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Slice of life: October, November, December

When I started the “slice of life” thing in September, my plan was to make it a periodically recurring motif, something to force me to blog at least once a month about what the normal day-to-day has been serving up. But it’s now clear that even that was too lofty a goal for me, as the 48-day hiatus since my last blog entry will attest.

Sorry, folks. I could probably come up with some B.S. excuse about how I haven’t had time to blog on account of how busy we’ve been, blah, blah, whine, whine, etc. But when you think about it, the craziness of everyday life should be a reason to blog, not an excuse not to, right? So in that vein, I give you not one, not two, but three months’ worth of “slices of life”. Instead of breaking it down month by month, I’m just going to make it one big, gluttonous “slice”, so to speak. Imagine the year 2009 is one large apple pie, and you’re about to inhale an entire quarter of that thing in one sitting. Are you ready for this?

•••

Our house is feeling more like home every day. We ditched the mealtime practice of cramming our six bodies around our tiny kitchen table, in favor of a nice big 10-seater with sleeve extensions from Ikea. It’s long and narrow, so sitting at the head seat makes me feel kind of like a family patriarch about to pray the blessing over Thanksgiving dinner, and Drea and Tom and Renata and Hayden and Jack are all my grandkids. Come children, let’s join hands…

Renata’s dad Charlie has generously agreed to help us convert half our garage into a bedroom for Jolie. The work is still in progress, but we’ve managed to install a door, wall, and most of the floor so far. It’s fun seeing her little room come together, and Drea is especially anxious to start the “nesting” process (which, I’m sorry to report, will include a light pink shade on one or more of the walls. I tried, people.)

•••

We’ve spent quite a bit of time on the road recently, which I of course am quite keen on. Drea and I embarked on a “babymoon” to Florida — a last hurrah of sorts before the little whippersnapper’s grand arrival. We had a fantastic (albeit uncharacteristically ad-libbed) time celebrating the end of life as we know it! You can get the whole scoop here on our family blog.

Over Thanksgiving, my whole family piled into my aunt’s 8-passenger van and headed up to the Poconos for a long weekend of goofing off, playing games and hanging around northeast PA, including Scranton! (Fans of The Office might be interested to know that there is a real Steamtown Mall in Scranton, although it’s incredibly lame except for an out-of-this-world crêpe stand in the food court.) We toured a coal mine (more entertaining than it sounds) and spent some time in the charming town of Jim Thorpe.

Drea and I are excited to take yet another mini-getaway (I’m addicted to these things!) this weekend to New York to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. It was supposed to be my surprise Christmas gift to her, but I blew it! She asked me to give her a hint that she wouldn’t be able to figure out, but that would temporarily satiate her curiosity. The hint I gave her was “R.C.M.H.” and she guessed “Radio City Music Hall” immediately. We both kicked ourselves and sulked for a little bit, but we soon got over it. However, after underestimating both Drea’s clue-decoding talent and my own overwhelming stupidity for giving her such an easy clue, we both vowed to keep all future surprises for each other under stealth secrecy, no exceptions. 🙂

•••

Holiday music-wise, I’ve been enjoying Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas this year. Recorded over the course of five Christmases as five separate EPs and now available as a box set, it’s full of innovative, folksy takes on both well-known and obscure Christmas carols, as well as some colorful original tracks, including “What Child Is This, Anyway?”, “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)”, and “Get Behind Me, Santa!”.

I also feel compelled to mention that Bob Dylan released a Christmas album this year. I’m a big Dylan fan, but am quite unsure how to feel about this. I haven’t heard the album (besides the samples on Amazon), but something tells me Christmas music might not be his forte. And that something is Washington Post staff writer Chris Richards, who offers this observation in his review: “[Dylan’s version of] ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ sounds like a reason to bolt the doors…As ever, chestnuts are roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost is nipping at your nose — but this time, the man behind the microphone sounds as if he’s trying to dislodge a piece of tinsel from his throat.” My curiosity is piqued, to say the least.

