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AUTHOR  |  SPEAKER  |  PHILOSOPHER  |  DESIGNER

September 2021

Alexandra watering plants in front of her house

My love of blue, down to the freshly painted shutters and the watering can!

Dear Friends,

I love you.

I feel joy in the air as I remember the September song: “Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow. Then follow, follow, follow.”

Happy September to you. Elissa’s maternity leave, spending her time nurturing a healthy baby boy, Jonathan, has been an awakening reminder. My mentor Eleanor McMillen Brown’s sage advice to her design team: “When one thing changes, you have to rethink everything.” Elissa’s first priorities are to her newborn baby and husband Colin.

Although this summer you read some essays on beauty, this newsletter is my first official one since May. I’m delighted Elissa is back, making it possible to feel I’m in close touch with you again. My sabbatical reinforced my realization of how meaningful it is to stay connected, especially during the pandemic.

Elissa and Colin welcomed their baby boy, Jonathan, on May 15.

In the gloriously beautiful summer months of June, July and August, I savored all the flavors and textures of a more carefree spirit. I had plenty of time to think of you and how much you mean to me. Each one of us is facing our own individual challenges. It’s comforting and heartwarming to feel we are supporting each other in the spirit of loving-kindness.

I’ve never felt so strongly the power of this bond we have forged together. We’re never alone in the dark. We’re together through the mysterious power of grace. We soul search, we listen. We learn: when we have an open heart, we can keep an open mind. Our brain is ours to nurture, nourish and control. With our every thought and action, when we are true to our unique personality and potential, we’re inspired to increase our love toward others. We know how vitally important it is to be true to ourselves. Our happiness and life itself depend on our authenticity. Because of our shared common humanity, we want everyone to be true to their higher power as well. We can all blossom when we make choices that reflect our values and principles and make contributions to society. Our freedom depends on our taking full responsibility for our actions. We should always keep in mind the greater good. We greatly depend on the hard work and dedication of people all over the world.

I have happiness in the palm of my hand.

Because I am a believer that the aim and purpose of life is to be happy, this is only possible when we want happiness for others. His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches us an invaluable insight into happiness. If you want to be happy, he suggests you be compassionate to yourself and others. If you want to make others happy, be compassionate.

The more we love our own life, the more expansive our heart becomes. Our lives become infused with compassionate feelings of tenderness. We experience the life-enriching, sustaining, health-promoting benefits of living in an all-embracing consciousness of universal loving energy. We are all on this precious, fragile planet together. We need all the love and help from everyone on board. I’m humbled by all the caring people who help support my health and happiness.

Elissa photographed this box for me a few years ago.

In a few months, I’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Choosing Happiness. I wrote about 54 keys to greater purpose and fulfillment. The Golden Rule stands out as one of the most timeless, timely truths. Just imagine if everyone treated their neighbors as themselves. If we love ourselves, we understand with greater empathy what our fellow human souls are enduring. Self-love is the starting point on the exhilarating journey of discovering the depths of our capacity to understand and empathize.

On the back of the jacket cover of Choosing Happiness is a photograph of a treasured gift Peter bought me soon after we were married, a glorious blue enamel antique pill box with words to live by: “Love & Live Happy.”

This tiny Roger Mühl painting, one of the ones he would call “babies,” graces the cover of one of the editions of Living a Beautiful Life.

Henri

As you know, I live on the coast of the Connecticut shoreline. The town of Stonington’s police department wanted us to evacuate in anticipation of getting a direct hit from Tropical Storm Henri. For years, whenever there was a storm forecast for our area, Peter and I would have a mini vacation at a hotel and spa in a nearby town. After Peter died and I lived alone, as a precaution, I’d go and enjoy a restful, relaxing change to weather the storm, not having to deal with possible power outages.

