Gobble, gobble…Happy Thanksgiving!

Topping my personal list of things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving are the two handsome fellas pictured here. Barley and Dougal, my two schnauzers, are my best friends and I can’t imagine a single day without them.

This photo is from Saturday, when we hiked through rain and snow along the White River east of Enumclaw. It was a perfect day. Barley led the charge, Dougal sniffed along behind, and I snapped some beautiful pictures.

My two schnauzers, Barley and Dougal.

My two schnauzers, Barley and Dougal.

Here are a few other things I’m thankful for this year (these are in no particular order):

• Running pants that don’t cut into my lovehandles. The only thing worse than two lovehandles? Four lovehandles. Finally, after 31 years of living, I found running pants that don’t bisect my chub and affect my ability to work out. Thank you, Nike!

• Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I only recently rediscovered this treat from my childhood, and I honestly can’t think of much else lately. I’ve reigned it in a bit and I’m trying to eat it just once or twice a month, but any day that ends in nuclear-orange cheese is a good day. (See “lovehandles” above…yikes!)

• My grandparents. At 83 and 79, my grandparents are still doing incredibly well, but I’m always mindful that their health could change at any moment. My grandma is a breast cancer survivor and my grandpa is having some issues with early dementia, but they’re still kicking. I love them more than any two people on the planet.

• My kick-butt department. Even on the most stressful days, my coworkers are fantastic. On days I’m not here, I’m nagging them electronically to find out what I’m missing. It’s a sickness, but it’s a good kind to have.

• My apartment. With so many people facing serious financial hardship this year, it’s impossible for me to complain about my drippy kitchen faucet or how expensive my rent is. It would be an insult to the people who truly are struggling.

• Health insurance. I have read so many horror stories this year of people who either lost their insurance or didn’t have any when they faced a medical crisis. I am so thankful that I have it and that I don’t have to choose between food and medicine.

• Sleep. Up until the last year or so, sleep was a personal luxury. I never got enough and I was terminally crabby (okay, crabbier). Now that I’ve made sleep a priority and I’ve put forth solid effort to relax, I get a lot more sleep and I feel less guilty about it. Sure, I go to bed at 8:30 p.m., but I feel so much better.

Happy Thanksgiving…I’m taking a nap!

A new look, a new name

My blog has been a bit spastic lately. I’ve changed its appearance several times this week, trying out a variety of looks and styles until settling on this one, and I’ve finally come up with a name. The boring “Amanda Haines” title was simply a placeholder while I waited for something creative to percolate.  It’s just taken me longer than I expected.

So, let me explain the new look and the new name.

First, the photo above is one I took while hiking with my stepmom Betsy in the hills south of Medford, Ore., last January. It was a great day and we caught a beautiful view. I love this photo. Plus, I grew up in that area and it reminds me of being a moody, creative teenager.

Second, the new name is one I’ve been cooking up in my brain for the past few weeks. It stems from an actual experience I had while running south of Eatonville. I got home and found a pine needle in my underpants. I have no idea how it got there, but it was a fantastic and unexpected surprise. Life often feels like having a pine needle in your underpants. It’s kinda funny. Kinda strange. And always unpredictable.

Plus, I think “underpants” is my favorite word of all time. It’s so wonderfully childish. Anything is funny when it has the word “underpants” attached to it. For example, “mass casualties” sounds awful, but “mass underpants casualties” sounds like a story I want to hear. (Maybe I should write that story? Hmmm.)

Let me know what you think of the changes.

When in doubt, list

Sometimes, a gal just needs to make a list. Here’s mine.

Things I Love Right Now

• CSI: I tend to run five to seven years behind in movies and TV, and this is a perfect example. I only recently discovered this show and I’m hopelessly addicted. Luckily, it’s in syndication and can be found on almost any channel around the clock. I love how disgusting and graphic it is, and how it kinda makes me barfy if I’m eating and watching at the same time.

• Solitaire: I’m not talking about that newfangled solitaire on the computer. I’m talking about real solitaire with real cards and no auto-shuffle. It’s very relaxing and makes me feel like a really boring Don Draper. Of course, like my grandma, I play until I win every night.

• Spray cheese: I got this for my dogs’ kongs (dog people know what a kong is), but I’ve been taking hits off it. As shameful as it is to admit, spray cheese is a strange and wonderful invention. I have no idea how it works or why it doesn’t need refrigeration, but a couple squirts on my dirty ol’ finger is darn tasty.

• Eggnog: I’m lactose-intolerant, but eggnog is totally worth the pain. Thank goodness I live alone.

• Anne Rice: I’m rereading her vampire books and loving them all over again. I read these as a teenager and, surprisingly, they really stand the test of time. Rice is a very gifted writer and escaping into an alternate reality is incredibly satisfying. (As a sidenote, I actually went to an Anne Rice book signing in college. She wore a weird wig like the one Rick James wore in the Superfreak video. It had gold braids in it and everything. She was nice, but kinda weird. I loved it!)

• “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down:” This is a Hank Williams Jr. song circa 1984. I’ve heard it twice in two days and I could hear it a million more times and never be tired of it. It’s rolling through my head right now. I love it. Hank Williams Jr. turned out some good stuff back in the day (before he got all Monday Night Football). If you haven’t heard the tune, check it out.

More later, I’m sure!

A rare serious moment

This Veterans Day feels harder than any other I can remember. The tragedy at Fort Hood and the spate of shootings in the week since, combined with the loss of so many of our Fort Lewis soldiers since the summer, has made today a difficult day. There have been so many lives lost and families destroyed, just in the past two weeks, that it’s hard to sit at my desk on this day and not feel that it’s a betrayal of what this holiday is supposed to mean.

To be honest, Veterans Day has never been on my list of “real holidays.” I have no family or friends in the military, and the two wars we’re fighting have touched me in no direct way. I’ve lost no one. I’ve missed no one. I’m very thankful for that.

However, not having that direct connection has made it difficult to understand the challenges our soldiers and their families face every day. I can’t imagine what it’s like in Afghanistan or Iraq right now or how horrible it must be to spend months, even years, away from a spouse or children. I can’t imagine being in such a dangerous place, knowing I might never come back. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose close friends in battle or not to know if the next road might be lined with bombs. I can try to understand, but the true reality of those situations is beyond my experience.

But, our soldiers are facing all of those things right now. That such brave people exist is truly remarkable. I couldn’t do it and I’m in awe of anyone who can. So, to all the soldiers out there and to all of their families, I’m sending a heartfelt thanks. Thanks for all the hard work you’ve done and continue to do. Thanks for volunteering your body and your heart so that the rest of us can go about the nonsense of our ordinary lives. Thanks for your sacrifice. Thanks for your strength. Thanks for your courage.