Fountain of Youth

I came across an article not too long ago that claimed that owning pets relieves stress. This isn’t a new idea – lots of experts have said the same thing. Some studies show that pets can decrease blood pressure, help maintain good mental health, and even extend life expectancy in many cases.  According to South Boston Animal Hospital, among others, pets can actually increase your confidence and self-esteem, which seems like a tall order for a labradoodle, but okay.

Having had a pet in my home since, oh, I don’t know, forever, I feel like something of an authority on the subject or at least well-informed, we’ll say.  And I just have to ask … have any of these pet experts ever actually owned pets? I wonder.

As most of you know, I have four pets currently: two dogs and two cats, all rescues. We’ve had three of them since they were mere babies (6 to 8 weeks old) with the youngest being about 9 years old now. The “new” addition to our home, Petra, was adopted as an older dog and we’ve had her a little over 4 years. Time does fly, as they say. 

As an adult, I’ve never been without a dog and/or cat or two or three or five even, and as a kid growing up, there was always … but always … at least one dog in our family. My point is, I “get” the whole owning a pet thing. I wouldn’t give mine up for the world. They’re family.

It’s not that I don’t love the little assholes dears, it´s just that I wonder about this universally accepted claim that they relieve stress and extend one’s life. I mean, I’ve got one dog that has the bladder the size of a bean who requires a walk every freakin’ five minutes and another who, I swear, takes having a bowel movement as a competition and strives every day to hit the top score. Spoiler: he wins. Every day.

Life is not exactly restful in my house as I don’t actually get to rest for long in between all of these trips to the tree down the street. But hey, at least it’s at the tree down the street and not in the living room that I routinely traverse in the dark in my bare feet. I realize, things could be worse. I’m reminded of the story of the Roomba running over a pile of dog poop in the living room and carrying it all over the house. I’m sure you can imagine how low that pet owner’s blood pressure was when they walked in the door to that wonderful sight. I bet they set a record.

Did I mention that one of my dogs barks at random times at … nothing. Or at least, I think it’s nothing. I hope it’s nothing. These unexpected, sharp — and loud — staccato yaps ring out first thing in the morning, the afternoon, the middle of the night, she doesn’t care. If she gets the urge to bark, she barks. And boy, does she get the urge. A lot.  I can’t let it go, I mean, I have to look to see if it’s something actually worth worrying about. Is it an intruder? Is it a leaf blowing down the street two blocks over? Is it the cat on the shelf where she doesn’t belong (and someone is tattling)? Is it a ghost? By the time I’ve done a quick reconnaissance, Petra is back in her bed, under her blanket, content with herself and the world. It doesn’t relieve my stress at 2:00 a.m., I can tell you that much.

Rufus, to his credit, rarely barks unless there is something to bark at, like the mail carrier, the neighbor leaving his house or coming home to his house or looking out of his window, or the cat across the street. Or me, coming home from work. However, he does like to eat things he shouldn’t. He takes that 5-second rule seriously and sometimes he doesn’t even wait for things to hit the ground, he seeks them out and steals them taste-tests them for you.

Finding out that your dog has eaten the 2-pound bag of cat food you neglected to lock in the pantry to keep just this sort of thing from happening or your strawberry-flavored Chapstick that was buried in the depths of your purse because you forgot your dog loves strawberries and can smell them from a mile away AND he knows where your purse is kept and now needs to be rushed to the vet for almost $500 worth of stomach meds and emergency care is exactly like having a spa day. If the spa was on fire and you are also on fire. And then someone hands you your wallet which promptly bursts into flames.

Cats are no better. At least, mine aren’t. They’re just more inconspicuous about the whole “let’s relieve mom’s stress and make her live longer” scheme. In fact, they’re so cool and subtle about it, you’d almost think there was some complicated reverse psychology experiment going on.

Let’s be honest. Owning a cat is basically ensuring that no glass of water will ever be safe. In fact, knickknacks, coffee cups, bottles of all kinds, and even expensive foundation make-up — which creates such a lovely design on the floor when it shatters, by the way — will never be safe again.

Oh, the middle-of-the-night races are jarringly raucous and create quite the jump-scare when a small, fluffy, homicidal packet of cute jumps on your chest while you’re fast asleep, but you learn to adapt … it’s the yodeling contests at 3:00 a.m. that get to you.

