December Gifts to Gratitude

Oh December! As much as I love this month of holiday giving, shopping, baking, decorating, and constant chaos, I miss the simpleness of being with those I love. It’s been tough getting excited for Christmas, and I think it’s because of the commercialism, the stressfulness of finding gifts for people who may not need anything, but there is that sense of obligation to buy gifts because it is that time of year. Boy do I sound grumpy!

I reflected back to October when I shared my daily gratitude journal. That month made me realize what I have in my life and how much people give me every day.  I don’t mean gifts in the physical sense, but what they have given me from their heart. I’m talking about what they have taught me and how I am a better person because they are in my life. For December I am focusing on what people have given me and how grateful I am for that.

My gift to them? I want to let them know. So each day I am sending a letter to someone in my tribe with a word that describes them to me. So far I have come up with courage, determination, laughter, honorable, and enduring. Sitting down and thinking about what my friends and family bring to my life is the best gift I can receive.

If you’d like to join in with my December Gifts to Gratitude, here is what I’m doing.

First, I write a letter to that person. Yes, a written letter addressed and mailed to them! Personal mail is a pleasure to receive, especially when we are inundated with catalogs! I’m personalizing them with some fun stickers and the word I associate with that person. Then I write a letter to them explaining the gift they have given to me, what they mean to me, and why I am grateful to have them in my life.

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Letter with the ornament I write the person’s name and word on.

Next, I write their name on an ornament that I purchased at Michael’s (which are half price right now). I write their name on one side, then their special word on the other. I want them to remember why they are special to me, and it can be displayed in their home if they like.

Finally, in order for me to keep perspective this month and remember why I am grateful, I am writing their name on my own ornaments and placing them on the tree in my library. This tree is topped by an angel that my son, Nick, made so it’s a special tree that also reminds me of the amazing gifts he has given him.

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Another option is to cut out a tree or Menorah from paper or write in the people who have given the the greatest gifts of their time, their heart, and their love. Decorate in your tradition. Ornaments could be strung from lights with people’s names or photos. What an amazing visual that would be!

No matter what we believe or how we celebrate the holidays, it all comes down to sharing your love with others and letting them know how much you care every day of the year. That is the greatest gift and makes me grateful.

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!

Grasping Gratitude

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Some of the participants from my spring 2017 journaling workshop!

It’s easy to be grateful when you are surrounded by wonderful people who are willing to experiment and try journaling. Pictured are some of the people who I connected with during my last journaling session. We did an exercise that I call Grasping Gratitude. I believe that no matter how sad or despondent we get in life there is always hope, there is always something to be grateful for.

They are holding some of their personal gift boxes that they created to grasp a part of their childhood that is sacred to them and reminds us of what we may have lost or can bring back into our lives that gave us happiness.

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I wrote about my teenage years and how I rode my bicycle all around town to work, to karate, and over the many hills and mountains surrounding my home. There was a huge sense of freedom venturing out on my own, meeting new people, and challenging myself on longer treks. My parents didn’t worry about someone abducting me and follow every move I made. They gave me the freedom and support to do what made me happy.

I biked quite often in my adult life and loved biking with my kids. For the last few years, I haven’t biked as much, as I worry about the safety on the roads and whether I’m strong enough to still do it.

Remembering the thrill of riding my bike without hands flying down a hill was nostalgic. I may not do that again, but I plan to ride my bike on the road, either with friends or on my own. It’s a joy that I let go and doing this exercise brought it back for me. I am grateful that I can still ride a bike and revel in the freedom of the road!

Venture back into your childhood and see what you are grateful for and want to bring back into your life. The exercise is below. Share your thoughts!

Thank you to everyone who participated and join my newsletter at http://www.janinedetilliocammarata.com for upcoming workshops!

Grasping Gratitude

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.

 

 

 

Root Down to Rise Up

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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?

tree-rise-up
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.

Going with the Changes

 

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My sister and I are crazy. Simple as that. We know how to have fun and laugh at ourselves. Michele is five years younger than me (I know we look like twins!), and we both were very active in high school sports. How does this relate to life and changes, you may ask. Allow me to digress and weave a story.

