Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

That French Diet Advice, Again

Last night, at our early New Year’s Eve party, several of the husbands were discussing the “get in shape” events that are planned at/by their various employers in the opening months of 2010. To be helpful, I thought I would pass along the following from a daily tip message that I received recently:
Try these seven steps that are the norm in the typical French diet:

1. Eat smaller portions.
2. Eat only at mealtimes, and avoid snacking.
3. Eat a wide variety of food.
4. Don’t skip meals.
5. Enjoy your food, and focus on dishes made from quality ingredients that are fresh and locally grown.
6. Stick to your internal cues. When you no longer feel hungry, stop eating.
7. Eat meals with family and friends so eating becomes a pleasurable experience and not something to “fit into” a schedule or feel guilty about.
If you would like your own messages on how to get and stay healthy, click here.

Poor Pachelbel

Johann Pachelbel was a composer who lived in the 17th century and produced, perhaps, one of the most recognized melodies in music history. He is, in the opinion of many, the ultimate classical one-hit wonder. Today, sadly, he is often the subject of spoof and mockery, as in this clip from YouTube, courtesy of comedian Rob Paravonian. Thanks to Mr. Florez the Younger for pointing me in the direction of this amusement.

A Note About Ice

With the onset of winter, people often ask me about life in Minnesota. Having been born in the great icebox and having lived there until I married a Navy man who dragged me to the warmer climes of southern California, when these inquiries come, they often revolve around ice. Is it really cold enough to freeze a lake so completely that people can actually drive on it? Do people really set up shacks on the lakes so they can fish during the winter? Do people really cut holes in the ice to go swimming? The answer to all of these questions is "yes," of course. However, that does not mean that ice is safe. Ice in NEVER safe, as is reiterated in this article from my hometown newspaper, the Fairmont Sentinel:
But according to ice safety experts, no matter how low the temperature gets, or how late in the season it is, the ice is never safe.

- snip -

The Department of Natural Resources recommends staying off ice less than 2 inches thick. Ice can be walked on at 4 inches, snowmobiled on at 5 inches, and support a car of small truck at 8 inches. Medium trucks should wait until the ice thickness reaches 12-15 inches.

These guidelines are for new, clear ice --- white ice is considered half as strong, and ice thickness recommendations should therefore be doubled.
And watch out for the white stuff. It can be deceiving, as we continue to read:
The snow cover, which some seem to think helps the ice form, actually insulates the lake, inhibiting ice formation.

Snow also can cause ice to be less stable, as the weight of the snow presses down on the freshly formed ice.

Eric Schettler, local conservation officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the snow can cause the lake to flood --- pushing water up through cracks or fishing holes. The water then begins a freezing/thawing cycle that creates "rotten ice."

- snip -

Schettler said since water freezes from the bottom up, the water moving under the ice can easily chip away at the thickness.
And don't forget these informational tidbits:
- a vehicle being drive on ice causes waves, just like a boat
- parking vehicles together on the ice can cause them to sink.

Be safe!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Angel Gabriel

Tonight, while my daughter attended a dance party, I headed to Starbucks for some quiet study time with The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. While in the coffee shop, these words came over the stereo, accompanied by music (of course):
And I’ll shout and I’ll dance
And I’ll rise up early in the morning
I will rise and rub my sleepy eyes
When old Gabriel comes blowing on his horn
I was curious about where these lyrics originated, so I looked it up when I got home. They are from a folk song titled “Angel Gabriel.” You can read the rest of the words on this page of the Folk & Traditional Song Lyrics section of the Traditional Music Library website. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Cavity and a Resolution

Last week, I had my regular six-month dental hygienist appointment. You know the one: where they clean your pearly whites, take x-rays (if need be) and, generally, tell you that all is right with the world. Well, apparently, all is not right in my universe because I have a cavity! That’s right, a cavity. Even my dentist seemed a bit surprised. The little lovely is located between two of my molars, so I will now have to get two fillings. Not one. Two. Ain’t that just grand? If I opt for the silver amalgam version, the cost is $41.30 after insurance; if I decide to go with the white, matched-to-your-teeth variety, the price is ~$193.00 post insurance. The fillings are for my molars. Who will be looking there? I think silver. Then again…