Frankly, who can live stress-free when there is a continual plot against your life? Extending my life, indeed. Ha! The ne’er-do-well (aka Holly) has had it out for me ever since I put a baby lock on the cat treat cabinet, thereby successfully foiling her ongoing thievery … I can’t imagine her having any intention whatsoever of extending my life.

On the other hand, Shaylee, the older matriarch-cat of our four-legged family, is sweet as pie, when she isn’t tormenting Petra or biting the hand that feeds her or looking at Rufus which in turn apparently offends him to no end eliciting the need “to teach her a lesson” not remembering that she outweighs him and really doesn’t like him either (hence the look to begin with) and pure chaos ensues. Ah, yes. Fun and games.

Don’t be fooled, multiple pets, like siblings, will often torment each other just for kicks and giggles. A cat might tickle its tail in front of a dog’s nose just to irritate it. Or as is the case in my house, they will swat that dog right on the top of the head and then escape to a high shelf, far out of reach, tormenting the dog with its own failure. Cats, or at least my cats, don’t understand the concept of holding a grudge it would seem, and are quite surprised when, hours later, they descend from their haughty throne only to be met with a hostile canine hiding the shiv he made while he was awaiting their return to ground level. You can’t tell me being witness to these kinds of interactions are stress relieving in any way.

Oh, hey, I just remembered. I shut my finger in the door today. Hard. How on earth is that even relevant, Wendy, you may ask! Well, let me explain. You see, my dogs are nothing if not well fed. They eat three times a day with treats in between. Yet, Rufus acts as though he’s starved to death. He’s so put upon, really, just ask him. Poor thing. Still in the dark?  Stay with me, it will become clear.

Anyway, Rufus eats his food quickly because he has it in his cute little head that he will go and steal Petra’s food when he’s done. He is never allowed to do this, but it doesn’t stop him from trying, God bless him. Petra, because she is the slowest eater I have ever seen in my entire life, eats in the bedroom of solitude behind closed doors so she can have her meal in peace without threat of invaders.  As I was walking out of the bedroom – before doggy dinner time had concluded, Rufus tried to race through the minuscule opening I had created (I swear, it was impressive, it was like Road Runner took lessons from a cheetah to better outwit Wile E. Coyote).

Let me interject here, some of you may recall that Petra was abused before she came to live with us and noises, especially abrupt noises … like miniature Road Runner-Cheetah hybrids hurtling full speed across wood floors … still make her nervous.

So, as I was reassuring Petra that no, the apocalypse had not started and simultaneously doing my best to not step on Rufus who was now completely under my feet and somehow keep him out of the bedroom and not catch him in the door, I shut the door on my finger. Did I mention, hard?

Oh yeah. I’m going to live forever with these jerks sweet little fluffballs around. They certainly inspire a colorful vocabulary though, I’ll give them that.

 

Morning Routines

As I shimmy and shake and sweat during my usual morning routine, I wonder, who needs the gym or the cost of a personal trainer when all I have to do to get a serious aerobic work-out is put on my pantyhose every morning?  Come to think of it, there are some complicated yoga moves thrown in to my dressing ritual fitness regimen as well — I routinely contort myself into impossible positions worthy of a yogi master.

Aerobics, strength exercises, and yoga … hey, I’m nothing if not well-rounded. Ha! See what I did there? Well-rounded! Get it? Because being well-rounded is what necessitates my way-too-early-in-the-morning calisthenics session to begin with … because, I’m round, get it?  Oh, never mind.

 

Gaming Grandma

Once upon a time, kids played innocent video games that had, as their selling point, learning and teachable moments embedded in the fun.  LeapFrog was one of these; a creative, book-oriented electronic game whose only purpose was to teach our kids how to count, how to read, and how to sing very annoying songs. My kids were no exception.  We leaped with the best frogs.

Next came computer games, like Club Penguin, Toontown, and Jumpstart.  These were adorable games where the kids learned to chat in controlled phrases, and they began to experience their first taste of competition.  The next logical step was Pokémon and Naruto, where competition, chatting, and teamwork became part of everyday life.

From there, my kids jumped into League of Legends, where the sole purpose of the game was to annihilate other players.  Yay, progress.

When my son was living at home, I would hear the muffled thuds, the not-so-muffled thuds, the cursing, the banging, and occasionally the overturned chair coming from the sanctity of his room.  I wondered, but no way was I going into a teenage boy’s room alone; God only knows what science projects he had brewing under his bed or in his dirty laundry hamper.   It was hard to tell if he needed a new hobby, more practice, or better friends.  My daughter wasn’t much better, only her game frustrations were much quieter and spilled out to the dinner table in the form of dirty looks and grumbling.

