AUTHOR | SPEAKER | PHILOSOPHER | DESIGNER
Happy May! I was May Queen one year at the Mary A. Burnham School in Northampton, Massachusetts when I was young. Memories of skipping around a May pole decorated with colorful ribbons floats in my memory. My mother hung little May baskets over our doorknobs when we were children. April showers bring May flowers. Friends in Minnesota received 25” of snow this past month, and the lake near their home is still frozen. Yes, Happy May indeed. Many of us in New England feel like this has been a long winter, but when we turn the corner and April turns into May, the buds sing their hearts out, the grass and buds on the trees and bushes green up, and the flowers sprout from beneath the soil as their eternal promise. Spring has arrived.
Daffodils are the harbinger of spring for me. Our local garden club planted a host of daffodils along the road leading to Stonington Village, bringing cause for celebration when we walk around admiring the beauty. Not only did we make it alive, this season of renewal and rebirth has tremendous power to put a spring in our step, and uplift our spirits.
The Buddhists have an expression of being in “bando” when we’re in between two different situations. This winter’s harshness caused the evergreens in the surrounding window boxes to not be evergreen, but turned brown, dried up and are dead. Visual depression. Removing them was the easy part. The transition from winter greens to hot pink geraniums that have been cultivated in a greenhouse are delicate and can’t be put into the elements prematurely without risk of frost and failure. “Empty and be full.” This is an exercise in patience. Waiting for the scientifically proven time to plant the geraniums is required and is usually just before Memorial Day.
As the blue hydrangea garden in the back of the cottage shows buds, the new life is encouraging. I fool the eye and spirit by having lush Nikko blue hydrangea plants inside to have the garden effect and as a beautiful reminder of what is going to unfold by the peak of July 4th weekend when we have our annual family reunion. While I’m in “bando,” I’m happy, and we’re moving in the right direction, toward more light, longer days, the unfolding of dazzling beauty from the good earth, and the joy of anticipating leisurely hours of living in love with family and friends.
Toward the end of April we had a family reunion in Chevy Chase where I was able to watch granddaughter Lily play lacrosse and soccer and Nicholas plat basketball. Anna was accepted at a writing program at Barnard College this summer, having taken a writing course in place of basketball. How wonderful to be part of the lives of interesting, engaged young people who are so full of enthusiasm and who are making such a difference in their lives.
While Nicholas was playing golf, we had a “Girls Day,” having lunch in Georgetown on the water before walking to the Lincoln Memorial in glorious sunshine with all sorts of flowering trees, including the tail end of the Cherry blossoms. We were blessed with wonderful weather making our long walks exhilarating. We hope Cooper who is nine and in fourth grade will remember her visit to see Honest Abe in his stately marble chair.
Outside was a group of students who were squealing happy, dressed in blue and white and singing in front of the reflection pond with the obelisk gently undulating in the water. We sat on the warm steps soaking in the sights, listening to show tunes, and learned the group was from North Carolina and came to volunteer, making several thousand peanut butter sandwiches to distribute to the shelters and soup kitchens.
Being there with my two daughters and three granddaughters, experiencing the history-declaring Abraham Lincoln -- my favorite American President, brought me great joy. I can’t imagine any place I would have rather been to celebrate spring, family and life.
As we were thriving in the traditions of Washington DC’s peak tourist attractions, we were aware that Barbara Bush’s funeral was taking place in an Episcopal cathedral in Houston, Texas. I’d read that she was not going to prolong life and within hours she had died, surrounded by her family. Mrs. Trump attended the funeral. I learned afterwards that as an act of pure grace she brought two people who worked at the White House and were close to the Bush seniors to be able to attend the service, and see Herbert Walker Bush. How fortunate I was to be enjoying my own family so thoroughly as family, friends and political leaders paid their respects to a great lady.
My daughters and I saw a moment on television when her devoted husband of 73 years broke down. The New York Times has a photograph of George H.W. Bush and Barbara taken in 2012; he was grinning and Barbara, wearing her iconic faux pearls, had an arm on his shoulder. The headline in the paper read, “Can You Get Ill From a Broken Heart?” The 41st president landed in the hospital just a day after the funeral. Apparently he had an infection that flared, and his being frail was a factor that contributed to the hospitalization.
I’m grateful I accompanied my husband Peter to visit the Bushes at their Vice President’s home as well as the White House. It was in an earlier time when I forgot to bring my passport and I was able to use my book Daring to Be Yourself as identification, personalized to the President and first Lady of the United States. Barbara Bush and I were both Doubleday editors at the same time when Jacqueline Onassis was an editor, and we enjoyed comparing notes. Barbara was as down to earth as can be and is a good example of being true to her essence throughout her life. Once when she was giving advice on marriage, she wisely exclaimed that the way to have a happy marriage is to marry the right person. Rarely do we observe two people who were allies, confidantes and anchors to their family who were so empathetic and worked so well together in loving support. As she transitioned into her next adventure, she made clear that she was not afraid of death because of her deep faith in a loving God.
