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A great Labor Day weekend it has been.  Drea and I spent Friday evening at my parents’ house for one of the last “family nights” for a while with all family members present.  My youngest sister Adrienne went off to Montclair State University yesterday in what may be the most gutsy leaving-for-college of the four Ackermann children.  Montclair is in New Jersey, just outside NYC, and Adrienne doesn’t know a soul there.  Talk about expanding your horizons!  I think we all know she’ll do great.

In lieu of our typical “movie night”, our family watched Barack Obama’s inspiring acceptance speech that my dad had taped the night before.  Not all of us are Obama fans, but it was still cool to watch together as our country named its first black man as a major party’s Presidential nominee.  What a cool time to be an American.

Saturday morning I met up with Mike, Tom, and Patrick for a greasy breakfast at Al’s and some kayaking on the Patuxent.  It was good to hang out with just the guys, as being married tends to make “man time” increasingly scarce.  However, I must admit for good measure that as the other three enjoyed cigars on the river, I instead snacked on a granola bar.  A less manly choice, one might argue, but certainly a healthier one!  I’ll be throwing it in their faces decades from now when they’re all hacking up a lung while I win a triathlon.  :)

Drea and I met up with Allison and Rich, two of our most favorite people, hands down.  We grabbed dinner at TGI Fridays, followed by one of those meanderings through Barnes & Noble where you spend an hour flipping through books and sitting in their comfy chairs, and then walk out without buying a thing.  (Nowadays, I pretty much only go into B&N to “preview” books I will later order used on   Dude, I love Barnes & Noble.)

In other news, Drea officially launched her photography website and blog, proving once again her passion and fast-growing competence for photography.  In less than a year, she’s made an impressive foray into a brand-new field, built up her clientele base, and seen her business quickly blossom, largely by word-of-mouth.  People, my wife is just cool.

As I type, it’s 9:00 and we’re about to start a movie.  This is an atypical Sunday night for us, as we’re usually in bed by 10.  But such is the glory of holiday weekends, where we can stay up late and sleep in, just because we can.

Hope you’re enjoying your Labor Day!


DISCLAIMER: This post is long as crap.  Seriously, scroll down and take a look.  Do you really want to read this?  I won’t lie.  If I was just looking for something light and fun to read, I would totally skip this joint.  I’d probably check out this guy’s blog instead (hilarious).  But, if for some reason you’re inclined to read my ramblings about this book, go for it!

OK, end of disclaimer.


Having finished my Bill Bryson book on vacation and having nothing else to read, I picked up Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” at a bookstore on a whim.  I was curious if what Barack had to say in his book was any different from what I’d been learning about him via the media for the past year.  Some things came as no surprise, but some of what I read gave me unexpected insights into the man himself and his values.  Here are a few of my basic observations…

1.  He’s smart.   OK, duh.  He graduated at the top of his Harvard Law class.  But it would seriously be hard to argue against the idea that Obama is a remarkably intelligent guy.  His analysis in the book of national and world issues are clear-cut and detailed when appropriate.  His well-rounded observations signify the high value he places (and has long placed) on educating himself on a broad scope of issues.  His keen familiarity with American history, combined with a commanding knowledge of other cultures, is impressive.

At times, the book actually reads more like a college lecture than a political analysis.  A former law professor, Obama is obviously in his element as he provides thoughtful insights into human history and its implications today.  It’s obvious that he isn’t just some emotion-manipulating rock star preaching an ambiguous message of change (like some of his critics would suggest.)  While he may be a relative newcomer, Obama knows what he’s talking about.

2.  His experience is unique.   I’ve heard few politicians draw such thoughtful conclusions as Barack Obama.  I specifically applaud his blunt but even-handed discussion on race in America.  While he admits that he enjoyed a more peaceful childhood than most blacks, he is also painfully candid about the racial division he’s lived in the midst of in Chicago (and indeed, that exists in most American cities).  In this regard, he has the invaluable advantage of a more experience-informed view of the whole of America (and indeed, the world).

