Chelle Summer

moving forward

Life and the Ocean

Michelle Rusk
IMG_9781.jpeg

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.

Surgery in the Rearview Mirror: Reconciling Who I am Supposed to Be

Michelle Rusk
IMG_1307.JPG

Three years ago I was supposed to have ablation (where the uterus lining is burned out) which meant any inkling of having kids was over. However, because there was a golf-ball sized fibroid in my uterus that didn't show up on the ultrasound and because the sodium levels in my body were rising too high after the large fibroid was removed, my doctor didn't have enough time for the ablation. However, he believed that was causing most of my problems so I went on with my life with few problems, happy that I had taken care of it.

This past January I knew something had changed and we gave it a few months to see if it was a freak thing or not. An ultrasound in late April proved it wasn't– two golf-ball sized fibroids this time. My choices were to do nothing or to have my uterus removed. Because then it made sense that I was always running to the bathroom (the fibroids were pushing on my bladder), I opted to have the uterus removed this past Friday. It turned out I made the right decision because my uterus was full of fibroids and my doctor told me that once he saw all the fibroids in my uterus that it explained all my symptoms. 

But this surgery wasn't just about the physical problems I was having. I found out on a Saturday evening what my options were and on Sunday morning I was driving to early mass when I asked God to please help me learn what I'm supposed to from this experience (a blog I had recently written about) so I could move on from it.

To say that it's been a crazy journey is an understatement. 

I never had children– by choice because of certain things in my life, one being that I believe children deserve a lot of time and with the goals and dreams I have, I didn't believe I could give them that. I also was married before and because we divorced and a slew of other things had happened, it wouldn't have been a good situation if we'd had kids. I've had a parade of children come through my life but they never stay for any length of time. I seem to be just part of their journey for a short period and then they can go on. 

I know many women who had their uteruses removed but they all had had children while I was only birthing books, my goal and dream since I was six years old. There has been a lot of sadness over this but deep down I never really saw myself having kids. And yet now part of this journey is completely letting aspect go of that aspect of my life. Yet another loss for me to find hope.

Finally, my parents died when I was 35 and 43 and because they were older when they had my younger sister and I, I'm not willing to take the chance of not being around later as I sometimes feel parentless now (I have lots of "second parents" but we all know it's not the same without our "real" parents). I know they are with me although in a different way.

My life has been filled with loss and I realized that the way children have come through my life is much like life was in Naperville growing up. It was a very corporate transient town and I made friends only to have them move away four years later. It's a lot of work for me to keep grasping hope in the face of loss but that's why I choose to do work that makes me happy– creating through many avenues.

But there was another huge factor to this that most people don't know– I was deathly scared of spending the night in a hospital. I had successfully managed to avoid that since I was three and had a traumatic experience having my right eye muscle tightened. Several months ago I found my baby book where my mom had written it was traumatic for me and that I'd been allergic to the anesthesia (which then also explained why I had a rash after my surgery three years ago). Today there is no one to ask about the surgery because everyone involved (my parents, the doctor, my grandfather who was a charter doctor at that hospital) have died. Once more I had find my way through a maze of questions knowing I'll never really get the answers.

I can't explain how rattled the idea of having surgery and this time spending the night in the hospital left me. I felt as if I were facing one of my greatest fears in life. Somehow I did it but it didn't come without feeling constantly wound up and more tears than I would like to admit to. 

And yet something else came to play in this journey– my writing. I wrote 100 pages in May and I have finished the rough draft of a manuscript. So while there were times when I couldn't stop thinking about things like catheters and the fear of more surprises from my uterus as has happened before, I somehow managed to refocus myself to write 100 pages (and recover fourteen patio cushions). 

This current writing doesn't relate to what I was going through; it was all sorts of creative stuff for my manuscripts (yes, there is more than one) but it felt that because I had left that door open of asking to be open, God could let the writing through. In the face of my fear, it didn't paralyze me, instead it helped me push forward because I also hope that now that I have completely shut the door on having children, a new door will open, one that's been waiting for that to happen.

