West Coast Road Trip 2016

Road TripEvery couple of years I take this road trip… leaving my driveway of a cookie cutter suburb of Los Angeles, CA and driving up to the state that raised me, my Oregon.  There have been years where I packed up our 30 foot RV with our 3 kids and I made the trek without their dad for he had to work. Sometimes a girl has got to do what a girl has got to do.   We didn’t want to shortchange ours children’s adventures because he couldn’t make it, so we just went ourselves instead.  Luckily there were a few years where my husband was able to take the time off and go with us.  Without question I forfeited the driver’s seat, reading magazines and a good book, glad to have him joining us.  As the kids got older however and more involved in their various sports those trips became fewer and fewer.  We still would fly up to see family and friends, but it wasn’t the same.  To me there is nothing like a good old-fashioned road trip.

Going by car (or motor home) has its advantages, its slows down the process for us to really see the changing of the landscape.  Stopping in various diners and exchanging chit-chat with locals, counters the constant negativity that is so prevalent in our various portals of communication these days.  Changing vignettes and a good road trip soundtrack brings a smile so deep,  your heart cannot help but feel it.  I wanted to share this with my son this year, he is now a teenager and soon will be driving on his own, just beyond my grasp.   The girls had experienced these road trips it at his age, now it was Carson’s turn.

Road Trip pit stop

“Fine take your photo MOM… but I’m not going to smile!”

This year I had many reasons for going North.  Not only to visit my eldest daughter soon to be a senior at U of O, I had also signed up for a conference called Startup Camp Summit in Bend, Oregon. (Ironically I had even told my Uncle about it weeks before his passing, sharing with him that I was worried he wouldn’t be around for me to see him after my conference.  He then told me it sounded wonderful and to go anyway regardless of whether he would be around or not. That was by far the most profound and loving conversation I have ever had in my life btw. Looking honestly at death and given the permission to live life fully in their absence…heartbreakingly beautiful!)  I had a high school reunion a few weeks after my conference so it was all coming together.  I also needed to see and check up on my grieving family and touch base with my life long friends.  Knowing that my son would not want to be carted around for all of my adventures, I signed him up for two weeks at YMCA’s Camp Silver Creek camp.

On the drive up Carson, my 13-year-old son would be my only companion this trip around and we were both looking forward to it.  The plan was to leave at dawn, drive up Interstate 5 and then cut over to the coast and by the afternoon stay the night in Fort Bragg, CA.  I had seen and heard of a beach that was full of natural sea glass and I wanted to see it for myself.

Fort Bragg, CA beach

Sea Glass

My son loving Sea Glass beach

That night we stayed in a quant hotel that had maybe a dozen rooms.  This was our view from our balcony…

2016-06-24 07.50.28-1

Northern California Coastline

This was a put on the brakes, pull off to the side of the road, run across the street and take a photo moment.

The next morning we headed North to visit the Redwoods, something in all of these years I had never experienced first hand.

California Redwoods by Michelle E Black

Sure, this part of the trip had winding roads and I had a hard time not stopping after each turn… for it was sooo beautiful!  I wanted to bottle it up, breathe it into every part of me and capture it for myself.  I needed to take a part of it with me, soak in every bit of its beauty it its vastness.

What was an unexpected gift of this portion of our road trip that I am grateful for was that Carson had no wifi. He was forced, not by me… to look out the window and let the scenery impress upon him and hopeful carve a memory for him.  As we drove with our windows down, breathing the air that only such massive trees can filter, gave us medicinally, and spiritually that for me at least I will remember fondly.Oregon Road Trip

The land of Christmas Tree farms

California now in our rear view mirror we are in the land of where most of the country get their Christmas trees from, my home state…Oregon.

At this point in our trip it became less about the journey and more about the destination.  We both were ready to see my eldest daughter who for the first summer was not coming home from college.  We couldn’t reach Eugene, Or fast enough and although exhausted when we landed on her front steps, we were so happy to see her.

