When Love (and Christmas) Looks Different

On the surface, it’s not particularly Christmas-y in this house. We spent last night watching the Biography channel and eating leftover pizza. My youngest brother and I did a puzzle together, aren’t we the coolest, and I fell asleep pretty quickly after midnight. No twinkling lights lit the pathway to my “bedroom,” a small mattress in the corner of my mother’s attic office. There is no snow on the ground. After a month of ugly exam-time eating habits, eggnog just seems like a bad idea.

The house isn’t decorated this year. It just isn’t.  My mother dragged a cheap, small tree into the bare living room yesterday. My brother proclaimed “It was only ten dollars!”. And I smiled because, oh man, this calm and relaxed version of Christmas is so much better than any National Lampoon-esque stressball.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

That brother is seventeen now. Another brother is twenty (twenty!) and the youngest, the baby, he’s fifteen. I joke that he’ll never be older than seven in my eyes, but really, he’s taller than me now. His shoulders are wide and his voice is deep and his mind is razor-sharp. He can tell a story and have the whole room crying from laughing. All the boys can. We were taught by the best.

No, it’s not Christmas-y in this house, not the way it used to be. We aren’t little any more. We have competing job schedules, friendships, health-stuff, plus ones. Maintaining the same old traditions would just be a headache.

There’s joy, though. It’s here, I can feel it. Sure, it’s not colour-coded in the usual green and red. There’s less of a soundtrack, less of a menu (though I did insist on sausage rolls, because how can you not?). The choreography is limited, though it never really went to plan anyways, did it?

No–the joy, this year, is in simply being able to get together for a little while and sit around and be grateful for those pesky jobs/friendships/health/plus-ones. And be grateful for the fact that, even as those come and go, we are still here. The joy is quieter, time feels different, but we are still here. 

So let’s be here, shall we?

Let’s be together in a place where expectations are small, smiles are genuine, and “Christmas magic” can be simple and quiet. Where we surrender control. Where we laugh in the face of “This wasn’t how it used to be.” It’s okay. You’re okay. You are here. We are here. God is here (in a pretty big and amazing way, or so the story goes).

Love looks different, it looks different every year, but we are still here. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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(The real reason) Why I am So Excited About Christmas

This is the first year I can say, with 100% honesty, that I am not excited about Christmas presents.

But I am excited. I’m up at 5 am with a tinsel-tinted adrenaline rush, and I feel like I should explain why.

– – –

I’m excited for a big family breakfast. For cheesy Christmas specials on DVD. For rum and eggnog at 12:00 sharp.  I’m all warm and fuzzy about the fact the family dog is sharing my makeshift mattress on mom’s office floor and that’s cool, puppy, my feet can hang off the bed. Really.

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Really, really.
I can’t wait to see little Mikey’s new haircut with bedhead. I will probably force a selfie upon him, if it’s particularly magnificent. And my father will probably photobomb it, because he’s hyped. We’re all hyped. We’re buzzing with the unspoken amazement that this year, finally, we’re all happy and healthy for the holidays.

Finally.   

I’m excited for the tacky, blurry photo evidence.

I’m excited about the snow, now that it’s not threatening my commute home.  About a real day off.  About my new discovery that singing a loud, off-key version of “Wrecking Ball” on my ukelele can pretty much persuade my brothers to do anything I want because “SHAUNA. STOP. PLEASE.” 

I’m excited for the beautiful weirdness of love looking like a family sitting around a souped-up tree.  I look forward to trading symbols of “I CARE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS,” I suppose. But that’s all they are. They’re symbols this year, and not particularly necessary ones. They’re excuses to hug people and to appreciate people, and that’s all. That’s all.

I’m excited for the hugs, too.

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Snapshot from the train ride home.

I don’t have too many expectations for Christmas 2013. I’m sure our poorly-mixed drinks will spill, often. People will disappear for naps, cutting well-intended board games off prematurely. There will be chipped nail polish, CDs that skip, and burnt food (because our oven is a menace). The zoo that is our family home–four kids, one dog, two hamsters, a bird, a snake, and an open door policy–will need tending to.

And, as always, I’m going suggest that we read the biblical version of the Christmas story.  And everyone is going to agree that this is an okay idea, I guess, but it’s not going to happen because we’re a little busy laughing right now.

And that’s okay, too, because we’ll write our own version.

