Category Archives: Here’s What I Think of That

Farewell Grandpa Newcomb

Lompoc, California, the quaint town nestled amongst the coastal hills and vineyards of southern California, and a second home for me as long as I can remember, forever changed on August 25, 2017 with the passing of my grandfather, Vance Newcomb.  In a lot of ways, it felt like his quick-witted and light hearted spirit defined that town making it my Neverland—a place where I will always feel like a kid.  I can still remember, as if it just happened, the utter jubilation I experienced as a young boy as I was getting ready for bed at our home in LA and my parents surprised me with the announcement that we would be driving up to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house that night.  I remember lifting heavy eyelids as the car pulled into the driveway, the headlights illuminating the little green stucco house with the ‘Z’s in the white trim on the garage door.  I remember waking to the smell of coffee the next morning as there was every morning with my grandparents such that to this day the smell reminds me of them.  My grandfather would have used at least three different goofy voices, sang lines from multiple songs accompanied by hand whistling, all before breakfast was finished.  Oh how I would try and master the hand whistle! I never did.  Not even close.

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The long closed drive-in where I saw Beauty and the Beast

Selfishly, I wondered how Grandpa’s passing would affect my Lompoc.  I feared his absence would leave a big hole in the utopia that I have tended to take for granted as if frozen in the year 1993.  It was with a heavy heart that I entered the little green house for the first time after his death.  The hospice bed that had dominated the living room for many months was now removed and the chair that he often sat in was unoccupied.  But the spirit was light, and even in the circumstances, there was joy.  I was reminded that it was not one man that defined this town for me, but an entire family.

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A quiet highway winding its way through wine country

After the memorial, at the luncheon at the Lompoc Historic Society, somebody had the idea to photograph all of the cousins together.  David, cousin of my father and aunt, asked if they could use props.  Not knowing what he meant, somebody said Sure, and he promptly picked up the pot that the beans had been cooked in and posed with it in the picture just because.  It was so much something Grandpa would have done, that it struck me in that moment how great an influence Grandpa had on his family and friends.  We all have a love for the outdoors and more than a few of us still climb trees as adults.  Some still insist on calling it a “Crick” instead of “Creek” and there is a little bit of a holy war on this (as there should be).  Some of us have a passion for teaching as well as introducing children to literature.  A few are just as sentimental as Grandpa was and insist on archiving memories only now in blog form while others get overly emotional about football games.  Some make beautiful music and sing from mountain tops, but nobody can do that damn hand whistle.  We all have a very recognizable nose.  But above all we are kind and loving, which I’ll admit is a little bit biased.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a family full of jerks proclaim themselves as such.

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One of Lompoc’s many flower fields

No, Lompoc will never be the same without Grandpa, but it doesn’t have to be.  As long as there is family (and wine) there, it will always be a second home and we’ll continue our pilgrimages there to backpack Manzana “Crick”, to go out to Surf beach only to find you can’t go down to the water that particular time of year because of the endangered Snowy Plover, to get afternoon Espressos at Southside Coffee, to walk along the “crick” bed, to play disc golf at Beattie Park, and spend time with the people with noses like ours that appreciate absurd puns as much as we do.

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Grandma & Grandpa (Vance & Maxine Newcomb) at First Baptist Church

2 Embryoes Born in Petri Dishes, To Wit: A Retrospective

“Our thoughts and prayers will be with you” the IVF doctor said one year ago today as, with delicate confident hands, he folded up the stirrups that Tara has grown so accustomed to and helped her sit up.  In less than 10 minutes he and the embryologist had pulled our two best looking embryos from a petri dish and transferred them to Tara’s uterus via a small catheter.  I watched him moments before put the perfect bend in the device BY HAND to perfectly navigate it up the… you know… and to the uterus.  And just like that, the IVF cycle was complete and Tara was pregnant.

As we left the clinic, we had a 10 day wait ahead of us to find out if either (or both) of the embryos had actually implanted, but we were brimming with confidence and elation.  24 hours later, the embryologist called to inform us that five of the remaining 6 embryos had failed to develop further (died) and only one would be available for freezing.  In the scheme of things, this news was inconsequential.  All that really mattered at this point were the two embryos currently in Tara, but the blatant fragility of life cut through our thin veil of optimism and we simultaneously sunk into a deep gloom so debilitating that it was a daily battle to accomplish anything productive.  We had completely latched onto the 30% chance it would fail and simply could not reason with ourselves that the successful outcome was far more likely.

