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Man on Terrace with Wine by Miles David Moore

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 90 pgs.
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Man on Terrace with Wine by Miles David Moore reads like the title sounds — a selection of poetic ruminations on life. But these poems are never far from humor or pop culture. Moore has several poems that will make readers stop for a moment to consider — what would it be like if Elvis were in heaven and Hitler was in hell? There are complex emotions explored and the section titles should give you some inclination of what is on the mind of the man sitting on that terrace with win — “It Serves You Right,” “There’s No Crying in Baseball,” and “To Live Completely and a Thousandfold.”

In the first section, Moore’s poems reflect on the idea of “perception,” like what we perceive to be true. A prime example of this is in “A Taste to Die For,” after a quote about Americans’ love for soda and Afghanis love for death. The poem deftly points out, “The man who took aim at you thinks he knows/the things he loves, and the things you love.//” But reading to the end of the poem, it is clear that neither side really knows or understands the other — there is a significant breakdown of communication in favor of perception. In “The Good Fight,” Moore again tackles perception in a reflective piece regarding WWII. The soldier is brave and strong, but in the present, the soldier must relearn how to lace shoes, walk with a cane, and more. “The sky is hazy above you,/a fog of dreams and memories./The decades are your backpack now./” and the soldier must not “look down” or “slip” but for a far different reason today than on the battlefield.

In the second and final section, Moore shifts away from perception into reality — the reality of hurricanes, pop culture (as real as that can be), and so much more. One of my favorite images in these sections comes from “Grandma and the Hurricane” (pg. 41), “The wind is so strong that it blows the constellations around in the sky. Never losing their shape, they are cookie cutters tumbling against each other.” But even in these reality-based poems, there is a nod to the idea of perception — like in “Tom Hanks Was Right,” where the narrator is found thinking about the past and what should have been said and then the narrator is talking to themselves in public. Haven’t we all caught ourselves doing that these COVID days?

Man on Terrace with Wine by Miles David Moore invites readers to be entertained, contemplative, and enjoy life as it comes. This collection is by turns witty and serious, but Moore continues to ask his readers to perceive reality in a way that not only brings joy but also satisfaction. Holding onto reality with a singular perspective can not only be boring, but also limiting.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Miles David Moore is a Washington reporter for Crain Communications, Inc. He is founder and host of the Iota Poetry Reading Series in Arlington, VA, a member of the Board of Directors of The Word Works, Inc., and administrator of The Word Works Washington Prize. He is the author of three books of poetry: The Bears of Paris (The Word Works Capital Collection, 1995); Buddha Isn’t Laughing (Argonne Hotel Press, 1999); and Rollercoaster (The Word Works Capital Collection, 2004). With Karren LaLonde Alenier and Hilary Tham, he co-edited Winners: A Retrospective of the Washington Prize, published in 1999 by The Word Works. Fatslug Unbound, a CD of Moore’s poetry read by himself and 14 other poets, was realeased in 2000 by Minimus Productions. His review/essays on the poet John Haines have appeared in The Wilderness of Vision (Story Line Press, 1996) and A Gradual Twilight (CavanKerry Press, 2003).

love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley is like a letter to her children and the family who have passed on too soon. These poems weave through the grief and out of it, plunge into it, and emerge from it, but at the root of that grief is love. The poems are like stories told through a lens of motherhood.

From "untitled mom" (pg. 26)

I almost facetimed you this morning
I'd cut my hair to donate it...

but then I remembered
and sobbed

We can experience that grief because we have felt it. The time you forget your friend is no longer here to reach out to, even if you haven’t spoken in many years or the mother you feel with you even though she has passed away. There are other days in grief that we feel ourselves falling into darkness, a darkness we know will be hard to get out of once we’re down there. And mothers also know that they cannot be in that dark place too long when they have children to care for. Bradley takes us on this journey acknowledging the struggle and the sorrow, but also the love and the unexpected joys.

Sunfall (pg. 18)

sunfall
snowfall
moonfall

don't fall

love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley is a very intimate collection of poems, mirroring a memoir. For me, the collection was more like reading an diary of moments, but the poems seemed rough or unfinished in some places. In others, I felt the poems resembled those that are popular on Instagram these days. While these poems were less polished, they do provide a look at the roller-coaster of grief.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Kelly Bradley is a tech writer and Sr. Product Manager in the Washington DC area where she writes stories and creates apps based on data. She wrote her first poem in Second grade, a requiem to her cat, Petey. Her first collection, “love, loss and the enormity of it all” addresses themes of grief, joy, love, heartbreak and perseverance. When not working or writing poetry, Kelly writes songs and rap lyrics, dances to electronic dance music, and hikes year-round with her dog, Winter.

Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 74 pgs.
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Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell is a slim collection with a powerful anthem and story arc that begins with “The meadow.” This prose poem sets the reader up for the themes to come — self-indulgence, dark desire and hate, outrage, and pain. That meadow is the nation that certain people have built, hiding it behind the ideals of liberty, while at the same time bleeding its people and waiting for the blood to spill.

The anthem of this collection, “Shut up and dribble,” is a chant that calls us to action. We [and I mean everyone, not just the oppressed] should not be silent like they tell us, we should rise up for the ideals and equality denied. This is personified in “Four-cent Father,” a poem in which the death of a Black man in his own garage is settled with four cents. How can a man’s life be worth so little, and how can a man who plays music in his garage be killed by bullets? He was minding his own business, he was spending time at his home — his home was not his castle, he was not safe.

There is a deep, simmering rage in this collection. A raging against injustice, a raging against the expectations of a society that’s created a false sense of justice, and a rage that builds against the circumstances created by these illusions. “Would my grandmother’s/German immigrant bones/have ached for the man/she would never have known/but for the slavers’ greed?’ (“After the Pedestal,” pg. 21) The “American Beast” rears its ugly head, slithering under the covers and slipping into rooms where “rumbling in the voices of grownups/speaking softly after dinner/about the problems of the world.//” (pg. 25) and becomes commonplace.

The poems in Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell will get under your skin, making you uncomfortable not just in the dark but in the light of day. These poems call on us to break the silence, acknowledge the horrors of the past, see the bleak present, and get off our butts and do something about it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Tara Campbell is a Kimbilio Fellow, a fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and an MFA candidate at American University. Publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Luna Station Quarterly.

She is the recipient of the following awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: the 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist, and Arts and Humanities Fellowships for 2018 and 2019. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Robert Gover Story Prize.

Her novel TreeVolution was published in 2016, followed in 2018 by her hybrid fiction/poetry collection Circe’s Bicycle. Her third book, a short story collection called Midnight at the Organporium, will be released by Aqueduct Press in 2019.

Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 156 pgs.
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Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic drama that explores not only the complex woman of Madam C.J. Walker, but also her relationship with her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, who continues the Walker legacy. Sarah Breedlove, who became Madam C.J. Walker, was the first free born child to former Louisiana slaves. Her life was far from easy, orphaned at age seven and married at age 14, but she never let that stop her. She was determined to give her family a better life even as the obstacles like Jim Crow mounted and hatred were everywhere and out in the open. After years of back-breaking labor, earning very little, Madam C.J. Walker invented a hair care formula for Black women and she built an empire, training a number of women as sale agents.

“Out of No Way (which takes its title from an old saying in the African American community to ‘make a way out of no way,’ or to thrive against impossible odds)” (pg. xi)

This title is ever present throughout the poetic drama. It explores the mother-daughter relationship through not only narratives and lyrics, but also sonnets and haiku, elegies, and so many other forms. How can a daughter live up to her mother’s legacy — a mother who struggled to provide the best for her family and did little mothering? From “Le Wa. Ro,” “I became beautiful but bored, and now I find that my things do nothing to my shadows, they are merely sharpened and darkened and cast in high relief…” (pg. 12) Could she live in the shadow of the empire or would she break out on her own?

Augustin chronicles not only the mother’s building of her family and the business, but also the struggles of a daughter who feels abandoned by her traveling mother. “The Lost Letters, 1905-1908” are a testament to these struggles — “Forgive me if I sound hopeless,/It’s just so lonely in St. Louis.” (pg. 27)

Augustin’s poems go beyond the relationship of these two women, touching on the empowerment these women found in their own careers, building their own inner strength. Like in “Why Our Hair is not Straight,” Black women’s hair is not straight because they “curve while dancing” or because “we swirl with high hopes” or because “we bend in prayer.” These women needed to be flexible, to meet the obstacles and find a way around them. Although not always the best or ideal option, some choices left scars.

Augustin’s blackout poem, “Sculptures of Envy,” takes on advertisements for Walker’s hair care system to explore the envy felt by women everywhere when they see another with the appearance or the job they want and how appearance, and hair especially, is a must if women want the job. Black women are particularly held to a different standard. Each of the blackout poems in this section are very exploratory about appearance, envy, desire, and how Black women can take back their power through hair care.