We will tell it through awful puns and funny faces, through unseemly snapshots and battle cries of “YOU’RE SO ANNOYING” and “THAT’S SO AWESOME.” It’s the story about what happens when perfect love pays a visit to an imperfect world, and we’ll tell it. We always do. 

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And that is what I’m excited for this year. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Flashback Post: Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.

Originally published December 22, 2012.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to chat about the twenty-something lifestyle–or at least, figure out what exactly that means.  So many magazines/blogs are written for capital-T Teenagers, or maybe just overgrown Teenagers, who care about boys and boys and hair and boys. So many more magazines/blogs are written for capital-A Adults, with 2.5 kids, a golden retriever and a dishwasher.

I am neither of these things. I am a twenty-something woman–whatever that means.  I like boys and hair just fine, and family is great, but I’m not really in a position to zoom into any of those niched-out worlds. In my world, I read cracked.com, watch College Humour, and try to understand your favourite webcomics (usually, I even get the obscure jokes…or pretend to).  I try to care about the news.  I scroll down to the comments after paragraph #1 bores me.  I read almost anything put into a list, especially if it makes me laugh.  I enjoy the odd Capital-A Adult blog, if it’s candid enough.

But what of this directly relates to me? Not much.

Fact is, I can’t seem to buy into any “chicklet” journalism.  I also can’t fully skip into the world of those who seem to have their shit fully together, all tied up with a neat little mortgage and morning routine.  I’m not there yet. At all.

And so I’m here, writing about what “getting there” means.  I find myself constantly straddling  the “I totally know what I’m doing,” and “Dude, I know NOTHING.”  Maybe that’s just how life goes, but I’m feeling new at it.  I am new at it.

And, like many people who are “getting there,” I’m definitely new at doing Christmas like this.

I’m new at doing Christmas like a lowercase-a adult who’s very much in between traditions. Last year, I hosted our immediate family Christmas at my apartment–which was good, but weird. This year, I came down to my parents’ place for Christmas.  My parents live in the suburbs of a medium-sized city. The transit system is awful. The backyard is big.  I lived here for eight years, or so they tell me.

This is weird, too. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.

The family is different. We’re older. There used to be people here who aren’t here anymore.  Some have passed away, or otherwise walked away, but some just grew up.  Capital-T Teenage Shauna isn’t here anymore. Neither is the overzealous-about-family-crafts Mom.  All four kids used to live at this house, but now only half of us do.  The puppy is has clearly become a fully-grown dog in my absence.

Obligatory cute dog picture.
Obligatory cute dog picture.

It’s not that there isn’t enough love in the room.  It’s just that it looks and feels different, even though the room is the same.   Any expectations that I hold onto about good ol’ family Christmas are at risk.  I have to get my head around that.

I know that different is okay.

Today, I started feeling kind of odd as I hung new decorations, coordinated with the new furniture, with my newly adult-ish family. I didn’t expect it to feel quite so “new.”  I lived here for eight years, right?  I know these people. It’s December.  We got this.

…right?

It wasn’t wrong. The new stuff looks good.  It’s alright that we waited so long to decorate, that we were only half there, and that we didn’t go all out.  And it’s not a bad thing that we decided to grow up a bit–it has definitely done wonders for our conversation and cocktails. It’s okay that people and traditions change, or even that they sometimes leave altogether.

But it’s also okay if different doesn’t feel perfect right away.

People and traditions stay around so long as they’re good and healthy and make sense. And they leave when they’re done. This is the natural order of things.  It’s change. It makes room for other things to come in, it makes you appreciate that which is stays around, it gives you a basis with which to develop your own traditions.

But the process of un-learning and re-learning what to expect (or how to stop expecting) can be unsettling.  I felt that today.  After hanging those new decorations for a few minutes, I decided to take a breather.  The whole scene wasn’t really working for some reason.  Commence attitude adjustment in my old bedroom (now dad’s office). I looked out the window, read a couple Psalms, considered a nap.

Suddenly my phone went off. It was a friend of mine from Ottawa:

Move safely and be lovely ❤

What? That was perfectly timed, and completely unexpected.

I responded: Haha what a random message! But thank you.

She texted back: I was just thinking of you. Moving off to washington. I look forward to creeping photo albums.

This friend is not a person I knew back when I lived here.  I am not even a person I knew back when I lived here.

Would I trade my new life for some old decorations? Not a chance.  That doesn’t mean I have to be completely comfortable with this updated version of Christmas.  Not right away, at least. I just have to accept that it is the product of a lot of moving forward, and that moving forward is good.  This friend, and all my Ottawa friends, are great. My upcoming opportunity in Washington is fantastic.

