Childhood Perspective on Family History


When I was a child, I thought my father owned a huge motorcycle, that every winter we had snowfalls taller than my 7-year-old body, and I had scarlet fever when I was 5. My father’s motorcycle was a small Bridgestone. I still think there was a tremendous amount of snow, but it was probably because all the snow being plowed from the road into our front yard. My mom denies that I had scarlet fever, but I think she’s lying!

We have these images, memories that we think are real are imprinted in our minds like a stamp. Our memories of childhood hugely depend on how we were raised, our order of birth, and what or who had a major impact on our lives. Five years younger than me and the last child, my sister, Michele, has a different perspective on her childhood. She probably doesn’t remember our home in Long Island that we moved from when she was 2 or 3. I’ll have to ask her.

She’s 8 years younger than my brother and 7 years younger than my older sister. Being the first and only boy as well as the first girl impacted their upbringing. Being the middle child, well you know we middle children have big issues of invisibility. But it put me in a more observational mode.

Last night at my monthly journaling workshop, we shared our thoughts on the above quote. Did they have memories that other family members disputed? Yes, like the severity of a car accident, joy of living with a large family, but the other members thinking it wasn’t so nice, memories of a parent differing based on age and order of birth.

I invite you to write these memories down and share them with family members. Have them record their memories on that event and then share one with you. Going back and forth, you’ll get a fuller picture or at least the differing perspectives of varying family members. Give your parent or grandparent a journal to record their memories and stories. Once they are no longer with us, their personal stories are lost.

Brainstorming your Memories and Building Memory Threads

Where do we get the ideas to write our family history? I suggest thinking about your first house. Jot down any memory. Don’t think about it too much. It’s a memory brain dump. It’s incredible how once you get started, all these new memories jump out at you.

You can go from your first house to the next and the next until you are in your current location or use whatever theme or location that speaks to you.

Here are some of mine from the first house I lived in Long Island:

  • Bobby pin in the socket
  • Describe my home
  • Fig trees
  • Monsters in the attic
  • Scarlet fever—Nanny teach me to crochet
  • Bike riding and hitting a car
  • Pool jumping from the roof
  • Almost drowning
  • Lobster crawling on the floor
  • YaYa
  • Aunt Anna
  • Planet of the Apes—Brown licorice
  • Monkey bars breaking leg
  • 1st day of 2nd grade
  • Stephanie forgets me at school

Maybe this is the only snapshot you need of that moment. Or perhaps it’s like a sponge and as you think about it, the memory expands. I call this Memory Threads.

Take the Monkey bars and breaking my leg. The threads may be:

Kindergarten, strong mother, missing much of school, Big Wheeling along the sidewalks, breaking leg again, tearing ACL on that leg, strong upper body.

This thread can weave into other memories. Like how my mother carried me out of the nurse’s office telling her she didn’t know what she was talking about when the nurse said my leg wasn’t broken–my mother becoming a nurse–protecting her children when a man tried to break into our house and she threatened him with the elephant knife–standing up to teenagers who were chasing me and my brother down the street–never giving up when my father fought cancer three times.

Memory Threads are powerful. They build themes that intertwine and pull in more memories until you have a tapestry of history. It starts with one memory and threading through it.

Begin yours!

Four Phases to Declutter, Create Space, and Achieve Goals

My week of Creating Space was a lesson in learning what is attainable! There were many positives like following a tight schedule and getting more done than I think I would have, but the stressful part was attempting to get it all done when life steps in.

In addition, I had this huge goal of finishing my novel to get it to the printer. That definitely ate up a lot of my time, but was part of a my business plan.

My Create Space project needed to be broken down into four phases that I will schedule for the rest of this month.

Phase One–Declutter & Clean–Go through each room and get rid of what I didn’t like, need or use. This involves removing everything, checking for doubles like having 6 wooden spoons in my kitchen drawer and 100 pens!

