Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Time for the Annual Pilgrimage to The Zoo!

My loyal readers will remember that I talked a LOT about the Columbus Zoo trip last summer.  Don't worry, I'm not going to repeat all that stuff.  This is going to be a LOT shorter and simpler!  We love our annual trip to the zoo, and for us now the main attraction is the giraffes in the new African region.  This year, we watched the weather forecasts and picked a day when it was going to be rain-free with low humidity.  That happened to be Thursday, July 16!  It was actually in the 60s when we left the house so Hubs had his sweatshirt on!

We tried something new this year.  We bought tickets for something called the Wild Encounters Tour.  There are actually 4 different tours:  Manatee Coast, Discovery Reef, Animal Hospital and .... wait for it... Giraffe Barn.  Can you guess which one we picked?

A keeper met us at a designated spot in the African area and took us on a tour that lasted about an hour and included a feeding session.  (That alone was worth the cost because we didn't have to stand in line in the sun to wait to feed them!)  There were only 5 other people in this group with Hubs and me, and it was nice to have a small group.  Because I'm getting anxious to share, I'm not going to save the best for last.  Here is the giraffe I got to feed:

The keeper first took us into the kitchen in the giraffe barn and talked all about the kinds of food they get.  He showed us the different storage areas for hay and "browse" which is basically different types of tree branches with leaves on.  He also talked about how they try to make feeding time interesting for the giraffes by making them get their feed pellets out of big jars with holes in - they have to stick their long tongues in to get their food.  He said they like to bang the jars around and make noise with them.

We learned a lot of facts about the giraffes.  Did you know their tongues are 18" long?  (Ours are about 4.5".)  The two tallest giraffes in this herd are about 18' tall!  Their hearts weigh 25 pounds and their heads weigh 500 pounds!  Newborns are 6' tall when they are born after about 14 months gestation.  The zoo has 10 in the herd - 8 males and 2 females.  These 10 are of 2 species:  reticulated and Masai.  You can tell them apart by looking at their spots.  The one pictured above is reticulated - the spots are very clearly defined with very bright white lines.  This next photo shows a Masai - the spots are more mottled and the lines between are not quite as bright and distinct.

Sometimes these two types will interbreed in the wild, but it is rare.  Both of the females in this herd are Masai, and their main bull is a Masai as well, so they are hoping some baby-making will happen this year!  

In this next photo you will see a giraffe licking something:

That is kind of like the water bottle you might have in a hampster cage that has a little ball at the end.   When they push their tongue against it, the water just flows.   There are some in the barn, too.  Here is what it looks like up close:

The barns were amazingly clean.  I was really impressed.  (I guess they wouldn't show them off if they weren't?!)

The feed bins and water licks are all adjustable height to accommodate the different giraffes.  The big area in the last photo that looks pink is the "social" area in the barn where they let multiple giraffes hang out together.  It is layered with several layers of different things, the top being crushed granite.  Because of the composition of this floor, it can just be raked and sprayed with water for cleaning and doesn't have to be shoveled.  Some floors in this barn are regular cement and some are heated in case an animal is sick or needs special heat treatment.  

These next 2 photos show the pen the giraffes are placed in to be checked by the vets.  

The first photo with the green pads is the pen where a giraffe is held for examination.  The padded side panels can be adjusted to hold the animal as tightly as necessary to keep it still.  Then the keepers and vets can ride up and down in the little elevator (where the tool box is).  Notice that the padded holding area has doors at different levels which can be opened to access different parts of the animal. 

If you are lucky enough to get to go to the Columbus Zoo, I would recommend taking a Wild Encounters Tour.  We really got a beind-the-scenes look at an area the public rarely sees, and it was very interesting!  

Lest you think we ONLY looked at the giraffes, let me share some other cuties:

This baby moose is new this season and he was sleeping.  

Then there are the big cats:

The Cheetahs are amazing!!!

Papa Lion has a tongue thing going on....

Mama Lion was having a staring contest with a Greater Kudu female.  They are not very far apart and were clearly watching each other, but there is a moat and a fence beween them, so the Kudu is safe.  

