Chelle Summer

chelle summer

Resting in Prayer

Michelle Rusk

I will be the first to admit that I live a fairly hurried life, much to my own choice. However, what many people don’t realize is that I pray twice a day and it’s during that time– especially during my second prayer– that not only do I rest, but so do my requests for my life.

I have written before that my first prayer takes place on my run with Lilly around 5:00 am every day. That time is set aside mostly to say thank you for everything that happened the previous day and throw out any requests as well. It also helps the run go faster by keeping my thoughts centered.

Then after the dogs have been fed, but before my shower, I sit with a lit candle for five minutes and that prayer is devoted to throwing out my requests. In the colder months, I do this at my desk, however, in the summer, I let my feet rest after my workout on the top step of the swimming pool.

Not only are my feet resting in the cold water, but so are my thoughts, my requests, my hopes. And I am getting a rest before I venture into the rest of my day.

I’m not perfect at prayer– I will be the first to admit that I am easily distractible– but it’s a consistent effort on my part to rest and let go of what who and what I want to be. Plus those five minutes allow me to center myself for the day ahead. Resting in prayer helps me recharge and reminds me what’s important and not get caught up in drama or negative thoughts.

I am more productive– and happier– because I take the time for this rest.

Kate Spade: The Initial Inspiration for Chelle Summer

Michelle Rusk

Quite honestly, I'm not sure where to begin. Two of my worlds collided today with the suicide of Kate Spade.

What most people don't know is that I stopped buying Kate Spade products partly because she had sold the brand and each time Greg and I went into one of the stores on a trip, we agreed that things didn't look new and inviting.

However, there was a bigger reason than that: I had started to create my own brand, Chelle Summer. Initially I had wanted to call Chelle summer "Michelle L." and when the lawyers came back and told me that Fossil owned "Michele" with one L, they were clear that I could never win against such a large company. I was so disappointed that I had to come up with a new name but at some point I thought of Kate and how awkward it must have been (even though she had chosen to sell it) to see a brand with her name on it while she might not have always liked what the new brand had to offer. Chelle Summer was born and I quickly realized it was a better name than Michelle L., while also allowing somewhat of a separation from my own name.

When I look back on the time when I purchased my first Kate bag (in this photo), I was facing many challenges of my own trying to move forward after a divorce and two moves across the country. What I didn't see then was that in looking at what the brand offered and her style of which I had been aware of for so long (but couldn't afford to buy), I was slowly realizing what I would want my own brand to be. Kate was the initial inspiration for Chelle Summer (with Trina Turk taking the lead later). Kate made me feel that I didn't have to settle for what I saw in the marketplace, that I could create my own items and I also could choose to wear bold prints and colors.

I obviously don't know what led her to take her own life, but with vast experience in suicide over the past twenty-five years I know that there is never just one answer. It was probably a combination of events and thoughts that made her believe ending her life was her only way to find peace. The irony of this is that early this morning on my walk as I was contemplating my own life journey that's following my surgery this past Friday, I realized that for a period of time I'm not going to find peace as much as I would like to. I'm working to embrace some challenges ahead of me (mostly writing related) to fulfill the prayer to God that I've been asking to help me go forward and be the person I'm supposed to be.

I also understand how as a creative person it can be challenging because you're in your own world where sometimes you can think too much. It's why I work hard to balance my life of running/walking early in the mornings where I have several people that I chat with and why I host so many pool and dinner parties. Those keep me balanced while also allowing me to have that time create and be alone in my thoughts.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around her suicide. That's the honest answer. But I also know that life is hard and overwhelming at times. That's also one of the one reasons I post so many blogs and photos about moving forward. I see it that if I have something in my life that helps me go forward, maybe it can help someone else, too.

Choosing What to Share

Michelle Rusk

I spent a good part of yesterday working on two paintings (when I wasn't folding laundry and that I did because Greg was gratefully painting the trim on the outside of the house so I didn't think it was fair that he did that and fold the laundry). At some point I took a break from painting and I picked up my phone to check social media. But before I hit the button to take it out of sleep mode, I looked at the phone, wondered if I really needed to look at anything, and ended up putting it back on the counter where I had left it previously. Then I returned to my painting.

