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The forming of Earth’s mightiest super team.

The Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1

Price: $46.99

(4/5)

Pros: Nice action filled artwork and solid storytelling when it gets there

Cons: Begins pretty slow

Loki, the God of Mischief has grown frustrated by the constant defeats to his brother Thor. Once again he plots revenge by attempting to manipulate the Hulk into a battle with him. Instead, Loki’s plan leads to the formation of the superhero group soon to be called the Avengers. -summary

Along with the Amazing Spider-Man written by Stan Lee, his other creation The Avengers reads surprisingly well with plenty of stories that holds up today. While diving back into Marvel’s past I have to admit that some of their titles have left me disappointed due to being so tough to read. Titles like The Fantastic Four, Uncanny X-Men, and Journey Into Mystery have a rather repetitive feel and an annoying campiness to them. The Avengers gives off that feel as well at times, but the colorful character roster and rogue’s gallery keeps the interest fairly high, and another thing, I just love the colorful costumes which has Stan Lee’s boring looking X-Men uniforms so beat.  This omnibus collects The Avengers issues 1 – 30 dating across 1963 – 1966.

I will admit right away that this book takes awhile to get going with some portions kind of being a struggle to get through; one of the issues I had with Journey Into Mystery starring Thor was that Stan Lee was searching for some type of identity, and this held the stories back quite a bit. The same problem occurs here but quickly fades away since Lee has a lot to work with. Stan Lee wisely brought together Ant-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor; and as a result he was able to use their stories as a pool source by bringing some of their villains over. This eventually leads to their villains gathering and forming the Masters of Evil. There was plenty of potential for good stories once Lee began setting the groundwork. Fortunately, it comes together rather quickly and we’re treated to some very good storytelling at times.

This collection also debuts classic villains such as Kang the Conqueror whom would go on to plague the team constantly, and the first incarnation of the Masters of Evil. The action would also become intense with a few forgotten clashes such as Captain America vs. The Swordsman, Captain America vs. the original Powerman, and a new team of Avengers featuring Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch battling both of those villains. The character interactions have some fine moments, and the development becomes quite better when the new team is introduced.

Jack Kirby and Don Heck share artwork duties, and I have to lean in favor of Heck having the better imagination to deliver some really cool battles. Although Powerman would later go on to become Goliath and a D-list villain, he was very well handled with the action.  The character designs look good for their time, and the panels are real easy to follow.

The book is done well enough with limited gutter space once the reader makes it to the middle of the book. Plus the recoloring is vivid and quite nice. There’s nothing for me to complain about here.

Despite being an overall good read the old style campiness will more than likely bother some modern comic fans, and it does start out slow a bit due to some repetition. In any case, I think Avengers is among the better books under the Marvel Masterworks banner, and I recommend it to serious collectors.

 

“There are Lots of Lights…” But Are They All UFO CONSPIRACIES?

UFO CONSPIRACIES on Science Channel

Science Channel Website 

(1.5/5) ugh

Pros: This topic always fascinates

Cons: Recycled stories; lazy formatting; lack of any evidence; over-reliance on narration

The latest entry in a genre that’s become a staple of cable educational channels, Science Channel’s UFO Conspiracies is yet another program dedicated to exposing various incidents involving unidentified flying objects. Since there have been so many undeniably similar shows of this nature over the years, the main thing that I’m looking for in a new UFO-related program is new, previously unheard information. While History Channel’s Hanger 1, arguably the best UFO/alien-related show currently airing, does provide information that I hadn’t come across before however, UFO Conspiracies seems like a complete retread, one that’s quite content to regurgitate various stories that have been covered elsewhere. As such, it would by and large be worthless for UFO enthusiasts: most viewers would have heard these stories before.

now THIS is a UFO conspiracy
…now THIS is a UFO conspiracy…

The initial episode of the program (aired on November 19, 2014) presented a trio of UFO reports, and it appears this is how most/all episodes of the show play out. First off, we have an incident from 2008 in which a large, fast-moving unknown craft was pursued across the Texas sky by a pair of F-16 fighters. Though investigators from MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network, probably the most comprehensive and well-structured UFO investigatory board) acquired radar footage that seemed to corroborate the stories of various eyewitnesses who saw this event, the Air Force has repeatedly denied that such an incident took place, relying on the tried and true methods of explaining what people saw. Next up, we’ve got a story from Peru, in which a group of journalism students investigating the sightings of strange lights in the Amazon actually wound up filming them. This segment is the only one presented that actually presents video evidence to document its story, but I simply didn’t find the story all that compelling. Finally, we’ve got the somewhat more interesting story of the disappearance of pilot Frederick Valentich off the Australian coast in 1978. Valentich had reported an unknown craft in the area surrounding his small one-engined plane while flying over the ocean, but shortly thereafter, disappeared without a trace, leaving behind only a mysterious final radio communication in which grating metallic sounds were heard.

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Newspaper reporting Valentich’s disappearance.

