The Suitcase Studio » FUN Orange County family photography by The Suitcase Studio

live the life you love. love the life you live.

My dad once gave me a necklace with this saying inscribed upon it, and I took it to heart. Continuing my inward journey, I decided it was well past time to revisit this notion.

Reading Danielle LePorte’s book “The Desire Map,” I journeyed inward to discover the life I REALLY wanted to live. New life goals were set… but they weren’t as concrete as “buy a nice house,” nor as ambiguous as “travel more.” Instead, the big question asked was “How do you want to FEEL in your life?” And after many, MANY hours of introspection and journaling, I came up with my 5 core desired feelings:

From that moment on, every decision made has been with these goal feelings in mind, to guide me toward the life I truly desire.

And in doing so, the unexpected started to happen. Much of what I thought I’d wanted started to fall away, with things long ignored now having my full attention.

The focal point of my life drastically shifted, and I felt at peace for the first time in a LONG time.

And I couldn’t ignore that I was being pulled in a direction I’d never before dreamed of.

So I listened to the tiny voices in my head and the pullings of my heart, and started looking into Oregon as a REAL option for myself. I was working towards finding the WHOLENESS in myself.

A mere month after my first trip, I headed back to rip the rose colored glasses from my eyes and see if this place just _might_ hold a piece of my future. I was embracing my desire for WANDERLUST, and trying to find my JOY.

But I knew it wasn’t just about finding a pretty place, or being happy because I’d be surrounded by trees and wildlife. I wanted to meet the people who lived there.

Embracing the art of AUTHENTICITY, I reached out to others and opened my heart to them. Utilizing my online social networking skills, I started online conversations with locals in Bend and Portland, Oregon, and making a few CONNECTIONS. And I was rewarded as they shared pieces of themselves, as well. What started as online chats turned into REAL meet-ups with people… meeting for coffee, a photo shoot, and many more promises of brunches, hikes, future photo shoots, and puppy playdates. The connections I was developing began to grow and take on a life of their own. It was strange how NORMAL it all felt. One connection led to another, and another… and before I knew it, I had begun to develop a brand new community for myself.

And then something TRULY amazing happened. Through my new connections, my desire to reach out even more, and a bit of BOLD action on my part… I made the acquaintance of someone who has changed the course of my life, by offering the opportunity I have always wanted: A chance to work for myself, FULL-TIME, using my creativity and doing what I LOVE.

But I NEED YOUR HELP to make this happen. For REAL.


I promise all will be explained in a few days’ time… and you’ll have the opportunity to help out in a BIG way, while getting something truly AWESOME for yourself in the process.

If you’d like to follow along with the details of my journey in the meantime, you can see more stories and daily adventures on my INSTAGRAM account.


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a new journey begins…

a Note from the Heart…

I wouldn’t be here without YOU. That’s the plain and simple truth.

You’re all such a HUGE part of my life, whether you’ve ever realized it or not. Each time you step in front of my camera, invite me into your home, or even simply leave a comment on my Instagram or Facebook page, you’ve bared your souls and touched my heart. I carry your stories with me, and often turn to them as an inspiration and a REASON for my own.

So I wanted to return the favor by being BRAVE… by opening my heart COMPLETELY to you, and by filling you in on all the recent happenings in my life behind the scenes. I hereby invite you to be a part of my ongoing journey… and hope you enjoy the ride.


Let the journey begin…

September 4th. My thirty-sixth birthday.

That morning I sat up in bed, took a deep breath, and…  burst into tears.

The ugly sobbing kind. Because the day was a marker of sorts, and I’d finally admitted to myself… deep down in my gut…  that I just wasn’t happy with the way my life was going… and hadn’t been happy in the long-run for a few years. It saddened me that yet ANOTHER 365 days had passed me by with no real change taking place. And so, I’d decided, that it was finally time to DO something to rectify this.

Here I was, at 36. My marriage was ending, I lived alone, and there were no children to call my own. I still worked my mind-numbing day-job as a legal secretary (as I had for the past TEN years), and I had still never quite been able to take the leap to support myself full-time with my photography business. Because of this, I found myself working pretty much non-stop, with what little social life I had disappearing in the process. And in the process, I’d somehow managed to isolated myself from the world I desired.