Today, one week later, I had the filling installed. I cheaped out and went with silver. The dental assistant explained to me that the silver amalgam fillings are a bit stronger than the white ones, and that the location of my cavity would fare better with a stronger material. It really was a no-brainer. Two shots of Novocain, some drilling, and 45 minutes later, my teeth were “back to normal.” Hopefully, they will stay that way.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fall is Coming

Today, as I pulled into the parking lot of the church where my daughter practices the organ, a bit of a breeze began to blow. Looking across the property, I saw a cascade of yellow leaves falling from one of the many trees surrounding the churchyard and it occurred to me, all of a sudden, that fall is coming. It really is on its way. In recognition of that fact, I thought I would post this, "Falling Leaves" by Bet Briggs. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Few Flakes

This morning, after my shower and morning routine, I glanced out my front window on the way to my bedroom, and what do you think I saw? Snow flurries! I had to look twice just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Nope. There they were, plain as day. Snowflakes. That got me thinking that I never posted a photo from the last snowstorm --- the one that dumped almost a foot of snow in my driveway. Well, here it is: my driveway filled with the fluffy stuff. Thank goodness I have (most likely) seen the end of this until next winter. The morning flurries only lasted a moment.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Floor, Revealed

On Sunday, my husband replaced the heating element in my oven. It burned out about a week ago due to twenty-five years of use and abuse, mostly (I must confess) at the hands of the previous owner since I don’t cook at home that much these days. Anyway, once the stove was pulled away from the wall, King Richard snapped this photo:











List of accumulated stuff:
- two pieces of candy
- two stuffed cat toys
- two plastic cat toys
- one “bendy” straw
- fourteen pens & pencils
- several pieces of cat food
- one sock
- a dust bunny the size of the Wererabbit

So, what’s under your stove? Have you looked lately? If you haven’t, maybe you should. You never know what you might find. Just for the record, the cache of goodies under my Frigidaire® Magic Kleen was the work of one cat: Chopin.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More Anti-Homework Shenanigans

Earlier this week, the CBS News channel in Dallas/Fort Worth ran an article on their website reporting on the consideration of a new homework policy for the Plano [Texas] Independent School District. Apparently, their middle school grading and assessment committee has been studying the homework issue since late 2007. The objective of their work?
To [e]nsure that grading practices are consistent with the philosophy that grades should be our most accurate reflection of student knowledge and achievement.”
Their current leanings on the subject?
“According to several Plano Independent School District teachers, they have been informed that beginning next school year, homework will no longer be required of middle school students. And the grades for homework assignments that are assigned will not apply to students’ report card grades.”

- snip –

"As for deadlines for assignments, teachers say the Plano Independent School District is considering placing no deadline on any assignment completed outside of the classroom --- so students could turn in the work at any time."
So, let me see if I understand this correctly: the school district wants to make certain that the grades assigned to their students accurately reflect their understanding of and achievement in the subject matter at hand; the school district wants these highly accurate grades to be based on homework that is not required, as well as other assignments (presumably not homework) that can be handed in at any time (presumably before the end of the grading period); and the district will not use these highly accurate homework grades on report cards.

Wow!!!

Whatever happened to accountability? How are the children of Plano ever going to learn accountability? Better yet, how are the children of Plano ever going to learn anything at all?

The teachers’ response?
Faculty members…said they were caught off guard when they were told about the plan recently. They were also surprised that their students will be required to do less work. One teacher reportedly wept when she heard the news.
I think I would weep too…if I didn’t have to put the finishing touches on a homeschool presentation about how to grade homework.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I Am Mrs. Potato Head

I almost fell off my chair during this Super Bowl ad for Bridgestone Tires, not because I am in need of tires but because…I am Mrs. Potato Head. Just ask my husband what it is like to drive with me in the mountains or during a snowstorm. Basically, any time I perceive danger on the road and I determine that he is not taking appropriate precautions to keep me safe, I turn into Mrs. Potato Head. The older I get, the more often this transformation occurs. I suppose, for my husband, it is like living with Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. Poor King Richard. Sorry, honey.

For everyone else, enjoy the video.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

RC: January 2009

Ah, once again, the Plush Duck tries valiantly to prepare for Christmas gift giving by reading holiday books, watching holiday movies, and baking new holiday cookies. Let’s see if she can stick to the plan this year.