As is normally the case in these types of shows, the stories in UFO Conspiracies are related to the viewer with the help of reenactments along with actual eyewitness accounts. The format of the show is entirely unexceptional, and I think the worst element of it is the over-reliance on the frequently cryptic narration of John Schwab. Schwab’s third-party descriptions of the events detailed in the program are featured much more than any of the actual first-person accounts, which makes it seem like the show is force-feeding the viewer information instead of allowing him to make up his own mind. It also seems pretty obvious that the producers of this show are skeptical about UFOs since a significant amount of time is devoted to providing alternate explanations which debunk the possibility that unknown craft were involved (I could almost argue that this is amount the few alien conspiracy shows that more tries to debunk the extraterrestrial hypotheses rather than confirm them or at least leave the door of possibility open). This approach seems definitively odd even if it does ensure that UFO Conspiracies is more objective than normal for a program of this nature. I would suspect that the vast majority of viewers would want this show to be more ambiguous in its conclusions rather than providing an “easy out” of sorts. Sure, these incidents may be explained away by helicopters, flares, and military aircraft, but let’s face the facts: people watching a show called “UFO Conspiracies” want to hear about aliens living on military bases, men in black threatening witnesses with corporal injuries, and secret government files buried in a vault in central Wyoming.

weather balloon

More damning than the condescending tone of the program though is the simple fact that I’ve heard every story presented in this first episode before in other UFO-related television shows. It really seems as though UFO Conspiracies was thrown together hastily using very accessible, well-documented, and well-known UFO cases – the Valentich disappearance, for instance, was covered more comprehensively in the past year or two on Science Channel’s significantly more worthwhile The Unexplained Files. Combine this fact that nothing presented would be new information for what I would assume would be the show’s target audience with the fact that the program actually downplays the element of the unknown that exists in these stories, and UFO Conspiracies winds up as a show that alien conspiracists would not only be bored by, but actually scoff at.

i'll just leave this here
I’ll just leave this here…

I admit it: I certainly believe in the existence of extraterrestrials (it would be pure ignorance to assume that humans are the only intelligent life in the infinity of the cosmos) and even think there’s something strange going on in the skies here on Earth (as Finding Bigfoot’s Bobo says: “I’ve seen ‘em. They’re here,” though I don’t claim to have any idea what “they” are). It’s likely there will always be a place for shows like UFO Conspiracies since these sorts of topics do capture the imagination of myself and incalculable other people out there. No attempt has been made on the part of the show’s producers to bring any amount of freshness to a now-tired formula; In Search of… debuted in 1977 after all and the format of the “speculative documentary” hasn’t significantly changed since then. UFO Conspiracies really has nothing to offer the viewer other than an semi-tolerable time-waste. Due to the absence of actual evidence, there’s a noticeable lack of credibility and the entire show seems lazy. Skip it.

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A not so godly beginning.

The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1 (Marvel Masterworks)

Price: $19.15

(2.5/5)

Pros: Kirby’s artwork

Cons: Struggling to find what really works

While vacationing in Europe, a walking cripple by the name of Dr. Donald Blake stumbles upon a group of alien invaders in the countryside planning to attack and takeover the Earth. Their mission requires them to eliminate anyone whom discovers them, and Blake is soon spotted and chased. He ends up trapped inside of a cave where he finds a walking stick, and due to frustration he strikes the wall and is immediately transformed into the thunder god of Norse mythology, The Mighty Thor. -summary

Thor made his first appearance in 1962 in the already running series Journey Into Mystery, and he would eventually catch on and earn his title in the form of The Mighty Thor. Despite his ups and downs and eventually losing popularity to the Incredible Hulk; Thor would still go on to become one of the coolest characters in the Marvel Universe with a very rabid following that counted me amongst that group. Unfortunately, these first batch of issues does very little in making a case for the thunderer as an awesome character. It’s clear that Stan Lee was searching for an identity. His writing really didn’t feel as sharp and consistent as when he was penning Spider-Man later on. This TPB collects Journey into Mystery issues 83 – 100, dated between 1962 – 1963.

Stan Lee begins things interesting enough by going through a fast run through of Thor’s strength, powers, and weaknesses, as well as developing his personality along with Donald Blake, and the reader is treated to a quick action segment against the alien invaders which ends with their fast retreat. From here, Lee tries to find Thor’s place amongst Earth’s people as he deals with their criminal element, plus he introduces Thor’s evil brother, the God of Mischief, Loki.

At least for me, Thor had to be among the weaker books at this time. It’s constantly mentioned that Donald Blake is a lame whom is in love with his assistant Jane Foster, and there’s this constant reference on how Thor and Donald are polar opposites; along with Jane conflicted on which man she loves the most despite not knowing Thor and Blake are one in the same. She admires Blake as a sensitive and caring man, but loves Thor for his strength and heroism. This is good material to rope in the reader but it’s constantly beat upon. While this repetitive writing style was understandable back then and at any point in the world of comics; it reads badly in a collected edition as it feels way too monotonous.

Thor himself greatly suffers from the repetition as well. His main weakness comes in the form of being separated from his magical hammer. If he loses grip of his hammer for 60 seconds then he will revert back to Blake. This is a gimmick that Stan Lee relies on too heavily here, and this is a weakness along with Superman’s vulnerability to Kryptonite that always annoyed me anyway. As far as Thor’s building rogue’s list is concerned, Loki is the only one of any interest as he constantly plagues Thor.  The random gangsters, communist leader, and batch of villains whom never amounted to anything just never really gripped me, and the most fun I had reading this took place during the Norse mythology settings.

Jack Kirby’s artwork did a lot of justice carrying Lee’s repetitive writing. The imagination put into Thor’s look indeed works, and although the action isn’t very physical it’s still decent enough to arouse some interest. I especially enjoy the fantasy element taking place in the Norse settings. Although this was far from his best work, Kirby was still brilliant with the pencils and I can only imagine what he could have accomplished with today’s advanced techniques.

These early Thor stories were indeed a struggle and it took a while before it really started to move, at least to my experience anyway; with the exception of the artwork I can’t really think of anything to actually call great here. The stories ranged from average to boring and I can’t read this book in one sitting. I can only recommend this to hardcore collectors and readers whom still have a very soft spot for this era of comics. To those whom are more into modern comic storytelling, try out the fourth volume of the Thor Masterworks TPB’s and work your way down only if it really arouses your interest.

