This is the first year I can say, with 100% honesty, that I am not excited about Christmas presents.
But I am excited. I’m up at 5 am with a tinsel-tinted adrenaline rush, and I feel like I should explain why.
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I’m excited for a big family breakfast. For cheesy Christmas specials on DVD. For rum and eggnog at 12:00 sharp. I’m all warm and fuzzy about the fact the family dog is sharing my makeshift mattress on mom’s office floor and that’s cool, puppy, my feet can hang off the bed. Really.
I can’t wait to see little Mikey’s new haircut with bedhead. I will probably force a selfie upon him, if it’s particularly magnificent. And my father will probably photobomb it, because he’s hyped. We’re all hyped. We’re buzzing with the unspoken amazement that this year, finally, we’re all happy and healthy for the holidays.
I’m excited for the tacky, blurry photo evidence.
I’m excited about the snow, now that it’s not threatening my commute home. About a real day off. About my new discovery that singing a loud, off-key version of “Wrecking Ball” on my ukelele can pretty much persuade my brothers to do anything I want because“SHAUNA. STOP. PLEASE.”
I’m excited for the beautiful weirdness of love looking like a family sitting around a souped-up tree. I look forward to trading symbols of “I CARE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS,” I suppose. But that’s all they are. They’re symbols this year, and not particularly necessary ones. They’re excuses to hug people and to appreciate people, and that’s all. That’s all.
I’m excited for the hugs, too.
I don’t have too many expectations for Christmas 2013. I’m sure our poorly-mixed drinks will spill, often. People will disappear for naps, cutting well-intended board games off prematurely. There will be chipped nail polish, CDs that skip, and burnt food (because our oven is a menace). The zoo that is our family home–four kids, one dog, two hamsters, a bird, a snake, and an open door policy–will need tending to.
And, as always, I’m going suggest that we read the biblicalversion of the Christmas story. And everyone is going to agree that this is an okay idea, I guess, but it’s not going to happen because we’re a little busy laughing right now.
And that’s okay, too, because we’ll write our own version.
We will tell it through awful puns and funny faces, through unseemly snapshots and battle cries of “YOU’RE SO ANNOYING” and “THAT’S SO AWESOME.” It’s the story about what happens when perfect love pays a visit to an imperfect world, and we’ll tell it. We always do.
“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans” – Woody Allen
I started teaching Sunday School this year. A group of 5 or 6 wonderful, wonderful wide-eyed girls (age 7 to 12) stare expectantly at me in our small church clubhouse, every week. Every. Week.
I don’t know why they’re all girls. It just worked out that way. Since my siblings are all capital-D Dudes, this is definitely new territory.
For better or for worse, I can be a wishy washy teacher. I know it, and so do the parents. I’m a goofy, guitar-strumming, United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist, so honesty and nuance rule the day: I can teach biblical literacy. I can teach general values. But, no, I don’t know what exactly really happened, or what exactly we’re supposed to get out of these stories. I have no indoctrination-esque end goal, not really. I just teach what I understand, whatever that means. And maybe the girls will be inspired and Jesus it up and light a candle. Or maybe, they will raise their hands and shout “Shauna, that’s craziness.”
As long as they’re using their minds and their hearts at all times, it works for me.
And so it goes: Insert life lesson here. Insert scripture here. We make thank you cards. We celebrate holidays (and normal days, too). We laugh and we read and we use way too much glitter. Money is raised for charity. Songs are written.
And sometimes the lesson doesn’t quite work. Sometimes there’s apathy, or chaos, or I am overshadowed by the air hockey table. (Why is there an air hockey table, you ask? I don’t even know. Because Canada.)
“Okay girls, I’m going to turn away from you for 10 seconds. When I turn back I want to see you all sitting calmly on the couches. 1…2…”
Last week, we were starting the Christmas story. Yeah. I was worried. The whole “Mary” narrative is a difficult subject for a United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist (who really doesn’t want to explain the word “virgin” to your 8 year old). My carefully-crafted plan was to talk about how our plans and goals are good, but God is great—basically, it was this article steeped in Bible-talk.
Yeah, my plan was to talk about how shaky plans are. I’m an irony whiz, clearly.
