Chelle Summer

life

Finding Joy in Life

Michelle Rusk
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My friend Bonnie taught me so much about not just sewing, but life, too. However, there’s a vision of her that saddens me and yet also is a reminder to me of the importance of how we live our lives. She shared much about her life which– like many of us– was littered with disappointments and losses. Her mother had disappeared at some point after Bonnie was married– mental illness taking over– and Bonnie was never able to find her again. Her daughter Sadie suffered some of the most extreme bipolar that I’ve been exposed to.

There were many other things, but I know those two haunted her and I have a vision of us sitting in her crafting room in the later evening hours, her smoking a cigarette, and her face filling with sadness as she shared stories about her life. I knew she was disappointed at much of how her life turned out, finding happiness in cutting and drying her lavender for potpourri, making quilts, devouring a new copy of Martha Stewart or a quilting magazine that had arrived in the mail that day. Or the show and tell she insisted we had when I would arrive for an evening of working on a project.

While he never said it, I also had the sense that my dad was disappointed with life, too. Quite honestly, I don’t really know what his goals and dreams were. My mom said once he wanted to leave her and take off for California and another time she told me that he was an enigma. He shared little, letting his pain simmer while he drank another beer and smoked another cigarette.

I get it. We get older and we question our decisions. Did we choose the right next chapter? The right next road? Did we miss an opportunity because we chose something over another? The routine of life can bog us down. The bills that force us to keep showing up for work rather than be the footloose and fancy free we believe would be more exciting. It’s easy to let sadness and anger boil over when we seemingly believe the grass is greener on the other side.

And that’s when it’s important that we reach back into our lives to find that time that filled us with hope, a time when we believed the world was our oyster and nothing (nothing!) would get in the way. When I feel down for whatever reason (I work at home– I am left alone with my thoughts much of the day– that isn’t always a good thing for someone who has been taught from my doctorate to dissect a lot), I reach back to that time in my life. I might play a song, bring back a memory. Just something that reminds me that I’m not where I want to be. And I can still get there.

Stay the course. The dreams are still alive. The joy is still there. Sometimes it gets lost and it’s up to us to uncover it. Never forget it’s always there waiting to be found again.

Life and the Ocean

Michelle Rusk
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I really hoped that on this LA trip that I would finally get to surf again. It’s been several years since my shoulder started to pop out (subluxation) and I’ve been scared in the water since the time it happened while I was paddling in the surf.

In the year since seeing an orthopedic who told me to go on with my life, that he wasn’t going to do surgery (not that I wanted surgery) because I would only lose range of motion, I’ve been doing exercises three times a week on a ball, hoping to strengthen my shoulder. After a dismal June gloom trip to LA in June, we decided we’d try one more time before soccer and school start again for Greg. The weather was perfect, the water comfortable, and I had lugged Orangey, my surfboard, down the hill from the parking lot to the beach.

Yet as I stood at the water’s edge I was scared. I knew I needed a day where the ocean looks like glass and I could paddle around without worry of getting tumbled around. However, I wasn’t going to get it. I thought I would swim a while and get my courage up. That lasted until I got tumbled around and– bam– the shoulder popped out.

Instead, I found myself standing at the water’s edge again, my arm popped back in, but sore, and knowing that it wouldn’t happen on this trip.

I started to ask myself what I’m so afraid of, why I chronically have dreams where I’m back in high school and late to class or can’t get my luggage packed on time to make an international flight– all signs, I’ve read, that I’m afraid to seize an opportunity. I have certain goals in my life that I want so badly to achieve and I’m constantly asking myself what’s holding me back from getting where I want to be.

The ocean is such a good metaphor for life. When I first started surfing ten years ago, I remember my fear of getting past the breaks in the ocean– in many ways right back where I am although for different reasons (the fear of my shoulder popping out). The breaks are the events in life, the ones that we have to traverse or plow through somehow.

As I write this I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that I’m constantly asking to move forward, to learn what I must learn to to move forward. And when I reflect back on the eight years since I first climbed onto a surfboard, I see what life taught me about moving forward as I navigated the end of a marriage, a divorce, and moving forward from all of it.

