(The real reason) Why I am So Excited About Christmas

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.

– – –

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.

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Really, 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.

Finally.   

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.

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Snapshot from the train ride home.

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 biblical version 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. 

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And that is what I’m excited for this year. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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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.

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.

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!