Counting Down: CD Case Advent Calendar

IMG_0849 (2)

Alright, brace yourselves.  Here’s a confession for you.  Ready?

…I don’t really like chocolate.

Maaan, it feels so much better to just SAY it.

I don’t really like chocolate, but I do like tradition.  I like family.  And my childlike excitement in December is still ever-present, even if my sweet tooth is long gone.

After moving out, I tried to continue with the advent calendar thing. It didn’t really work.  Every year, I would buy a chocolate advent calendar at the grocery store. And every year, I would neglect this calendar. My roommates would end up taking it over after the first few days. Why?  Because I don’t really like chocolate, guys. It sucks.

This year, I decided to do something different. I decided to make an advent calendar.  The specifications were simple:

1) What went inside the advent calendar would have to reflect what was important to me about even having one: family, tradition, and just having something to smile about in the morning.
2) No spending money, especially not on 24 cutesy boxes. If the project was going to cost anything, it couldn’t cost more than the cheesy inexpensive chocolate calendars from the grocery store.
3) It would have to be awesome.

I looked around the apartment for inspiration. Do I have 24 of any sort of container? How can I make this work?  The answer, it seems was right outside my bedroom door:

And for my second confession of the day...yes, I own the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
And for my second confession of the day…yes, I own the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

Oh right! Music! There’s something that I’m…well, marginally obsessed with, actually. This means that I have a ton of CDs–we’re talking boxes in the back room full, along with this sample.  I have a ton of CD cases, too. CD cases can hold notes. Notes can be awesome. Wheels are turning now.

I called my parents and the siblings who still live at home, Mike and Adam, to ask if they were up for the creative task.  I told them the notes could be anything, as long as they could fit in a CD case and were folded/enveloped.  My friend Caitlin jumped in and put together the first few, just in case my family contributions didn’t show up in the mail by December 1st. And, of course, I sent out a request to my two favourite little artists.

The notes could be anything, really:

  • Recipes
  • Doodles, drawings
  • Comics
  • Photographs
  • Articles cut out of magazines/newspapers
  • Warm fuzzies
  • Quotes
  • Project ideas/inspiration
  • Challenges or reminders (random act of kindness, call me, etc)
  • Memories
  • Little haikus or poems

That took care of the inside of the advent calendar. Now, I just had to get my CD cases in seasonal shape to make for a cute display.

Using seasonal paper to ready the CD cases!
Using seasonal paper to ready the CD cases!
You can use old cards, wrapping paper, or decorative seasonal paper for the covers.
You can use old cards, wrapping paper, or decorative seasonal paper for the covers.
All about the music!
All about the music!
The CD cases, ready to be stuffed with notes!
The CD cases, ready to be stuffed with notes!
Searching for the right number every day is part of the fun, so  I mixed the numbers up a bit,
Searching for the right number every day is part of the fun, so I mixed them up a bit.

There you have it! I will definitely keep you updated on how the notes turn out. Knowing how my crazy brothers greet these challenges, I’m sure they will be anything but boring.

Let’s do this thing, December.

Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community

On Saturday morning, I woke up to snow on the ground. My feelings about this were mixed, as always, but two things were fully certain: 1) I needed to celebrate this; 2) My Facebook friends get WAY too worked up over precipitation.

In my own overzealous logic, I decided that this snowfall called for an urgent, impromptu pre-Christmas party. Where? My place. When? NOW. The decorations are coming out, ladies and gentlemen.

I searched high and low for the perfect cheese fondu and hors d’oeuvres to compliment this fluorescent…thing from the 80s. It was a serious, serious mission.
Also a serious, serious mission.

This got me thinking. As crazy as the work/school side of December is, we all know that it is ultimately a friends & family time of year. We’re going to hang out. We’re going to eat, drink, and be merry. So why not do the kind of partying that makes a positive impact in the community?

Turns out, there are several incredible ways to do just that–all it takes is a little creativity and pre-planning. Here are some of my favourites:

Hosting for Hope. If Chatelaine magazine and Homesense get together to advocate something, I take note. That’s how I learned of Hosting for Hope, a program which invites people to throw beautiful seasonal get-togethers (awesome) while supporting local shelters for battered women (double awesome). If you plan on hosting a holiday party, why not sign up? A $50 donation through Hosting for Hope will get you a $25 Homesense gift card, and after asking guests to donate in lieu of a hostess gift–tada! Your party just made a huge difference in someone’s life. Triple awesome.

The Mitten Tree. The church I attend, Mackay United, has been collecting mittens and scarves for un-mittened/un-scarved folks in the community with a mitten tree. When I mentioned it to a friend of mine who knits, she suggested we get together to make some warm clothing to donate. I’ll pass her idea on as a challenge to you: if you know how to knit, and your friends know how to knit, then just skip the lame coffee date and have a knitting date instead.When you’re done, you can donate your creations to organizations that keep people warm.

Blood Donation Party. I actually know someone who did this every year, and it worked out quite nicely. Before throwing a holiday party to see old friends, he invited people to come to the blood donor clinic. This was a tradition, the same time every year, so people could count on making the appointments together (with some new faces every year, of course!). Those who were able to give blood could catch up with each other while they joined together to give the gift of life.

