AUTHOR | SPEAKER | PHILOSOPHER | DESIGNER
I was in a favorite local bookstore looking around – a regular indulgence that always reinforces my passions. Bank Square Books is a fun place for me to go with Cooper when we’re together having a groove. On a recent visit with good friends after dinner, we stopped for a cookie and chocolate croissant at the new bakery Sift located next to the restaurant then we all roamed around the book store. My eye caught a postcard: “Happiness will find you.” Happiness does seem to find us, indeed.
I love all the months and all the seasons, but September is the most beautiful month by far. It’s not possible for me to have celebrated more fun times with friends and family or enjoyed the wonderful, sentimental memories more. The entire month was a love song, with Peter’s and my theme song, “Try to Remember that Time in September and Follow, Follow, Follow.” Because Peter died September 25th, 2014, two years ago, this was an exceptionally poignant marking. When someone asked me what I did to celebrate this meaningful day, I paused. It wasn’t so much what I did, as what I thought and how I felt. I floated, as light as a butterfly. There was a calm and sense of peace and kindness that permeated the atmosphere, bringing Peter’s presence and our eternal love in close focus. And indeed, happiness found me.
A friend and I went to a nearby Starbucks where we had a cappuccino and I stocked up on my secret treats I enjoy on a regular basis. They are pleasures, not guilty pleasures. Why feel guilty for having a sweet that bring so much pleasure as long as it is a ritual and not overdone. Everything in moderation – even moderation. Every day is a special occasion because I’ve chosen to live a beautiful life. I find that when I perform ordinary rituals with a sense of reverence and awe, everything becomes extraordinary.
I wrote down in my date book “free day” and found that freedom the most exhilarating, liberating way to float through a gloriously blissful day. A day off from obligations, commitments, appointments and meetings can become a spa vacation experience.
I saw a friend in Indulge coffee shop with her husband and joined their table for a few minutes before going to my regular window spot. Cooper has the concept of happiness stations at 87 Water Street, and wherever we are, we can create them. Sitting at Peter’s desk in front of an open window she wrote:
in 87 Water Street’s Happiness Station.
Open 24 hours.
Be happy here.
I mentioned to Susan that I am still adhering to her method of the 20-40 rule. While I’m home alone, I practice the pomadoro use of time. I set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes. In that time I do anything and everything I choose to do or want to accomplish. When the timer goes off, I set it for 40 minutes. For the next 40 minutes I work. No excuses. No distractions. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t check for messages. I work. It’s been about six months since Susan introduced this idea to me and I’ve thoroughly embraced it.
Susan seemed pleased when I told her how strictly I stick to this separation of time management. I’ve used a kitchen timer for many, many years but my habit was to set it for an hour. The problem was that 60 minutes is too long a time to sit still and write. I’d cheat. I’d get up and make myself a cup of coffee or go to the bathroom or do a load of laundry. I’d make a phone call. I’d water the garden. But, 40 minutes is ideal. It’s just enough time to dig deeply into my work in order to think through what I’m thinking and feeling. It’s short enough to not be “whelming”. Beginning is half finished. I can do this. Yes. This turns out to be the sweet spot of enjoying the rhythms of my day, Susan told me with a smile, “this is what keeps me on track.” I totally agree. I would bring the timer to the breakfast room when Peter and I lived at the Inn at Stonington years ago and I was under deadline for a book.
Looking back at the magnificent month of September is such a colorful delicious chapter in my life. It has all the necessary ingredients for a meaningful, happy life. The most wonderful feeling I carry with me into October is that this glorious September with ideal weather, my closest friends to spend quality time with, having my daughter Brooke come to her beloved Stonington to celebrate her 47th birthday and 12th anniversary with her husband Tony provided me with lots of lovely snuggly times with Cooper, including a sleep over in my bed on Peter’s side.
As if drawn toward each other as an invisible force, gentle, tender acts of kindness were shared. Writing an essay about living fully with your life at hand seemed to write itself. My friend and immediate neighbor Charles delivered the paper to my bedroom, at my request, before leaving the village—we visited in the bedroom because I was working in bed, I was decent, and it was spontaneous. He had two pink cranium lilies for me from a 20 year old plant a friend gave him. Later that sunny warm day I returned to the cottage to find the huge plant on a step in front of the cottage. He wanted me to appreciate the fragrance and beauty while he was away. Cooper’s play date with her friends Mia and Stella ended up with a lemonade sale with vanilla cupcakes they baked in “Cooper’s stove,” raising money for the Children’s Room at the Stonington Free Library. There was joy in the air, fragrant with the sweet scent of Charlie’s lilies and the joy that we all shared in celebrating at the place where Brooke holds great memories, where she and Tony got engaged on Valentine’s Day, where they got married, and where they came to enjoy friends, family, and the beach – “Cooper’s Cottage.”