I could just hang out in the African Savanah area all day!  The African Region also has a great restaurant that we tried this year.  It's called The Mapori.  One thing that is unique about it is that it is a 4 Star Certified Green restaurant, and the first one of it's kind in central Ohio to earn this distinction.  When we first went in, I expected it to be fast food, but it's not.  It was a buffet of "real" food - patrons would ask the servers to dish up whatever they wanted.  They had large flat breads with either veggie or meat toppings, salads, fruit, lasagna, roasted chicken, roasted vegetables (like eggplant and zuchini) other types of cooked veggies like carrots and green beans,  chicken tenders and fries.  I'm sure there was more I'm forgetting.  The selection was very impressive.  Most of the food is made from scratch daily, so they are conserving by not using packaging.  The food is also more nutritious and flavorful because it is fresh.    The seating area was huge and part of it looked out onto the savanah, so you could watch the animals while you ate.  For sure, we are eating there again!  Amazing food!  

Ah, what a lovely day it was for us at the zoo!  Hubs got his annual serving of Dippin' Dots too!  Then we let them survey us as we were leaving, and we got 2 $5 off coupons that we can use in the future!   We were both exhausted when we got home, but it was a good kind of exhaustion, and I'm ready to go again any time!

Thanks for reading - come back again soon!


Monday, July 20, 2015

Who Can Resist A Cute Cat Video?

We call her PocoLoco because she is goofy, but her nametag says her name is Bunny.  You've seen her on this blog before - last time she was sitting on top of a birdhouse.  Well, this time, evidently she doesn't want to get her precious whiskers wet!  


A Little Chuckle

Hello Everyone!  Let's take a break from all this heavy book and movie review stuff for a little fun!  A few weeks back, Hubs started us off on this little poetry journey, and I added a bit here and there until we came up with this:

We called him Uncle Salami
Because he always had salami in his beard,
Until he married Auntie Cleanface
Who insisted he be sheared.

Oh Auntie Cleanface, Auntie Cleanface,
We thought you were just being neat,
Until we discovered your secret:
You were actually after his meat!


Leaves you speechless doesn't it?  What can I say!

:)Amy & Hubs

Oh, that Harper Lee... Part II of II

Nelle Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama.  The town of Monroeville served as the model for the fictional town of Maycomb used in both To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.  A great deal can be learned about the town through these websites:   Monroe County Museum  and The Official Travel Site of Alabama.  The County Courthouse, which is now a museum, served as the model for the courthouse and courtroom in the classic movie To Kill A Mockingbird staring Gregory Peck.  The town now has annual reenactments of Tom Robinson's courtroom scene.

Nelle was the youngest of 4 children of Frances Cunningham Finch and Amasa Coleman Lee (he went by A.C.).  Nelle is her grandmother's name spelled backwards.  She chose to use Harper Lee as her pen name because she wanted to avoid the problem of having people mispronounce "Nelle" (1 syllable) as "Nellie".

The character of Dill in Mockingbird was based on the Lees' real life neighbor Truman Capote, and she helped him do research for his novel In Cold Blood.   Capote verified that there really was a mysterious, reclusive man who lived down the street and left gifts for them in a tree, just as Boo Radley did in the novel.   Here is a photo of Lee with Capote:

As indicated in Watchman, Nelle's childhood home really was torn down and an ice cream shop built in its place.  Here is a photo of the current business and the wall that separated the Lee yard from Capote's. 

The character of Atticus Finch is based on A.C. Lee who was an Alabama state legislator and Monroe County attorney.  In real life, Nelle's older sister Alice (15 years her senior) was also an attorney in Monroeville into her 90s.  She just passed away in November 2014 at the age of 103.  Nelle referred to Alice as "Atticus in a skirt".  They lived together in the Lee family home until just a few years ago. Here is a photo of Alice at work:

Harper Lee has been famously reclusive since the 1960s when Mockingbird was published.   She attended award and honor ceremonies as well as some other public events, but otherwise she tried to keep a very low profile and she avoided the spotlight as much as possible.  In spite of her reclusive nature, there are many photos online of her.  Here is one of her in Scout's balcony at the famous courthouse: 

Here is a photo of Lee with Gregory Peck who played Atticus Finch in the movie.  They became very good friends for the rest of his life (he died in 2003). 

