AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Pulp Life


AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Pulp Life

➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Homepage
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Words
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➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Audio

Games, apps, sports, outdoors, and any other kind of hard-to-categorize cultural and life activities:



Outdoor craft fairs in Southeast Michigan
It was amazing to be able to attend these in-person again. 

The Great Outdoors
Specifically camping near Lake Michigan, and hitting up all the beautiful beaches. 



Yes, croquet will always be my first love, but this fall I discovered the joy that is throwing horseshoes! When we were up north in October, I played for hours and hours in the horseshoe pit at our cottage rental. As soon as we got home, I ordered a set for our own yard. I love how straightforward the game is and how you can converse and hang out while playing. It’s easy enough to learn, but difficult to become very good at it—over the course of four days up north, I still didn’t throw a ringer, though several friends managed to perfect them. There’s just a simple joy that comes with flinging a heavy metal object in an arc through the air, watching and hoping it will land just so. It’s a bit of a tough game to play when it’s cold—horseshoes are iron and iron is chilly on the hands—but I’m already thinking about my strategy for this coming spring!



Glenlore Trails
An hour-long (or so) immersive art experience on a trail through the woods for people of all ages. Lights, music, animation, and more. Haunted Forest was fantastic, and Aurora looks magical. {Website}



County Farm Park/Playground
In addition to a community garden, hiking trails, and more, there's a farm-themed playground for older and younger kids, making it a massive hit with my young child. {Washtenaw County Parks}



Animal Crossing New Horizons video game

I said it last year and I'm saying it again: this game is my everything. 10/10 would die for Tom Nook. {Nintendo}



Summer Nighttime at Furstenberg Nature Area
At dusk, fey nightlife awakens. Medicinal flower fields send up fireflies, shelter glowworms, snare moonshine. Ducklings sleep in a row on a river log. I would not be surprised to encounter Shakespearean lovers sorting out their confusions on benches by a boardwalk cut through dense woods. Swans cluster by a bridge and float out into open water, angelic molecules dispersing. Find the moon's phase in the water among traces of city glare and gliding lights from aircraft. {Website}



Mary Beth Doyle Park
My walks have continued in this park from 2020, and it remains a jewel in the neighborhood. I’ve begun to recognize the same folks out there on a weekly basis and it is a real treat to see how a landscape changes throughout the year. Not to mention that it also serves an important stormwater function in the Malletts Creek watershed. It was designed by Peter Pollack, a longtime well-respected Ann Arbor landscape architect, who passed away in 2010. {Website}

I don’t consider myself a good runner, but the parkrun community has been a key in getting and keeping me more active over the past few years (especially during the pandemic). Free, timed 5k group runs every Saturday morning, all year-round. We meet at Lillie Park (also designed by Peter Pollack!), and welcome all runners and walkers—plus dogs and kids, too. {Website}



Matthei Botanical Gardens Trail
The last couple of years have put into perspective just how much of my pre-COVID life could be described as “loitering.” Killing time indoors is still fraught with community risk, and the outdoors are still as great as ever. The Matthei Botanical Gardens Trail begins just off the intersection of Geddes and Dixboro, and it’s where I’ve most enjoyed letting worries melt away this year. {Website}



Did you know that the word “apricot” got to the English language via French, Catalan, Portuguese, Arabic, Byzantine Greek, and Latin? Did you know that not only did the words “otherwhere” and “otherwhen” used to exist, but the phrase “the other day” originally meant “tomorrow”? I really, really got into etymology this year. As in, I have an etymology app on my phone that I generally consult at least once a day. It’s almost like a tic at this point, and the people in my life have endured an unending stream of facts about the origins of words with admirable patience. Of all the weird pandemic hobbies/personality changes to pick up, I could have done a lot worse, I suppose.

Godzilla, or rather, the idea of Godzilla
A blockbuster Godzilla movie was released this year. Did I see it? No. But I was way into Godzilla this year: the IDEA of Godzilla (OK, and I read a couple of books about Godzilla, too.) One of the most potent metaphors/symbols that the 20th century produced, Godzilla is worth having in our lives. You don’t have to watch Godzilla movies to carry him in your heart. (And if you have Godzilla in your heart, it means you have an enormous heart.) 



