Work and Play Aren’t That Different. Really.

I wonder when life stopped being a game.

I wonder when I stopped playing.

I wonder if I could start again, somehow.

I was sitting at a friend’s orchestra performance. After a few rounds of clapping, I had become acutely aware of the red spots on my raw hands. “Why does that-freaking-conductor keep leaving the room and coming back in?” I wondered, irritated. Because seriously. My hands, guys. They don’t need to take this abuse.

As the applause died down for the fifth (sixth?) time, I clasped my hands and remembered the games I used to play as a kid.  My teeny-tiny hands perceived a round of applause as a call to competition. I would concentrate on being the loudest clap or, more frequently, the last clap–quietly tapping my hands together after everyone else had finished showing their appreciation, feeling a proud, silent victory when I was responsible for the last small sound from the audience.

That was the game.

Everything was a game back then.

I don’t want to be unreasonably nostalgic, but I think it’s a fair reflection. The line between fantasy and reality, which now feels so concrete, was blurred when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was from lack of experience, or dreamy imagination, or unrefined perception, or something else. But the line was blurred. We were self-centered, obnoxious, pushy…but we were also a lot of fun. The way we looked at the world was fun.

When I was small, I didn’t know much about life (hell, I still don’t), but I was pretty sure it was supposed to be fun.

“Play” is often considered frivolous recreation, the opposite of “Work.” But perhaps this isn’t totally true. Perhaps work and play are not mutually exclusive. A worldview that favours joy and laughter and a heavy dose of “don’t sweat the small stuff” sounds like a healthy move. A little less stress and a little more giggling and running around (endorphins, anyone?) has to be a good thing for your happiness and relationships. Challenging yourself in a joy-filled way sounds like a pretty good habit. And it’s certainly easier to see the world humbly and honestly when you aren’t busy taking yourself too seriously.

My favourite definition of play is this one:

Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving.

Translation? Play is basically how every cool innovation ever has ever happened. Toying with ideas. Playing around in the workshop, playing instruments, wordplay.

It’s pretty simple, really. Play is experimental, constructive, innovative, competitive. It can exercise your imagination, (pretend that there’s a monster after us!), your problem-solving skills (how do we hide from the monster?), and your ability to collaborate (let’s build a fort!). Games make you push yourself, and trick you into actually enjoying it.

And they make hands red from overclapping into a fun challenge, apparently.

I could learn from that. Maybe we all could.

In kid-land, we played house. We played school. We played dress-up. Now we just “do” those things, somehow forgetting that they used to be games. And forgetting that in many ways, they still are.

The stakes are higher, our awareness is (ever so slightly) stronger, but life is still full of games, just waiting for us to uncover them. We’re still allowed to play.

In fact, if we aren’t playing, maybe we’re doing it wrong.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

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On Fear.

“I am scared of things changing. And I’m scared of them staying the same.”

Recently, these words tumbled out of my mouth, confession-style. There it was: I was scared. It was unconstructive, and it was awkward, and I didn’t know what to do with it. But I knew I was scared.

My friend offered a mini-pep talk, but she didn’t sound totally sure.  I grabbed a kleenex as I teared up.  She teared up, too–because fear is contagious, because empathy is the real deal, because it’s freaking January and the lack of sun is cramping our style/emotions, guys.

I was scared. It was good to talk about it, good to recognize it.  But the fear itself?

I knew, and I know, that fear is not a good thing.

It’s not good that many of my biggest stressors are fear-based. Just fear-based. Not things that are actually happening.  Not things that exist outside my head. 

It’s not good that these fears often do the opposite of protecting me–instead, they just kind of make me inaccessible.

It’s not good (in fact, it’s straight-up dangerous) for fear to be anyone’s main motivational force. And, of course, it’s never fun to be facing the world scared kitten style.

Not the best role model for coping skills.
Probably not the best role model.

But despite all this, the fear was there. It was real. It is real.

And so I began searching for where that fear fit…and where it really, really did not fit.

What is fear, why is it here, and what should we do with it?

I guess it’s easy enough to define fear, at least in simple terms.  Fear is really just an evolutionary instinct which helps us to recognize situations that present physical, emotional, or mental danger. My momentary burst of “I AM SO SCARED OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING INSIDE IT AND WHAT AM I EVEN DOING” was a (twisted kind of) fear response.  Simply, my brain and body recognized that something could go wrong, and made me aware of that–whether I liked it or not.

