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. 

Home—Gratitude Day 8


Home. I have learned that home is literally wherever my heart and family are. I can be at home when I’m with my siblings, my friends, or on vacation. 

I enjoy the warmth and love that these places give me. But there is nothing like my home where my family and I have grown memories and roots. 

During this hard time when so many have lost their homes to hurricanes and tropical storms, I am extremely grateful that I not only have a roof over my head, but a place to decompress and feel joy. 

When we built our house, the goal was to have big gatherings and family get togethers. We have done that. It’s a place where both my husband and I work from and a relaxing haven for Stephen when he comes home. 

My home brings me peace and a sense of tranquility. I especially notice this when I’m away and come back. 

My home fills me with gratitude even as I fill it with the people I love and our wonderful memories. 

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

Riding

Bikes

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. 

Summer Fun

In my last journaling workshop, we focused on summer fun. When my boys were little, as soon as school was out we wrote everything we wanted to do that summer on a big poster board. 

Some staples were strawberry picking in June, going on vacation, swimming, picnics, bike rides, concerts, movies to see, family to visit, how many ice cream places we would visit and rate, etc. 

I made sure there was downtime, but it gave them structure and lots to look forward to. I haven’t done that in a long time. As adults we can get caught up in our lives and forget to enjoy life no matter what season we are in. 

The Northeast summers are so short, I want to be outside as much as possible. 

So here is my list for the summer:


By putting it in my journal, it becomes real and I remember to look up when Shakespeare is in Congress Park or that I still need to see Guardians of the Galaxy (although not in the theater at this point!) I have much to do still!

As you check off your summer fun activities journal about them so you remember the details and the joy. 

Then do it all again in the fall with apple picking, Halloween, and hay rides!

Create and decorate your summer fun list today. Put it in your journal or on your fridge as a reminder. Enjoy!

Step Back to Basics

It’s summer. The sun has mostly been out, everything is growing, the birds sing joyfully, and my dogs roll around in the grass. 

I love summer, but haven’t quite felt like I’m enjoying it. I’m busy and jumping from one event to another, one project to another, one unnecessary activity to another. 

I need to slow down and get back on track. How do I do that?

The first thought that came to mind is step back to basics. To me that means cutting back on what stresses me and fill it with what nourishes me and makes me happy. 

Here are some ways to step back to basics:

1. Cut back on what I don’t enjoy doing. Of course there are times when I have obligations to fill. I’m not someone who enjoys housework, but I make it better by listening to music or an audiobook or setting a timer to see how much I can get done. 

2. Go for a walk. Nothing slows me down and brings perspective quicker than taking my dogs for a walk. 

3. Listen to music. Discover new types or artists. 

4. Make time for a hobby that you love. If you don’t have one, then figure one out. Maybe it’s carving wood, painting, hiking, reading, pottery, photography, learning an instrument or language. What brings you joy?

5. Shut down the technology. My son yelled at me this morning as I’m using my phone to blog. He wanted me to talk to him and not get caught up in social media. I put my phone down until he left for work! It’s so easy to get dragged into someone else’s drama and not even know what the drama is! We feed off everyone’s negative responses. Stick to the facts and call that person if you are concerned. 

6. Be Still. Sit outside and enjoy the sounds, scents, and sights around you. Be in that moment. Or if you have a garden connect to nature and the earth. 


7. Unclutter your life by getting rid of what you don’t use and either give it to someone or recycle it. 

8. Eat close to home and food that is simple and fresh. Farmer’s Markets are abundant. Eat fresh and organic when you can. Eat what nourishes you. 

Here is a list of markets in the Capital District

Cut out the fluff and activities that don’t serve you. Do what moves you and makes your heart and body feel lighter. This takes listening to yourself and not loading your life up so much that your spirit is tamped down. 

There is nothing wrong with slowing down and getting back to basics. It also means getting back to the foundation of who you are. 

How will you step back to basics?

Different Levels of Activity 

Sitting still is one of the hardest activities for me to do. Yes, I sit when I write, but my mind is extremely active as are my hands. To sit and let the world flow around me is very difficult. 

Even Dakota, pictured above, is waiting for me to say, “Wanna go for a walk?” His mind is in constant motion. But for a little while both he and I kept still even if our minds went crazy. 

I let the crazy fly through and move on. 


Even if I can’t be completely inactive, I try to take the time to sit and read. Dakota enjoys chomping on his toy, named Marvin, or chewing on a bone. Having that quiet time rejuvenates me for the chaos of my week. 

