promise of happiness (book review)

Friends, I have a piece of fiction to review for you today. And yeah I know this is posting on Sunday and I claim to plan book reviews for Saturdays, but, well, these days I do what I want. Let’s proceed.

A couple of weeks ago I craved a bit of summertime distraction served up on paper with ink, not electronics. Something I could drag out to the deck or even into the pool should the mood strike, as it often does. A quick trip to the Apartment book shelves produced exactly such a treasure, and one with an attractive jacket to boot.

 

http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-promise-of-happiness-9781596913790/
Promise of Happiness by Justin Cartwright, Bloomsbury

Truth? I narrowed down my choices that day based first on titles and plot summaries then on book jackets. Because, as noted above, I do what I want. It’s a nice design, right? That old admonition says to not judge a book by its cover; it says nothing of initially selecting the book. Let’s never be ashamed of loving book art for the sake of book art.

Spoiler Alert: This design hints at stained glass, which plays an important role in the saga contained inside.

Okay. Proceeding.

********************

The Promise of Happiness by Justin Cartwright was published in 2005 to plenty of acclaim, though at that time I was deaf to it. In fact, how this novel landed on our Apartment book shelves I cannot even remember, but I am glad to have somehow received it and now am passing the book along to my friend Kate.

This book proved to be a nice, deep, cool-water summertime read. Not too difficult, not too scandalous, but still very adult. It immediately reminded me of a kinder, gentler Goldfinch because of the art discussions and partial location in New York City but without the pervasive depravity. Maybe just the hint of it. Neither sweeping epic nor paralyzing still life, The Promise of Happiness manages to span several decades while immersing the reader in moment after believable, relatable, seductive moment. The writing has weight and lightness all at once. An absolutely wonderful combination. It earns five of five stars if you appreciate language and prose as much as or more than a story worth recapping. Still, the story itself is pretty great. It’s a dressed up portrait of a snapshot, if that’s possible. A well told explanation of a moment in time for one English family, including just the right amount of historical flashbacks, for context. 

I thoroughly enjoyed all of it. The characters, the meandering paths they take toward and away from each other, the primarily English seaside setting, the tasteful dabs of sex and scandal, the elastic timeline, all of it was fun to read. But what I loved most was the writing itself and the depth of human understanding it serves up. Cartwright spent a great deal of energy exploring deep layers of thought and introspection for each of the characters, the members of the Judd family. This end product was thought-provoking and comforting.

Cartwright trades narrative frequently and smoothly, dancing all over that elastic timeline with changing voices (the story belongs to the entire Judd family, not just one member), blending action and memory even within the same paragraph without sounding unnatural. It is a pleasure to read. He also achieves seamlessly what so many writers struggle to do, often with stilted effect: He tells what is happening and pairs it with the deeper meaning. He offers the action along with the echo. And it never feels forced. It is, page after page, really satisfying to read:

She feels a rush of affection for her mother, who sat in the court dutifully and visited that hellhole of a prison, and suffered as she waited in the contact reception with people so strange to her they might really have come from another universe. Their bodies twisted with agony. And now she’s planning the wedding. The flowers are going to perfume what has gone before. 

Do you ever read a story and choose a favorite character, or feel that the author is urging you to choose a certain one as your favorite? I do, and I did with this book too. But the story evolved in surprising ways and I wound up changing my opinions by the end. In fact at a certain point I had to suspend all kinds of judgements. Very much like in real life. Anyway. The characters are well constructed, mightily nourished by life experiences, and so real I could smell their perfume or guess their clothing by about midway through the book. Good stuff. 

Let’s mention once more stained glass art as an engine for the story. It provides both the backdrop and the catalyst for so much, first of all; but it also becomes a vivid metaphor for the Judd family’s history: Brokenness, light, imitation, strength and fragility, the quality of change with the passage of time, prophecy fulfilled, hope justified, all of it. Art as a spiritual experience and family life as a human experience are the same thing here.

And then there is, as always, the power of the mind:

And now, because there is, as she has discovered, only a light mist settled between the real and the imagined, she is free at last. She’s wearing her spotted shorts, and it’s this sentimental detail that is so convincing.

I had never heard of Justin Cartwright before reading The Promise of Happiness, but after enjoying his writing style so much I will now be looking for more of his work. Really nice, friends. I hope you find this and give it some attention. If you do, let’s chat! I have so much to think-out-loud-about regarding the art metaphor and the complicated nature of a long-term marriage, keeping a family, etcetera. 

You know, life.

Thanks as always for stopping by, friends! What’s on your night stand lately? Or what do you drag outside to the pool?