Like the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin explores how oppression harms not only the oppressed by the oppressor. Her words in “Resilience: Making a Way Out of No Way” (a fictitious speech by Madam C.J. Walker), “For the oppressed, the damage is self-evident. For the oppressor, it gives rise to a violent and divided society where the unbridled pressures of injustice rise to a level of self-destruction. White supremacy is the moral ignorance that will destroy America if left unchecked.” (pg. 90)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce television projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace. Rojé continues to work as a television producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 1+ hours
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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, is an adaptation of Joan Didion’s memoir of the same name. It has been transformed into a one-act play. The devastation felt by Didion is immense but the undulating way in which this story is told is as disjointed as her emotions must have been during this time in her life, losing a husband and daughter. This shattering loss propelled the author into a world of magical thinking.

There’s an examination of marriage and its push and pull and the motherly promise that you’ll never leave your child. There is that magical thinking that your own motherly focus can keep things moving forward into the future as you’d like them to be.

Redgrave is the perfect narrator for this play. Her voice lulls you into the story and breaks your heart when Didion’s is broken. But Didion’s narrative is also very factual and linear in some parts. I honestly think this is probably best viewed as a play, rather than on audio because my mind would wander away from the story when it was a bit too clinical. I might read the memoir at a later date.

RATING: Tercet

Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Paperback, 216 pgs.

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Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler is another fun and fact-packed book for kids to learn about the animal kingdom. The book includes some fun and unusual facts about animals, including spiders (which we are not too fond of). The pictures are gorgeous as always. Even though we’ve seen some of these animals in other books before, this little gem includes some quirky and fun facts about these animals. You’ll learn about why lemurs sit up and stretch their arms wide and how the cute faced platypus can be dangerous.

One of our favorite parts of the book are quizzes that you can take to find out what superhero you are based on animal characteristics, what species of fox you are based on how you like to play, and what kind of pet is best for you. These are the types of quizzes we love to take and enjoy as a family. We learn how we’re similar and different, but sometimes the choices are hard, especially for my daughter who definitely wanted the pet quiz to demonstrate to her parents that she was best suited for a pet cat.

Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler can be read together as a family or dipped into occasionally on your own. What we love is that this is a book for sharing. We love animals and this is definitely something we’ll enjoy on more than one occasion. The only thing we wanted more of were those quizzes. We had a blast with those and would have liked at least 3 or 5 or 10 more. A good gift for the animal lover in your life.

RATING: Quatrain

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (audio)

Source: Purchased

Audible, 6+ hours

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Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, narrated by himself, is a look at his 50 years of life and his outlaw code and how he’s lived his life and what he’s learned by living it. If you’re looking for gossip, this is not the book for you. I did like his approach to Hollywood and rebranding himself as an actor — that was definitely a risk and it panned out for him.

His career is one of luck, perseverance, hard work, and self-examination. Unlike many people, he pauses to think about where he is in life and analyze why he feels stagnant or unsatisfied when he seemingly has everything he could ever want. Like those of us who strive to learn and grow, he pauses to examine his life and make changes he thinks will lead him where he wants to go. As he says, sometimes there are red lights in life and sometimes there are yellow and green lights — he notes that a red light at one point in your life might turn green eventually later on. You have to be aware enough to know why the lights are red, move forward and return to those lights to see them turn green when it is the right time.

His early years with his family and his stay in Australia were very eye opening and I can say I applaud him and his upbringing for tolerating that Australian family like he did. I think I would have lost it. He does include some “prescriptions,” bumper stickers, and poems. These are what he considers some insightful advice, which it could be for those who haven’t experienced these teachable moments or who need something to articulate what they’re feeling in a succinct way. It seemed like he was shouting these sections at you in the audio, which got more obnoxious as I listened (but it might be less annoying if you don’t listen to it too long in one sitting). My one main issue here is people will probably take this as life lessons for them, and these will not work in every day people’s lives because they have obligations that are bigger than these seemingly easy fixes he talks about.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey is a series of stories that are likely a bit inflated (at least one had to be hyperbole). It was entertaining, but not life affirming or life changing. And while the stories are fun and sometimes outrageous, they are by no means that deep and tell us little beyond what we know about McConaughey and his “outlaw” look at life. I use the “outlaw” term very loosely here. Judging on his performance alone (which was stellar) would be a disservice to the content. I do admire his self-awareness, and that’s something others should take note of and try to incorporate into their lives.

