Mud, My Love Story

Mud: An Immersion in Love
Dear Mud,
            I know it’s been a while, but I spent time with you again last week and I’m reflecting again on why I love you so much.  Call it a yearning to relive the joys of childhood, or living in the moment, but whatever it is, Mud, you bring me joy. 
            Mud, why do I love thee?  It’s simple.  Not only are you cheap and readily available, but you are a creative outlet for when I’m thoughtful and lazy, and a crucial aspect of my productive phases. I love your soft, squishy, smooth, and silky undulation that seeps, fills, covers, and exudes happiness. You are malleable and forgiving, but you have the ability to dry strong and inflexible, an amalgamation of joy.  While your contents aren’t particularly exciting, somehow mixing dirt and water creates a bliss that is so soothing and peaceful—so creative and simple. You are an integral part of my world.
            Mud, I’m not alone—the gourmet world also holds fixation with you.  Mud baths, mud massages, and aromatic mud facials profess therapeutic benefits.  Yes, even Mud is loved gastronomically;  Mississippi Mud is sold on the counter in filling-stations in the South, waiting to be fried up and consumed. My grand-babies, Isa and Zina will be the first to attest that mud tastes good.  People love hot mud, cold mud, and I have no doubt that somebody, somewhere finds you, Mud, sexy. 
            Is all of this reason enough for my mud mania?  Does all this external validation somehow make my love of mud more rational and acceptable? 
            No.  For despite the fact that everyone loves mud at some point in their lives, many have given in to society’s mores and the love of mud has been cleaned out of them. Mud has become a dirty word that, like most good things, research has deemed unsafe. The newest news is that, “…mud is unclean and harbors disease, so glove up.”
            Where has the love for Mud gone? We’ve landscaped and sodded, and there is no longer a corner left in our lives for the exploring a relationship with mud.  We’ve shielded our children with clothing more valuable than discovering the cleansing lessons of filth and prevented ourselves from experiencing yet another basic joy. Heaven forbid…a soiled child!
            Mud, perhaps part of the disdain is the mess that accompanies a relationship with you.  But, deep down we’re all a mess--one gigantic, cloying mess and to admit that and to accept it is hard.  Being vulnerable to feeling messy in exchange for feeling joy is one of life’s great challenges.  What if we were more like children who embrace joy and shrug off messes—both mud and mistakes—simply because messes can always be cleaned up? 
            Mud, you complete me.  I love you most of all because my life is full of messes.  Big ones!  This, from my journal in the spring of 1990: “Today the six-month-old sat by—and then inside—the mud hole with her Daddy while he dug for the broken waterline. Two feet deep, then three, five and then deeper, but eventually success! They discovered the source of the mud!  But, the two of them were eight feet under and over their heads.
            Sometimes my messes are intentional.  From the first to the last, each of my children have been introduced to mud, due to some new mistake (project) I've begun.  My last child wallowed in mud for months as I worked on a new front driveway.  Learning to love mud was the way I embraced the inconvenience of my mess and the joy in the vision of completion.    
            It’s my opinion that each of us should make space in our lives for messes and for clean-up--like an active mudroom.  In lieu of that, my happy place in every home would be a room being actively mudded—in constant repair from some big mess.  Breaking down the bad and progressing to something better is sublime happiness to me. 
             The children at my house have created a puddle in the corner near the back fence, in the shade of an umbrella tree, and they’re feeding it. They call it the muck pit. They beg peelings and cores, and add holly berries, grass clippings and select leaves for garnish. The household silverware is slowly disappearing into its endless depths. When it thirsts, the water pitcher disappears too. They delight in it and so do I.
            Because life is a mess, and it washes. 
Terina Darcey


...bespattered bliss

Once I advised the next-door neighbor child to always seek fun in his chores.

His mom responded, “Sometimes work isn’t fun.” 

I was taken aback! If I can’t make work fun, I stop doing it. I learned early on that work had to be a game. I remember when I took one sunny afternoon to move all bricks in the backyard to make a yellow brick road leading to Oz. When Dad made me put them all back, that was a week-long tear-filled drudge.

Then I learned that work must be fun!

I have to find ways to stave off the boredom in life’s drudgery or I’d be tempted to abandon my toys and go home. I dance with the vacuum, reward bathroom cleaning with M&M’s and after reading about Babe Dedrickson, I strap scrub brushes to my feet.

