Chelle Summer

happiness

Hitting the Reset Button

Michelle Rusk
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This weekend is Memorial Day, the official kickoff for summer. And also the time we plan everything that we're going to do this summer. However, what usually happens come Labor Day– the end of summer and start of fall? Often we find ourselves looking back on summer and wondering, "Wait, I had all these things I was going to do! What happened?"

The end of May is the perfect time to hit the reset button, both on what we had hoped to do this year but also what we want to do this summer.

Have we made headway on those goals we planted the seeds of back in January? If not, it's the perfect time to rethink them and maybe tweak them so that we're more likely to accomplish them. If the goal was too big and we easily felt lost and gave up, how do we break the goal down into smaller pieces to make it more manageable?

And if we have made strides in accomplishing our goal (or goals!), what do we want to accomplish next? How do we keep ourselves interested to keep moving forward? What new goals can we set?

Many people see summer as a time to slow the pace down– and that might be our goal for the summer– reading more, spending more time with our families, doing more creative activities.

Whatever you do this weekend, take a little time to reflect on where you're at and where you want to go this year. The start of summer is the perfect opportunity– and a three-day weekend!– to step back and make sure you don't reach Labor Day wondering where summer went. And everything you wanted to accomplish with it.

Be Fearless

Michelle Rusk
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While I don't know why, I have let fear drive much of my life. I can see it when I travel back on my memories of various events. In particular it cost me being a better runner and it was after high school that I vowed I wouldn't ever let fear hold me back again.

But I know that I have still done it and now as I undergo a change in my work situation, I'm finding myself remembering how often I have worried about various things and how I worried endlessly only for them to work out. And then I've wondered why I put so much energy into worrying. 

Why do we worry so much? Is this a life lesson we're supposed to learn? For me, I believe it's more about learning to trust, to have faith, to know that I don't have to soak up my energy into fear. Instead I need to be fearless.

I know that life is short, it's something that drives me daily to make the most of each day. The less the fear we have, the more authentic lives we are living.

Don't wait. Don't let fear hold you back. Be fearless and make whatever it is you want happen. That's exactly what I'm doing.

My Iconic Image

Michelle Rusk
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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 Push and Pull of Letting Go

Michelle Rusk

Letting go is one of my biggest challenges (along with being patient!). It's not just that I want things to happen, it's also that I'm willing to work to make them happen. And yet much of the time it's not on my schedule. I'm a doer, I'm not a person to step back and let things unfold in front of me. I try to do as much as I can to make the unfolding happen.

But reality (yep, there's that again) is that there is much that can't happen if I don't let it go. If I keep something at the forefront of my mind, if I continually thing about it, what I'm doing is holding it back because I can't let it go.

I don't want to let it go because that means– gasp!– I'm giving the control away. However, I can't count the number of times that I've forced myself to stop thinking about something, stop asking for it. And the minute I turn around, my mind and work elsewhere, it reappears.

When something we want- especially to accomplish- feels as if it's stagnant, somewhere we need to balance how much we work on it and the letting go of the rest. There is only so much I can do, and accepting that is hard for me because I want certain things (particularly in my professional life) to happen. But life is also about balance, especially balancing working hard and letting go of the rest. 

And the day I master that? I won't be the only one watching it unfold. Until then, back to balancing I go.

 

 

Entertainingology

Michelle Rusk

I was reading a magazine the other day and, because it was a summer issue, a big focus was about summer entertaining, more specifically, how you do it. As I read the editor's letter that opened the issue, she talked about how one way to make entertaining easily is to think of the worst that can happen at a party because then nothing that bad will happen. The advice was silly and it seem unhelpful to me. So it got me thinking.

I began to think about why I find entertaining easy when many people see it as a challenge, one they often are too intimidated to take on (many people would rather attend a party than throw one). My parents didn't entertain a lot when I was growing up outside of family events, but those always sent Mom's stress level out the chimney because she wanted everything to be perfect. 

My own first forays into entertaining were high school cross country team spaghetti dinners when I started coaching as graduate student. And then when I married the first time, I had a Texan on my hands whose parents always seemed to have people over for meals.

It wasn't easy when I started. I could tell a lot of stories about things that have gone wrong (although I never had a squirrel running through my house via the chimney like my parents' next door neighbors did one Christmas Eve), but mostly what I've realized is that it's about practice.

