Nov 2016

Dear Friends,

Happy, happy, Thanksgiving!

The month of October provided us with an Indian summer. We were given ideal weather as grace notes, the last precious days of warm weather where we spend time enjoying summer’s magic when it turns to autumn.

Everyone seems so spirited when the weather is ideal: when we’re able to look out at the blue sky and water as well as the leaves turning on the trees and reflecting in the water. It’s fun to have tourists return to walk about and appreciate the particular beauty of this magical part of the world. We’ve had dramatic sunsets, and the last full moon was the light that glowed brightly for my way home from dinner on Water Street. Looking at the moon lighting up the harbor makes me sit up in bed in reverence and wonder. Autumn is the season between summer and winter that is a special gift that blesses New England. People come from all over to surround themselves in the beauty. I have great memories of picking apples from a farm when me girls were young, and making apple cake and applesauce. Recently I was in Weston, Massachusetts with friends and was given a loaf of apple bread Kelly made with her granddaughter. There is something about picking your own apples from the trees that is such a seasonable treat. Our local farm that sells apple cider and hot cinnamon doughnuts is a fun fall foliage event we all look forward to.

There are certain activities that are specific to this wondrous season. Local produce, corn, tomatoes and flowers, peaches, zinnias and sunflowers come into our gardens. Autumn is a transition time from one distinct season to the next, easing us into the cooler, darker days of winter. The autumn leaves leave the trees, we rake the leaves, and we hunker down to feel cozier inside the warmth of our homes, thinking about Halloween and then Thanksgiving.

Cooper is my most enthusiastic Halloween person. October is her favorite month, punctuated by her birthday—the combination of her two favorite dates of the year is electric. To celebrate her turning eight, the new coffee shop, Indulge, had a pumpkin carving and decorating party with over-the-top decorations and every sweet indulgence (candied apples, huge rainbow lollipops, sugar cookies, chocolate kisses, chocolate cake, cupcakes, and cotton-candy with whipped cream and sprinkles) that you can imagine. Cooper was given a pearl veil to wear when she cut the cake and blew out the candles. Pure glee. Seeing all those candles on the Frankenstein cake gave me a lump when I swallowed. She’s our baby!

Thanksgiving, not Halloween, is my favorite national holiday and always has been because it is the one we all celebrate, always with family and friends. We celebrate the different rituals of giving thanks at a meaningful banquet around the harvest table. Over the years I’ve observed so many people feeling grateful. The true joy of Thanksgiving is to all pitch in and share, everyone having their special signature dish. When everyone brings something, and the expense doesn’t land on one family, the pressure is off. Beyond the financial help, no one should be entirely responsible for everything down to the last detail. The simpler you make things, the more refreshing the atmosphere. “Delegate or suffocate.”

In years past, I’ve been so glad to learn that several of the vegetable dishes my son-in-law prepares for me, and the yummy wild rice, were gathered from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. They couldn’t be more delicious if he’d made everything from scratch. Our identity should be with the thought and care we give to the celebration rather than how time-consuming something is. How much happiness can we spread? By shedding unwelcome pressure that takes away from our feeling of relaxation and pleasure, we are free to mindfully feel grateful.

Peter’s two sisters were raised by their sweet mother to never let their father in the kitchen. Harriett and Bebe followed suit and were the chefs in their own kitchens. It never occurred to Peter to willingly offer to scratch around the kitchen doing any serious cooking, but he loved sitting at the kitchen table with all the ingredients in front of him, to make his signature deviled eggs. One of the most fun parts of this traditional ritual was soliciting his grandchildren as willing helpers. He loved mushing everything in a bowl and adding the kicker, a few drops of good brandy. When everything was prepared in advance, and all Peter had to do was add a few ta-da flourishes, we were reminded of Julia Child’s television shows. Voila!

One of the best labor-saving devices is being true to yourself. It’s always easier to get into something than to get out of it. Everyone is entitled to their own expectations about their desired standards of excellence and how hard they choose to be on themselves. This should be a personal choice. But, when anyone else tries to impose their individual life style on others whose circumstances are vastly different is unfair and can even be considered insensitive.

Not everyone has all those hours to spare to go from farm to table with no shortcuts, and if they did, they might determine that is it better use of their time to do something to care and maintain themselves. Women, generally more than men, tend to put themselves last (physically, mentally and philosophically). In order to embrace the family reunion with an open heart and an enlarged sense of gratitude for the abundance we are giving thanks for, we have to actually feel joyful, not just appreciative.

