Harry: “Boy, the holidays are rough. Every year I just try to get from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year’s.”

Sally: “A lot of suicides.”

If you’re as old as I am, you might remember that little gem from the movie When Harry Met Sally. I watched that movie with my then-best friend at roughly age 14, and we laughed hysterically and pretended like we understood all of the funny sex references, which we most decidedly did NOT. Nevertheless, we’re still best friends, probably because we still don’t understand all of the sex references. But this blog post isn’t about sex, sadly (maybe the next one will be!), it’s about the holidays. Let me be very inclusive here: I am referring to the holidays however you celebrate them. Christmas, Hanukkah, Chanukah with the other spelling, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Canadian Thanksgiving… all of it. 

I asked my friend Sarah to help me with ideas for this little post, because she’s a freelance writer who actually makes her living at it (sort of, as long as she buys the cheap liquor and marries rich). I told her that my task was to write an article about how to survive the holidays, and she responded in a really cool way: “What’s to survive? What’s bad about the holidays?” Then she turned the question around and asked me what is good about the holidays, and I, ever the romantic sucker, responded “Both literal and figurative warmth. There is always a fire in the fireplace and most of the homes I go to actually turn on their heat, as opposed to me, because I’m cheap. And everywhere you go you’re greeted by people happy to see you.” She responded with, “Hmmm. I don’t think there’s a story there.” I should have said, “Presents,” because that’s what I really meant: I just didn’t think it was what she was looking for. Then she said that she’s in no position to posit, because the last holiday party she went to was the one my then-husband and I threw eight years ago, at which point I politely pointed out that it was actually fourteen years ago. But who’s counting? So, anyway, then Sarah asked if I knew where to purchase one of those gloves that you can put on that’s actually a dog brush, so that you can pet your dog and brush your dog at the same time, and since she doesn’t have a dog, I decided to end the conversation there, because we were about to get into weird territory, not that I’m opposed to that. But I had to focus. [As an aside, that party was super memorable because at the time we owned a paraplegic and incontinent Husky. Right when we were hoping that guests would leave, she waltzed (as much as a paraplegic dog can “waltz”—use your imagination and think attitude, not physically) into the middle of the living room, the I’m-not-lying-to-you-white-carpeted living room, and took a crap. And GUESTS STAYED! Man, we must have had a huge supply of alcohol. And, to be honest, we were also a very charismatic couple. And that incontinent dog was cray adorbs, as the kids these days would say.] 

So I’m going to do what I always resort to doing when I have to produce something, anything, in written form: I’m going to use a lot of colons and I’m going to write a list. 


Let’s start with the “don’ts” just in case you decide to stop reading early—I need to stop you from these faux pas’s’s before it’s too late. You’re welcome. 

1. DON’T ask your hosts if the water is gluten-free.

Friends and fellow runners, I’m not discounting your special dietary restrictions. Go ahead and have them, and embrace them, as I do my reliance on the nutrients jam-packed into Red Bull and Skittles. But you see, I don’t make that your problem. To wit: I don’t ask you to take out the green Skittles because they used to be lime-flavored and now they’re green apple, and while the apple flavor alone is fine, it no longer melds well with the “rainbow of fruit flavors” offered by the other four flavors. I don’t make this mistake for the reason that I am socially tuned-in, so I bring my own green apple-sorted-out Ziplocs of Skittles. I hide the green ones in your house plants, feed them to your paraplegic pets (if you’re cool enough to have them) and/or put them in your prescription medication bottles in the cabinets of your bathroom, which you full-well know I and every other guest snoops into. 

Gluten is an ingredient or enzyme or component or precursor or branch-chain-amino-acid form/part of wheat, and thus it cannot be in your water supply, unless you’re from Detroit, in which case I will give you a free pass to ask your hosts about the water. It could be in your beer, it will be in your pigs-in-a-blanket appetizers (and any party worth its salt will have pigs-in-a-blanket), but it cannot be in your water. So don’t ask. As a fun alternative, however, just pretend like you felt compelled to bring your own “water,” and put that water in a container commonly referred to as a flask, and then go ahead and put whatever the hell you want in there to make the party more interesting, especially if it’s a work party or a gathering at your in-laws. 