My loves in Oregon

It’s a necessity to travel for me, its in my blood from the first plane ride I took at 19.  I’ve taken the Amtrak train, Greyhound bus, by car, by motor home, a tour bus, cruise ship and many airplanes in my adult life to get to and through my adventures.  I’ve done is cheaply, sticking to youth hostels and fast food and I’ve stayed in luxurious hotels and eaten in exquisite restaurants world-wide.  I even eaten an amazing Native American taco in the middle of the open prairie with a panoramic view of a lighting storm.  I’ve wandered far from the tourist ports into the streets of Puorta Viarta to eat the most delicious street tacos that beat the finest cuisine our resort had to offer.  Traveling and experiencing life to the fullest is essential to my well-being.  It has forced me to find the common thread from which we can all can communicate from and opened my mind to be less judgemental and more curious to our differences.  Hopefully I have passed this onto my children as well.

Next I will write about my journey IN Oregon becasue the destination was also amazing and heartwarming.

Black Out…in a good way.


Watching Our Children Go Out Into the World…

Graduation ceremonyMy second of my three children is now ready to go out into the world.  She graduated high school and is now enrolled in college with her first classes already on her schedule for the upcoming fall.  I cannot fully express how grateful I am, that they have surpassed what I was unable to accomplish all those years ago.  I marvel at how both my daughters seem to possess a strong sense of self and confidence that took me many years to build for myself.  To say I am proud is an understatement.

My Circus

As I often referred to my family as my circus it seems less like a circus these days.  Our nest is now down to three.  I know some who have only experienced this type of family life, but for us it’s a new adventure.  Although Kennedy is still around for the summer with her busy schedule it has prepared us for her leaving in just a few months.  Dinner for three will be our new norm.

Adventure...As my daughters are young women now, I try not to think about what could happen to them as they go out into the world.  I won’t be able to have them check in or know where they are at a moments notice.  To be honest I don’t want to know.  I have always wanted them to be strong and independent and now they get to be just that.  I’ve already given the cautionary talks and debriefing of the lessons of adolescence that often foddered conversations about safety and learning from our choices and from their peer’s mistakes as well.  From here I can only trust and have faith that there are forces greater than myself keeping them safe in order for me to sleep at night.  That they are self aware, street smart and savvy with their instincts.  Praying that they will be watched over, that God will not give them more than they can handle, that they do in fact make, “Good Choices.”

Grief’s Embrace

Winters embraceA heavy heart is often invisible to the naked eye. When we grieve we can move through our lives doing what needs to be done, following the carved path of a necessary coexistence. We often see who we need to see, interacting as if we were sleepwalking, fragile, but functioning.

Time passes and seemingly even the ones who were most compassionate in our time of need, eventually return to what the living demands of them. As we begin to want to move on, with self criticism, even ashamed that we are not stronger. Our mind tells us we need to make an effort, we “should” breathe life back into our stale existence. After all, it was not us that have passed on.

As life demands it, we begin to make our way back to the living. We participate, to the best of our abilities in its daily demands and want desperately to resist the pull of self pity while pretending to be ok. During the grievance process, without warning a storm can gather and overtake us, engulfing us once again in sadness. This storm does not care where we are or who we are with. We feel once again vulnerable and raw as we become drenched with in its unforgiving menacing sorrow.

Shaken and wounded we retreat back to our recluse. Alone and exhausted we give ourselves up to grief’s embrace, releasing the tension of normalcy. Weeping yet again and surprising ourselves that we had any tears left to be shed. Our restless sleep becomes a new norm, tossing and turning in the hopes of even the smallest patch of sleep will reprieve us from our echoing memories. Time seems slow and unforgiving.

It does pass however and our daily lives get back to its familiar routine. We fear that this may mean we will forget the sound of their voices or no longer be able to see them in their memories as vivid as before. We slowly begin to smile at our well wishers, bless the sneezers, and even help others as they fumble through life’s detours. To the untrained eye we have, in fact recovered from our loss. They, and sometimes even us, are unaware that just below the surface we are still wading through an emotional canyon of loss and are still grieving in their absence.

