June–Month in Review


June was a month of healing. I had my left ACL replaced in my knee on May 30. Recovery was a bit tougher than I had figured. My body was so exhausted, it shut down. I had no choice but to relax and let my body heal. For two weeks my journal was filled with posts about lack of sleep due to an immobilizer, pain, and stiffness. But as I wrote I could note the improvements.

I used this time to edit Sketchy Dinosaurs–my middle grade novel that is due to be published in December. I read, emptied my schedule, and stayed home. I gave up the idea that I had to be everywhere and do everything.

There’s a certain freedom in completely surrendering to my body’s needs. When I didn’t, my body rebelled. I spent time with friends and gave myself permission to let things go. Taking a step back gave other people in the foundation the opportunity to be in charge and allow their talents to shine. I loved that and hope to keep my schedule lighter to let others get involved and open space for new projects.

I didn’t reach a lot of my goals, but I was not realistic with what I could get done. My goal should have been to heal my body and nothing more. However, that’s hard when life continues to happen, and I can’t let a whole month go by without working. The best part about being a writer is that I can do it anywhere.

It may take me forever to learn that I can’t accomplish all that I put on my plate. I always think I’ll get more done than I do. I figure even if I get half of my goals done, I’ll feel better. That’s not the case because all I think about is what I didn’t do.

I plan to spread my goals out, so that I won’t feel so much pressure and can enjoy the process and results more.

July has begun and I’m still healing, editing my book, working on a picture book, and overseeing the creation of a new website. I’m slowly down, see?

Love Yourself as You Are


Because of the snowy weather, my journaling workshop at the library has been cancelled, but this doesn’t mean we can’t journal together!

February is the month of hearts, love, and romance. Not everyone partakes in these festivities, and this month or Valentine’s Day can actually be sad and lonely for some of us.

My theme of Finding Purpose and putting dreams into action has to start with the most important step you will ever take in your life. Loving Yourself. This has been popping up all over the place, so I know I need to write about it.

I love the quote by Steve Maraboli where you have to love yourself enough to take action required for your happiness. How we feel about ourselves affects every decision we make. Take personal health. In restorative yoga this morning, Instructor Jess spoke about accepting your body where it is right now, not how it was yesterday or how it may be tomorrow. And not only accepting it, but being grateful for your body and your beautiful legs that carry you throughout the day.

This was perfect for me, because I woke up feeling very creaky! I’ve been working out, trying to get in better shape, and eat right. In class, I felt tight and was actually mad at myself for not making quicker progress. Then Jess said to breathe through the pose. I not only breathed through the pigeon pose, I also worked through that self-doubt and anti-love. I was working so hard on putting myself down, I forgot about how amazing my body is. How it gave birth to two babies and carried them through childhood. How I biked 100 miles for a charity or earned my karate belts by physically defending myself. Or how I sit for hours and use my fingers to type words from my heart. How my arms hold others in love and comfort. How I am alive, healthy, and able to walk up a flight of stairs.

For your journal prompt, take each part of the above quote and write about it:

*Write about the amazing ways your body supports you and what it has done in your life.

*What action can you take to be happy in any part of your life today? It can be as simple as reading a book, calling a friend, taking the time to journal or play in the snow if you have some, ride the waves if you live near a beach.

*What is holding you back from your past? What story are you holding on to? Can you write the ending where you say goodbye or have closure? Who in your life is filling yours with drama? Is it time to let them loose?

*What are you looking for in a relationship? This could be with a partner, your current spouse, family or friends. You deserve to not only love yourself unconditionally, but to be loved that way as well.

*How do you want to feed your mind? Go back to school? Read a book? Learn a language or draw, sing, etc.

*What physical activity can you partake in to make you feel good? Do you want to join a gym, take kickboxing, dance, yoga, martial arts, biking, meditation, walks. The sky is the limit. Movement means happiness!

*What do you need to forgive yourself for? Can you write yourself a letter? Can you have empathy for yourself like you would have for a friend? Putting that guilt aside, perhaps knowing that you cannot change what happened, but be with it, and give yourself a break is enough for now. Not forgiving yourself is one of the heaviest burdens we can bear.

*What is one step you can take today to loving yourself? This is a long list of questions. Take what moves you today, write, and take action. Then tomorrow go to another or continue on the same one.

