I genuinely hope the entire month of June was a rich one, full of learning and discovering, surprises and delight. June, June, June – busted out all over and the treasures of our gardens uplift our eyes and hearts. It would be hard to imagine a more joyful month. However, July holds astonishing promise to be over the top. First let me catch you up, to relive all the joys June showered on me, and, in turn I trust, you.
My friends, Anne and Sue, at the Inn at Stonington, and the owner Bill, organized the first Women’s Happiness Retreat on Sunday June, 14th. The stars were aligned and we were given the gift of a magically beautiful day at our charming seaside walking village in southeastern Connecticut overlooking the harbor. The happiness seminar began on the terrace of the Inn overlooking the coming and going of the sailboats with their rainbow of colorful sails and the spirit of freedom and vacation. Obvious to everyone at the retreat, I was in my element – thrilled to be back at the Inn, having a happiness event. The timing was ripe. I felt the grace and harmony of being in such sparkling natural beauty, surrounded by friends, and supported by the invisible forces of light and love the universe so generously bestows on all of us who pay attention.
At 5 o-clock PM, one of my good friends stood up, “Alexandra, I’m hot.” The sun was abundantly heating us up and everyone gladly moved to the amply cool living room. I’d made the value decision that people flying in and driving long car rides would appreciate being in fresh air, as close to the harbor as possible. The move inside, however, invigorated us, and I got in a trance, not knowing it was 6:45 PM when some angel from the inn told me the restaurant called and our two tables were ready for us. Oops! Wine and cheese was planned to begin at six. We all had a good laugh, pouncing on a bite of cheese and a toast with wine before going to the new restaurant “Breakwater” on the water’s edge behind the inn.
Magical. Our retreat guests took up twelve rooms in the Inn. Mari, the restaurant’s manager, had been concerned that she wouldn’t be able to guarantee us all being seated together at 7 PM because the weather was perfect and the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Everything came together perfectly. Mari and her chef prepared a special menu for our celebration to the delight of all of us. We were, indeed, “embracing happiness.” Kerri and her two daughters Kathleen and Colleen drove down from New Hampshire to participate in the retreat; the surprise guest – Kerri’s husband Matt – was their pilot on the drive down, joining us for dinner and lots of more good cheer.
Monday morning we all had a delicious breakfast prepared for us at the Inn. A friend invited us to participate in a meditation session in the Harbor Room on the third floor with a commanding view of the harbor. The sky’s fell; it was pouring. The quietude of Nicolisa’s meditation with the mindfulness of awareness and being awake to our feelings and our senses made the song of the patter of the rain a most beautiful, welcome sound of the eternal mystery.
Everyone was invited to come to the cottage for a visit and a look around. Ever since Peter died, I’ve had a delightful helper, Patrick, assist me at the cottage. An aspiring actor, he charmed our guests, serving peach ice tea and, out of memory of Peter, popcorn. It was a good time had by all and from appearances, no one was in a hurry to leave. The storm was severe, the sky dark, and with the cheerful paintings by Roger Muhl, flowers, and candles, the cottage showed everyone her stripes and we had several timeless moments of pure pleasure, feeling Peter’s spirit-energy at every turn.
I’m a great believer in people exuding energy, and apparently I was over the top elated after the end of the retreat. Kevin, Matt, Katherine and Colleen and I had lunch at 2 PM Monday at the Breakwater, after we turned off all the lights and blew out all the candles at the cottage. In the pouring rain we walked the 200 paces to the restaurant in rain slickers from the hall closet. Matt wore Peter’s Yale reunion blue wind breaker from the class of 44. He also wore his Yale hat they’d given Peter. I insisted Matt wear them home. I know Peter would have it no other way. I know Matt will feel happy every time he wears Peter’s jacket.
After we ordered lunch and got settled in alone, together, we all had a beautiful, spontaneous cry about Peter. This was the first time Peter’s close friends had been to the cottage since he died, and while they’d been to Stonington to his celebration of life several weeks after his death, they hadn’t been in the intimate recesses of our cottage that is, in truth and reality, “all about Peter.” We celebrated Peter with happy tears and all the raw emotions that are central to deep love, respect, honor, commitment, and the joy that triumphs over loss. The last letter Peter wrote was to Matt; their mutual love, respect and abiding friendship is witness to the ever possibility of evolving, growing into newness of heart and spirit.
From my perspective, the happiness retreat was a great success. I loved every moment and felt I was in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. This emotion is not automatic and can’t be forced. Fortunately for me, the forces were with me and I was floating on a wave that felt so right.
A few days later, I took a train to New York City to give a talk at a dinner. By fate or amazing grace, Alexandra was going to be in New York City for some business meetings and we could have lunch with Brooke who lives in New York. How great is it to be with my two delightful daughters, Alexandra and Brooke, alone, together, for a private lunch? These moments are rare and sacred, to be savored and celebrated.