2. DON’T bring your foam roller and roll yourself in the middle of the main party-room. 

If you’re a chick, and most of you reading this Oiselle blog will be, you’ll likely be wearing a dress/skirt at the party (at least you should be—I’m willing to bet that you have really great legs), and foam rollers and short skirts/dresses don’t go that well together in polite company. And yes, I did say “polite” company, so therein lies your loophole, should you choose to utilize it. I’ll leave it at that.

On second thought, I’m never satisfied to “leave it at that.” The second loophole is that it’s okay to be the second person to do this so long as someone else starts it. Everyone rolling around on the floor together is the definition of either a post-workout pre-hab session or the definition of an O-R-letter after F-Y. Only you know the difference, and only you control the outcome. Merry Christmas.

3. DON’T you dare tell anyone that Santa isn’t real.

You know, this one isn’t in any way limited to runners or to parties. Just don’t be an asshole, and leave the magic of the season to those who still possess the capacity to believe in and create magic. Just because you’re green Skittle-averse/intolerant doesn’t mean that you have to ruin it for everyone else. And besides, if you try to expose some sort of conspiracy theory about Santa being make-believe, you’re likely to get your skinny-ass beaten up by Santa, or at least by one of his reindeer. 


4. DO bring a host/hostess gift. 

Choosing the perfect hostess/host gift will follow in a subsequent blog post, to be released sometime next month when I recover from writing this one and from my foam rolling party, fueled by straight-gluten shots. Stay tuned! Oh, the excitement (or tension/apprehension/potential lawsuit) is mounting…. 

5. DO challenge your entire family/party guests to some sort of bizarre physical challenge.

A few years ago my mother read some odd statistic that claimed that only 33% or something of adults over the age of 60 can get up off of the floor without using their hands. I would have LOVED to have been the researcher to come up with this hypothesis, write the grant, be granted the grant money, and conduct the study. What a hoot. So I did the next best thing and challenged all of the elderly in my family to this very task. My dad, a former Division I gymnast, had to get all athletic-y on the crowd and show off by doing some snazzy pop-and-lock breakdance move—I have to grudgingly admit that it was pretty badass given that he was 71 at the time. He nailed that move. My mother, using her wits instead of her athleticism, asked for further definition of “under your own devices” and asked if she could use furniture, pets, other family members, etcetera to get up, all the while understanding that her own hands were off-limits. She, too, came up with a creative approach and nailed the challenge. I decided that there should be additional rules stipulating that the younger you are, the fewer parts of your body you can use. I was limited to my chin and the toes of my left foot, and those under twelve were pretty much left with straight-up levitation.

Another year, when I was a wee lass of about ten, my brother, then about fourteen, decided that he was getting to be pretty tough and challenged me to hit him as hard as I could in the stomach. It was Christmas Eve, right before our big family holiday meal. He was so pompous and arrogant and really thought that his little sister could not possibly hurt him. So I reeled back with all of my probably fifty-pound-might and socked him real good, right in the gut. He tried to keep his expression stony, but we all noticed that he was unable to eat anything at the meal—nothing at all. The next year I decided that it was my turn to suffer, so I asked him to drop a baseball from increasing heights above my prone body onto my stomach. I protected my eleven-year-old lady parts with the C volume of the World Book Encyclopedias that we had been given the year before, and I’ll be darned if my brother didn’t get that baseball to drop all of the way from the second story. 

I will leave you with a warning: the Incredible Hulk Glove Catastrophe of 2006 provided all of us with a very valuable lesson that grandpas should not be punching their six-year-old granddaughters, even if those gloves do seem really foamy and soft. So do boxing gloves, and those can bring down full-grown professional athletes. Fill in the gaps of the story yourself (little Em is “okay,” and lasting effects from the traumatic brain injury are yet to be determined). 