You are worth every moment of happiness, self-love, and joy. Believe it for yourself and have a beautiful day.


Stories–Gratitude Day 30

Creating stories is my life. I have always been enthralled by the written word and there is nothing better than falling into a book and completely forgetting the world as I explored the one I was in.

Nick was always and forever will be my biggest fan. He was there for my first book publication, went to all my book signings, and had a huge impact on my second book. He is the main topic of my fourth book, The Puzzle Quests, Shimmer’s Eggs.

He also was a creative writer and loved to read as much as I did–probably more. An avid lover of the library, Nick always wanted to share his love of books.


When he passed, I longed to hear any story someone wanted to share about Nick. There were so many, and as it warmed my heart, it also broke it. He had so much to give, and I couldn’t understand why his life would be cut short.

After nine years, it’s hard to imagine there would still be stories that I hadn’t heard from when he was with us. Recently, I was in our bank talking to the manager. She wanted to help with Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation. I was very happy to hear that and looked forward to working together.

Then she shared a story. When Nick was in middle school, he volunteered to be a book buddy for his elementary school. Sharing his love of stories and reading to other kids was the perfect way to help others.

Her son, who is also named Nick was involved in this Book Buddy program. My Nick was his mentor and buddy. Nick also brought him some fun items to encourage reading. He and his mother never forgot it as the connection impacted them both.

Stories are precious. They connect people, they heal, entertain, and help us remember those who have gone before us.

I am grateful that she and so many others have shared their Nick stories with me. It reminds me that he is always here.

A Lovely Day–Gratitude Day 20

gratitude quote

This quote was in my journal, and as I sit back thinking about what I did today, I feel full, loved, and happy. It’s hard for me to say that I’m happy. It is often accompanied by a sense of guilt. How can I be happy when I miss Nick so much? How can I be happy when another mom is missing her boy on his 17th birthday? How can I be happy when another mom lost her son today?

In a world that is filled with so much pain and loss, how does gratitude fit in? When I am present to what I am grateful for, it soothes the cuts that life inflicts on me. I do not ask of myself what I am not yet ready to give or do, but being grateful shows me that there is grace in this world. There are positives, and in order to do good and live my life, I need to have hope.

Hope that the world will heal, that those who lost loved ones can find comfort in having loved, that tomorrow will be a better day.

Today I was very present with my husband and son. I was overjoyed to hug Stephen and appreciated spending time with him. We had a great day. And that is enough to be grateful for.

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.

Five Ways to Settle into Sleep

crescent moon

Sleep. We all need it. Most get cranky without it, and our physical and mental health may very well depend upon it. In the February 27/March 6, 2017 issue of Time Magazine, Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley states that, “Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body for health.” (72)

When sleep is a topic of discussion, it always seems like someone can either plop their head on their pillow and be out for the night or will toss and turn most of the night and never feel like they are rested. There are the in betweens too: those who fall asleep right away, but wake up often or those who sleep, but don’t really get rest.


I love going to sleep and I’m one of those who can fall asleep pretty quickly. I know, you can hate me all you want, but sleep hasn’t always come easily. I look forward to my rest, my dreams, and my body needs at least 7-8 hours of it nightly. When I don’t get that sleep, I am one cranky lady. So I make sure I do what I need to get that rest.

Here are some ideas:

Put away the technology: Robert Stickgold, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School states in the same article that, “The biggest thing I do to improve my sleep is to pull the plug. It’s not easy. I made the decision that my sleep comes before catching up on my life. So when it’s 11 p.m., I turn off my email, phone and computer. Warm baths and warm milk also help.” (73)

A major decision that I mainly made, but my husband respected, was not putting a television in our bedroom. I never wanted to use TV to help me fall asleep. There is an iPad that someone often uses to watch YouTube, which I mostly  ignore, but the use of visual technology can keep the mind active. I do keep my phone on my end table as my alarm and for emergencies if my son needs me. It is on vibrate, so often I don’t hear a text, but emergencies require a phone call, and I hear that buzzing. But all other notifications are disabled. Technology can be addicting, so try weaning yourself off and see what happens.