Fear responses can be pretty great for survival. We can use them to identify and respond to threats–potential predators, unhealthy consumption, I probably shouldn’t put a fork in this toaster. Fear is a great tool.

Again: It’s a great tool.

But the thing about tools is that you are supposed to control them. They aren’t supposed to control you.

The problem with fear is that it can grow, it can get overzealous, and it can control you.  Our fear impulses don’t only warn us against being electrocuted or poisoned or thrown in jail.  They warn us about other “dangers,” too.

Here are a few popular ones…

Loving always, always leaves us in danger of losing.  Scary.
Trying consistently leaves us in danger of failing.  Also, scary.
Living has a 100% probability of ending in death. Yiiiiikes.

Essentially, if fear is doing its basic, natural job, it’s going to be fighting all this loving/trying/living stuff.  After all, what is more fatal than life itself?  

Fear is the natural enemy of living. And loving. And caring. And trying.  Giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding those things.

(Actually, giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding pretty much everything.)

.
The problem is that you can’t avoid many of these things. You can’t. Locked up hearts still break. Not giving something a shot can still leave you feeling like a failure. And not living your life isn’t going to make you any less likely to die.

Whether we fear it or embrace it, we’re all going to lose, and fail, and change, and die.

Which of course begs the question…

What is fear’s place in our lives? And how do we keep it there?

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I’m not the biggest fan of fear.

In fact, I tend to think of “fear” as being the opposite of “love”…or at least, the closest thing to an opposite of “love” that the English language has.

But that’s the English language.  And it’s not perfect.  Those opposites are certainly not perfect.  Love and Fear are pretty vague terms which don’t always reflect on each other– you and I both know that.

But they both are often involved.  And when they are, love should dominate.

Here’s how:

Fear, from an evolutionary perspective, exists for a reason. So sure, sure, it’s allowed to be a juror on your internal decision making panel.  Instinctive self-protection, caution, whatever you want to call it…your fear can make a quick statement.  Of course it can.

But then your courage gets to make a statement. Same with your reason, empathy, experience, goals, and values.

And Love? It gets to be the final judge. Love should always be the final judge.

You have a lot of internal jurors at work inside of you, a lot of tools at your disposal. Fear can be one of those tools, it can be.

You just have to control your fear before it controls you.

Sidenote: this video was what got me thinking about this and it is awesome and will blow your mind.  So you should all watch it. kcool.

Why “Marveling” Matters

The water is going to freeze. Soon.

My bus passed by the river this morning, like it always does. And I accidentally sat on the wrong side of the bus, like I always do (…sorry, person-who-thinks-I’m-staring-at-them, I’m just being a daydreamy little kid over here). Inflated arms brushed against each other, with thick jackets filling the space between passengers. Canadian human contact. Winter is coming.

(I don’t like winter, just to be clear. It makes me get all cold, and pale, and poetic. Not the productive kind of poetic; the sad, useless, shitty songwriting kind.)

Despite my usual distaste for winter, looking out at that ready-to-freeze water made me feel peaceful, even happy. I marveled at how the leaves were totally just on those trees a week ago, what even. And, light snow looks really pretty. And, of course, the water is going to freeze. Soon.

I guess it’s hard to be upset when you’re “marveling” at anything. I smiled (which person-who-thinks-I’m-staring-at-them probably found all kinds of weird). I got completely caught up in the season change, how cool it was, how it affected the water and the trees and the sun. My vendetta against the chillier months was momentarily forgotten.

Photo by Samantha Polzin
(Photo by Samantha Polzin)

I think maintaining a sense of wonder is one of the healthiest things in the world. You could talk to me all day about why, why, why winter exists—scientifically, mythologically, whatever. And I could talk to you all day about how it makes me feel, the endless pros and cons of snowy weather. But none of those answers will fulfill that sudden need to just sit back and go “Woah. The world changes like crazy every single year, regardless of how we feel about it. Look at it, it’s changing right now.”

Maybe there’s a super profound lesson or two in this. Maybe. I’ll leave that up to the sermons and short stories to decide. My only lesson, if I can call it that, is that having a sense of wonder about nature can override discomfort about nature. And that being a daydreamy little kid looking out the window isn’t a half bad way to view the world.

As long as you’re looking, that is.

Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real

I have this mildly unhealthy habit of checking my blog stats WAY. Too. Often.  Thankfully, WordPress only gives me really basic information–I steer clear of Google Analytics, since the geographic detail feels a bit too creepy.  Here, I just get the basics: I can see what different countries readers are coming from (‘sup, Yemen?), and I can see how they’re getting here. Usually, people find the blog via social media like Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes, Stumbleupon points people my way. Mentions or comments on other blogs can also spur a few hits.