In high school, Michele ran track and played soccer. I played soccer and softball. My older sister, Stephanie, played softball, and my brother played soccer. We are a very athletic and slightly klutzy family. Compared to the skills in soccer nowadays, I may not have been considered a very skilled player, but I was tough and successful. I was the bomb!

Fast forward 15-20 years later. My younger son, Stephen, is an awesome soccer player. My husband, Luke, still plays soccer and yes, Stephen gets some of his skill from his dad, but his toughness from his mom. Over the years, Stephen has asked me to kick the ball with him, and we have played in parent vs. kids soccer games on his travel teams. I’m in good shape and, in my mind, I’m still that vibrant soccer player who plowed through the defense.

Some of the last few times I have played soccer with Stephen have been enlightening and deflating. My legs go wobbly, my balance flies out the door, and the ball goes everywhere, but to my son. What the heck happened? Where was the skilled soccer player who ruled on the playing field? My son asks, “You sure you played soccer?” I had to show him the certificates proving I played sports. Here’s proof in case no one else believes me!

Wait it gets better. Michele’s job at the time had a summer softball league. Michele wanted to play and recruited me since I was so skilled on the field and at bat. She talked me up like I was the answer to their prayers. I was psyched! I couldn’t wait to get up to bat and send that ball to the moon! I played first base in high school, and I knew I could make a difference and be an asset to this team. Plus playing a sport with my little sister was bound to be a hoot and a good time for all involved.

The time had come. I was up to bat. I swung it across my body a couple times to  loosen up. My golden rule was never ever swing at the first pitch, so I let the first one go by. Hmm, that one looked pretty good, but it didn’t matter. The next pitch came, and I swung. Oh, my back! Swung a bit too hard and missed the ball. No matter. I could do this. Next pitch I connected, but it felt like someone sent a jolt of electricity up my arms that reverberated through my teeth and into my skull. I ignored the shock. I had hit the ball. No matter that it didn’t make it to the pitcher. I sprinted toward first base. Why was it taking so long to get there, and why did my heart feel like it was going to vomit right out of my chest? Not able to believe it, I was called out before I hit the plate.

Needless to say my ability to eye the ball while catching wasn’t the greatest, although it was better than my hitting. The ground was so uneven, I tripped running to get the ball, fell on my face, and wondered where the 16-year-old sports star had gone.

The one saving grace was that Michele did about the same, and we laughed hysterically  over it, much to the dismay of our competitive teammates.

So I wasn’t the jock I used to be. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I can’t sprint across the field and frankly I don’t want to! It’s hard not to live in that past and think that my self worth was based on how I performed in high school. But it’s not. It’s based on who I am as a person now. Sure I gave up soccer and recreational softball, but I took up yoga. I can bend and twist like I don’t think I could have as a teen. I’m stronger inside and out. Even as a martial artist, I can’t do jump kicks and spinning heel kicks as well (actually I never was good at getting any hang time), but I have learned to be efficient and effective as the athlete I am today.

This was a long, but hopefully exciting, story to basically say that change is hard. We can fight it, we can deny it, we can rail against it. We can delay change by staying in shape and trying new exercises. But the fact is our bodies change as we age. Playing soccer and softball made me feel alive, strong, and happy. Now yoga makes me feel that way and more.

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Michele and I can still and always will be able to boogie!

What did you use to do as a youth that you no longer do as an adult, or maybe not as well as you would like? It doesn’t have to be sports, it can be anything from knitting to singing to riding a motorcycle. How did you feel when you did that particular activity? What emotions went through you? Write about it, describe it. How does it feel not to be able to do that anymore?

What activity can you do now that would give you that same sense of accomplishment, joy, and emotion? Is there something you’ve been wanting to try? What is stopping you? Make an action plan and do it today.

Change is good. We only need to embrace it.

