Sunday, January 28, 2007

Danger Mouse: First of the Animated Rodents

Between chipmunks, mice and squirrels, animated rodent options abound. I dove into this morass by watching Danger Mouse, one of the few animated rodents I have never seen before.
Aside from the fabulous theme song (which alone may be worth the rental) I was not amused and concentrated mostly on the laundry needing sorting.
Danger Mouse may be too British for me (hard for me to admit), not as good as Rocky and Bullwinkle, or may just not be very funny. Oh well.

Some highlights however:
-theme song. An obvious parody of Bond movies and really well done.
-that Danger Mouse and Penfold (hamster sidekick) are really mouse-sized and live in a post-box in London.
-bagpipe jokes always make me laugh.
-Captain K is a chinchilla (three different rodent species in one series!)
-I now know DM. Long ago a friend was amazed how my (then) boyfriend and ex both had important British initials. "BBC" I understood. "DCM?" I queried. Not "DCM, DM! Danger Mouse!" He was aghast and now if I ever run into Greg I can tell him that I have seen DM. I'll probably not tell him how unimpressed I was.

Friday, January 26, 2007

In the wrong time and place

"All squirrels are rodents, but in the wrong time and place, some are rats."

Written of Gray squirrels outcompeting Red squirrels in Gary Larson's charming, There's a hair in my dirt! A Worm's Story.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Large Squirrel Movie: Groundhog Day

The Mister and I watched Groundhog Day last night. At the first Groundhog Party in 1993 Supplement Scribe (primary hostess of said party) and I were shocked when the first trailer for Groundhog Day appeared on the television as we were about to watch Caddyshack. We were stunned. They made a movie about our holiday!

I watched GH D in the theaters and sometime in between, but certainly had not memorized the lines or considered it one of the greatest movies of all time. Upon reviewing, I still do not think it is great, but it is pretty darn good. True, it does have a slow middle and true, Andie McDowell might not be able to act her way out of a phonebox (as a British friend once commented), but it is good.
Highlights for me:
-Groundhog Day plays a pivotal role
-Phil (the groundhog) looks (and is) a real rodent. Very few movies have rodents playing rodents and even fewer include members of Marmota (official genus of my household).
-Unlike many romantic comedies, the guy has to change for the woman.
-Unlike almost all romantic comedies, not only does the guy change for the woman, but he fails when he changes into what he think she wants and succeeds when he changes into the best him he can be.

Questionable point for me:
It's light at 6 a.m. on February 2. I'm at basically the same longitude (position in the time zone) and further south than Punxatawny and I can assure you that it is not bright morning at 6 a.m.

About Alice by Calvin Trillin

Calvin Trillin's short, beautiful book about his wife, Alice, made me laugh, cry, and envy. I read the whole book in one delightful sitting. It therefore feels very strange to write that I was disappointed. None the less, I was disappointed in Alice for not playing games, for not living to see her grandchildren born, for wearing heels too much and dying before she could help edit this book of Calvin's. I was disappointed in Calvin for writing a book that was considerably less funny than his previous works and for not having a much of a point.

One could very logically ask what was I expecting from a book by a man never much known for having points writing about his obviously much-loved and much-missed wife. I would still definitely recommend the book to fans of Calvin Trillin's works, particularly the Alice books, and recommend "Travels with Alice" or "Alice, Let's Eat" for reader's not already familiar with Calvin and Alice.

The envy, by the way, came from Alice (near death) commenting to her friends that Alice Waters brought roses from her garden in Berkeley to Alice Trillin's daughter's wedding. I have no great chef friends. I think I would like one and I just want to go to Chez Panisse sometime before I die. In the meantime, I had to console myself that Alice Trillin could not include anyone who had counted sunflowers coast to coast or written anything about prairie ethnobotany among her friends.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Rats of the Sky Movie: Winged Migration