I went downstairs.  I sat on a new chair, in front of a new computer, and pulled up a YouTube video I had just discovered.  My brothers, now old enough to face profanity, laughed through it with me. I suggested that after decorating (whatever that means this year) all six of us gather in the living room and watch the Christmas episodes of Community.  Unanimous agreement.  And so, armed with gluten free snacks for our growing number of celiac family members, we sat in front of the television.  Netflix streamed to us the meaning of Christmas according to NBC:

Maybe this Christmas is different. Maybe it’s going to be a little different each year.  I’m not going to like all the changes that happen in life. I might even sob in the face of some of them. But tonight proved that–with a little flexibility, a little creativity, and a lot of love–I can laugh in the face of some of them, too.

Move safely. Be lovely. Let different be.

7 More Reasons WestJet is Basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian Airlines

I’m a total fangirl for great marketing campaigns and above-and-beyond customer service.

(Yes, actually.)

So, no surprise, I was really into it when this video of WestJet’s epic Christmas miracle went viral.


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(If that made you shed a holiday tear or two, it’s cool. The internet feels the same way.)

Part of the appeal of this video was how genuine it was. This was a good company doing a good thing, and it got peoples’ attention…including mine.

But WestJet should have had our attention a long time ago. Why? Because they’re basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian airlines. Seriously.

Here are 7 stories/facts to back that up.  (Note: I have no affiliation with WestJet. Or with Mr. Rogers, for that matter. Zero. I’m just being a total fangirl here.)

1) WestJet employees helped a customer grieve the loss of his family dog.

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If you’ve ever lost a pet, you can relate to the heartbreak this blogger felt when his 7 year old family dog, Hunter, passed away unexpectedly last month. He bought a ticket for the first flight he could find–a 10 am West Jet departure–and headed to the airport. When he got there at 7:55 am, he realized there was an 8:15 flight about to leave. Twenty minutes. Never gonna happen, right?

That’s when things got amazing.

One of the WestJet check-in people must have spotted me. She immediately came from behind the counter and asked if I’m OK or needed help. I told her my dog had just died and I needed to just get home as soon as possible. I remember I had tears at this point. She then did the one thing for me I needed most at this point.  She gave me a big hug of support. She then told me I will be on the 8:15 flight. She called the gate and told them to hold the flight as they had a family emergency coming, rebooked me onto the flight seating me in the front row, and escorted me to the front of the security line. With a final hug she wished me well and sent me towards the flight.

You guys. You guys. I’m melting right now. How sweet is that?

Oh, and this wasn’t just one nice lady. It gets better.

During the flight I was trying to hold myself together as I had a bit of travel to do as yet.  One of the flight attendants noticed my tears, offered me some kleenex and asked if it was allergies. Again I explained my dog had just died. Immediately he stopped what he was doing and spent the next 10  minutes with me (it was only a 40 minute flight so that’s a lot of time!) The flight attendant and I shared stories and pictures. It was nice to be able to talk about Hunter with someone.

He goes on to say that  it only took him only 3 hours to get from that first Ottawa airport encounter to his doorstep in Kitchener. I live in Ottawa, and my family (including our dog, Ella) lives in Kitchener, so I know how fast that kind of travel time is. It’s fast.

I can only imagine how devestating and “I NEED TO GET HOME NOW NOW NOW” it would be if Ella passed away suddenly. I’m sure that compassion and solid service meant the world to this guy.

2) WestJet found a customer’s lost cat…then took her to a vet and flew her home for free.

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When WestJet employees found Willow, a customer’s missing cat, her grieving owner had already left the airport with a heavy heart.  The WestJet response? Totally spot on.

1) They contacted the owner, and gave her updates every step of the way.
2) They brought the cat to a vet immediately to make sure she was okay.
3) They flew the cat home free of charge.
4) When the story got press, they made sure to send out a tweet acknowledging an Air Canada agent who helped to coax the cat out.

The lost cat was not WestJet’s fault.  The kennel was not properly secured, and two cats escaped “after ground handlers picked up their kennel and the bottom fell out of it.” They had no obligation here, not really.  But they did everything they could anyways. Why? Because they’re awesome.

3) Not a cat person? Don’t worry. WestJet helps find missing kids, too.

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WestJet has a partnership with the Missing Children Society of Canada. That means they cover the flights of investigators traveling to find lost kids. It means they reunite families free of charge. It means they help with fundraising events.

