July 2022

Alexandra at a table surrounded by hydrangea
Photo by Elissa

My favorite place to read a book I love.

“The purpose of life was to create a life of purpose … the nature of one’s life purpose—or giving our true gifts to the world—will determine how we arrange our lives.”

—Duane Elgin, on Richard Gregg

Alexandra surrounded by hydrangea
Photo by Elissa

I love my forest of hydrangea!

Dear Friends,

I love you!

Happy July! June’s Summer Solstice on the 21st gave us the longest day of the year. I enjoyed an early dawn breakfast in the garden as I gazed out at the sailboats in the harbor. The air was crisp; the day was full of promises it kept. Not only was it the longest day of the year, but it was the happiest. My appreciation for the life I’m living, at age 80, turned into awe. All the rich experiences that brought me to this spiritual awareness continuously support, nurture and sustain my soul. I’m savoring all the new buds on the rosebushes, the commingling of their delicate shades of pink with the hot pink geraniums and the paler tones of the peonies. Let joy be unrestrained!

This lightness of being is certainly not due to a denial of the tragic war in Ukraine or all our brokenness and the threat of losing our fragile democracy. The more complex and uncertain the future is, the more I’m focusing my mind and heart to the present, to now! What’s immediately present, in front of my nose.

I laugh when I recall trying to talk Carl, my literary agent, into letting me call my book about time Now. He said, “No. Too abrupt. No.” We settled on Time Alive. Right now, because I’ve lived my earlier chapters as fully as I know how, I feel the rich rewards of living here fully, full time. I grew up in New England, and I’m more than content. I embrace experiencing whatever the seasons bring as I enthusiastically look forward to each fresh, new day.

A bright pink peony
Photo by Elissa

I bought these peonies from the Stone Acres Farmstand.

How to Age Gracefully

When Kane Tanaka was 116 years old in 2019, the mayor of Fukuoka, Japan, made a pilgrimage to her nursing home. Guinness World Records framed a certificate recognizing her as the world’s oldest person for the ceremony. Reporters peppered her with her secrets for living so long.

“Being myself,” she answered with utter confidence. Asked what was her happiest moment? “Now!” What is the best diet for staying healthy? “Appreciate anything I eat.” Kane Tanaka became a role model for her endurance and her ability to thrive well into her 12th decade. Japan has the world’s oldest population and has more centenarians than any other country. She died this spring at 119.

Visitors found her to be irrepressibly funny, alert and vivacious. The New York Times article about her death described her wit. According to the article, “A reporter brazenly asked what kind of man she preferred. She didn’t miss a beat. ‘A young man like you.’”

This story fascinates me because one of the many books I was researching and writing in my 60s was Aging Gracefully. My literary agent Carl and I were celebrating our annual Christmas lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant at the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, in the Pool Room. I was 55, now the age of my oldest daughter, Alexandra. As I looked at the pool from our near table, Carl studied my profile. When I turned around to face him, he said, “You are going to age beautifully, Sandie. Write about it.”

Alexandra wearing blue and yellow for Ukraine
Photo by Elissa

Continuing to dress in blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine increases my awareness of the war.

I laughed robustly. “Carl, you told Peter the subject of aging is dreary when he came to you for literary advice. Why is it any different for me?” I began writing the book anyway, but now, 25 years later, I gave to charity all my research books on aging and recycled my writing. Now that I’m so fulfilled in my ninth decade, I have no interest in spending my precious time on a subject that is in my face every moment of my consciousness.

Because I had a wake-up call that changed every fiber in my being, I made an about-face, wanting to strip my life down to accommodate my actual daily rituals, not the celebrations of my past joyful life. I have evolved into what my teacher Aristotle taught me. I am happiest, as his wise insight suggests, when I am free to contemplate.

If contemplation is the highest form of happiness, and I now am able to use my leisure time to think thoughts that bring my spirit-energy closest to the gods, how could I be a hypocrite in my desires? Dr. Samuel Johnson said no one is a hypocrite in his pleasures.

The teacher to His Holiness the Dalai Lama was on the same wavelength as Aristotle. As I quoted the Buddha last month, nothing will bring us more meaning or wisdom than a happy mind. Because philosophy is love of wisdom, an understanding of what is true, right and lasting, I want to cultivate my awareness of the quality of my thinking. Emerson asked an audience in one of his talks, “What is the most difficult thing to do?” Can you guess? The answer, my friends, is written in the wind: “Think!”

Blue and purple hydrangeas on a colorful tablecloth
Photo by Elissa

The hydrangeas bloomed right out of my tablecloth!

Longevity is a gift that is not democratically given to everyone. I treasure this grace note of a long life. This last chapter is an opportunity to suck the marrow of life right where I am, no matter the circumstances that are not in my control.

One of the most happy, meaningful moments in June was going to my dear friend’s graduation from Williams School on the Connecticut College campus. I became an adopted grandmother to Lily and her younger brother, Leo, after their grandmother died. Being good friends of their wonderful parents, Amanda and Jamie, gave me a chance to love them before they were born. Being part of this family over many years, loving and being loved, fills my heart with such joy, I was literally enraptured spending the exciting day together.