This is particularly evident in the area of social issues.  While most politicians (I would hope) have at least a rudimentary awareness of poverty and injustice, Barack has lived and worked in direct, continued contact with these vices as a community organizer in Chicago.  No doubt he is personally familiar with the nuances and experiences of inner-city life that can’t be fully understood by occasionally driving through a poor neighborhood or watching a TV documentary.  What’s remarkable is that he thrives in the bipolar environments of the low-income working class and the lofty circles of wealthy academia.  He seems to be highly respected by both inner-city families on welfare and Harvard Law graduates with seven-figure salaries.  The vast majority of his political counterparts simply can’t make that claim.

Obama’s relatively brief career in national politics causes some to be concerned, and for good reason.  I certainly understand the desire to have as President a man who “knows the ropes” before taking office.  Conversely though, I also think that for veteran politicians, all those years of increasingly ugly bipartisanship can cause progress-stinting bitterness, making having too much political experience a potential liability.  So, of course Obama’s limited political experience should be accounted for, but not without also seeing the hidden benefits of fresh new talent.

3.  He’s not a raving liberal maniac.   Maybe that depends on your definition of “raving” and “maniac”, but the point here is that while Obama is a true progressive, he’s not an extreme, post-religious, post-moral, hyper-secularist fanatic.  This is particularly evident in the book’s chapters on faith and family.  While most liberals tend to steer clear of these topics in favor of talking about pluralism, tolerance, etc., Obama doesn’t hesitate to express his dismay at the moral degradation of our culture, and his desire that his daughters be raised to hold Christian faith, family, and moral decency in high regard.  He protests greedy consumerism, pleading for a return to the virtues of simple living and “delayed gratification.”  While he remains true to his belief that the government should never exert itself as a moral authority (a belief I share with him), he implores parents to take a more active role in being a positive moral influence for their kids.

While I’m don’t completely agree with all of his policies, I’m excited about the direction it seems he wants to take our country in, and his book left a good impression on me.  Obama is clearly a man with big dreams and big confidence that those dreams can be eventually realized.  Many have criticized his optimism, calling him naive or idealistic.  But I like to think that our country can, in fact, begin to make some fundamental changes for the better.  Of course, I’m wary of those Obama supporters who paint him as a panacea for every problem we face.  (Here are some more of my thoughts on this.)  But if Barack’s values and goals are what he says they are in this book, I believe he has unique and great potential to help push towards “a more perfect union.”

Casting a vote for any candidate is always a gamble (sometimes a costly one as with our current President), and Obama certainly has his share of shortcomings.  But by and large, what I’ve seen and read so far gives me considerable confidence that a vote for the Illinois Senator seems like a pretty solid bet.

As a big Donald Miller fan, I was pretty excited to read this!

With our flight not leaving until 3:20, we had a few hours to kill, so we took a little drive into Denver to check out the downtown area.  Denver is a cool city (figuratively and literally), replete with sleek skyscrapers, green parks, charming neighborhoods, and views of the Rocky Mountains from almost anywhere in the city.  (You can never get lost in Denver; the mountains are always to the west.)

Our little foray into the Mile-High City didn’t produce many tangible memories, save for lunch at and/or pilgrimage to the original Chipotle restaurant and a brief drive through the University of Denver’s picturesque campus.

Saying goodbye to Colorado, we flew out of Denver, arriving in Raleigh for our layover a few hours later.  Given the now-obsolescence of in-flight meals, we were starved for dinner, but crushed (and slightly pissed off) to find all the Raleigh airport restaurants closed.  (It was 8:45. I mean, come on.)  We managed to temporarily fend off our hunger by inhaling about 14 bags of pretzels and peanuts on the flight to Baltimore.

As my parents picked us up at BWI, we (or I) had a brief moment of sadness that our big trip was over.  But we were ready to be home, sleeping in our own bed. Drea and I also realized that we have different views on what constitutes a great vacation.  She likes to go somewhere for a week and just relax; I like to drive all over the place, seeing as many sights as possible.  Needless to say then, this trip was tailored more to my liking.  :)  But we both had a great time, she didn’t mind the long drives as much as expected, and I promised our next vacation would be a little more low-key.  (Hmm…another challenge!)

