February 2022

Alexandra standing next to a colorful drawer set. The drawers are empty.
Photo by Elissa

My rainbow of storage is empty and ready for a fresh start!

Dear Friends,

I love you!

Thank you for the kind feelings you so generously express to me. In your words and deeds, I feel I am an integral part of a community of loving souls, and have been for as long as I can remember. Your light and love shine through as I’ve spent these January days reflecting on your beauty, our human affection and how much loving people create our mutual happiness.

I’m writing to you this February with words I want you to hear. They came to me, stream of consciousness, and I want to pass them on to you as openly as I am capable. Before I begin, I want to let you know how humbled I am that you are actually alive, breathing and taking the time to spend a few of your precious minutes in my company. Pause. Because I love you, I want you to know how I feel as I celebrate this month of love with you.

I’m a hopeless romantic. Sentimental to a fault. Over the course of my 80 well-lived and well-loved years, I’m reflecting on the realization that I’ve been a collector all my life. I’ve collected pebbles from beaches, pretty shells that are gifts from the sea. I’ve put coral pink sand from Bermuda in tiny marbleized boxes I’d purchased in Florence, Italy. I like to see, remember, touch. I’m passionately sensual.

Photo by Elissa

My collection of love stamps brings me joy when I look at it, and my pink geranium reminds me of nature's grace.

I become attached to the objects I’ve discovered on trips to foreign countries. My collection of objects is my autobiography. They’re more powerful than words. With no effort, I can roam around on “three” and become lost in the wondrous discoveries as I cast my gaze in different directions. Because I love many pretty things, the reality is I now have an accumulation of many meaningful things. Many. Every interest seems to morph into a collection. Letters, stamps, postcards, marbleized boxes, pretty stationery, hand-blown glass, paperweights, fountain pens, ink bottles, inkwells.

My beloved husband lived through the Depression. Peter saved everything. Trust me. Peter and I were savers; we felt comfortable having all the memories surrounding us and reminding us of all the good times throughout our lives. We took notes when we read. We marked our books, using them to help us remember research for our writing. We kept notes on 4x6” index cards, legal pads and notebooks. We were avid collectors of affirmations. We clipped newspaper and magazine articles. My aesthetic mentor, Eleanor McMillen Brown, taught her interior design staff to “be careful what you give up.” Her ghost is ever present, because we never really know when something will be useful. We want to be prepared for everything.

Photo by Elissa

Put your favorite painting where you spend the most time. This painting by Pierre Lesieur sits next to my sink.

This brings me back to Aristotle’s “golden mean” between two extremes of too little or too much. Other than Mr. Rogers, who maintained the same weight his entire adult life, how many of us can say the same about consistencies in our own lifestyle and habits? The cabinetmaker who built drawers and shelves in my clothes closet in our New York City apartment instructed me that every time I added something new to my closet, I should eliminate some article of clothing. Sounds logical, makes a lot of sense, but I’m an incrementalist. Gradually, slowly but surely, shelves that originally had space to breathe became full and eventually crowded. Drawers became stuffed.

I know I’m not alone. The science columnist of the New York Times, Jane Brody, is also 80. She wrote a column about facing the inevitable accumulation of things in our rooms and storage spaces. Too much of a good thing is too much. My blind spots are now flagrantly obvious. I add new household items (everything under the sun) regularly. Having an excess of anything bogs us down. I collect and store. I was blind, but now I see.

Photo by Elissa

Peter and I have a romantic passion for lemons. There’s nothing like yellow in the brilliant sunshine.

I woke up. Many of you were already there. I admired my friend’s ability to pass on all the items that were no longer being used, worn or useful. With all my blindness, I knew one vitally important reality: I am incapable of knowingly wasting something that someone else could use. Anything I’ve loved up in the past, I want to pass on to someone who will appreciate its value.

Embracing January’s New Year after my health wake-up call made me come to grips with the realization that I was utterly unrealistic about my longevity. My literary agent Carl believed writers are recycle artists. Why on earth was I holding on to all my handwritten first drafts of my 28 published books, my articles and my newsletters? I want to more forward, not backward.

In the late ’60s I was living in a pre-digital world. I tried to write my first book, Style for Living, on a typewriter. I ended up finding someone to do my typing. I am more dedicated to my writing process now than ever, and I must hold a fountain pen in my hand to feel completely at home.

Since then I have deliberately, thoughtfully chosen to maintain a pen-and-paper lifestyle. I smile whenever I’m holding a fountain pen. 