Being surrounded by loving people who adore Peter brings him even closer to me than when I am alone because they share their stories and memories that keep him not only alive, but nearer and nearer, flowing the passage of time into one continuous whole, a moving picture of continuity. To celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Peter’s passing, our mutual close friends appeared on the doorstep of the cottage. As well as the joy of being with good, “old friends,” I met several new friends I feel I’ve known for years. When I wrote, “Feeling at Home,” at the suggestion of Brooke, I wrote down my 10 defining words, the words that speak to us, that are telling of our own values and our personality. In theory, we were to use one word, and one word only. When Peter played the 10 symbols, (your personality traits game), when he wrote “friends”, he couldn’t write one word because for him, “old friends” are his true friends.
The bond Peter made in 1941 when he met his close buddies grew closer and closer after time passed, and his older friends were his best friends until he died, with the exception of some of the most interesting people who are a great deal younger that we met and befriended throughout writing. The other defining words of Peter’s: love, beaches, children, reading, dancing, music, wine, lunch, and memories. Thinking of the powerful source of happiness friends are in our lives gave me a moment to reflect on my own words: Love, sunlight, gardens, beaches, children, food, family, color, ribbons and home. To know ourselves and be true to our essence, the meaning of our being, I continue to learn more about myself by writing my thoughts down. Writing is a way of pulling up a chair with ourselves.
When our set of ten words were published 17 years ago, Brooke had written hers while at a favorite Café in Paris. How true to her words she is today: Inspiration, Paris, flowers, beauty, design, blue, elephants, light, artists and creativity. However, when she wrote hers she was not married and was not Cooper’s mother. It would be interesting for those of us who have written our ten words to review them. For anyone who has not written your ten words, I urge you to take a few quiet minutes and write them down. From your heart. I’m going to re-think mine, and believe it would be a fun experience to re-visit them every few years, as the spirit moves me. I carry them with me in my date book as a reminder of what is important to me, helping me stay true to my core. Peter and I share three of 10 words: love, beaches, children. When he died we chartered a sailboat that we boarded at the dock of the former Skipper’s Dock, now Breakwater Restaurant. Ashes in an old wooden box with the word “Fleurs,” we’d put in a blue and white pottery pitcher we found in Portugal, with a wooden spoon, surrounded with some of Peter’s favorite flowers—blue hydrangea, pink, purple, yellow and white sweet pea, yellow freesia, pink roses, dahlias in a riot of colors, and purple iris. We shared scattering his essence with the flowers on a gloriously sunny, crisp fall day in mid-October with the harbor glistening with light and eternal energy, honoring his love of beaches – one of his favorites being a small public beach at the point on Water Street, in view of the breakwater where the ripples of the water were headed. Peter is alive in all of us who were blessed to know him, and he inspired by his love of life and continuous magnetism.
Tea For the Troops was especially moving this year in Concord, being outside in white tents, celebrating the 15th anniversary of September 11th, on that Sunday. Because Peter was president of a volunteer organization (the Riot Relief Fund) that was the first to be able to write checks to the police and firefighter’s families who lost a spouse in the terrorist tragedy, his presence was prominent that meaningful day as we raised money to be able to help our wounded warriors who serve our country so daringly to protect our liberty.
Kerri and I spent some soulful time in the Concord library the next day. I’d attended a meeting at our Stonington Free Library the week beforehand to brainstorm the future. Later in September I went to a meeting at Spicer Mansion, an inn in Mystic, where we’re planning a fundraiser for three local libraries—Captain Spicer founded the Mystic library. I also met with some new friends from Worchester, Massachusetts, where we’re planning a fundraiser for their garden chef.
In concluding, thank you for your generous words and support. When you order Peter’s books because you want your children to be influenced by him, I realize that his legacy will continue to enrich and enlighten future generations – and all our lives. Friends who came to visit and spend some time with me from Jackson, Mississippi brought me treasured gifts, reminders of our love and joyful memories of all our wonderfully happy memories. They brought a CD that a mutual friend made for me, that began with Joy to Remember (From the Fantasticks) London, ending with Try to Remember/New 101 Strings Orchestra, with Try to Remember sung by Andy Williams in between. As I remember, I follow, and in following Peter’s shining example, I’m drawn to the joyous September Song living on throughout the winter, into spring, as the guiding light in the center of my heart. My 91 year old friend, Charlie Holland, who has a jazz band and played at Brooke’s wedding when Peter and I danced to “I’ll Be Seeing You;” sang “I’ll Be Seeing You” to me at a local restaurant with admiring friends soaking it in. Charlie played the piano at the celebration we had for Peter at our community center.
Happy October. September is still with us in spirit. The fall foliage is beginning to burst into her glory. Cooper loves October, the month she was born, October 16th, and pumpkins, apple cider, and Halloween.
Love & Live Happy
Alexandra and Mary Kate .. Glorious!
Book signing at Tea for Troops event in Concord
Thank you Terri and Matt ~ Tea For Troops Annual Event
Our back patio ~~ simply magical!
Peter is still in the garden in spirit and the hydrangea will be in the future.
The table behind us is "our table" at the Ocean House
Our blue hydrangeas will bloom again
Water Street smooch!
Always ready to dance
September sunsets capture the joys of the summer days as they melt into fall. Simply magnificent.
"The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts."
~~ William Lynn Phelps