“Dad doesn’t want to be happy, Soph.
There are some people who don’t believe
in the promise of happiness.”
~Charlie Judd in The Promise of Happiness,
Justin Carwright
XOXOXOXO

 

we come together cause opposites attract

We have all heard that opposites attract. If you are friends of mine and my husband’s in real life, then this idea has probably occurred to you about us as a couple. In many ways he and I are not just a little different on some points but are in fact polar opposites; and while this brews up occasional conflict, big picture our union is well harmonized. A good blend of complimentary traits and strengths. And as love stories go, the conflict between us tends to evolve into really funny stories for the ages. At least we think so.

Today is our fifteenth wedding anniversary, so to celebrate we have compiled a list of exactly that many ways we might as well come from different planets. All of these entries are sanctioned by my wonderful guy, lest you worry. : )

2010 us in tampa
Tampa, Florida, 2010, the night of the mariachi band incident. See below.

Fifteen ways Handsome and I are exact opposites:

  1. One of us is mathematically minded and the other literary, yet both of us have creative streaks.
  2. Books versus movies. (That age-old conversation about weak movies made from excellent novels has fueled much eye rolling and deep-breathing between us.)
  3. One of us is a runner. One of us thinks heavy weights is the way to go. Pretty sure you can solve this mystery.
  4. One of us is considered OCD about most stuff in life. One of us is not. You guess which is which.
  5. One of us LOOOOOVVVES mariachi bands so much. And then one of us breaks out in hives when they approach our table even if it is at a romantic anniversary dinner on the ocean at sunset and his wife is so happy about it she is giggling and requesting songs. Then the one who breaks out in hives tells the “horrible” mariachi band story for years to come to anyone who will listen, as if his wife had tried to poison his food that night. And they never get to listen to a mariachi band again. Ever.
  6. Speaking of restaurants, one of us is keen to try new places and explore a fair amount while the other is happier sticking with known commodities. Or eating at home, even. Happily, the known commodities are all excellent, and the open-minded diner also loves to cook.
  7. One of us could happily eat red meat every day, in fact he feels best when he does; the other of us could thrive on fruits and veggies, especially if eggs are available here and there. Luckily she has a garden and chickens.
  8. She is a brainstorming, daydreaming planner who sometimes has trouble getting projects off the ground, while he is a fiercely action-oriented problem solver. He just dives in and gets it done, sometimes without even bothering to measure, which is interesting because if you are taking notes you might wonder how this works with him being OCD. He is even willing to invest in luxuries if they solve problems. Still, he always budgets and does scrutinous cost analysis. Always. And while she doesn’t always budget, she also doesn’t spend much beyond necessities. See? Complimentary.
  9. Along these lines, one of us tends to gives strongly worded advice and offer action-oriented solutions while the other usually feels led to be a listener or sounding board for friends. Hopefully, and we really mean this, both approaches can be useful from time to time. We love our friends so much and want everyone to be happy.
  10. Our marriage has a love-hate relationship with strong fragrance which extends to perfume, herbs, cooking spices, and cleaning products.
  11. We have almost as many books as we do toys from childhood. Again, you guess who collects what. I should mention here that we both love random, eccentric arts and crafts and that filling our home with wild color has been a fantastic joint effort.
  12. When we go to the movies, a rare treat these days because our own TV room is supremely comfortable, one of us feels deeply that the previews and even the Dolby surround sound teaser are important parts of the theater experience. They drum up excitement and make the buttered popcorn taste better. One of us think those twenty minutes are wasted. “Let’s get to the main feature, already!” (In recent months our views have migrated to center on this.)
  13. Paper versus electronics. Electronics versus paper. This particular debate makes its way to everything in modern life. #amiright Honestly the amount of spiral notebooks I have teetering on shelves throughout the farm is a little embarrassing. He has given up on trying to convert me to digital word documents. Wait a minute. Babe. Is that why you encourage me to blog??
  14. In traffic, one of us is like a shark in that he must constantly be moving, even if it means taking an alternate route. He cannot stand to sit and will rarely abide driving behind another vehicle. His wife is happy waiting and also doesn’t mind driving at the back of a line of cars. No problemo, really. Maybe a mariachi band will wander by.
  15. Reese’s versus Almond Joy. Kind of sums it all up.

I love you, babe. I love you so much. You are handsome of course but also just an amazing man. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you better and better each of these fifteen years. Thank you for loving me so well, for putting up with my oddities, for making me feel pretty great about stuff in general, and also for raising the bar in so many ways. I believe we are an excellent match and that life is better together. I hope you do too. Always Now and Forever. xoxo

Okay friends, spill it! Tell me some way that you and your One True Love are polar opposites. I would love to hear!!

