Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.

I didn’t check the time on Friday.  I slept in until 2 pm.  I’m pretty sure my daily Adventures involved trying to open a can of beans without a working can opener (this turned into a 15 minute, 3-person job) and rocking an hour-long game of Wizard.

If this is the “relaxing” thing all you kids have been talking about…I could get used to it.

We spent the day at a big cottage in the-middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania (est. never, really). These cottages, set up as retreats in the middle of state parks, cost about $80-100 a night and give you (in our case, at least) a monster of a house overlooking the lake. There was a full kitchen, beautiful wooden furniture, board games from the 80s, and (most importantly) this awesome lamp.

So, this is my selling feature. There's a reason I'm not a real estate agent. BUT ISN'T IT COOL?
So, this is my selling feature. I may not have future in real estate, BUT ISN’T IT COOL?

Frozen lakes are kind of boring to look at, but they’re definitely pretty.  I was really feeling the “peaceful” thing. I probably could have stayed there forever.


^nothing like that.

I think my parents were tempted to stay there, too, for fear of leaving if nothing else.  The drive in is currently being referred to as “Hell.”  “Hell” took us up and down steep mountains in a brutal snow fog.  For a good 30 minutes, my ears were popping (altitude problems) and my father was breathing out G-rated cuss words: FRIG.  FRICK. DANG. (Repeat).

Don’t worry, I evened the language score by referring to the cottage’s location as “a**-f**k nowhere”–which was totally allowed, because even though that phrase makes zero literal sense, it was (f**king) accurate.  Isolated was an understatement.  But I suppose that’s what gave the place so much charm once we arrived. (And yeah, yeah, I did just bleep out my own swear words on my own blog. Feeling dainty today.)

But Shauna! I thought you were going to DC to be a big strong, independent young professional! What’s with the stopover in a**-f**k nowhere? And why in the world are your parents in this story, risking their lives (slash being adorable)?

Well friends, it seems that where I come from, “Shauna’s moving to DC!” sounds a whole lot like “ROAD TRIP!!!”

I value my parents’ love of the family vacation much more now than I did back in the day.  This is mostly because “back in the day,” family road trips meant being strapped in the backseat with 3 dudes for an 8-hour showdown over whose turn it was with the Nintendo DS (“I don’t even want screens being used on this trip. This is ridiculous.” — Mom, every single time).  These days, the road trips are a “whoever wants to go, wherever we want to go” thing, and have more to do with taking a break from routine than corralling four kids. On Thursday, four of us (my parents, one of the middle brothers and I) packed into the car, crossed the border, shopped, chilled at a cottage, and generally burned time/midnight oil/gasoline until my moving day came.  January 5th.  The move in was quick and painless, which is something I have never been able to say before.  I was sad to see them go so soon, but it was amazing to have the company en route.

…and to have a day to relax, which I totally did, contrary to my usual curse of not being able to. I even wrote half of this blog post by hand in a notebook on the cottage couch, because it just felt like the right way to do it in a place like that.

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Barefoot and everything. Kickin’ it old school.

Once I reached DC (yesterday), I wasted no time releasing my awkward self around town.  This is my first full day in the city, and I have already gotten horribly lost (Twice. I want you to look at a map of the lovely, grid-like DC and tell me if YOU could get lost twice.).  I have also already had a 3 hour political conversation with a Republican from Mississippi (we disagreed on most things, but we listened to each other and we both liked Football, so I think it worked out okay).  I also wore a t-shirt outside while everyone else had jackets on because it was 10 degrees and sunny and I’m Canadian, dammit.

With that, I think it’s fair to say: Welcome to America, folks!

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The Truth About Hockey: It’s All in Our Stories, Folks

I’m getting sick of getting sick of the lockout.

What I mean is, I’m getting sick of pretending that I care about the NHL. I don’t care about the NHL. I like that the NHL combines great players/franchises, and that it keeps hockey entertaining.  That’s about it. Every other thing I like about hockey, about the league, my favourite team…it comes down to stories.

These stories belong to me.  These stories belong to hockey, too. But they do not, and I’m realizing this more and more, belong to the NHL.

Here’s why I “care” about the NHL:  Because I still remember when I started cheering for the Sens instead of the Leafs.  Because one time, I rescheduled a date when I realized Ottawa and Montreal were facing off that night (I lived with a Habs fan at the time. This was serious business.).  Because in second year, I picked up a contract job at the All Star Game and it was awesome.  Because I made it to Scotiabank Place for a cheap student game night when I had a cold (and could barely talk, let alone cheer). Because after a long day, Hockey Night in Canada is just the best.

These stories may be completely drenched in the NHL, but that’s not what they’re about. They’re about people.

They’re about sipping hot chocolate as Krissy digs out her old jersey, or begging Michelle to come out to the pub because “this one’s a BIG DEAL.” They’re about long distance calls home to hash out the highlights. They’re about meeting folks from New York, Boston, Toronto, Montreal—and connecting with them, just because we’re all hockey fans.   They’re about cheering with people I’ve never even met, just because of seat proximity (or, some nights, the simple hashtag #GoSens).

If the Lockout has shown me anything, it’s that these memories (NHL-affiliated as they may be) do not revolve around the league itself. At their core, these stories are about the sport, community, and whatever weird passions are involved in me caring too much about scores and stats.  NHL or no NHL, I have been waking up at 4 am to watch the World Juniors.  I have been reminiscing on my ball hockey days with my little brother, who still retains a mini stick collection.  And long before I worked at the All Star Game, I volunteered for a local TV station.  (It was 2008.  My hometown hosted the Ontario Hockey League championships. I worked cameras and graphics for the postgame show. The Kitchener Rangers made it to the finals. We lost to the Spokane Chiefs, and the cup snapped in half as they held it up. I laughed hysterically, even though my still heart hurt a bit from the loss.)

I remember this. I remember cuing up highlights, and watching missed games alongside the local hosts (I still revel at their endless knowledge of the game).  I remember when, in one of my slower moments, I finally understood what an offside was.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the NHL.

Neither does the fact that this morning, my little brother busted in and turned on my light at 3:55 am.  This was exactly 5 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, and 35 minutes before Canada faced the USA in the World Juniors.  I had worn my red and white Canada scarf to bed.  “Bed,” by the way, was a 2 hour nap between 2 and 4 in the morning.  Classy is as classy does.

Why?  Because I watch hockey. So does my brother. And if the World Juniors are being held in Russia, then I’m microwaving pizza and mocking pregame blabber at an ungodly hour. It’s that simple. And in the end, it’s about us—he and I, the country we love, the game…me singing obnoxiously to bug him, smeared make up, early morning Diet Coke.  Who cares about the NHL?

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What I care about is right here.

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.

Counting Down: CD Case Advent Calendar

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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!