I pulled out the markers and paper, suggesting that the girls draw pictures of their lives 20 years from now. They took to the project immediately, drawing themselves as Olympians, doctors, zoologists, geologists, rebel graffiti artists… the works. Some of them were very careful, drafting their dreams in pencil first. One was hyper-detailed and ambitious, another was just plain goofy. By the time I was ready to explain the point of the exercise, they were too excited by their dreams to really care about my message. I wrapped it up quickly:
“You guys get what I’m saying, right? No? Yes? Good. Okay.”
My plan hadn’t really worked. Their plans were strewn around the classroom in bright, goofy marker.
And somehow, it was all perfect anyways.
“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I used to see these words as an invitation to avoid plans altogether. But as I felt my classroom shake with the joy of best laid possibilities, I reconsidered.
What’s wrong with making God laugh, exactly?
God probably likes to laugh. Laughter is good. Silliness and vulnerability and hope are good.
Plans are not bad in and of themselves. They’re actually kind of beautiful. Those dream-fueled drawings in my Sunday School classroom were beautiful. Same with the laid-back, loving lesson plans. Same with your fallible to do list, daydreams, and drive for the future.
Plans happen when our gifts and dreams and brainwaves and feelings manifest into a motivational timeline. And when those plans don’t totally come to fruition, that doesn’t mean they were wrong. It just means something else became right. It means that life is beautiful in a very different way than plans are beautiful.
If you can be idealistic enough to plan something, but reasonable enough to not be debilitated by disappointment when that plan doesn’t work out, then do it. Do it. And then change it.And then change it again.
For my part, I’m going to continue making and breaking lesson plans. The girls are probably going to keep dreaming and suggesting. We’re all going to keep changing. And that’s okay. That’s okay.
We’re just making God laugh. I’m sure (S)He doesn’t mind.
Easter is always a major time of reflection for me.
…Okay. By “always,” what I really mean is “Well, uh, it’s been a thing for the last couple of years?” Being a young adult is sometimes like that, though. I’m quick to declare things part of my identity.
Easter weekend has played a major role in that identity, so it stays sacred.
I like the idea of rebirth. I like spring. The whole vibe that comes with things getting warmer/more colourful/livelier makes for a very positive, spiritual occasion. I do a lot of “resolution”-type thinking around Easter. What burdens do I need to emerge from, butterfly-style? Who do I want to become?
“Stop worrying about finding the right person. Start working on becoming the right person.”
I read that the other day, and it stuck. I agreed with the idea, but it made me wonder: what does the “right person” look like?
What kind of woman do I want to be?
I want to be the kind of woman who writes thank you cards. Who lets managers know when she gets good service. Who writes appreciative reviews for small businesses. Who lets artists know when they have touched her life, and lets politicians know when they have done the “right thing.” I want to be the kind of woman who wholeheartedly recognizes little miracles—and who approaches those miracles, if they have a face and a name.Who lives through gratitude, and means it. Who has a whiteboard on the wall, with a constantly revolving list of people to notify; ‘Hey, you. You’re alllllright.’
I want to be the kind of woman whose gratitude is a constantly distributed gift, an open bar; not an investment with an expected return. Accessible. Unconditional. Loving. I want to be the kind of woman who is thankful day by day, step by step. Whose thank yous aren’t loaded attempts to control the future, nor quiet warnings of her standards. She will never say ‘This is good. If I am grateful for this step, can the next step be just as good, please?’. No; I want to be the kind of woman who is grateful because it is just who she is. And when she says thank you, she simply means to say, That step was good. You helped make it good. Grazie, gracias, merci.
I want to be the kind of woman with an open-door policy. Who knows her neighbours by name, aim, and favourite food…if they let her. I want to be that obnoxiously sweet lady-two-doors-down, the one who makes lots of casseroles. Funeral? Casserole. Moving day? Casserole. I could be that woman, I think. That would be a good woman to be.
(Unless the neighbours aren’t into casseroles. I am also open to making cookies.
…Dream big, right?)
I want to be the kind of woman with lots and lots of stories. I never, ever want to be boring. I don’t suppose anyone does want to be boring, but…if I’m aiming to be casserole-lady, I would prefer to be fun-casserole-lady. I want to be the kind of woman who was there for that thing. Who has the scars, tattoos, pictures, friendships, and memories to prove it. I want to be the kind of woman with guitar-bred finger calluses, with laugh lines and dimples, with sun-kissed shoulders and tired, blistered feet.
I want to be the kind of woman who has mastered the art of witty retorts. Who laughs a lot, and who swears every now and then–because honestly, cursing sometimes makes the punchline better. Sometimes. Not always. And not in mixed company, I guess. Hopefully, though, I can be the kind of woman who mostly keeps company which can handle crazy stories and cursing.