Umineko When They Cry (Question Arc) video game / novel
The Ushiromiya family meets every several years to discuss Shinzo Ushiromiya's fortune as his declining health leaves a massive inheritance. This time, however, a dark presence stirs on Rokkenjima, the island of the Ushiromiya estate. We follow Battler Ushiromiya as he attempts to solve several murders that start occurring on the island as a typhoon cuts the place off from the rest of the world. Strictly speaking more of a book than a video game, it nonetheless is a riveting experience, and one of the stranger murder mysteries that I've tried following. The game is divided into Question and Answer Arcs, and next year I'll be reading the Answer Arcs. {Steam}

Deltarune (Chap 1 and 2) video game
Deltarune is a spin-off of Toby Fox's smash hit Undertale, where you control the human character Kris, who lives in a normal town filled with monsters. While being bullied by her classmate Susie, the two accidentally fall into the Dark World. There, they meet Ralsei, the Darkner Prince, who explains that Kris and Susie are "lightners", the chosen heroes destined to save the world. The three embark on various adventures, run into some hijinks, and discover the power of friendship. Toby Fox's writing is consistently hilarious and heartwarming in a way I haven't experienced from many other games. They are not difficult games either, which makes the barrier to entry rather small. The cast is delightful and memorable, and the soundtrack whips. Chapter 2, recently released, builds on the experiences of the first arc with new characters and a new world to explore! {Website}

Lancer tabletop roleplaying game
Lancer is a mecha (fighting robots) TTRPG by Abbadon (Tom Parkinson-Morgan) and Miguel Lopez where you are part of a team of lancers, heroic mech pilots here to make the universe a better place. Set 15,000 after the present era, following a civil war usurping an Imperialist administration, The ThirdComm seeks to preserve a Communist utopia in a world where Corpro-States and political rivals across the galaxy scramble to consolidate their own power. You are just one mech pilot, part of one team in the midst of such galactic churning; but small or large, you have a part to play in this world. Lancer is the first tabletop experience that I have had the pleasure to GM. My favorite tabletop experiences involve worlds/universes where there is a clear political or social current, one that players and their characters can contextually place themselves within, or without. Lancer's world does this extremely well. Also, the Core Book is free! {Website}



"Tabletop" roleplaying games
While we haven't met at a physical table in some time, I love having a group I can collaboratively tell stories and roll dice with no matter where we are. While the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons (AADL) is obviously one of the games we've played, my group has also played Monster of the Week (Evil Hat Productions) for our monster-hunting needs and Masks (Magpie Games) for teenage superhero drama—and I've bought way too many other ones that I can't wait to play.



Pickling everything
This year I've made pickled beets, pickled zucchini, bread-n-butter pickled cucumbers, fermented sweet pickled cucumbers, pickled daikon, pickled radish, pickled eggs (which I cannot recommend), pickled carrots, and relish. The great thing about the majority of pickling recipes is that they're high enough in acid that you can water bath can them, which means you don't need expensive equipment to make them shelf-stable. One of the best resources I found, once I got serious about preserving the summer veg from local farms and needed a more extensive recipe reference, is The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. {AADL}



My mom always told me to take a hike, and it turns out maybe she was right. Over this past year my partner started to drag me out hiking, and I was surprised to find how amazing the nature is in the area surrounding and inside Ann Arbor. As a non-native, it was my first time exploring some of these areas, but there is a lot to do even with the weather getting cold again. For a longer, more intensive hiking and biking trail I recommend the Potowatomi Trail in Pinckney (but don't be fooled—it's even longer than you think), or the Cherry Hill Trail for a more leisurely loop through the trees. For days when I just need to get outside, I usually find myself all over Gallup Park's riverside walks and the Furstenberg Nature Area trails. 



Alice Is Missing game
I got to experience one of the best gaming experiences of my life with my coworkers Marisa, Audrey, and Elle during a recording of an AADL show A Taste of RPGs. We played Alice Is Missing, which involves character interaction through text messages, or in our case, a Discord server. It felt absolutely real and at some point the game really took over and we felt like we were experiencing what the characters were. But it is not for the faint of heart as it deals with a friend’s disappearance in a vein reminiscent of Twin Peaks. {YouTube}

Diplomacy game
Backstabbr.com saw a huge increase in Diplomacy games during the pandemic. And no wonder. Backstabbr is the best I’ve ever seen for Diplomacy with a clear interface and lots of customizable options for games. While other people were making sourdough bread last year or otherwise bettering themselves, I was plotting dirty revenge and clawing for survival. Over and over. {Backstabbr}