Essential Oils Diffuser: I have started using a diffuser to help with my sinuses and overall health. Click here to read other reasons to use a diffuser.  I do have a diffuser in my bedroom and have used it a couple times. Lavender is especially helpful for sleep. It can be used in a diffuser, a tad placed under your nose or a lavender scented satchel under your pillow. I have to say the diffuser kept interrupting my sleep. It wasn’t loud, but I heard dripping and the light stays on, which even with my eyes closed bothers me. But it works for many people and is an option.

Updating to do lists: At the end of the day, I make it a point to review what was on my task list and shift anything not done to the next day or reevaluate if I even need to do it. It might be something that isn’t necessary to be done that week, so can be changed to a future date. Writing any thoughts on a project or recording creative ideas remove them from my head, so I can relax quicker.

Journal: I write about my day in the evening for a couple reasons. It’s my daily report of my personal history and my way to filter through what went well during the day and what didn’t. It’s also my method to vent about anything or anyone that bothered me during the day. What is helpful with this process is that I don’t take it to bed with me. It’s like going to bed angry at your spouse. Before Luke and I got married, Father Tom told us to never go to bed angry. We have been able to do that for the most part, and it’s great advice. Sleep is meant to be peaceful and safe. Negative emotions affect rest. So another bit of advice. Never go to bed with your mind filled with emotions and discord. Write it out.

Meditation: Calming your mind after a day filled with activity, stress, and difficult decisions can be quite a feat. The continued practice of meditation can train your mind to turn off and focus on the task at hand, falling asleep. A simple way to do this is lying on your back with your hands on your belly or chest. Close your eyes and take deep breaths in and out of your nose. As you slow your breath, do a body scan. Starting from your feet, you can flex and relax them or notice how they feel. If you have any aches or pain in that part of our body, focus your breath on it. The purpose is to get your entire body to relax. Once your scan is done, focus on your breathing and nothing else. Release any thoughts or ideas from your mind and let them go. Tomorrow is another day to deal with them. Give your body and mind permission to relax and go to sleep.

I’m not a sleep expert. I’m not a psychologist. But as my husband notes, my cure-alls are tea, Allegra, and journaling!

What kind of sleeper are you? Do you feel rested in the morning or exhausted? Do you replay the day’s events in your mind when you lay down to sleep? What are a couple changes you can make to get more rest? Take a few minutes and write about your sleep patterns and decide if journaling can help you sleep better at night.

Keeping a journal by your bed for those last minute to do items and for dream recall is also helpful. Here’s to a good night’s sleep tonight!




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.

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


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.

Moms with a purpose and ready to fight for others. 
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.


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


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.


My tribe has grown and our foundation has become stronger.




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.


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.

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.




Be Still and Still Be Who You Are

Photo by Alysia Thomas

As I forced myself to do meditation this morning, I realized how hard it is for me to be still.  Being still is different than sitting at my computer writing or reading through research. My mind is still going, and I’m usually jumping from one project to another.

The leader of the guided meditation on my app suggested that I gaze at something still in the room; not my dogs walking around, not my leg bouncing up and down, or the kids heading to the bus on the street outside. I locked on a book called The Grammar Devotional, well because it wasn’t moving! As I stared at the cover, I let any thoughts float through my mind and fly out my ears. My body settled, even though my legs felt like running off.

I wondered why I had a hard time being still, even though I wasn’t supposed to be wondering anything! When we are still, sometimes we feel that we are idle, wasting our time, and not doing all the hundred other activities that are on the to do list. When we are still, our body has a chance to catch up with our mind and realize that it needs some reenergizing. When we are still, feelings, emotions, and doubts seep in like smoke under a closed door. Yes our mind realizes that smoke means fire, and there is danger beyond that door, so we had better run!

When we are still, we realize we can still be who we are when we are running around saving the world and accomplishing small and huge tasks. Being still, caring for ourselves, taking the time to drop into our space, allows us to connect with who we and keeps everything else in perspective. Perhaps by being still, we understand that we don’t want to run around aimlessly or even if we are saving the world, sometimes we have to save ourselves.

The next time you find that you can’t slow down or feel guilty for slowing down, find something beautiful to focus on, settle in, and be still. And if you can’t, journal about why you feel the need to keep going. Then try to be still for five minutes a day and write about how that feels in your body, your mind, your heart.

Settle in Sundays

Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Yes, I know the Giants aren’t playing, but with some traditions come loyalty. My husband and his dad have always been Giants fans during the good and bad times. By proxy, my boys became Giants fans. Nick especially took the family loyalty seriously and dressed the part for the 2008 Giants vs. Patriots game on February 3. Giants did win, so I thought this post was appropriate!

