Happy July 4th!
Peter’s motto, his two wise words, “still learning” seems to be the most vitally significant at this stage in my life. By continuous study and focused concentration, I am feeling the pure pleasure of discovering how many ways there are to be engaged in this exciting adventure called life.
The month of June was spent organizing and re-arranging my living spaces at the cottage as well as studying history going back to the Egyptians and working my way up to modernity, trying to gain insights about the common threads about the human experience and what everyday life was like for ordinary people life us and how they lived (and died) and what brought their lives meaning.
My attraction to philosophy grew out of my deep desire to learn, my love of wisdom, and my fascination with the most brilliant, imaginative minds through recorded history, speaking, writing, and creating their creative ideas and knowledge that is timeless.
Why is there so much suffering? Why do we need war in order to have peace? Why do some people excel, thrive, and make the most of their lives, while so many flounder and lose their way?
June was to be, for me, a black of time for me to wander about but not be lost except in thought. I arranged my schedule in advance and made a pact with myself that I would be still and quiet, without distractions except for the blessings of being with family and friends in between my productive solitude. I claimed the entire month of June for this project of self-renewal, self-intellectual enrichment, and deeper, more current insights into my awareness of what this present chapter in my life is most exciting to me and how I best choose to express it.
The most important choices I wanted to figure out revolved around my writing. The book I spent a year and a half writing I’ve put on hold, and, with a blank canvas, any intimate personal spaces revisited with new fresh eyes and heart, I gave myself the gift of time to re-think everything. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should, and I wanted to be as sure as I can be about what I’m most passionate about writing for publication and why.
My timeframe for discovery ran vaguely along the lines of claiming all of June to think through and experiment on some of my inspirations and insights. The greatest gift has been the brilliant light, the clarity of these long, light, flower-strewn days and moon and star-filled nights, fiery sunrises and sunsets, and taking time to closely observe the sheer majesty of nature’s bounty unfold before my appreciative eyes.
My granddaughter Cooper and I planted morning glories in her garden and also under an old pink lilac tree that didn’t make it through the winter. Last winter, in southeastern Connecticut, we didn’t have the heavy snowfalls we had a year before, but we had zero degree cold temperatures just enough to make this summer an “off year” for our Nikko blue hydrangea forest in our tiny back walled garden. I’d put all our eggs in one basket ever since Peter and I began planting hydrangeas in 1988 when we discovered the ancient white lilac tree after a thunderstorm and knew this was out happy place on the planet. No diamonds could ever sparkle as poetically as the millions of prisms dazzling us in the sunshine after the rain.
Regan, a master gardener and friend, blushes with exuberance explaining to me that in gardening any “off year” is really an opportunity. Now, Alexandra, you can plant a lot of fun, exciting, colorful flowers in pots. Regan is for real. She knows. Her gardens are beautiful and sensually delightful, expressing her love of flowers, beauty, and nature in tangible ways that bring such joy to her lucky inner circle.
I love English ivy, but it causes wood to rot, and I let it get overgrown on the back of the cottage until I woke up to the damage it was doing, and I cut it back, exposing a space to hang a long vertical windowpane mirror. I love mirrors in gardens; I learned this delightful design detail from Edith Wharton, the mother of the profession of interior design. By also trimming the ivy on the mirror trellis wall, we saw fresh opportunities to enjoy “heavenly blue” morning glories. Peter and I stayed in “Morning Glory” cottage in Bermuda on the second leg of our honeymoon, after Paris, in 1974, and have had a soft spot in our hearts for climbing morning glories with their heart-shaped leaves.
Cooper is always on the lookout for hearts she discovers in nature, and to have hundreds of hearts climbing up the trellis wall of her garden keeps a smile on her angelic face. We also grew thyme, rosemary, parsley, mint, tomatoes and arugula. Every day there are surprises in her enchanted garden. We spend soulful hours together behind the garden gate, protected from distractions interrupting our magic spell. Summer has cast her spell and being outside is the goal. I brought out the glass table holding my nine gardenia plants, and by adding two windowpane mirrors, I can sit at my summer writing table, admire my vulnerable, fragile, fragrant blossoms, look out at the boats in the harbor while snuggled among cushy cushions under the umbrella of a dogwood tree, with my back to the non-flowering hydrangea, who are taking a break from blooming. June was the time of recovering when we had to admit the wood stalks were not going to bear fruit, and, whenever something is dead in a garden it is best to remove it.
Charles, our immediate and close neighbor to our cottage renovated his Federal house during the month of June. Because the painters stripped his house of all the lead paint, there was a strong warning sign to beware: No smoking and eating. At 7:20 AM, you could set your watch by the ritual – Brian began sanding, creating a fine film of the lead-laden dust. With my windows open to the elements, I planned to leave the village for the bulk of the day, enjoying peace and quiet in fresh sea air in another charming coastal village, doing my thinking and wandering around in privacy and calm, returning after an early supper in one of several favorite restaurants.
The renovation is a great uplift to our cottage primarily because Charles was fulfilling a dream. When he was young, he drove by a charming Federal house painted a soft peachy pink with white shutters. In Charles’ inimitable thoughtfulness he included me in the color selection process – “Queen Anne pink” was his first sample and the final choice, unequivocally being spot on perfect. The front door remained white but originally Charles was contemplating painting the louvered screen door aubergine, but came up with the brilliant idea to paint it “Jordan Almond” green – a most ideal color with the pink and white. I am the most enthusiastic supporter of this awesome transformation that the entire village has embraced. The house has been dark khaki-taupe, and by painting it a soft delicious pink, it casts a glow on the inside of our cottage.
My other favorite pink house is Claude Monet’s historic museum landmark at Giverny, north of Paris. The contemporary impressionistic artist’s work I fell in love with in 1961, Roger Muhl, is the dominant feeling of our interior spaces with fresh sky, sea, flowers and still lives whetting our appetite to live the good life, feel the joy of our everyday rituals and celebrations. The pink house has lightened and brightened our private world of retreat, changing tints and tones at different times of day and night and under all kinds of weather. Charlie was indeed daring and his childhood dream is now a delightful reality. I now live in an impressionist’s dream. June is surely bursting out all over.
Mid-June I gave a talk – Celebrate Gratitude: Find Joy in More Places. Preparing for my talk was a gift that allowed me the luxury of appreciating all the joy in my current life. Reviewing all the incredible memories of the happy years that led me to the present, I realize how huge a role luck plays in all our lives, and when we focus on what’s near at hand, and what abundant blessing we have, it multiples our happiness. My dear friend Kerri came down from New Hampshire with her adorable 21 year old daughter Colleen (a favorite of Peter Brown) to come to my talk, spend the night, and play hard the next day and night kept Peter present in our conscious awareness and in our hearts as well as stories and cause for laughter. June is double thumbs up all the way.
My sabbatical has done the world of good. This was my time to study, research and stretch myself, and to pause before I choose my next thrust forward. In order to end the month of growth and enlightenment with a proper celebration, I took the ferry to Nantucket and walked about the enchanted spaces with roses oozing from picket fences, trellises, and rooftops. Some new Nantucket friends nicknamed me “Rosie.” It stuck. I love it. I brought a rose with me in water to remind me that when we take time to smell the roses, we’re living the good life.
Happy July 4th!
Happy endless carefree days.