Tonight I made a Cup of Tea

Tonight I made a cup of tea

Then called someone dear to me

The time passed swiftly, I listened close

A gentle ear was what she needed most

Life grabs us by the throat with incredible hold

Sometimes listening cures as words are told

The tea grew so cold, no rescue for that cup

But I’m glad my two ears lifted someone up

Tomorrow night I might make another cup of tea

And then make another call to another dear to me

(c) Janni Styles

Look Apast

Oh, don’t worry, you just have to look apast some things, my mother said, it’s the way it is for all of us.

This was my mother’s take on love. You just accept some things that are not so nice in order to enjoy all the nice things you like in a person. She might have done that with Dad but I don’t think so. I think she and Dad were perfect for each other, building a life in the country side together and raising us four kids. For all her country lingo, Mom was a wise woman but she wasn’t marrying George. I was.

George with his already Curly of the Three Stooges hair ring boasting a shiny top suitable, in my opinion, only for smacking when he did his burping and farting routines. How can a man who became a millionaire in business command so much public respect and still be so crass at home in private? I think I forget sometimes that manners are not necessarily synonymous with wealth.

Look, Mom said, you will never want for anything and you’ll always be able to do things none of us could ever afford to do like go to Hawaii. 

It was my mother’s dream to go to Hawaii but she never did make it there, her life was snuffed out by that evil cancer that is all too prevalent in a modern world where you can fly to the moon but not cure people of that rotten C word.  Of course, her death came much later, decades after we sat in what used to be my bedroom at home where we were preparing me for my wedding. The room was filled with a heady fragrance from the huge bouquet George had sent that morning. It was almost cloying and I considered dumping them out the window but I knew I had to sit still for Mom to finish my hair. I could have gone to a salon but I wanted my wedding day to be filled with fond memories of the people I love and I liked the simplicity of plaits and a few flowers in my hair.

I do love him in some way, I said,  but I just don’t know if it’s the kind of love that means I  can do “life” with this guy, Mom. He’s grown twice as wide just in the three years we’ve been together and the way he talks sometimes I get so embarrassed I want to crawl under something and hide or run out of wherever we are as if I am not even with him.

Mom’s age freckled hands continued patiently braiding my long hair and plaiting it around my head just the same way she did for me when I was little getting ready for school. It tore at me to be here now in this comforting space sitting on my floral comforter with such a highly publicized wedding in front of me. In just two hours I would be Mrs. George Hanson.  No, Mrs. Loretta Hanson. Or would I?

Loretta, Mom said, as she pinned the plaits in place, Nobody gets everything they want in this world. Nobody. You just weigh up the good and as your own Granny said to me when I had the wedding night jitters, some of us just learn to “make do.” That’s how life is. You just learn to make do. 

She finished my hair and then looked in the mirror to pat her salon do she’d had done that morning. People always said Mom was Shirley Maclaine’s twin and that might be true but all I could see in the mirror as I looked over her shoulder was my loving Mom trying to do her best to support me and guide me.

I told her I was driving myself to the seaside instead of taking the limousine to the church. Mom accepted what I was doing and gave me a hug as I grabbed my keys and left my childhood home. She even said she admired my pluck and wished she’d had some of it herself sometimes. Even Mom understood there are some things in life you simply cannot make do with or “look apast.”

I phoned the church and told them to go ahead and have the party anyway but to celebrate freedom, not “making do.” George would find a new wife no trouble with all that money I couldn’t sell myself out for. I took my sandals off and walked out into the shimmering ocean under the stars with my wedding gown floating up all around me like a cloud that held up my dreams and my dreams of how I wanted my life to be began drifting back to me one by one.

Short story excerpt by (c) Janni Styles

Seasons of the Heart

leaning into the wind

one lone and life worn tree

leaves fallen all around

shivering cold no warmth to be

spring arrives sudden

some sun on the rise

tears falling as raindrops

cease in some sore eyes

summer leads us all to shore

to river, sea or brook

warmed minds forgetting

all life cruelly took

autumn falls with chilled air

we long for summers past

raking up old memories

in the face of wintry blasts

again and again we relive

the leaves dancing in our heads

one leaf atop another

our books of life longing

demanding to be reread

reminding us of loves eternal

why do we humans so grieve

our people are ever in our hearts

and never do they leave.