RATING: Tercet

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (audio)

Source: Purchased

Audible, 11+ hours

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Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, narrated by Stephen Lang, is a ghost story from the beginning to the end, but Judas Coyne (formerly Justin Cowzynski) is an unlikable character with a penchant for collecting macabre items. This penchant is what gets him into a big mess — all of his sins come to roost as he battles the unseen man tied to a suit he buys online in a heart-shaped box. He has effectively retired from public life after his bandmates have either killed themselves or died, but little else has changed with his life — still moving from woman to woman and collecting oddities on the underground web.

Lang is a decent narrator no matter the character and he has the timbre to create a creepy atmosphere.

Jude and his latest woman (like all his women are called by their former state of residence) find that they are locked together in a battle against a ghostly man who is out for revenge. It’s clear this ghost hasn’t had a lot of practice with revenge from beyond the grave, but Jude gets some help from his former girlfriend who has been dead for some time. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, narrated by Stephen Lang, is a dark tale of beyond-the-grave revenge.

RATING: Quatrain

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 5 hrs
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You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham, narrated by the author, is a hard and fast look at budgeting. The first big takeaway for me was that budgets are not rigid tools, but are meant to be flexible. You can visit the website and signup for the software and more too.

Here are your four rules for budgeting:

  • Rule One: Give Every Dollar a Job.
  • Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses.
  • Rule Three: Roll With The Punches.
  • Rule Four: Age Your Money.

For couples, this means you have to also embrace the goals and expenses of yourself and your spouse and some goals and expenses may belong to both people in the relationship. No one goal or expense (that are necessary or desired expenses) supersede another.

The biggest rule for me that made me rethink budgeting is rule two because it shouldn’t just include the mortgage or the utilities and food, but also large, less-frequent expenses like holiday gifts, car repairs, etc. I need to break them into manageable, monthly “bills” that we assign dollars to — giving them a job.

One of the hardest lessons will be this: commit to the process of planning. You can stop timing bills to a specific paycheck — this is probably a foreign concept for many people, especially those not taught about finances. Much of what I’ve learned about finance is on the fly and with many failures. For couples, the biggest lesson will be communicating about spending on a regular basis, which can mean a monthly meeting.

One of the best parts of the book is the chapter on teaching children about money and how to talk to them about money without freaking them out. My one issue is that it talks about how he plans to not save for his kids’ college education and that he expects them not to take out student loans. I found this section a bit “pie in the sky” given the high cost of tuition in America. I did like the allowance portion of the book, however, because it enables kids to be kids and spend their money how they want and learn that they might have wanted to save that money they spent for something else. This turns into practical lessons.

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham is an intriguing listen with real-world examples of people paying off debts, learning how to budget as a couple, and more. But I think I would have preferred a print version that I could mark up. It’ hard to mark up and audio. Good thing there’s a website with free tools and more.

Afterland by Mai Der Vang

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Afterland by Mai Der Vang, whom I was lucky enough to hear read at a virtual event for Pedestal Magazine, explores the after effects of the Secret War in Laos, during which the Hmong people became a surrogate army of the CIA. The war and its effort to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail caused the significant displacement of numerous villagers over a nine year period. Der Vang opens her collection with “Another Heaven,” which sets the stage for her song of the Hmong people: “When funeral recites/The supper gardens of my forefathers,/Cross-stitch from my mother kin,// Then I will come to you/” Der Vang is stepping into the shoes of the Hmong, trying to make sense of a secret war and its consequences.

This initial poem sets the tone for the entire collection, an ethereal, out-of-body reminiscence of a people displaced from their homeland and they must learn to rebuild and grow again. “It’s when the banyan must leave/Relearn to cathedral its roots//” (“Dear Exile, pg. 22) Der Vang’s vision of the world will have readers imaging a world through new eyes. How do you regrow your roots in a new land? Readers will step inside the imagined journey and emotional roller coaster of being displaced. What is this “afterland” — is it a return to the old ways in a new country, the return to an old country, or the adoption of a new country and new ways?

One of my favorites in the collection is “Cipher Song”:

It's come to this. We hide the stories
on our sleeves, patchwork of cotton veins.

Scribe them on carriers for sleeping
babies, weave our ballads to the sash.