Now, when I’m not sure that I will ever surf again, I see that life is teaching me other lessons about continuing to forge forward, even in the face of the unknown. I don’t like them, yet I know that if I learn from them I will move forward, onto what’s next for my life.

Life is too short to not pay attention to the messages the ocean gives us.

Clinging to Hope

Michelle Rusk
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It's easy to feel hopeless but I believe that when we do, it's because we've fallen away from what matters most to us.

There is a fire inside of all of us, although sometimes it only feels like an ember, barely lit. It's up to us to find out how to make it burn brighter.

Some days it's easier than others and part of the reason much of what you see me post on social media is what I create is because that is one of my symbols of hope. Being creative makes me happy. Just as writing does and hosting a party.

While I had planned to write this blog before our party today, after it was over I was thinking how helpful it was to be taken out of my head. It's easy for me to think too much and doing something for others (even opening up my home and making everyone ice cream) and spending time my friends reminds me to be in the moment and just enjoy laughter and good conversation. 

A good ice cream cone doesn't hurt either.

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.

Choosing What to Share

Michelle Rusk
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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.

Big goals, little goals, keeping them all in check

Michelle Rusk
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I don't talk about it much on social media but I spend part of each of my work days writing. That might be actually writing, revising, reading, researching, or some other aspect that goes into creating a novel. It all ebbs and flows based on what I need to do.

I have given myself this year (2018) to focus on not just Chelle Summer but also the writing part of me. However, writing isn't really something that transforms well into social media photos so most of what you see if related to the visual creative side to me, Chelle Summer.

Last week was a challenging week and I had a really hard time getting much accomplished. Now Greg will tell you that I do more before 7:00 am than most people do in a day but, to me, there is always more I want to do. Part of that stems from the losses in my life and the sense that none of us are promised anything, that life can change in many ways in an instant and we better make the most of the day ahead of us.

While last week I was able to keep up with things, meaning keeping the desk clean, email caught up on, and the house vacuumed, there wasn't much happening on the creative side. By the end of the week I was feeling a little depressed. Until I tried a new recipe for Rice Krispie treats on Thursday.

And when I did that, I was reminded that when you are working on big goals, the kind that might not manifest for a least months if not years, it's important to balance that with smaller goals, giving you a sense of accomplishment in the meantime.

So as I continue to mold manuscripts (yes, there is more than one) like a piece of clay, I sometimes need to remind myself that I also need to do smaller creative endeavors that move quickly and let me stand back and have that sense of accomplishment while I'm working on something bigger.

On Sunday I purposely chose two items that I knew I could finish in a day (a painting I had started and two pillows I was making) so that I could walk into a new week feeling that I was already on my way to a much more productive time.

It worked.

Questioning Faith

Michelle Rusk
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Recently I had my monthly spiritual direction visit with a priest here, Fr. Gene, and one of the things he happened to say was how he has come to understand questioning faith is part of the faith journey.

It took me a moment to absorb what he had said because it was the first time I could truly admit how much I doubted faith for so long.

Growing up, it was expected that we would go to CCD class, make our first communions, and then we could stop once we were confirmed. But I can now freely admit that all these years– and throughout high school after my confirmation– I doubted the existence of God. However, my mom had such steadfast faith that I never felt I could say I didn't believe. I knew I was expected to and kept it to myself.

It wasn't until my first relationship break up in college that I had to figure out where to lean for support and I started to attend church. Reflecting back, I now see that Mom set in place a coping mechanism for us by making us complete all our sacraments. Maybe I didn't need spirituality (my chosen word for it– I see religion as more meditative and choose to use the tradition aspect of it that way) then but it was there when I needed it.

And when my younger sister died two years later, I had a church community to fall back on because I was attending church fairly regularly at that point.

I believe that things unfold the way they do for a reason and that had I learned the lessons I wish had been taught to me (especially about letting go of my worries and giving them to God/the universe), my life journey wouldn't be where it's supposed to be today. A good example of it is writing this blog at this particular time. The whole idea probably never would have occurred to me had I never doubted my faith.