(c) Janni Styles

 

Clean Laundry

taking in the sheets today the fresh air held me fast

I was in kitchens of my childood my mother standing there

her cold reddenened hands at work hanging and folding

our laundry from the line in cold Ontario air

 

for just a few minutes tonight I forgot where I was

pressing my face into fresh washed sheets

all I could think of was my mother

and precious fresh sheets sleeps

 

as I unraveled the tangled laundry

and hung the damp bedding up to dry

I had a little visit with my mother

and did my best not to cry

 

(it didn’t work)

(c) Janni Styles

Treasure Maps: Can vision boards lead to realizing your future?

Years ago after reading some books by Shakti Gawain, a new age writer who talked a great deal about “creative visualization,”  my mum-in-law and I were both inspired to start using “treasure maps” or “vision boards” to create our futures. Not only did we find this an effective means of keeping our life goals in front of us but it also helped us refine our needs and grow more attuned to what we truly wanted.

As time went by we shared what was happening in our worlds and the “treasure maps” were definitely helping. Many of our goals were realized and some of those in far less time than we had anticipated. From new job(s) to new wheels to world travel and relationships, our lives were definitely improving by keeping our goals in front of us.

When I was fifteen years old I hadn’t heard of anything like treasure maps or vision boards. I loved to draw house plans and pretend I was living in the homes I created. One of my very first creations was a modest three bedroom one bathroom rancher on it’s own lot with a fenced yard. You may not believe this but the very first house I ever owned (co-owned) was a 12 year old three bedroom one bathroom rancher on a nice big lot with a fenced yard.

Did my fifteen year old self create this home as part of my future when I was in my mid-thirties? Perhaps the very act of just getting things down on paper where we can see it creates an energy the moves us closer to our goals.

My vision boards to date have proven quite accurate. In 2007 I taught some nieces of mine how to do their own vision boards and it wouldn’t surprise me if they have realized a lot of their goals or dreams already.

To do this is very simple. I use a bristol board or a half of one and cut out images from old magazines that reflect my goals. You can also cut out words or symbols or draw or paint on your board or use your own photographs, it is entirely up to you.

One thing I always do on my vision boards is put spirituality right at the top and center of my board. I believe we can do nothing without the abiding presence of Our Creator and the Angels who guard and guide us. Your spirituality may be very different from mine and you don’t have to include it if you don’t want to. A photo of an ornate cross was what I used one year and another year I just pasted on clouds of the heavens.

Anyway, I think I have been neglecting my writing and my vision boards and need to get back to both which is what prompted this post. Let me know if you do one and if I can find where I put mine – for safe keeping of course, haha – I will take a picture of one and add it to this piece.

Who knew that my fifteen year old self could attract exactly the house she had drawn into her thirty something life? I know, I know, you might be saying it’s not possible. But what if it is? Rather, what if it was?

Happy goal setting, treasure mapping and vision boarding.

(c) Janni Styles

The Butter Papers

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When I was a child it never occured to me how precious a simple thing as a butter wrapper could be.  As I began to crumple one to toss it in the garbage one day, my mother’s voice halted me in my tracks.

“Ah, ah, ah, what are you doing with that? I need that, don’t throw it away. ”

Suddenly my knowledge of butter papers grew exponentially as I witnessed the many uses for them. Butter and margarine wrappers were used to grease the bread pans, to line a frying pan before the eggs were cracked into it and to butter the cookie sheets at Christmas time.

It wasn’t long before I learned to carefully fold those papers and set them in the fridge if they weren’t used right away. It also wasn’t long before I found myself calling out to younger siblings in the same way my mother had done to me.  I was a fast learner and carried the butter paper practise into my marriage where I stopped my then husband from tossing out the butter papers. He never did learn how precious they could be.

Many times I would wind up with a little stack of butter papers in my fridge. Working outside the house full time while running it pretty much singlehandedly left little time for baking. It was easier to buy our baked goods. Even now, living single, I don’t bake much or often.

Still, today I laid a butter paper aside on the counter.  Just in case.

Butter papers represent childhood memories of being in warm aromatic country kitchens where the women made the work of caring for their families look easy.  Butter papers remind me of my mother’s hands always working to take care of us.

It was easy to see why, later in life, my mother tired of cooking. Having so many children to tend to for so many years likely wore that desire out.  She was happy to have others cook for her and even wanted us to. And we did.