I went through the usual parental worrying.  Do they spend too much time online?  Are they secretly chatting with some 60-year-old pervert in a pink tutu in this multi-player game?  Do they need to get out and socialize with the real world?  And most importantly, will they end up living in my basement into their forties?

Obviously, my kids got their video chops from their cool mom, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I don’t like video games, they make me anxious and I get stressed when I play.  I blame Milton Bradley’s Perfection. While not a video game, it was a battery-operated panic attack. Besides, life is like a video game, with adventures to be found at the grocery store, the freeway, and, occasionally, the kitchen when I try a new recipe.

So, if not me, where did they get this video game aptitude from?  Well, look one generation back, and there it is.  Thanks, mom.

Oh yes, you read that right.  My mom, sweetest lady, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the picture of innocence.  My mom was a pro gamer before gaming was cool.

First it was Atari. That was too easy for her. Asteroids, tennis, and pong?   It was like shooting fish in a barrel for my mother. Come to think of it, she had that game too.

The next level of her addiction came with new heroes, courtesy of Sega Genesis.  Round, prickly ones named Sonic.  Sonic ushered in some of his closest friends, including Zelda, who rode in on the wave that was Super Nintendo.  The original Zelda, thank you very much. Kids think they know Zelda, but you’ve never played Zelda until you’ve played it on the original gaming platform, in full glorious side-scrolling wonder with its tinny music and recycled backgrounds.

Then, hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen … along came Mario Brothers.  My mother immediately forgot everything else in the world as she threw herself into mastering this game.  My family frequently went without eating for days at a time, no clean clothes, up to our ankles in our own game, “Chase the Dust Bunnies.”

Of course, that’s not true, but she was completely obsessed with the game.  I still remember when she hit the high score or won the game, whichever the goal was.  She left the game on the entire day as proof and if I recall correctly, she took a picture of the tv screen for good measure because she was afraid no one would believe her. I like to think that the birth of my brother and me were the happiest days of her life, but I tell you, I’m not so sure.

Once she conquered the world of supersonic mammals, Italian plumbers, and valiant quests, she went for a more maternal distraction because, apparently, a real family wasn’t enough stress. She went full on geek and got herself a Tamagotchi critter, which I think was a dog.  She even took it camping and on vacation, so it wouldn’t die.  I have no idea how long it survived, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was years. Hell, she may still have it in a closet somewhere, secretly feeding it and dutifully cleaning up its little digital poops.

I often wonder, does my complete inability to play video games reflect poorly on her?  Or did her gaming ability soar straight through my DNA without passing GO and hit my kids squarely in the controllers, picking up power as it went?  If that’s the case, then my great-grandchildren will be amazingly gifted… prodigies even.

As for me, I’m still playing the fun video game, “set my car clock for daylight savings time.”  It’s been going on for days now. Fall back indeed. Just what the hell did I do with that owner’s manual?

Hell on Earth

After a recent week’s worth of company training, I thought I would take a moment and give some feedback. Quite frankly, other than the bagels and donuts that so often accompany these events, work place training sessions are a complete waste of time.  I’m sorry, but it’s true. Games, role-playing, team answers to ridiculous questions, and worst of all … participation is expected.  As a raging introvert, I can think of few other anxiety-inducing events that top a rousing “role playing” or “group participation” session.

Seriously though, I’m hard pressed to say which type of training is the least annoying.

Death by PowerPoint:  This involves a computer and a screen. After the inevitable ten minutes of fumbling, the computer operator will have to go find someone to come “fix” the presentation, so the training can proceed.  All PowerPoint presentations follow the same path: the first slide is supposed to be amusing, but seldom is.  Then, the “class” starts where one person stands robotically reading each slide, point by painful point, sometimes with the help of a laser pointer.  When a break is called, people run to the smoking area even though they weren’t smokers when the class started.

The Professional Speaker:  Sometimes, you get the privilege of having a guest speaker.  This person usually brings their own computer presentation, fumbles with the computer for ten minutes, then goes to find someone to come fix the presentation.  The first slide is supposed to be funny…you get the idea.