This last photo was taken in the Monroeville assisted living facility where she has lived since she had a stroke in 2007.  Here she is seen with her lawyer who was instrumental in getting Watchman published for her.  

Earlier this summer I stumbled upon a book that I didn't know existed before.  It is called The Mockingbird Next Door, and it is the only "authorized" biography of Nelle Harper Lee.  It was written by Marja Mills, a journalist from the Chicago Tribune who first met Nelle and Alice when she was doing a story about Chicago making To Kill A Mockingbird a city-wide-reading project.  Mills became a good friend of the 2 sisters, and eventually moved into the house next door to theirs.  She was given unparalleled access to their friends who had permission to share stories about their lives.  Here is Marja Mills and her book cover:

I finished this book just a few days before I started reading Watchman, and I found it fascinating.   It really gives insight into Nelle's personality as well as to some of the stories of her life that helped shape both Mockingbird and Watchman.  She is extremely intelligent and well-read with a wicked sense of humor and sharp sarcastic wit.  Over the years since Mockingbird was published, Lee was often asked why she didn't write anything else, and she always said it was because she had said what she had to say, and that was all, but Marja Mills also indicated that Nelle detested the publicity and the attention that came with the publication, and she didn't want to ever have to go through that again. 

For most of her adult life Nelle split her time between her home in Monroeville and a home in Manhattan.  She traveled back and forth by train because she feared airline travel, even though she had worked for the airlines in NYC when she first lived there in her early 20s.   
Here is a very interesting article about the places that were important to her in Manhattan where she maintained an apartment for some 40 years - Lee's life in NYC.  One thing she liked about living in The Big Apple was that she was very anonymous there.  She didn't stand out as a famous author there like she did back home in Alabama.

I highly recommend The Mockingbird Next Door to anyone who wants to get a feel for the real world of Nelle Harper Lee.   Reading it really helped me understand more deeply the character of Scout Finch and the world she lived in.  

Thanks for sticking with me on this very long 2 part journey.  I hope you learned a few things along the way.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on these books if you are willing to share!


Come back again soon!


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Oh, that Harper Lee... Part I of II

Let me warn everyone now:  this entry is going to be filled with spoilers and more biased opinion than you can shake a stick at, so let the reader beware!  Also, I am writing here with the basic assumption that my readers have read, or at least have a passing familiarity with Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird.  If you have not read it, then what follows is going to be largely meaningless to you.

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last few months, you probably know that a new publication by Harper Lee called Go Set A Watchman has recently become available.  The book was released to the public on July 14, and on July 13 many newspapers and TV news reports gave some spoilers - some readers appreciated this, and others - like me -  did not.

I had pre-ordered my copy through Amazon several months ago, and it arrived in my mailbox on July 14.  I wasted no time starting it, and just finished it yesterday.  I think 5 days might be a new record for me reading an entire 278 page novel !

Let's start with an explanation of the title.  It comes from a verse in the King James Bible from Isaiah 21:6 - "For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth."  In modern terms, a watchman is someone who keeps an eye on what's going on and tries to keep things on a straight moral path.  In Lee's first publication, To Kill A Mockingbird,  Atticus Finch is the watchman of the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.

Watchman was originally written in the early 1950s before  Mockingbird.  It is thought that Watchman was rejected for publication, but Mockingbird was then written based on the suggestions of editors.   Watchman focuses on a 26 year old Jean Louise Finch who lives in NYC, but has returned home to Maycomb for her 2 week vacation.  She stays with her elderly (72ish?) father Atticus and her Aunt Alexandra who has moved in to help take care of Atticus due to his advancing arthritis.