And a few times each day, someone finds my blog through a Google search.

The search terms are usually predictable enough: “Things to do in Ottawa,” “Blackboard wall,” “Stocking stuffers that give to charity,”…you know, straight-forward subjects directly related to blog entries.  Every now and then, though, I see a search term that makes me FEEL THINGS.

These search terms are the desperate, doomed-from-the-start pleads to the internet for guidance.  These searches come from the same place that bring us 11:11 wishes, untimely text messages, bad “poetry,” and worse habits.  There’s a knot in someone’s soul and they can’t massage it out.  The default solution? ‘Maybe, just maybe, Google knows.’ 

And then, if they find my blog, a ‘Maybe, just maybe, this Shaunanagins website knows.’

Full disclosure: I have totally been that person, sitting alone and unsure of something (everything?) at approximately 3 o’clock in the morning.  I will shamelessly admit that I have turned to Google for validation, or just a gentle reminder that it’s allllll good.

“Coping with stress”
“How long does it take to get over [thing I am under]?”
“How to deal with learning curves
“What is good about being single?”
“a;gnfdbldfkb mdfl;vdf”
“Plane tickets to Seattle.”

(No, I’ve never been to Seattle.  The alone/unsure/3 am combo sometimes ends in weird places.)

It is this past experience in the field of “Well, shit.  Life. I guess I’ll just Google it?”  that makes me FEEL THINGS when I see search terms designed to…massage out those soul-knots.  This month, two such search terms really stuck with me:

“i can never relax. what do i do?”
and
“don’t exactly know where home is”

Heavy.   I feel you, Person A.  As for Person B…I have so much to say on that topic, it’s a little ridiculous. All I can say for right now is that I feel you, too. Or at least, I felt you for awhile.

Dear Person A,

In response to your search i can never relax. what do i do?” : Dude.  I wish I knew.  I guess turning off your computer would be a good start.  Maybe drink tea and do a puzzle?  Or go to a used CD store, pick up some new music, and put it on.  Close your eyes and listen.  Or, hey, just read. Maybe read a blog. Maybe this blog, brought to you by another person who can’t relax.

That totally killed my “Turn off your computer” thing, didn’t it?

Dear Person B,

You told Google that you “don’t exactly know where home is.”  My response to this could, and should, be a full blog entry.  It should be a series of blog entries. What I can say in short right now is that Home is the place where things grow. It’s the place where you grow. And sometimes, growing can be uncomfortable. So, sometimes, Home can be uncomfortable. But if it’s safe and loving, if whatever needs nurtured is being nurtured, you’re on the right track.

Oh, and Home doesn’t have to be a geographical Place. It can be a person, or an attitude. And if you get spiritual, that there’s a whole new dimension to the concept of Home.  But for now, just focus on finding a safe spot, geographical or otherwise, that has positive energy.  A Place that you can move and shake in.  Do not worry if, while moving and shaking, you stumble away from that Place for awhile. A life well lived will always bring you back Home eventually.

Okay, I feel so much better now.  I know Person A and Person B will probably not be back to this blog, but maybe other people with similar pleads to the internet will.  And maybe they will also be able to help me learn how to relax, or figure out where home is. Because we’re all just floating, you guys. And we’re all alright.

Yeah.

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!

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!!

Foodie Gift Idea for the New Mom

“And so it begins!”

It has started, my friends. I had my first-ever trek to the maternity ward to visit a post-C section friend. My former manager Melannie just gave birth to an amazing baby boy, and my sidekick Caitlin and I were beyond excited to head down to Ottawa General and welcome him into the world.

Babies, you guys. Oh man. My ovaries pretty much exploded.

(Also…does anyone else get REALLY nervous when holding a baby? I mean, sometimes I can throw enough PR spin on my clumsiness to make it charming, but I don’t think there is anything “charming” about dropping a newborn. Holding the kid was amazing [recall: ovaries exploding] but also completely and totally terrifying. Yet another “how do nurses do this?! They must be wizards.” moment.)

The reason I write about this for a Home-style post is to share the gift that Caitlin and I came up with for this lovely momma.

Melannie is a foodie hailing from the East coast, so it wasn’t surprising that she openly missed some of the foods that are unsafe for baby-carrying. Think about it: seafood, cured meats, cheeses, alcohol, eggs…it’s all a no-can-do for the cautious pregnant woman. And for the cautious foodie pregnant woman, that makes for a pretty long nine months.

