April 2023

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” —Marcus Aurelius

Photo by Elissa

At the desk in my study, surrounded by hydrangeas.

Dear Friends,

I love you!

The month of March has brought unexpected, spontaneous pleasures I will carry with me into the light and flowering of spring. I’ve experienced joy, unrestrained.

Life experiences teach us that everything is in constant change­­. What goes up goes down. There was a specific timeline to the pop-up exhibition at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. Setting it up was great fun, and taking it down has the power to be a tremendously pleasant process. After all, the exhibit was seen by friends, family and museum lovers. Having some of my favorite paintings, quilts and decorative objects on display, curated by talented, dedicated, wonderful people, added depth to the significance of the exhibition’s title, “A Colorful Life.” (Click here to watch my lecture at the museum, "Living with Color and Beauty.")

In the often chilly, gray days of New England’s winter weather, the bright lights and detailed signage Tanya and Jane displayed highlighted the aesthetic influences of my personal story. The exhibition, now over, was a visual autobiography, a way of conveying the highly personal meaning behind the different vignettes. On Monday, when the museum was closed to the public, Jane, Cathy and I packed everything up. Kim arrived with his truck to take everything back to the cottage. After he arrived, the knowledgeable art curators recommended that we not transport the large Roger Mühl paintings in the back of Kim’s truck! The vibrations could cause the paint to crack. They both offered to drive them in their cars.

There were several surprises, all happy happenings. Cathy was able to fill her car with the bulk of the load, and Kim and I went to my friend Charlotte’s flower shop, Thames River Greenery, to have a visit and return the postcard rack she suggested I borrow to display my vast art postcard collection.

Photo by Elissa

An abundance of beauty!

The Postcard as Art

One of the most fun items on view in the auditorium was a selection of my postcards collected from art museums all over, mostly from the United States and Europe, dating back to 1959, when I went around the world.

In preparation for the exhibition, for several weeks of blissful enjoyment, I added artists’ paintings to the 100 different sections. I looked through thousands of postcards stored in dozens of colorful boxes. Putting them in their rightful places for this exhibition was sheer delight.

This process required some thoughtful musing and illuminated my entire being. With a gentle touch of the hand, the postcard sections spin around like a lazy Susan on the kitchen table. My 60 years of traveling internationally for pleasure as well as business flashed before me as I reviewed the art’s history through my own story.

My unabashed, obsessive collecting of art postcards continues to thrill me. The countless time I spent absorbing the beauty of these famous artists’ paintings renewed my love of so many favorite artists’ work. The happy hours in a trance, remembering all the fun family museum trips, was a bonus, an additional grace note I hadn’t anticipated. I discovered Roger Mühl and Pierre Lesieur. Claude Monet was IT: He was my favorite painter, and I went to museums everywhere to see his paintings. Now I have my own collection of art that speaks to my soul. I can live and breathe this art spirit in all the rooms of the cottage.

Photo by Elissa

Pink azaleas in front of a pink flower painting make the painting come alive.

Having been given the privilege of being able to share intimate pieces of my aesthetic story in an art museum, as I’ve expressed to you, enlarges my imagination to new dimensions. Somehow, without knowing where this wonder will lead me, I feel uplifted by some gentle, powerful force. I’m totally at peace with the great unknown mysteries. I feel utterly absorbed in this present, vital art spirit. My days are now filled with greater awe moments, the reality that everything, everywhere is connected to the past. This truth is what causes the life cycle. Everything evolves into its present form. “All is change; all yields its place and goes,” Euripides taught us. “The unknown,” John Lennon wrote, “is what it is. Accept that it’s unknown, and it’s plain sailing.” No one ever knows about the unknowable.

We don’t know what we don’t know. Peter, my trial lawyer husband, answered so many of my unknowable, unanswerable questions with a grin: “I’d be guessing.” The wise, all-powerful Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations to himself at night. One of his musings: “How ludicrous and outlandish is astonishment at anything that may happen in life.”