 

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Great for its time, kind of hard to get through now.

Fantastic Four Vol. 1 (Marvel Masterworks)

Price: $17.48

(3/5)

Pros: Pretty strong character development and interesting villains

Cons: Dated storytelling style and artwork can make it a tough read

While during a science exhibition into Earth’s orbit; Reed Richards, (Mr. Fantastic) Sue Storm (Invisible Girl), Ben Grimm (The Thing), and Johnny Storm ( The Human Torch) are bombarded with cosmic rays through their ship that leaves the group forever changed. When they return to Earth they learn that they have developed super human powers, and together they decide to help protect humanity as the Fantastic Four. -summary

 

Thanks to Marvel’s Masterworks line of TPBs people can take a trip into the time stream to read the stories that started it all. Since I wasn’t born at this time and I only read bits and pieces of these storylines through random issues, it had been a treat for me to see where my superheroes came from. To be honest though, while I have enjoyed some of these earlier stories such as The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers; some of these titles really show their age and just don’t read very well. The Uncanny X-Men and The Mighty Thor are some of those titles, and sad to say the Fantastic Four never really appealed to me much at least until The Coming of Galactus. Written by Stan Lee, this TPB collects issues 1 – 10 of Marvel’s First Family dating back to 1961 – 1963.

Stan Lee’s writing was good for that time period, and the stories can be quick and fun but they can also be a pain for those whom are more use to modern comic book storylines. The plots are short and simple with a new baddie appearing mainly to take over the world, and the FF needs to stop them. If this TPB should be notable for anything then it’s key first appearances of classic villains such as Dr. Doom, The Skrulls, The Mole Man, and even the Puppet-Master.

Dr. Doom makes the greatest impression though, and it’s obvious why he went on to become Marvel’s premier villain for a very long time. He was just very charismatic and dangerous, as he easily tricks and captures the FF in their very first encounter. Namor the Submariner made his return to comics in these pages, and he had to be an instant classic as a villain for the FF and humanity with such a  realistic drive.

Stan Lee gives the heroes their due; he attempts and succeeds to bring in some realism in regards to developing the heroes. While Reed, Sue, and Johnny’s powers are wonderful in their own right, and they can pretty much turn them off and on like a light switch. It’s Ben Grimm who clearly suffers being trapped as the rocky looking monster. His temper tantrums and frequent arguments with Human Torch brings out his inner turmoil, which makes him quite a sympathetic and believable character. I always understood what made him a fan favorite, but reading it from the beginning always helped out because the Ben Grimm I grew up reading already learned to cope with his curse.

The legendary Jack Kirby’s artwork is very dated, but one can clearly see the imagination and potential for better stories later. However, he still does a splendid job capturing the will and intensity to win in the battle between Thing and Sub-Mariner, which is the main highlight here for me. The facial expressions and body language are done very well, and many of the action segments are fairly entertaining but nowhere as brilliantly done as later titles once the action becomes more physical and personal. The recoloring is very well done: bright and pretty detailed.

Overall, while these stories have their moments of fun; this is something I can only recommend to hardcore collectors, and fans from that era whom still believe that the best stories are from that time. I’m a serious collector and comic lover but I found myself taking breaks through this, and there wasn’t that much of an urgency to finish it during my first read through. I kind of doubt if I’ll ever read this again, yet at the same time I can’t see myself parting ways with this title either. If you’re not the type whom needs to read everything, then you can continue staying up to date and back tracking to the periods you’re already use to.

 

A Somehow Level-Headed SEARCH FOR THE LOST GIANTS

SEARCH FOR THE LOST GIANTS on History Channel

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See it at the History Channel website 

(3/5) decent

Pros: Nice sense of pacing; intriguing premise

Cons: Quite similar in its set-up to Curse of Oak Island; can we really believe everything here?

It’s been somewhat disheartening in recent months to see television producers begin to produce clones of shows that aren’t that all that great in the first place. After the monster hunt show Finding Bigfoot became one of Animal Planet’s most widely-viewed and most talked-about programs, it wasn’t long before a gaggle of similar, increasingly phony time-wasters would pop up and stretch the genre of cryptozoological reality shows to the breaking point (can the genre ever pull itself back from the ludicrous extremes of Alaska Monsters?). I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised by this chain of events considering the entertainment business’ continual and ongoing habit of attempting to remake or redo various successes irregardless of whether doing so seems like a good idea, but when the History Channel recently decided to clone a program in Curse of Oak Island that deals with a fascinating subject but is undeniably dull and fairly pointless, I was initially very skeptical. Fortunately, the resulting program, Search for the Lost Giants which premiered in late 2014, is perhaps better and more intriguing than the show that inspired it and just may be the one that finally uncovers something truly astounding.

the vieras
The expressions say everything you need to know: The Vieras take their giant hunting seriously.

Like The Curse of Oak Island, Lost Giants chronicles the efforts of a pair of brothers who, after successful business careers, decide to pour some of their fortunes into a rather outrageous pet project. Jim and Bill Viera made careers as New England stonemasons, but in their free time set about researching legends and folklore that dealt with giants – humanoids of extraordinary proportions often reputed to have double rows of teeth. After uncovering a seemingly endless trail of archival reports of these beings, the Vieras set about trying to track down actual remains – though there have been a number of giant skeletons supposedly recovered over the years, no one seems to know the whereabouts of any of them. This, as might be expected, seems to point to a conspiracy in which the scientific establishment has covered up truths that don’t quite fit in with their version of human evolution.

