Today I have been
blogging for eight years.
Today I am
fifty years old.
I hadn’t given it a lot
of thought, but I suppose I did expect to be fifty; I never expected to be
blogging for eight years.
But life, as
we know, is often not what we expect.
have started designing a line of needlepoint.
As much as I love stitching, I did not expect that I would pursue
creating my own line.
stitching twenty-four years ago with two, small rectangular fish pillows for my
I bought them to have
something to do as I sat with my mother when she was sick and dying.
Reading, even a magazine, made me feel as if
I were distant from her and what was happening.
I wished, both emotionally and physically that I could be distant. But I
needed to be there and the starting and stopping to accommodate the doctors and
friends who were coming and going made retaining anything that I would read
me to feel as if I were doing something, while still being able to talk or not
talk, to make eye contact or not make eye contact.
Beyond that, I found the rhythm of the needle
moving in and out soothing. The subtle rasp of the wool against the canvas
echoed a dissonance that I felt in my heart.
Being close to her was always putting myself in harm’s way, but now I
had to. It was the right thing to do.
finished the pillows and married the boyfriend a few months after my mother
She never expressed interest in
the fish, but she did like the boy.
moved into his house and the pillows and everything else became “ours.”
My next needlepoint project was his Christmas
I bought it in the
neighborhood shop where I had bought the fish from a woman who became my
Joanie’s almost exactly
thirty-five years older than I am.
not expect to become friends with her when she pulled the T-pins from that
Christmas stocking, took it down from the wall and referred to my husband by
his boyhood nickname, but we did.
She owned the shop
and her own line of canvases, yet a different artist had painted my husband’s
stocking. It featured ducks and geese and holly on a background of white.
Joanie painted his monogram across the top of
a canvas that had 13 holes per inch.
is, roughly, two feet long and about ten inches across at its widest
If you don’t stitch this means
nothing, but if you do you know that it was a big project. I did not know what
I was getting myself into, but I was determined.
finished his stocking before our second Christmas together and started my
Some stockings are part of a line
and the artist creates a series within a theme, so that you can have a different,
but similar piece for each member of the family.
That was not the case with the first stocking
that I chose, so I designed what I wanted – first for myself and then for my
children – and Joanie painted them for me.
They all have the repeating pattern of holly. Mine has poinsettias and a
long, yellow satin ribbon that twists through the greenery.
My oldest son has snowflakes; the middle has
pinecones and the youngest has cardinals and mistletoe.
I finished each boy’s stocking before his
first Christmas, because that’s the sort of person I was then. My oldest son
was born in November.
a long time, I was rarely without a project.
I stitched loads of pillows and made ornaments for the boys every
It still provided a sense of calm
and productivity. After I had come up with the concepts for the boys’ stockings
I found that I preferred designing my own projects.
Joanie, who continued to paint them for me,
was always enthusiastic about my ideas.
I tore images from
magazines and sketched on legal pads and explained, using large gestures with
my hands, what I wanted.
closely, her eyes alert, until I finished. She would never interrupt. When I
stopped – talking and gesturing - she would nod sharply and say, “Sure. We can
do that.” And then she would.
effort to eliminate so much background, which is the Siberia of any needlepoint
project, I began to play with scale and pattern.
Often, I asked her to make the flowers
bigger, to paint a subtle damask, to create a wide border.
It’s nonsense to think of background as
tedious; it’s all the same stitch.
shouldn’t matter really, the color of the thread, but often it does.
The joy is in the revelation of the image,
not the field behind.
Three years ago, I
began thinking about starting my own line of canvases and I talked to Joanie
No surprise, she encouraged
She invited me to her house and
walked me back to her studio, which is flooded with light and a view of her garden,
and she taught me how to paint a canvas.
“I don’t know,” I
“Maybe I should I just show
you what I want and you can paint it.”
She looked back,
her mouth a firm line, and said, “No.
You need to do this yourself. It has to be your work.” And she pushed
me, gently but firmly, out of the nest.
I had a file of
tear sheets filled with images of things that I thought would make great
pillows or seat cushions.
Chinese jars, wallpaper. And I sat at my desk and started to sketch and then
finally to paint on paper and eventually on canvas.
I showed my first designs to Joanie and she
pointed out where I was going to have trouble and said, “Keep going.”
And I did.
After several attempts on paper, I painted my
first complete canvas, a pair of peacocks inspired by a piece of Chinese
Eighteen inches square, it
features hues that I love: lipstick red, jade green, rich turquoise against a
background of pale aqua.
But painting it
was not enough.
I needed to see it
Once it was dry, I pulled yarn
from my bag, separated two stands, folded them tight and slid them through the
eye of the needle and began.
anchored the thread against the back of the canvas and pulled it through,
beginning the weave that would create the picture, I could see the whole collection
coming together. I was going to start my own needlepoint line. But I got a
I’ve never met
anyone who wanted a divorce or who has come through it without feeling as if he
or she has walked through fire.
of a marriage, I’ve learned, is usually a long unraveling.