Years ago, it stung me when I was cross examined by Peter’s sisters about whether I had made the bread, if I made the yogurt, if I made the cookies “from scratch.” No. No. No. I don’t make my own chutney or peach jam or apple pie either. Times have changed. Healthy prepared food is now available and is even, in some cases, delivered to the door. If we can accomplish our goal of having a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration – and there are ways to free up our time – I’m all in favor, and this should be a priority.
If you’d rather study, or read Emerson or Michael Montaigne’s essays for pleasure, save time by “bringing” something to the table, rather than cooking or baking it. You can send or bring flowers, or you can bring wine and cheese. The wonderful saying by literary agent Carl always reminded me, “Just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should.” So true.
We are all capable of many different, wondrous achievements and some of them feel so right and make us feel so delightful when we spend time in their pursuit. Think of all the hobbies and interests and areas of study you most enjoy. The process of bring engaged in them brings you pleasure. Because of your keen interest and the discipline you experience in order to become better at something, you’re able to do more things with greater ease. Something that was once difficult, you can now do with a far greater sense of satisfaction and commitment. To feed this sense of accomplishment is a wonderful feeling.

In order to be fulfilled, you have to fill and refill your own well. We can’t deplete ourselves in the vain attempt to be there for others if it will cause the tipping point. We can’t be all things to everyone all the time. We’ll wear ourselves out. None of us are indispensible except to ourselves. This is our responsibility, to take care of ourselves. We should spend whatever time it takes to be more dependently positive, optimistic and joyful. Obviously, each of us has our own fluctuating set-point of happiness. Once we have a pretty good idea what the fundamental principles are and what tools we have to help keep ourselves in good repair, we have to stay alert. What is our intention?
From my several decades of studying happiness, I’ve learned that Aristotle believes in the aim and purpose of life; I’m aware how vitally important it is to remain true to our core beliefs, to never do anything intentionally to sell our soul, and when we do make a mistake, to be humble and genuinely apologize. The person whom I believe is the most enlightened, who is a living, breathing example is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He’s ever so humble and has a wide grasp of knowledge; He is wise, and continuously works at improving his character. I’ve never known a purer energy. His Holiness is jolly, fun hearted, kind and genuine with everyone he meets. I also love his probing scientific mind. He believes he can persuade people to be nicer to each other by helping them take their gloves off, be less defensive, and learn, from example, what happiness looks like close up.

The Dalai Lama teaches us to have a positive attitude. No matter what happens to us that is beyond our control, the circumstances could be worse. By looking on the bright side, we will be able to use our energy positively. We all will face bumps in the road. It is up to us to be strong and resourceful to make the best of every challenging situation, putting our inner resources to their best possible use. Realistically, some people have a more difficult time being optimistic than others and will have to work harder. When negative thoughts pop into our mind, we can learn antidotes that will turn dark thoughts into a brighter side.

When I’m doing the right thing, with the best intentions, I feel a sense of relief. I feel lighter. We will all face tough times and feel pain, but we uplift our spirits when we elevate ourselves to our highest level. How refreshing it is to do our best, feelinge pleased with our behavior, when we go high.

November 8th we are going to elect a new president of our great country. This 2016 election has been unprecedented. Please let us not be complacent; we must remember how important it is for each one of us to get out and vote. This is our right and out duty. No matter what the outcome, I hope we take the high road, accept the reality, unite, and think of what is best for the country and the global community. The times have changed since our founding fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence. Nothing is perfect, but we should be grateful to value liberty, freedom, truth and peace and commit ourselves to our shared values.

November 8th is also my 75th birthday. I’ve already cast my absentee ballot and am going to New York City to be with my family and watch the election returns. If you remember, please toast Peter and me on that historic Tuesday and believe in what Julian of Norwich published, the first female writer in English, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Happy, happy Thanksgiving! I deeply appreciate all my loyal, kind, generous friends—known and unknown.

Great love to you
Alexandra Stoddard.

Love & Live Happy

Peter and his beloved sister Bebe

Peter made the roses bloom

Cooper's Seat at Peter's Desk

Cooper Loves to Celebrate!

Cooper's new puppy Sunshine!

It is the time to cozy up with a good read

Peter believed that we should all make our voices heard, and vote.

Late afternoon sky over Stonington Harbor


Keep the kisses coming

Fall sunsets are always spectacular


Grace Note

"To be loved, be lovable."