October 2020

“When all is said and sifted, character is what matters most.” —Bob Woodward

I made this mask from bell-bottom slacks that I tailored. (Photograph by my granddaughter Cooper.)

Dear Friends,

The sweet song of September lingers in my heart as we move forward. “Onward and upward.” To embrace fall and October’s opportunities, we need to prepare for winter.

When we are in harmony with our immediate surroundings, we are most alive. How we feel as we quietly ritualize our activities is the key to our sense of well-being. I want to be prepared in order to live fully under the circumstances of the pandemic.

Because you and I are traveling in the same boat on this journey, my soul is bursting with memories I want to share with you. I’ve never been more intimately aware just how tenderly attached I am to our cottage. Thirty-two years ago, Peter and I were visiting friends who lived in Stonington; it was the weekend of our daughter Alexandra’s graduation from Connecticut College. An unexpected flash rainstorm interrupted the outdoor commencement ceremony, creating our destiny.

Upon arriving back in Stonington from nearby New London, we felt the magic of this enchanting seaside walking village. On Water Street, we saw a For Sale sign in a front yard. The unassuming taupe house was in great need of love and certainly not the draw that attracted us. As I wrote in Creating a Beautiful Home, bright sun broke through the gray clouds. The view of the harbor’s sparkling water with the boats was picture-postcard perfect. As dazzling as the dancing light on the water was to my spirits, there was definitely a hidden dimension.

In the tiny backyard, my eyes feasted on an ancient white lilac tree. I saw thousands of prisms of the rainbow on the sunlit branches, more spectacular than the wondrous rainbows in the sky. The fragrance, the sheer beauty, inhaling the sea air—I became mesmerized.

I was definitely in a hypnotic state of ecstasy as I fell in love with a waterlogged flowering tree in full bloom. In radiant white light, my soul awakened. Being here now was obviously meant to be. I feel such gratitude for the invisible forces of the divine mystery that led us to come here.

Kerri captured Peter's soul.

To you, my friends, thank you for helping me celebrate the sixth anniversary since Peter’s death. There is no sadness. There is no sorrow. There is pure joy in celebrating.

Having spent twenty-six of the happiest years together in this cottage, what we shared is my foundation as I treasure his continuing presence.

We came here with the full intention to write. Escaping from our commitments and other professional obligations in the city—Peter’s legal work and my interior designing—we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were alone, together. We were lovers living life romantically, having a fresh start. The sense of separation from our complex lives in New York gave us emotional space. We felt blessed to have a private place to come to whenever possible.

We’d already established the concept of a writer’s retreat. We’d go to Bermuda for them, Peter and me. Away, alone. Happy. Discovering this cottage was definitely a gift from the gods.

Our cottage is my first house. Ever since I left my parents’ house, I’ve lived in various apartments in New York City. To top off the pleasure of having a historic house to love up (it had formerly been the Reverend John Rathbone’s cottage, built in 1775 by church carpenters), I had purchased it with money earned from my writing. How appropriate to find a place to work that is located on a peninsula surrounded by the healing powers of water to the east, south, and west.

We immediately located our innermost sanctum where we would have our personal spaces. We would retreat to our writing rooms ritualistically, undisturbed, looking forward to our quiet time to study and work. Love and work. Work and love. Because writing is what brings us our greatest creative fulfillment, and we love to be together, our writing rooms are next to each other.

In this photo, Kerri captured Peter's infectious grin.

We could never get enough of each other. Fortunately, Peter was the one who developed the concept of “solitude for two.” With a generously wide opening between rooms, we created an ideal environment for our work. We each had our own spaces to arrange and decorate, where we could have all the things we needed to inspire us. We also were able to satisfy our emotional desire to be together, supporting our concentration on our individual writing.

All of life is flux. Being separate and together brought us harmony. Life flows like a river. We move with the currents of the flow. Peter’s writing room is now “the library.” His expansive writing table is clear in order to be useful for whatever I choose to bring to the table. The Japanese expression “space to breathe” applies here. They believe in keeping an empty shelf to allow the soul to take a deep inhale. Ah, space to breathe. We need a blank canvas before we begin a new painting. We write on a blank sheet of paper. Our mind is best when we are the ones who are responsible for our thoughts and actions.

“Empty and be full.”

I love having this space to breathe. For years after Peter died, I dumped my research on his desk, trying to fill the void. The visual clutter was chaos and confusion. When this large surface is free and clear, it’s inviting, providing me with endless meaningful possibilities. Now, when I sit at this space, I feel his heavenly guidance. I’ve moved my desk to face a large window where I can look up at the sky and down at the garden. Love never dies.

Peter and Carl, my literary muses, come with me as I enter my room through Peter’s. My design boss, friend and mentor, Mrs. Brown, instructed her young designers, “When one thing changes, you have to rethink everything.” In order for me to feel this great sense of peace and calm in our workspace, I needed to heed another gift of her wisdom: “Be careful what you give up.”

The library was a wreck, with books on the floor. I needed to make more room for my current books and projects, requiring me to pass on ones I’ve read. The hardest things for me to part with are anything relating to Peter. I came up with a plan to help me with everything else. I created a “book exchange.” I simply have to pass on to a friend or a friend’s friend a book I’ve read and loved that I won’t realistically reread.

I'm passionate about delphiniums! A lovely friend who knows about my love for beauty and flowers gave me a book, Florists to the Field, where I found this photo.