I am the first to admit that social media has played a huge part of taking my messages forward, particularly in my days working to help the suicide bereaved. I realize that if you lost someone to suicide today, you will have a drastically different experience than me because you can easily connect to people via the internet whereas it took me years to find other bereaved siblings. And now my messages have changed to sharing how I've moved forward through my losses by using my creativity, at least the visually creative aspects of my life (sewing, painting, cooking, etc).

However, I also know there is a line for me of what I choose to share, when I choose to share it, and how much time I spend looking at it.

While it might seem that what I create visually is how I spend the bulk of my time, the reality is that my writing is still what's most important to me. It obviously takes longer for me to share that so in the meantime (as I wrote about balancing goals last week), I share the visually creative items. I also found out in my early Facebook years that if I shared what I was writing, I never finished it.

I stopped talking about my writing because I realized it was something I have to keep to myself until it's completed. Most people in my daily circle of life don't know what I'm working on for the same reason. And yet there are many times I so badly want to share things but I know the time isn't right so I let it go (and probably post a photo of Lilly instead!).

When I went for my last spiritual direction visit with Fr. Gene, at the Norbertine Abbey here, one of things I told him was how I find that I'm not supposed to always share the journey that I'm on, that instead I'm supposed to wait until it's over when I can look back at the road and reflect more on it. It's only then that I can see what it is about my journey that would be most meaningful for others to read about.

And in that same vein, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about letter writing. One line stood out for me where the woman said that even though we seemingly share more of our lives by constantly posting on social media, we aren't really sharing of ourselves like we did writing letters.

Writing letters was one way that I honed my writing skills early and now I'm finding that as I've pulled back in sharing some aspects of my journey, they are instead finding places in my manuscripts. Once again, it's about balance and deciding what I should share now and what I should save for later, to be shared in another way as part of a bigger project.


Michelle Rusk

Before my friend Bonnie died– just three weeks after my dad in January 2006– each time I would go to her house, she usually had something to share with me. She was in her late sixties when I moved across the street (although I got to know her better in the years after I had moved a few miles away) and I would often spend evenings with her sewing or working on some other crafty project. One time she had my first husband bring back nautical rope from a trip to Portland, Maine (he worked for a company based there) and she gessoed the yellow rope white and we made shell wreaths. That's the sort of things Bonnie liked to do.

Often she would have pages in marked in Martha Stewart's magazine for me look at or family items pulled out to share stories about her family or her husband Greg's family. 

The tablecloth above was given to me after she died by her daughter Sadie who wasn't into giving dinner parties and had no use for it. I'm not sure the last time it was used– or the matching napkins. Bonnie bought it in Middle East (most likely Saudi Arabia) during the time they lived there because Greg worked for an oil company. 

When Bonnie was dying of cancer, I spent as much time as I could with her and at some point she started to ask me which of her things I might like to have. Or she offered certain things she knew Sadie wouldn't want (sadly, Sadie– who has since died, too along with Greg and Bonnie's son Gordon)– had a prescription problem and just about everything Bonnie gave her was sold to pay for drugs, including many quilts that Bonnie had made. 

One afternoon as we sifted through fabric she asked me if I would like her dining room table. There was one reason for this, one thing I really wanted was a table that would fit twelve people around it. I have no idea who those twelve people would be, but I just liked the idea of having that many people around one table. 

It was never mentioned again because she died not long after that and I didn't bring it up because it wasn't my place to. I'm sure she never mentioned it to Sadie, simply because she was on a morphine drip and didn't always remember what we had discussed. The table got sold, but the tablecloth and napkins were given to me.

In the nearly eleven years I've had them, I've never used them. My current table doesn't fit that many people and with the many losses in my family, I haven't had reason to put that many people around the table. Any family events I had before my mom's death when I was living in Illinois were at her dining room table (now in the loving hands of my sister Karen) with a tablecloth of mine or Mom's. Bonnie's tablecloth always was pushed to the bottom of the drawer.