XOXOXOXO

 

 

kicking off anniversary stay-cation 2016

Hello friends! The Man and I are stay-cation-ing this week!! It’s our wedding anniversary again, fifteen years on Thursday, and to celebrate we are spending day after day in a mix of local exploration and indulging in the farm as a HOME-tel. : )) The best of both worlds, we like to think. The food is so good. The weather is ideal. And precious few business obligations are breaking up this long stretch of freedom.

deck blooms

We are keeping in close touch with my family and visiting Grandpa Stubbs in the hospital, and thankfully recent turns have been really positive. He is doing so much better. Many thanks to those of you who have sent sweet notes and promised to pray. xoxo

Saturday morning I spent a couple of hours alone in the kitchen, cleaning out the fridge and just sort of reordering, hard-boiling, and pre-chopping everything for our week ahead. I drank copious of amounts of very dark coffee with only heated half and half, no sugar. The prep work created quite a heap of scraps for the chickens and geese. They were duly appreciative, and I came inside with eleven hot, heavy, pastel-shelled eggs.

coffee and chicken bowl

While working slowly and steadily I indulged in a few Ted talks, and this one in particular held my attention. It’s about the super-conscious, which is different than my normal appetite for matters of the sub-conscious. Really interesting. The lecture holds some nice tandems with the Law of Attraction, Biblical concepts, and my personal philosophies in general. Very good listen if you are so inclined.

bw weedeating with comet and blue sky

Handsome spent that slice of time outdoors, mowing with his new (used) John Deere and weed-eating every straight edge on the farm. Also some curved ones. He also replaced the pump on our swimming pool and cleaned it to a perfect Caribbean blue. These easy Saturday morning tasks helped us get on the right foot for stay-cation.

Tomorrow I get to see my sports doctor again. Hopefully he can help me with some frustrating knee pain and ankle swelling and get me on a path to higher mileage, whether that includes marathon training (starts theoretically next Monday!!) or just more running. Fingers crossed.

ankle snap

How are you? What’s going on in your world? Are you guarding your heart from the ugliest and worst but still finding ways to engage the world and embrace all of our fractured places? I am privately making a conscious effort to not see the sarcasm and the bitterness all over social media, only to seek information and cultivate compassion. Peace has to be more than a mood, right? More than an idea or a stock image? But still it all begins with our thoughts. And it all is fueled by what we allow our eyes to see.

Okay. I am on to date night. One of many this week. Wishing you so much Love and a thousand wishes granted.

XOXOXOXO

swallow the moon plus a quick & brilliant garden idea for you

How are you, you fine person of a people? At this moment I am sitting comfortably in a our very chilly concrete-floor T.V. room, in the happy company of Handsome (he is home early, feeling a bit sickly) and Klaus, the World’s Best Pup.

When the weeks pass by without much blogging, perhaps it seems like I have nothing to say or nothing is happening. In my life lately, neither is true.

zinnias & honeybees

I have so much to say that the words swim violently in my head. To relieve the pressure I use a dictation app on my iPhone and email myself scattered, un-punctuated, stream-of-consciousness essays. These are on all sorts of topics. I do this mostly while running an easy pace on the treadmill or while carrying baskets of laundry upstairs or down. It’s messy but offers some relief.

As for how much is happening, the answer is so much that often the minute I realize “Hey this is a great thing to blog about,” that moment is passed and we are on to the next wonderful, beautiful moment.

I’m not complaining. Life is full to bursting with beauty, activity, and good vibrations. Better to fully Carpe the Diems than to stop that delicious flow in order to braid together a few sentences, right?

Except, of course, there’s that well-worn quote…

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. ~Anais Nin

In lieu of writing I try to thrust onto the web an Instagram image here and there, or some less artful but more day-in-the-life Snap Chat moments. This is all lots of fun, but I crave to write. And I am slowly but surely whittling down my stack of projects and commitments so that more passionate domesticity, hobby farming, and writing can once again take center stage.

Ted Talks are big in my life these days. How about you? I have this great little blue tooth speaker that can travel with me all over the house, so I can listen to a string of lectures while cleaning the kitchen, prepping food, ironing Handsome’s shirts, sweeping and mopping, anything like that. Even goofing around in the gym has proven to be a great background activity for filling my brain with smart people’s words and ideas. Lifelong learning, you know. Three cheers for that!

The gardens. My gosh. Oklahoma’s heat, humidity, and generous rainfall have been pure luxury for our flowers and edibles! I am in heaven here. My tomato vines are reaching in tall, rib-opening poses toward the sky, breathing deeply and calmly ignoring the protective cages we built around them. So far they are only bearing hard, green fruit, but there are hundreds of them. Literally hundreds. One of these days I will walk downhill and need a wheel barrow to collect my treasure.

