Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Five Mini Music Reviews! Magic Man, Caribou, Punch Brothers, Menomena, and Sufjan Stevens

Magic Man - “Real Life Color”

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★1/2

With “Real Life Color” Magic Man have made an album about as Postal Service-y as Postal Service, only without Ben Gibbard’s lyrical chops and sans the energy. Still, Magic Man’s soft melodies are occasionally fantastic, like on the tracks “South Dakota” and “Monsters”. The album as a whole tends to blend together as the all-too-similar songs start to become indistinguishable from themselves. All in all, Magic Man give us one of the year’s best tracks in “South Dakota” and flash significant promise.

Caribou - “Odessa”

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★1/2

Caribou is hard to peg. This is chiefly because Caribou are an electronic rock outfit that, when they sing, feature vocals from a man that has doctorate in mathematics. While many of the songs would be wasted space on your hard drive if you aren’t a fan of vocal-less electronic music, you’d be missing a few stunning gems if you ignore Caribou completely. Two of the year’s very best tracks, “Odessa” and “Jamelia”, are featured here among some other great ones. “Jamelia” in itself is the object of my personal obsession right now simply because of the swarming and passionate piece of musical bliss that happens right around the 1:43 mark. You’d be spending the best $2 of your day if you download those two songs, and if you like them you might just enjoy the rest of the album.

Punch Brothers - “Antifogmatic”

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Nickel Creek has always been my weakness. I love them. I love almost everything they’ve ever done. And, because of this, their “hiatus” has been insufferable. The worst part is that their three members have been off writing sub-par solo music. While Sara and Sean Watkins each have their own work, no one has been more prolific than Chris Thile, mandolin player extraordinaire, and probably the most important piece of Nickel Creek. Which is why I keep giving Chris Thile’s work a chance. Maybe I should just stop. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “Antifogmatic”. It’s not terrible or anything. It’s just not Nickel Creek. You get teases and glimpses sometimes, though. “You Are”, “Missy”, and “This is the Song (Good Luck)” would both be welcome filler on a solid Nickel Creek album. But the album is, to be frank, a little on the boring side, and it breaks my disappointed heart to say that. Please Nickel Creek, come back soon. I’ll be lined up outside Best Buy when you do.

Menomena - “Mines”

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★1/2

Hearing the absolutely fantastic “Five Little Rooms” on some random music blog not too long ago made my day. It’s piano beat, deep horns, and imagery acted as the backbone to a little slice of indie wonder. Being that we had a little cross country road trip coming up I bought the album merely because of that one song, a move that works out only about once every seven tries. And, despite a few good tracks, this wasn’t one of the times it worked out. Certainly “Tithe”, “BOTE”, and “Intil” are serviceable enough. The problem, as I see it anyways, is that the band shares three-way singing duties. Much like Goo Goo Dolls are only the Goo Goo Dolls when the much-more-famous Johnny Rzeznik sings instead of that terrible other guy in the band, Menomena is cursed by sharing the singing duties amongst three not-equal singers. Creativity is all over the place here, and good reviews give them credit for as much, but I for one just have to admit that beyond the wonderfully brilliant “Five Little Rooms”, this album is a bit of a disappointment.

Sufjan Stevens - “All Delighted People EP”

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He’s baaaaaaack! Sufjan Stevens, indie god, has returned with an eight-track EP, which precedes a full length album due in the very near future (yay!). Consider this EP an appetizer. And as far as appetizers go, Sufjan Stevens does it better than most people’s main course. He starts the EP in typical fashion with the multi-instrumentalized 11.5 minute romp “All Delighted People”, which perhaps one day I’ll stop being overwhelmed by. And while the album is short, Stevens stuffs the middle with three gems. “Heirloom” keeps in strikingly simple compared to the opener, with barely more than Stevens’ soft vocals and an acoustic guitar. On “Heirloom” Stevens brings the same wounded sense he gave so wonderfully to all-time great track “Casimir Pulaski Day” when he sings “Do I always think I’m right? Oh no I never meant to be a pest to anyone this time. I only meant to be a friend to everyone this time.” Anyone who' has every had their intentions misunderstood can relate not just in words, but in feeling. “From the Mouth of Gabriel” is nearly as good and “The Owl and the Tanager” is dark, foreboding, and moody, primarily when Stevens shamefully and softly sings “and your father called to yell at me/’you little boy, you little boy’”. The album may just be a tease for what’s about to come in the approaching weeks, and what a solid tease it is.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

2009’s Real “Best Picture”

I’ve finally done it! My quest to watch all movies nominate for the Oscar for Best Picture has finally been completed. The Oscars decided to make it harder on me by upping the nominees this year, which is why it took until mid-August to finally see all of 2009’s movies. So, for the purpose of heated debate and discussion, I rank them #10 to #1.

10. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

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I truly did not like this movie. It’s the kind of movie that is “well made” and “well acted”, but when it comes down to it just isn’t enjoyable on any levels. Features amazing performances by Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, but it spends most of its time being raw and in-your-face and not that much time developing an interesting storyline.

9. A Serious Man

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I confess that I really hate mid-life crisis movies that spend most of their time portraying being married with children as a miserable life that people only want because society tells them they want it. A Serious Man is only slightly this type of movie, because it follows a man who isn’t so much having a mid-life crisis, he just keeps having terrible things happen to him in his mid-life. I didn’t hate it, but didn’t really like it either.

8. District 9

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This is a movie that seems to be unashamed in its political motives. While the movie was preachy, it was also unique enough for me to get over it. The main problem? No one to root for or identify with. When you care little about the main character, you care little about the outcome of the film.

7. The Hurt Locker

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My first thought after watching this movie was “THAT movie won best picture??”. Expectations sometimes cloud things a bit. In reality, the movie was pretty good. Its portrayal of the deployed environment was anything but glossed over, but its “hero” was unabashedly over the top. This is a movie with a message, and the message is loud and clear, even if I didn’t like it.

6. Up in the Air

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Going off the previews and cast I would have expected this one to be my favorite. I love George Clooney and I think Anna Kendrick is a cutie. The script was witty enough at times, but the movie also dragged and caused more chuckles than real laughs. Overall, I “liked” it, but I did not love it.

5. The Blind Side

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I swear the people responsible for this movie’s trailers wanted it to appear as clichéd as possible, which is unfortunate because the movie is actually quite good. Having read the long newspaper piece the movie was based on, I can attest that the movie held true to the story, even the parts that would probably have been left out of standard PG cookie-cutter football movies. Superbly acted, this film managed to heart warming without crossing the cheeseball line.

4. Avatar

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I don’t give points to this film for being groundbreaking. Certainly the movie was an epic undertaking, and I cannot deny that the movie was extremely entertaining. A bit long perhaps, but the movie is legitimately captivating all the way through. There is nothing overpowering about the storyline or the script, and I believe it better falls in the “good” category than the “great” one.

3. An Education

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Boy did this movie catch me off guard. I hardly expect to like movies like this, but I loved this film. It featured outstanding performances by Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard and provided some of the most confusing emotions. Overall the movie was captivating from start to finish and was easily one of the best movies of the year.

2. Up

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I was so glad this movie got nominated. I guess there’s an assumption that animated movies will just go to the Best Animated Film category (hopefully Toy Story 3 will get a chance as well). Up was one of Pixar’s best, showcasing the trademark humor combined with more heart than usual. It’s difficult to make it through this movie without a side that hurts from laughing OR a dry eye.

1. Inglorious Basterds

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Quentin Tarantino is so very hit and miss. I equally love and hate his good and bad films. This one? Loved it. It’s hilarious, action-packed, well acted, and entertaining. Brad Pitt is fantastic. Christopher Waltz was even more fantastic. The end was fantastic. I loved basically everything about this movie and if I had to pick from these 10 movies, I would choose this one.

Addendum:

In my opinion the two best movies of the year were not even nominated for Best Picture. These two movies are Crazy Heart and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Coraline, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs also could have figured into this list if nominated. I merely wrote the list like this because I like to watch every film nominated and decide for myself.

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Music Review: The Arcade Fire - “The Suburbs”

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“I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light, but how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?”

I’m a little anxious beginning to review this album. For one thing, I feel like it’s the kind of album that probably takes twenty listens to really grasp. I’m on listen number 12, probably. At this point I don’t really know if this album is my favorite Arcade Fire album or whether I’m still caught up in the excitement. The album is so rich in storytelling, depth, passion, music, etc. that there is more and more there each time I listen. But, at some point, you just gotta go for it.

“The Suburbs” focuses it’s concept album attention on it’s title character: the suburbs. The album switches perspective, criticizes, compliments, romanticizes, and tears down. It’s one of those albums where you’re sure the band is trying to make a point, but when the perspective keeps switching you’re never quite sure what that point is. That is, until the final (and 16th) track.

