June 2011

Dear Friend

I’ve heard from many of my fans and friends across the country about this last round of devastating deadly storms – the tornado that hit Joplin, MO was the deadliest natural disaster in 60 years. My heart goes out to everyone affected by these tragic circumstances that bring on unbearable pain. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone. While I can’t personally understand the pain and loss, as families grieve, I send my loving energy to all the survivors.

One letter was from a close friend whose husband got caught in the midst of the storms and treacherous tornadoes that were tearing through the South in Huntsville, Alabama on April 27th. A second set of wild storms blew through the area causing catastrophic damage. While I don’t know anyone who died, our friends do, and experiencing the complete devastation of homes, towns and lives broke everyone’s hearts. The message is clear. As my friend poured her heart out to me in her long letter, her need was to refresh herself with “the thought that it is a privilege to be alive, to love and be loved.”

While Peter and I were in Paris, I studied the essays of the 16th Century French author Michael de Montaigne, a favorite thinker, a man of great wisdom and character. A professor of romantic language told me recently that Montaigne was the first civilized man! While that might be an exaggeration, he is at the top of these great minds going back to the ancient Greeks – Sunlight all the way. His famous question, “What do I really know?”

There’s a wonderfully illuminating biography called How to Live: or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell. Her intellectually lively book about this giant Renaissance man and his world is inspiring as we all struggle to figure out the meaning of life. One of my friends whose mind sparkles with light answered my question, “What is the meaning of life?” The immediate response was, “To enjoy life to the hilt and do good things.” My mantra holds up well for me: “Love & Live Happy.” The more I love life and try to accept things I can’t change, the happier I am, and, in my heart, I feel I’m able to be useful to others when I’m personally fulfilled. Nothing fills me with greater delight next to the joys of close family, grandchildren and “friends of excellence” than being in the presence of great minds who, through their character and commitment to reason and truth, point the way for us on our personal journey.

Sarah Bakewell has attempted to answer the key question of How to Live and I want to outline some of her conclusions to Montaigne’s inquiry.
• Don’t worry about death
• Pay attention
• Be born
• Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and slow-witted
• Survive love and loss
• Question everything
• Keep a private room behind the shop
• Do something no one has done before
• See the world
• Reflect on everything; regret nothing!
• Give up control!
• Be ordinary and imperfect
• Let life be its own answer

Great food for thought!

While we were in Paris, my good friend and editor of my McCall’s magazine columns, Lisel Eisenheimer, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 14th at the age of 80. These were six extraordinary years for me as Lisel brought depth and gravitas to my message of living a beautiful life. We had great fun together and because of her intelligence and care, we were able to publish over 70 monthly columns that seem to withhold the test of time. Lisel’s husband for over 50 years, a former Harvard history professor, became one of my mentors in education, guiding my thinking and reading. When Irwin and I spoke upon Peter’s and my return from Paris, I renewed my appreciation for the grace and vision Lisel brought to my life and work. She never took credit. Because of her quiet manner, she was able to get things done as a sane, practical person when often surrounded by people who were not always reasonable or of the finest character. Shockingly, Lisel informed Irwin that half the violence in life is against women and children – and as a result, with his encouragement, Lisel published women’s issues and reminded women that they can move the world. In all friendships we establish certain habits of communication, and our time together, when we worked professionally, was before Email. Somehow, on Friday nights, before she left her office, Lisel would call me. “Hi, honey.” No one beforehand, and probably never since, will call me “honey” but she did and my entire being is sweetened by her life and our productive literary union.

It seems especially poignant that my good news to share with you is that HarperCollins is enthusiastic to publish my next book! I’m deeply grateful to you for your patience as I have struggled to capture my publisher’s attention and I am passionate to know that I will have a new book out, with luck, in 2012. But the most important thing is to get it right, and when I accomplish that, is when the book is finished.
This book will be about more things I want my daughters to know and things they’ve taught me. It is hard to believe they are adults, mothers, and are now teachering me important lessons about life as I try to continue to pass on to them gems of wisdom I’ve learned from my experiences. I know how happy this news is to you and you can only imagine how pleased I am.

Paris was magical in every way. Because we were celebrating our 37th anniversary, we took nothing for granted. Every moment was sacred. Because no one knows what the future will bring, we treated each day as though we might not return because you never know. We didn’t want to leave. But, when we did, we had the joy of Cooper in her ballet class, her home dance recital, and music class. Brooke, Tony and Cooper came to the cottage for the long, relaxing Memorial weekend. I’m reminded of Claude Monet when he said to an artist friend, “Come visit me on Tuesday when my iris will be in full bloom.” This weekend our lilac faded, our lily-of-the-valley are still fresh, and our deep purple iris are blossoming in front of our eyes. The peonies are about to pop, the hot pink geraniums are thriving in our window boxes, the roses hugging the picket fence are about to burst forth, and next month the forest of blue hydrangea will be in full bloom to inspire me as I write outside in the garden looking out at the harbor with the boats coming and going in all their glory. A few more sunny days and the organic tomatoes will be harvested. We already have corn on the cob.

Please come to be together at Gather on Thursday, June 2nd at noon, sponsored by Essex Books. I’m looking forward to a lively dialogue with good friends.

Happy June. Great love to you.

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.

I always go to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris to see this lovely Claude Monet, Femmes au Jardin

At the end of Monet's life, when he was in ill health, he painted the bouquets of flowers brought to him by friends.

The Musee d'Orsay had a huge retrospective exhibition of Edouard Manet and this is my favorite still life of his.

Claude Monet's beloved house at Giverny

We love going to the flower markets in Paris

Figure It Out: A Guide to Wisdom

Please consider giving Peter's new book to family and friends for the holidays. Make checks for $25.00 per book to:
The Stonington Free Library

Send to:
Peter Megargee Brown
87 Water Street
Stonington, CT 06378

Peter will pay shipping. Your contribution is 100% tax deductible.

Grace Note

"When I walk alone in the beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, for some other part I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, and to me."