And, it means that (like many MCSC partners) they have their employees out in the field looking for missing children. WestJet employees are active users of the CodeSearch app:

[Codesearch] allows MCSC the ability, with the help of local law enforcement, to send out geo-targeted alerts to individuals in the area where a child has gone missing or is expected to be located. Along with notifications, CodeSearch participants can also provide local expertise and resources.

Since abductors are likely to come to airports after taking a child, this kind of front line action is a big deal. They even had a month long campaign in 2011 called Give hope. Take action. where they “invited guests to write messages of hope to families of missing children.” Gold star, WestJet, gold star.

4) WestJet has a partnership with Disney Vacations. That means they have a freakin’ Mickey Mouse plane. Yeah.

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Just last week, WestJet released its new Disney plane, which features a handpainted Mickey Mouse on either side.

As an Ottawa tour guide, my bosses constantly reference Disney Vacations for its f’amazing customer service and general attitude…so the fact they’re trusting the airline to deliver the magic of Disney is serious business. WestJet even had a Mickey Mouse themed unvieling for staff, which is about the coolest internal marketing event I’ve seen ever.


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Also, they serve Disney-shaped cookies on board, so you’re welcome.

5) WestJet provides free flights for sick kids and families in need.

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From donating flights to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, to providing the David Foster Foundation with transportation to offsite medical care, WestJet is there for sick families and kids.

To me, this is not just solid corporate philanthropy–it’s also knowing and understanding customer values.  In Canada, where we so value our universal healthcare, it’s amazing to see a company like this stepping in and doing their part to make sure that a sick kid never, ever means unecessary family expenses.

6) What, an airline with an environmental commitment? Really?

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Yep. Obviously, transportation and environmentalism are never going to be best friends, but WestJet is certainly doing what it can. Specifically:

  • They invest in fuel-efficient jet aircraft.
  • They invest in technology and procedures that enable us to maximize operating efficiency and safety.
  • They invest in infrastructure to mitigate the environmental footprint of their ground operations.
  • They work in good faith with government agencies and regulators to develop rules and policies that further drive our operating efficiency and our ability to grow sustainably.

If that sounds vague, check out the technlogy they’re rocking: a lithium polymer-powered baggage tug, blended winglets, and one of the continent’s youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets.  Their Corporate offices in Calgary are even designed with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in mind. If you want to fly green(er), this is probably your best bet.

7) They treat their employees right.

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As this Toronto Star article details, WestJet’s great customer treatment can be traced back to great employee treatment.  Some highlights?

  • They call their employees “Westjetters.” Their HR department is referred to as “People.” (You know who else talks to/about their workers that way? Google. And who doesn’t want to work for Google?)
  • Employees are also called “owners,” thanks to WestJet’s generous profit-sharing program. Over 85% of employees own shares in the company, and WestJet matches employee stock one for one.
  • Front liners are given the freedom and trust to go the extra mile (according to one employee: “If there’s a guest coming in on a flight, and I see that we have an earlier flight going through, I can use my empowerment to see if I can find them something earlier.”)

Also…I mentioned the Mickey Mouse plane launch party, right? #swag

– –  – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – –

So, yeah. That viral video is pretty great. But consistently awesome corporate ethics are even better.

Looks like we could all learn a thing or two…from both Mr. Rogers and WestJet.

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Letting God Laugh at Us (is probably a good idea)

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”
– Woody Allen

I started teaching Sunday School this year. A group of 5 or 6 wonderful, wonderful wide-eyed girls (age 7 to 12) stare expectantly at me in our small church clubhouse, every week. Every. Week.

I don’t know why they’re all girls. It just worked out that way. Since my siblings are all capital-D Dudes, this is definitely new territory.

For better or for worse, I can be a wishy washy teacher. I know it, and so do the parents. I’m a goofy, guitar-strumming, United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist, so honesty and nuance rule the day: I can teach biblical literacy. I can teach general values. But, no, I don’t know what exactly really happened, or what exactly we’re supposed to get out of these stories. I have no indoctrination-esque end goal, not really. I just teach what I understand, whatever that means. And maybe the girls will be inspired and Jesus it up and light a candle. Or maybe, they will raise their hands and shout “Shauna, that’s craziness.”

As long as they’re using their minds and their hearts at all times, it works for me.

And so it goes: Insert life lesson here. Insert scripture here. We make thank you cards. We celebrate holidays (and normal days, too). We laugh and we read and we use way too much glitter. Money is raised for charity. Songs are written.