6. DO perpetuate false notions about the nature of running in general and your own running in particular.

You know, this is far more fun than continually fielding the same questions and defending yourself against the same accusations. Try these responses instead:

Come to think of it… my knees ARE shot. My uterus IS an unhospitable environment. I DO suffer from self-hatred. I haven’t eaten a donut in over fifteen years. I am running away from responsibility and toward fulfillment in a way that will never bring me true peace or happiness. 

When I first started running cross country, my grandmother (and she was wicked tough, by the way, shoveling her own snow and mowing her own lawn until the day she died at age 92) asked me to describe the sport to her. I was a high schooler in the early-90’s in Iowa, and our races were only two miles. She responded in the following manner: “Two miles? Without stopping? Don’t you get out of breath?” I assured her that yes, stopping was generally frowned upon, and that also yes, I did indeed get incredibly out of breath. She encouraged me to instead join the glee club and then started muttering about when jeans would go out of style, because they have no place on anyone but laborers, and certainly not on women or even on men outside of the fields. And then she also started complaining about what an embarrassment it was to the family that I was so scrawny and that I was such a picky eater…. So just let people think what they want—it’s not your responsibility to allay any misconceptions. And let’s be honest with ourselves: some of them are true. My knees are kinda shot.

7. DO plan your training to coincide with events that you wanted to get out of, anyway. 

No one knows that your 20-miler was actually scheduled for Saturday morning and not for Wednesday evening, so go ahead and say that you have a very important workout to accomplish and will, sadly, not be able to attend the White Elephant Gift Party or Charity Ball or Cookie Contest. Be careful with this tactic, though, because not everyone (meaning hardly anyone) will accept this as a valid excuse to miss a holiday event. (It’s for the children! It’s for CHARITY!! It’s family, for the love!) And even you know that it’s a little weak to try to get out of your niece’s Winter Choral Concert Extravaganza because you’re doing a very important, key workout! And if you do miss an event, be sure to make that workout count. And buy your niece a puppy to make up for your rudeness—everyone loves a puppy at the holidays, anyway.

8. DO lighten up, already.

One of my first reactions when I see an actual article about “How to Be an Athlete, Above All Else, During the Holiday Season, When All of Your Not-Nearly-As-Impressive-As-You-Are-Friends-and-Family Are Gluttonously Stuffing Figgy Puddings into Their Faces and Getting Festively Tipsy,” is this—give it a rest. Everyone celebrates differently. If your idea of a great time is to do your 20-miler outside on the county roads of Iowa in ten degree weather and driving snow alongside the harvested cornfields, then do it—but don’t force others to hear all about it. Just run, and then enjoy the company of your family afterwards. Don’t do your sit-ups while watching Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. Just watch it. Do sit-ups in the privacy of your own bedroom, where this sort of activity belongs. Take yourself a little less seriously, because that’s what the holidays are actually all about. Not you and your constant striving. You do you, but have some fun, too. The holidays are about gifts… and family, and awe and wonder and whatever higher power you celebrate, even if that higher power is pie. So celebrate. Enjoy. Laugh.

If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can laugh at you? And you should allow others the opportunity to laugh at you, because your behavior is likely ridiculous, and you don’t want to deny your friends the opportunity to laugh directly at you, in your presence. This holiday season, give others the gift of your weirdness, and gladly receive the gift of theirs. We’re all just floating around on this planet, bumping into one another and then deciding if the collision was a fortunate or unfortunate occurrence. Make your collisions positive—make them count. Collide with people really hard, is what I’m saying. 

Bad eggnog… that’s something to survive. The holidays? Pure wonderment. What’s not to like about a paraplegic dog taking a crap on the white carpet in the middle of your holiday party or your brother dropping a baseball on your stomach from the balcony? How about setting an intention, a mantra, for the holidays: 

Make the holidays great again, Americans and fellow runners! When they go low, OISELLE FLIES HIGH!

Happy holidays, you crazy birdies.


November 14, 2016 — jbarnard

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