SPOILERS for the curious who have read Mockingbird:

  • Calpunia has retired and Atticus no longer has a domestic servant.  Reference is made to her son Zeebo and his son as well.  Jean Louise (JL) visits her at her home during this story.
  • Jem had died of a heart attack a few years earlier (same thing that happened to their mother when Jean Louise was 2).
  • Dill is traveling in Europe but remains in touch (generally) with JL.
  • Uncle Jack has retired from his medical practice and now lives in town - he has a large role in this new book. 
  • Very brief reference is made to the trial of Tom Robinson - for which Atticus got an acquittal.  WHAT?!
  • The house that JL is visiting is not the house she was raised in.  That has been torn down and replaced by an ice cream shop run by one of the Cunninghams.  There is no specific reference to Walter. 
  • JL has a boyfriend -   Henry (Hank) Clinton  - who was a friend of Jem's and was in his class and is now working as a young attorney with Atticus.  Reference is made to him boarding across the street during their school years but not being there in the summers.  (Perhaps at Miss Maudie's, although she is never mentioned.)  There is a question of whether or not they will get married.
  • No mention is made of the Ewell family.
  • No mention is made of the Radley family, nor of the "big event" that is the climax of Mockingbird.
  • The only reference made to Scout's early years in school is to make the point that she hated school and couldn't wait to be done with it.
  • Aunt Alexandra has the same contentious relationship with JL - and still likes to host "teas" with the ladies of the community.  She remains religious, politically conservative and politely racist.  She also still harps at JL about being ladylike and having proper manners.
  • Jean Louise is still called "Scout" by her family, but not in her adult world in NYC.
  • We do not learn what she does in New York.  
  • There are a couple of chapters that are JL reminiscing about the role-playing that she and Jem and Dill did.  These go into much more detail and length about these activities.
  • JL also reminisces about some things that happened to Scout in her pre-teen and teen years that would have been after the time period of Mockingbird.
  • We learn that Jem was eventually captain of the football team and was quite popular in high school.  He also had a steady girlfriend. 
Let's move on now to the big issue - the controversy surrounding Watchman.  Based on the spoilers from public media on July 13, we were told the big news:  Atticus is Racist !  

Well, having read the book, I found that announcement to be very misleading.  It's sort of like when you're watching a TV show, and they show clips from coming episodes, but once you see the actual episode you realize that the clips were misleading when taken out of context and left to the viewer's imagination.

The "big event" that happens in Watchman is that JL finds out that Atticus and Hank are at a community meeting (which might be a KKK/type meeting).  She seeks them out and finds them meeting in the famous courtroom.  She quietly sneeks up to the balcony and observes part of the meeting.  What she witnesses is a very racist speech by one of the people at the meeting.  Both Atticus and Hank sit quietly listening to the racist comments. They don't object or stop the speaker at all.  JL is outraged and sickened by what she hears and leaves the courthouse while the meeting is still going on.  The rest of the book is about her attempts to deal with what she has heard and seen.

My interpretation is that Atticus is never overtly racist.  The fact that he is seen tolerating racist remarks is a little more complex than calling him a racist.  After this event, when JL confronts him, part of their conversation is about changes that the NAACP is trying to force on the southern counties/states, and that Atticus feels they are trying to rush things a bit.  His point is that here you have a group of people who have been largely under-educated and kept down for generations.  You can't suddenly thrust them into positions of leadership with that weak background and expect it to go well for anyone.  Is this point-of-view racist?  Well, it is to someone with an extremely liberal, color-blind, mindset. However, in the context of the situation  - given the political climate of the '50s and the history of Alabama - saying that is a "racist" point-of-view is way too simplistic.

Even though it is the '50s at this point, Atticus is still Atticus.  He is still calm and rational.  He still lives by the law (and the Bible).  He still has the same strength of character and integrity that we grew to love and respect him for in the '30s.  But he is now a community leader who is trying to help people of all points of view navigate a new and volatile political landscape.

When JL confronts Hank about his tolerance for the racist speaker, he tries to help her understand that as a young, up-and-coming community leader, he needs to be tolerant of all perspectives and try to mediate differences of opinion rather than inflaming the conversation by shutting someone down.