The more you entertain, the better at it you get. It's no different than many of the other activities that I find fulfilling: creating, sewing, writing. The more I do them, the better I get at them. An early first married dinner party of trying to make chicken piccata taught me not to make something that you have to cook at the last minute and stand by the stove. Save that for smaller dinners. Instead, make something you can slide into the oven to bake for forty-five minutes. It gives you more time with your guests, too.

For me, I learn best by experience, by trying something. And isn't that what life is about? Trying new things, challenging ourselves? The more we do it, the more we grow. And the more we feel like our lives are well lived.

Life

Michelle Rusk

I know it's been a while since I've written.

I think about blogging; it's on my desk calendar where I write my daily tasks. But then I don't do it. And I don't do it because I haven't felt like I've had a lot to say. No, that's not true– I get ideas but then I think maybe I wrote them before. Or I think that maybe they aren't good enough to spend the time on. 

And there you have it– my life is a challenge to figure out how to best spend my time. I have so much I want to do and time often feels fleeting to me– I believe partially because of all my losses, I know that life can change in an instant. I hate that I get tired. I get up before 5:00 am and many days I can't believe when 3:00 pm hits and I wonder where the day went.

There is much I want to do and I finally decided today that my motto should be, "Think less, do more." It's July, it's summer. I want to make the most of these warm months. I need to worry less about experimenting making clothes and having them come out badly. I just need to make them. I need to keep writing and worry less that I'm writing crap and just keep writing.

Life is short but it's also a balance of being present where we are with where we want to be. And my goal this month is have a better idea of how to achieve that by the time August arrives.

Challenging Myself

Michelle Rusk

I always say it would be easier to stay in my box and not challenge myself. However, I know myself well enough that I get bored and that if I want to live life to the fullest (and make it more interesting), I need to continually challenge myself.

Over the past few weeks I feel as though I've stretched my brain and that I now probably need to give it a few days to catch up. 

It started with making a quinceanera dress– as close to a princess/wedding dress one can get. When I married the first time, a friend had made my dress and I had made all six bridesmaid dresses so I really didn't think it was impossible. What turned out to be tricky, however, was the fact that the pattern didn't include one piece in the directions (or the pattern pieces for that matter) and that Hannah wanted a tulle skirt. And I added a lace overlay for the bodice. I tried to stretch it out over several weeks (including a "rough draft") so that I had time if anything went badly.

A weekend ago I had planned to rest but found myself running behind and spent Saturday making a diaper bag that Saturday for an upcoming baby (another first– following the rough draft) and then working on the netting of the quinceanera dress on Sunday.

Then on Tuesday I went over to a former neighbor's house and she taught me how to make flour tortillas. She had showed me some years ago but I had long forgotten and I thought it was time I learned again, this time vowing that would practice at least once a month so they eventually look like circles and not the state of Texas.

After the tortillas had been eaten, the diaper bag arriving to a happy mom-to-be in Wyoming, and the quinceanera dress in the arms of the almost fifteen-year-old, I spent Friday on the television set of "Graves" doing background work.

To say I was exhausted that morning was an understatement. I felt as if I needed some rest but I also knew that rest was around the corner (although I didn't realize it would be fourteen hours later). I ended up with several "jobs" we'll say in the filming, but in one particular part I would be walking directly in camera view, queued by the production assistant– who was watching on a screen around the corner– when to go both times. As I stood there waiting to go with a clipboard in hand (after all, I am a doctor but I play a nurse on television), I found my mind drifting off a bit. I thought about how easy it would be to mess up. And how easy it would be not to be there. If I hadn't accepted the call, I could be home in bed, not worrying about tripped over a cable as I walked across the hallway in the hospital.

No no no, I reminded myself. Then what stories would I tell? How would I grow? And so I walked across the set in as many takes as it took, probably equaling the number of challenges I've created for myself over the past few weeks. It was well worth it.

Seeing Past Darkness

Michelle Rusk

The photo of this beautiful sunset was taken in my backyard a few weeks ago. I never posted it on social media because no matter what angle I took it at, I couldn't escape the pole or the countless electrical, phone, and cable lines that come from the pole. On social media, we have the choice to choose how we portray our lives and I am honestly embarrassed that my house has one big detractor: this pole. 