And sometimes the lesson doesn’t quite work. Sometimes there’s apathy, or chaos, or I am overshadowed by the air hockey table. (Why is there an air hockey table, you ask? I don’t even know. Because Canada.)

“Okay girls, I’m going to turn away from you for 10 seconds. When I turn back I want to see you all sitting calmly on the couches. 1…2…”

Last week, we were starting the Christmas story. Yeah. I was worried. The whole “Mary” narrative is a difficult subject for a United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist (who really doesn’t want to explain the word “virgin” to your 8 year old). My carefully-crafted plan was to talk about how our plans and goals are good, but God is great—basically, it was this article steeped in Bible-talk.

Yeah, my plan was to talk about how shaky plans are. I’m an irony whiz, clearly.

I pulled out the markers and paper, suggesting that the girls draw pictures of their lives 20 years from now. They took to the project immediately, drawing themselves as Olympians, doctors, zoologists, geologists, rebel graffiti artists… the works. Some of them were very careful, drafting their dreams in pencil first. One was hyper-detailed and ambitious, another was just plain goofy. By the time I was ready to explain the point of the exercise, they were too excited by their dreams to really care about my message. I wrapped it up quickly:

“You guys get what I’m saying, right? No? Yes? Good. Okay.”

My plan hadn’t really worked. Their plans were strewn around the classroom in bright, goofy marker.

And somehow, it was all perfect anyways.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  I used to see these words as an invitation to avoid plans altogether.  But as I felt my classroom shake with the joy of best laid possibilities, I reconsidered.  

What’s wrong with making God laugh, exactly?  

God probably likes to laugh. Laughter is good. Silliness and vulnerability and hope are good.  

Plans are not bad in and of themselves. They’re actually kind of beautiful. Those dream-fueled drawings in my Sunday School classroom were beautiful.  Same with the laid-back, loving lesson plans. Same with your fallible to do list, daydreams, and drive for the future.

Plans happen when our gifts and dreams and brainwaves and feelings manifest into a motivational timeline. And when those plans don’t totally come to fruition, that doesn’t mean they were wrong. It just means something else became right.  It means that life is beautiful in a very different way than plans are beautiful. 

If you can be idealistic enough to plan something, but reasonable enough to not be debilitated by disappointment when that plan doesn’t work out, then do it. Do it. And then change it.  And then change it again.

For my part, I’m going to continue making and breaking lesson plans. The girls are probably going to keep dreaming and suggesting.  We’re all going to keep changing. And that’s okay. That’s okay.

We’re just making God laugh. I’m sure (S)He doesn’t mind.

 

6 Great Gift Ideas for Guys

I have three little brothers.

If you’re a regular reader who didn’t already know that, this might give you a case of the “OH! That explains so much!” because…yeah.  Living in a male-dominated household has had more than one effect on me.  Sometimes I laugh at jokes that are less-than ladylike.  I can’t host Super Bowl parties, because I give up on actually hosting once the game comes on (confirmed: ability to run for beers between downs).  Last night, I went to Django Unchained–when Terantino comes around, Les Mis will just have to wait.  And although I never got too into cars or video games, I can pretend to care like a boss.

BUT AT LEAST I DRESS CLASSY LIKE THIS. Right?
AT LEAST I DRESS CLASSY LIKE THIS. Right?
(okay, so this is more accurate)
(yeah, this is more accurate)

Perhaps this would have happened without the male influences–my mom has a tomboy streak herself (though she also had 6 brothers growing up).

For the little brothers, Christmas and birthdays are a time for me to drop the “pretending to care” and, you know, show that I actually care—maybe not about Halo, but definitely about the boys themselves. Typically, this is done with a present.

Yikes.

Buying gifts for dudes sucks. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my HUGE blessing of having so many fantastic men in my life became a serious curse. They’re so different:  The youngest and I will talk on the phone for hours about football standings and lockout drama.  The oldest is a minimalist and gamer who just moved out (the “strong but silent” type, let’s say). The middle brother is outdoorsy, social, hilarious, and looks too much like Justin Bieber to be up to any good.  They’re all wonderful, and funny, and I could legitimately brag about them ALL DAY.   But I cannot figure out what to buy for them, at least not without a solid dose of creativity or inspiration. And even though they’re always like “Dude. Timmy’s card. It’s really not that hard, Shauna,” I feel like I need to…not do that. Because my siblings are a huge blessing, and I want to do my best to show them that.