BOOK
The Night Before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore

Short story. Old story. Familiar story. I actually chose to read three versions of this tale: one illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, one illustrated by Tasha Tudor, and one illustrated by Tomie De Paola. The first rendering had a look that I associate with the bright, sparkling modern-day conception of Santa Claus --- lots of bells and stardust and tons of activity with the robust, jolly gentleman who wears gold spectacles and sports those rosy cheeks at the center of it all. The second version had the dark look of nighttime (as in “the night before Christmas”) with a home that resembled Victorian England and a Santa that truly resembled an elf --- small, impish, and magical. The third offering was more plainly drawn with a look that my daughter equated to Cubism. The lines were sharper, the shapes were very geometric, and the colors were cooler, giving the impression of a chill in the house and a biting wind outside as it blew across the wide-open spaces covered in snow. It is amazing how much an illustrative style can influence the perception of even such a familiar poem.

Publication dates vary. Highly recommended.
Plush Duck Rating: *****

MOVIE
“While You Were Sleeping”
starring Sandra Bullock & Bill Pullman

A bit of the plot: a lonely woman (Lucy) who works for the Chicago Transit Authority saves a handsome man after he is assaulted on a train platform, thrown onto the railroad tracks, and in danger of being run over by a speeding engine. While accompanying the injured man to the hospital, she thinks aloud how she would like to marry the dashing guy, a statement that is misinterpreted by the nursing staff, thereby allowing her access to the comatose gentleman and his life. Upon meeting his family members, who are understandably grateful that she rescued their boy, suspicions mount as to whether Lucy is really “the fiancĂ©e.” Eventually, a family friend discovers the truth that Lucy is masquerading as the betrothed, prompting her to admit that she really isn’t in love with the injured man. Instead, Lucy is in love with his brother.
A few plot twists and classic character miscommunications later, this somewhat serious tale becomes a rather adorable comedy, all set around Christmastime.

I actually own this movie. I bought it several years back after seeing it on television during the Christmas season. Part of my attraction to it was the cast: Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, and Glynis Johns. For those of you who don’t know the latter actress, think “Mary Poppins.” She played the mom. Accompanied by a sweet soundtrack and sporting behavior that, overall, exhibits old-fashioned values, I would count this as a family-friendly film for the tween set and older. But don’t take my word for it; here is a recommendation from Common Sense Media:
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING has an old-fashioned feel. While it’s patterned after the classic romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s…the movie’s clever writing, gentle humor, and strong performances make up for its shortcomings. It is a good choice for parents to watch with their older kids, because there’s something here to appeal to both generations.
Release date: 1995. Highly recommended.
Plush Duck Rating: *****

COOKIE
Kolachki
From Christmas-Cookies.com

A much-appreciated dance instructor at our local Fred Astaire Dance Studio inspired the choice of this recipe. He hails from St. Petersburg, Russia and has been in America for about eight years. We found the cookies to be completely yummy.

Yield: varies depending on how cookies are cut & assembled

Ingredients
½ pound cream cheese (at room temperature)
½ pound butter (at room temperature)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound finely ground walnuts
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
water

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add flour and mix again until smooth. Roll dough into three balls. Refrigerate dough to keep it from drying out. The dough can be refrigerated for 1-2 hours, but it is not necessary. Roll out one ball at a time and flour lightly. Roll dough out in flour or granulated sugar so it doesn’t stick. Cut dough into squares or circles using a cookie or biscuit cutter. Make the filling by mixing together the walnuts, egg, and sugar. Add just enough water to obtain a sticky consistency. Add about a teaspoon of filling to each piece of cut dough. Roll squares into logs. Fold circles over and seal with a fork. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Hint: the Christmas cookie website states that making this dough is easier with a food processor. My daughter used a mixer and didn't have any problems.

Plush Duck Rating: *****

A Home Gym?