Ultimately, distracting ourselves from the elephant in the room was the only option.  Writing about our feelings only made it worse, which is something I have never experienced before.  So we did our best not to think about it, and focused instead on Thanksgiving, Tara’s family visiting, and taking a day trip up into the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree.

On the morning of day 10, Tara went in for the blood test that would reveal the news we desperately needed to hear.  The hours after the test felt like the longest of all as we waited for the call with the results.  Used to rejection by this point, I had cleared my afternoon of meetings and responsibilities and was prepared to immediately go home if that 30% were to rear its ugly head.

Tara, meanwhile, being connected to the medical community, was trolling her own chart hoping to catch the results prior to the phone call.  But it was still not posted, even an hour after we were promised it would be.

Finally, in the early afternoon, Tara called me.  Heart racing, I slammed my office door and answered the phone.  The second I heard her voice I knew.  Her joy jumped through the phone and enveloped me in a warm embrace as I sat alone in my office but had never felt closer to her.  He HCG levels were quite high.  She was definitely pregnant.

2 weeks later, during what would normally be called week 6 in a normal pregnancy, we returned to the Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine one final time for a viability ultrasound.  The visit started like so many before it: Tara strips from the waist down, puts feet in stirrups, doc comes in, squirts massive dollop of gel onto a device that I like to refer to simply as “The Probe”, then “Slight Pressure”, and we look at obscured images on the screen.  Only this time, instead of seeing ovaries or eggs, we saw two beans with perfect little heartbeats.

As I looked at them, I anticipated Becky’s gloating face.  We had a heated debate a few nights prior when she tried to convince me that since we now knew that Tara was pregnant, it was more likely that she was pregnant with twins than with a singleton.  Several drinks in and perhaps in a bit of denial, I was obstinate.  This is what happens when nerds drink.  The fact that the twins actually happened would be icing on the cake of her ego.

Despite Becky’s ego boost, we were delighted.  We had been hoping for twins since we decided to do IVF back in the spring.  The nurse brought in a box of adorable knitted baby hats that a former patient had made and let us pick two.  Then the doctor lingered to answer any more questions we had.  I wanted to know if there was any need for me to provide further contributions, but the doctor assured me that was no longer necessary. And before we knew it we were saying goodbye and walking out of UCRM for the last time.

 

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Taken at some point during IVF

IVF In Pictures

April 19th to 25th is Infertility Awareness Week.  As Tara and I were going through IVF this past Fall, I found myself picturing each step of the process in fun, obscure ways and decided to try and articulate it photographically.  These have all been published on my flickr, but now seemed like a good time to actually present it in a single body of work.  So check them out, and then go find someone who is suffering infertility and give them a hug.

Shoot Up

The number of syringes pictured here is only a fraction of the number of shots I had to give Tara over a span of 4 weeks leading up to the procedure.

Shoot Up

 


Sharps Refuse

We were given a legit Bio-Hazard sharps disposal bin, which we basically filled up. 

Sharps Refuse

 


Trigger Shot

Nearly all of the syringes were small, un-intimidating needles for subcutaneous injections.  But the last one, the trigger shot, was a massive intramuscular injection.  The nurse drew a target for me on Tara’s hip and gave instructions to pull the plunger back after inserting the needle to ensure I had not hit a vein.  If I had, blood would be pulled into the syringe and I would have to remove and inject in a different spot.  That’s if I had not already fainted.  Thankfully, I did not hit a vein.

Trigger Shot

 


Retrieval

The most invasive part of the process is the egg retrieval for which Tara was sedated and the eggs were removed from her ovaries in a manner that will not be described here, but involved the uterine wall and some kind of needle…

Retrieval

 


ICSI

Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection is the process in which the sperm is injected into the egg used for those whose sperm can’t do it on their own either due to Motility or Morphology issues.

ICSI Concept 1

 


Tara About to Become Pregnant 

Arriving at the clinic to have 2 fertilized eggs implanted back into her.  

Tara About to Become Pregnant

 


Twins

We were fortunate to get twins on the first round of IVF.  Does that make us awesome?  No, it makes us damn lucky.  Here’s to those still waiting for their luck. 

It's Twins!

