Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 52: Awkward Botany

Mission accomplished. One recommendation (or unrecommendation as the case may be) posted every week for a full year. 52 posts in all. And you thought that it couldn’t be done. Actually, you probably didn’t have an opinion on the matter one way or another. I had my doubts, though…but sometimes I surprise myself.

So now, as the year comes to a close (and the world didn’t end), I have decided that I will turn my focus away from this blog and towards something new. Certainly I will continue to post here, and I actually have some ideas for some future posts; however, most of my blogging efforts will be focused on my new blog, Awkward Botany. It’s something that I came up with several months ago, but have yet to do anything with. It combines my awkward geekiness with my love of plants. While it is not yet clear exactly what shape it will take, I am excited to get started on it so that I can watch it grow and evolve. A quick brainstorming session yields this list of topic ideas for posts: the evolution/biology/ecology of plants, rare and endangered plants, the wonders of plants, my favorite plants, tips on growing and caring for plants, places to go to see plants, the benefits of plants, plants in the news, etc. I promise it will be interesting, particularly if you like plants, but even if you are not overly excited about plants, I hope that it will still be appealing to you in some way.

I'm not sure exactly when you should expect posting to begin on Awkward Botany, but hopefully it will happen soon, so check back often. In the meantime, say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013. Let’s hope it’s a good one…because for heaven's sake, we all really need it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Weekly Recommendation, Week 51: Digestate

Food and eating is central to our lives, so when 55 comic artists are asked to make a comic about it, it's pretty much a guarantee that they'll have something to contribute. Digestate: A Food and Eating Themed Anthology, published by Birdcage Bottom Books, is the result of such a request, and the comics included are as diverse as the comic artists themselves. Many of the comics have to do with the eating habits of the artists including whether they are meat eaters or vegetarians and why. Some of them are quite serious, pointing out the harsh realities of meat production and factory farming or discussing the reasons why an artist chooses to eat the way they do. Also included are comics that are humorous, endearing, vulgar, or gruesome...or a combination thereof. Some of the comics are based in fact, while others are pure fiction. With so many artists contributing, not all of the contributions are going to be winners, although everyone will have their own likes and dislikes, and so certainly there is something here for everybody. I enjoyed reading the majority of the comics in this book, but the real standout for me was Marek Bennett's "Successful Slaughter!", in which Marek recounts an experience he had in Slovakia making something called "slaughter" with a local family and being served more vodka than he could handle in the process. Another highlight for me was reading the mini-bios of all the artists which included their feeding habits (carnivore, guilt-laden omnivore, pretzel enthusiast, eater of tacos, etc.) Overall, this is a very interesting and entertaining book, and one that I will certainly read through again due to the numerous comic gems that are included.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 50: Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the Ramones

The Ramones were the greatest rock 'n roll band to have ever existed. Their legacy is incredibly far-reaching, and yet, at the same time, so under-appreciated, understated, and misunderstood. While they never had a hit record and never got much radio play during their 22 year career, their influence can be felt in modern music, spanning multiple genres, like no other band yet, and will continue to present itself indefinitely. They invented punk rock, even if it was mostly unintentional and even though that fact has been disputed and they have never really received the credit and respect that they so rightfully deserve for such a feat. From Johnny's unique and inimitable style of guitar playing to Joey's infectious and unmistakable crooning, the Ramones find themselves secure at the top of a list of bands that are a force to be reckoned with. Their blistering live sets alone cannot be topped, although many have and will continue to try. Everett True's biography of the band, Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the Ramones, is a revealing and intimate tale of an extremely hard-working, passionate, relentless, and even highly dysfunctional band of "brothers." Hell-bent on achieving the success, notoriety, and respect they were certain that they deserved but were continually denied, they were driven to proceed, determined that it would finally be awarded, despite the fact that they should have broken up dozens of times along the way (or at least they would have had they not been so stubborn and dedicated to their cause). Even as a long time Ramones fan, I realized, upon reading this book, how little I really knew about the band including the personalities and backgrounds of the various members, their unquestionable influence, their motivations and visions for the group and their music, and all the struggles, battles, and heartaches they faced along the way. This book is incredibly revealing and is written in a very approachable way, allowing the reader to become deeply involved in the lives of the Ramones family. Everett True is oftentimes very subjective and opinionated as a writer, but I appreciated and enjoyed his commentary, especially considering how close he had been with the band throughout the years. True has compiled an incredible resource for immersing oneself in the Ramones world, offering countless interviews and first hand reports and deriving information from an impressive amount of reputable sources. There is so much content in this book that one read is not going to be enough, especially for fans like me, so I'm certain that I will be referring to it for a long time to come. If you have any interest in the Ramones at all, this is an ideal starting place, and even if you're not a fan of the band or their music, their story is extremely fascinating and will provide great entertainment for anyone interested in the human experience.    

Monday, December 03, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 49: Acrylic Sky

I am a huge fan of my dad's artwork, so a few months ago I helped him set up a website/blog so that more people could have the opportunity to appreciate (and eventually purchase) his work. I have yet to do much with the site, but hopefully that will change soon as I find more time to work on it. Either way, I encourage you to take a look at what we've got so far and then check back often for future (and hopefully regular) updates.
My dad produces nature scenes using ink and acrylic paint and collectively calls his work, Acrylic Sky. He describes his images as typical Idaho landscapes, however the majority of his pieces are not depictions of specific sites or scenes, but rather are simply creations of his imagination. A few examples can be seen on the blog with more to come soon. So, please check it out and leave a comment to let him know what you think.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 48: Kepi for Kids

Kepi is a true rock 'n roll genius. He has consistently churned out well-crafted and catchy-as-can-be pop punk songs for more than two decades now, both as a solo artist and as a member of various bands (the most notable being, Groovie Ghoulies). This time around he is rocking for the kids. However, to no one's surprise really, nothing has changed. Thematically the lyrics are geared more towards kids, but the majority of Kepi's songs are already very kid friendly, so really this album doesn't sound a whole lot different than anything else he's done. All of the songs are tons of fun, with several stand out tracks including, "Dee Dee Taught Me How to Count," referencing Dee Dee Ramone's familiar "1-2-3-4" shout before nearly every live Ramones song; "A Little Bit Weird," which assures us all that being weird is "something to be celebrated, and not to be feared"; and "Days That End in 'Y'," which is one of the sweetest love songs you'll ever hear. Also included are two reworked, classic Groovie Ghoulies' songs ("Let's Go to the Moon" and "The Beast with Five Hands") and a lullaby ("Moonbeam"). A two-part anthem about life in Kepiland bookends the album. As is typical with any Kepi production, there isn't a single bad song on the album, even "Nuts for Nuts!", which seems like it should be annoying, has it's charm - probably solely because it's a Kepi song. Whether you have kids or not, I'm certain that you'll find this album enjoyable. In fact, as far as I can tell, it's guaranteed to get you dancing and hitting the replay button again and again.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Weekly Unrecommendations, Week 47: Procrastination