New Age Co-Op:  These training sessions bring emotions into the classroom.  You start with trust exercises that involve throwing out your back when your trustworthy coworker gets a text at the same moment they’re supposed to catch you, and end with hugging your coworkers and telling them just what it is about them that is so gosh darned special.  Apparently, “You’re special because you’re sleeping with the boss” is not an acceptable comment; I got sent back to my office (which is where I wanted to be in the first place) and banned from participating next year.

Role-Playing:  This is an offshoot of the New Age Co-Op training.  When you role-play, you may have to play the part of a customer, or maybe a manager if you’re lucky.  You are placed in several unrealistic situations and expected to respond appropriately while your coworkers critique your performance.  Again, I am banned from participation for a year when, as a “customer,” I overturned three tables and dumped water on Joe from accounting after being told by the “waitress” that they didn’t have unsweetened ice-tea.  The people role-playing the police department were very talented… had uniforms, i.d., and everything.

Team Groups:  In this training process, you are split into groups and given tough questions to figure out, most often in a “Jeopardy” or “Family Feud” format, because nothing says “team building” quite like pitting coworkers against each other – especially when a $5.00 gas card is involved.  Your answers are presented by the “team leader” to the rest of the class.  I was in the restroom and came back to find I had been elected team leader in my absence.  My aforementioned ban was solidified when I stood up and told my best joke instead. No-one laughed. And I’m freakin’ hilarious.

Don’t get me wrong; training is a very important part of keeping workers up to date on changes and evolving processes within the company.  The bad part is that these training sessions could be accomplished in an email thereby saving money, time, and reputations.

Every worker in the world follows the exact same pattern when they have a workplace training session.

  • Try to call out sick
  • Charge the phone for Facebook browsing and Words with Friends
  • Pretend to be in the middle of a project and look very busy in the hopes you will be excused
  • Show up as late as you can and take the seat all the way in the back or position yourself nearest the snacks
  • Notify your friends to call you frequently so you can excuse yourself because “This is about that big client.”
  • Appear to be taking extensive notes when in reality you are drawing cartoons (my personal favorite)
  • Nod deeply and agree occasionally so the presenter thinks you are actively engaged

There are, however, a few things that will get you thrown out of work place training.  I have compiled a list of my the most effective ones:

  • Stand up and yell “hallelujah,” “preach,” and “amen” randomly throughout the session.
  • Raise your hand and ask questions about things completely unrelated to your job or the company, such as is the color orange called orange because it’s the color of oranges or are oranges called oranges because they’re orange, OR how do geese know which goose goes first when migrating.
  • Sneeze and cough repeatedly; more effective if you bring some type of slime from your kid’s collection and launch it across the room while coughing.
  • Write your boss’ name on your name tag and be disruptive.
  • Lean back in your chair and toss spitballs at the screen like the moody antagonist in an ’80s John Hughes flick.
  • Lick the donuts in front of everyone and put them back.
  • Answer your phone loudly and declare, “I don’t care how much money you have invested in this company, I can’t help you! I’m in training!”

In all honesty, work training can be a valuable tool if it is approached correctly.  Unfortunately, most companies don’t approach it correctly and the entire process is one that is universally hated.  Can I get an Amen?

When Compassion Reigns

I saw you today. You there in the white pick-up truck. During that fleeting moment we shared on a quiet back road, I could only see that you were likely middle-aged, and had a beard. To all appearances just an ordinary person going about their ordinary day.

But I saw you as you slowed down and purposely moved over to the side of the road so as to avoid the indecisive squirrel on the middle line, allowing him the opportunity to find his way to the tree-filled lot on the other side … still breathing, still intact, unharmed. Hidden away from the masses — only through fate and good timing was I even in a position to bear witness — you chose to do the right thing. I thank you for it. I know the squirrel thanks you for it. His life has meaning, just as ours does, and you saw that, appreciated that, and acted accordingly.

When compassion reigns, we are all the better for it. So, thank you. With your conscious – or unconscious – empathy, my hope in humanity was restored.  At least for today.

The Early Bird

As we all know, the early bird gets the … chocolate. In preparation of Thanksgiving — hey! it’s not that far away! — I’ve finally found the perfect Thanksgiving Day turkey. Well, the perfect one would be a pet turkey named Henry, but since the condo board likely wouldn’t go for that one (ugh!), this alternative, I must say, is pretty damned awesome. I make no promises whatsoever on whether or not this gem actually makes it to Thanksgiving.

click the pic to see where you can get your own!