My life looked nothing like what it was “supposed” to, and I was a wreck.

So I sat in my bed on my birthday morn, and just let myself cry. I wept for the girl I used to be, the woman I thought I would have become by then, and the life I had actually allowed myself to numbly stumble through instead.

And as the tears began to dry I made a promise that I would let go of the past, live authentically in the present, and carve out the future I still desired.

Saying goodbye to the past was one of the most heartbreaking things I’d ever done in my life, which was the reason why it had taken me so long to do. Together for twelve years, married for six, but separated for four, I dug deep and found the strength to end my toxic relationship with my husband and all the strange forms it had taken. I wasn’t prepared for the sense of lightness that quickly followed, though, and it served as a nod that I was heading in the right direction.

For far too long I had been trying to find my sense of joy again. “Find joy everyday” had been my mantra for as far back as I could remember, but even I was having to dig deep for this one. Of course I found my daily moments, but in the long-run, I just wasn’t happy… and kept myself busy and distracted so I could hide this, even from myself.

I was also having trouble finding my peace in any of the normal pieces of my life that surrounded me.

I turned to nature, but even my “happy place” at the beach brought little comfort. The ocean waves left me riled up instead of peaceful. And pacing up and down the shoreline, I knew I needed to seek my solace elsewhere.

I began to hike a lot more, and it was only then that I felt my breath start to steady. I would climb up the path carved into the hillside of the local nature preserve, anticipation bubbling inside of me at seeing what kind of wilderness waited for me on the other side. But as I finally crested the hill, my heart sank into my running shoes as I saw just another new housing development… and knew it was time to seek out something even further away.

So I began to aimlessly drive. With my camera, a few art supplies thrown into a satchel, and good music loaded up on my iPhone, I’d just get in the car and go. Unsure as to where I was supposed to drive, my only thought was that I needed to get away from where I currently was and discover something NEW. It was glorious… until I had to return back to my tiny cave of a condo each night.

Bend Oregon
Wanderlust had taken hold in a BIG way.

I knew I was searching for a certain something that was missing from my life, though I wasn’t quite sure what that something might be… and only hoped that I’d be able to recognize it when it was found.

I wanted an adventure.

So I took flight, hopping on a plane to go visit a friend in Bend, Oregon. But I actually only made it as far as Portland that day, as freezing fog (yes, freezing FOG) grounded all flights through the next morning, as well. There was a mad rush to find a hotel room, and another scramble to find an alternate way out of town after all outgoing flights for the next two days were either cancelled or overbooked.

But while others around me grumbled and argued, I laughed with glee.

Because everything was so NEW, and I was definitely having an adventure.

So that was how I found myself on a FIVE-HOUR bus ride to reach Bend a day later than expected. My carry-on luggage was wedged between my feet, we had to stop mid-way at a Dairy Queen for a bathroom break, and I couldn’t even enjoy the scenery outside my fogged-up window. With all the flight cancellations EVERY seat on-board was taken, but thankfully I lucked out and had a fabulous seatmate who talked my ear off for the entire ride (if you’re reading this.. THANKS, Lou… and look… I’m really DOING it!) Again, while most people were grumbling, I was absolutely ecstatic.

“Be careful what you wish for,” they say… and I had certainly wished for an adventure.

It was dark by the time I finally reached my friend, so I didn’t get a chance to revel in the beauty of Oregon till the next morning as we headed out for a walk together.

He led me along a trail that led along the Deschutes River, and my heart started to pound.

Bend Oregon
Crossing over a small bridge, it I felt as if I was crossing into a new place in my life.

I was incredibly close to that something I’d been searching for and, like a beacon, it called me forth. As I stood at the water’s edge, I felt the first stirrings of realization. The calmness in my limbs, the unraveling of the tightness in my belly, and the first deep breath I was able to take in months.

Bend Oregon

I couldn’t explain what was happening in that moment, or the many moments to follow. But I knew something BIG had changed within me. I had finally found what I’d been searching for.

And I felt like I was home.


to be continued…

Never fear… yes, my journey is taking me elsewhere, but I am NOT leaving any of you BEHIND. And all will be explained a bit more in a few days’ time.