Sex, Drugs & Infertility

I sat in our living room during a power outage and listened to Tara tell her sister Becky the tale of our infertility.  I could see Becky’s concerned face on the other side of the sectional couch at the edge of the light thrown out from a small camp lantern on the coffee table, but I found it more comfortable to stare at my feet while Tara explained that my sperm lack the protein necessary to penetrate the egg.  Becky was one of the first people we shared our situation with and I was still a little embarrassed about the details which we had only recently gotten closure on after a year of failed attempts at conception and several months of doctor visits and tests.

It is impossible, or at least statistically unlikely, for me to naturally father a child.  The primordial basis for my existence is nonexistent.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised—I was never one for the ape-like assertions of male dominance or cat calls, and perhaps the inability to get a sperm into an egg is indicative of my complete and utter ineptitude at basketball.  Damn you, Darwin.

Fortunately, society has advanced from chest thumping and there is a procedure called Invitro Fertilization (IVF) with Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) for men like me, where IVF removes the entire opposing field from the court and ICSI is Michael Jordan whom I pass the ball to and puts it into the hoop in an amazing slam dunk  all while wearing comfortable, tag-less underwear.

As I proofread that last passage, it occurs to me that the literalist may assume Michael Joran will be fathering our child.  No.  MJ, in this case, is a sort of syringe capable of grabbing a single sperm from a petri dish and injecting it into a single egg in a new petri dish.

As Tara completed our story and Becky gently berated us for not telling her sooner, it occurred to us that she did have a point.  And in the weeks that followed, as we shared with more of our family and close friends, we realized that nothing but positive things came from it.  On one level, it allowed us to reconnect with those dear to us whom we kept our struggle secret from for so long. But on a much bigger scale, it allowed us to connect with others that were also silently enduring and share laughs, hugs, and tears.

Society has brainwashed us into thinking that it is not appropriate to discuss baby making.  Couples happily announce they are expecting, but the details of how they got there are glossed over and unmentioned aside from a euphemistic joke or two from the more free-spirited friends and family.  Even the timing of the announcement is regimented: Not before the 2nd trimester, minimizing the risk of an unpleasant miscarriage announcement.

We talk about sex, even going as far to share notes with close friends, but we limit these conversations to the enjoyment of sex and try not to think about its actual purpose.  Consider the contrast between “Dude, my wife and I had the best sex last night!” and “Dude, my wife and I had the best unprotected sex last night!”

I’m going to break the walls down.  My wife and I had unprotected sex for a year and a half.  The quality was superb, but no baby.  18 holes of golf and not a single sunk putt.  We have not conquered infertility and we never truly will.  But today we had science on our side.  They pulled 11 eggs from Tara’s ovaries while I went into a special room and delivered millions of sperm to an unsuspecting cup.  Now, as I write this, there are 11 embryos developing in petri dishes up at the hospital.  They will grow there for 9 1/2 months at which point we’ll go pick out or favorite ones and take them home.

We don’t know if this will work.  In fact there’s a 30% chance it won’t, but life is too short to wait for victorious status updates, and the internet is way to saturated with people appearing much more super human than they actually are.  I have been trying to write this for seven months.  My latest draft, scribbled in a leather-bound journal that I bought specifically for this purpose, is a maze of x-outs and insertions.  It doesn’t  have to be pretty, and in fact it really isn’t.  After 3 long weeks of dreaming 40% twins, 70% one, 30% nothing, we will know, and for the first time in forever, may go to an actual OBGYN. Kenobi.

If you are going through this, you CAN talk about it.  Each and every one of us is surrounded by friends and family capable of more love and support than we’d have ever imagined.  Broaching such a topic can be awkward, but it is not more awkward than conveying to family why you need your own room on a family vacation without telling them that it’s that time of the month.  Lastly, be strong and remember that for every five couples boasting about pregnancy on FB, there is another one exactly like you, wondering why it hasn’t happened yet, but sure as hell loving the ride. 

 

IVF Retrieval

Day of Retrieval (Pre-Sedation)

States I’ve Visited

I saw people doing this on fb and thought it looked fun.  Looks like I need to spend some more time in the Northeast.

States Visited

 

  • red for states where you’ve not spent much time or seen very much.
  • amber for states where you’ve at least slept and seen some sights.
  • blue for states you’ve spent a lot of time in or seen a fair amount of.
  • green for states you’ve spent a great deal of time in on multiple visits.

