How I spent my Christmas vacation, by Amanda Haines

I spent the longish Christmas weekend in Southern Oregon with my family. Here are some of the highlights:

• My grandpa’s annual outburst. My grandpa is famous for saying wildly inappropriate things during holiday meals. His most famous gaffe was a few years ago when he pointed out how chubby I am and asked if I was pregnant again. This might only be considered rude had I actually been pregnant before, but I haven’t. I can only suspect he had me confused with my sister-in-law. Well, this year, he redeemed himself when he complimented me on my hair and told me I look “just like that blond gal from ‘Marley and Me.’” Yep, he thinks I look like Jennifer Aniston. He may be showing signs of early dementia, but I’m taking that one with me to the grave. I choose to believe it’s the honest truth. I look like Jennifer Aniston. My grandpa said so.

• The dog fights. My oldest schnauzer Barley (the silver one) is 28 pounds, but he’s the only one who isn’t aware of this fact. On two occasions over the weekend, he got in fights with my dad’s 80-pound dog, Auggie. The first scuffle was over a dog cookie. The second was because Barley was so jumpy after the first fight that he attacked Auggie when they were in too small a space together. When a lesser dog would back down, Barley doesn’t and occasionally, he gets in a tussle he can’t win. Fortunately, I’m always supervising him and I stand at the ready in case Barley’s moxie can’t be matched by his brawn.

• My dad’s gas. Since his religious awakening several years ago, most of my dad’s best qualities have disappeared (it’s a long, ugly story), but one thing has been so far unaffected by Jesus: his farts. My dad is a wizard at farting. He tried to squelch it for a while (apparently farting is un-Christlike? Hmmmm.), but it didn’t stick. Over the holiday weekend, he was in rare form. It warmed my heart to have a small bit of my original dad back, even if it was through such a stinky medium.

• Christmas Jello. My family never met a Jello salad it didn’t like. This one is among my all-time favorites. It’s squares of red and green Jello suspended in a semi-hard concoction of lemon Jello and sour cream. It’s amazing and festive. My grandma makes it whenever I’m in town for Christmas.

• Hikes with my stepmom. We went on two great hikes while I was in town. For both, we made it above the fog line, where the weather was incredibly warm and sunny, and the views were spectacular. The landscape in Southern Oregon is so vastly different than here, it’s nice to have that change of pace. Plus, I love hiking with her. I’d be her friend even if we weren’t related. We’re planning a trip up Mount St. Helens this summer. She is in incredible shape, so I fully expect her to kick my butt up the mountain.

I hope you all had a great holiday! More later.

I love the holidays

I have no genuine feelings for raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens (I’m allergic), but I agree with the sentiment behind this classic holiday song. The holidays are a time of favorites and here are a few of mine:

• Community holiday parades. This year, I went to Enumclaw to watch the holiday parade. It was truly magical in that it was about 18 degrees and there were more than 70 entries. My toes are still cold. But, I saw so many awesome things, including an all-donkey drill team, that reminded me why small towns are so wonderful. (Incidentally, it’s my New Year’s resolution to move to Enumclaw in 2010. I love it there!)

• All-Christmas radio. While I can do without the Miley Cyrus and Mariah Carey holiday songs, I’ll suffer through them to hear the classics. Few things get me in the holiday spirit like Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Elvis. I even get a little wild and crank up some Anne Murray.

• An old school Christmas tree. I am not ashamed to admit that I love colored lights and tinsel. I like over the top trees with eclectic ornaments and tons of flash. If you can’t go all Dolly Parton at Christmas, when can you?

Dougal and Barley

Dougal and Barley

• Pet portraits with Santa. This may qualify as animal abuse, but I take my dogs to Petsmart every year to have their photo taken with Santa. This year, Linda Buzbee got them adorable scarves, so they were even dressed up in the photo. Next year, there may be Santa hats involved.

• My portrait with Santa or a reasonable substitute. When it comes to the holidays, we all become 10 years old again. Saturday night at ZooLights, I had my photo taken. I was standing in a phony sleigh, wearing reindeer antlers, and standing next to a man in a reindeer costume. It was perfect.

Please use the comments section below to share your favorite things about the holidays. Remember, we’re all friends here, so if there’s something nutty you love, share it! It’s the holidays, you’re entitled to nutty. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

If Gary Puckett is my best strategy, I may be doomed

Since Dec. 7, I’ve been competing against a buddy of mine in Oregon to see who can adopt the most healthy behaviors in a 12-week period. We earn points for healthy meals and snacks, workouts, taking vitamins, sleeping eight hours, and a few other choice things. It’s a genius plan considering we’re both incredibly competitive and we like trash talking one another.

So far, I’m kicking his butt.

However, two weeks in, I can feel myself wanting to slip into old habits. This is about the time, whenever I’ve tried to adopt healthy lifestyle changes in the past, that my willpower and enthusiasm begin to wane and I find myself obsessing over cheeseburgers and pizza. Frankly, healthy eating feels like a drag sometimes.

This time of year is especially difficult since delicious treats are everywhere. Thankfully, my contest buddy and I agreed that Dec. 24-26 will be contest-free days. I will be free to eat what I want, but I plan to reign it in somewhat. I’d hate to undo all the hard work of the last two weeks with an orgy of butter and cookies. I’ll just keep chanting that ridiculous “Willpower, it’s now or never” song in my head until the urge to devour a gingerbread village passes.

(I’m still waiting for it to pass…damn, that’s an annoying song.)

Big baby no more

I had a personal milestone this week. Granted, this is very embarrassing to cop to in a public forum like this, but I assume there are others lurking about who are facing the same issue. Plus, there are, in reality, so few things to be genuinely ashamed of that this thing of mine couldn’t possible be one of them (I hope). So here it is…

Prior to Monday, I hadn’t been to the dentist in 12 years.

Take a minute to process that, if you must, but understand that part of the extended delay was not having dental insurance at any of my previous jobs. (Of course, that excuse fades when I consider all the cornball things I spent money on during that time. Speaking of which, has anyone seen my ThighMaster? Kidding.) The larger reason is more personal: I’m a big baby who is terrified of the dentist.

Of course, knowing this about myself, I’ve taken great care of my teeth in those 12 years. I brush. I floss. I swish a fluoride rinse. But, the guilt I harbored about neglecting such a critical part of my overall health (dental disease has been linked to all kinds of serious health conditions, including heart disease) weighed on me. I was terrified that when I actually did see a dentist, I’d learn something horrible and face countless painful procedures to correct the damage I’d done. Plus, I was ashamed that I’d waited so long. So, I kept putting it off.

Until Monday.

Thankfully, my new dentist is young, fun, and not at all scary. The hygienist was shocked it had been so long since my last cleaning, and I actually felt good that the healthy habits I maintained at home for those 12 years were enough to keep any serious problems at bay. In fact, I have not a single cavity and there are no complicated procedures in my future.

All that fear, all that worry, were nothing once I got my buns in that dental chair. It was an all-around pleasant experience. I even got a free toothbrush.

I guess there are two reasons I revealed this information to all of you. First, if you’re not already brushing and flossing religiously, start today. It makes a huge, huge difference. Second, if you’ve been putting off a checkup (dental or otherwise) make that appointment now. It’s not so bad. Trust me.