Handle it once. Give it away, donate it, or sell it. Right now some boxes are still in my dining room, so that is on the to do list. Cleaning each room as I went through helped to break up the monotony and emotional struggle of decluttering. All my windows have been washed, which felt good.

I didn’t finish any particular room completely. So in the future, I would declutter and clean each room as a specific goal. For example, take two days to declutter my bedroom, closet, and bathroom. Then detail clean if needed. Then that room is complete.

Phase Two–Files and Binders–This should really be first for me, because part of the reason why I took on this project was to clean my office, clear my files and teaching binders, so they were organized and the lesson plans and handouts were easily accessible.

This phase will take a full week, and I will specifically break down this goal for the week of July 23.

Phase Three–Index Journals–This is more about creating accessible history and finding entries easily. I only started indexing my journals two years ago, so I have years of journals that aren’t titled or indexed. Part of this plan is to do just that.

In addition, I currently write a separate journal to my sons, but I had previous entries mixed in with my personal journals. I managed to mark those. I will make this a project to transcribe them into separate journals. I only have a few, so this might be a winter goal.

Phase Four–Digital Decluttering and Organizing–The best way to avoid this is to go through my photos and files and get rid of what doesn’t work each month! I was great about this when I first got my Mac, but five years later I’m overloaded! I did manage to create some space, but it’s disorganized. I get very frustrated when I can’t find a file or photo. I am uploading my files and photos to Google and am doing it in what I think is an organized manner.

I need a week to do this right. I haven’t set a goal for this yet, but since my computer is vital to my job, it has to be done in the next couple of weeks.

I also made a list of what I needed to replace or never purchased–like curtains in my bedroom and now my office.

But back to my main reason for creating space–building an efficient and effective business. Next week I will focus on my files and binders. Then I will have the space to create my book promotion for Saving Atlantis, which will be published this fall.

Here is what I managed to finish:


Was my Create Space plan SMART?

Click on photo for more ways to accomplish goals by Pishon Design Studio

Specific–I was very specific in what I wanted to get done and what I would do each day. That helped me to be extremely productive.

Measurable–Crossing items off my list never felt so satisfying, even though part of me was bummed for not getting everything done.

Attainable–I have to put half of what I want to get done in my calendar, because it always takes so much longer. I have a tendency to add in too much work. But at least I have a guideline to follow and know what needs to get done.

Realistic–Not in one week! Another is Relevant–I should have stuck to the ultimate reason I wanted to do this–for my business and I probably could have had my office done.

Time-based–I will break down the rest of my Create Space into longer time periods.

The most important part of my week was that I made time to take care of myself. When I chose to exercise or be with my family, I truly enjoyed those moments. I was mindful of my decisions.

Thank you to everyone who encouraged me online and in person. You held me accountable and gave great advice!

What is your goal and how are you going to achieve it? Start today!

Dad and his Girls

My dad has been is on my mind today as this is the anniversary of when he passed away 20 years ago. My dad was larger than life. That may have been because I was his little girl along with my other two sisters. But it also was because he was a large man with hands that could crush rocks. No exaggeration!

Dad and my older sister, Stephanie 30 years ago

You can see how his hand engulfed my sister’s in this photo, but they were hands that held us when we were hurt, threw us into the air when playing, and carried us to bed when we fell asleep.

Dad and I at the same wedding. I was 21.

As comfortable as my dad was in his jeans and t-shirt with a tool belt strapped around his waist, he was a sharp dresser when it came to stepping out on the town. In addition to being a classy guy, he was a great and fun dancer. He and my mom, who at 4′ 11″ was tiny compared to my dad’s 6′ 1″ height flowed together seamlessly.

My baby sister, Michele (Mush Mouse to my dad)

Warm and cuddly as a teddy bear, my dad was also a ferocious protector of his family. Meeting my dad was the deal breaker when it came to boyfriends. If they couldn’t handle the bone crushing handshake, then they were out the door. He had a gentle heart, but not when it came to anyone wanting to hurt his girls and our mom.