The Mister and I watched the fabulous documentary of bird migration, Winged Migration, last night. The Mister commented that Canada geese are "rats of the sky," except that pigeons are already "rats of the sky." He questioned, are there, perhaps, different rats of the urban sky and rats of the suburban sky? In the south suburbs of Denver, for instance, I grew up around a lot of geese and no pigeons that I recall. Now that I am living in an urban metropolis in West Virginia, I must walk under a flock of pigeons living on the bridge everyday. Something to ponder . . .
While our favorite images in the film were those of seabirds nesting, likely filmed in Newfoundland, where we saw thousands of gannets, puffins and murres on our honeymoon, the shots of Canada geese in Monoment Valley were wondrous. Rats of the suburban sky being awkward, honk-y, and goose-like against the sagebrush and red rock monuments make for fabulous juxtaposition.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Rodent Movie #1: The Mouse That Roared

Note that no single mouse plays a major role in this 1959 film, although the mouse causing the Columbia statue to pick up her toga and run away is a nice touch.

Despite the lack of real rodents, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Peter Sellers plays several characters in the Grand Duchy of Fenwick, which decides to declare war on the United States. The combination of charm, innocence, idiocy and pointed anti-war humor works well. Perhaps because I was in the mood to be amused and charmed, I liked this far more than Dr. Strangelove or the Pink Panther movies, all of which may be overall funnier, but not nearly as sweet. The portrayal of the US and Americans is disturbingly right on nearly 50 years later (generous, ignorant, forgiving, war-mongering, capitalistic, fun-loving and more interested in the World Series ["American football"] than in potential destruction of the planet).

Defintely a good start to a year of rodent movies.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Suburban Safari, The First Squirrel Book

Just finished reading Suburban Safari by Hannah Holmes and find I have strikingly little to say about it. I love the cover, which is an upclose shot of an eastern grey squirrel, and I like the concept: following the natural history of a suburban lawn for a year. I did, not, however, love the book. It's well researched. It's interesting. It's suitably scientific and suitably personal. It's just not fabulous. I've been reading it since September, I believe, and never found it can't-put-down-compelling (I read another personal essay/ecological research book, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, during that time and found it hard to leave, so it's not the genre). Maybe my big issue was that Holmes spent a great deal of time taming a chipmunk to run into her house, run up her stairs and eat off of her hand, fed her squirrels and crows everyday, and then looks down on people for planting butterfly bushes to attract butterflies (in a part of the word where Buddleja is not invasive).
Definitely worth reading. Definitely not sending anyone out to buy it right now (altough it does have a big squirrel on the cover).

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Yes, The Golden Unicorn

My first book of 2007 is The Golden Unicorn by Phyllis A. Whitney. Yes, The Golden Unicorn cover includes an image of a woman clinging to a man with a her long flowing locks melding into the mane of a unicorn in the background. The cover lists it as a "romantic spellbinder." It completely lives up to its cover.

Sunflower Spinner (one of the great things of having a blog is coming up with names for those of you who might read it. I'll not entirely satisfied with that one, but it does at least alliterate with Sparkling Squirrel) gave me this "vintage" 1972 paperback for pure escapism. I escaped. It's a dreary day here in West Virginia and I am not yet prepared to prepare zoology lectures (or do the laundry for that matter). I read The Golden Unicorn pretty much straight through.

What I would like to emulate: I was surprised that the book was a suspenseful as it was. I kept changing my idea of who were the real parents and who was the murder (and for a time, even who was the love interest ) and I kept turning the page. As a writer who has never successfully plotted anything, I was impressed.
What I would not want to emulate: Whitney has never heard the "show don't tell" creative writing mantra, or thinks her audience needs to be told or just found it easier to tell. In any case, I read, over and over again, exactly what the main character was feeling and about what bad things were about to happen, if only she knew.
Who would I recommend this for: I would highly recommend this for those very rare days when you make the time to just read until the book is done and you don't really care that you were pulled into the world of intrigue on Long Island in a not very good book; which I believes means not much of anybody, but I'll probably give it to one of you one of these times. It's not, by the way, a bodice-ripper, and includes no sex.