The Death of Google Reader Ruined Blogging For Me

When Google announced the imminent termination of their popular RSS reader app, I was indifferent.  Perhaps I’d taken the software for granted; forgotten how things were when it first came out and blogging was basically peaking.  I can remember the excitement of launching Reader every morning, a feed totally of my choosing there waiting for me: Dinosaur Comics, Cyanide & Happiness, XKCD, and of course, all my friends’ blogs.

I guess I just assumed the tech giant that whips out ridiculously useful free apps in its sleep would soon announce an even better replacement.  But that announcement never came.  When I returned from my typical summer hiatus from the blogosphere, I found Reader gone like bits in the wind.

I think theres a tendency to consider things in the online world immortal, like that heart you carved into that aspen tree when you were young. The cold truth that Reader was totally gone was like a punch in the stomach.  I wanted to check in on the blogs I’d neglected for so long, but found myself lost.  I couldn’t remember the URLs, so I was left conducting weak Google searches.  Do you know how many Laura Peters blogs there are?  I did finally find it, but no update since April.  Another victim of the downfall, I presume.  SinglePlusCat? No updates since 2012, but i’m probably 3 blogs of hers behind by now.

Reynolds Tribe!  My favorite Mommy blog!  Alive and well!  So good to see.  Just in time, too.  I was so caught up in my little blog eulogy that I was starting to hear Les Mis’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables in my head, only with the words changed to “Empty blogs in empty readers”.

I’m going to attempt to power through and keep this whole blog thing going.  If you are reading this and still blogging too, please send me a link.  I’d love to read it.  Now to go find a rebound…

 

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Status Updates Interpreted

We all know about them: the ambiguous, often emo, status updates/tweets.  Most of us have been guilty of them at least one time or another.  Some of us seem to only share tidbits of their lives with the online world in this cryptic fashion.  These types of messages can be vexing for the rest of us: vaguely curious about the details, not sure if we should be concerned.  No longer!  Using unprecedented sample sizes and state-of-the-art algorithms, Absolutely Andrew has cracked the code.  We proudly present to you a list of some of the most common types of cryptic one-liners and their deciphered meanings.

1.  My Husband is Amazing!

You obviously had incredible sex after which he cuddled with you and chatted for more than the typical 10 minutes before falling asleep.  Given the fact that this post is most prevalent around holidays, especially Valentine’s Day, some sort of thoughtful gift/meal likely proceeded the sex, but the heart of the inspiration was the sex/cuddling.  Why else would we be left guessing?

 

2.  My Wife is Amazing!

I’m not thinking we need to explain this one.  Besides, it’s rated NC-17.

 

3.  Please Pray for me today.

Ah yes, the use of social networking as a prayer request tool.  I can respect that.  I would be happy to pray that you get over your constipation smoothly.

 

4.  Something doesn’t feel right.

You had Taco Bell again, and yet again, it has turned on you.

 

5.  Last night was amazing!

You went to a party/event, met a really great guy/girl and hit it off really well.  You’re being vague because the two of you are now fb friends and it is waaaay too soon to appear emotionally attached.  Most likely, he/she has seen your post, read between the lines and is either equally flattered or halfway to Santa Fe by now.

 

6.  Well that didn’t work out like I thought it would…

This one depends on when the poster was born:

Baby Boomer: Boomers, to their credit, do not post cryptic one-liners.  Instead, they try to use the status update field as a sort of blog entry.  Can any of you boomers tell me if there’s a max character limit on that?  I’d be happy to show you how to get on Word Press…

70’s: These people don’t have fb.

80’s: You thought you could get out of chores by offering your spouse bedroom favors.  It failed, and now you have more chores and less bedroom time.

90’s: You attempted to impress the girl/guy you are interested in and failed, most likely by farting as you tried to lift her up to demonstrate your strength or while wrestling him to be flirty.

2000’s: Holy shit, these people are old enough to be on fb?!  I quit…

 

7.  Oh, so this is what it’s like when it works :-)

You just fell head over heals for someone for the first time in your life and she feels the same way.  You want to shout it out, but you feel that would be pompous, so instead you settle for an ambiguous statement that everyone sees right through anyway.

The Absolutely Andrew Endorsement List

Here It is.  The much awaited, highly anticipated Absolutely Andrew Endorsement List.  I’ve gotten a lot of comments on here lately from readers wanting to know how Tara and I are so awesome.  Stuff like: “Andrew, I may be the favorite son, but you’re definitely the coolest” from Ben, or, my favorite: “You should have called this blog Awesome Andrew” from anonymous.  Anyway, here is a list of the tools we use that make us so awesome, and some stuff we just plain like!