I believe everything happens to us for a reason– it's one huge way that allows me to go forward in the face of loss and change– and we are put right where we're supposed to be even though much of what happens to us doesn't make sense at the time it happens. I believe this is just one part of the journey that helps me continue traveling on this road of who I'm supposed to be.

Clinging to Hope

Michelle Rusk
IMG_1706.JPG

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
IMG_1021.JPG

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
IMG_5167.JPG

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
IMG_0295.JPG

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.

Forgiveness and Sending Love

Michelle Rusk
IMG_5742.JPG

One disappointment we often face in life is the reality that some people we feel close to or cherish aren't supposed to remain in our lives. There are a variety of reasons why it happens but the reality is that it doesn't matter. What does matter is how you move forward without the people with whom you believed you were supposed to travel with through life. If it feels painful to think about them, then send them love.

Yes, that's exactly what I wrote– you saw right. Send them love.

That may feel counterintuitive when you feel so much pain (after all, it is a loss to your life) but you'll be surprised at how much better you feel because you sent them love. 

And if this is someone who hurt you– yet you can't seem to let go of them despite all that hurt they caused– sending love is better than hanging on by continuing to contact them when they don't want to talk to you. Or when they cause you pain each time time you talk to them. 

Finally, sending them love doesn't mean you forgive them for how they treated you or ended a relationship or whatever the story may be. Forgiveness is about freeing our own hearts to move forward. We don't control what others do, just what we do.

So next time thinking of someone brings you pain, no matter what the reasons are for that, send them love. And free yourself to move forward. 

The Rearview Mirror: Twenty-Five Years Later

Michelle Rusk
IMG_9744.JPG

I wasn't going to write about the twenty-fifth anniversary of my sister Denise's suicide (which was Sunday) mostly because I don't feel the need to acknowledge it. But a funny thing happened yesterday and it made me realize that passing the anniversary of her death is so much like much of what else I experience in life: I'm not supposed to write or talk about while I'm going through something but rather after it happens. The writing and sharing for me comes at a different point of the journey rather than in the midst of it. 

While there is always much anticipation with the anniversary of a death, I wasn't feeling that at all. All I could think was how I couldn't believe twenty-five years have gone by. I know a lot has happened, it just doesn't feel possible that we have reached such a milestone. And it is a milestone because I realize many people out there who have experienced a suicide, especially recently, are thinking, "Will I ever get there? My pain feels so unbearable right now I can barely think about the next minute."

And that's where this post comes from because yesterday morning I got up and went for a run with my dog Lilly and it wasn't until about halfway through it that I remembered what day it was. As Lilly and I kept running (up a large, imposing hill, I might add), I also realized that Denise's suicide is separated from the life she lived. While there was a time when her suicide was at the forefront of my mind or even my thoughts of her, it's no longer there because when I think of Denise, I think of everything we shared together. And those shared life experiences are where I focus my life today: writing, creating, sewing. 

Then during my run, I heard one of three songs that I believe Denise sends to me– "Harden My Heart" by Quarterflash. Laugh all you want but this one brings back happy memories of roller skating in the basement of our house on cold, snowy Midwestern days when we couldn't do it outside. Instead, we'd skate circles upon circles across the concrete floor while listening to the radio.

Sunday was a good day, I got a lot done, there were some good basketball games from the NCAA Tournament playing in the background. And somewhere along the line a mantra stuck in my mind:

"Keep writing and you'll get where you want to go."

A message from my sister on the anniversary of the day she might have ended her life, but on a day that reminds me how meaningful she was and still remains to my life. And how much hope I have for the future.

 

The Hobbler

Michelle Rusk
IMG_6506.jpg

No one ever could have predicted that I would become a runner. While I was all legs growing up, I wasn't fast (and in those days it was more important to be fast than to have any endurance) and I was always picked near the end for any sort of team game.

