May 2012

Dear Friend

As the saying goes, April is the cruelest month, but it does bring us showers that create May flowers. We needed the rain badly and we are now in a better place. April was a tease because the temperature fluctuations were dramatic. One day eighty degrees and the next day a frost. Some daffodils had a shorter life than usual, but spring is in full bloom now and it is a glorious fulfillment of a never failing promise of nature.

One gentle morning in early April, I heard a knock on the front door. I opened the door to be greeted by two elderly gentlemen who wanted to talk to us about the ancient maple tree that is shared by our neighbors, a club, and our property. I was a million miles away in my mind and we went to our backyard to have a look. This huge old maple tree has eight trucks and spreads her branches to touch our house and the clubhouse. These men are on the board of the club and want to cut the tree down.

I love trees. Our other immediate neighbor offered to plant us a Japanese dogwood tree if we were willing to cut down a giant maple tree in our yard that was too big for our houses being so close together. The root structure was ripping up our bluestone. That was many years ago. Now, we are told this other maple tree should be cut down. Hmm. I hadn’t been focusing on this situation, and the men assured me we should do it immediately before all the buds and leaves appear. Three estimates were obtained and we agreed to use our local tree man, Nick. “Things are going to happen quickly.”

I now can’t stop looking at this sweet old tree that is so majestic in the sky and the breeze causes the branches to undulate gently in the rhythms of the moment. I stare at this tree from my writing room and have become obsessed. It’s my friend. I go up to the third floor to the grandchildren’s art room and there she is, in all her glory. The “grands” like to paint her as they look out the fan window on her beauty.

I called a mutual tree lover for advice and sympathy. “I love threes more than houses. Wait until December when it will be dead looking and it won’t be as painful to you.” As we spoke on the phone I had to describe the beauty of the ivy covered tree trunks. The delay having the tree chopped down has given me countless hours of enjoyment. I know I’m only one more knock on the door away to knowing when the surgery will take place. It’s a funny thing about life. It had never occurred to me to ever remove this maple tree. I knew it was a maintenance expense of our yard and house, but I’d accepted that as part of the joy of living in a house and having the beauty of trees near us. Like all stages of death, I finally came to acceptance, but I’m torn because the delay allowed me to see it once again in the precious tenderness of spring. And, from our kitchen window we will never again be able to see the brilliant burst of reds, oranges and yellows in October when our fall foliage is breathtakingly beautiful.

What is the lesson I’m learning from this old tree? By nature, human beings tend to take things for granted when they are available, and then become upset when inevitable change happens. Rational arguments all point to the tree to be executed – soon. It could crash down, after all, in a hurricane and destroy our old cottage. But so far, for well over 100 years, no storms have harmed our maple tree.

I’m spending a great deal of time meditating over this tree that keeps me company. Watching the sunrise through this tree is a sacred experience. I will be brave and I will soldier on, but I might not want to be here during the operation. I feel the pain too personally. I’d rather hear church bells from out-of-doors than inside a church. I go along with my friend who loves trees more than houses. And if I may be a bit nostalgic, I fell in love with the white lilac tree in our back yard after a rainstorm where the blossoms caught the sunlight and looked like thousands of diamonds over 25 years ago.

The neighbor who planted our Japanese dogwood tree in exchange for cutting down our only other maple tree decided he no longer wanted his purple lilac so he had them all chopped down to their roots. His lilac hugged our common picket fence and, being the wonderful neighbor he is, Charles told us we could feel free to “prune” the lilac on either side of the fence. Deep breath in, deep breath out. I loved the purple lilac and sat on a bench with their natural shade umbrella, intoxicated by their fragrance. Life may not be fair but there is never a dull or boring moment and somehow things tend to work out in surprisingly pleasant ways. A friend was thanking me for some chocolates I gave her with some branches of her purple lilac tree.

Our Japanese dogwood is budding and our white lilac blooming. The lily-of-the-valley along with some roses and pansies are on my writing desk, adding perfume, color and distraction. How do we know for sure the power of beauty on our soul?

The only sound I hear is my fountain pen gliding on my smooth white writing tablets I buy in Paris and the tic tic tic of the timer.