Christmas at the AckerJanes is fun this year — devouring gargantuan waffle breakfasts on the weekends, watching Elf, making fun of Renata’s affinity for the Hanson Christmas album, and pooling both families’ Christmas ornaments together on one tree. As I type, Drea is stuffing our Christmas cards into envelopes as Sara Groves sings “Gloria in excelsis Deo” in the background. It’s a good moment, and “Glory to God in the highest” seems a fitting expression of gratitude — for the friends and family we send cards to, for the little Ackermann kicking away, for peace and good will to men.

Merry Christmas to all!

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Filed under: Blogging, Family, Funny, Music, Slice of life, Travel

Slice of life: September

Brief reflections on life right now…

Drea and I have gone public with the pregnancy, ushering in a season of “whoa” for me. For some reason, having people know about it and asking questions has made me aware (as if for the first time) that we’re actually having a kid. Hoooooly crap. We can’t wait to find out the gender in a few weeks. If we have a girl, Drea wants to paint her room light pink. I’m more partial towards a “gender-neutral” tone. Maybe a poll can settle our debate once and for all. What do you think?

•••

In other news, we finally moved into our new house with the Janes a few weeks ago. So far it’s been great, but it also means I’ve had to step up my handyman skills a little bit. We bought a power drill from Home Depot, which Tom and I have been using to install blinds. Turns out installing blinds is a fairly meticulous process requiring a degree of measuring accuracy that surpasses — as I learned the hard way — “eyeballing it”.

We’ve enjoyed making our new place our own, as suggested by the photos Drea uploaded to our family blog yesterday. After a year of not having our own kitchen, this is actually one of my favorite things about our house. Gall-darnit, I even like doing the dishes at night. (We’ll see how long this lasts.)

•••

We joined a few of our life group pals on Sunday night to see a Derek Webb/Sandra McCracken show at Jammin’ Java. We learned upon arriving that it was a standing show, but we got in early enough to snag some dining area seats. Sandra McCracken’s opening segment was pitch-perfect. (We actually ran into her and her kids at Starbucks before the show, which was fun.) Derek Webb was outstanding as well, playing through his entire new record — the gutsy marriage of folk-rock and trippy electronica that is Stockholm Syndrome. Particularly enjoyable was when technical difficulties on stage forced him to scale back to just an acoustic guitar, playing old Caedmon’s Call tunes and one unexpected treat — Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin”.

•••

So, that’s life right now. In the absence of a decent closing remark, I’ll leave you to marvel at the fast food order-taking skills of a certain King Burger employee…

Filed under: Family, Funny, Marriage, Music, Slice of life, , , ,

Step aside, “Hotel California”

“Long Road Out of Eden”, the title track from the Eagles’ latest album might be the best song I’ve heard from them. Don Henley’s imagery is potent, makes you ponder the price of our excesses.

Special thanks to my dad, who printed the lyrics and played this song for all of us at family night a few months ago.

Moon shining down through the palms
Shadows moving on the sand
Somebody whispering the twenty-third Psalm
Dusty rifle in his trembling hands

Somebody trying just to stay alive
He got promises to keep
Over the ocean in America
Far away and fast asleep

Silent stars blinking in the blackness of an endless sky
Cold silver satellites, ghostly caravans passing by
Galaxies unfolding, new worlds being born
Pilgrims and prodigals creeping toward the dawn
But it’s a long road out of Eden

Music blasting from an SUV
On a bright and sunny day
Rolling down the interstate
In the good ol’ USA

Having lunch at the petroleum club
Smokin’ fine cigars and swappin’ lives
He said, gimme ‘nother slice o’ that barbecued brisket
Gimme ‘nother piece o’ that pecan pie

Freeways flickering, cell phones chiming a tune
We’re riding to utopia, road map says we’ll be arriving soon
Captains of the old order clinging to the reins
Assuring us these aches inside are only growing pains
But it’s a long road out of Eden

Back home I was so certain, the path was very clear
But now I have to wonder, what are we doing here?
I’m not counting on tomorrow
And I can’t tell wrong from right
But I’d give anything to be there in your arms tonight

Weaving down the American highway
Through the litter and the wreckage and the cultural junk
Bloated with entitlement, loaded on propaganda
And now we’re driving dazed and drunk