I'm pretty great at procrastinating and probably won't be making any serious adjustments to that any time soon, however I realize that procrastinating means that I will have to put off doing what I want to do now in order to do something that I should have done earlier. If I would have done that other thing earlier, then I would be able to do the thing that I want to do now right now instead of having to do the thing that I should have done earlier. It also means that I may have to rush through the thing that I should have done earlier in order to get it done on time, which could result in a job poorly done. If I had not waited so long to do the thing I should have done earlier and instead had taken my time with it making sure it was done right and done well, I probably would have ended up with better results. These and many other things are the conundrums involved with procrastinating. So, it is recommended that you don't procrastinate. Or do. Because I know you will just like I will regardless of how regrettable of a thing it continually is. As things are, there is too much to do anyway, so things will keep piling up. Some of those things will have to be put off, while other things will get done. Eventually we may, or may not, get around to getting everything done. Either way, there will always be more to do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Weekly Unrecommendations, Week 46: Skipping a Week

When writing weekly recommendations on your blog, it is unrecommended that you skip a week. The reason for this is that you have committed yourself to writing a recommendation every week, and so people will expect you to stick to that. In fact, they may even be sitting there at their computer anxiously waiting for you to come through with something. They have been looking forward to it all week, counting on something great from you. If you don't come through, their whole week might be thrown off, especially if you've been so consistent for so long. They may then begin to question their faith in humanity and, perhaps, their whole existence altogether. You wouldn't want to disappoint them, right? So, get it together, man, come up with something and come up with it quick. Be reliable. People are counting on you.
Okay, so, maybe those people need to relax. You're not perfect. You can't always be the person people expect you to be. They have to understand that you are human, and that you may occasionally have a bad week or have more important things to do. They should accept that fact and just get over it if, by some unfortunate chance, you don't have anything to offer them. There are more important things in life. Perhaps they just need to step away from the screen for a while and go find something more meaningful to pursue.
Still, I don't want to disappoint anyone by not having anything to offer, so I will recommend this to anyone who lives in the Boise, Idaho area or for anyone who might be passing through in the next 6 weeks or so: Winter Garden aGlow at Idaho Botanical Garden. It's a holiday celebration full of lights, friends, fun, and festivities. It's become a staple in these parts, and while I haven't yet had the chance to attend, I know firsthand what goes into creating it because I've played a small part in putting it together this year. So, if you're in the area, make it a priority to check it out. Happy Holiday Season, everyone!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 45: Watering Your Plants

I have talked to many people who claim to have a black thumb. They tell me that they can’t manage to keep any plants alive. Every plant entrusted to their care ends up dying, and they can’t figure out why. However, the reality is that they probably either just forgot to water their plants or they watered them too much. This is because most plants require very little care to keep alive, but all plants need water, some more than others. This does not constitute a black thumb, it just means that a little more vigilance is required.
I understand this issue though, because as a self-proclaimed plant nerd and an experienced plant caretaker, even I forget to water my plants sometimes, which occasionally results in a dead plant. In fact, I recently almost killed one of my favorite plants. It’s a tiny sundew (Drosera spp.) in a little pot – a carnivorous plant that my boss gave to me. I’m not sure how many days I went without watering it, but luckily I noticed, just in time, that it was looking a bit droopy. So, I drenched it with distilled water (the kind of water that carnivorous plants require) and hoped that I wasn’t too late and that it would recover. To my pleasant surprise, it sprung back and is doing just fine.
So, if you’re one of those who considers yourself a black thumb, I would recommend improved vigilance about watering your plants – not too much and not too little (this is species dependent of course, but really not that difficult to master). And if you’re like me and just forget to water your plants once in a while because life gets in the way sometimes, consider this a reminder to go water your plants. They’re nice things to have around, and it’s sad to see them go, especially when it’s due to something as simple as keeping them properly hydrated.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 44: Retch-a-Sketch blog

I'm too big of a fan of Keet's artwork and writing not to recommend Keet's sketch blog, Retch-a-Sketch, which I finally (just recently) took the time to visit. If you are not yet familiar with Keet and her work, apart from checking out her blog, you should check out her zine, Echo! Echo!. After you browse her blog, read her zine, and become a fan (which I'm sure you will), support Keet's work by sending her some dollars and getting something in return. In other words, buy stuff from her. Apart from that, I'm not sure what else to say. Keet's work speaks for itself, right?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 43: Brainscan #29 / No More Coffee #4

While I’m not typically a big fan of fiction zines, I found this one to be a good one. Ben of No More Coffee, a strictly fiction zine apparently, initiated this project with Alex Wrekk of Brainscan, challenging her to write a fiction issue of her zine and put it out as a split issue with his zine. Anyone who has ever read an issue of Brainscan (and who in the zine community hasn’t, really?) knows that Brainscan is a deeply personal, non-fiction zine, so producing a fiction issue was indeed a challenge. However, Alex performs famously, writing so much in her personal voice that even though the stories are fiction, they are completely believable and relatable. Alex’s half of this zine alone is reason enough to pick this up. But don’t think for a second that Ben does not also excel. His stories are just as intimate and engrossing. I found myself engaged and interested, despite the fact that it was fiction and that I have a general (and frankly unwarranted) aversion to the genre. The first story – Photographs of the Dead – is especially worth reading. In short, get your hands on a copy of this zine. It’s a rare chance to read Alex’s fiction, but it’s also a great fiction zine overall.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 42: Neutral Milk Hotel

I shouldn't have to say too much to justify this recommendation. The music speaks for itself. Plus if you haven't already heard it, then your life must be seriously this should help. While Neutral Milk Hotel (legends of the Elephant 6 Recording Company) only produced two full-length albums and haven't done much of anything since disbanding thirteen years ago, their music is still as fresh, original, and relevant as ever. If you don't believe me, just listen for yourself.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 41: Flora's Forum

Many months ago on this blog I recommended an up and coming magazine called, Greenwoman. What you may not know is that there is a great little group blog affiliated with this magazine called, Flora's Forum. It's still in it's infancy and has yet to really blossom into what it could become, but there is still plenty of good content already there to be found. It's a blog for those interested in connecting to nature through gardening, in taking care of the planet, in living simply and doing-it-yourself, and in expressing these sentiments through all forms of art. Additionally, this blog is not just for reading but for participating, and so in order to facilitate this, writers, gardeners, and nature lovers the world over are invited to contribute. If, after browsing through the site, you decide that Flora's Forum might be a place for you to express yourself, by all means contact the editor. I intend to contribute eventually, but have been distracted by too many other things. I will join the community eventually. You can count on that.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 40: Paper Radio

Paper Radio (formerly Signals) is a zine for the radio obsessed, especially for those who pine for radio as it used to be (which is before my time, but I can appreciate the sentiment). Pirate radio, shortwave radio, AM/FM, ham radio, even internet radio, if it has anything at all to do with radio and radio culture, it gets discussed in this zine. Issue #7 includes an interview with pirate radio broadcaster, John Poet, and discusses the controversy behind his recent FCC bust. It also includes thoughts on the vinyl revolution, an interview with DJ Little Danny, Lee Widener's account of an interesting LSD experience, and much more. In issue #8, there is a discussion of telegrams, an interview with Kevin Carey about longwave signals, reviews of select Yoga Records releases, short fiction by William Jackson, and of course much more. DJ Frederick is passionate about the art and science of radio, which is made very clear in the pages of his zine. If you have any interest in radio at all, this zine is definitely worth checking out. It excels at shedding some much needed light on this under-appreciated and declining medium.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 39: Darlingtonia State Natural Site

Driving along the Oregon Coast on Highway 101, beautiful sights, awesome views, and totally worthwhile stops abound. One in particular that I highly recommend is Darlingtonia State Natural Site, which I was fortunate enough to visit on a recent trip to the coast. It's a location just north of Florence on the way to Newport, and honestly if you blink you'll miss it. It's a small site, so it's a brief stop, but it's totally worth it because it is home to a remarkable carnivorous plant called the cobra lily (also known as Darlingtonia). While this plant may be rare, the view you'll get upon visiting will not give you that impression. A short pathway will lead you from the parking lot to an opening in the forest canopy where you will find hundreds (if not thousands) of cobra lilies growing in a marshy area.  Check out what Wikipedia has to say about it, and if you're ever in the area, definitely don't miss it.