My house was built in the 1950s and the city of Albuquerque has never buried these lines. So each time I go outside to take photos, I am constantly trying to find way to avoid the pole and the lines. 

But I know that reality is that I can't erase this pole from my life (at least until we move to a different house) just as I can't erase any darkness I have experienced. It's part of me and part of who I am today. I choose to post photos of what I create because that's what inspires me and keeps me going, being creative. My life isn't perfect and there are challenges I choose not to share because I don't see any reason to share them. I work through them and I stay hopeful that my frustrations will turn into something better. And I keep working hard even though I feel like I'm on a very slow road to get my life professionally where I'd like it to be.

I have written and spoken many times about how I have found hope in the sunrises of Albuquerque, how when I'd ben out run-walking my dog Chaco and– despite the darkness I'd endured the day before particularly of then having a spouse who suffered a head injury– it would feel like the sunrise was a clean slate to a new day. Hope. Darkness can't last forever a friend once said. The sun has to come back some time. 

Several years ago I was reading my high school journals and was surprised to find how much mental pain I found myself in as a fifteen year old experiencing a stress fracture in my foot that kept me from running much the spring of 1987. I have no recollection of having feelings of wanting to end my life, but there they were written in my hand writing. I don't believe that I would have done anything about the feelings, it was just an escape from the frustration I felt and not understanding that the injury would eventually heal and I'd be able to run again (which I happened by that summer).

It speaks to my life though as I work through challenges and losses. While sometimes it's annoying (well, all the time!) that I continually experience these, I try to learn and grow from them. I ask myself what I can to do to make myself feel better. I can look back on the road behind me and see how far I have come.

Last week Greg and I went out house stalking– I had found a house online for sale nearby and we drove by after dinner one evening. When Greg realized no one was living there, he pulled into the driveway and we walked around to the back of the house to see how large the backyard was. I was immediately drawn to a view of the city toward the mountain, one they had neglected to include in the online listing.

"Look at that view!" I couldn't stop saying.

Then Greg laughed and said, "Look up. You're never going to escape it."

And right there in the middle of the view was a pole just like the one in my current backyard. 

I hadn't seen it because I looked past it, just like I look past the pain and darkness to see the light and the hope.

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.

 

Easter Perspective

Michelle Rusk

I had taken some time on Saturday morning to photograph the dogs– Hattie and Lilly– for Easter. Neither one was happy with me (although after they ran off when I told them we were finished, Lilly hurriedly pushing the bunny ears off her head, they were easily swayed back into happiness with treats) and later I told Greg about how obvious it would be when I posted the photo on social media Sunday morning.

"No one is ever happy on Easter," he said. When gave him a funny look, he added, "Everyone is uptight about something."

Then I remembered the Easter Sundays of my childhood: we were always late for mass. I have no idea why and I never asked my mom when she was alive because she always got upset and accused me of thinking she wasn't a good enough mother. But the church filled up early and it meant we were left standing in the entry way listening to mass. For an hour. 

In that hour I had little understanding of what Easter meant. Yes, I'd taken religion classes growing up, but honestly it didn't mean a lot to me.

Then about six years ago, the same time I had returned to going to mass weekly, I found myself leaving Easter mass wanting to sing, feeling the happiness of coming out of darkness into the light. And each year since then, Easter has come to mean more to me.

I'm sure that I could argue that I'm older now and I "get" it more than I used to but I believe it's just a sense of having traveled multiple journeys of finding myself in darkness and having to seek out light. Each year Lent reminds me that there is hope, that we can get to the light, to the sunshine, that we don't need to be scared.

And a beautiful, cloudless sky– like we had in Albuquerque yesterday– doesn't hurt. 

A Reminder as the Lenten Journey Ends

Michelle Rusk

Sometimes I repeat myself in a blog. A year might go by but usually I find myself writing about something I had shared some aspect of in the past, mostly because I have realized something different about it. And I figure that if I am thinking about it, probably someone out there could use similar inspiration.

I still talk too much in my prayers.

I hadn't thought much about it in quite a while but suddenly at mass on Saturday I realized that I'm like a constant chatterbox when I pray. I'm that friend who gets you on the phone and you only have to say an occasional "Uh huh" (and you can probably put the phone down and make a sandwich without them knowing it) to keep up your end of the conversation.