The album starts out with the opening track “The Suburbs, which introduces us to a person trying to escape the youth, the boredom, and inevitable death of suburbia to the tune of a loungy piano and subtle strings. “Grab your mother’s keys/we’re leaving” he says. Second track “Ready to Start” finds the band at the cusp of success now that they’ve escaped the suburbs, where they deliver the fantastically self-aware line “Businessmen drink my blood/Like the kids in art school said they would”. By track three lead singer Win Butler has become a full-fledged “Modern Man”, despite the uncomfortable feelings he associates with it. “Rococo” turns its attention to the “modern kids” of suburbia with a condescending and haunting take on modern youth (“They will eat right out of your hands/using big words that they don’t understand”). As if it weren’t obvious enough that they were speaking of the suburban mall crowd that knows far more about Ke$ha than what is happening in Pakistan right now is or who Alexander Hamilton was, Butler puts on his best terrified tone and gasps “Oh my dear god what is that horrible song they’re singing?”.

The sunny strings that electrify the opening of “Empty Room” lead only to a passionate song of loneliness from both Win Butler and wife Régine Chassagne. The song ends with the French phrase “Toute ma vie est avec toi/Moi j'attends, toi tu pars”, which roughly translates to “All my life, is with you/Me I wait, You you go” fading out in the background. Self-doubt starts to creep in to Butler’s song in “City With No Children”, where the previously critical art school student that you find in “Ready to Start” and “Rococo” sings “You never trust a millionaire quoting the sermon on the mount/I used to think I was not like them/but I'm beginning to have my doubts/my doubts about it”. Ominous songs “Half Light I” and “Half Light II (No Celebration)” deal with the idea of emerging into understanding, and not being exactly impressed with the world when they do understand. There’s definitely a longing for innocence held beneath these songs, which use synth strings and pulsating beats to perfection. On “Suburban War” we get a taste of nostalgia where Butler drives back through the suburbs he “escaped” from at the beginning, and he finally has a hint of sadness as he realizes his town and old friends don’t recognize him anymore. “Month of May” returns once again to criticizing the kids, but this time does it with perhaps the most rock and roll Arcade Fire song in their discography. This time it’s the kids who all threaten revolution and speak of anger but still “stand with their arms folded tight”.

Going song by song through an entire 16 song album can get quite long, so I’ll only get into a few more things. First, musically the best song might be found in “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, a positively 80’s synth rocker fronted by Butler’s wife. It’s a fantastic piece of music, especially when bumped up lyrically with “Sprawl I (Flatlands). The song is about being a kid again. It’s where the whole album starts to come together. The album begins to take light and we see it for what is: it’s an album about wanting to grow up, escape the monotony and boredom of small towns, long for bigger things, and dismiss suburbia as childishness nonsense, only to realize how much you miss home and long for those feelings of boredom. The key to understanding this story lies in “Wasted Hours” and the concluding song “The Suburbs (Continued”. In “Wasted Hours” he sings “What was that line you said? Wishing you were anywhere but here/You watched the life you're living disappear.” Butler sings of how they escape the town because all it was wasted, boring hours. But a self-aware Butler acknowledges something on the final track:

“If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I'd only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I would love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again”

You can run away from something your whole life, and then spend an awful long time trying to run right back to the very place you were trying to escape from the whole time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ohio

So here we are! Ohio it is. IMG_3456I’ve now been in my new state for a week and my first impressions have been mostly positive. I like being at a base that has 10 gates, multiple golf courses, and hundreds of restaurants in the general local area.

Anyhow, for those of you who don’t know, I’m here to get my Masters degree in Logistics Management at the Air Force Institute of Technology. I checked in today, and although I knew it was basically just like college except in uniform, I guess it surprised me exactly how much like college it was. In my head I was still picturing some of these Air Force trainings I’ve been to, but it was a heckuva a lot closer to Univ of Portland than it was to Air and Space Basic Course today. Yes, that reference will make sense to just about 20 people, but there it is.