The Day featured a photograph of Lily leaving the stage in her long white dress, her red rose, waving her diploma high in the air; she’s shouting with glee as her parents, grandparents, siblings and friends choked up in recognition of just what this represents. Lily is going to the New School in New York City in a five-year graduate program in the fall. Leo and I are already planning our Amtrak train rides to visit her.

I tingled with soul-bumps, crying salty tears, at the ceremony. The newspaper article quoted Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor, as the class identity: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” The commencement speaker spoke touchingly to the class, urging them to be authentic, always true to themselves, always learning more about themselves, because they will be happy.

An American flag outside the cottage
Photo by Elissa

The Fourth of July was Peter’s favorite holiday.

The inspiring woman, Kane Tanaka, taught us the secret to living so long: “Being myself.” There is an ageless, timeless thread that weaves young graduates and old people, and that is being true to our own ways of self-expression, our intensely personal ways of being happy. The earlier in life we learn our inner compass, the greater our ability to flourish throughout our life cycle.

I vividly remember Alexandra graduating from Connecticut College in the same Palmer Auditorium, after the outdoor ceremony was rained out when a sudden thunderstorm tore through New London. Later that afternoon, the dark sky brightened to a brilliant blue. When Peter and I drove into Stonington on Water Street, we noticed a “For Sale” sign on an 18th century house.

We were staying with good friends who lived a few blocks down toward the point on Main Street, on Cannon Square. At our request, Emily and Harry had engaged a real estate broker to meet with us the next morning. Destiny. I knew we had found our dream house, overlooking the harbor.

My mother loves Stonington, and I remember her taking us here when we lived in Westport, and later when she lived in New London. Before dropping Alexandra off at Connecticut College, we had lunch at Skipper’s Dock, a favorite of my mother’s. Facetiously, I asked Alexandra, “What house should we buy?” Four years later, because of her graduation, we returned to Stonington and found our home. Fate. Obviously, it was meant to be.

A blue and yellow morning glory
Photo by Susan

Susan wrote, “As you so faithfully and thoughtfully continue to wear the beautiful blue and yellow colors in support of Ukraine, it seemed most appropriate to send you a photo of this special morning glory—also brightly vivid in blue and yellow. May it bring a ray of encouragement—as you do for all of us who read your words of wisdom.”

Heavenly Blue Morning Glories

My dear friend and close neighbor Charlie gave Cooper a seed package of blue morning glories several years ago. The white trellis fence Peter and I built over 30 years ago became our lush “green wall.” Invasive English ivy thrived, encouraged by the bright, reflective quality of the mirror behind the lattice design. You remember the story. When Charlie hired men to remove the invasive ivy that infested his garden property, the fence came down in clumps. It was then that the morning glories blossomed in the morning sunlight, clearly visible from our breakfast room windows.

I remember my telling you that Peter and I stayed in Morning Glory Cottage in Bermuda in May 1974, on the second half of our honeymoon. Out of the blue (pun intended?), two friends recently sent me touching letters with blue morning glory photographs and their sentiments about the flowers. Susan (who lives in Minnesota) and Cherié (in Illinois), thank you for our deepening sense of close, spiritual, intellectual bonds. Letters, indeed, mingle souls. You will hear from me soon. We never take for granted the powerful Gift of a Letter. Susan, I’m framing the photograph of your blue morning glory with its sunshine yellow center in Lucite as a paperweight, to remind me of our commitment of solidarity to the people of Ukraine.

Cherié, I loved your postscript on your letter writing about Voluntary Simplicity. We are definitely on the same wavelength, and everything you sent me is relevant to my life. How do you do it? In your words, “When I was a young girl, my piano teacher had a fence covered in Heavenly Blue morning glories. It was bliss to come around the corner at 9 AM and be greeted by them.”

Hydrangeas through Alexandra's kitchen window
Photo by Elissa

Not too shabby a view from my kitchen window.

Fragrance’s Sensual Pleasures

For my 80th birthday, I treated myself to a small bottle of Chanel No. 5. Every day I dab a drop on each wrist. Whenever I’m inclined, I take a sniff of the white flower scent and smile. This has remained my favorite perfume since I was 16. This morning ritual brings me a sensual uplift I look forward to gratifying. There’s nothing intellectual about this indulgence. I’ve learned that whenever I modestly indulge in an olfactory pleasure, it calms my body as it excites the heights of my positive emotions. Just as some moving music transports me to a transcendental, exalted state of consciousness, some scents have mystical powers that rise above the empirical and scientific.

Beginning around the end of March until mid-November, I light favorite flower-scented candles in the cottage throughout the day. As I nourish my gardenia plants, I light a gardenia candle to perfume the air while I love up every occasional blossom. I also swoon over jasmine, peony, lily, lily-of-the-valley and tuberose scented candles, whose fragrances are strong enough to allow my imagination to envision their glory in delicate bouquets. Lovely floral scents create their blossoms as I visualize their distinct shapes and personality.

