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Comfort Read: Choosing happiness at home

Re-reading the books of lifestyle guru Alexandra Stoddard brings a touch of beauty.

Editor’s note: As many of us shelter at home, Tampa Bay Times staffers write about what they’re reading to escape. Kathy Saunders is the editor of Bay magazine.

In 1998 I flew to New York City to interview Alexandra Stoddard, an interior designer and author. She was a lifestyle guru before they were a thing. She invited me and my husband, Joe, to her Park Avenue apartment for afternoon tea. At the time, she described herself as an expert on beauty. In fact, she said, we’re all experts about what makes our own lives and homes beautiful.

Figuring this was a good time to find some beauty in my circumstances and my surroundings, I started to re-read some of her books a couple of weeks ago. To date, she has published 28 books with titles such as Living a Beautiful Life, Choosing Happiness, Things I Want My Daughters to Know and You Are Your Choices. Living these days in Stonington Village, Conn., she continued to travel for lectures and events until the pandemic began to close in.

The self-described pioneer of the “Happiness Movement,” Stoddard used to write all of her books on note paper. Now she has a charming website (alexandrastoddard.com) with newsletters and musings from her quarantine cottage. I’ve spent plenty of time reading her updates and trying to apply them to my situation. She announced in her May 1 post that one of her daughters, Brooke, her husband, Tony, and granddaughter Cooper would be moving in with her in Connecticut for the remainder of the quarantine.

With my own grown children back home, I can relate to some of the changes in her routine. In her book, The Art of the Possible: The Path From Perfectionism to Balance and Freedom, she reminds us that perfectionism causes anxiety. I am constantly reminding myself that I don’t need more stress in my life right now and that I can accept her advice to “be willing to confront reality, accepting what we can do and not pining for what is not in our stars.” Learning to live in the moment with uncertainty, having no travel plans and missing our close friends and family members has been my personal path to coping with COVID-19.

I’ve already been working hard to do each mundane chore with care. I set the table every night for dinner. I fold and iron clothes as if we were going to a party, and I make personal phone calls to those I love, rather than just sending texts. I’ve mailed birthday cards and notes. And, I took the dog-proofing covers off my sofa so that we could enjoy our surroundings and our pets and not worry about protecting everything from the wear of daily living.

As Stoddard suggests, “There are few things as effective in bringing us back to ourselves and to our connection to life and creativity as doing something with our own hands.” Working with our hands, she says, “is the antidote for our modern sense of disconnectedness, fragmentation, and our feeling of being cut off from creation.”

That one sentence, which she penned in 1996, seems even more pertinent today.

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