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

 

 

 

Doing “Single” over the Holidays, can it be done with grace?

When I first left my long marriage one of the things I immediately noticed was a decline in invitations especially where couples and women were concerned. I could see a bit of why the couples might stop inviting me since we had all socialized as a foursome and there was a hole in the works that could not be stopped.  What shocked me was the number of women friends who just dropped away, no calls, no invites, no making sure I was not alone on special occasions as I had done with them when they were single over the years.

While I can think of no plausible explanation for those adults who behaved in less than graceful ways, I can tell you what it is like to be single over the holidays as in recent years I, myself, spent solo.

  1. Mark your calendar. Know that you will have more time on your hands and make plans for it. Plan to see the free events in your area, choirs singing, holiday displays, Christmas plays at the schools, parades or musical events. Every community has some of these and you may think going alone sad but I can tell you from doing so that it was far from sad. The singers gladdened my heart and nobody was there to chatter my ear off or otherwise interrupt these magical moments of mine and mine alone.
  2. Give back. I know, I know, everyone says this and the last thing you may feel like doing when you are lonely over the holidays is giving anyone anything. Even if you are flat broke, you can find a way to give to others less fortunate. A friend of mine serves dinner in the local men’s shelter on Christmas Day. When I had it, I spent $20 on grab bags at a local women’s store. These grab bags each contained four or five sets of jewelry suited to teens along with socks, hairbands and other little items that translated to 15 or 20 gifts I donated to a local charity Christmas Drive. I know teens are the hardest to find gifts for at Christmas from working in the non-profit sector and this was, to me, just a great thing to be able to do. But you don’t need to have new items. I have a friend who collects clothing and donations for the local animal shelter, a place often abandoned over Christmas but the needs are high all year round. A friend’s daughter buys 50 or 100 hamburgers at McDonald’s and passes them out to hungry strangers on the street. Pass a street person a coat you no longer wear, the ideas are endless and unlimited for finding ways to help those less fortunate. And somehow, in the midst of the giving, we receive an “afterglow” of our good deeds that translates to a little more joy for ourselves.
  3. Indulge yourself. Whether it is a marathon of watching your favorite series on Netflix, spending a whole day in your pj’s or having some treats you normally don’t allow yourself, or all three, just pamper yourself.  Because, alone or not, you are so worth it. And this is the sort of thing we tell one another in times of needing comfort so why not apply it to ourselves.
  4. Mingle. You may feel like a fifth wheel when invited to holiday gatherings and simply decline. That may be what you are most comfortable doing and that’s okay, too. If you accept (which I did because, hey, why not?), don’t focus on being alone, focus on being “together” and make a point of asking polite questions of people you don’t even know. You may make a new life long friend or find yourself with a terrific job offer, you just never know what may come of a simple gracious connection over the holidays. I once ran into a woman who had interviewed me for a job I didn’t get despite making it through every level of the screening process. I asked her why she didn’t hire me and she replied, “Because I knew being a 911 operator would hurt you.” She was right. I am a highly sensitive person or HSP as Elaine Aron’s book states. Imagine. The years spent wondering why I didn’t make the cut wound up being a gift to me. A gift I would not have been given had I just stayed home.
  5. Gift yourself. This is an open season deal where you decide what you would most like to get and give that to yourself. The year after my mother died was tough. A lot of “firsts” without her, first Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day and so on. Near Christmas I was browsing in a shoe store and found a pair of all leather knee high boots by a very high end company. I never had a pair of knee high boots since I was 11 years old in Ontario winters and thought what the hey, I’ll try them on. They fit perfectly and looked great but I could not bring myself to buy them even though they were, I learned, last year’s stock on clearance for less than 1/4 of the original price. I phoned a sister and told her about them. She said, “Go back and get them, those are YOUR boots.” I decided these boots were a gift from my mother and would take me places I could never dream of going. On the walk home with boots in hand, I glanced down at my parcel to find the name/model of the boot on the box. It was “Hope.” My mother was giving me hope from the heavens is how I saw it and still love my boots which will likely outlast me. It doesn’t have to be expensive as long as your gift is something you love, a book, a sale cologne, a thrift store treasure or a promise to shop the boxing day clearances for a sweater you can’t afford right now. It’s your gift to make yours in whatever way feels best for you.
  6. Honor loved ones. You can do this by hand making and sending a card for those you cannot be with this year or setting up a time for a “visit” phone call where you catch up, hear familiar voices. Again, the ways to do this are endless and it can even be loved ones who passed before us. When I was single and very, very broke, I took my last twenty dollars and decided that Christmas to stop avoiding the hospice tree in the local mall in the usual wide arc I made around it after my mother died. That year I went and put the names of my mother and mum-in-law on the Christmas tree and received a handmade bird (every donation receives a gift back). I thought I would cry. I didn’t. Instead I felt a sense of peace and calm that lasted a very long time.
  7. Phone a friend. Nothing can cheer us faster than hearing the voice of a friend who loves us unconditionally and gives us a safe place to just be ourselves. It’s like plugging in a lamp that has a new bulb. Everything “shines” brighter under the light of love and having a good friend or two is among these gifts. If you can get together, great, but if you are geographically or holiday commitment distanced, the phone is a wonderful tool to employ for a little holiday warmth.
  8. Volunteer. Not everyone has the energy or desire to do this and that’s okay. We can’t all be good at doing things all the time. But there are many organizations, especially during the holidays, that require a helping hand. Maybe you could help unload and organize the donations for a local thrift store. Or maybe you could deliver meals to those shut in alone over the holidays. Perhaps the local animal shelter could use an extra “walker” this year. Again, the possibilities are endless and most of your local newspapers or community pages will list organizations you might like to volunteer for. As a former volunteer manager for the city I reside in, I can tell you this: Volunteers do what they want to do and finding something you want to do that benefits others as well as yourself is a double gift.
  9. Start early. This does not mean start shopping early. This means starting early to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for being alone or even possibly being alone over the holidays. One of the things I did was to sit and contemplate all who were working right through the holidays. From nurses to paramedics, from doctors to doggy sitters, from police to prison guards and all in between. My heart filled with gratitude that someone would be there if I needed to call 911 which I did not but it felt good to know I could, thanks to some dedicated professionals who work complaint free right through the holidays.
  10. Appreciate what you do have however humble. Most of us have had parents who, in an effort to get us to eat food we don’t really like, tell us there are starving children on the other side of the world who would be glad to eat what’s on your plate. The thing the parents don’t grasp is that means nothing to us because we can’t see those children, they are not in our daily radar especially as children ourselves. Yet, as an adult, I will use this to remind myself that whatever is on my plate at the moment, there are many elsewhere who would be glad for what my “life plate” holds today.

These are some of the things I did when single and longing to make the holidays more meaningful. Some of my best holiday memories are from those times when I stood listening to a local children’s choir or knew that some teen-aged girls would get a little something for Christmas. Believe me when I say I indulged myself in a few tears, too, they just couldn’t be stopped. But even that was bittersweet and not entirely awful. There are many ways to make the holidays “yours,” just start thinking of what pleases your soul and go from there. And if you have any ideas you would like to share, please do, as always I welcome your thoughts and comments here. Wishing you every good thing, good health, good home and good memory making even if only for yourself.

"What fills the heart becomes us." ~ Janni Styles