Darlingtonia State Natural Site (18 acres) is a state park and botanical preserve located five miles (8 km) north of Florence, Oregon, United States on U.S. Route 101, just west of Mercer Lake and south of Sutton Lake that is dedicated to the preservation of a rare plant.
Darlingtonia californica is a carnivorous plant, commonly known as the cobra lily, which traps insects in its hollow tubular leaves, whose top is flared into a hollow dome with a forked "tongue" that gives the species its common name. In late spring, they bear purple and yellow flowers that rise above the green cobra-like leaves. Darlingtonia are found only in wet meadows and bogs with acid soils low in nitrogen. The rare, strangely-shaped plant is the only member of the pitcher plant family Sarraceniaceae in Oregon.
The park has a short loop trail through a peat bog area overlooking patches of Darlingtonia. It is the only Oregon state park dedicated to the protection of a single plant species.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Weekly Unrecommendations, Week 38: Writing Weekly Recommendations for a Year

This is both a recommendation and an un-recommendation. Committing to write weekly recommendations for a year without being able to see into the future (which no one can do, of course) is kind of gutsy and perhaps a bit crazy. I try very hard to be a man of my word, so if I say I'm going to write one recommendation a week for a year, you better believe that I intend to do it. The problem is that life gets in the way, filled with all kinds of activities and various other commitments, and following through with a commitment made without the ability to see future obstacles and interruptions is challenging. Another setback is that I did not enter into this yearlong commitment with 52 things in mind to recommend to the general populace. Instead, I started with a list of a dozen or so recommendations and figured that the rest of them would come with time, week by week. Personally, I think this is the best way to go about it, so I really have no issues with such a tactic. The trouble comes when I get super busy (as per usual), and it becomes difficult to come up with something to write about; and then, when I do eventually think of something, finding time to write about it becomes the trial. However, these are challenges I expected to face and was willing to accept. The reality is that I wanted to find something that would force me to write more. I love writing, but I just don't feel like I do it enough. Writing weekly recommendations is what I came up with to remedy the situation. So, now that I am 38 weeks into the process with only 14 weeks to go, I'm fairly certain that, come what may, I'll be able to fulfill this commitment despite the obstacles. However, I will not pretend that it's been easy or will be easy. Thus, the question becomes, would I recommend such a task to others? Yes and no. I have (despite everything) enjoyed it more than I have hated it, so if you're the kind of person who thinks they could enjoy such a thing, I say go for it. If not, I very highly un-recommend it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 37: Shabazz Palaces

When I was a youngster, I developed an obsession for rap music. As I got older, I moved on to various other genres of music, yet I have never lost my love for hip hop. Digable Planets was one of my most favorite rap groups as a youngster. However, after two incredible albums in the early 1990's, they mysteriously disappeared, much to my dismay. Consider my surprise when I learned that Butterfly of Digable Planets (one of three members) had formed a new group, Shabazz Palaces, and not only had released a full length album along with a couple of EP's, but was also opening for My Morning Jacket on their tour through Boise, ID. Luckily, I was able to attend, and was blown away by how incredible Butterfly's new duo is. The Shabazz Palaces recordings are great for sure, but if you by some awesome chance get to see these guys live, prepare to be overwhelmed by their incredible-ness. Thus, I highly recommend any contact at all that you might have with Shabazz Palaces, but especially a live show.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 36: Seeing the Ocean

A trip to the coast to see the ocean is always highly recommended. Need I say more?

This is a photo taken during a recent trip. It's the Pacific Ocean taken in Shore Acres State Park in Oregon. Go there!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 35: Responding to Mail

I used to write letters. Actually, I still do, just not at the rate that I once did and not at the rate that I  would prefer. Embarrassingly enough, I have been letting my mail pile up for a long time now, and the duration I go without responding to letters I receive keeps getting longer and longer. I don't really want it to be this way, but for whatever reason, I just haven't made it a priority to respond in a timely manner to the letters I receive. It's disgraceful as far as I'm concerned. I'm not saying that everyone who receives letters should respond immediately - we all have our busy lives with plenty of other stuff going on - I'm just saying that I would like to do better at it. I greatly appreciate the mail that I receive from fellow zinesters and zine-interested folks, and I love the connections I've made with people all over the world. I consider my pen pals to be my good friends and confidants, and I really want to maintain the associations that I have with them. However, I have not been great at writing letters lately. Perhaps I've never really been great at it, but these days it's gotten worse. I intend to mend that though. I will do better. I am making it a point to. One day soon, I'm going to sit down and write responses to all the mail I've received over the past year or more that I have yet to respond to, and then (mark my words) I will keep up on it. I recommend that you do the same. The connections we make in life are of upmost importance, and it is imperative that we maintain these relationships. Our lives are enriched by our friendships (whether they develop in person or through the postal system), and in turn, our correspondence, communication, and attentiveness can enrich the lives of others. To get a letter, write a letter, and if you get a letter, write a letter back. To those who have written to me lately and are anxiously awaiting a reply, I promise you that a response is on it's way. And to those who haven't written to me in a while (or ever), I'd love to hear from you. I promise that it won't take me eons to write you back...not anymore anyway.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 34: Cinder Block Bookshelf

This past week I built a bookshelf out of cinder blocks and some old boards. It's likely the most common, DIY bookshelf around...and certainly one of the least expensive bookshelf to boot...but it's also pretty classy as far as I'm concerned. Most importantly, it was about time I had gotten around to building it. I have been living in this apartment for almost 4 months now with nowhere to display my books. Finally, I have at least a few books on display. Eventually, I will need to make a second bookshelf in order accommodate the rest of them. That's not important though. The point of this recommendation is to say that if you are feeling the need to make your house appear more like that of a punk rocker  - or just some young kid, fresh out of his/her parent's house - build a cinder block bookshelf. Not only will you have a place to store and display your book collection, but you will feel super DIY and punk rock in the process...guaranteed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 33: Sleeping When You're Dead

Who needs sleep? Sleep is overrated and so old fashioned. You can sleep when you're dead. Life is meant for living, not sleeping right through it and then falling asleep...dead....forever. I also recommend laughing to keep from crying and laughing when things aren't funny.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 32: Zone 4 Magazine

Apparently this magazine has been around for a few years, but this year is the first I heard of it. It's about time, though (perfect timing, actually), because it's a great magazine all about living and gardening in the rocky mountains, and as it turns out, I just recently moved back to the "high country west." The name "Zone 4" refers to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, but it is definitely not exclusive to the goings-on of things in Zone 4. Instead it covers all zones in the Rocky Mountains, which includes at least Zones 3-6. The creators of the magazine insist that by producing the magazine they are filling a niche and a need that was not being filled or met otherwise. Their intention was to create a magazine that "is written by experts for real people with real concerns who want to learn more about successful gardening, landscaping, and healthy local foods raised and grown in zone 4." As far as I'm concerned, they totally nailed it. The magazine is very well put together, includes a surplus of great information and entertainment, and is a friendly and useful resource to the high country gardener. A few examples of some articles and topics that are found in the summer 2012 issue of Zone 4 include: an interview with rock garden expert, Panyoti Kelaidis, information about the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, a Wyoming water-wise garden, vermiculture how-to, hosting a plant exchange, selection & application of manure, top plant picks for rocky mountain gardeners, rhubarb recipes, broccoli recipes, a penstemon profile, and so much more. If anything in that diverse list piques your interest, definitely check this out. It's a quality publication. 