Though a Timmy’s card is a pretty great gift, too.

This Christmas, the boys (my three brothers and dad alike) did pretty well, despite how painful the picking was. Between each other, myself, my mother (and the dog, for some reason) we ended up figuring it out. And since I know what a pain it can be, I thought I’d  share with you some of my favourite gifts for guys that came out from under our tree:

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Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to chat about the twenty-something lifestyle–or at least, figure out what exactly that means.  So many magazines/blogs are written for capital-T Teenagers, or maybe just overgrown Teenagers, who care about boys and boys and hair and boys. So many more magazines/blogs are written for capital-A Adults, with 2.5 kids, a golden retriever and a dishwasher.

I am neither of these things. I am a twenty-something woman–whatever that means.  I like boys and hair just fine, and family is great, but I’m not really in a position to zoom into any of those niched-out worlds. In my world, I read cracked.com, watch College Humour, and try to understand your favourite webcomics (usually, I even get the obscure jokes…or pretend to).  I try to care about the news.  I scroll down to the comments after paragraph #1 bores me.  I read almost anything put into a list, especially if it makes me laugh.  I enjoy the odd Capital-A Adult blog, if it’s candid enough.

But what of this directly relates to me? Not much.

Fact is, I can’t seem to buy into any “chicklet” journalism.  I also can’t fully skip into the world of those who seem to have their shit fully together, all tied up with a neat little mortgage and morning routine.  I’m not there yet. At all.

And so I’m here, writing about what “getting there” means.  I find myself constantly straddling  the “I totally know what I’m doing,” and “Dude, I know NOTHING.”  Maybe that’s just how life goes, but I’m feeling new at it.  I am new at it.

And, like many people who are “getting there,” I’m definitely new at doing Christmas like this.

I’m new at doing Christmas like a lowercase-a adult who’s very much in between traditions. Last year, I hosted our immediate family Christmas at my apartment–which was good, but weird. This year, I came down to my parents’ place for Christmas.  My parents live in the suburbs of a medium-sized city. The transit system is awful. The backyard is big.  I lived here for eight years, or so they tell me.

This is weird, too. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.

The family is different. We’re older. There used to be people here who aren’t here anymore.  Some have passed away, or otherwise walked away, but some just grew up.  Capital-T Teenage Shauna isn’t here anymore. Neither is the overzealous-about-family-crafts Mom.  All four kids used to live at this house, but now only half of us do.  The puppy is has clearly become a fully-grown dog in my absence.

Obligatory cute dog picture.
Obligatory cute dog picture.

It’s not that there isn’t enough love in the room.  It’s just that it looks and feels different, even though the room is the same.   Any expectations that I hold onto about good ol’ family Christmas are at risk.  I have to get my head around that.

I know that different is okay.

Today, I started feeling kind of odd as I hung new decorations, coordinated with the new furniture, with my newly adult-ish family. I didn’t expect it to feel quite so “new.”  I lived here for eight years, right?  I know these people. It’s December.  We got this.

…right?

It wasn’t wrong. The new stuff looks good.  It’s alright that we waited so long to decorate, that we were only half there, and that we didn’t go all out.  And it’s not a bad thing that we decided to grow up a bit–it has definitely done wonders for our conversation and cocktails. It’s okay that people and traditions change, or even that they sometimes leave altogether.

But it’s also okay if different doesn’t feel perfect right away.

People and traditions stay around so long as they’re good and healthy and make sense. And they leave when they’re done. This is the natural order of things.  It’s change. It makes room for other things to come in, it makes you appreciate that which is stays around, it gives you a basis with which to develop your own traditions.

But the process of un-learning and re-learning what to expect (or how to stop expecting) can be unsettling.  I felt that today.  After hanging those new decorations for a few minutes, I decided to take a breather.  The whole scene wasn’t really working for some reason.  Commence attitude adjustment in my old bedroom (now dad’s office). I looked out the window, read a couple Psalms, considered a nap.

Suddenly my phone went off. It was a friend of mine from Ottawa:

Move safely and be lovely ❤

What? That was perfectly timed, and completely unexpected.

I responded: Haha what a random message! But thank you.

She texted back: I was just thinking of you. Moving off to washington. I look forward to creeping photo albums.

This friend is not a person I knew back when I lived here.  I am not even a person I knew back when I lived here.