Entrance to the Goshen Tunnel
Entrance to the Goshen Mystery Tunnel. Could it hold the remains of a giant?

In any case, through its initial three episodes, Search for the Lost Giants has alternated a pair of ongoing storylines. The apparent main one in the show deals with a so-called “mystery tunnel” located in Goshen, Massachusetts. Appearing to have been constructed in the pre-colonial era, this underground tunnel measures some seventy feet long, has been constructed out of stone, and is reputed to contain a secret chamber – one which may or may not house the remains of a giant. The Vieras set about investigating the shaft and stumble upon a possible location for the undiscovered chamber. Their goal now is to convince a local archaeologist that a full-blown excavation of the site is not only warranted, but necessary. All the while this storyline progresses, the brothers also are seen traveling across the country investigating reports of giants and attempting to track down other possible remains. Thus far, some of these leads have proven fruitful: in the Missouri Ozarks, the brothers not only come across an archival photograph of purported remains, but also uncovered a large incisor that may or may not come from a human of huge proportions.

pouring smoke
Pouring smoke into the tunnel in an attempt to prove the existence of a secret chamber.

Produced by Left/Right Productions, perhaps best known for producing episodes of PBS’ outstanding Frontline, Lost Giants is photographed and edited extremely well, having an approach that makes it seem a bit more credible than many similar programs. Set up as a pseudo-reality show that follows the Vieras on their quest to prove that giants actually existed, I maybe most appreciated the fact that this program cuts to the chase. It really does seem to focus its efforts almost exclusively on the actual search for giants, which is commendable considering that many of these programs seem more interested in making minor TV stars out of the people involved than in solving any sort of mystery. I think this show also does a fine job of providing a background by which a viewer at the very least can start to appreciate why the Vieras are going on a quest to examine something that seems ridiculous from a logical standpoint. An intermittent narration expounds on the ways in which giants have manifested themselves in popular culture (the stories of Paul Bunyan, Jack and the Beanstalk, David and Goliath, and the Cyclops are just a few well-known myths which feature these beings), and with the wealth of archival newspaper articles seen during the show, the idea that giants may have actually existed starts to seem more plausible.

death of goliath
The death of Goliath. Is it possible that historical accounts of giants are in fact accurate?

Personally, I think the Vieras are a more likable, approachable pair than the Lagina brothers, who feature at the center of the Oak Island show. One gets a sense that Jim and Bill Viera are nice guys who just happen to have a somewhat outlandish hobby, while I frequently get tired of hearing the more whiny Laginas complain about all the money they’re spending to get limited results while treasure hunting in Canada. Part of this may come down to the fact that the Vieras seem to be blue collar guys: a viewer is able to relate to them more than the almost arrogant, obviously white collar Laginas and while the Vieras realize that hard work will be the thing that makes their investigation a success, the Laginas seem convinced that they can solve the Oak Island mystery simply by spending more and more cash. Finally, although the premise of the show may seem outrageous, I actually think that the theories proposed in Lost Giants are more reasonable and maybe even credible than the load of malarkey that Oak Island often proposes as theoretical or actual fact: I’ve heard about enough speculation about how relics from King Solomon’s temple magically wound up buried in the muck off the coast of Nova Scotia.

hard work
I’m glad to see the Vieras believe that hard work will be the way to solve this mystery, but will their dedication pay off in the end?

Ultimately, the thing about Lost Giants that separates it from the Oak Island program is its sense of pacing. While Oak Island bogs down in episodes in which nothing major seems to happen, the timeline of events in Lost Giants moves ahead steadily. It’s appears that the producers of this show learned a few things from the things that came before it – and well they should have. The result is a tighter, more compelling program that might not be slam-bang entertaining in the same way that fictional programs are, but is certainly enigmatic and intriguing. I’m rather looking forward to seeing what happens down the line on this show – episode three ended with an archaeologist agreeing that the Goshen Mystery Tunnel merited a more scientific investigation. Search for the Lost Giants might not be to everyone’s taste or be the best thing that’s ever appeared on television, but I think it’s worth checking out.

Chubby, Portly, Just Plain Round

Evergreen Enterprises Bluebird Portly Garden statue

 

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See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Weather Resistant, Indoor Outdoor usage, Fun item

Cons: None Noted

Evergreen Enterprises Bluebird Portly Garden statue, measuring 7 x 9.25 x 6.25 inches and weighing about 1.5 pounds, this portly is a striking addition purchased with thought to add to the oasis critters already in place below the trumpet vine climbing upon a tall mulberry tree. This little chunky is too cute to leave outdoors in the cold!

Prepared of high quality poly resin composite this hand decorated, multi-hued, polystone bluebird makes an excellent garden decoration or a splendid mantle deco. Devised to be weather resistant, resin is non-porous to avert cracking, fragmenting and flaking away of the piece. Gamboge, resin, is an extensively used material readied via use of synthetic or natural polymers. Resin is often employed for creating objects, ingredients and items to be shaped, cleaved or liquefied prior to being formed into a final form.

Resin polystone items can be successfully displayed indoors or out. Whether placed outdoors in the garden, on porch or patio or on the mantle; these charming chicks can be expected to remain attractive and in good shape for many seasons to come.

Evergreen Portlys continue to be consumer favorites. The chunky figures defined by stout, plump bodies are inimitably sculpted and hand-painted creating an appealing, natural in appearance, resin figure.

Sitting with the appearance of a youngster just learning to fly, on a chilly morning when resting for a moment to catch her breath and puff out her feathers for warmth; this little birdlet appears as many of the fledglings I see each spring. Feathers have appeared, mom and dad are nearby encouraging flight and the little stalwart is tired but game to try the tricky business of flight.