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 31: The Promise Ring "Skips a Beat (Over You)"

Every once in a while I go through a strange phase during which I listen to lots of 90's emo music. I'm not sure why exactly, it's just the way of things, I guess. The Promise Ring is one of my favorite bands from this era/genre, which shouldn't come as any big surprise; aftera all, they were quite popular at the time. Anyone familair with the Promise Ring would certainly agree that as their career progressed, they got poppier, The epitome of their poppiness came with the album, Very Emergency, in which they seemed to abandon their emo-punk roots and embrace their indie-pop sensibilities...completely. The following video will demostrate that. It shows just how poppy they became before they mellowed out and disappeared. I like how different this song is from the rest of their stuff, and how great they were at being a pop band despite their roots. By the way, this is not an official video, it's just something random from you tube. But it's entertaining nonetheless, and I recommend it because it pretty much proves my point... 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 30: Me Likes You Very Much by Lauren Barnett

If you've been following Lauren's blog for the past few years, then you already know how great this book is. But if you have yet to be introduced to Lauren's genius, no worries, this book (published by Hic and Hoc Publications) will get you all caught up. Lauren Barnett creates short and simple comics (each one getting its own page) involving quirky, sometimes crude, yet lovable characters making witty, sometimes vulgar, but also endearing comments. The characters are either animals (birds seem to be a favorite) or some inanimate object, such as a fruit or vegetable or some other food or non-food related item. The art is very simple and unrefined, however the minimalist approach is what gives Lauren's comics their character and originality. This is laugh out loud, catch you off gaurd kind of stuff, with a mix of some cute and endearing pieces presented in a very approachable manner. Visit Lauren's blog for examples, and once you're hooked - which won't take long - get your hands on a copy of this book.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 29: Jason Anderson Live

I go to a lot of rock shows. It's one of my most favorite things to do. The best part of seeing live music is being part of the experience, being pulled into the music and participating in something singular...a moment in time that can't be repeated. Whether it's dancing like a maniac to the music or just bobbing your head, singing along at the top of your lungs or just mouthing the words, live music is all about the experience...and it tugs at every sense. If all you want to see is people playing instruments and singing, you can turn on your TV or find a video to watch on the interwebs, but if you want the full experience, you absolutey must be there in person, present and available. Of course, some folks don't do live music well. They don't create an atmosphere where all senses can be involved, where the soul can come alive and get lost in the sound reverberating through the body. These performers are boring and offer little more than what a TV screen or computer monitor can offer. Jason Anderson is not one of those performers. Jason Anderson endeavors to create an unforgettable experience, replete with crowd participation and energy overload. His shows are extreme with emotion, passion, courage, and heart. He gives everything he has regardless of how few people are there to see it. Whether it's a completely acoustic show in a stranger's living room or a poorly attended show at a hipster bar, Jason Anderson comes completely alive when he performs. He bears it all with heart on sleeve and guts hanging out. If you ever have a chance to see him, I implore you, do not miss out of the opportunity. For information on upcoming Jason Anderson shows, go here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 28: Growing Things: A Guide for Beginning Gardeners

Growing Things is a little zine that Joshua put together out of desperation after seeking for a good zine about basic gardening to include in his distro (Ms. Valerie Park Distro) but not finding anything suitable. With promptings and contributions from friends, he took the initiative to produce the publication that he found lacking. Joshua starts out by making it clear that he and the other contributors are not experts and have no formal training in gardening (especially the science thereof), and that there are myriad ways of going about things. What works for one may not work so well for others. I am pleased that he stated this upfront because as an avid gardener (and as someone who is trained in the profession), I did find a few of the things in this zine to be a bit “off” from my experience and perspective. However, I also agree that everyone’s gardening experience is unique, and in fact, Joshua’s summary of the zine provides very succinct examples of how starkly different the experiences of gardeners can be and how, as I have always felt, gardening is a trial and error, seat of the pants adventure regardless of how long you’ve been doing it or how trained and educated you are concerning it. The content of the zine is exactly what you would expect from a zine about basic gardening: making garden beds, container gardening, planting, weed control, insects, composting, seed saving, watering, plant nutrition, etc. Some of the writing is less about the how-to and more about the joy of gardening. All in all it’s a very informative zine and a great introduction to the world of gardening. Joshua was correct in (albeit reluctantly) deciding to put together the zine he had been wishing existed, because the outcome is a very approachable, well put together, straightforward gardening primer. You can get a copy for yourself by sending $3 + $1 shipping in US or $2 outside the US to Ms. Valerie Park Distro PO Box 2645 Olympia WA 98507.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 27: Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came To Be

The book, Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Daniel Loxton, is a short, illustrated book that introduces and explains the Theory of Evolution in the simplest terms so that anyone can understand it. The general concept of evolution is actually quite simple, but there are many people that still don’t know much about it or that don’t quite understand its mechanisms. Loxton’s book does a great job of solving issues like this with its simple language, helpful graphics, and overall straightforwardness and readability. The illustrations are very well done and help to compliment the text so that the concepts are easier to relate to and understand. Apart from addressing the main concepts of evolution, Loxton also spends a portion of the book addressing questions that people who are skeptical about evolution might have, including questions concerning the existence or lack thereof of transitional fossils, the diversity of life and the complexity of some organisms, the origin of life, and religion. This book is designed to be a resource for teaching children about evolution, which is essential for understanding biology and science in general, but it could also be useful in explaining evolution to adults who, for whatever reason, have not been exposed to these concepts. It could also be a great book for those that have been trained in the field of biology who just want to brush up on the main ideas. Either way, I highly recommend taking a look at it. I’m certain that it will have something to offer everyone, regardless of one's level of understanding concerning evolution.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 26: Mean Jeans

“I’ve got my mean jeans on and I’m ready to go!” It’s punk rock, dudes! Mean Jeans are by far the best new pop punk band that I’ve heard in a while. If there are better ones, I have yet to find them, but I doubt they exist. Mean Jeans are a Portland, Oregon punk band specializing in snotty, poppy, party punk. Their songs are as catchy and as sing-along as can be, and their lyrics are witty, smart, humorous, and fun. As soon as I start thinking that pop punk is on the verge of dying out and that all the best pop punk bands have formed, another amazing band like Mean Jeans comes along to prove me wrong. So, if you were thinking the same thing, then allow Mean Jeans to rekindle your enthusiasm; and if you’ve never been much of a pop punk fan, then give Mean Jeans a try and hopefully you’ll see what you’ve been missing all these years. How about I just let the music speak for itself:

Be advised, there's much more where that came from. Find Mean Jeans albums as well as albums from many other great punk rock bands at Dirtnap Records.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 25: Spoonerisms

Spoonerisms are fun, and you should enjoy them as much as I do. Spoonerisms occur (as defined by Urban Dictionary) when the initial letters or first consonant sounds of two words or syllables are exchanged to form a new word or phrase. For example: “Free choosely” instead of “Choose freely.” Or: “Day prayly” instead of “Pray daily.” Spoonerisms actually occur quite frequently, especially when people are speaking quickly or are nervous or distracted. In fact, you have probably been guilty of such a thing on more than one occasion whether you have been aware of it or not. The greatest thing is when people commit a spoonerism and don’t even realize it and instead continue on talking as if what just came out of their mouth made serfect pense. After all, as far as that person is concerned, nothing incorrect occurred. The brain knows what it is saying even if the words come out of the mouth wrong and the ears don’t catch it. Some spoonerisms can be quite embarrassing, such as this popular one: “Three cheers for our queer old dean” rather than “Three cheers for our dear old queen.” Sometimes a spoonerism can be intentional just to get a laugh or to appear creative or original. Regardless, spoonerisms are quite entertaining, and once you become aware of them, you are likely to start noticing them continually. Hopefully, like me, you'll have a good smile or laugh whenever you come across these simple (and occasionally embarrassing) semantic misplacements.

Monday, June 18, 2012

relocation update

So, I finally have a permanent address back in Idaho. Actually, I have had this PO Box for a while now but have neglected to inform you about it (not that you were overly concerned, I'm sure). If you are interested in writing to me the old fashioned way and/or if you are interested in any of my various zine projects, etc. (please, please be interested), you can contact me at the following address for the foreseeable future.

Dan Murphy
PO Box 9862
Boise ID 83707

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 24: Billy Childish is Dead

When I started writing these weekly recommendations at the beginning of 2012, I commenced by recommending the band, Thee Headcoats, fronted by an English gentleman who goes by the name, Billy Childish. Well, my interest in Billy Childish and his music has not waned, and so nearly six months later I am recommending a great, little documentary about the life and times of Billy Childish entitled, Billy Childish is Dead. This film, which was released in 2005, was obviously done with a very low budget and without the use of high quality video and editing equipment; however, that is actually quite fitting considering that it’s a film showcasing a man who despite his prolific contributions to the world of art, writing, and music, has very little interest in fame and fortune and has probably (without pretentiousness) made it a point to avoid such things. The film consists of various interviews with people associated with or interested in the life of Billy Childish, including bandmates, friends, lovers, and associates. Billy Childish himself is also interviewed, and his comments, stories, and quips were major highlights of the film for me. Mixed in with the interviews is footage from various shows that Billy Childish and his myriad bands have put on over the years. The footage includes performances by the Pop Rivets, The Milkshakes, Thee Mighty Caesers, Thee Headcoats, and The Buff Medways, as well as some solo stuff. The live footage was another big highlight for me, so I was pleased that the DVD included a lengthy bonus segment with extended versions of some of these performances as well as additional ones. This film is a great introduction to the world of Billy Childish, and I would implore you, if you aren’t already acquainted with the works of Billy Childish, to make yourself so. In my opinion, he is one of the few raw, genuine, unexploited, and unapologetic artists out there in this big, crazy world saturated with commercialism and pretended talent.

One of my favorite Billy Childish quotes from the film:
“The Beatles put the idea in mind that you could be in a group, and punk rock put the possibility of actually really being in one without really any talent.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 23: Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom

The prickly pears are now in bloom, and I highly recommend you check them out! At least that's the case here in Boise, Idaho. I'm not sure what the state of the prickly pears in your area is, or if you even have any, but here in southwestern Idaho they are blooming like mad. These pictures were taken at Idaho Botanical Garden, where you can see all kinds of things currently in bloom; however, if you get a chance to go there, make it a point to check out the prickly pears. They look amazing! Despite how foreboding they may appear with their spines and all, prickly pears are edible; although I have yet to try them. If you have any recipes or suggestions for eating them, I would love to hear about it. I will make it a point to eat some Opuntia this year for sure.   

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 22: Avocados

You probably already know whether or not you like avocados, so my recommendation isn’t likely to change anything. However, I like avocados a lot, and this series is about things that I like (and recommend), so it seems fitting to say so. I usually eat avocados plain with a little salt. Avocados are also great on sandwiches, and they are the main ingredient in guacamole, which is also delicious. Apparently, avocados are considered a superfood, which I suppose just means that they are really good for your health. If you decided at some point that you don’t like avocados, I implore you to try them again; you may discover that they aren’t so bad after all. As far as I’m concerned, they taste good, they are good for you, and the only thing that keeps me from eating them more regularly and in large quantities is that they can be a bit expensive. Either way, feel free to share with me any recipes involving avocados that you might have; I’d be happy to give them a gander and possibly even try them out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 21: Know Your Mushrooms

Mushrooms freaks, fungiphiles, and myco-fanatics alike are all probably well aware of this fantastic documentary film by Ron Mann entitled, Know Your Mushrooms, but for uninitiated folks and novices like myself, this is a great introduction. This film will acquaint you with a peculiar crowd of mushroom lovers and fungus aficionados, where you will marvel in their uniqueness and their vast knowledge concerning the fascinating world of mycology. Mann bases his film around his visit to the Telluride Mushroom Festival in Colorado, where mushroom fans have gathered annually for many years now to celebrate and revel in the fungal world. Mann converses with several mushroom experts and enthusiasts, but spends most of his time with self-proclaimed guru, Larry Evans. Alongside Evans, Mann explores numerous mycological topics, including mushroom hunting, mushroom cooking, poisonous mushrooms, psychedelic mushrooms, mushroom folklore, mushroom health benefits, and the ecological and environmental benefits of fungi (mycoremediation!). This is a very well-produced and well-directed film, maintaining the interest and attention of the viewer as it transitions from one aspect of mushroom culture to another while simultaneously providing education and entertainment. If your viewing experience is anything like mine, by the time this film is over, you will be wishing that you were as knowledgeable about ‘shrooms as the folks in this film. In my case, I have vowed to redouble my efforts and commit myself to the study of mycology so that one day I can join fellow fungus freaks in a celebration of this magnitude. Perhaps you will join us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 20: First Aid Kit

This week I decided that I absolutely must recommend a band that I was recently introduced to me by way of one of Laura Veirs' mass emails. If you are familiar with the music of Laura Veirs and find it enjoyable then it is highly likely that you will also enjoy First Aid Kit, a folk duo composed of sisters from Sweden. I find their music very infectious and agreeable. Additionally, there music videos are very well done. Need I say more? I'll just go ahead and let the following videos speak for themselves.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 19: National Public Gardens Day