“For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.” —Dag Hammarskjöld

Photo by Elissa

Spring’s abundance in my yellow corner.

I love Robert Browning’s famous poetic words, “The best is yet to be.” To be present, to listen, to hear, to see, to touch, to smell—ah, this is IT. We’ve connected. We’re fortunate when we can love each other, in our own way, and we can learn from each other. We’re miraculously united in this wondrous, divine mystery. We can’t continuously grasp the whole external depth of this vast earthly excitement. No humans can. We do catch glimpses of the connection to the divine in flashes. When we’re in the throes, struggling to make ends meet, when we meditate, we can always focus on our breath, pause and take one thing at a time. When we’re living in the present, we will receive these little epiphanies that make us aware of the countless opportunities to experience everyday awe even in challenging times. Anything we do out of necessity can be more meaningful when we are totally engaged in the process. Being present to the larger context of our ongoing, evolving, transforming experiences awakens us to more illumination in our soul.

I’m recommending Dr. Dacher Keltner’s 2023 book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life for this blossoming month of April. I refer to this book’s wisdom to help us better understand how science sheds fresh light on our spiritual earthly journey.

Photo by Kerri

Standing next to the beautiful Dale Chihuly bowl at the Mystic Seaport Museum.

Dr. Keltner’s epigraph expressed my spirit by the Chinese page Lao Tzu, someone I greatly admire: “From wonder into wonder, existence opens.” I paused before turning the page to the Contents. The final section, “Living a Life of Awe,” covers “Life and Death, How Awe Helps Us Understand the Cycle of Life and Death” and ends with “Epiphany: The Big Idea of Awe: We Are Part of Systems Larger Than the Self.” He invites you to ponder, “to wonder together about the great questions of living: What is life? Why am I alive? Why do we die? What is the purpose of it all? How might we find awe when someone we love leaves us? Our experiences of awe hint at faint answers to these perennial questions and move us to wander toward the mysteries and wonders of life.”

In my awareness of cultivating my awe in my daily life, my ability to observe the beauty available right here, right now, is on a higher octave of pleasure. On a dark rainy day recently, I noticed a rainbow of color in a pool of water near the sidewalk. I was walking fast to avoid getting my hair soaked until I realized the light reflected in this gasoline leak made me think of the beauty of light flowing through a large blue and white Dale Chihuly bowl. I’d seen the bowl on display at the Mystic Seaport Museum, in front of the window in the lobby during their Venice exhibition. (Adjacent was an elegant gondola.) The artist’s words made me so aware that at any time, in any place, we can open our eyes and hearts to experience wonders.

Photo by Elissa

Cheerful tulips on a plate in the kitchen.

While my friend was looking up, examining an old tavern in New London built in the 18th century that has been neglected and is too badly damaged to be restored, I was focusing my glance down at this colorful puddle. I lost my desire to have a good hair day as I paused, remembering Chihuly’s description under his monumental bowl: “I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in some way that they’ve never experienced.”

Within minutes, the sky brightened, the rain stopped, and the ride home was made infinitely more enjoyable by seeing the light shimmering on the ripples of the water.

A Brief March Review

As Elissa announced, I was on “Good Day” television with the adorable host, Scot Haney. Five minutes on TV may seem short or long, depending on your perspective. The segment was unedited, and it was over before I caught my breath. It nostalgically brought me right back to the beginning of the House & Garden Television show I was the host of, Homes Across America. I so freshly remember the fun of having the crew come film several episodes at a time in the cottage as well as in our Park Avenue apartment in New York City. These shows were heavily scripted and edited. All the hosts on this new show were learning on the job. We were taught how to read a teleprompter by the same man who coached Julia Child. My recent appearance on Channel 3 was far more spontaneous, easygoing and relaxed. I was invited to bring some visuals to display on the set to support my message of a love of color and being an avid art collector who is currently in the throes of deaccessioning.