I got my wish for abundant flowers this year too, and because I am pretty sure God loves me He has even allowed me a gluttonous supply of basil. I am spoiled.

Okay, some photos and short stories before we close up for tonight.

We recently hosted our first sunset yoga at the farm! Already looking forward to more. Klaus agrees.
We recently hosted our first sunset yoga at the farm! Five women total, not bad for a first try and little notice. Klaus is already looking forward to more. (If you are local and interested in joining us, drop me a line!)
Favorite breakfast lately! Plain quick oats stirred together with a runny egg or two, maybe some skim cheese. Delicious and zero sugar spike. Try it.
Favorite breakfast lately: Plain quick oats stirred together with a runny egg or two, maybe some skim cheese. Delicious and zero sugar spike. Try it.
Living on a farm, shiny floors do not happen every single day. So when they do, I celebrate. No shame.
Living on a farm, shiny floors do not happen every single day. So when they do, I celebrate. No shame.
Maddie's edible garden is doing so great! Here she is checking her potato basket. Love this girl.
Maddie’s edible garden is doing so great! Here she is checking her potato basket. Love this girl.
Our tomato vines are sky high and our pond is overflowing. Good stuff.
Our tomato vines are sky high and our pond is overflowing. Good stuff.
You guys. It's just a stock tank full of flowers. But it's also a small, happy dream come true and lately one of my favorite views on the farm.
You guys. It’s just a stock tank full of flowers. But it’s also a small, happy dream come true and lately one of my favorite views on the farm. I like to layout and read at that end of the pool deck, right next to this abundance.
We actually ventured away from the farm on a weeknight this week and managed to catch this gorgeous sunset over the downtown Oklahoma City skyline.
We actually ventured away from the farm on a weeknight recently (rare) and managed to catch this gorgeous sunset over the downtown Oklahoma City skyline.

Okay, time for this brilliant cheap gardening idea:

You can multiply your tomato plant supply for FREE. Just save the longest, thickest suckers when you do normal pruning. Root them in a glass of water and once the white fleshy root threads appear, plant the shoots in soil. BAM. More plants. I have “Herbsnthings” from Instagram to thank for this idea. So excited to have a staggered harvest!

tomato rooting snap

Thanks as always for checking in. A thousand other things are happening here. Work stuff. Goals stuff. Healthy stuff. Family stuff. Just like you.

We all are just trying to swallow the moon whole and shine from the inside out.

XOXOXOXO

summertime, pleasure seeking, and you matter so much

We have arrived at the exact point of summertime where I know the season is here to stay and therefore I am terrified it is almost over. I find myself trying to slow the moments and squeeze more life out of every drop given to us.

The gardens are gaining confidence. The animals are fully shed and fat and happy. Our fresh egg supply is luxurious, as are the basil plants and lemon verbena. We rise early to work hard at our respective jobs then enjoy unheard of relaxation near or in the pool almost every afternoon, only to retreat into the air-conditioned house for summery meals and sometimes movies or board games; then we climb upstairs and fall into the deepest sleep you can imagine. Smooth, cold cotton bed sheets feel like heaven after a hot day and a good, scrubby shower.

pink zinnia with bumble bee june 2016

The days are spent with rhythm and routine and are lovely over and over again. Every little ritual carries a heavy volume of meaning, too.

One afternoon recently Maddie wondered aloud whether the bees know how important they are. We had been discussing the pollination drama, and she was quiet for a long time before posing this question. That thought stayed with me for hours, and for weeks actually. The bees work so hard, are so constantly industrious, and yet so small and easily missed individually. Most bees will ignore you flatly if they are left free to work. Fuzzy little noses to their sweet little grindstones.

Maddie’s thoughtful question got me wondering also whether the bees find as much pleasure in the world as we do, to balance all that industry. Then I wonder whether the reason we seek so much pleasure is that we are sentient creatures acutely aware of problems and awful possibilities, causing us to need the respite, or are we actually created with an appetite for pleasure so that God can see us happy?

Sometimes I feel guilty for having so much to enjoy day-to-day. But a simple thing has helped ease this: I am never happier than when I see my children happy. I want both of them, with or without me, to find a long view of the world, of course, and to be on good, safe, responsible paths; and at the same time I want both of them to constantly forage the Universe for pleasures big and small, of every variety. I wish for them heavy appetites for soulful nourishment and pleasure-seeking. I want them to dwell as long as possible in the lushness and bright, colorful, brimming-with-life energy of summertime. Whatever that means to each of them privately.

I wonder along with Maddie whether the bees know how important they are, as small as they are. And I wonder how many people know how important they are, and how totally okay it is to seek pleasure in life. I hope so.

“Waste not thy liberty.”
XOXOXOXO