In a recent e-mail I received from the Dr. Weil website, the topic of discussion was “4 Ways to Start a Home Gym.” Some items that were suggested for inclusion in such a space:

- a yoga mat
- resistance bands & a set of weights
- fitness DVDs in enough variety to focus on different muscle groups & prevent boredom
- a treadmill, elliptical trainer, or recumbent bicycle

Hmm, let me take stock. Do I have the makings of a home gym so that I can work toward my New Year’s resolution of losing 30 pounds? I have a couple of yoga mats. I own a set of weights and three resistance bands of varying strengths. I have more fitness DVDs than my husband probably wishes I had (some Denise Austin, Leslie Sansone, Pilates for Dummies, AM/PM Yoga, etc.). The only item I am missing is the treadmill, elliptical trainer, or recumbent bicycle. I do have a trainer that allows me to set up my own bike to act as a stationery bicycle, so I guess I have that covered too. So, seeing as I already have a home gym (and seeing as I have had it for awhile), the question now becomes: why am I not using it to lose the 30 pounds I so desperately want to shed?

I hate hard questions that make me look at my own behavior, don’t you?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Friendly Visitor

After the last snowstorm, my daughter and I noticed that a pair of deer began visiting our yard on a fairly regular basis. We were at a bit of a loss to determine what was attracting them until, one day, we saw this individual (not certain if he/she is male or female) munching on one of the azalea bushes in the backyard. Since I did not do anything to stop or discourage the friendly beast, I will probably not have much of an azalea bush left by spring. Oh, well. I have a pretty healthy collection of azaleas in my yard. Losing one to a hungry deer may not be so bad.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Listening to Winter

Last night I went out to do some intermediate shoveling just after sundown and, instead of getting a workout, I got a gorgeous experience! The snow was falling quietly. The ever-present, low-level drone from the local arterial road just up the street was absent. The only sound was the faint, distant scraping of a plow removing snow from the nearby streets. Noticing this stillness, I just stood for a moment and listened…to nothing.

My mother actually encouraged my sister and me to do this. One winter, on a cold evening in late January, she convinced my dad to drive us into the countryside outside of our small Minnesota town, park the car, and roll down the windows so we could “listen to winter.” I remember thinking she was a little weird; but I also remember watching the loose snow skim across the moonlit cornfields, driven by that lovely Upper Midwest wind that seems to blow constantly in midwinter. Even today, thinking about that event, I can almost smell the cold, dry freshness of the air. Connecticut doesn’t smell like that. It smells wetter and saltier.

This morning I need to shovel again. Unfortunately, the atmosphere won’t compare. More snowplows are out, the local traffic is picking up, and the din of life has returned. But I now have two winter moments to savor while I work. Life is good.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

First Concert of the Year

I am, at the moment, sitting in the hallway of Central Baptist Church in Norwich, CT, listening to the first handbell concert of 2009. The Shoreline Ringers are playing as part of the “Music at Central Series,” a community concert program sponsored annually by the church. I am parked in the hallway because this particular engagement of the bell choir is so well attended that I needed to give up my seat to someone who had never heard the group perform. Now that I think about it, this just may be the largest audience in the three-year history of Shoreline performances. Not only did they run out of seats, they ran out of programs too. Every music group should have such a problem.

If you missed this concert, keep an eye out for the next one: January 11, 2009 at First Congregational Church in Guilford, CT. The Shoreline Ringers will be participating in the "Joyful Noise! Concert Series" at that church.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!!!

Ah, farewell 2008. Welcome, 2009. Last year certainly was challenging. This year is definitely unknown. My plans and goals for the New Year are still in the planning stages. I am still evaluating last year. The 2008 fact that makes me happiest: the retirement account is only down about $1000. The greatest disappointment of 2008: my house is still as cluttered as ever.

Frankly, I am still in a bit of shock that it is 2009. It seems like only yesterday that my husband retired from the Navy (2000), the tragedy of 9/11 happened (2001), and my dad passed away (2005). Time sure does fly. My father warned me that time would accelerate as I got older. I wonder if he noticed it picking up speed when he was my age. He seemed much younger to me at age 47 than I feel at age 47. Of course, I was only about 11 years old when I made that observation so my perspective may have been somewhat skewed.

Some of my expectations for 2009:
- Katherine the Great will probably be in another opera.
- King Richard will be working a lot of hours this year.
- I will still be busy homeschooling.
- The economy will still be challenging.

Despite that last assumption, I hope your expectations for the New Year are positive and hopeful. May God bless your plans and bring them to fruition.

Happy 2009!