Happy month of love!
Before I leap ahead into the short, sweet month of February, I want to tell you about all the excitement in our usually sleepy village of Stonington in January.
Hallmark is here to film a Christmas special about heroes. Veterans. A love story being filmed as I write, in a coffee shop, “Social,” two blocks down Water Street. All of you who have come to a Happiness Retreat over the years will be excited to be able to spot different scenes. Most of this feature television movie will take place in this coffee shop that has been completely transformed into A&J’s Coffee Shop. There are Christmas trees on the sidewalk; dripping with over-the-top large, colorful, glittering ornaments, faux snow is under foot. There are old-fashioned street lanterns, green garlands, decorated arches, red spotted poinsettias scattered about against swirls of snow. Large green fir wreaths are intermittent with red, gold, and silver ribbon, bows and fragile Christmas ornaments packed tightly together. As we approach Valentine’s Day, Stonington Village is experiencing a backward glance. Beginning immediately after Thanksgiving, Water Street is known for enchanted holiday decorations, often with dustings of real snow, and the twinkling white lights light up the shortest, darkest days of winter with an air of festive celebration.
At our retreat at the Inn at Stonington in November we went to the Mexican restaurant, Milagro’s, for a dinner party the first evening. Hallmark is also filming a love scene in this cozy, freshly renovated and colorfully decorated restaurant. The excitement in the village is intense. The last time there was a movie filmed on Water Street in Stonington was several years ago when Meryl Streep (my favorite actress) was in a film with Tommy Lee Jones, “Hope Springs.” One of the major scenes in that film was our village’s family-owned, family-style restaurant, Noah’s, that will also be a location in this movie. The whole side of the restaurant facing the street is still painted with artwork to promote the lobster, down-Maine theme for the newly named “Nor’easter.” Mystic Pizza is a destination restaurant now because of the film that helped put our neighboring town on the map. Some homeowners in Stonington didn’t like it when Peter and I wrote about our charming seaside-walking village because it brought in “tourists” from all different locations. The complaints varied from traffic, parking, and getting a good seat at one of the six restaurants without having to be put down on a waiting list.
Everyone is entitled to his or her own perspective. From Peter’s and my point of view, we’re happy when our community thrives, bustles with activity and busting with positive energy and joy. I remember with a tender fondness in 1996 writing Gracious Living in a New World. In our master bedroom, seated at a tiny pine desk we found in Denmark when we were on a family holiday shortly after purchasing our cottage in 1988, I intimately observed why I love living here. With my nose close to the open window, absorbing the view of the harbor as I soaked in the salty sea breezes, I’d see a child on her daddy’s shoulders, dogs wagging their tails in glee. The joy of being enveloped in nature, of living simply, as the world of technology was becoming more and more a reality, making the dynamics of experiencing life a more complex, is not nearly refreshing, but transforming. Boats would bob around in the sparkling blue water below, with the expansive blue sky above. This is real life, here and now, not virtual reality or artificial intelligence. The subtitle of this book is “Finding Joy in Changing Times.”
Shortly after we settled in to our daily rhythms at our dear cottage that had evolved into a sacred sanctuary, Peter and I created a beautiful ritual. Depending on when the sun was scheduled to set, we’d both leave our desks and sit on the stoop of our front steps and watch the sunset. On a visit from my brother Powell, who died a few years later at age 57 during open-heart surgery, he snapped a picture of us sitting on a step in front of our cottage front door. I used this casual photograph for the book jacket of my book, “Creating a Beautiful Home,” the book I wrote about our beloved cottage.
As most of you know, Peter’s writing room is next to mine with a four-foot opening, that allowed us to have solitude, necessary for writing, with a wink. “Solitude for two.” Our desks were a mere six-feet apart; both of us could see each other seated at our desks in our adjoining writing rooms. We had a chair opposite each desk chair for spontaneous visits to discuss the work or over a sip of tea or coffee and a chat. The right kind of interruptions for the right reason at the right time with the right people! After Peter died, I sat with my back to his desk because he was not there. I faced my dear neighbor’s freshly painted pale pink house. As a former interior designer, my mentor Mrs. Brown instructed her staff that when one thing changes you have to rethink everything. Spending long hours at my desk, I added a stand up desk in my Zen writing room and another one in Peter’s space where our library is housed. The good news is that I love to write standing up. My desk could no longer fit where it was positioned so I placed it in front of the windows. The bad news is that as first it looked and felt great. However, in short order my desk became a crowded surface. I cluttered it with research making it distracting to sit and write the way I enjoyed for so many years. I can only write standing up for so long.
January is the month for new beginnings, new inspiration to move ahead with our work and self-improvement. Standing, looking down at the desk I suddenly realized I needed to push it down toward Charlie’s house, place it perpendicular as it had always been, and sit facing Peter’s room. It was time. I’d built my bookcases, I now used his desk for my research for “Men in My Life,” and I couldn’t be happier. Everything has finally settled into its proper place.
The freedom to stand or sit, the variety and sense of satisfaction figuring out how I could improve my workspace is quite thrilling. This one small change led to re-arranging the location of book and storage spaces. I’m temporarily creating a winter garden-sun room, overlooking the white trellis fence on the top of built-in storage units. Peach and white amaryllis are now in bloom. White hyacinth, yellow tulips grown from bulbs are also in bloom and are quite spectacular. The fragrance of the hyacinth feeds my soul and is intoxicating. I spend so much time in this bright, light space; it is a sunny room.
The energy of the second floor Peter called “Family quarters” is stimulating and inspiring. Sometimes I climb up the periwinkle stairs to “three” to experience a change of scene, looking at the water. Reading the New York Times Book Review I was thrilled to see the book Aristotle’s Way: How ancient wisdom can change your life, by Edith Hall, now available in the United States. A thoughtful reader acquaintance sent me a copy of the London edition in November. I loved reading a review, and it makes my work that much more exciting and relevant.
Thank you for your letters. They are truly a gift. My cup is overflowing. Someone wrote me thanking me for my “encouragement.” I’m touched because I feel so deeply grateful we are connected in our current lives, sharing ideas, helping each other to grow, evolve, and find great meaning and happiness together.
February is the month to reach out to all those we love. Dr. Samuel Johnson instructed us that we don’t need to be informed, we need to be reminded. I have many friends who have February birthdays. Kerri is a dear, inner circle friend, whose birthday is on Valentine’s Day. Happy Birthday Kerri. I love you!
Balancing my solitary time in my cottage, I’m seeing friends, going to the movies and theatre, and enjoying a full, rich life in New England in Stonington. Here, I have elevated my spirit of place, uplifting my joy as I work on my book. Let us continue to encourage each other to pause, to breath more deeply, and be more mindful of the precious gift of being vibrantly alive.
Peter’s Valentine’s love letters, cards, and all the hearts he’s given me over the decades are reminders of his spirit and continuing presence in my life. When we do pause, reflect, and feel the reverence for life and value the great gifts of our deep friendships, and loves, we slow down and catch our breath. We observe with deeper appreciation a pretty new love stamp on a letter we receive, as well as a new bud on our geranium plant. Our happiness is here, right now, to be savored and shared.
“Live & Live Happy”
Happy Valentine’s Day. Celebrate the entire month of LOVE.