As soon as I adjusted to having to leave the paradise of beauty, flowers, color and all the creature comforts of my sacred home, I embraced reality. Henri was on national news with camera crews at the point at the end of Water Street. Watching the Weather Channel and anticipating “historical” power outages for Southeast Connecticut, I was comforted to have electricity, air-conditioning and time to read the Sunday paper as the storm’s eye hit in Westerly, Rhode Island, at approximately 12:15 p.m. I had no particular reason to be happy.  I just felt happy when I put on my yellow rain slicker, stepped outside and felt the fresh sweet air on my way to dinner. The rain had stopped. The sun came out. The sky was blue. I could look out on the reservoir through the lush green leaves of tall trees. I soaked in deep breaths. There was a sense of calm about me because I had spent the entire day alone. Relaxed, relieved, refreshed. I was so grateful the storm was short-lived in our area and compassionate toward those who would have flooding and property damage.

Large Roger Muhl painting of houses and the sea in France

Walking into my dining room transports me to the south of France.

On Sunday evening, when I went to have supper, I sat at the bar area at the end where there is enough light to read. After I ordered, I opened my book and was ambushed by friends, some I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. I met a new friend. I’d join them at their table after I had my dinner.

This was another glorious example of coincidences. We pay attention because when something magical happens spontaneously, it awakens us to just how much we love. Joy was the mood, laughter came easily, and then Erin read us something that touched each of us at our core. She read an inspirational story to us about an elderly man in poor health who refused to feel sorry for himself. “Love big,” he said.

My living room looks out on Stonington Harbor and the famous blue house across the street.

When Erin read the words “Love big,” I had soul-bumps. She was teary. Every one of us felt the universal oneness. It was an extraordinarily happy moment. We became close trusted friends in minutes. Tears flowed. We cried together in a quiet understanding that we’re all utterly vulnerable. We felt so fortunate to have shared such a meaningful, memorable moment. We were loving big; we all got the message.

Brooke called me soon after I returned to my room. She and Cooper were in the cottage with lights on! I slept peacefully, anticipating returning home after my “one-night stand” at the hotel. How lucky I am to have a refuge to come to in stormy weather. How blessed I am that we were spared coastal flooding, power loss and property damage. How grateful I feel to love the sanctuary of my comforting, welcoming home.

Sharing Our Situations

Beginning last March, I encountered pain in my wrists. Then shoulders, knees, ankles. I’m telling you my situation because you have shared yours with me. Please understand that what I’m about to share with you is all good news. We learn from each other that there are so many things we can do to manage our particular diagnoses.

In June I learned from blood tests I have rheumatoid arthritis, a kind that randomly attacks different parts of the body. I’m fortunate to have a compassionate specialist who promised me he will help me through this process. So far, he’s kept his word.

Charlie and I are now fenceless and defenseless! We have joined forces and joined gardens.

New Eyes

My eyesight was becoming increasingly foggy, making it difficult to read without a magnifying glass. When I had an eye examination, I learned I had large, dense cataracts in both eyes and needed surgery. Dr. Strand highly recommended Dr. H’wang, who was sent my records. There was no use getting new eyeglasses because once the cataracts were removed, my sight would improve enormously.

I was elated to learn I could improve my vision right away. My eyes are my most important sense, by far. I learned I couldn’t even have an evaluation for five months. Before getting other doctors’ recommendations, I called Dr. H’wang’s office and spoke with Shawn. A calm came over me. Shawn looked up my records. I told her about recently learning I had RA and how I felt enthusiastic about taking care of my eyes as soon as possible.

I wrote a book, The Art of the Possible. Nothing is impossible. There’s always hope. Shawn knew the need; she felt my positive energy. “Alexandra, I have your name and telephone number on my desk. As soon as I get a cancellation, I’ll call you.” I was heard.

All the objects that I collect I’m seeing with fresh eyes.

Immediately I went out for a walk. I could feel no pain. Help was on its way. A few hours later I was scheduled for an evaluation, a pre-op appointment and surgery in my left eye.

Two weeks later, my right eye was operated on. I felt on top of the world—over the top! When I told my friend Nancy I loved being on steroids because I felt no pain, she laughed. “Alexandra on steroids.” I was chatty, energetic and thrilled to see colors so clearly. Every one seemed so vibrant and alive. The fog has lifted from my eyesight. I’m enjoying examining the intricacies of all my plants and flowers. My paperweight collection is alive with subtle beauty. The blues of the sky and water are infinitely fascinating.