However, I also see that I was questioning my faith early in life when some people might be faced with the same questions later in their years. But as they were early for me, it's allowed me to explore and do other things I might not have been able to without the previous journey.

Our life journeys aren't interstate highways that often stretch for miles in what looks like a straight line (like through Western Oklahoma or any of the other Great Plains states!). Often we can't see where we are going which can be frustrating but that's the key part to trusting the journey.

I can't say that every day I am filled with complete faith but I understand the importance of trusting the journey, the universe, God. There is only so much I can do and life has taught me that by letting go of what I can't control and keeping my focus in the here and now and what's right in front of me, makes all the difference in the world to my outlook on life.

Balancing Social Media

Michelle Rusk
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Some years ago, I remember reading an article by Martha Stewart on how to manage the time one spends looking at email. Her suggestion was that you took certain times of day to look at it and stuck to those so it didn't interfere with other aspects of your life.

Obviously this was before smart phones and social media seemingly took over the time we spend engaged with the technology in our lives (and today most of my email is comprised of "commercials" rather than much that needs responding). 

However, it does still hold true with social media and because of the possible negative effects that social media can have on our mental health, it's even more important that we find a schedule that works best for us and stick to it as much as possible. 

While I seemingly have a big social media presence because of the work that I do– selling books and products I make– I don't spend as much time on social media as one might think. At some point in the last year when my job was turning to part time and I didn't have to be glued to my laptop or phone checking emails, I realized that also meant I needed to back off on the time I spent looking at social media. In my world, 2018 is my "year of creating" and if I'm keeping one eye on social media, it severely cuts into my creative time.

Because I've had much loss in my life and sometimes I get frustrated that professionally I am not totally where I'd like to be, I also found that I couldn't spend so much time looking at what other people were doing. It is much like what I learned from running competitively– it's you against the clock, not you against everyone else. I have to remind myself of that often so I stay focused on what I'm doing and not worry myself over what others have/are doing and I don't. (I know that I have a great life but the reality is that we can't have everything and I've had to make choices along the way as well as some choices that have been made for me and sometimes there is a little sadness that there isn't a place in my life for everything.)

In the mornings I post– and I do the social media for my church so some days there is an added step– and I'm a little more lenient with myself as I settle in catching up on a variety of things because I start writing or head out for errands (yes, estate sales, too). But by late morning I really try to limit my social media check in as little as possible and take as much time as I can through late afternoon to write, sew, and other creative pursuits. 

I also know that there are days where my brain turns off and it needs a water cooler break so in the evenings I might check in more often but I'm trying to do a better job of putting the phone down and instead picking up a magazine or book. And I remind myself that if I look at social media too much one day– as I wrote a few weeks ago regarding anything we set out to do and don't seemingly accomplish– I can always start over fresh the following day.

It's easy to let it take over our lives, however, like anything else there is a balance to it. For each of us that will be different and the key is finding what works for each of us. There are benefits to social media– I get to be in contact with people with whom otherwise I wouldn't be and it has helped me reach many suicide bereaved people as well as share what I create and find. 

The key is that I have to walk away to create more to have more to share. That's what I remind myself when I habitually pick up my phone in a quiet moment and then reach for a magazine or book instead.

The Building Blocks of Coping Skills

Michelle Rusk
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In the last week, I received several messages from friends who were in some way affected by a recent teen suicide and/or attempt. In November I spoke with a reporter The Naperville Sun– the very newspaper for which I wrote a column on good causes several years ago while I was living in my hometown for a short time.

I'm not going into specifics but there have been multiple suicides at my high school over the last year and much as been said about the concern that the students are feeling too much pressure to succeed and feel unable to live up to that.

In the article above (which was then reprinted in the Chicago Tribune a few days before Christmas) I gave my opinions as someone who grew up in Naperville and whose younger sister died in the same town. In my first book about sibling suicide I cited the environment as what I have always believed to be a factor in my sister's death: the pressure wasn't something she coped with well.