Alexandra at her writing desk.
Photo by Elissa

Writing with fountain pens on beautiful paper makes me feel at home.

I still use my loose-leaf English Filofax system from the ’80s as my calendar and address book, as well as a general organizer. Every year I buy new refills from Smythson of Bond Street’s New York showroom. I’d rather not have a computer in my hand that keeps track of me!

My good friend Charlotte, who runs a successful flower shop in New London, has no personal computer or cell phone. We laugh out loud how lucky we feel. We can do what we love to do in the style that brings us our greatest joy and satisfaction. We’re definitely privileged to be able to have talented, knowledgeable people do our technology for us. Other than Peter, I don’t know of anyone who writes who doesn’t use a computer.

As I embraced the cozy cold days, turning the page from 2021 to 2022, I wanted to leap ahead mentally. I envisioned the brilliant sparkling January light illuminating my way to greater clarity, inner knowledge and peace. I’ve been meditating on present-focused mindfulness. Why wake up every new dawn to all the dusty, musty (and in some cases, moldy!) stacks of papers, boxes full of things to sort, drafts of unpublished books? I’ve saved every postcard, greeting card and letter. I save books. I still have my memories that are stored invisibly in my soul.

Alexandra's blue dishes on her stove, with a mirror reflecting the painting behind.
Photo by Elissa

Always reflect on beauty.

In my epiphany, I realized I could feel lighter and brighter and more energetic by eliminating memorabilia that I realistically will never, ever refer to again. Time marches on in one direction, never stopping. When we say “time out,” the clock doesn’t stop.

I began my project by going to Tom’s News Stand and buying two bags for recycling. I’m not supposed to pick up anything heavier than a few pounds. Friends encouraged me that I’d never miss anything I pitch. I definitely needed a shaking up. What was I thinking? No one is interested in my sentimental clinging to the past. No one has the time or the inclination to sift through all the mess.

The 6 a.m. recycling trucks swept the yellow recycling bags away from the cottage. A heaviness lifted. Paper weighs!

I was on a mission. Soon I filled the floor of the dining room with yellow bags. I set realistic goals for each day I felt energetic. If I was in any way resistant, my project would be an utter failure. “Three bags full.” Soon, I bought 10 more bags, meeting my goal of 25 bags by mid-January. By the time you read this, I will have filed more bags because I’m on a roll for recycling day on February 1. We’re having a blizzard and I’ll be home gaping at the beauty of the snow.

A photo of Alexandra's pantry, where one shelf is empty except for a vase with a pink rose.
Photo by Elissa

Empty and be full!

I listen to energizing music. I feel light and airy, loving my revelation. I wanted a real, true fresh start, and I can see and feel the progress. By improving every aspect of my practical world, I’m boosting my happiness. As I wrote last month, I want to empty in order to feel full. I’m feeling a sense of purification. I didn’t want to face the future with the past looming over me. This awakening required a complete about-face. My reconsideration in my thinking allowed the possibility of this new vision to be realized.

My grandfather was a ship designer and builder; I believe I’ve inherited his genes. Intuitively I know how to design a space. I long to have a place for everything. We need a system we strictly adhere to in order to put things back where they belong. I understand there is a rightful place for everything. I understand that order precedes beauty.

It took me this long to face reality. Letting go is a process. I am liberating myself from the past’s paper collections. I’d like to think I’ve done my best as I’ve gone along. I’m at peace eliminating the out-of-date, old, unfinished, unresolved, incomplete writing. As I write in Time Alive:

A wooden box and painting sit atop an otherwise empty table.
Photo by Elissa

This box contains my collection of love stamps. I polished the brass, the wood and the table in the office.

Trust the

Alexandra standing beside a table full of blooming flowers.
Photo by Elissa

Winter blooms always brighten my home.

Now, each new day is the beginning of a crisp, clean, fresh start. If beginning is half finished, when we wake up we will be free to embrace the wondrous mysteries of the unknown. We are alive, in our breath, this instant, and only in the moment. If the soul is eternal, all the beauty I have so effervescently lived is now in my essence, my spirit-energy, my higher powers, my memory. I need to let go of the material stuff I’ve saved that is not relevant to my present-minded focus.

In the wise words of Alan Watts: “Nothing is more creative than death, since it is the whole secret of life. It means that the past must be abandoned, that the unknown cannot be avoided, that ‘I’ cannot continue, and that nothing can be ultimately fixed. When a man knows this, he lives for the first time in his life. By holding his breath, he loses it. By letting go he finds it.”