Sometimes people are aware that it is coming
undone, but others don’t see it until it’s in a heap at their feet.
Regardless, it’s rarely the doing of one
Once I could admit
that my marriage was over, I began to look around to find people who had ended
I was lucky that I knew a
few women who stood on the sidelines of soccer games next to their exes and
planned birthday parties together and formulated schedules for holidays that
were sane and civilized rather than battle zones.
I sought them out.
I begged their counsel.
They nodded when I told them that I wanted my
divorce to be different than my parents’ had been and they promised me that it
Living with my
mother and witnessing her dying was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but getting
a divorce is certainly the second. It is not what I thought was going to
I did not think I would ever sit
at the kitchen table where our family had routinely exchanged stories of our
days to tell my children that their parents were not going to be married any
more. Three pairs of clear blue eyes looked back at me in disbelief. I was
stunned that they were stunned.
wept my way through the summer and as much as I tried to keep it from them, I
felt our home was awash with pain and worry.
They had not seen it.
It was not what they thought was going to
I did not envision
standing in my basement with the boxes of Christmas decorations open on the ping-pong
table as we divided the hundreds of ornaments I’d collected. I remembered where
I bought every one as I slid them into two bright and glittery piles.
I did not think I would ever pull four
stockings from a box and leave one behind, worrying that whatever came to
replace them in my ex-husband’s house would not match the one I made him twenty
years ago. Then I realized he would probably never use it and I ached for all
that went into it.
Still, we managed the dividing with some grace.
asked me recently, after watching me and my ex-husband sit together for nearly
three days of swim championships, “How do you do it? You make it look so easy.
I don’t think I’d be able to speak.”
“It’s not always
easy, though it’s usually not hard either,” I told her.
“But what it always is is conscious.
We do it for the boys.”
We have always
parented well together and we still do. We consult with one another on the
larger issues of rules and responsibilities, rewards and punishments.
Any sentence that I prepare to utter that
contains the words, “your father,” I stop and review in my head: do I really
need this information and are my children the best source from which to get it?
We agreed going
into the divorce that the worst thing about our own parents being divorced was
the way they treated one another and how the tenseness of their relationships
made our milestones difficult: graduations, weddings, baptisms. We wanted to
avoid that, and we have. We celebrate the boys’ birthdays and Christmas morning
together as well as any school or sports event.
It seems to be working pretty well.
It’s not perfect, but it is civilized. They know they can count on us
and that we can be in the same room together, not only without tension, but
also with humor and tenderness.
I have been the
person on the other side of the table now, as a few women have sought my
perspective on how to manage the process of divorce.
I am not, by the way, a divorce
More often than not I find
myself shaking my head over a cup of cooling coffee and saying, “I don’t think
you’re there. Keep trying.” But for someone for whom the issue is resolved I
say, “There is a lot of change.” How you live, where you live, perhaps where or
if you work and certainly, your friendships will change.
Many of these things, especially the
friendships that will fade, will not be what you expected.
But if you are
careful and conscious, you can craft a life for yourself that is entirely
Starting over offers a clean
slate in a lot of ways. I’ve lost friends whom I held very dear, but I find
that now I only spend time with people who I like.
To a great extent I do only what I want to
And if I am sometimes anxious about
how I will sort all of this out, I know that I am where I’m supposed to be.
Part of that place
is drawing and painting and stitching.
had put down my canvas during the separation and had not thought about it until
I hung the bag in which it lives in my front hall closet of my new home.
The closet is in the very center of the house
and holds the normal stuff of hall closets. It’s filled with coats and boots,
leashes and balls, school supplies and gift-wrap.
Eventually, as I settled into a new routine,
I began to take the peacocks from the bag and weave the yarn into the
The movement still soothes me and
I liked the idea that this piece would be the first new one in this space.
As the canvas
filled with rich color, I began to feel a rejuvenation of my passion for
creating and I knew it was time to look again at launching my own line of
When I called Joanie, now
three years from our original meeting, she did not hesitate to pick up the
thread where I had dropped it and began coaching me again to get started. I
call her with my worries.
“I don’t know
if this will work.” “I don’t know how to manage.” “I don’t know what I will
need.” All of these are versions of “I don’t know what to expect.”
She replies calmly with humor in her voice,
“Right. You just have to keep going.” So I do.
I am going to keep
going here, too, however irregularly.
I’ve gone back through the entire blog, from beginning to now, to do
some cleaning up.
I’m shocked at how
often I referred to myself as silly and dismissed my life or my talent or what
I was doing.
I’m incredulous that I gave
others the forum to criticize me so cruelly. I’m quite finished with that.
My life has
changed, almost entirely.
certain, is that I am fifty today.
starting a line of needlepoint.
still blogging after eight years and still grateful that you stop to see what I
have to say.
Thank you, as always, for
The line of needlepoint will be called Mrs. Blandings as well. I have eight designs with which I am
satisfied and two that I’m still tweaking.
I’ll have at least two more to complete and all of them will be ready to
go to market in January. They will be
available to retailers and for purchase here once I launch. Feel free to email me with questions.