Denise and I were two very different beings, beyond the fact that I had blonde hair and she had brown hair (and that by the time I graduated from high school– which was the end of her freshman year– she also was taller than me). I won't say that I did well under pressure because all the pressure came from myself which is another story for another day. But I thrived in the busy environment of having multiple tasks to complete– school, running, writing and editing the school newspaper. I was involved with the activities that interested me and I believed were important to creating the life that I wanted to have.

But this isn't just about Naperville. Our suicide numbers are up. Way up. We have more resources, we have better medications, we have more crisis lines. And yet we are losing more people to suicide.

So once again I'm hopping back on my soap box.

There's a long list I could go down of which I still believe coping skills are missing from the diets of many young people. Couple that with social media and either a self-indulgence of oneself or the feeling of inferiority that one isn't good enough next to what others' lives appear to be. And don't forget to sprinkle in the lack of personal communication– texting has replaced actually sitting down and having a conversation with the people around us. 

My husband who is a high school teacher and coach and I had a conversation last week and he said, "It's not just coping skills but building on coping with challenging situations." 

Something challenging happens in our lives, especially early like maybe we fall off the bike before we finally actually are able to ride it successfully. Learning to do things and learning how to cope with disappointments (we didn't win the essay contest we thought we had surely nailed), help us the next time we are faced with something especially as they get seemingly bigger and more integral to our lives.

I have often said that high school running taught me much about how cope with disappointment. That pressure I put on myself that I mentioned earlier caused a lot of disappointment early in my life. Now that I'm older (and hopefully wiser) I can see how I have used those disappointments as building blocks to each experience I've been faced with since then. 

However, I should also add that my parents allowed me to make mistakes. They didn't run off to the school and fix everything. In fact, they fixed nothing. I would have been embarrassed if they went to the school to complain about a teacher or situation. That was up to me to figure out.

Finally, it's why my social media is filled with what I create, what inspires me, what makes me happy. Many days can be challenges for a variety of reasons (as I type this I have a bag of frozen popcorn resting a hurt knee– I haven't been able to run much in the past three weeks– one of my seemingly life-sustaining activities). 

As I said in the interview, life is hard but it's also great. We have many opportunities and we never know what's around the corner which is every reason why we should hold on for tomorrow. And we all have an obligation not to just to learn that for ourselves but to pass on what we've learned to others particularly people younger than us. That in turn gives us purpose. 

 

The Holistic Health Plan

Michelle Rusk
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From the outside, I know that my lifestyle looks like a lot of work. I am up at 4:30 each morning (although do sleep until about 4:45 on weekends– I know, it's very late compared to the rest of the week!) to run and run-walk my dogs. I do a five-minute morning prayer before I shower. I plan most of the meals in the house and make a concerted effort to make sure that we're eating enough vegetables and keeping it as balanced as possible. I go to mass nearly every weekend and spend an hour with a priest at a monastery here once a month for spiritual direction. And each day I try to spend some time doing something I enjoy even if it's just a short time reading. This morning I had my yearly physical and blood work done. I go to acupuncture with my Chinese doctor twice a month where she works to me balanced with a slew of needles, cupping, and burning moxa while I rest.

But there's a reason for it: three years ago I had a group of fibroids removed from my uterus, including one that was the size of a golf ball. It was at that time that I realized I needed to make changes in my life. Outwardly all looked well, especially because I was just a few months from getting married. But clearly something was wrong inside my body.

While I have been running since I was twelve, there were a series of life events that had taken a toll on me: my sister's suicide when I was 21, my parents' unexpected deaths (among other close losses in my life), and then my first marriage where my then-husband was hit by a drunk driver and suffered a head injury. While running– and also walking the dogs– helped me through that, I now see that it wasn't enough and that's when I believe the fibroids began to grow.