However, on Thanksgiving this week, I will gather the entire David and Delcia Rusk family at my dining room table (we'll be bumping my desk– which is my parents' kitchen table and a leaf for it) up to the dining room table. I'll cover it with Bonnie's tablecloth and we'll use the napkins that match it.

We'll top the tablecloth with Greg's and mine wedding china combined with Delcia's mother's china from Argentina. 

It feels more significant than ever to recognize Bonnie in my life. My mom was the one who instilled my creativity in me, always encouraging me to write/draw/create/sew, but it was Bonnie who took it to the next level teaching me so much more. As I continue to forge my lifestyle brand– Chelle Summer– forward, all that Bonnie taught me is going to yet another level.

Using her tablecloth is a way of saying thank you.

My Iconic Image

Michelle Rusk

I've been writing recently about what keeps me going and I thought I would try to spend more time exploring that, hoping that by my offering more specific examples, I can help other people find what helps keep them going and brings them hope because many times we don't realize what might be right in front of us. In the coming weeks, I'll continue to write about the many ways that help me find hope in the world, even when everything feels dark around me.

This is one of my favorite photos that Greg took on our last trip to Los Angeles. I planned this specifically because it combines several aspects of my life that are important to who I am. 

One of the most pivotal times of my life was seventh grade. I have written before that at the end of sixth grade, many of the girls in my neighborhood decide to "unfriend" me (not a word anyone was using back in the early 1980s but it's exactly what happened). It forced me to find new friends and find a way to be hopeful in a time that felt really lonely in many ways. 

That summer after sixth grade I somehow got really interested in popular music, then called Top 40 for those of us who remember. Without realizing it, I latched on trivia and I had an extensive knowledge of music in that time. I used babysitting money to buy magazines and would tape up pages of my favorite bands and artists on the walls of my room. 

In the middle 1980s, the Capitol Records Building (there were still records in those days!) was still a hubbub activity and in my world, to see it even today, takes me back to a time that was challenging but led me to new roads that proved to be interesting and inspiring. And help me get where I am now.

I found the Forenza sweater on eBay– by major luck. I had one in yellow in junior high and I loved it. I wore it backward all the time and it drove my grandmother crazy that it hung so low on my shorts at the time, making it sometimes not looking like I had shorts on. I parted with the sweater at some point and I feel lucky I found one in pink that fits. And is in perfect condition. 

To wear that sweater reminds me of junior high into high school and while it was a challenging time as I was trying to find my way in the world, it also reminds me how much hope I had of who I wanted to be. 

Finally, the Chelle Summer handbag made with vintage fabric represent where I'm at today. Chelle Summer takes all aspects of me– the past, the present, and the future– and ties them together into one lifestyle brand.

So standing there in Hollywood reminds me this is who I am. And this is still who I want to be.

The Authentic Life

Michelle Rusk

I sometimes forget what a challenge it is for people to live an authentic life. And when I say that, I mean to live the life they believe they are supposed to live. It's something I strive for daily and I think that because I've worked so hard to make it happen– while not completely as I do have a full-time job and I'm not yet devoting my entire days to my writing and Chelle Summer– that I forget how much work it's taken to get where I am. And I believe that in my future I will be working full-time for myself; it's what I strive for daily.

I also had forgotten about this photo– one of a series that Lois Bloom had taken for me, I believe not long after I'd gotten my surfboard. We were talking not long ago and I don't remember the rest of the conversation but I did say to her, "You know you were the reason that I realized I could own a surfboard and make it part of my life."

It was all because after she and Sam picked me up from LAX when I flew in from Chicago (where I was living at the time) to speak at a conference, I told them that a friend had asked if I was going to surf on the trip. I said no, that I didn't have a board, nor had I brought a swimsuit. 

"Why not?" Lois asked, turning her head to the backseat where I was sitting in the car. "You can rent a board. You can buy a swimsuit."

She was right– I did all of the above, spending the next few days on a rented board after taking (yet another) surfing lesson. And from there I bought my own board. 

While my shoulder has kept me off my board for about a year now, surfing is part of my life. I worked to carve it in just a I started to carve in time to write early in the morning. And I've carved in time to working on my sewing projects and building my Chelle Summer brand. 

