Saturday, March 31, 2012

Travel Blog Day #3 – The Plain Old Great Plains

How do you know when you’re getting west? The Hardee’s become Carl’s Jr., that’s how. It was on a little road in Oklahoma when we spotted our first Carl’s Jr., and in that moment we knew we were getting back to the coast where we belong.

Today started in Fort Smith, Arkansas, famous for True Grit and for being the second largest city in Arkansas. It also has a gas station that reeked so much with the stench of a thousand dill pickles and 80 year old mold that I couldn’t even be in there long enough to buy coffee.

Fort Smith also has, you guessed it, Fort Smith! We made a morning stop to take in some history and get a stamp.

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Props to the Fort Smith NHS for incorporating newfangled technology! Using a QR scanner on these posts brought up a (terrible) youtube video on my iPhone. Bravo!

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A little bit outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas, right after we crossed the border into Oklahoma, we hit I-40, which is where my GPS told me my next movement would be 400 miles. I complained a little bit. Then a lot of bit. Then Holly told me I would make the pending awfulness a self-fulfilling property. Then we tried to make the best of it. Thankfully for us, the cat is adapting wonderfully to the car on day #3, making it his new home. If day #1 was the “yowling” day (thanks for the word, Lily!), and day #2 was the vomit day, day #3 shall henceforth be the day when we barely knew there was a cat with us.

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Another piece of good news. It was the first time we saw Arkansas, and the first time Holly had seen Oklahoma, meaning she could mark off our states in our tracker map.

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We didn’t plan the whole time to stop by the Oklahoma City Memorial, but we’re glad we did. We pulled off last minute and walked the grounds.

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Very touching and well done memorial. Glad we stopped by.

On the way out we happened accidentally upon something else. Thievery discovered! Guys, I found out where they put the Sonics!

One traffic jam and one very long detour at a Cherokee Indian gift shop later, we entered Texas. How do you know you’ve entered Texas? I present three pieces of evidence:

1) Speed limit on a backcountry road immediately goes up to 70 MPH.

2) Upon crossing the border, you immediately see a electronic sign warning the country that Obama’s hero is Stalin.

3) There’s a store called Naggles Snappy Sak. Holly and I couldn’t figure out what part of that store’s name sounded the dirtiest.

I also experienced great pain. Although a Protestant, my Ohio church is doing a form of Lent, and I gave up soda. The Dr. Pepper cravings have been killing me. And what does one place have the nerve to try and serve me?? A Dr. Pepper Icee!!! C’MON!!!! Pastor Gil never prepared me for this level of temptation!

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I wish I had more pics for you, but let me assure you if you ever drive from Elk City, TX to Dumas, TX, there’s nothing there. Tomorrow the fun continues with Day #4, Return to the West.

I hope New Mexico and Colorado are kinder to my car than the bug-infested skies of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas!

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Travel Blog Day #2– Ozarking (Or Cats and Repeated Hills Go Together Like Orange Juice and Toothpaste)

Hello fellow readers!! Today was one of those days that did not go as planned, in both a good and bad ways. We started the day in Poplar Bluff, Missouri aka “The Gateway to the Ozarks”. So off to the Ozarks we headed, taking in the lovely beauty of Big Spring, along with swallowing somewhere between 73 and 146 insects.

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Not content just to enjoy the natural beauty, Holly found a seesaw, but no one to ride it with.

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Alright, fine, I helped. I mean, look at that face!

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Everything was moving on schedule, until we hit this road, the dreaded Missouri State Hwy 19-South.

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Up and down. Up and down. Up and down again and again and again. I started feeling it in my stomach. Unfortunately, Jalapeno REALLY started feeling it, which led us to pull of in some crazy backwoods driveway, Winters Bone style, and clean up cat vomit. I was nice enough to take a picture.

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Then we pulled off at some random boat ramp down the road on the Eleven Points River (I think that was the name) to let Jalapeno settle his stomach down

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So naturally what shows up to our already distraught kitten? Two stray puppies, who took quite a liking to us, appear. I hope, fellow readers, you appreciate that I’m taking travel blog photos instead of helping my wife. I’m dedicated to you, readers! (I also helped immediately after this, I promise)

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P.S. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I mean, is there anything more ridiculous than a cat on a leash? Looks absurd.