Down Time

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Alysia’s cat Sonya taking some downtime. Photo by Alysia Thomas

If you’re like me you push yourself to fill your days with work, exercise, getting a decent meal in, seeing friends, and trying every which way to get ahead. We live in a world where busy is better and even if it’s social media busy, at least we don’t appear to be wasting time.

I believe I fill many hours with useful endeavors, but I can waste a lot of time searching through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. I’ll push myself to cross off those items on my list and try to be everything to everyone. Even if we are doing good work, eventually our bodies say enough is enough.

Then I crash. Yes, I’m in my crash phase as I have been sick since Tuesday night and now have an upper respiratory infection. And see! Instead of going to bed, I have to make sure I get my daily journal prompt out!

Getting sick forces us to completely erase all the appointments on my calendar. Sadly that meant canceling my workshop tonight, but that’s why I’m giving everyone something to write about.

When our bodies break down, it forces us to reevaluate what we are doing with our lives. Sometimes you just get sick, because it’s winter and germs are abundant. But sometimes it’s because we have too much on our plate, and we don’t know how to slow down. Mine is probably a mixture of both. So for the next couple days, I’m going to rest, but also am going to write about the priorities in my life and what is filling space. And instead of filling that space with useless chitter chatter or negative propaganda, I’m going to create some down time where I can journal, read, or just enjoy the world around me.

Now it’s your turn. What are your priorities? When you get sick, what is the first thing off your list? Where do you slow down? What do you find doesn’t really feel all that important anymore?

Can you eliminate these non-priorities while you are feeling healthy? Can you allow some down time in your life to just enjoy where you are? What would that down time look like?

As I take the time to let my body heal, I hope you will enjoy some down time and write about it.

Light my Fire!

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Photo by Alysia Thomas

Now if you know me well, a couple thoughts may be going through your head. One, what novel is she writing at this moment, and two, she doesn’t like The Doors, so why is she quoting them?!

Right now I’m focusing on my middle grade novel, so sorry ladies, and I’ll give The Doors the credit due for this song.

What really struck me this morning is how excited I am about my personal journal writing  (I’ll write about this tomorrow) and teaching my journal writing classes. The adult workshop begins tomorrow night and is full. My middle grade has three more sessions and the kids are open-minded about expressing themselves.

I’m excited because I’m doing what I love, and I see firsthand the benefits it has for me as well as for others. My inner fire, that light that makes me shine, is literally burning like the flames in this photo. That’s how I know I’m on my path, I’m expressing my truth, and living life as I want. I woke up this morning and couldn’t wait to see what words would flow out of me. It’s a completely organic process, and that is when I have to trust that I’m doing what my soul craves. I feel alive, and I just want to feel, express, and write.

That is your inner fire. That is your calling. That is your life purpose. I know that mine is writing, and teaching makes that fire crackle into the sky and explode!

That is my wish for all of you. What causes your belly to heat in excitement, your heart to quicken, your mouth to break open in song, and your soul to burst with energy? Yes, it’s much like being in love–with yourself, your path, your journey! That is what we are meant to be doing!

What lights your fire?!

What do you like to do that can be a part of your daily path? Maybe it’s career related or maybe it’s volunteering for a cause that ignites you. Perhaps it can be both, which will really create an inferno! Maybe it’s time for a new beginning! Write about it, how you feel emotionally and physically when you think about bringing this into your life. Then make a plan to put it into action. Even tiny steps will stoke your fire. Journaling about it will keep the flames burning.

Feel free to share what you learn!

Step Back Saturday

stepbackgrass
Photo by Alysia Thomas

The weekend is finally here. There is so much to get done and that to do list may feel like it is only getting larger. Many of last week’s themes were about love and being positive. They focused on embracing goodness, being with people who make you happy, and being aware of anything or anyone who is usurping your life, your energy, or your joy.

Take today to get caught up if needed. However, don’t forget to step back and take in all the good you did in the past week. Be with people who make all the hard work worthwhile. And be honest with yourself: if you fell short of telling people how you feel, spreading good in the world, or fulfilling your life mission, give yourself a break and start over. Soak in the positive and release the negative.