After lunch, we had 40 minutes to share. We walked to a store where we took advantage of a sale, buying some tote bags and treats, mother-daughter, daughter-mother presents. After we kissed goodbyes I went to a newly located restaurant, Le Pain Ouotidien, on Lexington and 65th to have a light supper before I went to give my talk. Glad to have a quiet moment, I savored my hour plus, before entering into the enjoyment of the unknown evening adventure. I was surprised by joy, meeting new people, grateful one woman came all the way from Toronto. The evening enveloped and I enjoyed myself completely.
My dear friend Lori drove me to her home in Fairfield, Connecticut where I was able to spend the night and awaken to her six incredibly delicious, gorgeous, beautifully intelligent children from twins age 15 to a dear three year old. One of the greatest gifts and meanings in life is being able to connect friends to friends. I don’t consider myself a match-maker, but I’m keenly aware of how I feel when I have a hunch certain friends will become kindled spirits: Lori and I arranged for my good friend Claire to come to her house at 11:30 AM to meet Lori’s children before we went out to a fine lunch. Friday morning, Claire trusted me that this meeting was going to be significant. Claire’s birthday was the day before – the reason she could come to the New York City event because her family wanted to celebrate together. I’m grateful Claire came to my retreat in Stonington the weekend before, giving herself a birthday present of a rare night away from her family. Capturing these precious shared moments adds so much meaning to our lives, making our solitude rich with fond, loving memories.
Lori’s four oldest children joined us for a festive lunch on a restaurant terrace, celebrating Claire’s birthday with her new friend. Claire drove us to her home in New Canaan, where we sipped iced tea on her terrace overlooking her magnificent back yard with tall trees, freshly mowed grass, and her flower and vegetable gardens. The evening came with the arrival of her son Schaeffer, daughter Page, and her husband Lee, who picked up Sally from the train. Sally, who lives and works in New York City, is about to be 30 and has arranged for her parents to have dinner the next night, Saturday, in the city to meet her boyfriend’s parents who are visiting their son from Arizona. I’ve known Sally, the oldest child, since she was a teenager, and to experience her transformation into a successful adult is beautiful. She brought more birthday presents and cupcakes from a fancy bakery in New York.
Ann and her husband Roger had attended my retreat in Stonington and had brought me some wild rice from Minnesota. I brought to have at our dinner; Page, an excellent cook, prepared the wild rice and Lee grilled a delicious banquet, making lots of vegetables – grilled zucchini, squash, and my favorite, brussel sprouts. We stayed up late talking about everything under the sun, including Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated. Lee is the son of my former publisher at William Morrow that published 14 or 15 of my books. I love the sense of continuity and continuation from generation to generation. Lee has publishing in his genes and was so enthusiastic to hear from me about my writing progress and passion. While I made it clear to Lee I want to complete my book, “The Main Gate,” before I go back and do a final draft of the book I was writing for two years before Peter died, “Joyful Living in the Real World,” as well as finish the book I wrote about Peter, “Sweet Pete – A Love Story” 26 years ago. My late literacy agent Carl Brandt loved this book dearly and wanted me to wait until it would be appropriate to complete it. Now, or soon, is the logical time. As my cousin Russell, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, coined the saying, “All things Peter.” I’d also love to go back to work on “Seduced by Beauty,” another book both Carl and Peter were excited about me writing. As I’ve said, I feel closest to Peter when I’m alone and quiet, writing, in the loving arms of our dear old cottage that is permeated by his presence, and in our sweet village he so dearly loved, in the extraordinary beauty of nature’s evolving seasons.
Claire drove me home, a two hour ride from New Canaan, where we talked as though we hadn’t been together for years. I love these friendships of quality that Aristotle reminds us, are to be treasured. Upon arrival we had lunch at the water’s edge at Breakwater, and granddaughter Cooper’s (6 ½) sailing and science camp next door to the restaurant was having an open house. Brooke and Cooper came for a visit before Cooper went out on a sailboat. Before Claire left the village, I wanted her to go to Amapola’s Tea and More, our local tea shop, and buy some delicious teas for Lee.
June brought us a Triple Crown and Father’s Day, a time to be grateful for fathers’ contributions to the lives of our children and family life.
Our garden is in full bloom. The pink roses hugging the picket fence, the hot pink geraniums surrounding the cottage are so much apart of the rooms being alive inside. The purple iris brought us joy in June, as did our peonies. Now we have hydrangeas blossoming; and in spite of, or because of, the harsh winter, they look healthy and bring me countless hours of joy in my summer writing room, the garden.
July will be an apex of the summer. My whole family will be in Stonington for the 4th of July and the parade, for carefree summer fun together, for adventures in neighboring villages, lots of beach days, bike rides, and all four grandchildren – Nicholas, Anna, Lily, and Cooper at Ness – New England Science and Sailing camp. Imagine my glee sitting at Breakwater’s dock watching the “grands” sailing and doing an array of water sports!
The last time we were all together in Stonington Village was in mid-October when we had a celebration of Peter’s extraordinarily happy life and the following morning we scattered his ashes from a sailboat at the breakwater from the harbor. Peter will, indeed, be with us all in spirit, smiling at us being together, here.
Happy July 4th! Happy summer days. Thank each of you for your loving support, reaching out to me in so many creative, imaginative ways. I feel lifted up on angel’s wings, soaring. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.