I want to be the kind of woman who exercises. I’m TOTALLY NOT that woman right now, but I would like to be. Or at least, I want to be the kind of woman who goes for walks, and can throw a ball around with her friends/family. I won’t aspire to be good at sports, or to be anything other than clumsy and awkward when I play outside…but I do want to be the kind of woman who plays outside.
(Besides, I hear it’s “good for you.”)
I want to be the kind of woman who dresses up for Halloween. And who puts up Christmas lights. Who plays pranks on April Fool’s Day–and sometimes on other days, too (’cause she’s funny, remember?). I want to be the kind of woman who has mastered the art of appetizers, conversation and corny holidays. Who knows how to make a good martini. Who has a solid supply of not-so-secret recipes and crowd-pleasing playlists.
(I know, I know, all of this costs money. And I know that money may not always be there. Hopefully, I can be the kind of woman that is okay with that, too.)
I would like very much to say “I want to be a woman of faith,” but I don’t know if that’s fair. I don’t know that someone should aspire to believe anything, least of all anything supernatural. I would like very much to be a woman of faith–because I currently am, and it serves me well. But again, not a fair goal. I would much rather be a woman who constantly uses the brain God gave her–even if that means that her idea of “God” has to change as she learns things.
What I do want to be is a woman of grace–you know, that thing that happens when personal values meet interpersonal compassion. I want to be the kind of woman who can hold herself to a code of loyalty, honesty, and kindness, but who uses those things to Love better–not to be condescending or proud.
Right now, I describe that as being “Christian”. I can’t imagine grace is confined to “WWJD”, though.
So, grace. Lots of grace. I want to be the kind of woman who is radically patient with people and with herself. Who has the courage to love the world, even when it seems particularly cruel. I want to be the kind of woman who can (gracefully, gracefully) step in and help someone who is hurting, and understands that “help” and “hurting” have many different faces.
I want to be the kind of woman who is continually educated and insatiably curious. Who speaks a couple languages, who knows her geography, and who travels lots and lots. I want to be the kind of woman who knows enough to be aware of the fact that she knows nothing. Who has about 10 questions for every answer. No, I don’t want to be the kind of woman who puts her job and education before family–family should always, always come first. But I do want to be the kind of woman who brings the family (and the edgy jokes, and the free spirit) along for the ride–and makes sure the ride involves lots and lots of learning. I want to be the kind of woman who lights up when she talks and hears about the world, and whose curiosity is infectious.
Not the kind of rough week that results in a long list of things-gone-wrong and a sigh of “Girrrrl, I need to VENT!”. Nothing tangible like that. My sighs sound more like ‘Well, you know, it’s one of THOSE weeks’: First word problems, chocolate cravings, untimely nostalgia, “I’m probably just under the weather.”
‘Merica is an acquired taste. The best things always are. This past week, I was knowingly halfway there; Washington and I were on a half-hearted, confusing fourth date. The novelty of “going to a new place” had worn off, but I still didn’t quite fit in. It’s not unlike that third day of kindergarten, almost-but-not-quite able to colour inside the lines. Or, being at a concert, trying to sing along to that song everyone knows (you think you know it too, but you’re barely mumbling along to the lyrics all the same).
Basically, a big load of self-imposed awkwardness followed me around last week.
At times like these, my Facebook-self usually stays perpetually optimistic: “Have you seen my blog? Have you seen my life? It’s cool. My hair is brown. I read the newspaper. I have attractive friends. Please like me.”
(Between you and me: my roots are coming in, the only physical paper I read is Street Sense, and no, I’m not dating the guy next to me in that picture. But please don’t tell Facebook. Those people knew me in middle school.)
This Friday, it felt like it was finally (finally, finally) time to crowd source some cheer:
I knew warm fuzzies were all over the internet. What I didn’t know was that my friends and readers could bust them out on demand like that. And I certainly didn’t know that they worked so well. Turns out, there is a way to line up some of the internet’s better offerings and (hopefully) make for a better day. Or a better week. Really, just a better outlook, period.
And so, based on these suggestions, I present to you: 10 Steps to a Better Day, Courtesy of the Internet
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:
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:
Articles cut out of magazines/newspapers
Challenges or reminders (random act of kindness, call me, etc)
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.
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.
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.
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!