Best Mixer 2012 | John's Premium Tonic Syrup | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix

John Cavanagh's been crafting small batches of tonic (as in "gin and") since 2008, but the heady elixir really took off this year, with a glowing Wall Street Journal writeup and a New Times Big Brain culinary award. The concentrated syrup's easy to ship and store — simply add soda water to reconstitute. Snag some on the spot at sister cafés Tuck Shop and Astor House and, as Cavanagh suggests, carry it around to mix your own drinks in bars. It also makes an ultra-classy gift for friends who are good hosts, those who like local and natural products, or anybody who's damn picky about their gin and doesn't want to fuck it up.

The interior of the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in South Phoenix tends to be filled with people during the evening hours on every third Thursday of month. Why are they here? The answer is twofold: sex and cheap beer. Both enticements are a major part of the monthly Birds 'n' Beer event. Valley residents pack folding chairs inside the main building of the riparian preserve to fill their bellies with brew and their brains with science. It's a hopped-up scientific soiree that gets plenty silly at times, and it benefits the center's educational and wildlife preservation programs. Attendees can snag cans of Four Peaks craft brews Hop Knot IPA and Kilt Lifter for a $2 donation. After an hour-long mixer among the nature displays in the lobby, everyone grabs a seat for an informative — and typically cheeky — lecture from guest speakers and local scientists on any number of topics. Much of the time, the subject pertains to the sex lives and mating habits of such flora and fauna as sea lions, frogs, plants, or pretty much anything else that reproduces, as well as the occasional oration on bird nesting or the flight patter of bats. Needless to say, the brew-infused, often-humorous nature presentations have become incredibly popular with the public, as a diverse crowd of granola-crunching nature lovers, swanky urbanites, bookish geeks, and curious retirees turn out to learn tidbits concerning courting behavior or watch footage of sea life doing what comes naturally. All that's missing is Marvin Gaye crooning "Let's Get It On."

What our brains do while we're asleep has been studied in labs by researchers and sleep experts for decades. Our brain waves have been charted, our twitches, snores, and movements documented, and our dreams written down for use in studies around the globe. But until recently, scientists have been hesitant to research and document lucid dreaming, which differs from conventional dreaming in that the person who is asleep is aware he or she is dreaming and can control and redirect what's happening in the dream (as opposed to being an observer). The science of lucid dreaming and how our brains ultimately can control what happens in our dreams is now debated ad nauseam in the science world, as it's associated with dream-obsessed wack-jobs and fans of films such as Waking Life and Inception, but it's also an activity encouraged by a variety of sleep psychologists who cite a broadening of the imagination and an increase of awareness in daily life.

Dr. Gary Schwartz, a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, and psychiatry at the University of Arizona and director of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health, is a household name in lucid-dreaming circles and online forums. He's published a collection of papers on spirits, dreaming, and alternative realities that have been called into science-based question, but Schwartz insists he's a scientist who bases his conclusions on data. Schwartz says lucid dreaming is a powerful tool that needs to be studied more in today's sleep labs and university studies. "It's like a knife, which is a neutral object used in skilled hands for surgery and healing," he told New Times in 2011. "But when it falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for destruction."

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