I challenge my imagination to make work fun and have been doing it for so long—this manipulation of my mind—that it doesn’t have much basis left in reality. I can jaunt off pretty much anywhere and find entertainment in most anything.  

The world today utilizes mud as an integral part of creation and repair. Mud acts as glue, mastic, slurry, and mortar, so it’s easy to look really busy while playing with mud. Could this be the reason for my mud mania?

Dear Journal, Today my fun is mud, wallowing in it with both arms up to the elbows. Blobs have dropped on my feet and are smeared across my chin. My lashes are gray with dust and the white powder inside my nose is not drug induced. Neither is the supreme happiness I get from immersing myself in mud. It’s primitive, simplistic and serenely joyful. Go figure, 

Although I love all kinds of mud, I have a particular fondness for gypsum.  [2] Gypsum has superior qualities.  I prefer its smoothness; no lumps, bumps, no rocks or foreign objects.  Unidentified objects in mud can be potentially disgusting, and although I like intrigue, challenge and unpredictability in most things, I don't like it in my mud.  Why does it make me so happy?  

Why do I spend so much of my time in the mud? Is it a benefit of the wisdom of age—appreciating the here and now—being in the moment—searching for and enjoying the simple things in life?

Nope, it’s even simpler than that. I’m learning like a child the importance of consequences.  I am making myself fix everything I break! And, it’s convenient to use mud to repair my mistakes.

Dear Journal 2002, This season, I'm using mud to repair the neighbor's house.  The four-year old thinks we're fixing it because Mommy broke it.  He doesn't understand that we go there to prevent my starting another project and causing more damage to our own house.  Assuaged only momentarily, T.

As it dries, and things tighten up, I’m a little uncomfortable, but I look at myself in the mirror and see a face split wide open in a smile, and the laugh lines deepening with the pure delight of mud. 

Reality Bite:   Mud facials... is this what they meant?


The French Connection

Voila!  I have found the chocolatier's site!

Almost eight years to the day.  I've hoarded this card in my top desk drawer and once or twice a year I have searched the internet for them.

Last year when the daughter traipsed to Europe, I forgot to send her there!  What was I thinking?

Here it is!  NOW TO SPEED LEARN FRENCH--google translation here we come.

Bon soir mon ami.

Si vois plait?

The French Chocolate Exchange


Ah!  My newest discovery--the French and their chocolate. The French comes in the form of our French exchange student Florian, who brought me chocolates and came to stay three wonderful weeks.  Florian brought a refreshing life-altering view and with him came beautiful epiphanies and extraordinary chocolate.

At the airport pick-up, I was warned by my daughter (in an aside) that I was speaking with a French accent and, "that is bad."  Florian said later, “I understood not a word on ze ride home from ze plane, and I szot, Oh no!”

I may not speak French, but gifts speak the universal language and there was no doubt that Florian understood that his gift of chocolates made me happy. At the top of the box, lay a beautifully molded white chocolate horse with a dark chocolate mane, filled with a creamy milk “sho-co-lat” center, and upon experiencing the first bite I swooned.    I shared the joy, doling out tiny nibbles to all the family until it was gone. When I slapped away hands that wanted more, Florian laughed, “I perceive a sho-co-lat war in zis fam-a-lee.”

By the end of the first week, his humor  sparkled through the quiet more often. He was witty and spontaneous and began to dare to join with the other children in banter. When I asked him flat out to side with me, he averted his eyes, pursed his lips, turned back and then, trying to keep from smiling, he repeated what I want him to say, and then back to the children, he added a rejoinder and they all burst out laughing.

I wonder if all the French are so polite. I am hearing otherwise—rumors of unhappy hosts and French kids relegated to sleeping in cars. We were so blessed to be matched so perfectly. He is so quiet, cautious and polite, even when assigned by his host (the daughter) to call me on the telephone to ask permission to go eat after school.  He stops.  “Jes," he says, "I am ‘ungry,” “But first,” he asks, “ow is your day?”

My only caveat to repeating this experience next is solely because there will never be another like Florian.  But, I am feeling magnanimous as there are so many chocolates, three layers and there is no possible way I can eat all of them in the days stretching out before us before they go bad. They have to go bad right? I’m pragmatic—this experience can’t last forever.