Flint Institute of Arts
Oh my god, is this an overlooked gem. I drove there on a beautiful summer day and wandered the halls looking at pieces by Calder, Chihuly, and Evan Penny (the artist who makes those hyperrealistic busts). But the famous names aren’t even what stick out in my mind. It’s room after room of all kinds of art full of color and texture and ideas. {Website}



Splendor game
This game seemed complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's a lot of fun to play with family and friends! {AADL}

H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass That Loved A Sailor by Gilbert and Sullivan
I have seen a few Gilbert and Sullivan shows in the past and they’re always a blast! I have always wanted to see this one, so when I saw that the U of M Gilbert and Sullivan society was putting it on, I bought tickets. They took a lot of precautions to keep everyone safe, including requiring masks and social distancing. The actors did a great job singing through their masks and I hardly even noticed they were wearing them after the first few minutes. The characters and comedy were fantastic, as usual. I definitely recommend checking out their future productions; they always put on a great show! We have a DVD recording of H.M.S. Pinafore in our collection for those interested, but I have not seen this version before. {AADL} {Website

Huron Bridge Park
My friend and I discovered this park and the walking trails around it over the summer. There are a lot of parks, trails, and nature areas in that general area and we moved from one path to another. A lot of the walk was paved, although eventually we hit a part that was more of a traditional dirt trail. We have not explored all the different path options, but it’s a pleasant area to walk through and the path is, for the most part, wide enough for two to walk together and socialize. {Google Maps}



Final Fantasy XIV video game
I’ve played Final Fantasy XIV for years, but I’ve never been caught up on its present content. Until now, that is. I’m presently playing the latest expansion: Endwalker. The story of FFXIV began a decade ago, and this expansion is meant to complete that storyline. The world of Hydaelyn is being conquered by a power-hungry empire that is using a combination of magic and technology called Magitek. The bulk of the story takes place in the land of Eorzea, a union between several nations who come together to resist the empire. At the start of the game, you play what seems to be a common adventurer. But after thwarting the empire and other threats, the player comes to be known to the world as the Warrior of Light—blessed by the light of the Mothercrystal, the spirit of their planet, and empowered to stand up against not only the empire, but a dark organization trying to end the world. These Ascians manipulate peoples into using the power of Primals—powerful manifestations of people’s faith, masquerading as their gods. Only a handful of people are able to resist the magical thrall of these false gods—those with the power of The Echo (such as the players, and a handful of NPCs). For those looking to try the game, it lets you play for free up to level 60 presently, which is through the end of the first award-winning expansion Heavensward. {Website}



"Bicibús" in Barcelona story
The humble project of a few families looking to make the weekly bike commute to school safer for their children mushroomed into a hundred-strong Bicibús ("Bike Bus"), complete with police escorts. Outstanding! {NPR

Bicycle Floor Pump and Tool Kit
The library teamed up with local nonprofit Common Cycle to make a portable bicycle toolkit. I don't know how to use every item inside of it just yet, but I feel very accomplished every time I give my drivetrain some TLC with the sprocket brush (item #14). {AADL}

Eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis)
Weren't their deep magenta blossoms especially vivid around town this spring?



Gris video game
An evocative, poignant non-verbal narrative of the process of grief, healing, and transcendence, Gris speaks to the heart about the experience of post-traumatic processing and recovery. {Website}

Hollow Knight video game
A hauntingly transportive experience, pervaded by melancholic yet strikingly lush atmosphere. Hollow Knight brings the player deep into labyrinths of underground caverns, filigreed ruins of subterranean cities, and eerie, verdant forest paths via the adventures of an earnest beetle-knight uncovering the history of this erstwhile insect kingdom. {Website}

Doom (2016) video game
Doom Eternal video game

It's hard to feel mired by the mundanity of everyday concerns while ripping and tearing through comically grotesque meatball demons at a blisteringly fast pace. {Website}

LeFurge Woods Nature Preserve
This gem tucked away off Prospect Road provides a place of serenity and imagination. After traipsing through blustery knolls, swathes of trillium, and across a sleepy woodland brook, one settles down on an upturned log in the wetland to find a sense of peace in the secluded forest gloom. {Website}

Cherry Hill Preserve (+ 2021 cicada brood) 
Offers a wide variety of branching trails that provide variable experiences of wetland, forest, field and meadow. A great place to enjoy all the seasons as they come and go, but especially for watching cicadas emerge from the forest floor and listening to their hum, a sound reminiscent of my childhood, as they find sanctuary in the foliage. {Website}