Each miniature feather is delineated, across head and shoulders down the back and to wings and tail we see blue. Chest is orangey with each feather standing defined. Bright eyes, seed eating beak, one more wee denizen of the air is all but ready to set out into the sky and into the life nature foretold when she first broke through the shell holding her. That mom and dad have done their job well is seen in the portly appearance of this small avian.

Evergreen Portlys presented in a multiplicity of bird and critter forms appearing with signature, rounded plump physiques are charming whether exhibited indoors or out.

 Happy to recommend Evergreen Enterprises Bluebird Portly Garden statue.

Other portlys available Amazon and a diversity of other online sites  includes birds, frogs, and even raccoons.

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I like knowing something of the companies from whom I make purchase.  Internet search indicates:

THE HISTORY OF EVERGREEN ENTERPRISES

In depth Time line appears on Company website:

 1993 Evergreen Enterprises was born when Company President Ting Xu and her parents started creating flags in their garage and sold them at the Virginia State Fair.

1994 Evergreen growth continued with 10 flag kiosks in Virginia and North Carolina and participation in 40 trade shows. Ting Xu’s brother, James Xu, joined the business and dedicated the next two years to helping build the company.

1995 Evergreen expanded product offerings and entered the ceramics business. Frank Qiu, Ting Xu’s husband, sold his successful insurance agency and came onboard to spearhead the company’s advancement.

This was a year of several key milestones including first wholesaler show, first gift show in Atlanta, first catalog and first warehouse (5,000 s.f.)

1996 The company continued focus on developing inventory, product design, importing and distribution and broke the $1 million mark in sales.

1997 Evergreen continued expansion by hiring more office staff and salespeople. Logistics and quality of product materials were key focus areas, and the company introduced three-dimensional flags to the marketplace.

2000 phenomenal growth led to Evergreen Enterprises doubling staff and cultivated more relationships with manufacturing facilities abroad to accommodate customer demand.

2002 The company established a new logistics facility in China.

2003 Evergreen broke ground for a new warehouse storage facility at their corporate headquarters in Richmond, VA. The Cypress Home brand of ceramic kitchen decor was launched.

2004 acquisition of Ashford Court, home textile manufacturer, brought Evergreen into a new product arena including bedding, pillows, throws and tabletop textiles.

2005 Working with local artists and the city of Virginia Beach, VA, Evergreen aided in the design and manufacture a massive statue of King Neptune to be displayed on the Virginia Beach boardwalk, commemorating the long-running Neptune Festival. It is the largest bronze statue built since the Statue of Liberty.

2006 With a commitment to quality products, Evergreen acquired Cape Craftsmen, LLC and planned to grow the Cape Craftsmen business beyond its foundational accent furniture with the addition of textiles and other home accents.

2007 The company introduced its newly renovated business – to business online resource center providing consumers access to over 5,000 items available online 24/7.

2008 West Coast showroom at the World Market Center in Las Vegas opened, Evergreen partnered with full line distributors to sell products in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

The Just the Right Shoe line launched with the help of its creator, Lorraine Vail, and under Evergreen’s brand expanded its distribution worldwide.

2009 Evergreen continued to move forward, with acquisition of New Creative Enterprises.

2010 With more than 100 territory managers nationwide and an expansion of the Atlanta showroom Evergreen growth continued with the acquisition of Plow & Hearth, a multichannel retailer with Virginia roots.

2011 creation of Evergreen Enterprises Canada established Evergreen’s first direct sales force outside the U.S.

Acquisition of Team Sports America more than tripled Evergreen’s licensed sports product offering. Evergreen opened a new Memphis distribution center as well as renovated and expanded its Richmond headquarters.

2012 Evergreen further expanded its licensed sports portfolio with the acquisition of the SC Sports product line.

2013 marks Evergreen’s 20th anniversary.

Evergreen expanded its accessories and jewelry line into a new brand called Blossom Boutique. The Evergreen Enterprises Careers page was given a design and content upgrade.

Other portlys available include birds, frogs, and even raccoons.

Rewriting American History, One Episode at a Time: AMERICA UNEARTHED

AMERICA UNEARTHED on the History Channel

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See it at the History Channel website 

(3/5) decent

Pros: Interesting topics and much food for thought

Cons: Arguments made don’t entirely hold up to standards of logic

Premiering in late 2012 and playing in a similar manner to some of History Channel’s other speculative documentaries, America Unearthed chronicles the attempts by forensic geologist Scott Wolter to prove his theory that “the history that we were all taught growing up is wrong.” I first saw Wolter when he appeared on a two hour documentary special about the Templars in America that focused heavily on the Kensington Rune Stone that some people believe represents a pre-Columbian land claim. The entirety of the Unearthed series expands on the basic premise of that special, as Wolter travels across the country examining mysterious locations, deciphering clues and evidence, and attempts to make a case for various alternative theories of American history.

wolter
Scott Wolter and his trademark skeptical scowl.

Earlier on in the show’s run run, Wolter seemed determined to reinforce the idea that Christobal Colon (i.e. Christopher Columbus) wasn’t the first person to discover the “new world.” Frankly, one would almost have to be completely oblivious to history to believe the notion that Columbus actually discovered America – the Vikings clearly were on the North American continent well before Columbus ever gazed out over the oceans and there’s physical proof to back up the claim. In the first two seasons of America Unearthed, Wolter went much further, exploring the ideas that groups as varied as the ancient Hebrews, Phoenicians, Minoans, Polynesians, Templars, and others came to the Americas well in advance of 1492. Another major point of investigation in the program is the idea that the Freemasons have more to do with the founding of America than most people have been led to believe. It seems like the vast majority of the episodes of this show making some reference – fleeting or otherwise – to the institution of the Freemasons.

newport tower
Newport Tower in Rhode Island has been proposed by Wolter as being proof of the Templars coming to America.