In case you were not already aware, this Friday is National Public Gardens Day. It's a day to celebrate our nation's public gardens. Public gardens provide communities with numerous beneftis, including educational opportunites, green spaces, examples of environmental stewardship, plant awareness and protection, and a place to get ideas and be inspired about gardening, horticulture, and botany. Participating gardens will be open free of charge and have various activities planned throughout the day. To find out where the nearest participating garden is, go here. For those in the Boise, Idaho area, I would encourage you to spend the day at Idaho Botanical Garden. It's springtime, the weather is nice, and there are tons of plants in bloom.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Weekly Recommendation, Week 18: Small Green Roofs

I have been interested in green roofs for quite some time. In fact, upon first learning about green roofs I became so obsessed that I decided to move halfway across the country to pursue a graduate degree that involved green roof research as my thesis project. And yet even after that ordeal, I remain quite interested in them. While I am not currently working in the green roof industry, I still enjoy reading/hearing about green roofs, as well as seeing them whenever I am lucky enough to have that chance.With that said, if you are at all interested in learning more about green roofs, or perhaps constructing a green roof of your own,  I would highly recommend checking out the book, Small Green Roofs: Low-Tech Options for Greener Living by Nigel Dunnett, Dusty Gedge, John Little, and Edmund C. Snodgrass. It's incredibly informative and very well-written and organized. The first part of the book offers a brief overview of green roofs, including the purposes for installing them and the myriad benefits they offer. Also included are green roof construction basics and a very informative planting primer which covers plant selection, planting methods, maintenance considerations, and designing for wildlife. The remaining part of the book is filled with the profiles of 42 small green roof projects broken up into 5 sections. Each profile includes information on the design and planning stage, the installation process, and the successes of the project, along with a personal note by one of the authors. Pictures of each of the projects are also included. These profiles are meant to inspire and encourage people to consider a green roof of their own and to offer ideas about how to go about it. Whether you are interested in putting a green roof on a rabbit hutch, a garden shed, or the roof of your house, this book is a great introduction to the fascinating world of green roof technology.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 17: Plantasia Cactus Gardens

I spent two days last week and will spend two days this week working at Plantasia Cactus Gardens in Twin Falls, Idaho. Plantasia is a privately owned garden that has been around for at least a couple of decades, but not too many people know about it. The owners became obsessed with cacti and other associated plants after taking a trip to the deserts of southwest USA, and so they decided to grow a few cacti in their backyard. Eventually, they were able to purchase 5 acres adjacent to their property, and so they expanded their cacti garden. Their current collection includes cacti and other desert plants from around the world. They also have a small nursery in which they propagate many of the plants in their collection and sell them to people locally and by mail order. They will be having an open house and plant sale the last two weekends in May, and they are open to visitors by appointment during any other time of the year. If you ever happen to be in the area, I would encourage you to stop by. Desert plants can be far more beautiful than you might think, and seeing a collection like this will definitely help you gain an appreciation for them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 16: Eggshell Pots

If you're the kind of person who keeps a garden, then now is the time of year when you are probably thinking a lot about what you're going to grow and when and where you're going to grow it. If you're on top of things then you've probably already got a few things growing indoors - and possibly outdoors too, depending on where you live. Additionally, if you're like me and like to find re-uses for things, then eggshell pots can be a great way to combine both your gardening pursuits and your re-use interests. They are also a pretty great conversation starter and a fun idea for kids - mainly just a neat idea all around. If you're not an egg eater, perhaps you can get some eggshells from your egg eating friends. It's probably a good idea to poke a small drainage hole in the bottom of your eggshell pots. This is best done before cracking the egg. Use a hammer and a small nail to make the hole, then crack the egg carefully, leaving as large of an intact "pot" as possible. Fill the empty shells with potting soil and plant your seeds. Place the eggshell pots back in the egg carton for safe keeping. Easy as that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 15: Monkey Squad One

Occasionally I write reviews for Syndicated Zine Reviews, but it has been forever since I have posted anything. This week I finally got around to posting a new review, and it just happened to be for one of my favorite independent comics, Monkey Squad One. Read the review for yourself and tell me it doesn't sound interesting, then get in touch with Doug (MSO creator) and get your mitts on a copy for yourself.

Monkey Squad One #8
digest, 24 pages, $2.50
The zombie apocalypse continues in the 8th issue of Monkey Squad One. The city of St. Louis has become overrun by zombies, and a team of three youngsters, known as Monkey Squad One, has been commissioned to take them out. A zombie killing spree ensues, and amid the carnage the sound of an acoustic guitar is heard. Enter washed-up, crybaby crooner, Cletus Whiteheart, hypnotizing zombies with his diminished chords. This is part two of the zombie apocalypse (check out MSO #7 to find out how it all started), and considering what happens in the last few pages of this issue, it’s clear that the affair is far from over. I have enjoyed reading several issues of this comic. It’s highly entertaining and very well done. It has a great mix of humor, adventure, action, and wit. Totally worth a look.
Etsy: Monkey Shop One
Twitter: MonkeySquadOne

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 14: The Measure [sa]

As a big fan of punk rock and live music, the news that The Measure [sa] had disbanded followed by the realization that I had missed out on the opportunity to see such a standout band live was a profound letdown. I love The Measure [sa]! Why did their time on earth have to be so short?

It is difficult for me to articulate exactly what I love so much about The Measure [sa]. Their guitars were rhythmic but jangly. Their melodies were catchy but original. Their lyrics were memorable but unpredictable. They reminded me of a modern day Hüsker Dü fused with the energy and originality of bands like Crimpshine, Fifteen, American Steel, and Discount. Beyond that, there is really not much else to say except that they were incredible and fantastic. They were a New Jersey punk band that put out a handful of full-lengths and a bevy of 7-inches in their short career, touring all parts of countryside along the way. With their demise, they left behind a great legacy that punk bands of today and tomorrow will be challenged to live up to. Their existence helped renew my faith in punk rock and gave me the motivation to continue to seek out existing punk bands that are as relevant and moving as they were. While I sincerely wish that they were still around and that the possibility of someday seeing them live was still a reality, bands like The Measure [sa] keep me determined to stick with the punk rock genre for years to come. As long as bands of their ilk keep popping up from time to time, I’ll be hooked on punk for the foreseeable future.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 13: The Juniper #15

This week’s recommendation is blatant self-promotion, so consider yourself warned. However, this is my blog, so I can do whatever I want, right? Plus, everyone else is using their blogs, tweets, and wall postings to aggressively and excessively promote themselves, so what’s stopping me from doing the same? Hey, everybody! Look at me! Check out how cool I am and all the cool stuff I do! Please like me and be my friend! Post, post, post, tweet, blog, post, ad infinitum.
The Juniper is my 8 years running eco-zine. It's all about living the slow/simple/small life: bike riding, gardening, doing it yourself. In this issue I talk about finding sanity by being in nature, my obsession with my bicycle, how to set up a plant variety trial in your garden and why you should do it, and how lots of things in the world are actually getting better (despite what some folks might say or think) and as long as we make the effort to stay on this course, amazing things can happen. I also include a recipe specifically for springtime. If any of this sounds even remotely interesting to you, send me an email and I'll send you a copy. I usually ask for a stamp, 50¢, or a trade in return, but a nice note should also suffice. I'd give my address here, but I'm still in the middle of a transition and don't yet know what my permanent address will be. Either way, write to me here and we can figure something out:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 12: Spring