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  • Krissie


    WHAT** a spirit you have! I am absolutely stunned by your resilience/energy/strength /determination/longing…
    I found you recently on instagram through a comment you left kn one of Danielle LaPorte’s photos, I felt drawn to see what you were about. Oh goodness, am I glad I listened to the insight/pull to do so! Your photos are breath-giving and your words and lovely and I SO resonate with your story. The wish you the best of adventures + right on(!!) for listening from within!!.

    Adventure ON Michelle!
    Krissie aka (kindredkrissie)

  • jaime

    Oh this is fantastic! I am so so so happy that you have found a place with so much joy for your soul! I feel better about you making this move and am so excited for you!!


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gotta love my Starbucks lovers…


Ever since the first time I heard the song “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift, I’ve been getting the words wrong.

You know the line that goes, “Got a long list of ex-lovers…?” Well, instead, I heard, “Gotta love my Starbucks lovers…”

And with that one small difference, the entire song played out differently in my head.

I saw Taylor sitting in her local Starbucks, sipping her pumpkin space latte (or whatever seasonal drink might be appropriate), and checking out the different types that wandered in the door.  Because Starbucks CAN be one of those amazing places to meet a lot of new people, right? And she picks out her new seasonal flavor (new money, suit and tie), and the “blank space” is actually that spot on the Starbucks cup where they write in the name you give them… whatever it is you want for it to be.

So, yeah… a far cry from what Taylor was probably envisioning as she originally wrote her song. But that’s perfectly okay… and what art (and life) is all about… because you can have 5, 10, or 100 people listen to the same song, see the same piece of art, or even go through the same life experience, and each person will report getting something different out of it. That’s how life works. It’s all about where we’re coming from, who we are, and how we perceive things.

That’s what makes this imperfect life so damn beautiful, and what makes us all unique within it.

So, while Taylor keeps crooning about her long list of ex-lovers, I’ll keep picturing that magical Starbucks where temporary dreams all come true.


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  • Lena Song

    My boyfriend and I were convinced it was Starbucks Lovers as well, that I had to google it. And your page came up – he was like: you’re not even close to finding the lyrics. Haha. Little did he know… ☕️

let the adventure begin.

The Suitcase Studio - Adventure

[one month ago]

December 5, 2014… Let the ADVENTURE Begin!

There’s a great deal of rumbling beneath me. A roar of engines, then a pressure at my back… like going light-speed on Star Tours at Disneyland… only 159,982 times better. I give a quick glance out the window to my left (past the bored-looking girl already reading a magazine) and the world suddenly tilts sharply. Drastically. And there’s the wing of the plane, acting as a level to indicate just how sharply we are pointed.

Going up, up, up… and I want to throw my hands up and giggle. For real. It’s the best rollercoaster I’ve ever been on. Because this adventure is real.

And just like that, the tears prick at my eyes. Unexpectedly, but not unwelcome. Because I’ve still got a HUGE grin on my face.

Gaining altitude, plane shaking, and my heart soars and shakes along with it, too. Because I’m up here… high above the ground… in one of those planes I’d watch from the ground and wistfully tell myself “someday.”

That was always it. “Someday,” I’d say… dreaming of a future when the timing would be right, the money would be there, I’d have a good travel companion and the stars would be aligned… then I’d “do it.” Whatever “it” was. Fly to New York, Seattle, San Francisco, ITALY, or even back to Walt Disney World. Someday I would travel. I’d go, really…

I promised this to myself every day as I’d drive into work, watching the planes fly overhead… looking up and wondering where they were headed. I’d smile and wish them well on their travels, then imagine I was high above myself, in that plane right along side them.

“Someday,” I’d whisper to myself on a sigh… driving to my daily drudgery. But someday never seemed to happen. Days turned to years. Same routine, same life, same issues, same promises.

Till today.

My stomach keeps dropping and tightening and the butterflies are definitely putting on a show in there… but I can’t tell if it’s caused by the dipping of the plane in turbulence, or because I know this is such a big step in my life, and the reality is finally hitting me a bit more.

I’ve talked about adventures and finding it “someday.” But this is finally happening today. The twisting and turning continues, and I’ve still got that stupid grin plastered to my face.

Alone, but not lonely.

And incredibly excited to see where my path leads next.


[welcome to STORYTELLING... offering an authentic snapshot of life through words and photos. Much more coming soon.]



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