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August 16th in the Rubino Family will forever be Tim Day. We designated August 16th as Tim Day because of our new “friend” Tim, The Worst Realtor in Ohio. Tim works for Irongate Realty, who I recommend about as much as a I recommend the pulled pork special at Subway. Here’s the story goes. On Saturday, Aug 14th Holly and I took a tour of a lovely little place near the Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek, a very nice area full of stuff to do. The add on the website said “will consider small pets”, and we made it known right away up front that we had a cat. Tim said that he was sure this would be fine, but that he would confirm with the owner. Anyhow, we call him back on Saturday night to say that we’d like to take the place. He is very happy and meets us at the house on Sunday to sign the initial paperwork and turn over the key so we could start getting to work on the place, which had a disgusting Bermuda mural pasted to the wall. We didn’t have the official lease yet, but since that was just paperwork he gave us the key and told us we could start doing stuff. So there I am on Monday morning (which later became “Tim Day”) and I get a call from Tim telling us that he had “forgot” to ask the owner about the cat and that the owner had texted him to make sure we didn’t have animals! So he told us we had two options: 1) he could look the other way if we hid the cat stuff anytime the owner came around or 2) he could call the owner and explain. I picked option #2 because only an idiot would agree to option #1. It took FOUR hours for Tim to get a hold of the owner. Meanwhile, Holly and I have no place, nothing to do, and the house we are supposed to be painting/working on is just sitting there while we potentially lose any other houses. Four hours later Tim calls back and tells us that he has bad news and that we can’t have the place, this is an entire two days after he told us a cat was okay and we already started taking down the mural. One day after I wrote him a very large deposit check. Unbelievable, right? It doesn’t stop there. I hesitantly agreed to meet him halfway at a closer realty office to exchange the keys for the checks. However, when I got to the place (which he said was open until 7), the place was completely shut down. Up to this point I had been very nice considering. I never shouted and I was never mean. I told him I was mad and frustrated, but I was very calm about it. But this final act of incompetence infuriated me. I sent him a professional yet very clearly disgusted e-mail letting him know that I was not driving another 1/10 of a mile to meet him and that he could either meet me at a time convenient to me at a gas station around the corner or he could wait a while and he could have his key back once I get settled in the house and buy stamps. After all, I assume the owner wouldn’t be too happy that some random guy had his key still and no lease!

That is how August 18th became Tim Day.

Anyhow, this place ain’t bad for a consolation prize!

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Ohio isn’t as terribly humid as I thought it was going to be. A few of these days have been downright pleasant. Over time there will be many things I will like and dislike about Ohio, but surprisingly I don’t think the weather will play as big of a factor as I thought it might.

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In honor of my brother David, here is new song I’m fond of that is sung by a female. It’s “Help, I’m Alive” by Metric.

Coming soon I’ll manage to get up album reviews for The Arcade Fire, Metric, and Menomena. Life is just a little crazy right now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Travel Blog Day 6! (History Nerd Day!)

The route: St. Joseph, Missouri to St. Louis, Missouri

Miles: 287

States seen: Missouri

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Today’s day was made much shorter because yesterday we drove a couple extra hours, and I’m definitely thankful for that. I guess I was just riding that Tom Osborne high. So this morning we started the day by visiting the house where the legendary outlaw Jesse James was shot in a rundown historic district in St. Joseph. It was an odd little place, but worth the $3 each just to see the famous bullet hole, which due to previous owners allowing visitors to touch, has not become a bullet gash in the wall.

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St. Joseph is also famous for being the starting point of the Pony Express, and thus is also the home to the Pony Express Museum.

IMG_3353 Then we went down to Kansas City where I was very excited to eat at what very well might be the world’s most famous BBQ joint, Arthur Bryant’s.

IMG_3365 I think you can clearly see the glee in my face as I await my platter of meatitude…

IMG_3363 Ugggh, look at that hair. No worries, I got that taken care of tonight. Back in regs!

We then scurried up to Independence for a little taste of history. I find it intereseting that we have essentially tracked the Oregon trail, from starting right near Glenn’s Ferry in Idaho to moving down the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark first put their boat in the water to now reaching Independence, where this courthouse is featured in the very beginning of the Oregon Trail game.

IMG_3367 All this history made my wife a very happy woman, and that is a good thing of course!

IMG_3368 We then got ourselves some tickets to tour the Truman House on the block where Harry Truman and his wife both grew up on.

IMG_3371 First Holly took the tour while I pulled cat duty in the car…

IMG_3374 When she came back I got my turn and learned a couple things:

1) My tour guide, who seemed like she was probably about 20ish, did not like Barack Obama. Why? Because, as she tells it, he visited Independence and decided to make an unplanned tour of the Truman House. Apparently they let him walk all over the untouchable parts of the house without sanitary “booties”. Since there was only three of us on the tour I made the comment that, well, hey, he’s the President so I guess he runs the National Park system. Au contraire, she tells us, this was when he was campaigning, which meant that he was merely a visiting senator from another state. I loved how she told this story without a hint of political leanings. She simply did not like him because he was not a rule follower.