But by high school, running took over my life and during my freshman year I paid a price for it with a stress fracture in my right foot. It was a challenging time of my life for many reasons but I bring this up because in January I once again hurt my knee and something from thirty years ago kept coming back to me. 

A year and a half ago, Lilly and I had an accident on the landing of the stairwell in the house. She was flying down the stairs, I was heading up the stairs and we collided– her head to my knee. While nothing hurt immediately the next day I couldn't run. And I didn't run for about two months.  But somehow I survived and all was well. 

Until January. 

I have no idea what happened but somehow I hurt my knee again, this time with no collision. My Chinese doctor cupped it and said it appear to be an old injury because there was no energy to pull out of it. 

Back to walking I went.

This was where my fifteen year old memory returned. With the foot injury, I wasn't walking really well (which led to a compensation injury in my hip) and I remember someone saying to me, "You shouldn't be running if you can't walk."

And it was my friend Art who told me of some advice he found in a magazine a long time ago: that if we aren't professional athletes, we'll have a lot more days of exercising ahead of us. Because of that, we should take the time to let ourselves heal.

So I did. I walked and iced and walked and iced. Finally I wasn't hobbling around anymore, back to walking like my normal self. I started to run a bit. And slowly but surely I'm amping it back up.

I often talk about how one of my biggest challenges is realizing that the world won't end tomorrow, that there will be enough time to do everything. And the same goes for running– I worry that one day I won't be able to run anymore so it's like I want to get as much in now as I can.

However, I have to slow down and remind myself. All is well. I'm right where I'm supposed to be. And once I do that, I can relax. Which probably also helps me heal quicker, too.

 

Balancing Social Media

Michelle Rusk
IMG_5217.JPG

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
IMG_3997.jpg

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
IMG_3854.jpg

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
IMG_3488.JPG

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.

 

Sitting In Darkness...With Others

Michelle Rusk
IMG_7174.JPG

I will be the first to say that I hate darkness. I believe darkness is important because we need to rest, living things needs to rest, and it reminds us how much we appreciate daylight. But I thrive in the daylight, in the sunshine, in seeing the sun come up over the mountains.

However, a long time ago I learned that you can't impose your light on someone else when they need to be in darkness. It's not that they are planning to stay there long– we should know this from our own experience when something happens to us– it's about processing through what has happened.

When someone dies, when we learn disappointing news, when we feel defeated by life, or whatever it is, sometimes we need to stand in the darkness and mull it over before we can move forward with the journey.

When it happens to someone else, we should remember the same. They will move forward but in that moment they don't need to be reminded of all that they know. They know it, they just need a few moments to rest where they are. Let them be there, sit with them, and remember just because you're in their darkness doesn't mean you have to be stuck there. You're there for someone you care about, your light is still with you.

Soon they will pick back up again and head towards the light, tired of darkness and ready to move on. Then you can remind them of all that they have and how much you appreciate the light.

When the Journey Isn't Clear

Michelle Rusk
IMG_5043.jpg

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.

Remembering Nestle

Michelle Rusk
100_7523.JPG

Because of circumstances beyond my control and that I am not letting define how I remember my yellow lab Nestle, I didn't know about her death until several months after it happened. I hadn't seen her in a year because she was living with my former husband. She truly was his dog and I knew that he needed her more than I did. And in the several months between when she died– although I didn't know it– and when I found out, I had a funny feeling she wasn't here anymore. I found myself talking to her through prayer and wishing her well. She was nearly fifteen and had more lives than anyone I know, but I just wish I'd been given a chance to say goodbye.

In the same breath, I know that where Nestle is at– barking up a storm in heaven and driving Mom crazy– it's all about love and she is happy, no longer hindered by a body that was giving out on her. And that had survived what felt like twenty lives.

I always told the story that we had gone to Albuquerque's westside animal shelter in November 2003 to find Chaco a sister. Joe picked out Nestle– who looked like an innocent young dog just sitting in her kennel while everyone else around her barked. He was convinced she was the perfect dog because she didn't bark. Yes, we know how that went.