Soon our closest friends move forward in their lives, they do not mean to forget. When they see sadness upon your face and ask what is the matter…be patient. They have gone back to their own lives and have been pulled along their own paths, as they should be, until they finally receded from sight.

We do not blame them, in fact a sense of relief envelopes us. We are no longer a witness to their helplessness in their responses to us. We too have ached to help them feel better, and are lightened from the weight of their loss, as they move forward. In some twisted way, we may have felt responsible for their feelings. Caring for them and being their friend or loved one meant wanting to comfort them as well, but not having the strength to do so. Perhaps even it was a role we continued to play, the caretaker even when it was rightfully our loss that needed to be comforted. We simply could not allow the roles to change. If not self aware we could project that they had failed us.

Finally alone to grieve, the absence becomes almost deafening. The only sound we hear is that of our own heartbeat in our ear, as if to remind us that it is not us who Have passed. For now we simply exist and look for distraction.

As time takes its time and our hearts hibernate in its winters embrace, we go about our lives detached, as if observing ourselves in our own daily routines. We wonder to ourselves as we participate in the minimal of daily chatter, “Do they not hear the breaking of my heart? Can they not see the shallow depth of my falsified smile?” Without thinking we have even automated our interactive response to, “I’m fine and you?”with a now convincing smile that we have practiced oh so well.

As we live what feels a necessary charade, we begin to wonder who have we have crossed paths with before that have felt such a loss and we were unaware? We knowingly admit the likelihood of such an encounter and make note to look more closely in the eyes of those we talk to. To listen to what they are not saying.

Slowly if we work to not replace our loss with self destructive crutches and surround ourselves only with those who nurture our new skin, we begin to heal. In healing we start to see the spring of our mourning and begin to participate in its beauty.

Shift in lightAs the light begins to shift and more becomes illuminated we start to see new growth. New buds of wisdom are experienced, if we allow ourselves to feel them. We can start to notice the subtleties of life and the deeper meaning behind loss. We see in a new light of those who truly care for us and if we are lucky, we see what gifts have been passed onto us and we in turn share those with others.

Love can growWe start to realize that in death we can experience life. That in the absence of that life, love can once again grow. That grieving is a process that cannot be rushed, but must heard and felt all the same. At last we see that there is no shame in a day without a thought to those we once knew living. That life is meant to be progressive, that we are not meant to stand still. Life is growth and death fertilizes it.

We soon celebrate life with gratitude for sharing the experience of that loved one. We feel them in the most unexpected places and are reminded of them in unfamiliar faces. We have not forgotten and look forward to when we will meet again one day.

Springs tulips by Michelle E Black

Nothing had changed…until it did.

Vintage Celebrations Magazine Photo shoot…

vintage camera centerpiecesIt was during one of the busiest time of the year, December when I had an email exchange with the Editor of Cottages and Bungalows Magazine.  It was one of the Carpe diem moments when I decided to send out an email that encouraged the possibility of working together on an idea I had for Father’s Day.  (We often work six months ahead of time…) I sent her all of my links to the various portals of communication that I have slowly been building up for the past 4 years and forgot all about it.  To my utter delight she emailed me back!  She then stated that having seen my Instagram,  and that it was inspiration enough.

After a couple of meetings, one of which I brought in props for a  Show- N-Tell of what I saw for visuals based on the themes they had already chosen we were on our way.  At that point Jickie introduced me to another editor Karen Wilhelmsen from Flea Market Decor magazine http://www.fleamarketdecor.com to see if I could help with a new magazine they were putting together….Vintage Celebrations Magazine.  Are you kidding?  I jumped at the opportunity!  My part was to be a stylist, I had enough props and more than enough ideas.  The themes, as it turns out were two I already had plenty to work with!Teamwork the Editors

Now, I have friends that often say, “You’re a photographer, why don’t you take the photos.”  Yes I am a photographer and over the years I have thousands of stunning images, however, they are mostly candid photographs of whatever moment in time I had experienced.  I use mostly natural lighting, and trust me there is an art in painting with artificial lighting and especially with interiors…a science.  Never have I been so sure of this then watching photographer Bret Gum www.bretgum.com do his magic.  He saw flares of light where I didn’t even notice.  Other times he double reflected, had several studio lights set up, bouncing light perfectly from one wall to the subject.  It was such a great experience to watch someone give the vignettes and details I had worked so hard to create, and give them justice with such precision.