Photo by Elissa

My 5-year-old daughter Brooke was a Sunday painter.

The whole experience was great fun. Looking back and watching it on air, it went by in a flash. I was able to tell some brief stories that made the point of how important art is in our daily lives. Art increases our sense of well-being, and it gives us great pleasure to live in an environment that is a visual autobiography of our life’s experiences and our own passions.

We can all live more joyful, creative lives when we make art a priority. Artists need patrons just as writers need readers. My valuing the artists’ work I love has proven, over the different chapters of my life, to bring me the most lasting happiness. Artists teach us to open our eyes to see and create more beautiful scenes in all we do in our daily rituals of eating, sleeping and bathing.

Scot held up a small “Brooke Stoddard” she painted when she was five. I showed a “baby,” a six-inch Roger Mühl of two white flowers plunked in a chubby white cache pot against a heavenly blue background. Brooke’s tulips had no vase, no stems—simply two happy yellow and pink variegated tulip blossoms.

Photo by Elissa

I love how my Tom Robertston painting looks now that it has been restored!

On an easel the camera’s bright lights zoomed onto the first painting I bought in 1961, when I was 19 years old. I was an art student at the New York School of Interior Design and went to an art auction at Parke-Bernet on Madison Avenue (now Sotheby’s). I bid on and walked out with a romantic seascape of a sailboat on the Grand Canal in Venice at sunset. The sky and reflections on the water are pastel greens, pinks and yellows. I paid $75 for my little Impressionist painting that looked like a Claude Monet.

The 19th century English artist Tom Robertson painted this and several similar boat scenes, and my friend Charlie took a liking to my painting. One morning, as he was leaving the cottage after his ritual of delivering the New York Times and having a visit, he inquired, “Alexandra, what is this Tom Robertson doing on the floor?” (I had it resting on the floor in front of the tall hall clock next to the front door. I was considering hanging it on the small wall space next to the clock so I could enjoy seeing it coming down the staircase.) I quickly answered, “I don’t know. Do something with it.”

Good memories as big as years.

Charlie took me literally, taking the painting to art restoration conservation experts to be cleaned and restored. Wherever I’d considered hanging the painting, it had looked dark next to my Roger Mühls. I never gave it another thought, what Charlie was going to “do with it.” One afternoon, weeks later, he appeared with a gem. I was in awe. Soul bumps electrified my body. “I now know why you fell in love with this painting, Alexandra,” he said. Because of the superb job that was done to expose the original clear colors, I was inspired to have it on television to encourage viewers to explore and find art that speaks to their soul.

Soon after the television appearance, the art feature writer for The Day, Kristina Dorsey, wrote a wonderful article that accurately quotes my story of letting go of all my excess possessions. After I had surgery in November 2021, when I woke up, I had a eureka moment: I’m on borrowed time. I’m 81. Alive and having the time of my life. Aldous Huxley understood that “most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” I’m loving this gift of time alive.

By deaccessioning, I’m sending out my paintings and porcelain to other like-minded enthusiasts, collectors who will love owning their own treasures. Rather than feeling a loss (heavy), I feel a gain (light). I’ve “loved up” so much beauty over earlier chapters of my life. I’m in an entirely new bonus chapter, appreciating the exhilarating ride. When Elissa and I went to Bank Square Books to visit with friends Dan and Olivia and purchase cards, stickers, notepaper and books, I saw my husband’s book Figure It Out on display, with face-out autographed copies in a section called Inspiration.

Randomly finding Peter’s handwriting brings me great joy.

Peter was in his late 80s when this book was published. Alexandra had “Figure It Out” notepads made for him as a present. In my relentless attempt to continuously declutter and get all my affairs in order, I came across a sheet from one of these white pads of paper that read, “Encumbered,” in his handwriting. Looking up this word in the American Heritage Dictionary, I discovered it’s from the old French word encombrer: to weigh down. Block up. In the later years of Peter’s earthly journey, I remember how conscientious he was to pass on his treasures to loved ones and institutions he knew would be responsible with his gifts.