Instead, I thought the way to cope was to do more: remodel the house, add more dogs, add a pool, get a doctorate, write more books, educate the world on suicide and grief. None of that I regret, I just look back now and see it was all a way of coping. By moving forward, I could manage the drama that surrounded me and keep it from suffocating me. There was no way to completely emotional cope with the roller coaster of living with a brain-injured person and my body instead resorted to doing it physically.

Just taking care of one part of ourselves is a start but it's not enough. We are holistic beings– and if you were in Maz's health class at Naperville North High School I know you learned this well. Although I admit I neglected all but the physical for a long time– and if we want to be healthy we have to work at it.

Don't think I jump out of bed each morning because I don't (and Greg will attest to that). But I will be the first to admit I love to be out in the quiet darkness, looking up at the still-night sky which is often clear here in Albuquerque. It's there that I start my day in prayer, in gratefulness, as I ask for help to make the most of the daylight hours ahead of me. I learned a long time ago that a new day, as the sun comes up over the mountains, is the same as the chalkboard being wiped clean; I can start over again.

What looks like a lot isn't in the scheme of my life. It's nothing compared to what the alternative would be if I chose not to work so hard at staying healthy holistically. I wouldn't choose it any other way.

Starting Over and Over and Over....

Michelle Rusk
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There is no such thing that says we can't start over. More than once.

The new year has passed us by and my guess is that many people have left their resolutions in January, long forgotten, especially after attending a Super Bowl party last night. And next week Ash Wednesday pops up on the 14th, starting us on forty days of Lent, another opportunity to make change in our lives. So why not start over?

Every day I have certain goals I strive to achieve and, well, I don't always do a great job making them happen. There is the five-minute prayer that I often find myself distracted (I believe this will be better when I'm back outside sitting with my feet in the swimming pool and not near my laptop which makes it too easy to open my eyes and see who is texting me). But every day I strive to listen to the silence better because I know I'm missing a lot of messages by being so easily distracted.

One of my other goals is that no later than 11:00 am (if I'm not running errands, on a call, etc), I try to leave my laptop/ipad/phone and go work on sewing projects. Again, easier said that done because there are so many distractions. 

However, each day I tell myself I can try to do better tomorrow because I know that practice eventually does make perfect. After you've made over 100 handbags, you get to be pretty good at it. Trust me, this I know. My mom played piano and her words about practice often echo in my head. I know that if I keep at it, eventually I'll get there. Not every day has to be perfect either. By making an effort I see myself forging forward and the easier these new tasks become.

As I start over again.

 

When the Journey Isn't Clear

Michelle Rusk
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I have to laugh. I couldn't think of a topic for this week because my life is very quiet right now. I realize that isn't a bad thing but I'm a person who is used to many irons in the fire and running from place to place. I know this time is a gift to write and create– which is what I'm doing– but it seems like many times I have written over the years about what it's like to not feel as if the journey is completely clear.

I have been at many points in my life where I felt complete clarity of the journey but doing things like working on a degree or writing a book with someone else gives you smaller goals along the way because you're not on that journey alone.

This time is different though. After I finish this blog, I will go and write a few pages on a manuscript I've started and then I have a slew of aprons to finish that I had cut out some time ago. While a few of them are custom orders, most of them don't have "homes" yet (translation– they haven't been sold) and I don't know if any will when I post them later in the week. 

So it's a strange place to be– I am working hard, I am making things happen...but yet I don't know what the end result will be. However, I do believe I am on the right road, even if that road doesn't always feel so defined or that I'm following someone else's directions (like in the photo attached). 

Life usually isn't spelled out for us, especially when we choose undefined roads. And even though we aren't always sure how we'll get there, we know the journey will be worth it when we arrive.

Thanksgiving

Michelle Rusk
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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.

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.

One Big Goal, A Bunch of Small Steps

Michelle Rusk
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It's easy to set goals, especially big goals. Believe me, I've been the queen of them since I was six years old and knew I wanted to write books. The hard part is that once you set that goal, you realize how long it will take to accomplish the goal– could be an entire lifetime depending on what the goal is– and that's when despair sets in.