I watch less television, I go to bed earlier so I can get up earlier, but I've made time for what makes me happy. It's the first step to living an authentic life: just like being taught to brush your teeth means that eventually (hopefully!) it become part of your daily routine, so is making time for what makes me happy. I long incorporated running into my life and I often say it's as much as part of my routine as brushing my teeth. But teaching myself that also has helped me figure out how to add in writing and creating to my daily routine, too.

I know that none of us are promised anything. We have this moment now and we don't know what's ahead. And while we can't always control some of the responsibilities we have, we still have the opportunity find some time for ourselves because by doing that, we're creating our own authentic life.


Patience, Patience, Yeah, and More Patience

Michelle Rusk

I always believe I can get more done in certain time periods than ends up being realistic. Last year I believed I had enough time to have a swimsuit collection ready to make custom suits by January of this year, but as time crept up on me– and not because I was lounging around watching television– I realized this wasn't going to happen. And then I realized it wasn't going to happen by March (next month) either.

Writing a book is a completely different game than creating a product where you have to then create more of them so you have inventory to sell. But you also need people to buy the product so you have to spend time working on marketing. There's a whole list of other items that consume my time; I don't get to be creative 24/7. And it's not that creating is a problem for me, it's more than there aren't enough hours in the day for everything I want to do.

That then circles us back to swimwear– and this photo of my mom taken in what I'm guessing was about 1961 in my grandfather's boat (I believe that's my dad next to her– before they were married). 

Most of us aren't old enough to remember swimsuits had zippers are were made with fabrics that now would seem outlandish to use for swimwear– like flannel. None of these fabrics could stretch, would give, nor would they dry quickly. Spandex was introduced in 1958 but wouldn't make its way into the swimsuit market just yet.

Working with vintage patterns has opened my eyes to the changes in fabrics (no zippers today!). We take for granted the quick drying material we plunge into swimming pools wearing– or the fact that the fabric doesn't fade from the chlorine like it used to. 

There is a journey involved in creating a swim line that I'll be happy with. I want everything to fit well, for women to want to wear a swimsuit because it's not just flattering but also comfortable. And to do that I have to slow down the process and continue to explore and sew, making mistakes while also making new discoveries along the way.

On Friday when I met with the priest with whom I do my spiritual direction, we talked about this continued to road building patience that I am on. I have written about how life is quiet now, how I'm productive but there's not much to share. And, honestly, not much going on. 

"You'll be up to your ears in stuff before you know it," he reminded me.

I won't say it's been easy. It's much like so many other goals I've set– it always takes me longer to get there.

And I will get there. Not just yet.

Staying the Course

Michelle Rusk

Sometimes I forget to follow my own advice.

Recently, a friend's daughter had gone out for her high school cross country team. She ran track in middle school but only the short sprints. After her first race, when she finished almost completely last last in the field, when we were back at our house after the meet to eat pizza, I pulled out the clippings from my high school days. The very ones where I finished dead last on my team and near the end of the line in the junior varsity race. By the end of that season though, I had moved up to last spot on varsity and I wanted Hannah to know that working hard would pay off. I also wanted her to know that everything I have accomplished today is because of those lessons I learned back then.

As I work at Chelle Summer, trying to get the word out there to sell the hand bags I have made as well as make more and get ready to sell customer swimwear in the spring, along with all my other responsibilities (including a full-time research job), sometimes I can be sitting at the sewing machine and I'll begin to wonder, is it worth it?

I wrote several weeks ago when we launched the store of the web site that to me this is the harder part of starting up something new: actually getting people to buy what you've created. Anyone of us can create something and throw it out there. The hard part is making people see that you're different than the millions of other products that we're bombarded with (and see all over social media). 

It's also a challenge to keep going when you're alone and have time to think. It's easy to wonder if it's worth the time and effort, if it's what I'm supposed to do, and if there is something else I'm supposed to be doing.

But then something comes along and reminds me, yes, this is the right direction on the map. I don't always get there as quickly as I would like. But, yes, I'll get there somehow. I've done it before and I know the rewards are great. I just need to stay the course. 

