June 2008

Dear Friend

Our May proved to be an exceedingly rich, rewarding month. Early in the month we went to Birmingham where I spoke at a national conference of dedicated volunteers – women who are committed to helping families and children who are less fortunate to be able to live productive, happy lives. This trip was a break from my intense work on my book Things Good Mothers Know.

This book has taken on a life of its own. Until I am far into writing I’m not exactly sure what direction the work will take. I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to celebrate all women for their enormous contributions to society. I’m having a little trouble realizing that I will soon have to give up the writing process and will have to evolve the book through editing and re-writing. But it’s all part of a large whole, and I truly love what I’m doing.

Peter and I went to New York City for several days to participate in the celebrations in honor of Roger Mühl, my favorite artist and dear friend who died in his sleep in April. There was a most moving tribute to Roger at our favorite restaurant, La Grenouille, in their stunning upstairs private dining room that was originally an artist’s studio. The lovely evening was hosted by the owner of the Findlay Gallery where Roger’s work is on display – 50 paintings at the 20th one-man show in the United States.

I’ve been to every opening, and the reality of Mühl’s death was difficult to understand because he had so much more life in him, and he was painting so passionately and brilliantly right up until he died. But he is everywhere in spirit, and the exhibition is a powerful expression of what one person can do to open our eyes to all the beauty, sunshine and happiness in our everyday lives. Roger Mühl has profoundly changed my life and the lives of countless thousands of people who appreciate the value of beauty and color in their home. As has been my tradition since 1961, we purchased a painting from the exhibition that we will cherish in our cottage.

Peter and I enjoyed seeing friends from near and far who came to honor Roger. Robyn and Tony, I will never forget you getting on an airplane and coming from Georgia to be there. And Lisa, bless you for coming from California to experience this awesome event. Lisa was at the Writer’s Workshop Retreat at the Inn in Stonington the weekend I learned of Roger’s death and I was touched to spend time with her in New York at the opening.

We had a fun, delicious lunch at a French restaurant near the gallery with our daughter Brooke. The chef was a friend of Roger’s and when the restaurant opened years ago, all the art was paintings by Mühl. Brooke and I went to see her best friend’s newborn baby, Caroline. What a joy to continue to have mother-daughter times together and to share the precious moments with Michelle’s pretty new daughter. The decorations in her nursery are prints of Mühl’s paintings framed in white over Caroline’s crib with a heavenly soft sky blue wall color I call “atmosphere blue”.

After truly enjoying our time in New York City, Peter and I flew Air France to Paris for our 34th wedding anniversary. Someone asked me before we left, “Is Peter up to the trip to Paris?” I smiled and answered honestly, “We’ll see.” We plan to return each year. No one knows what the future brings. We had a goal to have Peter’s physical therapy come along well enough for us to have our annual celebration in a city we dearly love. What a great treat to be there, together, and have Peter feeling so well. We enjoyed our mornings on our garden terrace and listened to the reverberations of the church bells clanking as we read and wrote.

We took lots of walks, stopped at favorite cafés to look about, ate delicious fresh food including white and green asparagus, succulent gazpacho and basil, tomatoes with mozzarella, and the best coffee ice cream on the planet. A friend from West Virginia told me she didn’t have a great time on the one visit to Paris and I laughed. “It depends where you go, what you do, and who you’re with.” Knowing Paris, even if just as an avid tourist, helps to add pleasure to the moment-to-moment experiences. We love poking around our favorite flower shops and being reminded of how important flowers are to our happiness.

After a glorious week in Paris we flew to New York City to enjoy a great Memorial Day weekend. Now that we no longer live in the city, we greatly enjoy being tourists, and because we know New York City well, we’re always glad to discover new places to go and sights to see. One of our favorite finds was an outdoor café at Saint Bartholomew’s Church on 50th Street and Park Avenue. After spending most of our time in outdoor spaces in Paris, it was fun to discover this treasured place in sunlight and fresh air in a lovely courtyard in New York City.

What fun to return to our dear village of Stonington and be back in our sweet room. We were warmly greeted by our friends at the inn, and felt as though we were continuing our holiday. We watched an enormously dramatic sunset before walking to see friends at a restaurant down the street.

When we went to the cottage to check on the progress of the renovations, we were surprised by joy at what we saw. Our kitchen lighting is complete and the floor has been bleached and pickled, making it look light, larger and infinitely more cheerful. The downstairs bathroom is coming along. We’re going to love our new stall shower and the 18th century beam we discovered when we removed a small closet from the adjoining bedroom looks great now that it is painted white – the only nod to the past in our crisp, white modern bathroom in progress.

Our geraniums were planted in the window boxes last week. Our white lilac trees are in full bloom and we can smell their perfume from the sidewalk in front of the house. The beach roses hugging the picket fence have never looked more healthy and the buds are just about to burst after lots of spring rain.

One of the great glorious things that happened upon our return was going to see Peter’s knee surgeon and being told that this visit was a graduation ceremony. Peter doesn't need any more physical therapy and is to go about with his normal activities. This has been a most unusually speedy recovery. We feel we have amazing people to care for him and we’re now entering a new chapter where we value “safety, happiness and health” more than ever and grateful for his full recovery. There is a brand new restaurant at the other end of town on the water at a boatyard, and we’re planning to walk to lunch in the next day or two to try it out. Life is good. Life is very good .

Sunday of Memorial Day weekend Barrack Obama stood in for Senator Edward M. Kennedy addressing the graduates at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Obama urged the graduates at his commencement talk to change our world. He told the audience they have an obligation to themselves because, “Our individual salvation depends on our collective salvation ... Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.” He urged the graduates “not to take the easy way out or allow their dedication to helping others and enacting change to flag ... there is nothing naive about your impulse to change the world. Because all it takes is one act of service – one blow against injustice – to send forth that tiny ripple of hope…”

My grandfather, father, brother and nephew graduated from Wesleyan University. I’m inspired by Obama’s message of service to others. My favorite Greek philosopher, Aristotle, taught us that happiness is the aim and purpose of life. True lasting happiness comes from giving of your higher self altruistically to others. When we find ways to serve others, we will become happy.

Happy June! We’re going to visit the grandchildren in Maryland for Father’s Day weekend. I’ll continue to work on my book throughout the summer.

Safety, Happiness and Health

Love & Live Happy

Have you taken photos at one of Alexandra's events that you'd like to share? If so, you can email them to AStoddardInc@aol.com. Please be sure to include the names of those in the photo and where and when it was taken! We will try to include them on the website in the future.

Roger Muhl New York City Exhibition - 2008

Thank you to Lisa Deshpande for the photographs of Roger Muhl's lovely paintings.

Brooke, Alexandra and Peter in New York City.


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Grace Note

"Happiness is knowing that we have been able to spend our life actualizing the potential that we all have in us, and to have understood the true and ultimate nature of the mind."
Matthieu Ricard