Which makes me wonder if God is making sandwiches as I pray– or even keeping tabs on several prayers happening at the same time (more likely). 

The reality is that we were taught to say prayers, to ask for what we need/want/desire. There are unlimited numbers of prayer cards and prayers available to us. We were taught to memorize certain prayers growing up.

So how would we know the importance of silence during a prayer?

No one taught me that it's just as important to listen in our prayer as it is to ask. I'm too busy with my list that I forget to listen, too. And while I know that often the answers don't come during prayers, instead we usually find the answers present themselves to us at moments when we least expect them to. It can happen when we are in the middle of something unrelated (perhaps, cooking dinner) or when our minds have time to wander and we aren't thinking about anything in particular.

But if we don't listen– as difficult as that can be because our minds tend to wander when we "rest" during prayer– we'll never hear the answers. It might feel dry to listen during prayer, but remember that it's part of the give and take of the conversation. We don't give God a chance to give to us if all we do is keep asking.

 

A Different Kind of Lent

Michelle Rusk

For about six years I've used Lent as a time to work on strengthening my prayer life and letting go of what I can't control. March has become a challenging time for me because even though time marches on and my life is great, imprinted in the back of my mind are the anniversaries of the deaths of both my sister and my mom. I had decided that this year I would focus on strengthening my relationship with Our Lady of Guadalupe– whose feast day and my birthday are the same day– so I knew I needed to find something different to do for Lent.

I have a stack of spiritual-based books that I have started to read and haven't finished. And I had just picked up a new one at church (because I needed a book like I need a hole in my head!)– My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ, so I thought Lent would be a good opportunity for me to read his book and hopefully one other. Fr. Martin writes about how he has become to know the saints in his life, something I am interested in as Our Lady of Guadalupe has become more important in my life. While I read two newspapers a day and have several magazines subscriptions, reading books is something I haven't done much of since graduate school (I blame all the article reading I did). I see Lent as a time to challenge myself to make myself better and reading these books is easily part of that journey– while also making me a better writer along the way– after all, there is a correlation between reading and writing.

The second part of my Lent involves the driving range. Yes, you heard right– the driving range. My golf game has gone by the wayside since my mom's death three years ago and an injury to my shoulder after an accident with my now-deceased dog Gidget. And I have a tendency to work too much– because there are certain goals I want to accomplish– and not slow down as I should. Forcing myself to the driving range once a week does that and also connects me to God in the sunshine and learning to be patient with myself. I admit though, having taken a trip a week ago and having another one coming up has made this a harder task to accomplish than reading, but hopefully tomorrow afternoon I'll make it out there.

It's not an ordinary Lent, but this isn't ordinary time either! To me, Lent isn't about what I can give up– over twenty years ago a priest told me not to focus on what I could give for Lent because I'd lost so much with my sister's death– and now with my mom's death added into the mix, I definitely see it as a time of working on making me a better person, on strengthening my spiritual journey. And as I already have a more extensive prayer life than most people, I knew I needed to add something different this year. 

And so it is: reading and the driving range. 

The Path to the Future Through the Past

Michelle Rusk

I don't believe my deceased family members could have been any closer to me than they were this weekend when I took a trip back to my hometown, Naperville, in the Chicago suburbs.

My friend Karen graciously co-hosted a Chelle Summer Open House with me at her house. We both invited our friends for a Sunday afternoon of prickly pear punch, sangria, carob cookies, and an overwhelming selection of Chelle Summer handbags that I had made. 

I found a penny the day before I left and then on my first morning in Naperville– on my run– I found a dime. My dad. Later that morning, a Cardinal kept flying around the backyard, another sure symbol of at least my dad. Some time after I graduated from college, every night a Cardinal flew into the garage and stayed there, my dad waiting to shut the garage door (after his last smoke of the evening) when the Cardinal he called, "Birdie" had arrived for the night. While I know people say Cardinals are signs of their loved ones, it's always had a slightly different meaning for me because of my dad and Birdie.

The signs continued Saturday with Mom's song "Every Rose Has a Thorn" by Poison appearing in a Facebook comment that morning and that afternoon when we sang, "On Eagle's Wings" at mass. It was like they were with me in every way but physically.

I was back in my old neighborhood staying some blocks from the house I grew up in and around the corner from the house I owned just a few years ago. I stay with people I call family, but I'll admit I feel slightly disconnected without my parents– or my sister– there.