Sunflower Spinner and Starship Scribbler (her mister) and I speculated about the possibilities of endings for this orphan running into her past and her mother's murderer via a gold unicorn chain. So here's how it goes down: Courtney (C, heroine) turns up to interview an artist and her family in hopes that they are her family. She finds that her mother (A) died right before she was put up for adoption and everyone was told that she was swept out to sea. Her father (J), his brother (H), H's wife (M, the artist) and H + M's daughter (S) all live together and her mother's sister (N) lives close by. S tries to kill C. S hates M + H. J and M had an affair before S and C were born. S and C look alike, but not like M. S dies. Nobody tries to figure out who did it. J admits he did, along with killing A 25 years before and tries to kill C. The butler (who along with his wife and ex wife, play major roles) ends up saving C (J may be swept out to sea, nobody seems to care). It turns out that N (who was the suggested murder all along) was C's mother all along, and that her father was H, who may not have any idea that he fathered a child other than S. S's husband becomes C's love interest. Wow! You really don't need to read it now.

Indiana Sparkling

My family is into list making, small wineries and geography. I am way into list-making and a sparkling wine and a little too competitive for my own good. I'm thrilled and gloating that in the first week of 2007 I have accomplished something as momentous as adding Indiana to my winery visited list (a competetion with my parents) and my sparkling wine drunk list (a cooperation with the mister).

At $25, the estate bottled 2005* Creekbend Vidal Blanc Sparkling from Oliver Winery in Bloomington, Indiana is over-priced. However, "value" is irrelevant when dealing with small state wineries. I wouldn't be able to try Indiana sparkling for any less, and I'm certainly glad we tried it. Nothing was amiss with this wine. The bubbles were fine and delicate and the drink crisp and refreshing. As a blanc de noir affecionado, I prefer some color to my sparkling wine, but I liked this almost clear wine better than most deeper colored chardonnay-based blanc de blancs. Ice wine (also made from vidal blanc) is added back in at the end. According to the bottle this adds a "hint of soft sweetness." While certainly not bone dry, the Creekside Vintage was not overly sweet. I wouldn't have noticed the addition of the ice wine unless alerted to it (and wouldn't that be of a different vintage? There is no way that this could be entirely a 2006 wine). The floral scents (I need to look up the difference between bouquet, aroma and nose in order to write another wine review) of the sparkling were reminiscent of the ice wine (which I had the good fortune of trying at the winery), but I would have attributed entirely to the grape rather than process.

Altogether, a tasty quaff and INDIANA proudly added to the lists.

*Front label reads "2005", back label "2006".

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Rodent Resolution

I resolve to explore the world of Rodentia in 2007 through both biological and pop cultural inquiry.

Measurable Goals

  • I will see (and profile) at least one rodent a month.
  • I will view at least 5 rodent-themed movies.
  • I will read at least 5 rodent-themed books.
  • I will eat at least 5 rodent-related foods. While this may involve the actual eating of rodents, this can involve such foods as acorn bread or marzipan mice.
  • I will drink at least 5 rodent-related beverages. This may involve beverages with rodents in the name or depicted on the label.
  • I will actively choose rodent-related stuff.

Strategies for Success

  • I will set up a blog, “Sparkling Squirrel”, to report on my progress.
  • I will enlist the help of my husband in photographing rodents.
  • I will maintain lists of rodent-related pop-culture materials.
  • I will teach Vertebrate Zoology which should scare me into learning a great deal about rodents.
  • I will enlist the help of my friends.

The Sparkling Squirrel Concept

Sparkling Squirrel is an accountabilty tool. Every year I resolve to do something interesting (drink sparkling wine, wear pink, read children's fantasy . . .). Most years I succeed. But I often think I would succeed better if I had to tell others about it. So this is me telling you about 2007, the year of the rodent (not to be confused with the year of the rat, which will begin in 2008), the books I read, the sparkling wine I drink and the seasonal healthy recipes I create.

If you're reading this you probably already know me and find this not odd at all, or at least well within character. If you've stumbled across this in cyberspace, I hope this provides something you're looking for, be it Indiana sparkling wine recommendations or Vancouver Island Marmot facts. In either case, please enjoy and contribute!