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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20 Reasons Valentine’s Day Actually DOESN’T Suck. (Really. Seriously.)

Who the heck likes Valentine’s Day? You know, the most commercial, AND emotionally loaded, AND consistantly disappointing, AND painfully corny of all “holidays.”

I know I didn’t. I didn’t like it at all. When I was a single teenager, I found it stupid.  When I was a coupled young adult, I found it stupider. But these last few years as a single young adult? WELL. That’s a different story.

Now, I proudly enjoy Valentine’s Day. Here’s why you should, too:

  1. If you want to watch something romantic and cheesy, you’re TOTALLY ALLOWED. In fact, it’s festive.
  2. If you want to watch a kickass action film, you can to that too. In fact, you’ll look pretty ironic and awesome.
  3. Your excuse to host a fondue party IS RIGHT NOW.
  4. Valentine’s Day memes are fantastic.

    Puritan Valentine's Day cards. The internet wins this round.
    The internet wins this round.
  5. You can dress cutesy. Or sexy. Or wear red/pink/purple/hearts in the most shameless way possible and YOU’RE JUST CELEBRATING, GUYS.
  6. Chocolate goes on sale tomorrow
  7. Lingerie goes on sale tomorrow.
  8. So-cute-it’s-almost-offensive teddy bears go on sale tomorrow (early Christmas shopping, anyone?).
  9. Showing affection is good.

    Pictured here: Affection.
    Pictured here: Affection.
  10. Oh, and if you say you don’t enjoy those silly ten cent Valentine’s “cards”…you’re lying.
  11. Observing how other couples roll (or refuse to roll) through this day is fascinating. I’ll bring the popcorn.
  12. You can make all your food heart-shaped! Think of the possibilities! (…I have hobbies, I promise.)
  13. Flowers are beautiful and alive and they smell good. If there are more flowers in your general vicinity because of this day (even if it’s just cuz your co-worker has an admirer or two), be grateful for it. Being indoors with no visible symbol of growth around isn’t healthy. Life & colour, resulting from the celebration of love? Score.
  14. And, yes, flowers will also be on sale tomorrow.
  15. If you work in an office, let’s be honest…someone will probably bring in candy. Hit the kitchen, kids.
  16. I guarantee you that your single friends will want to hang out.
  17. These:
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  18. You DON’T HAVE TO CARE about this day. Seriously. Everyone kinda thinks it’s stupid. Just roll with it and have fun. Genuine “caring” not required.
  19. Valentine’s Day breeds bitterness. Bitterness breeds good comedy. Your funny friends will probably be funnier today.
  20. Smithsonian Folkways’ “Happy Valentine’s Day” playlist alone makes the day worth it. [You can jam out with the playlist for free on Spotify and Rhapsody, along with Rdio and MOG]

…and, if you’re still not convinced? *sigh* Okay, then. This is for you:

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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.]

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!