And yet, although I only get "home" about once a year now, I still believe that it's important to remember where you're from to see where you go in the future. You must know who you came from, what has influenced you, and the path you took, to see the journey ahead.

There are some aspects of my life I'm not totally secure in for the future– I know what I want, but that journey isn't quite clear. And yet I know that by taking a step into the past somehow it's taking me several steps forward.

An Oldie But Goodie: The Dessert Dog Blog

Michelle Rusk

Note from Michelle: My friend Jim wrote this blog for me in September 2013. As I was going through my Inspire site today, printing off blogs as I get ready to take the site offline, I thought I'd repost it here (sans the photo which I couldn't save)- it also was written just about two weeks after Greg and I met. Enjoy!

This is how a typical conversation with me goes, if a conversation with me can be considered typical. Usually conversations with me are everything but typical. A fairly recent conversation I had with Michelle touched on canned chicken, specifically which kind I should buy. I ended up getting chunked, light and dark in water, if you were wondering. The conversation also included my unfinished PhD, a soccer game, kids, a pedicure, high heels, a time machine, thunderstorms, dogs, pool toys that aspired to be in a future "Toy Story" movie, and an article Michelle was writing for the magazine High Desert Dog. The time machine was a critical piece of our conversation as she needed more time to finish some of her writing.  This is where I offered to help and suggested I write her article about dessert dogs. That was my attempt at humor– desert and dessert– get it?  And of course I followed that up with some more attempts at pet and dog humor until we concluded our conversation with a wrap up of her pedicure.

And, just in case you are starting to wonder about Michelle, this is how my mind works, not hers.  She is very kind and lets me wander where I want over the conversational map until I realize I need to pull it back in. But I also think she might get a small giggle out some of my ramblings. Oh, by the way, she turned down my offer to write the article about dessert dogs for High Desert Dog. That was back in July. Whew!

Imagine my surprise today when she said she needed an idea for her blog, would I write about dessert dogs? This started my mind spinning, spinning all the way back to my creative writing class in college. The only creative part about that class for me were the many creative comments the instructor wrote on my papers in red ink. Getting past that bad memory, I started to think how I could inspire people, like Michelle does, with a story about dessert dogs. How could I spin this?  Do I write about dogs that like dessert? Or desserts that are like dogs?  There are lots of pictures and recipes for hotdog type desserts. Just try a keyword search– dessert dogs. None of it sounded inspiring.  And I am a cat owner; how dare I write about dogs.

So, if you haven’t guessed by now, I am not going to write about dessert dogs. In fact, I really have nothing much else to say. And for those of you who read Michelle’s blogs for hope and inspiration, I know you are hoping for her return. But if there is something to take away from my musings, it is only that I was happy to help her out when she asked. She may not ask again, but that’s okay, too. I was able to step in when she needed help, just like she has done for so many of us. In fact, I think Michelle said it best in an earlier blog, “Sometimes it's easy to forget to ask. The answers are there but we get lost in trying to do it ourselves that we often forget the help that's there if we need it.“  Oh, and try the banana dog.

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.

Honoring Quietly

Michelle Rusk

About fifteen years ago, I remember sitting in the local support group for the suicide bereaved, this several years after my book for sibling suicide had been published, and we were talking about ways to honor a loved one who had died. A man who had lost his mother to suicide said– as he shook his head– "I have no idea what to do."

I responded, "That's okay. You don't have to know right away." 

Many more losses later I am well versed in this. For me, figuring out how I will honor them is how I move forward, but I also realize that we don't have an answer to how to do that right away. 

However, what I choose to do today is much different than when I lost my younger sister nearly twenty-four years ago. While it wasn't instant, I knew I had some need to help other sibling survivors of suicide, mostly because the world was different (the internet was very limited and there was no social media); we couldn't connect to each other like we do today with a simple Google search. That turned into a book which launched a speaking career and traveling around the world, educating and helping people both with suicide grief and suicide prevention.

For my dad's death eleven years ago, I was still deep into suicide work and inching my way toward a doctorate. I didn't have the time– or energy– to figure out what else I might do. But after my mom's death in 2014, my perspective had already begun to shift and I saw where it tied me back (as I have written recently) to the person I wanted to be growing up.