2) I’m now supposed to look for my tour guide’s sister at the Gateway Arch tomorrow, where she sells tickets.

3) I think the tour guide liked me….maybe? Potentially? I like to think it’s at least a possibility that a tour guide could like me. I don’t really get hit on much. But I suspect flirtation!

4) Oh, uh, Harry Truman…I should say something about Harry Truman…uh…well, I liked his study! I could study in that study.

So there we have it. Not a bad day. And may I say, the La Quinta in Maryland Heights, Missouri, is a very nice hotel. Thanks Luke for the recommendation! Tomorrow we hit up the Gateway Arch and some random places. I’m also nervous and excited to see Dayton, our new home, for the first time. Until tomorrow night, thanks for reading!!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Travel Blog Day 5! (In which I met a living legend!!!)

The route: Sioux Falls, South Dakota to St. Joseph, Missouri

Miles: 381

States seen: South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri

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He coached the Nebraska Cornhuskers for 25 years. He won 12 conference championships and three national championships. His teams finished in the Top 15 in 24 out of 25 seasons and never won less than 9 games. He was voted into the college football hall of fame. He received the Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award. ESPN honored him as the Coach of the Decade in the 90’s. He’s regarded as one of the greatest coaches in any sport of all time. And there I was just looking at the trophies in the University of Nebraska trophy room when he walked around the corner. Therefore, I present the best picture of the whole trip:

IMG_3343 This is the kind of picture that gets framed and put in your study forever. This is a picture I will treasure forever. This is a picture that MADE MY TRIP. Wow.

But that’s not even all the day! I started this day as excited as possible for what laid before me (and I didn’t even KNOW how awesome it was going to be).

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Now I’m all about hitting new states on my lifelong 50 state quest, so I was thoroughly pumped to see Iowa for the first time today, which happened pretty early in the trip.

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Then we hit up Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives locale California Taco in Omaha thanks to a tie-breaking recommendation from Kelsey Thornton.

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And then we headed to my personal Mecca, Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a place I’ve never been before. This has always bothered me. When people ask me why I’m a Nebraska fan I tell stories of my grandfather playing on their team or my dad being born there, but I could never even say I’d so much had stepped a foot in Lincoln. But today I made it.

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I touched the field…

IMG_3331 I touched the lucky horseshoe…

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I ran out the tunnel…

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I posed by things related to Tommie Frazier, the man who inspired me to wear #15 all the time…

IMG_3337IMG_3339 I stood by the National Championship trophies…

IMG_3342 And, wait, DID I MENTION I MET TOM OSBORNE????

IMG_3343 All in all, today was a fantastic day. One I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. And, yes, I bought lots of goodies in the Nebraska team store. Everyone needs a foam finger.

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Travel Blog Day 4!

The route: Wall, South Dakota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Miles: 312

States seen: South Dakota, and only South Dakota…ugggh

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Oh Day 4, I don’t think that I’ll have the fondest memories of you. On top of waking up from a night of writhing in pain on the floor with food poisoning it rained all day long. And I mean all day. Holly and I discussed this and agreed that there had been no portion of the day where it was not either pouring or sprinkling to some degree. This means most of the day looked something like this:

IMG_3255 “Lucky” for us it was merely sprinkling during out tour of Badlands National Park, so we were able to get a decent view of the weirdness. This place has to have some of the oddest landscapes in the world. Check it out.

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Right outside of Badlands is a place called Prairie Homestead that Holly asked to stop at. I took Jalepeno in the car while she looked around.

IMG_3276IMG_3281IMG_3274Looks like they are pretty realistic in their portrayal of toilet use…

Right down the road waiting for us was the largest prairie dog in the world! Thanks Kristen for providing us with a list of all the large things!

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Then we hit the road and started driving in the rain. And it rained and rained and rained. We got hungry. We stopped in Murdo, SD, where we ate at a drive-in that overcharges for terrible food. My stomach ache came back. We took but one more photo the rest of the miserable day, and it was of this awesome skeleton man walking this awesome skeleton dinosaur. Awesome, right?

IMG_3305 When we arrived at our hotel in Sioux Falls we found out that we didn’t just drive through rain, we drove through severe thunderstorm, flash flood, and tornado warnings. They interrupted Baseball Tonight on ESPN to tell us to find a safe location and not leave the house. Oops!