I pass them around the second Sunday after family dinner, as dessert. Everyone gets one, but no! They eat it too quickly, so no more! Children do not savor nor appreciate. The white chocolate balls are a delicate surprise with a thin crust and a creamy, almost impossibly light filling. How can they do that? It seems impossible, just like the miracle of how quickly Florian’s language skills improve under the immersion program. He knows most words and he and I discuss word usage—like I’m an expert in English.

He still doesn’t understand me and says “your muzzer is ze 'ardest, except for your fazzer, 'e is also 'ard, but 'e speaks much less.”

On the second to last night the daughter was called in to translate. “What did you tell Florian, Mom?” He peeked around from behind her questioningly. “I told him I would have you bring the TV upstairs to him. Go do it!” As she installed the kitchen portable in his room, he apologized by saying, “You said you would 'ave her peek up ze TV. I could not see how she 'ow she could peek up ze beeg TV.”

I’m struggling to make the chocolate last. Some of the chocolates have molded dark chocolate cocoa beans set in the top. I’m leaving those until the end to eat with trepidation because I’m sure I won’t like dark chocolate. Yet, I felt the same way about the French experience—certain that there would be whole parts of it that I would be distasteful or I would flat out hate.

My newest favorite is the dark chocolate with the tart orange slice on top. It must have orange in the smooth chocolate truffle filling, but it is so subtle that it only hints to the flavor and the tart acts in such contrast to the sweet that my tongue dances ecstatic circles. The flavor is incredible and so smooth that I am rapidly realizing what apprehension has denied me.  Dark is what chocolate should be and I'm in heaven!

The boy washes his own clothes! And his socks and underwear by hand, “French cloz are frageel, and are not put in drum dryer.” He clears and stacks his own dishes, and the words, “Ow can I 'elp,” are standard at every meal. He knows how to cut straight to my heart as he says, “My frienz are jealous. Zey complain every day zat zey eat fast food or go to restaurants. I say, I’m soree, Dia’s mom cooks every night.” And our schedule for nocturnal eating—sometimes eating as late as eight—while playing havoc with our waistlines—fits perfectly with the French way of life. He says of my cooking, “zer is noszing zat I don’t like.” Maybe I could swap, four for one, (the family) straight across.

It’s nearing the end of the visit and as I watch the chocolate dwindle, I’m sad. Easter comes and goes and the novelty of coloring easter eggs is only one of the joys that are revisited as Florian’s youthful excitement is introduced to the wonders and traditions of America.

The molded half walnut, filled with chocolate and stamped on top with a nut is rolling around forlornly in the bottom of the box and I’ve spent two days searching the internet trying to speed learn French so I can order them again, but this particular glazier has no website. He is unique. These chocolates and this individual are a once in a life-time opportunity that can only be savored now.

And when they are gone, I am realizing that they will have changed me forever. My life has known this joy and I will never be the same.

I’m mourning already.

VOILA!  Eight Years Later!  Almost to the Day.  I have kept the card and I have found their site!  Now to speed learn French!



Boys 2 Men

I take every opportunity to involve my children in physical work. Not only is it one of my important family values, but because more work for them means less work for me. I also have the vision in a far distant future of a daughter-in-law voicing appreciation that my diligence was not all futile.

But for now, my base motivation is sharing the drudgery!

I once thought I could state the problem, "The walk needs shoveled." and that would be it. It would magically be complete. Not long after, I realized that with literal-minded children, there must be further direction, so I added, "Start as soon as you get home."

I defuse the obvious incoming bomb by assuring that the task is universal, "and involve your brother when he gets home."

This will at least assure that some sort of sibling altercation will ensue, and with luck, the anger and frustration will be expended on the icy walk.

When I get home an hour later and see no progress, I advance the process, "Off the computer, back outside, and no coming in until it's finished."

Really, the only way to effect change is to join the masses as an example. It stinks, but it seems to be the only thing that works. It is much easier to do it myself, but that's not an option.

So I join them and begin the subtle manipulation. Chop, chop, chop. I echo their frustration, "I wish we didn't have to do this." Scrape, scrape, as I move to encouragement, "I'm surprised this is coming off this easy. " I express cooperation, "You lift and I think I can slide this under." And I move to competition, "I'm impressed that you have done so much." I expend more enthusiasm, "Way to go! Wow, look what we've done! And as we finish, the ultimate pay-off, "So what do you think this is worth, in monetary terms?"

Unfortunately, I don't expect that employers will expend this kind of energy to extract my level of work ethic, so I will begin the weaning... and someday soon, I hope that the words, "The walk needs work," will be enough.