What I see in this book is Scout, once again, bringing a simplistic and immature point of view to a very complex world.  After her witnessing the meeting in question, she is angry, hurt and physically gets sick over it.  Then her response is to flee the situation.  It is her way of saying F*** you all, y'all.  She grabs her suitcase, violently throws her clothes into it, and declares she is leaving and never coming back.  She throws the equivalent of a childish temper-tantrum.  She is then brought back down to earth by Uncle Jack.  During her conversation with him about all of this, Uncle Jack calls her a bigot.  She immedately goes to the dictionary and finds this definition: "Noun. One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion." (p. 267)

As I see it, Go Set A Watchman has largely the same message as To Kill A Mockingbird.  We see Atticus, in his very familiar calm and patient way, once again teaching an impetuous Scout that people are very complex and you can't be too quick to judge.  You have to get into their skin and walk around in it for awhile before you can really understand someone.  

In the end, she gets it, just like she got the concept that putting Boo Radley on trial for murder would be like killing a mockingbird.

... to be continued...


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Oz, The Great and Powerful - Movie Review

Let me start by saying, if you have not yet seen this, I recommend you do so!  Yes, there has been some criticism, and I tend to agree with some of it (which I will get to later), but overall, the movie is worth seeing for at least 2 reasons:  The Art Work/Cinematography, and the whimsy.  

Let's start with the basic story:  This is supposed to be a prequel of The Wizard of Oz.  It's purpose is to explain how the Wizard ended up at Oz, and why he is only seen behind a screen.   We have known from the Broadway musical WICKED that the wizard is actually a carnival/circus con-man who loves the ladies.  This movie shows us more of that.  

The black & white opening of the movie takes us to the circus where our would-be wizard is a side-show magician. 

Note, the name of the circus is "Baum Brothers" -  Obviously a tribute to L. Frank Baum who wrote the original Oz works starting in 1900.  I didn't notice this circus name until I found this photo, but I love it when little inside things like that are worked into a production! 

James Franco as Oscar Diggs, the "Wizard" 

As we learn about the life of Oscar Diggs, carny magician, we see him in action as a shyster on the side-show stage.  Shortly into the movie, he climbs on board a hot air balloon and launches himself into the sky to escape the circus strong man who is after him for conning the man's girlfriend  This launching just happens to coincide with the arrival of the infamous Kansas tornado which we know takes Dorothy and Toto to Oz as well!  

Side note:  I find it interesting that the vicious tornado safely deposits Dorothy, Toto and Magician Oscar, but doesn't drop any of the other Kansas debris that it must be carrying into either movie lot!  ...but I digress...

As Oscar arrives in Oz, suddenly, and predictably, the world is now in spectacular technicolor.  The process then begins of everyone being introduced to the magical land of Oz and all the characters, both good and evil, who inhabit it, much as Dorothy experienced.  

Oscar's first "friend" is Theodora, played by Mila Kunis.  She begins as her stunningly gorgeous model-self in a fabulous red outfit.  Of course, Oscar is quite taken with her.  

As the movie progresses, she is transformed - by eating a green apple, of course - into The Evil Wicked Witch of the West - aka The Green Witch:

Another side-note:  In Wicked, Elphaba is born green because her mother was given a green potion to drink by the con-man/wizard when they had a brief dalliance.  Later in the show he realizes he is her father.

Interestingly, when Theodora cries, her tears make gullies on her cheeks, foreshadowing the effect that water will eventually have on her.  

Then there is the beautiful, blonde good witch, Glinda, who travels her universe in a bubble:

Michelle Williams plays Glinda as well as a  "normal" Kansas girl at the circus - evidently someone who had been a girlfriend of Oscar's at one time.  

Glinda and Oscar become very close as she helps him navigate the world where evil witches want domination.  She WANTS him to be "The Wizard" even though she understands he's really a con man because the citizens of Oz "believe" in him.  He reminds her that he's really not a "wizard" and she assures him that's ok because "THEY don't know that"!  So, we come to understand that in The Wizard of Oz, his true identity remains hidden from all of his citizens and not just from visitors to the magical land.  Did Glinda know the truth in the original classic movie?  Hmmm....  we wonder.....
This whole concept of "if you just believe" is a very Disney thing - comes up over and over in their movies.