Just as I love how the fragrance of Chanel No. 5 perfume is a blend of many flowers from the perfume center of the world, Grasse, France, I’m enchanted when professionals blend different scents to create stimulating sensual awakenings in a candle.

Three soaps in front of pink geraniums
Photo by Elissa

I purchased these soaps from Thames River Greenery in New London, and they add sensuality to my hygiene routine.

For Peter and my wedding anniversary, Alexandra and Brooke gave me several D Porthault of Paris candles—“a springtime medley of lily-of-the-valley, rose, jasmine and white musk.” Some private ecstasies are beyond words and are a divinely inspired mystery that cannot be proven scientifically. We know when a scent tickles our funny bone. The bar of scented soap I enjoy using when I shower, as well as the liquid soap I wash my hands with, is shamelessly all about my rapturous intimate moments, adding a touch of nostalgia and romance to one of my cleanliness habits.

Honey almond soap has this ability to cause wonder, stimulating my scent organ and awakening sensual memories of Peter. Decades ago, we discovered a sensual passion for a line of honey almond aromatic creams and soaps at Bloomingdale’s in New York City. We became addicted. Recently I was at my friend Charlotte’s lovely flower shop in New London, Thames River Greenery, and stocked up on several different soap products. The brand is Michel Design Works; the soap is shea butter, made in England. I have no idea what will whet your whistle, but if you call Greg on the telephone, you are in for a real treat. Dial 860-443-6817 and press 1, and if it is not Greg who answers, ask for him. He’ll tell you all the soaps he has now and what scents are on order. Charlotte told me he’ll charge them to a credit card and send whatever you want to your home. I’m sure you can get Michel Design Works on Amazon, but if you do, you’re missing the point. Charlotte and her tightly knit team give generously to their community as well as world relief. By calling Greg, you are helping a small, independent flower shop thrive. How great is that? There’s no end to the simple pleasures available to us. As you know, one of dear Peter’s maxims is, “When you find something you like, stock up.”

I’m shedding sentimental material possessions I no longer need or use in my streamlined lifestyle. Adding sensuality and aesthetics to the necessities of our basic hygiene is an authentic way to bring the happiest memories of our younger, carefree days into the present, intensely intimate moments we all experience. We are what we do all day. By making the ordinary memorable, I’m all in for sensual soaps. If I sound ebullient, I am. Just you wait, and you, too, might share my zestful enthusiasm!

A peach poppy amid greenery in Charlie's garden
Photo by Elissa

I spotted this poppy in Charlie’s garden from my kitchen window. Thank heavens the fence is gone!

Project “Three”

First Cooper arrived to begin to remove her accumulated stuff in the craft room, with her mother Brooke as her helper. They worked tirelessly for two days. Alexandra drove up to help jump-start the reordering of the third floor that I affectionately refer to as “Three”—clearly the best view in the cottage. We were totally focused. Because of the miraculous job Cooper did to completely clear out the craft materials and leave the small pine desks and chairs empty, starting was half finished.

Because of my limited mobility, I was a potted plant, seated in my high swivel chair, swishing from my high desk under the far window to Peter’s identical one within arm’s reach. My job was to identify what the categories were of things I had to sort through when Alexandra comes back early this month. Swish! All the antiques were placed in the craft room to be given away or sold. Open-tiered storage units were moved so the entire space is unified in a design that has a vision and useful purpose.

Alexandra at her writing desk.
Photo by Elissa

Writing this newsletter at my desk, looking out at the harbor.

I take nothing for granted. I still enjoy Three as a private haven. If the time comes before I die when it is no longer appropriate for me to go to Three, I will be glad I am able to enjoy its usefulness now. Brooke took two carloads to the dump. We all had lunch together for a quick break to be at the boatyard to sit at the water’s edge at Dog Watch restaurant, glad we faced the massive project head-on. Now I need to sort through and distribute four and five generations of memorabilia. It gives us the priceless intangible knowledge that we are doing a necessary project that will have lasting repercussions.

Timing is everything. One thing leads to another. I woke up to my wanting to simplify my life so I am free of unnecessary maintenance and clutter that is not in keeping with my philosophy. I’m no longer interested in material possessions that distract from appreciating nature’s awesome wonders. My inner world expands into universal eternal truths when I am free to be here now. I long to be fully present, to be consciously compassionate about our global connectedness while taking time to smell the roses in front of my nose in front of our cottage.

Happy July. We’re here, together. Let’s continue our celebrations.

Love & Live Happy,

A peach and yellow ranunculus blossom
Photo by Elissa

Charlie gave me a bouquet of beautiful ranunculus flowers, including this perfect peach one.

Book of the Month

The cover of Voluntary Simplicity

Voluntary Simplicity
Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich

by Duane Elgin

This book was first published in 1981. The second edition is the one I highly recommend because it was published nearly 30 years later. As I wrote you earlier, it was Richard B. Gregg who originally published “The Value of Voluntary Simplicity” in 1936 in an Indian journal. Gregg is a key figure in the history of simplicity in the West.