when we were trying to sleep, a break from cat hair everywhere, and especially a pause from a litter box in the house, which is, by all accounts, a disgusting thing. I agreed, but days later, I met Romeow. Romeow was a gorgeous brown tabby who had literally fallen off the anatomy truck. Stray cats that are going to be euthanized are sometimes brought in to the anatomy department at veterinary schools. They are humanely euthanized and then dissected for teaching and research. (Although I still do not understand how you do research in anatomy. I thought that this had been pretty much worked out by now.) Most of the cats that head this way are cats in trouble. They are sick, old, homeless, unwanted and feral. Romeow was a healthy big brown tabby who was rolling around, purring and kneading the air. Hard to dissect that. Romeow then found his way to the blood donor program at our veterinary school. I have coveted the brown tabby product for years, so as soon as I saw him I knew that he would have to come home with me. It was a perfect solution because he had to be a blood donor for one year before he could be adopted. So we save a cat from dissection, get a blood donor for a year, I get my brown tabby cat and Steve gets his cat holiday. Perfect. Only problem was that Romeow was rejected from the program due to testing positive for a blood-borne parasite, so I had to take him home sooner. Cat holiday went from one-year to just 3 ½ weeks. Steve was not impressed. Romeow, on the other hand, was pretty happy about his new situation and likely oblivious to the fact that he dodged both being an anatomy specimen and living in a veterinary hospital for a year. Romeow also loved Steve. He would sit on his lap and purr, squinting and drooling. Drooling large puddles of love all over Steve. I have never seen a cat drool like that. Steve was chosen as his person, even though he didn’t actually want Romeow.

More recently, we got our current dog, Rumble. I was also the driving force behind getting this dog. I searched high and low for the perfect pound puppy. Rumble was supposed to be our shared dog, but of course, I had hoped that he would love me a little more. I think I needed him to love me more. He loves me a lot, but I am definitely #2. He is a heeler cross and he loves Steve with all of the intensity and focus of a herding dog. I do feel loved by my dog, but I also feel like a bit of a farce when I travel the country and do media appearances with my Lucky Dog and I don’t tell people that the dog actually loves Steve more. Steve always try to play this down, but I know that he knows that Rumble’s heart belongs to him. My role in my very spoiled dog’s life is chief disciplinarian and protector (he always runs to me when he is scared), but he gives Steve his unconditional love. Ironically, Steve will argue that dogs don’t really feel love, happiness, jealousy, hurt, angry or other human emotions the way that we do and I will argue vehemently that they do. Steve doesn’t even believe in the love that my dog gives him. Everybody loves Steve.

I have had dogs who chose me in my life. Twice. Dogs that were mine. Being the most important person in a dog’s life is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. It is impossible to force or recreate. You can’t tell a dog or cat who they are supposed to belong to. They decide. I have threatened to just keep bringing home more animals until one of them finally picks me. Surely at some point, one dog, cat, pig or rat would see my deep love of animals and choose me. But the problem is, I am not sure how many animals I would need to drag home with me until I am chosen. This game of love Russian roulette might result in a pride of cats and a pack of dogs and I still might not get to have that pure sweet love and devotion once they meet Steve.

And so, I have to let go of my ego and just enjoy watching the bond between Steve and Romeow, and Steve and Rumble. I watch and find joy as Steve wrestles with our silly dog or the way that he gives Romeow a bath or his patented cat-hypnotizing eye rubs. Even though I have devoted my entire life to animals and I know that I have always had a way with them, Steve has more of a way with them. It is one of his many gifts. My friends have even taken to making up a voice every time a dog approaches Steve. Whether the dog knows him or not, it is always the same approach, a happy, smiling dog with a wagging tail. My friends always add in the sound effects. The dog is clearly saying, “Steeeeeeve!!” Everybody loves Steve.

Along with the other humans, dogs, cats, cows, pigs and horses, I have also chosen Steve to be my person. He has all of my love and devotion because of the way he is with me, and everyone around him. There is just something about him. He is my #1. And so, I as I try to brush away the petty jealousy that all of our pets seem to love him more, I also just fall into the fold with the rest of them and understand why. He is my person. Everyone loves Steve.