We were to get back on the road and head down through Missouri into Arkansas, which marked the first time I’d been in Arkansas. Couple of observations from Arkansas:

--Very pretty state. Impressively pretty. I do get lonesome for nature after leaving Washington, but only a couple places have ever made me feel at home. Vermont/New Hampshire did, and Arkansas almost did.

--What in the world is with drivers in Arkansas pulling out in front of you? At least four times in half a day a car just moseyed on out on a 55 MPH road. Shame on you, Arkansas drivers! And while you’re at it, pave your roads!

Anyhow, back to the road. We raced down to Hot Springs, Arkansas. No, not to visit the boyhood home of Bill Clinton, but to check out Hot Springs National Park, a national park famous for its large collection of natural hot springs and bath houses, as well as pretty views.

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It’s not just hot springs there. There’s also a great scenic drive.

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We were a bit behind schedule, but later down the road we entered the Ouachita National Forest lately, where we found a great little spot to enjoy dinner.

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Then I terrified Holly by performing a dangerous quick entry to a vista as well in order to catch a good shot as the sun went down.

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If you’re enjoying this blog, prepare yourself mentally for tomorrow. Tomorrow appears like it will be awful. But hopefully we can have some fun anyways, and turn the misery that is the middle of the country into a positive by way of hilarious pictures. Maybe?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Travel Blog Day #1 – Hittin’ the Road (Farewells, Jolly Saint Nick, and Honest Abe)

Hello friends and family! So today was the day that we departed Ohio on our long six day haul to Arizona. But the time has come, so myself, Holly, and Jalapeno loaded up in the car, and headed off to cross five states in one day.

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From Ohio we headed south to Louisville, KY, where we crossed over the Ohio River and feasted on Taco Bell in a place actually called Floyds Knobs, Indiana. It was about here when Jalapeno decided to stop growling at us and just enjoy the ride.

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We took a little unplanned detour through the town of Santa Claus, Indiana after a quick Wikipedia search showed us how unique the town was. We got in a quick hello to Kris Kringle, and moved along our “merry” way (ha ha ha…).

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Our first planned stop was at Abraham Lincoln’s Boyhood Home. Now that we’ve been out in the Ohio area for a while, we’ve learned about the controversial claiming of Lincoln. Illinois is the “Land of Lincoln” because it was there that he found political achievement. But Lincoln was not born in Illinois, he was actually born in Kentucky, which has it’s own memorial. And where would Lincoln probably tell you he grew up? Indiana. It was in Indiana that Lincoln spent his formative years, and we visited the National Monument dedicated to him.

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The remains of his cabin:

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A wonderful path on the grounds:

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A super worthless “spring”:

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Hiking with a cat! So manly…

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From Indiana the route took us into Illinois, where the drive turned less than pleasant. Holly wasn’t supposed to smile for this pic…

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Thanks to our friends Jared and Chrissa, we were able to pass the time by listening to a hilarious Brian Regen comedy album.

Tomorrow we tour the Ozarks, so for today we arrived in Missouri in time to watch the sun go down, which was gorgeous.

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Now here we are, ready to slumber in our glorious, cat-friendly Drury Inn, which to me sounds like an awful name for a hotel, but it’s very nice nonetheless. Tune in tomorrow for Day #2 “Ozarking!”. Yes, I have already given all of our days cute nicknames.

Monday, March 19, 2012

fun. – “Some Nights”

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To fun.’s credit, they sure know how to pick an applicable band name. Fronted by Nate Ruess, formerly of The Format, fun.’s “We Are Young” has actually somehow reached #1, becoming the first alternative song to do so since Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”, and that was 2008. And the album “Some Nights” is certainly a lot of things, but fun is probably the best description I could muster anyhow. The album is over-the-top, ridiculous, and entertaining when it’s good. It’s confusing and amateurish at it’s worst. But it’s certainly fun.