So, we’re glad to be home.  Thanks for reading!

We visited a church in Broomfield.  And, I mean, it was OK and everything, but it’s always funny to visit other churches and observe the similarities and differences compared to your home church.  For example, we concluded that almost every church has an “anthem” worship song – in other words, one that is sung almost every Sunday for a period of time usually determined by how long it takes people to start threatening to leave the church if they have to sing it one more time.

For our church, it was “Breathe”.  There may have been one or two Sundays around 2001/2002-ish that we wouldn’t be found singing “and I…I…I, I’m desperate for You” at the top of our lungs.  Consequently, I now throw up in my mouth a little whenever I hear someone even hint at this being “the air I breathe” or “my daily bread.”

Anyhow, you can always tell which song is that particular church’s “anthem” because people start getting way into it even before the first line is sung.  A sure-fire sign of an anthem is those few shouts of excitement and applause as soon as people recognize the chord progression.  If you really want the Spirit to move, throw in a few extra choruses at the end.  And a key – no, TWO key changes!

I don’t mean to be sarcastic.  Well no, that’s a lie.  I do.  But sometimes a well-placed key change is an effective element in musical worship.  In any case, at this church the anthem song clearly was Aaron Shust’s “My Savior, My God”.  I felt kind of bad because I’d already expressed previously to Drea my reasons for disliking that song.  So we kind of exchanged a little snicker right there in the middle of worship.

It was also kind of funny because this church did the typical “greet the people around you” thing and only one person introduced herself to us.  Then they had all the first-timers raise their hands so they could give us a gift bag.  So there sat Drea and I, our raised hands giving clear testimony to our newcomer status, passing judgement on all those heathens around us who couldn’t even find the common decency to welcome a stranger to their congregation.  I shot a seething look at a nice-looking younger couple seated behind us.

Again, I’m just being sarcastic.  Personally, I actually find the 60-second meet-and-greet thing a little cheesy, so I can’t blame them.

Well, that was quite a tangent!  So…suffice it to say we went to church, relaxed, did some reading, and hung out with a few of my relatives in my Uncle Mark’s gazebo/fire pit looking out over the Rockies.  It was a great way to spend our last full vacation day.

So it turns out that the weather in the Rockies was pretty severe, as we awoke to reports of snow in the mountain passes. OK, I thought, so there’s been a little dusting of flakes on the summit ridges, no big deal. WRONG! As we drove at 11,000 feet across the Continental Divide, we were greeted by snow everywhere. The summits were completely white, and there was a legitimate collection of snowfall on the ground and trees. I mean, it looked like a freaking Amy Grant Christmas album cover. No lie. So there we were in our shorts and T-shirts, blasting the heat in the car as we drove through a dang sleigh-bells-ringing, snow-glistening, beautiful sight, happy tonight winter wonderland. We wished each other a Merry Christmas and drove on.

I consequently wasn’t surprised that the road in and out of Rocky Mountain National Park was closed. (RMNP is home to the country’s highest continuously paved road at 12,183 feet.) With a few hours to kill, we stopped in the trendy ski town of Vail to ride the gondola and relax with our books at Starbucks. (I also deduced from all the swanky condos and stores that I could never afford to ski there.)

We arrived at my Uncle Mark and Aunt Ruth’s house in Erie around dinnertime. They live in a great house with an airy, open floorplan and a fantastic view of the Rockies from their backyard. I introduced Drea to all the “Colorado Ackermanns” at a family get-together that night. She was obviously a big hit with everyone and we had a good time catching up with everyone.

My Uncle Alex met us in Colorado Springs to show us the office of the company he recently started. His company publishes tourist maps for local chambers of commerce. The combination of geography and graphic design made it an especially intriguing/cool experience for me.

An atypical weather pattern of constant rain in the area foiled our plans to drive to the top of Pikes Peak. This was moderately disappointing for me, but Drea, having dealt with some mild altitude sickness already, wasn’t too keen on driving above 14,000 feet anyway. We stopped at Garden of the Gods, which was nice but unspectacular in the gloomy drizzle.