But also in this time, I have watched people launch foundations in loved ones' names, hoping to raise funds to help people or causes, or where they do walks and run, with the goal of doing the same. 

Recently I saw something someone was doing in a loved one's name and a thought struck me– I don't have the need to be so public about saying, "I'm doing this because of my mom." And then  at a party last weekend a friend and I were discussing this, how my journey in that way has become more private: I don't need to share it all with the world.

And yet what I still share is what I create– my writing, my sewing, my painting. I know that pursuing a creative life is honoring the three family members I traveled with in the station wagon (long after my older brother and sister stopped taking family trips with us). I also know that getting my education (particularly before I married– per her instructions) was a way to honor my maternal grandmother who couldn't go to college because she had to help her brothers financially get college degrees. It was never something I talked about, more something I did. 

Today the journey is about doing without having to say why I'm doing it every minute of the day. Sure, there are aspects I share, especially when I particularly know how they inspired something, but mostly it's about taking time each day to pursue what makes me happy is what honors them and makes my life an authentic one.

 

My Identity

Michelle Rusk

For so long I had such a need to identify myself as a first, a suicide survivor, and then as the language changed, a suicide loss survivor. It was clearly part of my grief road in the early parts of the past twenty-four years. But I have found myself not disconnected from it, but like the surface of the road beneath me has changed.

I know there are people who will read that and be dismayed that I'm saying that. However, it's a good thing that I say it. I have found that in the years since I have moved on from doing suicide-related work full time, that often people are upset that I am not doing it. But to me, I am showing that you can still have a great life despite all that happens to you.

Traditionally, parents who have lost children have been the ones who have been the loudest voices (and I say that with a  positive note to it!) making suicide prevention a prevention and organizing support groups for those left behind. What I have realized over the years is that they had many years of life before their children died. I was only twenty-one when my sister died and now, as I come up on twenty-four years since her death, I see that I didn't have much life before being hit with the loss. I find today that I don't want my life to be consumed by it. As a friend said to me recently, "You don't have a need to wear the black armband." For a long time, I did feel like I needed to– or wanted to. 

Instead, I see the road much differently today. As my life continues to be filled with losses and the world feels a bit challenging, I'm working to stay focused. Each day I pray that I continue to be creative, to write and sew, and that my sister and my parents help me to stay inspired.

What I couldn't see in all those years of helping others– which taught me so much– that there would come a day that it would swing back to me and remind me of the person I always wanted to be. It's as if I have traveled through the loss to be able to find my way back to my relationships with each of my deceased family members. Now they can help me– although not in the same way as if they were here– continue to create, to sew, and to write. There is only love where they are now, no pain of anything that happened here in life. But it was my journey to get where I could see beyond the pain so that the four of us could have a relationship without it causing a block on my end.

And they could remind me of who I always wanted to be. And help me make that happen.

The Hill

Michelle Rusk

The hill in the photo might not look like much but if you're standing at the bottom of it, it's quite steep. And for the eight years that I've been visiting Sam and Lois Bloom, I was never able to run up the hill that leads to their house without stopping. 

It's silly because I'm a runner and I realize it's all mental. I attribute it to what I now call my running laziness because I'm older and I don't tend to push myself so hard.

However, six months ago when we were visiting Sam and Lois, I decided I needed to get up that hill in one swoop. And I did. And then I did it again.

But in August I had an accident with my German Shepherd, Lilly– as I was going up the stairs in the house, she was running down and her head ran right in my knee. It wasn't until a week later when I couldn't run at all did I realize what had happened. For two months I couldn't run, a severe bone bruise like nothing I'd ever had before

I'm back running but I'll admit it's not the same. I was getting into such a good place prior to the accident and now wham! I'm a slow poke again. When we went off to California last week to see the Blooms, I was a little nervous about the hill. I wanted to make it up there but I didn't feel physically or mentally I was in the same place as six months before.

As I ran up it, using my arms to help pull me, I wanted to stop. But I didn't because I knew if I did, it meant I'd have to try it again the next day. That meant for twenty-hours I'd been thinking about how I didn't make it up the hill. I'd have another chance but rather than becoming stronger by actually getting up the hill without stopping, it would be like being sent back to go again.

And so I didn't stop. Or the next day either. While I still don't feel as strong as I did back in the summer, I made it up the hill without stopping. Twice.