Would I trade my new life for some old decorations? Not a chance.  That doesn’t mean I have to be completely comfortable with this updated version of Christmas.  Not right away, at least. I just have to accept that it is the product of a lot of moving forward, and that moving forward is good.  This friend, and all my Ottawa friends, are great. My upcoming opportunity in Washington is fantastic.

I went downstairs.  I sat on a new chair, in front of a new computer, and pulled up a YouTube video I had just discovered.  My brothers, now old enough to face profanity, laughed through it with me. I suggested that after decorating (whatever that means this year) all six of us gather in the living room and watch the Christmas episodes of Community.  Unanimous agreement.  And so, armed with gluten free snacks for our growing number of celiac family members, we sat in front of the television.  Netflix streamed to us the meaning of Christmas according to NBC:

Maybe this Christmas is different. Maybe it’s going to be a little different each year.  I’m not going to like all the changes that happen in life. I might even sob in the face of some of them. But tonight proved that–with a little flexibility, a little creativity, and a lot of love–I can laugh in the face of some of them, too.

Move safely. Be lovely. Let different be.

“Coming In Out of the Blue”: Resources for Those Who Find the Holidays Hard

The holidays aren’t fun for everyone.  For many, Christmas season brings heightened instances of depression, stress, or anxiety.  It can also be a particularly difficult time for those who are grieving.  Here are some (Ottawa-based) events, resources, and articles to help support people struggling with mental health or grief this holiday season.  Please let me know if you have anything to add to this list, and share it around–no one should feel alone.

December 18:  The Royal mental health care & research centre is offering a “Coping Through the Holidays” support group for families touched by mental health during the holidays. 6:00 to 7:30 pm at The Royal, 1145 Carling Avenue, Room 1420.

December 20: Coming in Out of the Blue” service at MacKay United, a quiet Christmas service for those who find the holidays difficult.

Anytime Resources:
– Free meditation groups are offered all over the city (and country, and world)
– Churches are usually full at this time of year, and worth visiting for a bit of peace and community
Similarly, the Chaplain’s Office at the Ottawa Mission is popular for those going through especially hard times
– If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the Mental health crisis line at 613-722-6914 (toll free from anywhere: 1-866-996-0991)

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[photo by Samantha Polzin]

Articles:
Surviving the Holidays  – Full website designed for those grieving during the holidays, via GriefShare

How to Help Ourselves Through the HolidaysFor those grieving a loss during the holidays, under “Articles,” via Bereaved Families

Fact Sheet on Holiday Stress
For those feeling overwhlemed, via Canadian Psychological Association

Stress, depression, and the holidays: Tips for coping
via Mayo Clinic

Holiday Grieving: How to Best Support the Mourning this Time of the YearFor family/friends of those grieving over the holidays. Rule #1: Listen. via Dr. Cara Baker

Christmas DIY: Holiday Season Earrings

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This year, I decided to add a couple things to my holiday season closet. First on the list was a red cocktail dress. It came to my attention earlier this month that my only dress appropriate for any sort of big-kid-party is…well, it fit me in Grade 10? Yeah. Living the dream.

I may need to get rid of some of this high school stuff.

I found the dress (which I will post ALL about soon, dun’worry), and decided was time I put together some Christmas season jewelry. So last night, after mashing up “99 Problems” and “Where’d You Go?” on my keyboard and eating chicken that I’m 80% sure was properly cooked (you know, typical lifestyle choices), I pulled out the old craft supplies.  When my roommate walked in to see my wire, glue, pliers, and bead organizers laid out on across kitchen table, he looked slightly confused.

“I didn’t know you made jewelry.  This explains so much. Like why there are always single earrings lying around.”  He paused. “But it still doesn’t explain why they are always on the first step of the front porch.”

(I promise I’m a good roommate. I think.)

I hadn’t made earrings in far too long, so I put together some simple pieces to start:

Basic beaded earrings
Basic beaded earrings
Red & green chains (the result of a painstaking 20 minutes spent struggling with beading pliers)
Red & green chains
Christmas tree studs
Christmas tree studs

Next, I found some old unused holiday trinkets lying around, like small ornaments and decals.  Using wire & glue, it’s easy to add some earring hooks to just about anything:

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These are the smallest bulbs from a set of ornaments I bought last year. Facial expression gets the same justification as the first image.
These are the smallest bulbs from a set of ornaments I bought last year.

(Note: Blame the facial expressions and general headspace on the fact that I had just finished “rapping” to my broken keyboard when this picture was taken.  Because that’s what all the cool kids do.  And this is the face all the cool kids make.)