Forge paper from our aprons, and our
bodies will be books. Learn the language

of jackets: the way a pleat commands
a line, the way collars unfold as page,

sign our names in thread. The footprint
of an elephant. Snail's shell. Ram's horn.

When the words burn, all that's left is ash.

The poem reminds me of the family stories that are sometimes hidden because relatives aren’t asked or they are unwilling to share them, especially if they are painful. I recalled a time when my grandfather told us tales of the “old country” when he was willing to speak about WWII, but peppering him with questions would shut his mouth and the stories would stop. Der Vang is an archeologist bringing the Hmong back into the light, breathing life into their stories, like the “Phantom Talker” “with creosote mouth//hiding behind/your silent head/in the vermilion portrait.//”

Afterland by Mai Der Vang is full of haunted lines and ghosts, and her poems are beautiful like “a cello slinks/From every strand.//Vineyards ribbon/Inside the intimate air.” (To the Longhorn Hmong, pg. 59) Der Vang circles back to her own ancestral history in the penultimate, title poem. Readers get the sense they are coming full circle.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Mai Der Vang is an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. Her poetry has appeared in the New Republic, Poetry, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and her essays have been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. Her debut collection, Afterland, received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She lives in California.

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa hadn’t even been out of the package more than 10 minutes when my daughter snapped it up to read on her own after her first day of class. She is an artist, but sometimes she is not confident in what she chooses to create. In some cases, she creates something that is temporary and can be discard or transformed into something else. This is part of her process, I think, and I try not to interfere even if I want to keep her art permanently — this is where my phone camera comes in handy.

Krysa has created a book that artists and those who are just starting to get interested in art will love. It tells children that there are artists everywhere and that there a number of art jobs available for those who decide to make art their career. My daughter’s favorite part of the book is when it is interrupted for an important message about art bullies or as my daughter called the image on the page “the art blob.”

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa is a delightful read about being yourself and how art can turn into not only a career but also a lifelong passion. The goal of this book is to inspire kids to just create no matter what it looks like. The pictures are colorful and engaging, and the page on glitter is fantastic and so true. We really enjoyed this one.

RATING: Cinquain

My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping is a collection of immigrant stories and songs of hardship and perseverance in a country that welcomes immigrants so long as they can be used and serve a purpose. Ping’s tales in some cases are like odes to immigrants who lost their lives pursuing their dreams or who were forced to give them up and return to their home countries. Her poems express a range of emotions that immigrants feel from anger and disappointment to shame and sometimes hope. There also are ghosts haunting these pages.

“All we want is a life like others/…Now the tide is rising to our necks/” (from “Cockle Pickers: Xu Yuhua, Liu Qinying)

In “How to Cross the Line,” Ping’s depiction of a border crossing runs readers through a litany of emotions. The patting of pockets as the immigrant approaches customs, the absence of luggage, and the deliberate choice to forgo identification — signaling that their past and their name are no longer theirs. The cry for asylum — a cry of many facing gangs, violence, poverty — is an echo throughout the collection. It is a cry for not only shelter from outside forces and fear, but also a cry for a chance to help themselves achieve their own dreams.

From Calling Ghosts from the Golden Venture (pg. 38-43)

and here we are
hovering around this New Jersey cemetery
our bodies gone
but our souls still hanging
like curtains soaked in rain
our summer clothes so thin!
so thin our dream!

How beautiful and harrowing language can be. These ghosts from a cargo ship bringing labor to America from China, who hang around waiting for their dream to be realized — a dream that died with them. The thinness of the dream — slipped from their grasp. It’s devastating. Ping provides some background stories for these poems, but even without them, these immigrant stories live and breathe. In “The Names You Call Me,” Ping calls out the hypocrisy of the names that immigrants are called, especially by those who actually embody those names. Throughout this poem, she refutes these names and descriptions and she rages against them in the only way she knows — through poetry. “I’m your parents on the road … your children in cages … named or nameless …I’m Truth that defies your lies … I’m Conscience that jolts you awake in a cold sweat … I’m Poetry that sails hope across the sea and desert.” (pg. 68) And from “Immigrant can’t write poetry,” “poetry, born as beast/move best when free, undressed//” (pg. 73)

My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping haunts, sings, rages, and breathes. It is more than a collection of immigrant stories and struggles, it is a homage to their lives and it is a commentary on the nation that claims to be the land of the free and the place where dreams can come true for all who enter and live here.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and grew up in the East China Sea. Loves the body of water, its sound and smell, loves the touch of the muddy beach and golden sand.