Side-Note #3:  I find it interesting that the good witch is named Glinda in the classic Wizard of Oz, in WICKED, and in this movie, but the names of the other witches are all different.  I wonder why.....  do you know?

..... ok, back to our story.  

Oscar, as well as the good citizens of Oz, are plagued by 2 wicked sisters who are plotting to take over the empire.  We learn in this movie that Glinda's father had been the King until he died, and now the evil sisters have infiltrated the palace and are trying to maintain control. 

The first sister we meet is Theodora (as referenced above) and then comes Evanora.  At first, we are told that Evanora is "the" evil witch, but then we see her transform her sister Theodora into the "green" witch by giving her the green apple.  Theodora then becomes the worst of the two.  

Evanora is played by Rachel Weisz - here we see her at the right.  

Now we come to the 2 other characters that I found most interesting.  First is Finlay, the flying monkey:  

Early in the movie, Oscar saves Finlay and so Finlay swears his allegiance for life to Oscar.  This character was absolutely adorable!  His facial expressions were amazingly well done.  Whatever technology they used to move his face was very realistic.  In watching the "Bloopers" on my DVD and looking at pictures online, I learned that Finlay was a hand puppet operated by Zach Braff - seen here:

Zach was actually also a character in the opening Baum Bros. Circus part of the movie - he was Oscar's helper with the magic show - he did special effects backstage and generally was his lacky.  

My next favorite character was China Doll:

As Oscar and Finlay begin to wander along the yellow-brick road, they come upon China Town which has been smashed by the Wicked Witch's nasty flying baboons (Disney didn't get the rights to MGM's "flying monkeys").  They hear someone crying, and it is this China Doll, but she has two broken legs.  Oscar uses his "magic" glue to fix them for her and she is able to walk again.  She then insists on coming with them on their journey even though Oscar really doesn't want her to, but he gives in.  She definitely adds a different dimension to the story which I appreciated.  As with the monkey, the special effects used to animate her were excellent!  

Overall, I think the special effects and artwork are what made the movie fun for me.  There are 2 small complaints I have, however.  Having been a high school theatre director for about 20 years, I like to think I know a little something about acting.  If I were directing this cast, I would have a very specific directing note for James Franco.  I think there needs to be a more clear difference in the 2 sides of his character.  When he is the Shyster/Magician/ConMan, he needs to be more "on" - kind of like Jim Carrey - more physically animated.  Then when he is just normal-guy-Oscar he can be more laid back.  I also think that when there are times when he is clearly in over his head, he needs to make that more obvious by showing fear, apprehension, etc...  As it was, his performance was very flat and one-note.  He was just himself.  All the time.  Not good acting in my opinion. 

My other acting note would be for Witch #3, Rachel Weisz.  She also could have been more animated with more sinister facial expressions and hand/arm gestures.  She seemed too "normal" and didn't show enough "fantasy evil".

I'm not going to spoil any more of the movie for you with more plot summary, except I will tell you that I really liked the big climax, and thought it was well-done.  Oscar turns out to be a reluctant hero by using his knowledge of magic in helpful ways.  

I will also add that one of my favorite lines was something like, 'is there a pothole in your yellow brick road?'  I just love the idea of potholes and speedbumps in the yellow brick road.  Funny Stuff!  (Gosh, those terms just might end up in my classroom this year!)

You need to see this movie if you haven't already.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

As always, thanks for reading, and come back again soon!

:) Amy

P.S. From the Bonus Features on my DVD, I learned that Walt Disney considered the Oz story to be "The 1st Great American Fairy Tale" and not borrowed from Eurpean Fairy Tales.   He just missed getting the rights to the story before MGM did in the '30s.  However, I think I have to disagree.  The whole wicked-witch thing is very European-Fairy-Tale.  I think the Kansas Tornado is the unique American element.