In order to go inactive, another word for downtime, I need to prioritize. I haven’t stopped for months, so I worked really hard to keep this weekend free. I may go on walks, tend my garden, read and write, but I’m home and in slow mode. 

Perhaps there are different levels that we should strive for. 

Stillness- simple meditation where we sit in a comfortable position, focus on our breath, and let our thoughts go.

Inactivity-Hanging out in your backyard, pool, beach, the woods, or anywhere you can relax and not be required to do anything. 

Slow Mode-keeping your schedule light, so that you can do something you love or be with those you love. No schedule. 

Conscious Activity-choosing to go to events, be with friends, finish that project you have left for months. You make a conscious decision to do what is important to you, not because you feel obligated. 

Busy Bee Mode-working, fulfilling family and other obligations, every day chores that must get done. Deadlines. Goals. 

None of these levels of activity are all good or bad. If you sat in stillness all the time or never had downtime, your body and mind might eventually rebel. 

Finding the balance and giving yourself permission to be in any of these modes are key to living a full life. 

What level of activity are you at today?

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Leaving Home

I’ve been thinking a lot about high school and who I was when I attended college. It may be because a reunion is being planned for this summer, but I also think it’s because Stephen just went back to college for his last trimester.

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Lisa, one of my best friends in high school.

I think about who I was at 17 years old or even at a 19, Stephen’s current age, and how it compares to what kids know today. I was a very naive young adult. My brother enlisted in the Navy when I was still in high school, so he experienced being away from home quite a bit.

I was the first girl in my family to go away to school. My oldest sister commuted to college, and my school was only 40 minutes in Albany at The College of Saint Rose. For me it may have been half way across the country. I remember the first night in my dorm with my roommate, Michele. I walked out of my room and called my parents on the pay phone in the hallway. I bawled my eyes out and begged them to come get me. I wasn’t use to being on my own, and the thought of not sleeping in my bed, and the responsibility of doing well was overwhelming. It took me about a week, but I managed to slowly get into the flow of school.

 

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The Roomies, 1984, Greenville High School Graduation

The Roomies were some of my closest friends in high school, and we hung out together during our weeklong senior spring break in Florida. For a long time we stayed connected, but life gets in the way, and it becomes harder and harder to take the time to get together. I think of Stephen and how he and his close friends make sure they get together during their breaks. It’s easier at that point, but I remind him that if you want to stay connected with someone, you have to do the work. It’s easy to think we are connected when we text or post photos on Facebook, but it’s almost a disconnect. We aren’t really seeing that person or getting the true essence of who they are right now.

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Janine and Joy

Yes, that was me all Freshman year: just barely hanging on by a thread. Second semester was better, and I made friends who were more in line with my values and ways of thinking. I learned a lot about myself and that’s what college was about. I have remained in touch with a couple friends from college, but others mainly on Facebook or if I get a Christmas card. I would love to see some of my friends again, but I know I need to make the effort.

The best part about leaving home and going to college was coming home and seeing everyone I missed. Now coming home means being with my immediate family, and I need to make the effort to see those friends who meant so much to me in the very important years of my life.

I hope Stephen stays connected with his gang of guys, whom I consider to be my boys, too. They reflect different parts of Stephen’s personality, and they have been there for each other in great times, and in very tough times. It’s those heart lifting and heart wrenching experiences that produce the bonds of everlasting friendship.

You can always come home or you can create your home wherever you are and invite others into it. I guess I have some friends to reconnect with and invite to my home.

What childhood friends do you stay in touch with? How about college or those early work years? Who have you lost touch with and would like to contact? How and when will you do that? No matter how much time has passed, it’s never too late to reach out and reconnect.

Words Matter

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Words Matter. It’s like a new slogan pounded into my heart this morning when I first heard it. Words, especially saying the right or wrong ones can make a huge difference for everyone who hears them.

It is extremely difficult to communicate sometimes. I know I have been afraid, worried, deterred from sharing what I have truly wanted to say. My journals hold my truths, because they aren’t judged and no one sees them. My journal is the holding space where I can let those words simmer, settle or dissipate the sparked emotions I’m feeling at that time.

Words can save relationships or they can destroy them. When words are spoken rashly, no matter how hard we try to take them back, they are already out there spreading like a plague often with no idea of how it started. Rashly spoken words are often ones dying to be released. They are words that feel defeated, not acknowledged, debased, and forgotten. Then once the words build up, they literally choke the holder and spew out like flash floods or spin out of control like a tornado, or burn everything in its path as a volcano does.

