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: *****

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