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.

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.

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: *****

“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: *****


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

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

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!