My friend gave me a book I’ve loved and I knew she would want another friend to read. I called and inquired who this book might be sent to. I’ve learned that what we give up when we are caring and loving is what we receive. Rather than a book sitting on a crowded shelf, taking up precious real estate in the library that I’m determined to put in good order, I’m regifting. I write a note in the endpapers, put in a ribbon bookmark and gift wrap it with the prettiest flowered wrapping papers from Grace Your Home, a local shop a few blocks down on Water Street. I wrap a festive ribbon around the package and off it goes as a complete surprise to a like-spirited friend I’ve never met. This exercise takes time. Hurry never.

When I go to the post office and send the present off, I feel I’m part of a loving kindness energy that feeds my soul, as it will the person who will receive the package and savor reading the book. I intend to touch every book in the library and hope my book exchange will warm many hearts of all ages.

Voltaire gave us an important truth, a key to happiness, when he said, “Paradise is where I am.” We can expand the physical boundaries of our four walls when we continuously cultivate our own garden, our earthly home, as our private retreat. Now more than ever in our earthbound lives, it is important for us to love up our personal spaces.

As we move forward with shorter days of natural light, we can be sure we are using every window that brings us light and energy. Locate your best view where you live. Mine is on “three” facing the harbor. In the dead of winter, with the 72’’ fan window and an unrestricted view after the last leaves have left the trees, the desk facing the harbor will be an uplifting spot to climb up to indeed. From pre-dawn to sunrise to sunset, I try to follow all the light I can.

When Feeling at Home was published in 1999, as many of you recall, I invited you to write down the ten words that best describe your personality traits, to show who you are. When Brooke was living in Paris for a year after graduating from college, she did this exercise at a favorite café on the Left Bank and introduced the idea to Peter and me. Part One, “Self Attunement,” begins this book with wise advice from the German philosopher Goethe: “Connect our inner light to the external light of our environment.” I open the first chapter, “Defining Who You Are Now,” with Brooke’s beautifully authentic words:


This is another gorgeous photo from Florists to the Field. I love lemons!

In the spirit of remembering, my ten words twenty-one years ago were:


Peter’s were:

Old Friends

As you can see, unknowingly, written privately, we share three words: love, beaches and children. At this stage in my time arc, our combined words flood my present moments with such intimate tenderness and love. I’m so delighted to be reminded. We can remember all the joyful, pleasant times of things we loved to do that brought us great happiness, and think again. What are some of the activities you do now that bring you pleasure? What are some treasured memories you want to remember, relive and allow to influence your thinking currently?

My friend Sandy lives in Stonington Village with expansive views of the harbor where we spread Peter’s ashes at the breakwater. She loved to windsurf in her earlier, more carefree days. Equally joyful during the pandemic, she remembered her exuberantly happy times and wanted to get back on the water. Sandy decided to set sail again.

I had a wonderful time visiting with Kelly and her children at the cottage.

The universe, with some serendipitous help from the Internet, provided her with a smaller, more manageable board. Seemingly more carefree than ever, she can be seen in the harbor sailing with the wind. “The beauty of windsurfing,” she told me, “is that you’re at one with the wind and the water. It brings me such joy and energy when I’m moving through the water. Thank you, God.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Larry Smith had an illustrated piece, “The Pandemic in Six-Word Memoirs.” He’s been challenging people to describe their lives in six words. Apparently, Ernest Hemingway wrote a legendary six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The example I related to the most was a pyramid of open books: “Read every book in the house.”  The rule was a six-word sentence as memoir. Another literary group came up with “A Life in One Line,” a one-sentence memoir.

If the spirit moves you, jot down your pandemic ten words and send them to me in a postcard. A six-word memoir is “Sending a postcard is spreading light.” Kerri and I send postcards to people we know and are close to us, as well as acquaintances, friends of friends and people we haven’t met. During our shared challenges, a few words on a postcard can put a smile on our lips that feels as comforting as a bear hug from a dear friend.

Kayla is my youngest postcard friend, at six years old, and she is passionate about unicorns. Alyssa, her older sister, age ten, has sent me some gems. She writes about happiness. The two girls and her mother Kelly recently visited me at the cottage.

My memory boxes bring me great joy.

Kathy, thank you for your kind mentions about Gift of a Letter in your charming article “Love Letters.” I ended my book “P.S. Write soon!” Whether you write a note, a long, chatty letter or a postcard, you are sending your ship out to sail. You’re giving a gift to yourself as you send it off in the post.

Mary Ann, you wanted me to write about the memory boxes we have been giving to my family. I have gone through all my photographs beginning several years ago. For our daughter Brooke’s 50th birthday last September, I filled two square white boxes from the Container Store with her life’s visual history. I went back to her grandparents. The organizing principle is that every photograph is the same size. I chose 4x6”. After Brooke’s boxes, I made some for Alexandra for her birthday last October.

I have several shelves of memory boxes of art postcards for my education and visual delight, garden and flower postcards, CDs of favorite music, photographs of Peter and a separate box for Claude Monet and my favorite contemporary artist Roger Mühl. I have several boxes of favorite inspirational affirmations.

I’m closing with a heart full of love and deep appreciation for our growing friendship. Your kindness and your affectionate thoughtfulness nourish my spirits daily. How blessed I am to have your love as we help each other in these most challenging days. We are making the world a healthier, safer, more peaceful place by being good, true friends.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Love & Live Happy,


“It’s my disposition.” —Bill Gates, on optimism

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.” —Ruth Bader Ginsburg


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