FORT SILL, Okla. (March 21, 2019) -- "Cross-stitching is my therapy."

That's what Ella Foley maintains, but maybe the word "oxygen" would be more precise. When she packs to go on a trip, she decides which cross-stitch projects to take with her before she ever even thinks about clothes.

She falls asleep watching a movie on TV unless she's working on a project and her husband, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Command Sgt. Maj. John Foley, is by her side. Then she stays wide awake.

Although she's right-handed, it's always been her left hand she uses to dart in and out of the fabric, making those myriad "X's" with amazing speed and dexterity. She's developed the knack of drawing up the floss -- cross-stitchers don't call it "thread" -- with this hand to complete a stitch. Others exclaim, "So that's how you're able to complete your projects so fast!"

She works on multiple projects at a time so that if she becomes bored with one, or comes to a difficult patch that she's not ready to tackle just yet, she can go to another one that suits her fancy.

And always, always, cross-stitching requires concentration. Miscount the stitches in a design, and you might have to "frog" a half-hour's worth of work. The word "frog" comes from the croaking noise made when a thousand stitches have to be "ribit"-ed out -- something to be avoided at all costs.

It's this focus on the task at hand that takes her away from the problems of the workaday world and relegates those worries to her subconscious where -- who can say? -- her gray cells might work out a solution.

Ella still telecommutes to the job she had when the Foleys were stationed in Hawaii, director of Healthy Families O'ahu. This Child & Family Service program provides home visiting services for underprivileged mothers, prenatal and postnatal up to 3 years of age.

But what she would most like to be known for here is her kindness and service to others.

"My Magnificat is 'Pray, Love, Serve.' That's what I follow. Pray every day. I do everything with love, and I serve people, because if I serve people, I serve God."

She follows this path by reaching out in multiple ways. She is teaching cross-stitch classes for military spouses on Fort Sill and has created a Facebook group called "The Stitching Syndicate" for them to share their work and ideas. She has been volunteering to cook and serve at the Fort Sill USO Center on Wednesdays and Saturdays ever since she and her husband got here in July.

In November she launched a group of volunteers who call themselves the Kindness Society and go about doing random acts of kindness around town. The recent Armed Services YMCA Father-Daughter Dance was part of this effort, and so were donations made to the New Directions Shelter. At Christmastime she led a "Cookie Extravaganza" where volunteers packaged more than 7,000 cookies in 150 boxes and handed them out to MPs, firefighters, and many others across post.

"I was raised in a home where you share the blessing that God has bestowed on you and your family. So that's why I serve," Ella explained.

From birth to the age of 18 she lived with her Filipino mother and American father in Subic Bay, the Philippines. Her father used to work for the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command at Subic Naval Base.

"Cross-stitching is just an outlet for me. Cross-stitching has been my own therapy. Actually I started at 9 years old, in the Filipino school, as part of home economics. I remember cooking and stitching when I was in my elementary school ...

"My grandma, who likes to sew, by machine and by hand, showed me embroidery. So I learned embroidery before cross-stitching, actually."

Embroidery uses a regular stitch running in straight lines. Cross-stitch, on the other hand, is about X's that anchor the stitches into the fabric, and the patterns are limited only by the designer's imagination. There are two main kinds of floss, the six-strand kind that can be split into two- or three-strand widths for the desired texture, and the ready-made, single-strand kind that comes in different diameters. Then there are pre-dyed, even variegated, kinds of floss.

Some designs incorporate Kreinik floss that glitters. Others contain beads. Ella says she places the beads last, so they won't be cracked by the frame used to hold a project steady during the cross-stitch phase.

One of her projects, a depiction of "The Bride" on her wedding day, actually has real pearls. It took her three years to finish that one.

"Cross-stitching has helped me go through a lot of struggles. If I miss someone, I cross-stitch. Recently I lost my dad on the Fourth of July 2017, suddenly. I'm still grieving, so I cross-stitch, because cross-stitch helps you focus. It helps you redirect those feelings, because you have to pay attention to the pattern, you have to pay attention to the count, how many stitches of this symbol, this color of thread. So it takes you away. And at the same time, when you finish the project, you realize that it's okay. You made something beautiful," she said.

"If you look around my house, (it's) cross-stitch everywhere. It reminds me of how strong I've been, for the last however many years since I left home and joined the Army."

On March 12, she was at the USO Center teaching young military spouses how to cross-stitch at the monthly "Coffee Connections" they have there. This is a national-level USO program that extends to centers as far away as Germany and Qatar, explains Jenn Troxell, center operations and programs manager.

"The idea behind it is it just gives spouses an opportunity to come together over coffee, pastries. Here in Oklahoma we like to throw in a craft or do-it-yourself type thing. Helps folks stay busy. But it's really just an opportunity for women to come together and talk about life as a military spouse and hopefully leave with a couple of friends, but definitely a coffee mug," Troxell said.

Sessions are kid-friendly, so many mothers had their young ones with them.
The Fort Sill USO Center hosts "Coffee Connections" once a month in the hours before it's actually open. That's so the women can talk without being disturbed by the service members. To find out when the next one is, check out the USO Center's Facebook page.

Tamra Konczey, wife of 434th Field Artillery Brigade commander Col. Michael Konczey, said she got her first lesson on how to cross-stitch a couple months ago.

"Ella is very inspiring. She gets us all together and motivates us, and she started a stitching group. I never cross-stitched before. I probably never would have started, but she's just so inspiring. I started, and I love it, because we go over for camaraderie, we stitch, we have coffee or tea. She's just got us all motivated.

"And also, we do a lot of volunteer work that she motivates us to do. And I'm learning a new skill, so it's really fun, because as an Army spouse you travel all over. And that's one of the joys, to be around other seasoned spouses who can teach you new things. It's something I probably never would have picked up on my own if I didn't have this group to do it in," Konczey said.

Regarding Ella, she offered this testimonial: "She's very inspiring to me, and she's a really awesome role model. And she is to a lot of people."

No wonder. Ella dazzled her "Coffee Connections" attendees by presenting each of them a bag full of everything they would need for their first cross-stitch projects. She spent the night before making them "needle minders."

These consist of two magnets aligned on opposite sides of the fabric in the frame. The top magnet has a notch for their needles when they're not being used, and if they happen to drop a needle, it's now been magnetized so they can easily retrieve it with one of the two magnets.