Nick was an avid Giants fan! February 3, 2008
The men heading to Giants training camp at SUNY Albany. Annual tradition

Traditions create precious and priceless memories. Each summer the boys’ dad and grandpa took them to the practice fields to watch the players practice. They even had the opportunity to get their hats signed and say hello to some of the players. Besides the fact that they were watching their favorite team play, it provided an amazing opportunity for all four Cammarata men to bond and spend time together.

What I love about this photo is that not only are they all wearing their unique Giants cap, but their shirts express their specific interests. Dad always wore a blue shirt and his gold chain. He worked hard at Verizon as a fiber optics technician. He passed on 2014 and watching Giants play football just isn’t the same. Stephen was really into riding dirt bikes and loved Travis Pastrana. Nick was an avid swimmer and swam on two different teams throughout the year. Luke is the quintessential fix it man. Our friends’ kids come to Luke when they need something fixed, and  working with tools come naturally to him. He and his dad installed the hardwood floors in our kitchen and family room.

Nick getting Eli Manning to sign his hat.
Justin Tuck was wonderful with the boys.

Tradition sustains when tragedy hits. In 2008, Nick was diagnosed with leukemia. The child life specialist at the clinic noticed that Nick liked the Giants. She gave him a baseball hat and arranged for the boys to meet all the players. They were beyond excited. They walked around asking everyone to sign their hats. (Well Nick did. Stephen was a bit starstruck.) The tradition of going to the Giants turned into a precious event for a teen who was struggling with cancer. It gave him hope and joy if even for an afternoon.


Stephen, me, and my hubby, Luke

The Giants pulled out of Albany for training camp, but even though this particular tradition discontinued, Luke and Stephen continued in memory of Nick and Grandpa. I was honored to become a part of the tradition.

We keep traditions for many reasons. They reflect our values, express our loyalties, and create memories that evoke joy and gratitude, despite sadness when those who began the tradition are no longer with us. Traditions connect us, and I’m sure Nick and his Grandpa are watching this year’s Super Bowl wearing their Giants gear.

What is your Super Bowl tradition?

Root Down to Rise Up

Drawing from http://www.hellokids.com, but you can draw your own.

I did this healing exercise in both my adult and teen journal writing workshops. On the tree and in the branches, they wrote words that positively described them, how they were special, and how others saw them. Then under the ground in the roots, they wrote their values–what was important to them.

The oak tree has always had a strong symbolic meaning for me. My connection to trees is deep. (When I was a child, I sat in them for hours and read.) Despite the storms, wind, and rain, the oak tree bends, but it never breaks. Its roots run deep, its core is powerful, and it rises up to not only persevere, but to be a beacon of hope for the world.

It’s been a tough week on many levels, and everyone has those days, weeks, months that just seem like endless storms that pummel our spirit and soul. It’s not easy to dig deep into our roots, our values and let our positive attributes stretch forth when we feel like the world keeps knocking us down.

I went to yoga after my teen’s class, and as I reached my arms to the ceiling and rooted my foundation into tree pose, I thought about my positive attributes. What do I root down to in order to rise up to not only get through another day, but to make my life, my family, my community, and the world a better place? What do I reach for?

Photo by Alysia Thomas

One word came to me–optimism. My hope and intuitive belief that the crisis that I’m in or the sadness that I feel will get better is what grounds me. No matter how devastated I have been, I have always reached up and reached out for the good in life, the best in others, and hope in myself that I can make this world a better place.

But it all begins with me. If I don’t grow deep and strong roots, if I don’t reach out to help others or ask for help, my branches are fragile, and I will break. Yes, some of our branches do break, but the core of who we are is forever powerful if we root down, dig deep, and find beauty, love, and sunshine no matter where we are in our lives.

So I ask you. What makes you strong when the winds of life beat on your branches and threaten to tear down your foundation? How do you dig deep and root yourself to the earth, so that your spirit isn’t ripped away? What makes you special? I hope you come up with at least 10 adjectives, because you have so much to offer. What is important to you? Knowing this makes you a powerful entity. Living by your values and sharing your unique attributes creates a community that is stronger together.

But it all begins with you.