I wish my boys got to know their grandfather. Just like my son, he had so much to do and give, but life often has other plans. My dad is in all of us. My brother looks a lot like him and has the same mannerisms. It’s the De Tillio way. All our kids have his gentle heart and the older ones were blessed to have known him longer, but it’s never long enough. I share his stories, because stories have power, memory, and hold the spirits of those who have gone before us. We never forget. We hold them in our heart.

Books—Gratitude Day 14

Books. I love them so much, I had to write my own. 

I am incredibly grateful to the women who inspired my love for books. A family friend, Marge Porter, always gave me books to read like How to Eat Fried Worms and Anne of Green Gables. I was hooked. 

Then my mom introduced me to gothic novels by Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney.  I loved the intrigue and suspense. Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I scoured the library reading whatever I could get my hands on. 

I am also grateful to my Medieval literature teacher, Debra Young, who encouraged me to write novels. She saw something in me that I might never have thought about. You never know the positive influence you can have on another person. That goes for books as well. They have been life-changing!

My Big Sister—Gratitude Day 13

My sister, Stephanie, is two years older than me. She mothered me as much as she messed with me. 

In Long Island, she always walked me home and fought off the kids who wanted to beat me up. On the first day of second grade, Stephanie brought me to my homeroom. I cried and clung to her like I was being kidnapped. I was not a very outgoing child. She gave me a hug and led me into the room. Knowing that she would be there after was comfort. 

When she entered high school, she didn’t really want her kid sister around, but I remember sitting outside her bedroom door listening to her practice the flute. 

It wasn’t until I was in high school that we started to hang out more, and I had a hand in connecting her with Ray, her high school sweetheart! 

Stephanie has a quick and sharp sense of humor. She can come back with a funny line before I even take in what was said. She is a source of laughter in our family. 

Today I am grateful for my big sister. I don’t think I tell her enough. 

Recognizing what I am grateful for definitely makes me think about how much I let people know what they mean to me. 

I’ll make sure she knows. 

My Dogs—Gratitude Day 5

Ever since I can remember our family had a dog. My first dog as an adult was Brutus the Barber Beefcake. 

He joined me in my first apartment and then became our baby when Luke and I got married. He clung to me during my pregnancies and was wonderful with the boys. 

I found Zoey in my worst moment in life, and as I have said before was my tear catcher. We have a bond that is humanlike. She reads my moods and is simply loving. 

Dakota represents the innocent and fun loving part of life that we often forget about. He simply enjoys being with us. 

Every day I walk my dogs. As soon as I put shoes on, they are jumping over one another to get to the back door. You would think I never walked them! Walking them is my quiet time (mostly), and it’s like a walking meditation. I am so grateful to have them. I am also blessed to be able to work from home and spend a lot of time with them. 

They make me smile and appreciate the simple moments in life. 

Memoir Threads

Writing about your family or your childhood can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start. Having a theme like holidays and family vacations or writing chronologically are two ways to organize. 

I use memoir threads to brainstorm themes. For summer I suggest favorite summer activities from childhood. 

Write the theme in the circle. Then on each line brainstorm what you loved doing as a child during summer. 

Going to the beach

Climbing trees



Hide and seek

Catching fireflies

Vacations  in Lake George

You can add more threads as once you open the jar of memories, they tend to overflow. 

Then take each memory thread and write about it. Use all your sensory details like smell, sight, taste, feel, hear, plus who were you with, when, and what feelings did this memory leave you with?

Some memories can be painful, especially if you were forced to so something you didn’t like each summer. They can be just as powerful and may help to write about from an older perspective. 

You may renew a love of something thst you stopped doing or want to visit old friends. 

The threads are endless. Make copies of your thread sheet, fill it in, and you will always have topics for your journal. 