I also decided that this year, I wanted to have some jewelry that connected me to my spirituality–I feel like the usual cross symbol doesn’t really fit the whole birthday theme.  I decided to snip some of bits of the birth story out of the New Testament to make this necklace and earrings:

Matthew on the earrings (1:22-23 and 2:11-12)
Matthew on the earrings (1:22-23 and 2:11-12)
Luke 2:10-15 on the necklace. Pretty sure Charlie Brown and Linus would be down with this one. ;)
Luke 2:10-15 on the necklace. Pretty sure Linus and the rest of the Charlie Brown Christmas crew would be down with this piece. 😉

I’m thinking that’s enough creativity (and patience-testing meddling with wire) for today!  Between the red dress and the Christmas-themed jewelry, I am all set to go for my holiday season shindigs!

[Note:  I ever use the term “holiday season shindigs” in real life just…make me leave.]

Dear “Away in a Manger”: You’re wrong. That baby totally cries.

I believe in crying.

I have lived through months where I needed to cry almost every day and night, and I have lived through months of only really needing to cry at movies (or songs…or commercials…). I cry when I’m overwhelmed, when I don’t understand, when things are just too much. My tears wash things away. I have been blessed with the ability make it rain a little bit every time I need it. And sometimes, I really need it.

I cry. And the things that make me cry, so often, are the things that make me pray.

I’m not trying to isolate all my readers who don’t pray. I know a lot of you don’t. But to me, prayer and tears go hand in hand. The things that make my eyes leak are usually the same things that bring me to my knees.

Jesus wept, too. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, it makes perfect situational sense, and it’s super powerful. Of course Jesus wept.

The Jesus I met at Christmas when I was a kid, however, apparently did not weep. You know, Baby Jesus. The one who had just been born. He didn’t cry. He was a special baby. He was a perfect baby. God’s son can’t cry.

I’m calling bullshit. Right now.

(…sorry, that scene still makes me giggle like a middle schooler. I digress.)

We try to paint Jesus’ birth as divine, thus peaceful, thus quiet. By that logic, He didn’t cry. But why? Birth is messy and loud and painful. Babies cry. Ironically, that crying baby is how we know that all is well. That is how we know that they’re alive.

Crying is a part of the gift of life–and it stays that way. Every now and then, I cry out to the world, to my mother, to God. I cry because I’m scared, happy, empathetic, in pain. I cry because I’m feeling so much I’m leaking. Through crying my feelings are legitimized, communicated, and dealt with. Through crying, I know that I’m alive.

So, why not let baby Jesus cry? Would that make his birth TOO real, TOO human, TOO chaotic? Calling bullshit once again. Come on. First of all, when have blessings or plans or love ever been anything less than chaotic? Love is chaotic. Life is chaotic. Jesus definitely shook things up. And birth?

God doesn’t make things easy. He makes them profound. And, as far as I can tell, nothing embodies that combination of chaos and love we call Life quite like the messy, painful, beautiful process of childbirth. That cry from the baby means he or she is alive. It means he or she is feeling. Why would we want to take that away from Jesus, of all people?

Maybe it’s because, for some reason, we have categorized crying as a weakness instead of a gift; Something we do because we just can’t handle life, rather than something we do to HELP us handle it. Tears equal temper tantrums. This is sometimes true (see also: my reaction to yet another computer glitch last week. erlack.), but not always. Sometimes, we genuinely need to react. We need to turn to faith, friends, family, ourselves–and sometimes, we need to cry. Certainly, we need to cry when our lungs capture that painful first gasp of air.

Isn’t that amazing? From our first breath, we can communicate through our cries. Tears are part of a complex universal language. It’s what we use to greet the world. It’s what many of us use to feel and to question it. And it is a huge part of the messy, messy reality of childbirth.

So, no, I don’t understand why we try to paint Jesus’ birth as less profound than a regular birth. I say “less than” because I think that to remove any element from the true birth process would just take away from it. It’s pretty friggin’ amazing the way it is. It really makes no sense to remove the noise and the tears, to remove that first moment that the baby cries out “I’M HERE. I FEEL THIS. I’M ALIVE.”

What Would Baby Jesus do bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?
WWBJD bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?

What would Baby Jesus do? He would cry. Just like adult Jesus cried. And don’t for a minute tell me that would make His birth any less divine–after all, what could be more divine than the first sound of a new life?