The mystery of my new book’s title is finally resolved and I am absolutely thrilled. The ideal title has been discovered, as a collaborative effort. My literary agent is the one who figured it out. The mother-daughter book is now Shared Wisdom of Mothers and Daughters. Suddenly church bells rang out and birds are chirping away. There are moments in our lives when we see our life with great clarity. Our clock is now chiming. Wow. If my maple tree could talk, she would speak to me of many things, I’m certain.

Now that we have the perfect title for my book, we’ve also selected the best time to have it published. This is Spring, 2013, just in time for Mother’s Day, and graduations. Because you and friends were hoping to be able to read my new book sooner, I hope you will join me in developing oceans of patience as we move into the future together. If we had rushed into getting this book out and it had the wrong title, I would never forgive myself because it would have meant I was selling my soul. Sometimes, simple things become complicated, and now that this issue is behind me, I can move forward with confidence and pleasure as I work on three new book projects.

On April 20th Peter and I went to New Hampshire for a fundraiser for the wounded warriors, Tea for the Troops. Our dear friends Matt and Kerri drove down to pick us up, and we had a most powerfully meaningful time together. Kerri reads all my books and has over the years, and when she introduced my talk, she held up my book Tea Celebrations: The Way to Serenity and told the audience at the Bedford Inn in Bedford, New Hampshire, that in my book I suggested the reader have a tea party on their front lawn. Three years ago, Kerri did just that to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project and this year she invited me to speak.

During the years that I’ve been an interior designer and author, I’ve spoken at many different fund raisers, but to be able to help our veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan physically, emotionally and spiritually wounded, was the most meaningful event in my professional life – it was a joyful experience. I spoke about The Good Life. The good life is a life of excellence, where we do good and find ways to serve others; we find our unique gifts and are able to give back.

An adorable nine-year-old girl came up to me after my talk and complimented me on my red and blue tunic top. I told Riley, “All friendships begin with a compliment.” She is so precious, and her aunt told me a few days later that she and her brother used their water bottles to do a one-object meditation where you become one with the flower. Riley used her water bottle to become one with the ocean, the light, the rainbow in her heart. I’m touched that she caught on to the power of meditation.

The end of April, Peter and I got dressed in black tie attire and went to a dinner honoring the first Decorator’s Showhouse forty years ago, where I designed a drawing room on Park Avenue with the late Mark Hampton. It’s fun to be sentimental about my international interior design career and be with a room full of people who know how to help others to live in a more beautiful, harmonious environment. My mentor and dear friend, Eleanor McMillen Brown, who sponsored Mark Hampton and me doing our Showhouse room, said once to me, “Sandie, if you create beauty for yourself, if you create beauty for others, you will live a long healthy life.” Mrs. Brown died in 1990, five days before her 101st birthday! Beauty sustains me, and because of my career as a designer for almost fifty years, I’m going to write a book Passion for Beauty.

It’s the time of year that Peter and I go to Paris to celebrate our anniversary. We fly the evening of May 8th and return just before a family reunion here in Stonington for Memorial Day weekend. We have found Paris to be our paradise on earth with the most extraordinary spirit of place. Please toast us May 18th when Peter and I celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary.

The most interesting, wonderful people I know, many I’ve met through my books. My commitment to writing increases as I feel the deep and lasting connection with my readers. Thank you for the huge supporting role you play in my sustaining happiness.

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.

Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Kennedy with Peter and Alexandra, off to the Tea for the Troops fundraiser.

"Tea for the Troops" angels

Men of Honor

Alexandra and Colleen

I gave a friend an antique etched vase and some Forget-Me-Nots from our garden. Sandy painted them for me!

Happy 90th birthday Peter!

I received a sweet note from a reader that I want to share with you:

Dear Alexandra,
First of all, congratulations to Peter on his 90th birthday! You both are such an inspiration. I discovered you as an author shortly after I was married 26 years ago. You gave me hope that having a happy marriage – a beautiful life – was possible. And what a happy marriage we’ve had! We’ve never been to Paris! Right now we’re feeling the unhappiness and dissatisfaction of our parents as they age. Having you and Peter as an example once again gives me hope that Rory and I can continue to find joy, love and just plain fun as we take life day by day.

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

"Each day comes bearing its gifts .....
untie the ribbons."

This quote is etched on the glass window of a store, Valentines, in Lexington Massachusetts