Photo by Elissa

I bought this incredible gardenia plant as a gift from Peter.

The STAIR Galleries in Hudson, New York, auctioned off dozens of my fruits, flowers and vegetables from the porcelain artist Lady Anne Gordon in three different sales. Rebecca, a ceramic artist and the marketing director of STAIR, wrote a sweet piece online about Anne’s and my friendship. She included a lovely picture I took of her on one of my visits to see her in England, as well as some of her porcelain artwork in some interiors I decorated. The entire month of March has been a most happy, sentimental journey.

Brooke and I celebrated Peter’s 101st birthday. Peter made it clear that when he was no longer present in the flesh, he would never leave me. “Promise me, Alexandra, you will continue to receive flowers and plants from me whenever you get a signal.”

Blessedly, on his birthday, March 15, I saw a large gardenia plant with dozens of buds and lots of fragrant blossoms. Tino from Verdant thought of me when he saw it at the nursery. He delivered this gift to me from Peter, transporting it into a pastel basket and placing it on the round table in the living room under a ceiling spotlight.

Photo by Elissa

Spring is finally here!

Tino and I both wished Peter a happy birthday! New delicate, fragrant white flowers continue to blossom forth each day. I’m definitely receiving his signals, smiling as I savor the eternal mysteries. Rumi believed that “What matters is how quickly you can do what your soul directs.”

The first day of spring, March 20, was another fun reason to celebrate. Anytime I can say “Happy first day of spring,” I’m jumping (but not as high as in my youthful days) for joy. Inside my clothes closet in the bedroom, I have a green sign with white letters: “Every Day Really Should Be the First Day of SPRING.”

The Little Sisters, by Mary Cassatt

New York, New York

My friend Charlotte and I took a train into the city to have lunch and see a Broadway play, Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, returning home the same day. I hadn’t been in New York since the pandemic, and I loved the excitement of being back.

Alexandra drove up to visit us the weekend before her 56th birthday. That Saturday, we went to Old Saybrook to the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (The Kate) to see a spectacular documentary about a favorite Impressionist painter, Mary Cassatt. Cassatt’s “The Little Sisters” is featured in my book The Postcard as Art. We had lunch at Fresh Salt restaurant, seated next to the water with a view of the lighthouse on a snowy day. Creating memories is the best birthday celebration.

Photo by Elissa

I used daffodils on the image of the cover of my book Things I Want My Daughters to Know.

On Sunday we went to Sacred Heart University, where Lily was playing in two basketball tournaments for Fairfield University. Lily loves basketball and is an excellent point guard who happened to also make most of the baskets that night. The team won the first game and lost the second. It was wonderful to spend so much time with my family.

Thank you for letting me share my joyful March with you. I’m excited to embrace a new month, April, with all the flowering, blooming, light and beauty of nature’s gifts. I wish you a happy Easter and all the days ahead.

There’s so much more I want to share with you. To be continued; I will save it for my next letter. I’m sure I’ll be astonished!

Great love to you.

Love & Live Happy,

Photo by Elissa

I just purchased a stack of purple binders to color coordinate a new, exciting project!

I’m letting go of another lithograph by Roger Mühl if anyone is interested in adding it to their art collection; please contact Pauline at Artioli Findlay (artiolifindlay@gmail.com) for more information.

Lithograph: Roger Mühl (french, 1929 - 2008)
Provence VI
La Terre est couleur de vieil or vert
Limited edition French lithograph
16 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches
The image is printed to the edge of the sheet of paper
Edition #VII of XX
Executed / printed 1986

A tree in bloom in Provence in front of a green-gold French landscape.

Photo by Elissa

As you can see, I’m thinking pink and purple!