Christmas Hampers Project. Centretown United makes hampers to provide necessities for less fortunate families in Ottawa, “Because some holiday wish lists are more basic than others.” Apply to adopt a hamper by November 30th, or get some friends together to donate your time. The project needs volunteers for packing hampers from December 17th-20th and delivering them on the 21st. Get more information here.

Food Bank Events. The holidays are a big time of year for the Food Banks around the country. There are several different events in support of the Ottawa Food Bank that you can check out for a night out this season, like the Hintonburg Public House Holiday Fundraiser or the Santa’s Souper Singers concert. Food bank events for the city are listed here.

Spread Some Joy. One of my best Christmas memories is of visiting a local senior’s home with my girl guide troupe, armed only with homemade cookies and badly sung Christmas carol renditions. Homes like St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa are often looking for people to come in and keep residents entertained and smiling. If you and a friend like playing board games or cards anyways, why not bring your hobby to a retirement home? Who better to include in good times than our senior citizens?

Running on Empties. December 15th marks the 25th annual Running on Empties fundraiser! The Christmas Exchange program will have volunteers posted outside of every beer store until 5:30. You can sign up to be one of these volunteers, or take a moment to bring in those empty bottles (say, the ones left over from your Hosting for Hope party!) to help them reach this year’s $20,000 goal!

Alright readers–now it’s your turn to let me know what you plan on doing to hang out/help out this year! Any of these ideas strike your interest? Anything I’ve missed? Keep the conversation going in the comments, on my page at www.facebook.com/Shaunanagins, or Follow my blog with Bloglovin. When it comes to partying hard and loving even harder, there are never too many great ideas.

Special thanks to Sam Polzin for providing the photography in this post. Look forward to seeing some more of her work in weeks to come!

I Don’t Know What “Home” Means…But I Think it Involves Dollar Store Tinsel

One of my friends/readers tweeted me some really great blog requests for December:


Her bonus points didn’t last long. The suggestions were rad, of course, but I soon realized that she had spelled #shaunanagins wrong. And that I had spelled #shaunanagins wrong. I’m not going to even point out the irony in that.

The reason these were really great requests, besides that they fit into the student-sized Homestyle portion of this blog, is because I totally know this stuff. I love this stuff. I’m all over the gift-giving and decorations, especially in the homemade/reasonably priced department. This is something my requesting friend knows well. It’s something that You probably know well, too, if You’ve been reading the blog for awhile.

Okay, that’s nice and all, but…WHY? Why am I so into this stuff? Am I  really a future Pinterest mom?  I crash on couches!  I take the bus!  I crave chicken wings! I wear my scarves as shirts! I’m wearing mismatched Green Bay Packers socks RIGHT NOW, and the classiest thing I’ve done all month is *try* to walk in stilettos.

This is what the kids call “swag,” right?

All that may be true. But it’s also true that I love red lipstick and wedding shows and lingerie. I make a mean homemade lasagna.  I wear my scarves as shirts (yes, this fits into both categories). I have personally hosted a fondue party. And, of course, I have a blog that shares recipes and decoration tips on a weekly basis.

I have no kids to keep alive. Does this mean I have time to make soap?

I actually relate to both of the women on this meme.  There probably will be a day where my mismatched NFL socks and I will attempt to make soap.  It will probably be very messy. Reindeer-shaped treats are on the December agenda, but this will DEFINITELY be messy. And, no surprise, my friend/reader wants me to blog about homemade gifts and decor. Messy or not, she knows exactly how down Shaunanagins is for that kind of content.

But WHY?

I think I need to address why decorating and getting into the season is so important. I know that it can be regarded as materialistic, or frivolous–after all, having “stuff” that you don’t technically need to survive is involved, which at least makes it a luxury. I get that. But despite my many, many flaws (recall: *trying* to walk in stilettos), I do not think my desire to decorate is one of them. It’s not a bad thing. Or even a frivolous thing, really.  It’s creative and it brings people together–if it’s done right, at least.

Decoration isn’t a status symbol. It’s not a red, green, and gold announcement that I shopped at The Bay last boxing day.  It’s not even a red, green, and gold announcement that I got a little crazy at the dollar store.  It’s a red, green, and gold announcement that my house is a home, and that You’re invited to take part in whatever that means for this time of year. It’s the homemaking equivalent of making eye contact and smiling at people as you walk down the street. Some of my inherited decorations are painfully gaudy, cheesy, or just plain unnecessary. But I’ve made memories with them, and I want to continue making memories with them.

At age six, I met a girl whose family, following her father’s job, had moved to Canada for a few months. Because they were only here for a short time, they had very little with them from England. Upon hearing about the temporary bareness of their home and unfamiliarity with Canadian Christmas, my parents immediately set their hospitality into overdrive. My new friend’s family came with us to see the lights at Waterloo Park. They joined our family tradition of skating at City Hall. And, most importantly, my parents showed up at their door in December with a box of spare decorations to fill some of the otherwise empty space.

