2821951515_30e58ee8fa_z“Vijfsprong” – crossing with five roads. Image from Flickr via (Creative Commons license) 


Reflecting—that’s what we all tend to do in the second half of life. As we indulge in our routine reflecting, we find ourselves pausing at the crucial places . . . the places where we made choices with life-changing consequences. This is part of our series on such forks in the road.

New beginnings are old-hat to me.  

After graduating from college, I was having a great time gallivanting through Europe and South America as a professional figure skater with the international division of Holiday on Ice. My mother summoned me home. My sister, Liz—11 months younger than I—had zoomed through college in three years and had finished her first year of law school.  It was time for me, according to my mother, to get real. Prancing through Europe and South America as a skating carrot in a Bugs Bunny number did not a career make.

My first career moves didn’t require much pondering. I bounced from one opportunity to the next as only an ambitious twentysomething can. I dreamed of becoming a writer. I got my foot in the door as an assistant to the head of the circulation department at New York magazine, then worked as an assistant to best-selling author Gail Sheehy, became a staff writer at SELF magazine, and got an advance from Little, Brown to expand one of my freelance articles for The New York Times Magazine, “Little Winners,” into a book.

At 30, I didn’t lean in. I dropped out. Six months after Little Winners was published, I met my husband Howard at mile 1 ½ of the Great Bonac Road Race. Having six magazine deadlines when my daughter, Lily, was born, I quit writing and spent the next decade as a wife and a mother to Lily and her younger brother, Teddy—cooking and chauffering and reveling in being part of the “Mom” network.  We moved from Manhattan to a leafy suburb in Connecticut. For pin money, I taught skating at an outdoor rink. I became a “Mother Pucker”—member of a team of ice-hockey-playing moms. I got a part-time job working as the public relations coordinator at my children’s school. Life was good.

Then Howard and I divorced.   I bought the cheapest house in town. My book club buddies came over to help me strip the metallic wallpaper and pull up the shag carpeting in the master bedroom that a dog had peed all over. My friends thought that the divorce had sent me over the edge. Lily and Teddy, now 14 and 11, thought the same. Despite the spectacular location along the Silvermine River, this house was a dog.

A recently divorced friend gave me the gift of a consultation by her architect and interior designer. I agreed with their assessment that the present house was too far gone for cosmetic changes and embarked on a yearlong “from-the-studs-out” renovation. Before the house was finished, the project was over budget. I bought a tile cutter at Home Depot and cut and installed the tiles for the kitchen backsplash and bathroom tiles myself.

I was receiving no alimony and got minimal child support, and had only a part-time job. I HAD to get a full-time job.

On February 14, 2001, I was standing in line at the Food Emporium. I didn’t have enough money to buy the makings for a special “Blanquette de Veau” (Veal in Cream Sauce) Valentine’s Day dinner for Lily and Ted. My credit card and debit cards were declined. A sweet man from church was behind me in line. He saw what was happening and handed me $30.

I was all too painfully aware that this was my fork-in-the-road moment.  

I finished the house and secured a full-time job as communications director at another private school. Gardening had always been a passion, and I had landscape architects in my family. A few years later I earned a Certificate in Landscape Design at the New York Botanical Garden and started a landscaping company.

In the past decade, I’ve changed hats almost as often as Bartholomew Cubbins—a Dr. Seuss character who tried to remove his hat when the king passed by, only to have another one pop back onto his head.

I’ve owned and managed GreatScapes, become a realtor, started writing again, honed my photography skills to a professional level, taught photography and landscape design at a local community college and at the New York Botanical Garden, where I had been a student

The creativity of artistic pursuits like landscape design and photography, and the hard work required to own and manage my own business, sell houses, and write a 300-page book have engaged both the right and left sides of my brain. (Although my 61-year -old brain isn’t all that strong if I try to multi-task, so my current mantra is “Better in the Moment.”) I have learned, through thick and thin—and with the support of loving friends and family and the grace of God—that I can get through anything and land on my feet.

While I have known financial anxiety many times since Valentine’s Day, 2001, it was nothing like what I felt that day in the Food Emporium—my “fork in the veau” moment.


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  • Sierra October 7, 2015 at 11:47 am

    I enjoyed your story. I have had some mid life challenges that have obscured any confidence or sense of self. My issue (one of many) is I have few “friends”. I have lost a long-term well paying career; divorced; lost my home; a few beloved pets; an apartment all in three short years. Also I was mislead by a mental health professional who over prescribed drugs so I am in the painful process of weaning off many anti anxiety drugs that totally changed my pesona; destroyed my self esteem and confidence; making the above challenges worse than I could ever imagine. What stands out in your story is the support of your friends. What to do when I suffer financially, emotionally and have no bodies nearby as friends. If lucky I have two or three who live in different states. I was able to travel to them a few years ago but after living in a tent (creative camping) this year and now totally dependent on someone for a place to live and for food (not where I ever thought I’d be) I lack for the network of support that I know is crucial for not only survival but for that real life I’ve wanted for so long. Soon to be 58; unemployed; living on early retirement (borrowed time); trying to see and carve out my way back to feeling alive and worthy of love and friendships. Heavy sigh.

  • Brenda Tharp February 10, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Emily, what a wonderful and open story to read. I had no idea – but then our short time together at the GCA workshop was all about making pictures! Your story is inspiring, keep on!!

  • Caryl Avery February 6, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    I think your “fork in the veau” simply enhanced your appetite for living. You have cooked up so many delicious pursuits and succeeded in all of them. Congrats on the smorgasbord of your life.

  • Emily Kelting February 3, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks, Mickey, Jami, Ellen Sue, and Roz for reading my story and sharing your thoughts! I am blessed with good health, 2 fabulous children, and circles upon circles of friends, and I too am convinced, Ellen Sue, that this is what helps us make it through the night.

    Jami, I am in the process of trying to scan in photos from my bookshelf of photo albums that I made before I turned to digital photo books. I’m only saving the photos that elicit and “Awww” response in the actual photo albums. Which means hours upon hours of consolidating and scanning. I guess I will eventually do this for CD’s, receipts and maybe tax forms too one day, rather than keeping so much paper, which I will have no room for in my new place.

    Hope this helps!

  • roz warren February 2, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    Inspiring. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson February 2, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    My “resume” is similar to yours>Moved 28 times. Lost almost everything in my divorce, but having 3 terrific kids and wonderful friends helped me make it through the nights.
    Necessity is the mother of invention as we both have learned! Congrats on “Stayin’ Alive!”

  • Jami Kelly February 2, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Nice story, Emily. Thank you for sharing your history and your journey with us. I had no idea you had gone through so much, and achieved so much!

    I read this as I too sit in an apartment I’ve had for 23 years with half of my life in the building corridor awaiting the painters to arrive in the snow – yeah wish me luck. The process has made me determined to rid myself of half the stuff that is in the corridor because it is so nice and airy in here, like a fresh, new apartment, and I would hate to clutter it up again. But I can’t bear with letting go of photos (hello digital!), CDs (hello digital!), stuff from our house growing up, and the like. Any tips?

  • Mickey February 1, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Emily, you and my friend, Kim, so many forks in the road, many roads taken, many hats worn and discarded! Thank you for this article. Thank you so much!