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Stoddard's refreshing stories about planting lilies in her small Zen garden or painting the inside of white kitchen cabinets chartreuse illustrate the joy that can come from working with your hands and appreciating an otherwise ordinary task. With vivid chapters highlighting not only the grace of family, friends, and celebration but also the glow of happiness that can be found in solitude, Stoddard reaches into all aspects of our lives and points to the special moments that can help us keep connected with ourselves and others. Finishing her book with the Ten Principles of a Gracious Life, Stoddard gently guides us onto the path of gracious living. A treasury of lively anecdotes laced with heartfelt wisdom, Gracious Living in a New World renews our faith in the simple elegance of life and energizes us to capture this spirit and express it each day wherever we are.
In the village of Stonington, Connecticut, where my husband, Peter, and I have the good fortune to spend precious time in our small but lovely eighteenth-century cottage, everyone buys the daily newspaper at Frankie Keane's "news office." -- No one in Stonington has the newspaper delivered. At seven o'clock Frankie's store bubbles with activity; everyone there has either jogged, bicycled, or walked their dogs over to enjoy the simple pleasure of picking a fresh newspaper off the pile and sharing a few moments with neighbors.
When Peter picks up his New York Times every morning, Frankie has already penciled in "Pete" on the top left-hand corner of the paper. No one calls my husband Pete but Frankie Keane. As Frankie completes his transactions, he closes his cashbox, punctuating the gesture with a contented "Eeah",leans against the counter, crossing his arms, and tells a story about his almost ninety years in Stonington, where his mother owned the store before him.
There are lots of things we can do here by phone, fax," car, or any time -- and energy-saving device, but somehow it's always sweeter to take the time and physical energy to do things ourselves. If we're not in the mood to cook, we don't simply pick up the phone and wait for our meal to be delivered to our door. We go to the fish store at the dock, select a lobster, and ask that it be boiled and shelled. The exchange with the lobsterman is usually accompanied by a friendly argument over whether we will come back for our lobster or wait. Every time we flip a coin to decide.Either way, we like to take our time. Who knows what will happen in the stolen minutes while waiting? A chance to reflect, rest, maybe happen upon some friends, or watch a boat go by....
In Stonington everyone has an easy smile. No one rushes. There's never any need to. Life has a steady, reliable pace. There's always time to smell the roses; we welcome the day and look for opportunities to let life unfold. Emerson wrote, "To find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of golden hours is wisdom. "After we pick up the paper, often we stop off at The Yellow House, a local tea and coffee shop owned by a friend who lives across the street. Water Street swings up to High Street, where the shop is located; hanging out at a table on the café sidewalk is a great way to see the village and all the people coming and going. On the way back to the cottage, we wave to the shopkeepers, sometimes stopping for a brief visit to exchange views with the owners as well as the other customers, who are often our neighbors. In restaurants, we mingle, friends come over to our table, and sometimes we pull up chairs to sit together. The post office is a meeting place where we invariably see friends; here everybody exchanges a few cheerful greetings. The lumberyard is another favorite place to poke around at leisure, where you may discover just the right nail or piece of wood for a home improvement project while running into fellow villagers.
Time softens its edges in the village, becoming a continuous stream of engaging moments where we're more in tune with our senses and the rhythms of nature. There's always time to go to the nursery to buy more grass seed, brew iced tea, pick herbs from the garden, and have an afternoon siesta. The fresh bread, strudels, and cookies are transported warm from the oven of a restaurant a few blocks down the street. I never stock up on anything because I enjoy having certain errands to run each day.
We all take time to drop things off. Our house is on the way to the beach and the Point, so we often receive a handwritten note tossed through our letter slot in our front door. If there's information a neighbor knows you'd be interested in, it will show up in your box or basket. A friend next door takes pictures of us with friends at our front door or at the gate and drops them off later in the week with a one-line note. Once when we were away, Margie photographed our window boxes brimming with geraniums because she thought they looked so pretty. The interactions are never obtrusive; always there is gentle communication.
Every house in this cozy little village reflects the cheerful, unpretentious spirit of the people who live here. Some houses are big, others quite small, like ours. But inside every home one senses a juiciness and love of life. Everyone's window box brims with pansies or geraniums. Houses and picket fences are repainted each spring. Since our town is on a peninsula, many of the homes are set near the water. Our cottage is not on the water, but we enjoy a view of Long Island Sound over a neighbor's garage -- a view that we love climbing up to admire any chance we get. We have regular sunset gatherings at each other's homes all around town. We all take a special pleasure in sharing the wonder of nature in the arms of our community.
People look out for each other here. My neighbors and I think of each other as extended family. We all know each other by name and genuinely care about each other's welfare. When Peter was sick several winters ago, friends brought us homemade soup and preserves, logs for the fire, fresh strawberries, yellow roses, and warm letters. If the season is right, bunches of ripe tomatoes and petunias will appear on our doorstep.We all tend to regard every little errand as an opportunity for a visit. Friends often stop over on their way to do chores. Whether we go... Gracious Living New World. Copyright © by Alexandra Stoddard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted November 23, 2009
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