As the program enters its third season in late 2014, there appears to have been something of a shift in the main goals of the show and a different approach is being taken. The first episode (initially aired on November 8, 2014) dealt with the idea that Davy Crockett (the “King of the Wild Frontier”) survived his supposed last stand at the Alamo and went on to live out his days quietly in Alabama. A land claim from 1859 which is signed by someone named David Crockett forms the basis of the investigation which reveals some intriguing archival news articles as well as some insight from actual Crockett descendents. The third season’s second episode dealt with the search in Arizona for the mysterious Lost Dutchman gold mine. By interviewing local treasure hunters, Wolter tracks down potential locations for the legendary mine which has long been pursued by those seeking fortune, and pursues the idea that the shaft is hidden in plain sight. I have to say that I’m a fan of the program branching out and focusing on more a variety of topics: the examination of pre-Columbian American exploration and settlement was growing a bit tiresome after two seasons, but I somehow doubt that viewers have seen and heard the last of it.

davy
…yeah, but did he survive the Alamo or not?

Like the vast majority of television shows these days, America Unearthed is set up as a pseudo-reality show, following Wolter around as if a viewer is tagging along on his everyday activities. Some episodes of the show feature more obvious reality moments and seem heavily manipulated, particularly when Wolter’s family shows up, becoming key figures in the way the show plays out. Generally speaking, the show is edited in the same manner one would expect a mystery to, with text messages and phone calls appearing at opportune moments to provide a much-needed clue when the investigation hits a (potentially literal) brick wall. Clearly, there’s some level of scripting and planning going on behind the scenes – many of these situations seem a little too convenient to be representations of reality – and this leads to the major problem I have with the show.

logic
Logic frequently doesn’t seem to be one of this show’s strong points.

As is the case with a indisputably interesting but untrustworthy show like Ancient Aliens, there’s simply no way I can buy everything presented in this show as being absolute fact. To the program’s benefit, there does appear to be some level of science being applied to the investigations here since Wolter makes every effort to authenticate various artifacts he finds. Still, his final conclusions at the end of most episodes very nearly seem to be pulled out of thin air with scant evidence used to back them up. In the case of the Crockett land claim, Wolter examines the handwriting between a known Crockett signature and the one featured on the claim, and even though the two samples don’t look identical, concludes that the same David Crockett actually signed both, explaining the differences in handwriting to the fact that Crockett would have been quite elderly by the late 1850s. I should say that I have seen Wolter straight shoot down some theories that he’s been investigating (his examination of Rockwall, TX proved that the massive underground “wall” surrounding the town is an entirely natural phenomenon and not the result of an ancient civilization’s construction program), but more often then not, he concludes the show by making an ambiguous claim that contradicts what most people would accept as being historical fact.

indiana jones
While he’s a forensic geologist by trade, Wolter more often comes across as a sort of bootleg treasure hunter, the Jeff Meldrum of the archaeological world.

In short, it seems as though the show’s underlying goal is to throw a wrench in the established history of the United States, and it often seems as if the logic used in getting to a point where an outrageous claim can be made is rather suspect (the same thing can be said about any of the arguments put forth in Ancient Aliens or the related In Search of Aliens). In some ways, this isn’t an entirely bad thing: it makes this show very intriguing for a viewer who has a working knowledge of American history. I also like the fact that America Unearthed gives the viewer a wide variety of enigmatic locations, artifacts, and ideas that he can then research on his own and make up his own mind about. I guess my point is that a viewer shouldn’t mandatorily accept everything and maybe even anything this show has to say…but that is pretty much par for the course on TV anymore.

The show’s producers seem to realize that some of their arguments aren’t exactly unflappable, and they’ve designed this show to be super slick and efficient. It’s photographed and edited very competently, and the use of dramatic music really heightens the impact of certain sequences. There’s a watertight organizational structure that acts to keep things straight in a viewer’s head: maps show the locations where Wolter’s investigation is being conducted and point-by-point lists establish the “facts” as Wolter has established them. Though, like The Curse of Oak Island, America Unearthed isn’t the most exciting program on television, I think the topics discussed in the show are rather fascinating and Wolter is an agreeable enough host/main character. The program as a whole definitely would appeal to history buffs, though perhaps not to those who are close-minded with regard to new ideas or alternate ways of thinking. America Unearthed certainly winds up causing more controversy than providing definitive, provable solutions and/or answers, but I think it’s worthwhile as thought-provoking television and would recommend it.

Lightweight, positive poetry

Bawb’s Raven Feathers by Robert Chomany

See it at Amazon 

(3/5)

Pros: Very upbeat, leaves you feeling lighter

Cons: Uncomplicated, simplistic, redundant

This is a collection of short poems by Robert Chomany. Most of the poems are one stanza in length, with four or six lines. A few are slightly longer. The book is just over one hundred pages long, with each page having a poem. There are also a few pages with just lines on them, I believe they are intended to allow the reader to attempt poetry himself or herself. The book is divided into sections on slightly different topics like Balance, Healing, Energy, and Positivity. At the beginning of each section, there is a brief introduction in prose describing what the next group of poems will be about.