Later, as he stood in line to do all the adoption paperwork, I went back to the kennel to see her. There she was barking with all the other dogs and I knew then we were in for quite a road.

From the moment she arrived, Nestle quickly made her mark in more ways than one. That first weekend we had our holiday party and as I was cleaning the house and prepping for it, she decided to use the house as her bathroom and then stole coffee grounds out of the trash can. From there she ran out the front door, nearly getting hit by a car.

In the years to come, she would steal the Thanksgiving turkey off the counter and eat it, be attacked by Chaco so badly that she nearly died (and spent several months recovering at the vet although she tried to bite the vet every time she saw him after although he was the one who saved her life), and barked endlessly.

Our friend Joe the dog trainer worked with her on the barking but the shock collar didn't deter her. She kept right on barking. Nor could you hug another human around her– she instantly started to bark as if she wanted in on the action. And she loved to swim although I would never have hired her a as lifeguard after she tried to swim over our first German Shepherd Daisy several times. It was easy to figure out why Daisy never wanted to get back in the swimming pool again.

Still, she was the most loving dog one could have, willing to be brushed, was the one to come close if you were crying, and unless you were the vet, she was always happy to see you.

Nestle lived a full life, probably more full than most humans. Three of what I call my "original four" dogs are in heaven now, hanging out with my parents who knew them, and Gidget who came after Daisy died.

What's hardest of all to believe is that thirteen years with her flew by and she's no longer here. But that's what happens when we're busy living life, time passes and suddenly was time for Nestle to move on past a body that was being destroyed by the evil hemangioarcoma cancer.

Yet in my head I can still hear her barking. 

A New Year...Where Will We Go?

Michelle Rusk
IMG_7257.jpg

Happy 2018, Everyone!

While I believe that we can start fresh at anytime, there is something to be said for the calendar rolling around into January 1. We come off the holidays– when we've most likely been busy– and then we get (I hope you did!) a holiday break. The new year rolls around and suddenly it feels like all the Christmas lights and decorations should be put away until at least Thanksgiving. Personally, I usually want to clean out all of my closets this time of year. I feel as if it's time to let go of the old to invite the new to come in.

This year is starting out a little differently than years past have and I'm embracing the journey of my job going half time to free up a large chunk of my daily time. However, we were in Los Angeles for the new year (and managed to get colds as happens sometimes) so I didn't feel like I could truly start the new year until we came home– and put everything away (although we had taken care of the Christmas decorations before we left).

For me, Los Angeles still remains a very inspirational place. I can't explain it except that it seems that I woke up one day when I was about thirteen and knew it was where I wanted to go. I didn't get there until the summer after I graduated from high school and obviously I never moved there. I joke that I only got as far as Albuquerque. 

Through a series of events, I've been given opportunities that take me back there and as we were driving down the 110 after having dinner with friends in North Hollywood, I was thinking how it still inspires me to be there. That's topped with the many signs of both my parents (through songs on the radio and coins) that don't usually happen here in Albuquerque.

Now that I'm home and everything is put away, the lists made to make the most of this opportunity of time I have been given with job going half time just a month ago, the hardest part for me is being patient with myself. There is much I want to do and I know my timeline. My hope is to spend 2018 with my nose to the grindstone and see what kind of opportunities I can create for myself through all my creative means. I want to take advantage of the time placed in front of me– it is a gift– and see where I land a year from now.

I have lists, goals, and dreams. The key is being patient with myself that there will be enough time to do everything, to know that I will land where I'm supposed to be. And to listen to voices which who are guiding me and leading the way.

A New Journey

Michelle Rusk
IMG_2854.JPG

I am convinced that sometimes the universe tells us we've been sitting too long and need to move it along. As I post this to social media, today is my birthday, December 12. It's also the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe. And yesterday on December 11, my job went half time. 

No need to discuss the job because it's not about that or about the loss of income that I'm trying not to focus. When you find out that your job is going half time and the date it begins is the day before your birthday– which also happens to be the feast day of a saint whose presence has unknowingly been part of your life longer than you're aware– you know the friend who sits behind you in church was right when she said, "Guadalupe has something better for you to do."