My life is filled with hills. No year is perfect or without challenges. But I'm working to tackles the hills one by one and I find that once I do, I move onto something else, stronger and better than before.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Guadalupe and Me

Michelle Rusk

To be honest, a few weeks ago, I really wanted to skip my birthday. We had just put Chaco down, I was coming up on the anniversary of my dog Daisy's death seven years ago (or was it eight? I can never remember), and while I have a great life, my holidays aren't the same without my parents and my younger sister. Denise and I had all sorts of things we did at Christmas as kids: finding the gifts early (my Barbies had to know they were getting a new bathtub, I reasoned) and putting on "Christmas Shows" with our Barbies and Raggedy Anns. And Christmas will be followed by the anniversary of my dad's death and then the first anniversary of my dog Gidget dying. The losses don't seem to end in my life and no matter how far forward I go, they are there somewhere, stamped in my memory.

This is combined with the fact that I'm working to understand how much time has gone by. Chaco was with me almost fourteen years and a part of me can't believe that fourteen years have passed. Yes, I spent them living and a lot happened and a lot of great things and people are in my life now. But I have to do some processing to get there.

And yet as the day drew closer, something tugged at me: the reminder that my birthday falls on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I find myself writing about this every year because until I moved to New Mexico, I had no idea who she was. My first birthday here I went to mass at noon and it was all about her although it would be another fifteen or so years before I would truly realize how lucky I am to share a day with her.

On Thursday before mass for the Immaculate Conception, I lit a candle for her, the same place where Greg and I left flowers at our wedding during the "Ave Maria." For the past year I have been working with a priest at the monastery here, a Norbertine Community, meeting monthly to help me draw closer to God. And really for me, it's about hearing the messages because I tend to talk too much in prayer (yes, it is possible!). 

As I stood there in prayer on Thursday and then as my friend Alicia and I left mass, a man was handing out Our Lady of Guadalupe novenas. When I told him my birthday fell on her feast day, he said, "You're special!"

On Saturday we had our mass at church to celebrate her day and the Immaculate Conception (the church's feast day) and Greg and I were asked to bring up the gifts. We had been asked recently so I didn't expect it– we get asked about once a month– but the usher looked desperate. And my friend Alicia gave me a rosary with Guadalupe on it and a book about Guadalupe in New Mexico. Everything was pushing me toward her and this day.

And so on this birthday as I write this (it's the afternoon of the 12th), I have enjoyed all the messages from people, but I find myself drawing inward with some work to do for the year ahead. At mass at noon, I again lit a candle and asked her in prayer that I spend the year getting to know her better, drawing closer. 

I think I know how this will pan out. Now to see next year what my birthday blog brings. In the meantime, here I go.

The Chair

Michelle Rusk

On a sunny day several months after my mom's death in 2014, I dropped off some of her stuff at a local thrift store that benefits local animals. No one helped me unload the car and as I drove away, a chair she always sat in– one that was in our living room most of my life– stood alone on the loading dock waiting for someone to take it inside.

I didn't think much about the chair in the past few years. I hadn't been sure what I could do with it because it matched the decor of our Chicago suburban home, not my Albuquerque mid-century design. It's just one of many items I've held onto only later to finally give away (many of them because I did two cross country moves over a year and a half) because I wasn't sure how I could use them in the future.

About a month ago, however, I saw something that sparked an idea of what I could have done with the chair. I saw how I could have repainted and reupholstered it to match my decor. This isn't the first time that's happened but it stayed with me until I finally let it go– probably because I got distracted by other projects I'm working on.

Then on Veteran's Day– a day both Greg and I had off from work– we went to an estate sale in an older neighborhood (actually, the one that he grew up in), nearby and I spotted a great chair in the living room. It was a rather small house, built in the 1940s, and the chair looked huge. But comfortable. And an ottoman no less!

We purchased our items and went home. 

But I couldn't stop thinking about the chair. It wasn't overpriced. It was in good condition. It could wait until we found the right fabric to redo it.

And when we went back the next morning, it was still there.

We brought it home; I worried it would be too big for the living room. I moved the chair in its place to my office where I found it actually looked better. The new chair was perfect in its new home.

Finally, it was something Greg and purchased together, part of our new journey together. And a gift from Mom.