A memorable lunch at a friend’s restaurant garden.

The Bridge That Joins Us

Peter died seven years ago on September 25, 2014, at 2:57 p.m. One of his favorite writers was Thornton Wilder. His favorite book of Wilder’s was Our Town, a play, later made into a movie. September is a most happy month for me. I want to swing into Wilder’s words from Our Town to remind us just how fortunate we are to be alive, on this planet.

Oh earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?

This is the month Peter proposed to me, transcending a 20-year friendship into an epic love affair to remember. I feel I’m seeing with Peter’s love of life in my new lenses. In Wilder’s book The Bridge of San Luis Rey, are his closing words: “Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of a living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” Whatever I see, he sees because of the bridge that joins the land of the living with the dead.

Sitting in my new sacred, private writing space.

Yummy Mindfulness

Brooke, Cooper and I go on fun ice cream “grooves.” There’s nothing quite as mindful as licking a coffee-flavored sugar cone on a hot afternoon before it drips all over my white slacks. I relish every yummy lick. Sharing ice cream cones with friends and family is definitely happiness producing. When we’re in the moment, we understand we’re at the banquet of life. As Peter once said in these joyful moments, “This is IT.”

Learning to appreciate every one of our senses, to be aware how fragile our radiant health can become, allows us to focus on all the good in our lives. When I’m able to hold a fountain pen in my right hand, I realize just how fortunate I am.

I’m a full-time caregiver for myself. I’m paying attention to my doctors, specialists who know about different areas of expertise. I’m aware how many things we can do to make ourselves feel better around the clock. As I approach my 80th birthday in November, I’m celebrating my deep appreciation for the gift of life.

Each one of you, my friends, adds to my passion. Thank you for all the meaning and joy you bring to my rich, full life. Keep believing in the powerful healing qualities of beauty. The quiet beauty of my home inspires me throughout the day.

Then—old. Now—new!

Blue, as in Happy

For over six months, the outside of the cottage has been “loved up” by Cesar and his professional team. Reverend John Rathbone, a Baptist minster, and his family lived in this house built by church carpenters in 1775. They would be proud to see its transformation.

The most wondrous thing I did this year was become true blue. It was my dear friend and immediate neighbor Charlie who inspired me to turn the inside out. Gone are the traditional bottle-green shutters. Charlie plucked some delicate blue flowers from his front garden. “There. The south of France.” Brooke and I went to the paint store to buy pints of Benjamin Moore “Summer Sky,” with 25% white added and 50% white added. I painted samples on old shutters for our neighbors and passers-by to vote. Paul, another dear friend and neighbor, a Frenchman, had the last word. “Alexandra, paint “Summer Blue” 25% lighter because in five years it will fade to the lighter sample because of all the direct sunlight.” The winning formula is 2067-50 25% lighter B1-16 M-1.

The New York Times Home section was spot-on!

Changing shutter colors cost me nothing and made all the difference.

The entire inside of the cottage is dominated by the colors of the sky and water. Peter ended his earthly journey painting sky and water beach scenes. He never got over his blue period, and I’m now freshly committed. Our 256-year-old seaside cottage has finally come into its fullest glory. Summer fun and happiness will smile at us throughout the year. On a sparkling clear day, the blue shutters echo the infinite atmospheric blue of the sky.

I’m closing with a reminder that self-care begins with self-knowledge. The blue shutters reflect my spirit-energy.

Happy September, every precious moment!

Love & Live Happy,

The outdoor shutters are now a part of my magical view indoors.

Happiness Retreat

We made the responsible decision to postpone our November Happiness Retreat for the second year. Rather than feeling bad, I’m relieved, knowing we don’t have to cancel it at the eleventh hour. We now have something happy to look forward to in 2022, when it’s safe. For all of you who want to come to a future retreat, please call the Inn at Stonington (860-535-2000) and put your name on the list.