Be Bold

Michelle Rusk

We were across the street the other night for dinner with some neighbors when we got on the discussion about what it means to be bold. And Tim– who lives across the street– asked me the last bold thing I have done. 

I looked to the middle of the dining room table and pointed at the dark chocolate-banana-peanut butter ice cream bombe that I had made and I said, "To some people, trying a new recipe is bold."

But before I could add anything, Tim kindly told me that he thought starting a new business as I have with Chelle Summer is a bold thing to do.

And that's when I added that I didn't think trying a new recipe was bold (I tried three last week- and mostly I do this because I get bored and like to see if I can find recipes I like more than ones I've used in the past). Bold is doing things on a much larger scale, but I realize that not everyone's life is like mine. I have chosen a life where I continue to put myself and what I create out there in the world.

As I write this on late Monday morning, earlier we announced the web site online store is open for business. 

I have been going back and forth in my head about whether or not I think this is a bold move. I will admit that I am a little, no, a lot, scared as I take this forward. I've "thrown" many things out there; some have done well, some haven't. And yet something has driven me to take on this new venture. I keep myself focused on creating the items, (as well as continuing with my writing). I try not to worry about what will sell and when it will sell.

Whether it be bold or not, I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to. The key for me is to remember it's all about continuing to create– whether I do that through writing or sewing or painting– and let the rest go. 

Looking back on the past fifteen years since the publication of my first book, the boldest move at all for me might be learning to let it go and fly on its own while I stay on the ground and keep creating.

Check out the new store here at



Michelle Rusk

Saturday evening we were walking out of a restaurant with a takeout order for our dinner when a woman stopped me and said how much she liked my bag. Of course I was carrying a Chelle Summer bag, but this was the first time in the nearly year since I made the first one that anyone had commented on it when I was carrying one (except my gynecologist when I was leaving my appointment with him, yes, him– obviously he works with a lot of women so I'm sure has learned a thing or two about style over the years).

We had just come from church where one of my prayers on this particular Saturday night was asking to make sure I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing. 

Sewing, like writing, is something that often is done alone. And alone can be good– to a point. I work from home and balance that with walking and running the dogs early in the morning (where I have my "park" community to interact with) and doing errands. I also make sure to break up my day with a swim– weather permitting. And I have my job interviewing people for a military grief research study that keeps me engaged with the participants and the people I work with.

But I'm lost in my thoughts much of the time either writing, at the sewing machine, or cutting at my dining room table where I have plenty of space to spread out the rolls of fabric. While I don't ever feel like there is enough time to create everything I want to, one of my daily prayers is to "stay the course" so that I don't get off track. And because I'm alone, not knowing if what I'm doing is going to be a dud or something great, it's a challenge to keep positive when there is only me to talk to.

In particular over the past week, I've had multiple conversations with people who have told me how much they enjoy seeing all that I'm creating, mostly shared on social media. It's my goal to keep creating and share it, not worrying about the rest (like what happens next!). Hearing those comments helps me to keep going and they keep me reminded that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing: sharing through living the life that I want to have.

To all of you who are inspired by my work, who enjoy seeing it, who tell me how much you enjoy it: Thank you. Thank you for being part of this journey.

Welcome to Chelle Summer!

Michelle Rusk

After years of of a variety of web sites, we have merged all my work into one place. 

Chelle Summer.

Here you'll find links to my books (and there are more of those to come!), the inspiring blogs I'm known for, recipes from Chef Chelle, and– soon– a store for the Chelle Summer bucket bags and tote bags.

The focus of Chelle Summer is also the idea of bringing together what inspires me and sharing that with you and the world. After spending many years helping people through grief and loss, my concentration has turned to living the creative and inspiring life I have dreamed of. And by living it, I'm showing that despite whatever happens to you, you can go forward and have a great life.

You'll find links to social media where I often share the items that inspire me or what I create. And of course the awesome photography of Pamela Joye (who also built this site). 

Take a look around. Pull up a chair and stay awhile. Connect with us on social media.

And get ready for what's next. First up? The Chelle Summer store, of course.