January 2009

Dear Friend

Happy New Year! Happy continued season of love. With the holidays behind us and Valentine’s Day upon us, this is an excellent opportunity for us to spend some thoughtful time to reflect on love. Peter and I are spending the whole month of February to dwell on our deep, tender affection we feel toward each other and our love of family, friends, community, country and the world.

January was a sweet, quiet month. We watched the inauguration of our 44th President of the United States, Barak Obama, at our cottage with our wonderful crew. We were in a room piled high with disgustingly filthy black garbage bags and furniture almost touching the ceiling. The plaster and sawdust were thick in the air. We were in a construction site, but we were grateful to come together for an hour to experience this historic moment in our American history.

The next week there was a huge transformation at the cottage. I was informed by the contractor that the homosite covering and protecting our beautiful refinished floors could be removed and the five doors in the Oprah Room could be hung. This was the most thrilling news we’d had in months at the cottage. Peter and I spent an entire weekend working on the space with masks on to protect our lungs. We cleaned off the furniture and emptied several dozen lawn bags. Don’t ask me what I did with the contents! The dust found a way into all my colorful ballet shoes, into our clean sheets and towels. Fortunately, my friend Debbie at the laundromat cheerfully washed everything that could be put in a washing machine and we wiped everything else clean.

When our cheerful crew arrived at work the next morning at 7 AM they were amazed we could have accomplished what we did. They immediately got to work cleaning and removing the floor protection and put some clean dropcloths down, arranging two chairs facing the television so we could watch our daughter A.B. Stoddard on MSNBC that afternoon. We are a long way from home base, but we are able to camp out in certain zones and this is a huge treat. Through an open door to our bedroom we watched a dramatic sunset with the ribbons of pink enveloping the sky. It’s heartening to see the sun set a little later each day as we have the promise of spring a few short months away.

One of my daughters paid me a compliment, I hope, when she told me I have “oceans of patience.” I assume she implied calmness and self-control as well as the ability to tolerate delay. In no way was she implying long-suffering. It has been a year, this month, since Peter’s injury and knee surgery, and we are still living at the Inn. But while this experience has had its inconvenient moments, it has been a rich, full year, and one we will look back on with a great deal of nostalgia. And the cleaning up of the mess in the Oprah Room, the center of our upstairs, was a huge boost to our spirit-energy and our vision of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Southeastern Connecticut has experienced an unusually harsh winter of one snowstorm after another, frigid temperatures, and ice everywhere on the streets and sidewalks. One day when we walked to the library we realized how impossibly dangerous it was – on the path, on the icy lawn, and the curbs were huge sheets of solid ice. This made us sad because we need a place to work that is quiet, where we can spread out our books and papers, and we’d worked out a wonderful rhythm we depended on, day after day.

When our crew saw us turn back they turned themselves inside out to give us our writing rooms back. Here we are now, settled into our two spaces where we were both seated at our desks that dark snowy day last February, when Peter quietly left his desk to go downstairs to make a phone call so he wouldn’t disturb me as I wrote, and slipped on the stairs. As many of you know, by choice, there is no door to close between our writing rooms. Our desks face each other, and we send each other good energy in our solitude for two. Having this private hideaway, secluded from the presence or view from others, with no intrusions or interruptions, has become a sacred place again. After the crew leaves at 3 PM, the house is completely still. Here we spend long pleasant hours working on our books. This return to our writing rooms has been so peaceful and inspiring that the cold weather outside only makes us feel even cozier to be here, together, back at home.

But something was still missing. For the first time since I can remember, we didn’t have any flowers on our writing desks! We’d been so accustomed to working at the library we forgot we could actually have flowers again. We made up for it immediately when Peter treated us to a delivery of fresh-cut spring flowers – yellow and purple tulips, daffodils and pink lilies. This doesn’t make a small difference, it makes all the difference to our sense of pleasure in the process. I was, I admit, impatient for the glories of spring in colorful bloom, and now we have an inside garden.

One of the benefits of these extensive renovations was to have a research cabinet made for my Zen writing room that holds books and has eight 12” deep drawers to house Peter’s and my research written on 4”x 6” index cards. We use French pastel Bristol cards with the grid because we’ve been doing this for our entire marriage, going to Paris on our anniversary and loading up our suitcases with the wonderful cards. The paper is unusually smooth to my pen, and having all our years of collecting this vast amount of knowledge and information from our reading that we use in our writing in one place, at arms length in most inspiring. This is my high altar, a sacred place, and in time I will have a Roger Mühl painting hung over the wall to complete my decoration.

I want this writing room to be empty in order for me to be full – a thought of the ancient Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, who lived 500 years before Christ was born. The Japanese have a wonderful expression, Space to Breath. In my “oceans of patience” I’m going to wait to hang even one painting. Timing is everything, and it is not the right time. Very few of us even have the opportunity to experience an empty space. I’m going to savor the leanness, the cleanness and the whiteness, (to paraphrase our friend the writer Tom Wolfe), while the demolition and renovation goes on around us.

Good News! The Quotable Card company has published two more of my quotes from my book Time Alive. Please look for them when you are in a gift shop that sells these wonderful square cards. The wonderful store, Anthropologie, will also be spelling my newest book, Things Good Mothers Know along with my other books. This book is appropriate for mothers of all ages because it honors and celebrates the person who brings a child into the world and loves the child completely. Happy Valentine’s Day. Happy month of love.

Love & Live Happy

Have you taken photos at one of Alexandra's events that you'd like to share? If so, you can email them to AStoddardInc@aol.com. Please be sure to include the names of those in the photo and where and when it was taken! We will try to include them on the website in the future.

Alexandra autographing The Gift of A Letter to a dear friend.

Peer admiring the hand marblizing in The Postcard as Art at the cottage

The beautiful Inn has been our home away from home for a year this month, while our home renovations have been in progress.

Cooper Lily has arrived!

Alexandra holding Cooper Lily as a newborn baby in the hospital.


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Grace Note

Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.

Ann Sullivan
for Things Good Mothers Know