The album burst forth thanks to a rollicking first half. “Some Nights (Intro)” builds Broadway style over a tinkling piano. It really is the best introduction to what follows, as the heavily Queen influenced “Some Nights” drags the album immediately into a beautiful bombastic state. The song is ready to be their next radio hit. You by now are probably familiar with “We Are Young”, the band’s #1 single thanks to its rousing, anthemic chorus. And when the bagpipes hit on “Carry On”, I was fully convinced to purchase the album.

Now to the weaknesses. After the first four songs, which hit you as a highly entertaining 15 minutes, you are possibly set up like me to think you’re listening to greatness. Unfortunately, only two truly good songs remain. The first of those is the Elton John-ish “Why Am I the One”, which competes with “Some Nights” as the album’s best track, and the final bonus track “Out on the Town”. The rest varies between okay tracks and a couple outright duds. “It Gets Better” is the worst of the worst and the album would be better if it was cut entirely, while the same can almost be said for the irritating “One Foot”. “All Alone” has an interesting sound but doesn’t go anywhere, “All Alright” has the kind of chorus a live crowd would probably love to chant but the songs lacks any special qualities, and “Stars” with it’s auto-tuning reaches a certain level of fascinating, but never really becomes a memorable song.

fun. has enormous potential, and a rock album this absurd (in a good way, most the time) hasn’t really hit pop radio since maybe Panic! At the Disco’s debut. At it’s greatest points I hadn’t had that look on face since first hearing MGMT, though the album definitely dives in more of a pop direction. I’m questionable about recommending the album in it’s entirety, but there' are definitely $6 worth of singles to try here and maybe you’ll like some of the second half more than me. And you’ll probably see “Some Nights” or “Why Am the One” again on some year-end lists from me. Either way, you won’t hear any complaints from me about fun.’s presence on the charts.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Five Songs That Will Make Your Today Better Than It Was Previous to Not Having Heard These Songs

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Don’t have a real theme to this one, but here are a few songs making the rounds on my playlist right now. Hope you like them as much as I do? Whaddya think?

1) Walk the Moon – “I Can Lift a Car”

This band has a real future. Seeing them open for Young the Giant was a real pleasure, and I think their upbeat indie pop will find its way to the charts sooner than later. Very good live band, and this is my favorite song by them.

2) fun. – “Some Nights”

When Rolling Stone used the words indie pop, Queen, and Les Miserables all at once to describe fun. it was enough to send me to Spotify. I didn’t regret it, and I can’t stop playing this song tonight.

3) Ryan Adams – “Lucky Now”

Changing gears a little, this great newer track from Ryan Adams is moving and heartfelt. Hope you enjoy.

4) Eve 6 – “Lost and Found”

I used to be a big Eve 6 fan back in the day, and thought we’d heard the last from them. When they put out a new track from their first album in 9 years I was pleasantly surprised.

5) Frank Ocean – “Swim Good”

I got so fixated on “Strawberry Swing” last year that I don’t think I ever gave enough credit to “Swim Good”. Amazing that all these great songs came off of a free mixtape.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Bon Iver By Any Other Name

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With Bon Iver’s recent Grammy victories (Best New Artist? Really?), Justin Vernon, the driving force behind Bon Iver, has suddenly been thrust into the public eye quite a bit more, even being imitated by Justin Timberlake in a hilarious SNL sketch. Justin Vernon is actually quite a prolific artist, and I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at his best work during all the time leading up to his "Best New Artist” victory this year.

A personal favorite of mine is “Hazelton” under his actual name. The guitar forms the backbone of future Grammy-nominated “Holocene”, which he’d release five years after writing this song.

A few years back I included this track from side project Volcano Choir as a top track of the year. Just listening to it again right now reminded me how much I adore this song.

Actually appearing on the original Twilight soundtrack was a collaboration between Bon Iver and St. Vincent called “Roslyn”, which is also outstanding.

From the complilation Dark Was the Night came a collaboration between Justin and Aaron Dessner called “Big Red Machine”.