If one looks at the technical aspects of the poems, the meter is clear and regular and the rhyming is strong without ever feeling forced. However, if one looks at the contents of the poems, several things become apparent. The main one is that they are highly redundant and repetitive. How many different ways can someone laud positivity? This book shows you dozens. The poems are not complex although they are somewhat more complicated than one would find in a greeting card. In my opinion, these poems would be excellent for thought-for-the-day calendars.

I think that I should have researched this book more after I was offered a free copy in exchange for an objective review. I think that I saw the word “Raven,” and hoped for something dark and gritty along the lines of Edgar Allen Poe. These poems are certainly not dark or gritty like one would get from Edgar Allen Poe and they are not as sophisticated or as complex as any of the masters like Poe, Whitman, Frost, or even Dickinson. This collection of poems would be great for someone looking for light poetry with a definite emphasis on positivity and related topics.

 

“No Theory, No Matter How Outrageous, Can Be Ignored:” THE CURSE OF OAK ISLAND

THE CURSE OF OAK ISLAND on History Channel

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See it at The History Channel website 

(2.5/5) MEH

Pros: The Oak Island Mystery!
Cons: Reality TV moments; simply isn’t all that compelling

In 1795, eighteen year old Daniel McGinnis stumbled upon something off the coast of Nova Scotia on Oak Island. Seeing evidence of a recent dig, McGinnis and some companions began excavation of the site and eventually came upon a shaft which has become known over the years as “The Money Pit,” both because it’s rumored to have treasure at the bottom of it and because of the amount of money that various persons have invested in an attempt to discover said treasure. In 1803 and after having reaching a depth of 90 feet, a stone bearing a mysterious inscription (believed by some to have read “forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried”) was found in the pit but shortly thereafter, the entire shaft began to fill with sea water, as if the excavation had tripped a booby trap set by the original diggers. For the past two hundred years, Oak Island has been the site of numerous treasure hunting operations which have littered the island with holes, destabilized the ground, and destroyed most of the potential clues relating to the site, but this hasn’t stopped people from dreaming about what may potentially lie buried on the island.

one of the many holes on the island
One of the many holes dug into the island over the years.

In early 2014, History Channel premiered a new program entitled The Curse of Oak Island in which a multi-person team led by brothers Marty and Rick Lagina, who effectively own half the island, attempt to discover just what lies hidden there. Set up as a reality show that chronicles efforts not only to uncover the truth behind various legends relating to the Oak Island mystery but also detail the excavations and digs taking place there, The Curse of Oak Island revolves around the notion that the island is cursed. Six people have died while excavating in and around The Money Pit, and legend has it that one more must perish before the treasure can be uncovered. Can we expect high drama at some point in the show’s run? Only time will tell…

laginas
Marty and Rick Lagina. The show’s all about them – and they let a viewer know it.

During the show’s first season, Marty and Rick mainly went about draining a mysterious, triangle-shaped swamp and exploring a man-made cove on the island. While there wasn’t much progress in actually discovering any treasure, the team did make a few tantalizing finds – notably, a large amount of coconut fiber which apparently was used as fill material in the creation of the cove and additionally, a 17th century copper coin. Since there are no coconut trees on Oak Island, the fiber is an indication that perhaps the legends of Caribbean pirates traveling to the location may in fact be true, and the appearance of the coin seems to corroborate the story. Season two of the show picks off right where the first season ended, showing Marty and Rick preparing for another digging season on Oak Island. As expected in any reality show, there’s plenty of turmoil and potential problems relating to their operations, one of which is a piece of government legislation that would put an end to any and all treasure hunting on site. Furthermore, the team runs into problems when attempting to use a incredibly heavy drilling rig to find the location of either the original Money Pit or one of the many subsequent so-called “seeker shafts” that were constructed in an attempt to locate a supposed treasure vault that’s rumored to be situated at a depth of around 140 feet underground.

memorial
Memorial to those who perished while seeking the Oak Island Treasure, but will a seventh name be added?

Obviously designed to be entertainment on some sort of level and having a premise that is undeniably seductive and fascinating, The Curse of Oak Island is a well-produced and tightly constructed show, yet it suffers from being yet another program on a presumably educational channel that I can’t in good conscience entirely trust. The reality show format means that there seems to be an awful lot of manipulation going on with how the circumstances happening on the island are related to the camera and presented for the viewer, and the fact that no significant news stories have been put forth about this excavation only solidifies for me that much of what is going on here may in fact be fabricated or at least not entirely authentic. The lack of news coverage also makes it tough for me to believe that much of anything significant will ever be found on Oak Island, and therefore this show doesn’t so much seem to be working towards a monumental discovery as just serving as a semi-agreeable time waste.

what treasure?
What treasure lies at the bottom of these semi-collapsed shafts?

Keeping with the traditions of the many borderline ludicrous “documentaries” on the History Channel (I’m talking about you American Unearthed and Ancient Aliens), The Curse of Oak Island focuses a large amount of attention on some rather cockamamie ideas about what actually is buried on the island and who put it there. These theories involve everyone from the Templars, to famous Caribbean pirates, to the English government, to the ancient Phoenicians, and early in season two, Marty and Rick entertain an idea proposed by treasure hunter J. Hutton Pulitzer that treasures from King Solomon’s temple (such as the Ark of the Covenant) may have been hidden on Oak Island. Theories like these are a staple of programs like Ancient Aliens, and at times, it almost seems like the purpose in including ideas like this in History Channel shows is simply to name-drop and thereby give some sort of credibility to programs that in no way shape or form deserve it (not helping matters is the fact that Curse is produced by the same company as Ancient Aliens and narrated by Robert Clotworthy, who also provides the frequently goofy and obnoxious commentary for that show).

sludging away in the Oak Island swamp
Sludging away in the Oak Island Swamp.