We all know I have many things I'm working on, many things I want to do. The hardest part has been finding the time to do them all. Part of the problem my husband Greg will tell you is that I work hard, I'm a Midwesterner who listened to my parents when they said, "What ever you're doing, make sure you do the best you can at it." While I work at home with a lot of flexibility on a military grief study, I often found myself stifled by a 40-hour work week in the sense that I felt I had to always be available if they needed something.

No more. Now half my week has been freed and I believe it's Guadalupe– because things always happen around my birthday and during Advent– telling me that now is the time, to get focused and get busy on that list. I have one major manuscript I'll be tackling next year along with two others. I obviously have swimwear and clothes to make along with the handbags and such. And hopeful sales will come along with the creating.

I'm not totally clear what this road looks like. And because we're in the midst of the holiday season, I also know I'm somewhat limited on what I can do right now. Instead, I'm resting up and gearing up for that different journey to go into full swing right after the new year, after a trip to Los Angeles.

It's not going to be an easy road. When you've spent much of your time working with grieving people- which can be taxing– you also find that while other aspects of your life make you happy, there is a sense you aren't doing enough because you've been working in life and death. That's something I have to work out, to let go of, because my work is important, just in a different way than hearing people's stories. Instead, it's about living an authentic life, the life I've always wanted– of which I haven't quite reached– and sticking to it even when I'm not quite sure how to get there.

Life isn't easy. It's always full of surprises we don't like. But if we embrace what might look like is two steps backward but is really five steps forward, we'll get where we want to go.

 

Sharing Stories with the World

Michelle Rusk
IMG_2205.jpg

"My reward is the reader who thanks me for tackling themes in the book. That person's comment is worth more than twenty weeks on the best-seller list. I write to touch people, and when they respond the circle is complete" – Rudolfo Anaya in the afterword of Tortuga

I'm sitting on a finished manuscript and– for me– it's not a pleasant place to be because I want to share it with the world. Often, Greg and I make comments or jokes about things relating to the characters in the book but we no one else can relate to them because only a handful of people have read it.

Figuring out what to do with it has been a quandary for me the past few months. I've self published all ten of my books since the second printing of my first book about sibling suicide loss. At the time, the publishing industry was very different than it is now– it was much harder to get your book into the marketplace. Now you pretty much hit a button on your device and it's released to the world. That means, unfortunately, my books are lumped with a lot of badly written books and that also makes it more challenging to be taken seriously when I've been working at this for almost my entire life.

I thought I would spend this year trying to find an agent to publish That Cooking Girl, my latest  completed manuscript and one that I believe is my best written work yet. However, as this year comes to an end, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. It's a tough balance of figuring out where to go from here– because I don't have a huge social media following nor book following, I could end up with a publisher where I'd still be doing all the marketing (such as I have been for sixteen years since my first book came out).

I believe I have stories to share with the world and I often feel as if I'm standing on one side of the Rio Grande Gorge up in the northern part of New Mexico and I can see the other side– where I want to be– yet there is no bridge for me to get there and I'm not sure how to cross.

I'm someone who wants to make things happen. Even if I don't get exactly what I'm pursuing, by continuing to forge forward, other opportunities always come my way. I've honestly prayed about what I'm supposed to do, asking for a clear answer, and yet that hasn't happened. In fact, several times my prayers have been interrupted by "outside life" which at first I found irritating until I realized that maybe it was part of the "do nothing" message I must be receiving.

Rudolfo Anaya is right– it's about touching people and that's all I've ever wanted to do. But sometimes building it and believing they will come doesn't always work as well as one hopes. Still, I'll keep at it. I have a plan for this next year and perhaps that will be the manuscript that finally breaks open the writing career that I've wanted to have since I was six years old. And in that process, That Cooking Girl also will find an audience.

Thanksgiving

Michelle Rusk
IMG_1973.jpg

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.