Some habits die hard. Even though I don’t use them anymore, I still fold and set aside the butter papers. I likely always will. Tossing them out seems wasteful but I know it is about more than that.  Tossing out the butter papers means saying goodbye to memories I will never make again, memories of fragrant Christmas baking fresh from the oven and sharing it all with family who loved being a family.

The butter papers will always trigger these memories in me, memories of simpler, slower times when what mattered could not be bought.

What triggers Christmas memories for you?

(C) Janni Styles

 

Grief at Christmas: How about just being Human?

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Every time a special occasion is pending, a certain birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or another Christmas, I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach about how I will handle it without those loved ones who have already passed on. Christmas is one of the toughest times of year for many of us living with invisible illnesses whether they be mental, emotional or physical.

One of the first feelings to follow that awful “boot to the stomach sensation” is a sense of, well, I guess it is called “shame.” Shame that I can’t just buck up and join in, shame that I need to take time out to have a little cry in the bathroom, shame that while everyone is toasting and cheering and jollying along I fight back the tears and an urge to flee all things overwhelmingly festive.

Why should we be ashamed of having any feelings at any time of the year? The answer is we should not feel ashamed of having our feelings, whatever and whenever they may be. Sometimes just gently allowing those feelings to pass through us is the only way out of the emotional funk we may find ourselves in during special occasions and celebrations. Sometimes the feeling won’t pass because the loss is so recent, we are grappling with such a an excruciating range of normal human emotions, we just have to live through it somehow in our own ways no matter the outside pressures.

The first Christmas without a loved one is, I find, always the worst. Every ornament they made or every tradition they participated in feels so hollow without them. That feeling intensified for me the more people told me “get with it” or “get over it” or “you just have to go on.” Advice like this is best ignored because it is so negating and disrespectful of not just the loved one we are trying to cope without but of ourselves and our feelings as though we have no right to have or process our own emotions.

The right to process our own emotions is something we are all entitled to.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Usually people behave in invalidating ways just because our mood or what we are doing does not fit in with their agenda. There is no excuse for that kind of insensitivity that can feel so like abuse to the tender, still grieving heart.

My solution is not a panacea, I have no answers for anyone other than myself. What I found myself doing was “little celebrations” between the seeming unstoppable tears I had to just let go of. These little celebrations were usually nothing anyone else could see or notice. It was about me coming to terms with a raft of special occasions ahead of me to get through.

Recently I attended a huge family dinner of 22 people and found myself twice needing and taking time to myself. I stepped outside and just stood there covered by the roof of the restaurant entry way, watching the rain fall and breathing slow, deep breaths while I thought of everyone gone before me. In the puddles, some as big as small ponds, I saw all the light being reflected back, the store lights, the street lights and the Christmas lights.

In those reflections I began to see that no matter what happens to us, no matter how many losses, the light was being doubled and tripled and shining back brightly no matter what. This little comfort was enough to get me back inside the door to join the party I was with and carry on.  After the dinner I took a teary bathroom time out and was heartened by the Christmas music playing, it seemed, to my soul, as the speakers released one of my mother’s favorite Christmas Carols. These are the little comforts I try to find everywhere, songs or sights that resonate with my soul and let me know it is okay to enjoy these things, to even be happy about them and perhaps even sing along if I am able to.

There is, in my opinion, no greater success than finding your own way through the dark grip of grief. While there is no one size fits all, we can all do things or enjoy things in memory of those we love. The very thing you find yourself teary about may be what also lifts your heart and lets you honor the memory of your loved ones. For me, giving back is always a way through these tough emotions because I can do it in honor of a loved one. Putting a toy under the local charity tree or just dropping some coins in the bell ringers kettle in honor of my loved ones went a long way to helping me come to terms with my losses.

Even in the falling of snow, that first magical snow that colors all things white and bright, I can hear my mother saying how she had to hurry to get the laundry in off the line before it froze stiff as boards while my father lamented the crazy drivers out there who still tried to drive like the roads were dry. Hearing those familiar voices in our heads or singing along to their favorite songs are just a couple of ways to celebrate those gone before us.

Take your time, take a breather or take a whole evening or day to yourself, whatever it takes for you to feel calm and able to face the festivities again. Finding what gives us comfort is such a gift to our own hearts, we need only to stay open to recognizing and receiving those little gifts, whatever form they may take.

Does this mean we won’t be sad or shedding tears through the events or holiday? No, it means the opposite. We are allowed to be sad or shed tears if we need to. We are all, after all, only human.

Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful Christmas.

(c) Janni Styles