Meanwhile, I reaffirm the comment I yelled across to the neighbor, "We're not chopping ice, We're raising men."



Oh, the Marathon! What a run. I never let the minor detail that I don’t "run" marathons, keep me from thinking that I'm not completely and totally immersed in the marathon action and participating in one of my own.

My marathon starts before the first racer come in, as I’m stationed, bright and early at the finish line while a mere 26.2 miles away, the race is just beginning. I’m well hydrated, carbo loaded and poised to cheer for the wheelchair racer, who can average 45 miles an hour on the downhill (and I marvel at his pecs). I’m mentally trained for the six hours that I will be standing on my feet at the sidelines, clapping my hands until they ache, shedding tears for every participant that wrenches my heart as they limp, stumble, and sometime crawl over the finish line. I sob out loud as I watch them running past the pain of bloody nipples, torn off toenails, and wrenched ankles, I marvel as these people lose control of minor bodily functions at the end of the race and fall into the arms of volunteers poised there to catch them.

For the most part, I myself have escaped permanent injury, only once falling off the curb and being ambulanced by overeager medics to the race hospital. While I was in the emergency room getting taped up, I could hear the comments of the personnel next door regarding the runner brought in from crashing and hitting the wall at mile 23, “Oh, he coding again, shock him. . .” I did that day, feel a tiny hint of a fraud.

But back out on the bleachers, my voice grows hoarse as I yell my marathon mantra, “Good race, Way to Go, You’re Awesome!” I cheer my heart out for the runner who is walking the last few feet so dehydrated that he is cramping up on one side, so dry that his head is being drawn down toward one shoulder which makes him veer off in the opposite direction and he has to keep overcorrecting as he flops one foot in front of the other, eyes never veering from the finish. Soon, I’m so exhausted that it comes out, “Good to Go, Race to Way!” But, in their state, they probably don’t notice.

Total emotional breakdown and tears at the finish line are not uncommon and I sob in anguish when a racer falls 100 feet short and on his knees, forces his arms to lift his leg manually one at a time to place them in front of himself because if he gets any outside help, even this close to the finish, he will be disqualified.

At one marathon, I sit near the same three women every year, sisters who always have "someone" running and they camp out early, and stay until the last racer drags in—long past the final six hour cutoff. They say the last ones need the encouragement most. I have participated in some thirty odd marathons, anguished and sweating, wondering if I will have the mental stamina and willpower to put mind over body and make it to the finish. I still marvel about the genesis of the sport, about those days when the messenger raced to King Darius of Persia after the Battle of Marathon and then keeled over and died. I want to know who looked down at the body and said, “I think that would make a great sport.”



What is that … and is it edible?

This was a vital question during my first visit to the tropical island of Hawaii as an over-forty child in a land of enchantment—the world of beautiful mysteries, of sights, of smells and flavors.

In over my head and covered in seawater and sand, I soaked in its salt, listened to its rhythm and feasted exultantly on its intrinsic joy. Life is good in Hawaii. It is an alluring place to discover so much food, flowers and happiness.

On the first island, Oahu, we found the attitude of the locals was that all tourists have overstayed their welcome. Like fish, tourists have been there over three days and we stink. The locals are tired, the island roads are worn out and even the coral and sea life in the bays are exhausted. They are all sick to death of tourists.

The tourist bureau has adopted the Vegas tactic of lipsticking pigs and has cloaked the worn out dancehall girl under the hollow shell of glamour and glitz. The night life has also been Vegasized and the police are seen well in force on the Waikiki strip.

On the second island, Maui, the tourists adapt to the islanders instead of the reverse. Their world has only mildly evolved to suit the interlopers, and we’re encouraged to adopt their lifestyle … which is how we truly want it when we vacate our humdrum lives to discover the culture and mystery of elsewhere.
We didn’t even make it to the third island. It was a choice of one last day at the beach or a plane ride. The beach won and the week wound down while we curiously explored the option of selling here and buying there. John Travolta’s house on the beach in Maui just sold last week. It was the same size as our house and it went for three million … so maybe not.

I’d get there and never be able to afford to leave, or even to live in a house. Yet, the thought of being homeless on the beach in Hawaii is more appealing than living in the states during the dregs of winter.

I’m back home and I’m wondering “What is that? And must I eat it?” Somehow it’s just not the same here.

Reality Bite: Laid-back oblivion is a good thing. Feb 2005