However, what we often forget is that in the process somewhere we need to break our big goal down into smaller goals. Those smaller goals are what will keep us going while the accomplishment of the big goal remains in the far-off distance.

As I'm embarking on some forced changed in my life- forced change that hasn't been completely defined yet which leaves me hanging in limbo although trying to remind myself there is nothing to fear, all will work out– I've realized the universe is poking me. There's a list of things I've been putting off doing for no reason other than they just never make it to the top of the list (doesn't it seem like the top of the list is always crowded but there are always items we want to do, mean to do, but they never become priorities?). 

I've also realized something else, how much social media has affected my need to be done now, yesterday, last year, so I can post it. With a new goal ahead of me (one that I'm not quite ready to reveal, mostly because with my writing I seem to never actually do the writing when I share what I'm working on), one that I believe will take me about a year to accomplish, I see that I need smaller goals as I go along otherwise I'll become frustrated and work on something else. 

My hope is there are some things to share in the process, especially some of the smaller goals that I'll be accomplishing on this journey. In this current moment though, I'm not exactly sure what those smaller steps will be. What I do know is that while there is a big chunk of this challenge that's new, some of it isn't. I'm starting something new, I've been here before. Eventually I'll start moving forward on the road and I'll see where the stops are, where the road turns into another one.

For now, however, away I go.

A Little Disconnection for Creativity's Sake

Michelle Rusk
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One of my constant challenges is that I am not where I want to be professionally. Soon there will be some changes in my daily life that I'm trying to remember are the universe's way of helping me to move forward even though it doesn't feel like it in the present moment. It's like I'm stepping backward so that I can take more steps forward.

However, the hard part is making sure I don't think too much because that can easily become paralyzing of all my worries. Instead, my motto seems to be, "Create more, think less." I have a slew of projects and ideas and I have to keep myself from being derailed from worries about money, (will we have enough?), about rejections from my query letters to find an agent (is this really a good manuscript or should I scrap it?), and about wondering if I am on the road I'm supposed to be on.

Social media has been huge for me to be able to share with the world what I create– and also to help other people work through suicide, grief, and feelings of hopelessness. But recently I have come to realize that it's taking up too much of my time and it's also stifling my creativity.

I am not going on hiatus at all. In fact, the only person who will probably notice a difference is me. As I will actually have to spend less time at my laptop in the future, it just means I won't be seeing all the notifications right away Essentially, I'll choose the times I look at my phone and laptop rather than looking at them what feels like all the time. In the past week I knocked out one bad habit I developed when I worked with people overseas– checking my email when I get up in the morning which then led to also checking Facebook and Instagram, too. Now I don't look at them until I'm totally done with my workout and running/walking the dogs. It gives me a few extra minutes in the morning and I've come to realize I'm not missing anything by looking at them so early (especially because most of my email anymore is advertisements).

By disconnecting a bit– and looking less in the evening so I can read more– I will be creating more and have more to share with the world. Again, what looks like a few steps backward is really going take me forward faster. After all, I have swimwear to create and a new manuscript that is waiting to be written.

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.

Process and Journey

Michelle Rusk
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Greg will be the first to tell you that I'm about the destination, not the journey. I don't particularly like to go for a Sunday drive nor do I enjoy the scenic route hiking up a mountain. It's all about the end destination for me. 

And when I have a list of things I want to accomplish, it's not about the process there either. I'm more about seeing what I can accomplish in a time period. What most people don't understand is that I've had so much loss in my life that there isn't always a sense of tomorrow. For me, it's do it today because you don't know what tomorrow may bring. I've had too many days in my life where tomorrow ended up turning my life upside down because I was faced with a major challenge (or, like last week, a flat tire and my phone ceasing to work).

However, I can always look back and appreciate the process and the journey of how I've gotten to wherever I'm standing or what I've made/written. I can see that my writing has improved– and continues to do so– even as I'm frustrated trying to find an agent for my latest work. I see how easy it is for me to sit down at the sewing machine and whip out a handbag or a bucket bag after what is now about a year of making them (it's been nearly two years on the bucket bags). 

