Tag Archives: summer

The Wonders of Mud

The Wonders of Mud

I lay down my copy of Discover magazine, go outside and I kick off my lime green Crocs. I’m not tiptoeing through the tulips, but flat footing it into my weed-choked gardens. My feet break through the pale, sun-warmed upper crust to sink into the moist lower layers. No wonder dirt is good for you—it’s the color of dark chocolate.

I’ve always known that most of my gardening friends are “laid-back.” I never knew the reason why until today. Discover magazine reports that according to a new study a harmless soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae), causes serotonin to be released in the brain. The study (“Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al. Originally published in Neuroscience.) indicates that inhaling M. vaccae while working in the garden, or walking, can create a better mood and lighten depression much the way Prozac does.

This makes me, as a children’s writer, think back to making mud pies with my friends and siblings. Was it M. vaccae working on our brains that made those times so memorable and fun? I loved mixing up the dirt and water in a metal washtub we had. Then reaching into the cool mixture, we’d grab handfuls. And Oh! How satisfying it was—the feel of slapping a patty of soft mud from hand to hand, shaping it in the small curve of a palm—cool, rounded, perfect mud. Then we’d slam it down—splat!—on top of our makeshift kitchen counter (two boards over a stone barbecue pit Dad had built in the backyard).

It wasn’t easy to get them perfectly shaped. Often you had to add just a pinch or two more dirt to get the right consistency to hold the burger-shaped patties together. Sometimes we’d decorate with sprigs of grass, a flower, or something plucked from Mom’s garden.

We never made any money selling our mud pies, or our tree seeds (locust pods), or lemonade, for that matter. It wasn’t for trying. We would hold up signs and wave at the cars that went by our cardboard box-and-plank storefronts. Mostly what we collected were honks from the neighbors, and smiles as others waved back at us.

When the weather was really hot, we’d simply step into the cool mud in the washtub and began squishing it up through our toes. It was divine. (And not unlike the joy I felt many years later stomping grapes when my husband and I made our own wine.)

Much of the mud stayed between our toes, despite my mother’s earnest attempts at scrubbing us until we shined. There were four of us. And the minute she finished bathing one and started on another, the clean one would run outside in pajamas to jump about barefoot under the evening sky. Somehow, we always managed to go to bed with dirty toes.

It didn’t kill us. In fact, my siblings and I have been extraordinarily healthy. So today, as I bend to weed around my plants, I am again barefoot. I breathe in deeply, trying to get a big dose of M. vaccae. My feet have sunk in the cool earth; the dark, rich dirt has squeezed up through my toes. I am happy.

(Photo of feet c/o sarah-sunshinedaydream.blogspot.com)

Be happy, go outside!

Shutta

UH-OH! (It’s coming April 14th . . .)

UH-OH! (It’s coming April 14th . . .)

coverUhOh

 

Uh-Oh! illustrated by the hugely talented Patrice Barton (published by Alfred A. Knopf) will be released on April 14th. The first early reviews are starting to come out. And Kirkus Reviews (Thank you!)  says: “Though there are as many ‘Uh-oh’ books out there as there are fishies in the sea, this petite charmer is a fine addition to the beach-time shelf.” And I love what they have to say about Patrice’s illustrations:  “Barton’s pencil sketches give the storytelling its heart, her two heroes perpetually wide-eyed, and the occasional jolt of realism . . . is as bracing as the sea air.”

 

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MINE! was also illustrated by Patrice. I am so pleased to, soon, have another book out with this wonderful artist. Just look at that cover! You can pre-order now, and the book should appear in bookstores on April 14th.

 

Happy dancing,

Shutta

Swept Along the Storytrail: Dawes Arboretum

Swept Along the Storytrail: Dawes Arboretum

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I really need to post about the wonderful experience I had at the Dawes Arboretum in May. This was a first for me—having one of my books chosen as the title used in a storytrail.  That is, the book was reproduced in two-page spreads (with permissions) on vinyl signs that were then placed along a quarter mile trail that wound through the Arboretum. Families and kids walk the trail and read the book as they go (May through October). What a fantastic  idea!!! The program combines reading with exercise and the great outdoors—what more could anyone want? (Perhaps another 1600 acres of beautiful grounds—which the Dawes has.)

BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE page (Knopf) was the title chosen as it deals with night-time animals in the woods. And on Saturday, May 18th, an opening reception was held at which I spoke. It drizzled—still, families came out with umbrellas and wearing rain boots. I spoke about writing BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE and then we walked the trail as a group and I read the book. It was so much fun!

As I finished reading each sign the kids raced to the next one—impatiently waiting for the adults to catch up so we could read. (You can see a second sign in the distance in the photo above.) One family included a father who signed for his child. So as I read, he signed and the whole audience had this added experience. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There was so much enthusiasm in the racing kids, the laughing adults, the beautiful surroundings—the trail loops along the top of rolling hills from which one can see for miles over a valley.

The Dawes Arboretum is about 35 miles east of Columbus, Ohio in rolling river valley country. The azaleas were in bloom. And with the spring rains, the world was deeply green.

BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE will grace the storytrail for the summer as kids walk and read. The museum in the Arboretum will sell my book and I will continue to cherish the wonderful memory of such an unusual, fun, and healthy book event!

I hope other parks, libraries with trails and arboretums will take notice. This was a fun, innovative program and easily replicable by other institutions.

 

Here’s to reading!

Shutta

Link to Dawes Arboretum

Link to StoryTrail info