….actually, I think the whole “carrying another human being around in your stomach” thing also makes for a long nine months, but for the sake of this post: THINK OF THE CHEESE!!

So Caitlin and I set to work on a gift basket of foods that she had avoided for so long, but could now enjoy post-pregnancy.

Here are all the foods Melannie had to avoid during her pregnancy:

Certain cheeses, like feta, goat, camembert, and brie, can carry listeria. Not great for baby.
Pregnant women are supposed to avoid raw or soft-boiled eggs. Also, we had to get quail eggs because…they’re a thing you can get.
I don’t think a pregnant women is supposed to eat this dude, either…
…so we picked up a sample. Sort of.

Of course, we grabbed some celebratory wine and Guinness, the ever-classic Momma’s milk.

There were two major challenges in the making of this gift:

1) How do we openly discuss which foods to NOT give a pregnant woman, then purchase said foods, without looking like we are trying to damage a pregnant woman?

2) How do we wrap this stuff up in the middle of the mall, armed with only ribbon and cello from the dollar store?

(The answer to #2 is by being as awkward and resourceful as humanly possible. Fun fact: cursing out quail eggs DOES in fact make you look like a crazy person.)

Photo creds to Caitlin here, who documented me wrestling with the gift basket game.
Using keys for scissor works. Or at least, it works…well enough. Ish.
This is what dealing with well enough-ish cut cellophane looks like.

But in the end, of course, we had an awesome foodie gift basket and were set to welcome a new little man into the world…and make sure his momma didn’t have to go one more day without some good Guinness and salmon!

Happy birthday, newbie!

Bonus Post: Blackboard Pumpkin Update!

My advice if you try the blackboard pumpkin idea, which I still maintain as awesome, would be to buy a craft pumpkin. I think I’ll pick up a few of them if Michael’s has post-halloween sales. I feel like a pumpkin made for crafting would be better for a project like this…and it would be cool to be able to reuse my beloved seasonal countdown.

Still: Awesome.

Bonus Post: Blackboard Pumpkin Update!

Chalking It Up, Part 1: The Blackboard Wall

I want my home to be fun.

What a crowd-pleaser statement, I know. Of course I want my home to be fun. Of course you want your home to be fun. I also want my home to be cosy  and open and bright and quirky and welcoming and [insert unarguable “home” attribute here], but that’s besides the point.

“Fun” was front and centre in my mind when I reorganized the apartment this summer.  I was set on having a specified area in the open concept living space that was fun–specifically, fun in a music-y way.  Music has always been important to me, and I knew my roommate-to-be was no different, so the apartment had to encourage tunes.  I wanted the keyboard to get played. I wanted our CD collections to get played. Basically, I wanted a space where we could “play,” period.  That space, naturally, needed to be as open to creativity as possible.

The blackboard wall was inspired by a suggestion from good ol’ Josh, and solidified thanks to some fond childhood memories (growing up, our playroom in the basement had featured some cute little blackboards…these were mainly used to to torture my younger brothers with endless games of “school”; I know I had a good time).

All it took was two coats of blackboard paint, purchased at the local Canadian Tire, to turn my previously-dull keyboard corner into a canvas.  I have never seen anything so effective in making a home more fun.

Here’s a picture from the “cloffice” post last week. You’ll see the blackboard wall in the background:

Disclaimer: If you venture to read the wall, I would like to note that Jesus/Jagger/Gambino may not have used those EXACT words. Paraphrasing.

It’s super helpful for making notes to self/one another, as well as for writing down ideas, encouragement, Pokemon doodles…the usual. I would like to note, however, that the wall was visited last weekend by two monumental artists.  This was a gamechanger.

Pictured above: The game being changed.

I rest my case. Actually, I should probably rest my case with a picture of the wall in its current state. If this isn’t fun, I don’t know what is!

I personally love the “surf borad” which defies all laws of physics, courtesy of my two favourite artistic geniuses.

Since the wall has become such a hit, I decided it would be worth it to take this chalk action to the next level in a couple subtle/clever ways around the apartment.  It’s happening. It’s happening as you read this, in fact.  Lloyd’s response earlier today as I set to work on this latest project: “You said you were going to do it, and now you’re doing it. I don’t know why I’m still surprised anymore.”

Translation: Autumn apartment part two and Chalking it up part two are very ready to make their relationship official. Can’t wait for what next Friday has in store!