Photo Journaling


Observe the photo for a few minutes with a quiet mind and no disturbances. Write about what comes to you. Does it remind you of a place you know or a place you’d like to visit?

What feelings does it evoke? Peacefulness, loneliness, isolation, wariness, serenity? The possibilities are endless and whatever you feel is right.

Using a photo for inspiration is a fabulous way to get your creative juices flowing. It also can spark memories for family memoir. So pull out photos from those old boxes or the depths of your hard drive and write!


Volunteering–What do you stand for?

My life in volunteering started in middle school when I walked to my neighbors’ houses and asked them to buy a magazine for my school. This was a huge feat, since we only had a few houses on our road, and I basically needed a car to get anywhere else. Being a competitive person (nothing has changed), I convinced my mother to drive me around, ask friends, and basically harass everyone I knew so I could get the big prize. I don’t even remember what the prize was, but at the time that is what volunteering meant to me.

Fast forward 15 years or so and again I was encouraging people, but not to buy something, rather to walk for a cause. I really can’t remember if it was for the MS society or March of Dimes, but it was through my job and before I had children. At one point my parents, siblings, and some of their kids were involved. One time we met up at the Empire Plaza and made a whole day of walking around Albany for a good cause. It took almost all day, because in our enjoyment of the walk, we missed the turn and had to backtrack and find the route once again! It was all in fun and money was raised. We didn’t see where it was going, but we felt we made a difference or at least I did. Plus being together and having a good time mattered.

1998 Stephen and NIck with fire truck hats
Future fire fighters!
When I was 7 months pregnant with Nick, I helped begin the Friends of the Library in Clifton Park and served on the board in different capacities for the next 12 years.

It was important to me that my children learned to give back. Every year through our karate school, I would arrange for the kids and some adults to pack baskets for the elderly for Thanksgiving. Then we would go to a local apartment and pass the baskets out. This level of volunteering created a more personal and hands-on approach, where they could see and feel the impact they could have on another person. They may not have completely understood what they were doing or why people needed help, but they had a good feeling and that was a start.

Malone’s Kenpo Karate School Annual Thanksgiving volunteering.
I continued to raise money for larger charities and combined my love of cycling with supporting the American Diabetes Association. I started with the 25 mile route, then Nick rode 10 miles once year. Then it grew until I had ridden, quite painfully, for 100 miles to raise money for a cause that personally affected my family. So there was that connection. Raising money and pushing myself for something I was emotionally connected to. I didn’t get back on my bike for a year after that century ride, but eventually I dragged my friends into it and continued for a couple more years after that riding 25 or 50 miles. It was that sense of a challenge and the camaraderie of riding with hundreds of other people and pushing one another when the ride became difficult.

Why do we give back? Sometimes, like when we are kids, we are forced to do it until we mature enough to understand the meaning behind it. But what has it been about giving back that has kept me involved in some form of volunteering my entire life?

family photo 2008
September 2008, Luke, Stephen, Nick, and Janine during Nick’s battle with cancer.
The answer became quite clear when my son, Nick, was diagnosed with leukemia, and we lost him at the tender age of 13. All my years of fighting for a cause I could relate to suddenly exploded into a mission toward something I never wanted anyone else to have to face. So when I think about what I stand for, I think about my son’s life being cut short and all the potential lost with him. I think about all the children and their siblings who struggle with a cancer diagnosis and how devastated family, friends, and those who tried to save them are after a child dies.

I see firsthand the positive benefits of what giving selflessly can do for others. It’s more than selling magazines to win a prize. Now the stakes have been raised to give people a better chance to live fulfilling lives, to have hope when they think all has been lost, and to feel empathy even though each situation is different.

I believe in the power of volunteering. I believe that giving back makes us better human beings. It’s a way to show love to those who are suffering and to connect to the essence of who we are and why we are here.