I should at this point say that the most enjoyable thing I get out of this show is watching Marty and Rick Lagina (who aren’t especially compelling or even likable as main characters) fail in their efforts to find anything on the island. Millions upon millions of dollars have been blown at Oak Island over the past few centuries, and I’m not entirely sure that the Lagina’s money will be enough to uncover anything. That the Lagina’s whole problem-solving approach seems to be to throw boatloads of money at the issue until it works out only makes it even more gleefully satisfying to see when they don’t get the results they want. To be completely honest, while it’d be interesting to see what exactly the ultimate secret of Oak Island really is, I don’t at all wish to see a historical discovery be made by this group of whining and almost cocky treasure hunters who (despite their claims to be “respecting history and Nova Scotia”), have made no effort of adhering to archaeological standards. Hell, the group of people featured in this show (which also features several life-long Oak Island excavators such as Dan Blankenship and his son Dave) would probably be as likely to destroy something they found through sheer incompetence than to actually recover it.

endless money
Can seemingly endless cash reserves finally solve the mystery of Oak Island?

Having been rather familiar with the Oak Island mystery before watching this show, I find the most intriguing thing about it to be the brief historical segments relating to the discovery of the pit and the various excavations that have occurred on site. The Curse of Oak Island makes use of some wonderful archival materials and occasionally reveals some captivating stories from the island’s history, but nothing can quite make up for the fact that, when taken individually, none of the episodes of this program are all that exciting to watch. Painfully dull at times since there’s very little honest humor on display, the program also suffers from the fact that the situation featured here simply doesn’t have much tension despite the many, phony cliffhanger moments set up through a slick editing scheme. Though I’ll sit through most any of the current wave of documentary-like reality shows dealing with mysterious circumstances or phenomena since I enjoy these sorts of subjects, Curse of Oak Island has to be one of the most boring of the lot. I’d say it’s something that most people would be better off skipping – at least until something legitimately valuable is discovered.

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Afternoon Nap by Dimensions (Paint by number kit)

Afternoon Nap by Dimensions

puppy pbn box

 

See it at Amazon  (ignore the fact that their listing says “needlecraft” )

(4/5)

Pros: relaxing activity that yields a great-looking result

Cons: a few mistakes on the board

I enjoy craft kits.  And I have absolutely no natural talent.  Therefore, adult-sized paint by number kits are a great way for me to be able to paint something pretty.  There are a few brands out there.  This review is for a picture called “Afternoon Nap” by the Dimensions company.

Dimensions products come with canvas boards that are of high quality.  However, I’ve read some reviews where people complained that theirs arrived bent.  I’ve not had this happen, but I would simply call the company and (I presume) they would send me a replacement.  Your board should be completely flat.

The board has the design drawn on it, in a light gray color.  The design is broken into teeny tiny spots, which must be filled in with the correct color paint.  In this case, 12 paints are provided, but there are 24 different colors in this design.  This is because Dimensions kits require mixing colors.  So, there are 12 numbered paints.  And 12 colors (indicated by letters) that can only be achieved by mixing two paints together.

While they provide instructions how to do this, they do not provide any container for the mixed product.  I ended up using paint canisters that I had left over from previously completed kits.  However, you’ll need to think about what you’ll use to contain the mixed paint, before you get started.

The need to mix the paints adds another level of complication to the kit.  While the actual mixing isn’t difficult, the problem is that if you run out of your mixed paint before you finish with it, you’ll be stuck trying to re-mix and achieve the same shade.  Not so easy.  I am always finding little spots that need touch-up, and if you don’t have any more of the mixed color to do the touch-up, you’re stuck.  I ended up using colors that were “close enough” to do the touch-ups, but the results aren’t always ideal.

Dimensions kits come with one paintbrush, and it’s a bit too thick for some of the fine detail work.  I suggest buying a few high-quality acrylic brushes in various thicknesses before you get started.

Back to the board for a moment.  Dimensions does one thing that’s really smart.  The spaces on the board for the lightest color (in this case, a bright white) are not labeled.  The purpose of this is to make it easier to use the lightest color.  After all, the light paints require several coats in order to cover the labels and the outlines.  So by leaving off the labels for the lightest spots, it’s one less thing to worry about covering up.  The problem is that no one is perfect, not even the folks at Dimensions.  They make mistakes.  Like leaving a spot un-labeled on the board.  So when you come across an unlabeled spot, you have to make sure it’s supposed to be for the lightest color, rather than a mistake.

Another problem I had is that their design did not go all the way to the edges of the board.  They stopped about an inch away from the border.  I suppose they figured that everyone would frame their pictures and cover up that last inch?  All I know is, I want my picture to go all the way to the edge, so I extrapolated.

Finally, in this particular picture, they used an all-black background.  I found this to be a bit boring.  So I added some brown shading to my background.

Other than these few issues, I enjoyed my time painting “Afternoon Nap” and am pleased with the result.  The picture looks great – just as good as the one on the box, I think.  This is a small painting – only 11 X 14, which means you can complete the project rather quickly – just a couple weeks, if you spend a couple hours at a time.

I wouldn’t think this is a great project for kids.  The spaces are extremely small, and the need to mix paints adds a level of complication.  This project is for adults with patience, and a steady hand, who don’t mind detailed work.

At a cost of around $15, this is a great kit – my napping puppy and I are very happy with it!

Here is my finished product:

puppy pbn2

 

Other adult-sized paint by number kits:

Bengal Tiger by Schipper
Japanese Garden by Bucilla
Siberian Tiger by Plaid
Taj Mahal by Schipper

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