Using a journal to get a feel for how those words will land is vital to speaking your truth in a way that honors how you feel, but also honors the relationship you have with another person. I tell writers all the time to let your piece sit for a day, week or month then go back to it. When you read it again, you have created a distance that allows you to truly see what you have written. The same goes with journal writing. Let it simmer then cool and view it from a calmer frame of mind. You may or may not feel the same. Either way at least you have that chance to clearly state how you feel and why without the emotional  charge.

Do you notice how hard it can be to tell someone how you feel about them? It shouldn’t be so difficult to tell someone you love them. I tell my son most every time I say goodbye that I love him, because even though he knows it, I am grateful that I can speak those words to him, and he can say them back.

I’ve been quite nostalgic lately, and I think that’s causing me to express my feelings even more than I usually do. I want people to know that I care about them, and it not only feels wonderful to me that I have expressed myself, but it also sends positive energy their way. It doesn’t always have to be verbal. Texting, writing notes and placing them where someone will find them, or sending cards to those who live far away all create joy and love that is so needed in our world today.

Words Matter. At the end of my life, I want to know that I have told those I love how much they mean to me. I want to have stood up for the wrongs that I have seen in this world. I may not be able to take back harsh words spoken in the heat of anger or frustration, but I will make sure that I am complete with that person in that we have had a chance to express how we both feel and respect our differences.

It’s not easy to do all of this. It’s also not easy to find the words that can express the depths of our feelings, but we should at least try. Words can destroy, create wars, break up families, and kill. Yet, words have the power to heal, to offer hope, love, acceptance, and joy. Those are the words I choose. The words that let people know they matter.

If you are angry at someone or a situation or feel betrayed and hurt, write down what happened, how it made you feel, and what you would like to do about it. Then let it sit for at least a day. When you go back to it, does the situation still have the same level of emotion? Do you still feel the need to have a conversation with this person or group? If so, from this space of calm, write down what you would like to say. Does it convey the message and tone that you want to convey? If unsure, it may be helpful to ask a trusted friend.

Tell someone today how much they mean to you, whether in a note or face to face. Watch how it makes them feel. Do they light up, smile, and return the emotion? It can be anyone, spouse, parent, friend, family member. How did it make you feel? The more you express yourself, the easier it gets.

 

 

 

Everyone Needs a Tribe

When my son became ill, the first thing I did was gather my tribe. Everything else but the fact that my son had cancer was placed on the back burner. We gathered together even on July 4th when everyone already had plans.

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The immediate DeTillio, Cammarata, Thomas, Albin, and McCormick clan! 

 

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Janine, Michele, Stephanie, and Sal gather around our matriarch–Momma Rita!

I remember walking down to Clifton Commons where we always watched the fireworks with my siblings and many of my karate family. The rest of my tribe waited for me and my family on the sidewalks, on the fields, and back at our house offering love, hugs, and comfort.

We heal with love, but underneath that coziness was steel lined with determination. There is nothing more solid than a group of people who will do anything for you, who will pick you up without judgment, and hold you until you can find your feet again.

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Moms with a purpose and ready to fight for others. 
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Family by choice!

Throughout Nick’s illness, my tribe, especially including my group of ladies held us up by bringing us food, cleaning my house, taking Stephen when needed, visiting Nick, supporting me and Luke when we were away from each other so much, and emotionally kept us strong.

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When Nick passed, my tribe became the glue that kept me and my family together as we shattered apart.

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They let me grieve and do what I needed to do in order to make sense of this tragedy. Again no judgment. Only patience and love, even as they handled their own loss. That’s how it is with a tribe. The loss of one affects us all.

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My tribe has grown and our foundation has become stronger.

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It’s really hard to explain what we have together, but we appreciate the depths of our connections. When one of our tribe suffers, is wronged, or is ill, we feel it to our core. We have known terrible loss, but we have risen up from it to bring beauty, hope, and healing to our world. And whatever may come, we will always fight like the warriors we are.

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As our tribe continues to grow, know that once a part of the family, always a part of the family. No matter where you may be.

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Nick always a part of our tribe.

Who is your tribe? How do you support one another when you need it most? How can you let your tribe know that you are there for them? Write a note of thanks to each of them and how they positively impact your life. You don’t need a large tribe, just enough to get you through the tough times and celebrate in the good.