A postcard from Le Veau d'Or

I discovered this love note from Peter in a cluttered box.

Because I want to live my current life, by carefully emptying all my white, purple, green and blue boxes, I unearth bright reflections of my personal history. There were countless treasures to discover in every stack, spontaneous grace notes to touch me that bring back experiences worthy of remembering.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Love is infinite, not something we celebrate but once a year, but it is a way of being. Gandhi said love is the law of our being. Peter proposed to me at a small French bistro on East 60th Street, Le Veau d’Or, in 1973. On one of their postcards, probably written while we were having lunch or dinner 17 years later, he wrote me a note, addressed it, and I discovered this treasure amid a cluttered box.

“They say you tire of love. Do we tire of a fine restaurant? Do we tire of the smell of the ocean? Do we tire of a country garden? Do we tire of friendship, good antiques and architectural proportion? No, we do not tire of love—the best of all.” *Who said that? P.M.B. May 4, 1990

Empty shelves in Alexandra's white kitchen, with a painting above them.
Photo by Elissa

These empty shelves in my kitchen help me with my quiet contemplation.

Inspiring Lives Well Lived

The brilliant actor Sidney Poitier died recently. I’m so grateful to my good friend Norma for always letting me know when I could see his movies. I identify so strongly with his words: “I have not made my peace with the times—they are still out of kilter—but I have made my peace with myself.”

I now feel a lightness of being that is exhilarating. I have awakened. I’m definitely at peace with my present life, feeling charged up and ready to live the adventure. My editing process is huge, and I will focus on continuing in the weeks and months ahead.

Elissa handed me a note when she came for a visit after I told her what I had accomplished.


Happy New Year! I am so inspired by your cleaning and purging that you’ve done in your home—may it become a place where every item brings you joy!
Enjoy your newfound space and light!


Alexandra with an adorable white fluffy poodle named Scout.
Photo by Elissa

My friend Scout came for a visit.

The Zen master, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh died at 96 on January 22. I’m a huge fan of his teachings. Peter and I were in his presence in Amherst, Massachusetts, when he had a daylong teaching about living happily and dying peacefully. Of all his books, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life is one that my daughters and I took to heart. “If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment,” he wrote, “we miss everything.” After Peter died, a friend lent me his copy of No Death, No Fear. Not being able to mark Paul’s copy, I filled a loose-leaf notebook with my notes. “Birth and death are only notions. They are not real.”

When he spoke at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley in 2013, he told the workers, “We have the feeling that we are overwhelmed by information. We don’t need that much information.” By bringing his message of quiet contemplation to those assembled, he said, “Do not try to find the solution with your thinking mind. Nonthinking is the secret of success. And that is why the time when you are not working, that time can be very productive, if we know how to focus on the moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh understood that “If you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.”

Alexandra next to a door that has a painting hanging from it.
Photo by Elissa

Use all available space, even a door, to hang something beautiful.

It is Thich Nhat Hanh who reminds us that happiness is a journey, not a destination. In order for me to freely move on, more mindful of every step, I have tilted my mindset toward focusing on being present. His words encourage me: “Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” We don’t have to do anything to be fully in the moment except breathe. Aristotle knew that our greatest realm of happiness is in quiet contemplation, when we are aligned closest to the gods. How sweet it feels to spend timeless moments, without distractions, when we’re able to explore the mysteries of the unknown uncertainties that are our constant companions on this wondrous journey. “It is a wonderful seasoning of all enjoyments,” Molière wrote, “to think of those we love.”

I’m lighting candles, rereading Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and feeling loved. Thank you!

Love & Live Happy,

Bird tracks in freshly fallen snow
Photo by Elissa

Cherié sent me this quote by Khalil Gibran that I love so much:

“Happiness is like snow—it beautifies everything it covers.”

“We must look at ourselves over and over again in order to learn to love, to discover what has kept our hearts closed, and what it means to allow our hearts to open.”
—Jack Kornfield

Book of the Month

Cokie: A Life Well Lived
By Steven V. Roberts

Alexandra sent me a copy of Cokie when it came out a few weeks ago. I began reading and immediately realized I was in the company of a woman I want to emulate. I met Cokie Roberts at a shower for Alexandra’s twins over 20 years ago, and I knew then that I was in the presence of a truly excellent human being. Her husband of 53 years, also a journalist, wrote a most loving tribute to her extraordinary life and legacy. To know more about her is to love her more. To hear her words and those of family and friends is to know her. Steven ends his epilogue, “What would Cokie do?”