And then there are the process and journeys I sit in the midst of now– my continuous writing, the paintings in the photo above, and the stack of sewing projects I can't seem to complete with everything going on around me.

Some years ago I realized that  if I wanted to accomplish something far greater than simply doing my job each day, I would need to write/sew/create around my daily responsibilities. When you are trying to make life more than you have, sometimes it's hard to enjoy the journey because you know the destination is where you want to be. And the reality is that I've been working on one major goal since I was six years old– to be a bestselling author. At this point, it's not about the journey. It's about continuing to climb what feels like a steep hill to my destination.

I might not be about looking back until I get where I want to go, but I will when I get there. When I can rest because I have arrived.

A Look Back, A Look Forward

Michelle Rusk

It's hard not to think about college this time of year. Whenever I hit August, I am reminded of my "anniversary" of moving to Albuquerque in 1994. But this year it's also a little different. As I'm writing this, Greg's nephew Dean will be flying to Albuquerque tomorrow night and I'll be helping him to move into his dorm room on Wednesday so he can start school as an undergraduate next week here at the University of New Mexico. 

It's brought up a lot of reminders for me not just about when I moved to Albuquerque, but also my years at Ball State University in Indiana where I have my undergraduate degree from.

I didn't start at Ball State– from high school I entered what was then North Park College (now University) on the northside of Chicago to run cross country and track as well as study. I don't remember anything about moving in the dorms. My best guess is that because we had to arrive a week early to go to camp on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we must have stored our belongings somewhere and then moved into our dorms when we returned. 

Ball State I remember clearly, particularly my parents getting ready to drive away after my things were unloaded into my dorm room (there wasn't any such thing as orientation then– it was drop your kid off and let them figure it out!). 

As I think of Becky, putting her son on a plane tomorrow for Albuquerque from their Boston home, it's not like he's going just a few hours away. He's going almost the whole way across the country, excited to start a new adventure in a place he wants to get to know better.

And I think of my friend Janet who once told me that you don't raise your children to be like you, you raise them to be their own people, to be independent. And so you send them on their way.

While Becky is letting Dean go, for Greg and I, we get to enjoy time with him (I jokingly say until he makes friends and wants nothing to do with us), helping him to explore Albuquerque and New Mexico and build a new life around his next level of schooling.

When I came to New Mexico, I was twenty-two and I had just finished my bachelor's degree. And my sister Denise had died just eighteen months before. I didn't understand then how hard it must have been for my parents to let me go, to drop me and a UHaul full of items off into a studio apartment, and head home. There were no cell phones for us and it was because I moved away that my parents joined AOL so we could email at least, providing more contact than phone calls (which still weren't so inexpensive then). Obviously I managed to build a life here because, well, I'm still here.

But when I transferred to Ball State my sophomore year, I was lucky that a few weeks into the semester, I was sitting in the Newman Center Church, just off campus, when a woman and her middle-school son sat next to me. It wasn't long in that first conversation that Pat declared herself my adopted mom.

Pat had three daughters of her own– all in college or just beyond at that time– even one also named Michelle. She lived several miles from campus and I only had a bicycle, but she gave me a connection in the community, made me dinner, too me to dinner, gave me a family to spend Easter with when I didn't go home, and an attic to store my belongings when I went home for summer break. 

She's come to Albuquerque, I've been back to stay with her in Indiana multiple times, and when I married Greg two years ago she sent us a slew of Fiestaware off our registry (me forgetting how much she liked it) and I think of her every time I pull out the yellow pitcher for a dinner party.

While I made other connections throughout my three years there, Pat was a stable family presence, one that I relished while my own family was in Chicago, and especially after my sister died the next year. The photo here is of us and her son Tim taken in August 1992. My mom took the photo and somewhere I have one of Mom and I there in Pat's backyard, but I don't know where it was. 

As I look back now, I'm sure my parents appreciated Pat more than I will ever know. 

And as Dean arrives tomorrow night, I hope that I can return the favor of all that was given to me, twenty-some years ago.

 

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.