It’s the first week of spring! Of course, spring-like weather has been with us for weeks now since winter really didn’t seem to be much of a force this year. Either way, spring has sprung, and in my opinion this is the best time of year. So, I highly recommend enjoying it. The days are getting longer. Temperatures are on the rise. Winter is transitioning into summer. As a plant nerd, spring is especially appealing, because this is the time when plants begin to come out of their winter dormancy and look alive again. It’s also the time when work really gets going in the garden. Now is your chance to get your hands dirty and your feet muddy. If you’re lucky enough to have your own garden plot, then you probably already have a plan and are itching to get going. If you’re like me and have no plot to call your own, then you’re probably in a desperate search for any kind of gardening experience you can weasel your way into. Lucky for me, I just landed a job at Idaho Botanical Garden, so I’ll be getting my gardening fix there on a regular basis. Still, I intend to find other gardening opportunities to go along with that because I’m insatiable…either that or I’m a lunatic. 
However, if you’re not a gardener, there are plenty of other great things about spring, including my other major passion: bike riding. Certainly you have your favorite spring activities, so enjoy them while you can. After all, spring comes but once a year, and as they say, you don’t know what you've got ‘til it’s gone.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 11: Judge John Hodgman Podcast

I have recently become quite obsessed with podcasts. I spend dozens of hours a week listening to them, which is odd because I'm a huge fan of music as well, which means that my podcast listening has significantly reduced my music listening. In fact, I have very little music stored on my mp3 player these days. Instead, I have deleted most of the music in order to make room for the ever-expanding library of podcasts to which I have become a loyal listener. One such podcast is Judge John Hodgman, a podcast in a family of podcasts found at Maximum Fun. You may recognize John Hodgman from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or perhaps you have read one of his books or seen him in one or more of his various television and film appearances. If you're at all familiar with Mr. Hodgman, then certainly you're aware that he's a pretty funny guy. But is he a real judge? Well, no. But that's partly what makes his podcast so great. Each episode consists of him acting as judge endeavoring to solve a dispute brought before him by listeners of the podcast. The disputes are real, and they are usually pretty trite and mundane, but the whole process is made quite humorous due to the witty and comical comments of Judge Hodgman and his bailiff, Jesse Thorn. After Judge Hodgman has listened to both sides of the case and delivered his verdict, the complainant and defendant are excused, and together with Bailiff Jesse, they "clear the docket." In other words, they read emails from listeners who would like the Judge to solve minor disputes and answer petty questions. This podcast is always a fun listen and gets me laughing out loud quite a bit, so whether or not you're a regular podcast listener, this is definitely one that I'd recommend to pretty much anyone.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Hello folks...
I am interrupting your regular programing to inform you that I have moved. I had been living in Illinois for the past 2 and a half years while I was working on a masters degree. Alas, I completed that endeavor and have returned to the state of Idaho. I don't have a permanent address at this point, so the best way to contact me is by email. Stay tuned for future updates as to my whereabouts...

Friday, March 09, 2012

Weekly Recommendation, Week 10: Blind Pilot - Keep You Right

Sometimes a song is just too catchy and too appealing that I can’t just listen to it once and move on, instead I am compelled to hit replay repeatedly. “Keep You Right” by Blind Pilot is one of those songs for me. Blind Pilot is an indie folk/pop group from Portland, Oregon. They have been around since 2005 and have released two full-length albums, the most recent being, We Are the Tide. They are currently on tour, so catch them if you get a chance. I unfortunately had to miss their St. Louis show, but I hope to meet up with them eventually somewhere along the trail.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 9: Suicide Squad

Back in September 2011, DC Comics made a very bold and unprecedented (even risky) move by ceasing all on-going series, selecting 52 unique series, and starting each of those series anew with issue number one. Many of the series selected were already in existence or had previously been in existence; regardless, every series began at number one. It’s my understanding that one reason why DC did this was to increase their readership by attracting new readers – first issues sell significantly more copies then mid-series issues because, logically, people like to start reading stories at the beginning; so, release 52 issue number ones all at once and you'll get a ton of new readers, right? One big problem that I see with this approach is that most people don’t have the disposable income necessary to purchase 52 comics in a month at $2.99 per issue. At best, most folks might select 2 or 3 series to purchase per month, and if it turns out that after a few months they realize they don’t really like a series they initially selected and want to start reading something else, they must select from an offering of series that are now several issues into their stories. Thus, DC is back to their initial dilemma of people not wanting to start reading a story mid-series. But that’s just a minor impediment, I guess.
When the New 52 started up, I did what I assume the average person would do and I selected a few books to start reading from the beginning. Along the way, I dropped most of them and picked up a few others, but the one and only book that I have stuck with for 6 months now is Suicide Squad. This is one of the series that wasn’t in existence at the time that DC decided to cease all current series, but it had been in existence several years earlier, and its long-awaited return is a welcome one. The Suicide Squad is comprised of a group of supervillians selected by the federal government from the prisoners at Belle Reve Penitentiary. The Squad (also known as Task Force X) is a secret group of powerful villains sent out to take on other high profile villains, and in exchange for the successful completion of their missions, their prison sentences may be shortened. It’s bad guys fighting bad guys, with one group of bad guys disguised as the good guys. Intriguing, eh? The fact that the Squad is comprised of bad guys means that killing members off is a liberty a writer can take without much remorse, and so it happens fairly regularly in any given issue. The main members of this incarnation of the Suicide Squad include Deadshot, Savant, Diablo, King Shark, and the infamous, fascinating, and captivating Harley Quinn. This is a series that is packed with action, suspense, mystery, violence, drama, and twists, and while I can’t speak to all of the New 52 series (considering that I’ve read very few of them), Suicide Squad is definitely one that I would recommend and I’m certain would be enjoyable regardless of which issue you initially purchase.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 8: Back to the Roots Mushroom Garden

I had wanted to grow some mushrooms for a while, but for one reason or another I just didn’t get around to it…until now! There are several different mushroom kits to choose from out there, but the latest sensation is a pearl oyster mushroom kit developed by Back to the Roots, a recently formed company founded by a couple of college friends who were studying to be investment bankers. Once they discovered that mushrooms could be grown in used coffee grounds, they developed a vision for a new company; and hence, Back to the Roots appeared. I’m not a huge fan of the name considering that mushrooms don’t even have roots, but I guess I can see what they were going for. The oyster mushroom kit is meant to be a very simple set-up so that pretty much anyone can have success, a very do-it-yourself approach. Plus, the growing medium is used coffee grounds, and most of the kit is either recyclable or compostable, so it’s definitely an environmentally responsible product.
The question is does it perform? The instructions say that if all goes well, you’ll be harvesting mushrooms in as little as ten days; mine, however, took more than two weeks. My harvest was significantly smaller than the pictures on the website, which was a major disappointment; however, the mushrooms were still pretty tasty, which only made me wish I had more. The instructions also say that each kit can yield multiple harvests (as many as 4); I’m not holding out much hope for that, but I guess we’ll see. Either way, I highly doubt that I’ll be harvesting 1 ½ pounds of mushrooms like the website claims is possible. Despite my disappointing results, I still had fun with this kit, and I would recommend it to any mushroom fan – or really anybody who likes to watch things grow – and hopefully you’ll have better luck than I did.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Weekly Reccomendations, Week 7: The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette

I’ve been math-phobic for as long as I can remember, but something about being a graduate student made me decide that I needed to get over it, so I picked up a copy of Jennifer Ouellette’s book, The Calculus Diaries, determined to teach myself a little calculus. It took me several months to read it, but that's definitely not because it was dry and challenging - in fact, it was just the opposite. Now that I have finally gotten through it, I've decided to make it this week’s Weekly Recommendation, because I’m certain that you will find this book as enjoyable as I did, if not more so. In her book, Jennifer takes readers on a journey through a period of time where she began to apply what she was learning about calculus to a variety of events in her daily life, including a trip to Vegas, the purchase of a new house, a Disneyland vacation, visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and a surfing excursion in Hawaii. It was amazing to me to realize just how much calculus (and math in general) can be applied to everyday life, and while I really didn’t learn much about how to do calculus (which isn’t the point of the book, really) I was inspired to make a greater effort to understand it and its importance in the world. If nothing else, at least I got some great history lessons concerning the development of calculus since much of Jennifer’s book consists of profiles of famous mathematicians and anecdotes in their lives that led to the development of certain components of calculus. If none of what I have said so far has convinced you to pick up this book, then perhaps the fact that Jennifer spends a pretty good chunk of the book discussing the zombie apocalypse will at least pique your interest enough to consider it. The zombie discussion was my favorite part of the book and totally worth the read. Jennifer is a fellow (former?) math-phobe and an excellent writer, and regardless of how you feel about numbers, calculations, formulas, equations, and other such nonsense, she will definitely entertain you while simultaneously educating you. What more do you want?

For more Jennifer Ouellete, check out Cocktail Party Physics, a blog that she maintains for Scientific American.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 6: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Even though it is very possible that I won’t get to have a garden this year, I still placed a small seed order with one of my favorite seed companies, because I couldn’t look through their catalog without feeling the urge to at least order something. The seed company I am referring to is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, this week’s Weekly Recommendation. To start off, they have the most visually appealing seed catalog I have ever laid my eyes on. It’s full color and glossy with the kind of photography that you might expect from a magazine like Organic Gardening; instead, this incredible photography is found in the catalog of a modest, little seed company based in tiny Mansfield, MO. Several of the photographs take up entire pages, while some even include the smiling faces of the Gettle family, the owners of Baker Creek Seeds. If your sole purpose of getting your hands on a copy of this catalog were to entertain your eyes, that would be totally understandable; however, an eye for design is not the only thing that Baker Creek has to offer – their massive and distinctive seed inventory is really the main event. They are leaders in the heirloom seed movement – scouting the planet continually for obscure varieties and old school favorites – so many of the seed varieties they offer are not likely to be found in many other places. In fact, in their 190+ page catalog you’ll find 1300 varieties of seeds from 70 different countries. One prime example is their wide selection of hot peppers, which includes ‘Bhut Jolkia’ (also known as the Ghost Pepper), weighing in at more than one million Scoville units. Whether you’re going to have a garden or not this year, acquaint yourself with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a company that truly sets the bar for all other seed companies.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 5: Kepi Ghoulie - I Bleed Rock 'n Roll

This week’s recommendation is pure rock ’n roll. Kepi Ghoulie has done it again, rocking the brains out of the human population with his latest album, I Bleed Rock ‘n Roll. With a long history of crafting quintessential pop punk songs with Groovie Ghoulies, The Haints, Little Medusas, and as a solo artist, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Kepi’s new album would be packed with ridiculously catchy, incredibly dance-able, and lyrically impressive pop punk songs; however, on this album, Kepi has stepped outside the box with a sound that is more layered, more punchy, more experimental, more complex, and more rock ‘n roll. Change and experimentation doesn’t always work out well for all artists, but for Kepi it has definitely paid off and has resulted in some of his best work yet, and while I would have been perfectly happy if Kepi had continued on with his traditional, no frills sound without adding or changing a thing to it until the end of time, I am loving the fact that he had the courage and gusto to expand and that it totally worked out for him. Some standout tracks this time around include “Nikki Lee,” “The Fever,” and “Part Time Romeo.” A couple of the tracks on the album are re-workings of older songs – “When I’m Gone” and “Love to Give” – and both renditions are amazing, vast improvements, and highly recommended. On “Unfigureoutable,” Kepi channels Daniel Dale Johnston, which caught me off guard at first listen, but actually happens to be a nice, little break amidst non-stop rocking. Kepi also added a cover song to the mix – “Blame It on Mom” by Johnny Thunders – and totally nailed it, of course. Lyrically, this is a Kepi album through and through, and “Break My Heart” features lyrics that are trademark Kepi:

“I’ll just go down to the gutter
Ask it if it’s seen my heart
I’ll get directions to the shredder
And I’ll go and pick up all the parts
And then I’ll put ‘em in my pocket
And then I’ll go down to the tailor
And then I’ll say ‘Can you fix me up?’
And he’ll say ‘No way, man. There’s no way!’ ”

If there is one person on this planet that I would say actually bleeds rock ‘n roll, it would have to be Kepi without question; thus, his new album is aptly titled in more ways than one. If you want proof of Kepi’s rock ‘n roll prowess, just listen to “Nikki Lee” and try and convince me that he’s not a rock ‘n roll king. Even if this is Kepi’s magnum opus, which it very well could be, I sincerely hope that he keeps on rocking for a long, long time to come.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 4: Me Likes You Comics

This week, I highly recommend that you check out Me Likes You Comics by Lauren Barnett. They are some of the funnest and funniest comics around. They are often just a single panel, with minimal artwork, but despite their simplicity, they are loaded with humor and wit and sometimes even tenderness. Most of the comics feature either talking animals or talking food, which makes them especially endearing.  Lauren also has various books and things for sale, and apparently has a new book coming out soon. Seriously, if you haven't checked out this site, go there now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 3: Greenwoman Magazine

Greenwoman Magazine is on a roll, and the second issue is this week’s recommendation. Sandra has high standards for the content in her magazine, and it continues to show. The thing I like most about Greenwoman is that, unlike most glossy, mainstream magazines, there is passionate, intriguing, and stimulating content filling its pages as opposed to countless pages filled with flashy graphics and advertisements accompanying a few throwaway sentences here and there. In that way, Greenwoman is a refreshing offering in a world of sound bites and background noise.

My two favorite articles in this issue were The Garden Club and Swarm Story. The Garden Club tells of a young girl who insisted on starting a gardening club with her reluctant but eventually relenting neighbor, who to his surprise ended up cherishing the experience. Swarm Story tells of a fascinating experience that Sandra had tagging along with a couple of beekeepers on a swarm capture. Also in this issue is an intriguing article about beetles, an interesting suggestion for an alternative use for honey, a charming story about a man who raises and breeds rare turkeys (and who is a “rare breed” himself), and a whole lot more. A stand out in this issue, of course, is an eleven page mini-biography of George Washington Carver, who, as it turns out, was so much more than just “The Peanut Guy.” I would highly suggest that you get your hands on a copy of this magazine, and while you’re at it, get yourself a subscription. With momentum like this, Greenwoman Magazine is bound to keep getting better and better.