Should everyone volunteer? I think so, but for the right reasons. Right now I volunteer and run a foundation that is connected to my heart and soul. It’s a part of who I am. I’d love to do other work like help in a soup kitchen, make dinner at Ronald McDonald House Charities, help Make-a-Wish, and join Literacy Volunteers again. But helping kids fight cancer is what I stand for.

2004 October3
Volunteering can make you feel like you are on top of a mountain!
What do you stand for? What are you emotionally connected to? Which organizations do you donate money to? It’s an important part of helping our foundations, but imagine if you could help someone face to face? What could it do for them? How would that make you feel? Do you want volunteering in your life and why?

When you figure out what you stand for, perhaps you will try giving back. Giving a little opens your heart and heals both you and those you have reached out to.

Settle in Sundays

Family Pets

When I came home this morning from running some errands, my dogs, Zoey and Dakota, happily wagged their tails. I love coming home to my dogs and their unconditional love.

I prefer big dogs, and I often wonder if I will always have a pet or if some point it will be too much.

My first dog was a mix breed, I think. His name was Monday. We had him when we lived in Long Island. My memories of him are dim, but I think he was brown and white. I also think we may have had to give him away. Then we had a white shepherd named Thor. My dad loved dogs and took care of training them. Thor lived outside a lot when we moved to Greenville. He ran along a dog run, but would often get loose and chase the cows and deer. I believe we had to get rid of him too, because of that.

Then there was Sambo. He was a huge black labrador topping 100 pounds. He was an awesome dog, and I basically grew up with him. My sister, Michele, loved cats so we had a bunch in there along the way. We didn’t have too much luck with the cats unfortunately, but I remember a photo of Sambo and Willie when they were the same size.

We lost Sambo when he got hit by a car on our road. We lived on a back road in Greenville, and people drove down that road so fast. It really was quite dangerous. We were all heart broken, but I think my mom took it the hardest. That Christmas my dad got her another black lab, but her heart couldn’t mend to take another dog in. So Brutus the Barber Beefcake became my first dog. I had met my current husband only a few days before so Brutus was always Luke’s too. Brutus lived me with in my first and only apartment, and then he moved into our first house when Luke and I got married. Brutus was always by my side when I was pregnant. Even though he started slowing down when the boys were little, he had the perfect personality for them. Brutus passed away in 2003 after 15 wonderful years.

Nick Marisa and brutus 1997
Brutus with Nick and his cousin, Marisa


For the first time in my life I didn’t have a dog. It had turned out that I was allergic to them, so it was an easy decision not to get another one. The only problem was that our boys, especially Nick, wanted another dog terribly. Nick had a hamster named Chipper and Stephen had one named Zippy who met with an untimely death when he squished his head behind his hamster wheel!

When Nick became ill, I regretted not getting him a dog, and when he passed it was a decision that deeply saddened me. I adopted Zoey three months after Nick passed. I just happened to be driving to the store and saw this gray bundle in a cart going into Pet Smart. I fell in love with Zoey and my allergies have never reacted to her. I think it has something to do with the fact that she isn’t a purebred. Who knows or maybe it was that I needed her too much.

Zoey Shadow–Black Lab and Akita mix

Then two years later Dakota came along, because Zoey was a momma’s girl! Stephen picked out Dakota and Zoey approved her while Luke was away on business. Luckily it worked out and having two dogs is an adventure.

Dakota Kenny–Black Lab, Shepherd and Tennessee wild dog!

Dogs fulfill my life in a way that is hard to describe. Even my siblings have had or continue to get dogs, and Stephen plans on having at least three when he’s on his own. They love you no matter what and our dogs tell our life stories. Where we were emotionally, physically, and socially; they know more about us than we will ever know. They understand us, protect us, and love us no matter what we do. I think I’ll have a dog as long as I can.

What types of pets did you have as a child? Who’s pet were they? Or were you not allowed to have pets and how has that affected you as an adult; tons of pets or none? What do you love about have pets and what does your dog say about you?