In a little more “out there” side project, Justin also produced this solid track under the moniker “Gayngs”.

This is really just the beginning, as you can also find his music by checking out DeYarmond Edison for his earliest stuff.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thoughts Upon Leaving Ohio

I used to write many more random blogs. Scrolling back through my history, I realize I unknowingly allowed this blog to morph from a split between random musings and occasional music to basically only music. That’s fine, I guess, but it is not necessary I tell you! So I return with a blog focused upon the subject of Ohio. Yes, Ohio. The home of the flag that is not a rectangle. Yup, it’s true, look:

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Ignore that white border. It makes it look like it’s a rectangle. It’s not.

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It appears I’m going to graduate and get my Masters degree here in a couple weeks. Lots of people that deserve thanks, but I’m going to turn my attention to the inanimate objects that need thanking. That’s right, this one goes out to you, Things and Stuff:

  • Purple stapler – are you going to last forever? I bought you in 2003 and you keep stapling like a champ. Every other stapler comes and goes, but the $2 I spent on you endures.
  • Mimicking Birds and Benny Goodman – The Soundtrack of the Thesis. Great to listen to, but not too distracting.
  • Gyro Palace – Thank you, Gyro Palace, for your delicious gyro supreme platter and for teaching me that tzatziki is a great dipping sauce for french fries.
  • Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, Portal 2, PacMan, and Words With Friends – The great distractors
  • Finally, my ridiculous cat, for getting annoyed with my textbooks to the point of sitting on them:

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Five favorite Ohio things that everyone can enjoy:

1) Hocking Hills State Park – As a Washingtonian, I’m picky about nature. But Hocking Hills has some very pleasant scenery.

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2) Put-in-Bay – Maybe it was the perfect weather and the company, but taking the little boat to the island in the middle of Lake Erie is almost surreal and was truly wonderful. You barely feel like it could still be Ohio.

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3) Purple People Bridge – Love taking people down to Newport on the Levee and walking across the bridge for a great look at the Cincinnati skyline.

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4) Accessibility – From Dayton you can get to Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. We checked out Nashville, Louisville, and Mammoth Caves National Park. We roamed to Niagara Falls, swung by Toronto, and drove back through Detroit. We had a great weekend in Chicago and even spent Thanksgiving in Wisconsin. It’s weekend trip heaven out here. We also managed a Northeast road trip!

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5) Grace Crossing Church – One of the hardest parts about leaving Ohio will be leaving our church. I can’t believe how involved we’ve gotten and how many people we’ve met in just a year and a half.

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Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention that Urbana, Ohio has the world’ largest loaf of bread. That thing needs more appreciation.

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My biggest criticism of Ohio is that, generally speaking, I’ve never seen a state use their blinkers less. I wouldn’t call Ohio drivers bad, per say, just that they like to keep every finger of their left hand on the wheel. So hey, hurrah for Ohio for making sure both their hands are on the wheel at all time!

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Five favorite meals in Ohio:

1) The Sandstone (Logan, OH) – Little did I know I’d have the best ribs of my life in a place called Logan.

2) Geraci’s (Cleveland, OH) – Probably the best pizza I’ve ever had. Holly believes she could eat the marinara as a meal. Or a soup.

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3) Blue Ash Chili (Blue Ash, OH) – Best rendition of Cincinnati chili I’ve eaten, thanks to the breaded and fried jalapeno bottlecaps.

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4) Tsao’s Cuisine (Beavercreek, OH) – A shout out to my favorite buffet and friendly staff.

5) Pasha Grill – I’m gonna miss you more than I probably know, Turkish food!

BTW, Ohio, you fail at Mexican food. For this reason, I’m going to move to Arizona.

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We’ve had a great time here and made some great friends. We’ve also been fortunate to reunite with some other amazing friends. We’ve loved our church, loved Beavercreek (sorry, Fairborn), and I’ve personally loved being able to do all my work (no matter how excruciating it was at times) in my jeans or gym shorts. I leave you with the song I most associate with Ohio!