I didn’t know this story until a couple years ago. I’ve remained close with that girl–we never lost contact, and her family moved back to Canada a few years later.  When her mother recounted the story to me over a decade later, she still had the most amazingly touched look in her eyes.  My neighbors overheard us talking about my parents’ decoration donation and quickly joined the conversation.  They recalled their first Christmas in the neighborhood, far from their extended family and without traditions to stand on. They, too, were incredibly touched by the holiday season they were always invited to next door.  I don’t mean we had a cool one-night Christmas party–I don’t remember us ever having a “Christmas party.” But we had a decorated house, a full fridge, a schedule of the TV Christmas specials, and an open door policy.

A decorated home with an open door policy is the best. It’s amazing to live in. It’s amazing fill with people. And, now that I’m a big kid, it’s amazing for me to be able to make one for myself. A couple years ago, my parents’ box of spare decorations ended up on another bare doorstep: mine. The box was filled with tacky, cheap, memory-filled Christmas stuff.  Just stuff, really. But I fully teared up with joy while putting everything up.  My roommate and I spent hours with eggnog and a weird Christmas trivia book found in the box. It made a difference. There’s no doubt about it.

Last year, I ended up hosting my three brothers and parents in Ottawa for Christmas.  I knew what to do. I had learned from the best. We didn’t need decorations to have a good Christmas, but it sure helped make the place feel like…well, like “home.” I don’t know exactly what “home” is, but I think that (for me, at least) there’s a month a year where it involves tinsel.

When I post about homemade gifts and ornaments and silly-looking wreaths and warm recipes…I guess someone could be cynical and see it as a cutesy, first-world-esque response to a commercialized holiday. But I want You to know it’s coming from a very real place: A place that has brought a lot of people together.  A place that, during some of the harder years, has helped keep me together. And a place that, because I’m the coolest kid in town, got me procrastinating by making these the other day:

It’s also possible that I just really like stickers.

…okay, now I’m just showing off my cut & paste skillz. But that’s for another post.

Let the games begin!

Giving Squared: Stocking Stuffers that Support Charity

Christmas time is coming, and we all want to show that we care. We want to buy the best gifts, to help those in need, to give as much as we can.

In related news, we’re all ridiculously broke.

Luckily, there are some  affordable gifts which offer the best of both worlds: products that return profits to charity. Yes,  it would be great if we could just donate to charity directly. We should donate to charity directly. But, right or wrong, that look on a loved one’s face when they receive the perfect gift Christmas morning often takes precedent. Shopping for the perfect gift with charity in mind, however, can end with a major win-win.

I only posted products that give at LEAST 100% of net profits to charity (some products, like the Charity Pots, actually cover production costs and donate every cent of the sale). Note, of course, that a lot of these products are sustainable or fair trade, so overhead costs may be higher–for good reason.

(note: the pictures on my blog almost always belong to me, but the pictures used in this post were taken from vendors’ websites)

Sold by: Caring & Sharing Ottawa (in cooperation with Hallmark)
Cost:
$15
Charity: Caring & Sharing Ottawa

The ornament features a backing of copper that once covered the roofs of Canada’s Parliament Buildings. Very cool piece of Canadian history!

Sold By: Lush
Price:
$22.95
Charity: Variety of grassroots organizations (pick your favourite to support!)

Every cents (before taxes) that you spend on this product goes directly to the grassroots charity you choose. Also, it smells SO GOOD.

Sold by: Global Benefit Coffee Company
Price:
$13.95-$20.00, plus shipping & handling
Charity: The Water Project–profits will help build more wells in Rwanda

I’ve mentioned how much I love coffee before, right?

 

Sold by: Philosophy
Price: $20
Charity: The Rainforest Foundation
Also check out: “to believe” cranberry currant shampoo/shower gel/bubble bath, which supports WhyHunger

Mmmm…pear. I like your style.

 

Sold by: www.joanhornig.com
Price: Ranges from $30 (notepads, bookmarks, small bracelets) to several thousand dollars. My personal recommendation is to check out the necklaces and earrings in the silver collection, which start from $46.
Charity: Your choice!

It’s like wearing global citizenship around your neck.

 

Sold by: MAC cosmetics
Price: $18
Charity: MAC AIDS Fund

Ricki Martin is just excited because every cent of the sale (before taxes) goes to the MAC AIDS Fund.

Sold by: Theory11
Price: $5
Charity: charity: water

A beautiful and affordable deck of cards for a great cause. Every stocking should have one!

 

Sold by: http://shop.pottermore.com/
Price: $6.35
Charity: Children’s charity Lumos

 

More Giving²:

Causeshoppe.com — A great resource to learn about and buy some of the best philanthropic goods on the market.

Peacekeeper Cause-Metics  — vegan make up and nail polish.  Puts 100% of profits towards women’s human rights causes and organizations.

Give Something Back Office Supplies — Known for it’s high corporate donor status, Give Something Back sells everything for the office, from furniture to coffee to recycled paper.

Don’t forget to look into tickets to events that support charity, too! Most sports teams have special charity games, while entertainment venues can house special shows for charity throughout the year–the National Arts Center’s annual Cracking up the Capital for Mental Health is a personal favourite!

Happy giving season, everyone!!