Bret at workNow what was so interesting is that what was photographed were collections I have been putting together for some time now.  Not knowing why I have collected or kept these treasures, but so grateful I had as they were the layering of details that were needed to create the mood of the image.

Winter wonderland centerpiece by Michelle E. BlackWhat was even more rewarding was the ability to pull my friends in to be apart of the photoshoot.  Over the past 4 years I have collected a lot of handmade and small business artisans.  With any given theme I know just who to call and see if they have anything for me to showcase.  Dave Collard www.instagram.com/SlabnSteel is branching off and creating handmade furniture from both salvaged materials and raw that exemplifies both elegance and rustic aesthetics equally.  Maria of Sorella Salvage www.instagram.com/Sorellasalvage.com has blossomed with her salvage wood signage, and home decor pieces and even rolled up her sleeves the night before  to help me pull together some details in the last hour.  With our fences mended Michele Rivard brought over her colored Annie Sloan Chalk painted chairs and plates for one of the children’s table vignettes.

The gals at Our Vintage Garage https://www.facebook.com/Our-Vintage-Garage had plenty of treasures to add to my collections and have grown now to 18 vendors and are doing well for themselves.  (#attagirls )  Lastly Merlina from Glendora Gardens hooked me up with some beautiful plants to round out the details.  I am truly grateful for so many wonderful friends and colleagues in this business, collectively they added the details that rocked this photo shoot.

So with that Thank you Jickie Torres and Karen Wilhelmsen for giving me the opportunity.  Be sure to stay tuned and get your copy of the magazine when it comes out.  More will be revealed at the behind the scenes once its published.

Creative Hibernation

My Creative Hibernation
Its been a while since I have posted, for a variety of reasons.  To keep it simple, I am calling it a hibernation.  For the past few years I have bounded forward diving into one creative adventure after another. I have  fully embraced and supported a creative community I have come to know and was so excited to finally have an audience to share my work with, outside of my very supportive friends and family.  Enthusiastically I have taken on creative challenges without much thought as to where they would take me and what the outcome might be, just absorbing them into the fold of my ever expanding life.

At some point while surfing this creative chapter,a subtle storm blew in and the waves began to toss me about harshly.  I would get out for a short bit only to convince myself to try once again to ride the waves, in hopes the water would be less choppy or that I could just ride them out.  I would inevitably find myself battered and exhausted once again.  I was ignoring what the universe was trying to tell me… slow down, reflect and rest.

It would take phone call with my dear Uncle that would stop me in my tracks.  A touchstone was now looking at his own mortality and I began to slow my pace.  Needing to pull things back and shorten the expanse of my committments and simplify my life more, I began to pull my art out of stores and not promote my workshops as much.  I needed space to answer the question as to what my calling really is?   I  joined an online community workshop that is helping clarify some of those questions without the influence of what others want me to create for them.  I joined a monthly artists group, that speaks the same creative language I do but in various art forms.  More importantly I have plugged back into my own life.

Whats so interesting about all of this is that by doing less, more is happening for me but with clarity.  On the horizon for 2016 are some amazing creative collaborations.  As they start to take shape I will write more on those, they are still in their planning stages so I hesitate to “jinx” them.  More inportantly however, I never would have been aware of their possiblity without me taking a break to hear my own breath.

So here’s to embracing the winter in our lives, we all need to hibernate now and again.  It is the Winter that makes the Spring so beautiful.Winter

Love you.