Alex, at the last minute, had managed to score us a free dinner and hotel room in Eagle, CO after our original hotel flooded. He had even suggested a scenic mountain route for us to take, but with the weather (and roads) getting continually worse, I opted instead to stick with the interstates for safe measure.

Turns out we were pretty screwed anyway, as we caught evening rush hour traffic (exacerbated by the unusual rain) on I-25 coming into Denver, and again on I-70 out of Denver into the mountains. Drea slept as I navigated the nightmarish roads. Even the majestic mountains looked depressing juxtaposed against the congested interstate and cloudy rain. I’ll confess I was in a pretty dismal mood.

The weather finally cleared as we pushed west, and we arrived in Eagle to sunny clear skies. It’s amazing how just a improvement of weather can change your mood.

We had a great dinner at the Broadway Cafe, compliments of Alex, then settled into our hotel (again, compliments of Alex) for the night. We watched Michael Phelps make Olympic history in Beijing and called it a day.

After sleeping way in (vacations are great), we forged north out of Ouray.

Since my dad let us use his Golden Eagle (basically a prepaid “season pass” to any US National Park, I figured we might as well stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, just east of Montrose. I’m not going to lie – after seeing the Grand Canyon, Black Canyon seems just a little anticlimactic. Beautiful indeed, but let’s face it, what can compare with the GC?

We continued east on Rt. 50 through Montrose and Salida, stopping to take a peek at the Royal Gorge Bridge, the world’s highest suspension bridge that hangs a dizzying 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River. We took a few shots at the overlook in lieu of paying $18 a person to stand on the bridge itself.

The mountains leveled out as we made our way into Pueblo. We stayed at my Uncle Alex and Aunt Donna’s house for the night and had a great time catching up with them and their kids. Donna cooked us a stellar Asian dinner and we had a chance to meet a friend of theirs who’s a pastor in India. Very cool.

We stayed up talking until most of us could barely keep our eyes open. Drea and I used some of Donna’s kitchen glasses to store our contact lenses in as I had left our lens cases back in Ouray. :)

We learned to our dismay that the Ouray Hot Springs Pool was closed for the two days we’d be in Ouray. Just those two days. Awesome.

Not to be discouraged, however, we took a quick drive up to beautiful Yankee Boy Basin and enjoyed some more reading and relaxation on Ouray’s charming Main Street. Not a very eventful day, but a nice little break between long days of driving.

After another soak in the hot tub, we called it a night, thankful to spend time around such natural beauty (but ready to move on as well!)

We could have driven from the Grand Canyon to Ouray in one day, but I planned an overnight stop in Durango so we could make the spectacular drive into Ouray by daylight. US Route 550, known as the Million Dollar Highway in this area, snakes its way up through the San Jaun Mountains, providing countless “million dollar views” along the way. The drive is spectacular if you don’t mind the hairpin turns with no guardrails!

Aptly nicknamed “Switzerland of America”, Ouray’s small, charming grid of streets sits at 7,800 feet, surrounded on three sides by steep mountain slopes. It may be the most beautiful setting for a town I’ve ever seen.

We got settled into our hotel and headed up to Box Cañon Falls Park to check out the waterfalls and views of Ouray. It was SO COOL. Two short trails take you to a high bridge looking down on the falls, and down to the base of the falls, respectively.


We took a walk around town with the goal of finding a place to sit and read outside. We needed look no further than a nice little coffeehouse on Main Street with chairs and umbrellas out on the front porch. Soaking in the crisp breeze, the friendly bustle of tourists, and the mountains rising just beyond town, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to spend an hour or two with a good book. I was immensely satisfied.

We walked across the street to a family restaurant where we dined nearby a table of four older couples on vacation together. They were a lively bunch despite their age, and we discreetly enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversation. You could tell they had been friends for a while as they laughed and made good-natured jokes about each other. They were probably all over 70, but having the time of their lives. We decided we wanted to be like them when we get old.

The temporary closing of the hot springs pool changed our evening plans a little, but we still enjoyed soaking in the hotel jacuzzi and retiring to our room to read and watch the Olympics (and blog of course!)

More of our Ouray adventures to come tomorrow. Good night!