Freeman Preserve/Marshall Nature Area
More wild and untamed than Cherry Hill, winding, narrow paths take the visitor across tangles of gnarled roots creeping along inclines and descents through shaded, silent woods. There is a distinct sense of solace and isolation to be found deep in the murk of the forest, where light and sound are obscured by the dense, overgrown vegetation. {Website}

Matthaei Botanical Gardens
A timeless destination for those seeking respite and reprieve. Much appreciation to the staff for maintaining the grounds and keeping them open in a time when the space was needed most; I created memories to be treasured throughout the years and enjoyed some of the most wonderful experiences of my life here, during a time I expected it least. {Website}



Wanderhome game
This RPG is probably one of my favorite discoveries of 2021. Jay Dragon's game is set in a pastoral world filled with welcoming animals and is focused on a group taking a journey together. The system is rules light, keeping the focus on the story being collectively told at the table. From the illustrations to the details of character creation, this game curates a cozy, comforting playing experience that also somehow encompasses and acknowledges that dark things can and do exist in the world. {Possum Creek Games}

Hades video game
Rogue-light isometric progressive beat-'em-up that supports a surprisingly wide array of play styles if you give it the chance. If that was the only thing it delivered, it'd still be well worth it, but it also crafts itself around and within a modern take on Greel Mythology, using that framework and the mechanics of the game to share a unique and surprisingly deep story. {Supergiant Games}



Fat Bear Week
I live for Fat Bear Week. Run by explore.org and Katmai National Park, Fat Bear Week is an annual single-elimination tournament decided by voters. It celebrates fat bears and their success in preparing for winter hibernation. {Website}

Alice Is Missing game
This was my favorite RPG I played this year. It’s entirely immersive and played over text messages. It’s timed to be exactly 90 minutes (plus setup) and the timing felt very intense. {Website}

I don’t simply mean Garfield, the Monday-hating comic strip. I mean I love the simple nostalgia for a childhood where I did legitimately find Garfield funny. I mean I love the camp and the gothic, monstrous, cosmic horror. The uncanny and strange fan art. The slightly “off” bootleg merch. Garfield is a plastic ode to consumerism and the Sisyphean struggle against Mondays. Garfield is self-parody. Garfield exists out of time in a non-euclidean limbo. Why, at this moment in 2021 does this call to me? I do not know, but I do know that I can smell lasagna in my dreams.



Making art books
After taking Faith Haley’s Art Book class on Creativebug.com, I’ve added this to my
repertoire of crafts. Free to do with your AADL card. {Website}



Helen Gotlib
Fall Dahlias, 2016.
Etching on paper. Beauty on my walls makes me sigh. {AADL}



I had resisted Tiktok since I found out about it. My heart belonged to Vine even though it has been gone for five years at this point. However, one evening I started to get messages from people who I knew about a Tiktoker, th3.boxer, wondering if it was my son. Yes, it was. Of course, I set up an account specifically to show him my love by becoming another one of his followers. Now, I regularly enjoy s_johnson_voiceovers specifically when he talks about snacks, kelz, and honestteachervibes; I can always depend on them for a laugh. I also adore the storytelling style of heftytestesJazmynjw, in her dating stories makes me so, so glad that I'm no longer in that game. 



Mushroom hunting
Though I’ve always loved spending time in the woods hiking and exploring natural preservation areas, I knew very little about mushrooms. One thing I knew was there was a season for a very specific mushroom that I always wanted to observe, but rarely got around to it. This year I decided I would go out and look for morel mushrooms, the elusive but delicious fungus that appears here in spring. With a knowledgeable friend, I continued to search through the seasons and discovered several edible species and many non-edible species.  

From learning about native plants to installing a native plant garden from Ann Arbor Adapt: Community Supported Ecology, I spent a lot of time outside in my yard. This also benefited me in my interest in monarch conservation and milkweed cultivation, which I explored in a miniseries for AADL TV: The Milkweed and Monarch Project.  



Sports gambling
Nothing makes you feel more alive than having a wager on a third-tier Finnish soccer match.

Feeding birds and encouraging turtles
Sliding into old age by getting excited when new birds hit up the feeder and turtles hang out on the pond island I made for them. My dotage is for the animals.