Been down the road to Damascus, the road to Mandalay
Met the ghost of Caesar on the Appian Way
He said it’s hard to stop this bingeing once you get a taste
But the road to empire is a bloody stupid waste

Behold the bitten apple, the power of the tools
But all the knowledge in the world is of no use to fools
And it’s a long road out of Eden

Filed under: Music

Questions for Taylor Swift

  1. How is it that I don’t listen to the radio and yet I know every word of your song “Love Story” thanks to its ubiquity in every public place?
  2. Why is my wife, whose musical tastes I normally hold in great esteem, so fond of this artistically bankrupt song of yours?
  3. Why the Romeo and Juliet motif? Or, more specifically, why leave out the end of the story — you know, where they both commit suicide?

Filed under: Music,

If you made an album, what would it sound like?

Funny how something as insignificant as Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” coming on my Pandora is enough to spark a blog post, but it reminded me of a conversation Drea and I had yesterday, so here goes.

Also, this takes place as I’m inhaling a double cheeseburger and 25¢ Frosty at Wendy’s in Upper Marlboro…

Her question: If you wrote/produced an album, what would it sound like?

I think it’d be fun to make a really avant-garde, genre-eluding album — a mosaic of bluegrass, hip-hop, jazz, and styles from the global East and South, all thrown together. But I feel like that’s almost a cop-out answer. (“My album? It would sound like everything.”)

For the sake of my imaginary album being tied together with at least a dental floss-sized strand of musical cohesion, I think I’d pick the folk genre. As far as artist comparisons, my ideal “feel” would be a Bob Dylan/Billy Joel/Elton John/James Taylor/Derek Webb/Andrew Osenga smorgasbord. Simple but robust melodies, lyrics that tell stories and invite reflection. (This of course postulates that I could write half as good as song as these guys — a ridiculous assumption.)

What about you? If you made an album, what would it sound like?

Filed under: Music

Some stuff worth checking out

So, I’ve come across some good…stuff (better word?)…recently.

Frozen River. One of my dad’s coworkers recommended this indie thriller about a Ray, a destitute mom struggling to support herself and two sons in upstate New York. After her gambling-addicted husband takes off with their savings, she tries to make ends meet by smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border. While full of suspense, the plot is very believable, taking a grim look at people living in dire situations.

W. Drea and I rented this one last night – Oliver Stone’s semi-satirical but understanding account of the life and times of George W. Bush. I have to wonder how the Bush family and administration feel about having their likeness impersonated before their eyes. It’s a little weird to watch a biographical film about people who are still living, and events that like, just happened. But in any case, Josh Brolin and Richard Dreyfuss are dead ringers for Bush and Cheney, almost on par with Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin. In fact, most of the major roles are pretty well-acted (except Condoleezza Rice, who was portrayed as more annoying and far less intelligent than I think she is). For all the opinions circulating about Bush, he is an interesting public figure, and definitely one worth making a movie about. If the film’s portrayal of his approval-hungry relationship with his dad is accurate at all, some of Bush’s shortcomings can be empathized with. Of course, it’s hard to tell how much creative liberty was taken, but the movie is entertaining and intriguing in any case.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. A memoir of his time as a ranger at Arches National Park, this book covers everything from floating down canyon rivers to dead body removal to the social scene in remote Moab, Utah. It was published in 1968, about the time interstates and dams and RV’s began changing the landscape of the American West. Interspersed with his personal accounts are harsh criticisms of the Park Service, excessive tourism, and the general domesticating of American wildernesss. Particularly poignant was his eulogistic account of exploring Glen Canyon, which is now underwater thanks to a dam. Abbey was eccentric, a radical environmentalist for sure, but this “nature narrative” is a fascinating read filled with sarcastic humor and interesting insights.

Prospekt’s March by Coldplay, the EP of extra material from the Viva la Vida sessions that’s every bit good as the album itself! Every track on here is solid, except maybe the version of “Lost” with Jay-Z, which I think is only okay. To think that Coldplay left these gems off the album! With Viva la Vida clocking in at only 10 tracks, I think they should have just included them. In any case, Prospekt’s March is $6 on iTunes and worth every penny!

Filed under: Books, Movies, Music, , ,