After a stimulating, happy visit with our family I went to New York City and met with a literary agent I’d known since the 80’s, who agreed to meet with me. I cannot report anything definitive that came out of our discussion because I’m still thinking through everything that Marianne said. We both threw a lot of ideas out in the air and I felt deeply grateful she was kind enough to step in and see if she could help me get unstuck.
Marianne has read on my newsletter about the book I’m writing about my heroes. She asked me to tell her about my book. “I think I know who you want to write about Alexandra. Why don’t you write about Aristotle, and Peter, and Carl?” We laughed but this clearly wasn’t a laughing matter. I felt understood. I felt I’d been given a green light to dip my pen into a pot of colorful ink and open my heart, writing about my favorite heroes. Marianne then added a zinger—the title of your new book is “Men in My Life.” I’m thrilled. My book of thirty-one essays will be useful in other ways. As a friend Anne told me over the telephone last night, once someone presents us with a brilliant idea, it seems so right, so obvious, so perfect.
I now have a blank canvas to paint my picture. Writing about heroes is elevating. I feel uplifted as though I’m being elevated into another magnificent realm, one with kindness, caring, pure crystal air, enchanted beauty and profound goodness. A friend asked me what I learned from my heroes? Why do I love them so much? Their greatness lies in the mystery of grace. I love these human souls—known to me in different ways. Individually their teachings helped me to make wiser choices about how I want to live my life. Collectively, these favorite men, from Ancient Greece to contemporary Stonington seaside village, have shaped the contours of my thought and actions; they have taught me a great deal of what I know and love.
I love to give back, in whatever measure I can, a portion of all they have contributed to my happiness, my hunger to learn, to seek what is true, good and beautiful, and to be able to be useful to others through the enormously generous gifts I’ve received from these great characters.
When I was isolated in my small writing room with a tiny desk facing a garden (with a peach colored Camelia bush) in Paris, I envisioned how I would renovate Peter’s and my writing rooms when I returned to the cottage. When we remove ourselves from our intimate, immediate environment, we’re free to reconsider the way things were, and how we can see things in a new, better light Upon returning, I came to the logical pragmatic conclusion that Peter’s library should be thought of in a new light, and that I should intertwine the books we shared in common. I’ve decided to edit half the books from our writing rooms and put the ones I don’t give away on the third floor. This will be a slow process of deciding what to keep, and what to let go, to make more room. I want to loosen things up and give the books more space to breathe. By careful selection I’ll be able to bring the library alive. I’m repainting the back of the bookcases a more vibrant blue, and painting wood windowpane mirrors white. By rearranging the books, and memorabilia, I’m thinking through my current work. A friend is doing the same sort of sifting through her possessions in storage, saying its like Christmas every day. I certainly bump into random treasures of all shapes, and when humpty dumpty gets back into some semblance of order, I’ll be back off onto a new project. But for now, as I work on my book, this reorganization of my research and our library is exceedingly stimulating and rewarding.
My friend Amy and I met the end of April to discuss a retreat she’s been hosting for her company Compass Group, the largest food company in the world. In 2017 Compass arranged for a waste awareness day and they just had their second one on April 27th. Sustainability is Amy’s main focus. I’m pleased she has asked me to lead a seminar for her sustainability team. Compass Group is committed to reduce waste by 25% by 2020. We can all be more aware and conscious in our personal habits, sensitive to the reality that one person in seven is food challenged. Waste not is a wise, wonderful way to value our own nutrition. Compass puts flavor first. As human animals, we are fortunate to nourish ourselves from the bounties of the good earth.
Happy May. Soak in all the beauty of the flowers, flowering trees, and the glorious sunrises and sunsets.
There’s much more I want to share with you, but I must close in order not to run out of space. Marianne suggested we have a larger font on the website! That’s a grace note!
Love & Live Happy
Make way for the geraniums!
Happy days, May 2001
The colors of spring!
My hero Peter, amongst the roses
Daffodils .. spring is here!
The beauty of tulips
Roger Muhl, one of my heroes
Peter and Alexandra, April 2014
Love & Live Happy
Mark your calendars!!
Save the Date!!
Alexandra will be hosting a Happiness Retreat at the Inn at Stonington on November 7th and 8th! (More details to follow.) (See Event Page)
I'm seeing some buds now .... looking forward to the arrival of my magical hydrangea!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does.
~~ Margaret Mead