1.  Mass Transit–Otherwise known as the Absolutely Andrew Mobile Offices, the commuter train makes my commute far more enjoyable and helps the environment too!  Kudos to whoever can tell me where the word “commuter” comes from!

2.  Cast Iron Skillets–A much more rewarding cooking experience than in non-stick.  Tastier too!

3.  Canvas Tents–These roomy, durable tents will last a lifetime.  Tara and I spent more time considering how our future family would fit in our tent than we did when we bought our house.

4.  Subaru Outbacks–The ultimate adventure car

5.  DevonSupertramp–Possibly one of the biggest Youtube sensations in the history of internet video, this Utah native has created his own new genre of adventure film.  Although the style is heavily emulated and a little overused these days, it still never fails to put me in a good mood.

6.  Bon Iver, The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, Of Monsters and Men–Because my musical tastes have evidently mellowed out significantly since college.

7.  Sundance Films–Because you never know what you’re going to get.

8.  Google+–I have to admit, it has some cool features, and less whining.

9.  Homebrew–The ultimate relaxation hobby with ridiculously tasty payoff.

10.  Snow on Pine Boughs–Absolutely beautiful.  An excellent indicator of how good the powder is going to be as well.

11.  Running on snow-covered trails–Totally different running experience.  Equally rewarding.

12.  GoPros–but only if POV is balanced out with other, more unique angles.

13.  Giant Trance Mountain Bikes–Super awesome while remaining super affordable.

14.  Chill weekends at home–Perhaps this is a sign we’re growing older, but do-nothing weekends are totally bomb.

15.  Sunday Brunch–We don’t go enough, but our favorites are Diva’s and Roots.

16.  The Gamma Rays–Best Rock/Punk cover band ever.

17.  Getting up out of the inversion

18.  Stationary Bikes–nothing beats reading and exercising at the same time!

19.  Non-Stationary Bikes–unless it is riding an actual bike!

20.  GPS Watches–Reduce the urge to share the results on facebook.

21.  The unlimited possibilities of a tarp and rope.

 

 

Kindness

In the fall of 2008, Tara moved out to Salt Lake City while I stayed behind to finish my bachelors and bolster my resume.  The plan was for me to find a job and move out to Utah once I  graduated.  However, I quickly found that job searching in a location 800 miles from my own was incredibly overwhelming.  I felt as though I was throwing resumes into an endless void never to be seen by a human being.

Around April, I was beginning to get pretty discouraged.  My search had been relentless, but I hadn’t received a single callback.  One day at work, I was sourcing a component that just happened to be manufacturing in Salt Lake City.  I excitedly told the sales guy named Will on the phone of my plans.  I also told him of my floundering job search.  He immediately reached out to me, encouraging my decision and telling me how wonderful Utah is.  He said that he did not have an extensive knowledge of engineering jobs, but his brother, Dave, who was just graduating from BYU in engineering did, and he would put him in contact with me.

I was very appreciative of Will’s kindness, but I was pretty skeptical that this Dave guy would give some complete stranger in Nebraska that his brother threw his way the time of day, especially while preparing to graduate.  Therefore, I was completely floored when Dave started emailing me a lot.  He contacted every engineer he knew, and before I knew it, I had connections in most of the big tech companies in the area.  He also answered countless questions of mine, ranging from local industry to what it’s like living in Mormon Central.  It is safe to say the Marriotts made my job search significantly easier.

I don’t really keep in touch with Dave or Will, but thanks to LinkedIn, I recently learned that the brothers have teamed up with a few others and started their own company around a mobile bluetooth speaker that claims to be the thinnest on the market.  The company is called Coverplay Audio.  I can’t personally vouch for the quality of the speaker as I don’t yet own one (expected release March 2013), but the technology behind it is totally cool, and I think this product will go far.  Furthermore, if these guys approach business the same way they approach life, this company will be one to keep an eye on.

A Tribute to my Father

It seems more appropriate to write a tribute to both of my parents, as they just celebrated their 30th anniversary on the 3rd, which is so cool.  However, I meant to write one of these for my dad for Father’s day, but never got around to it.

My dad is my hero when it comes to many things, but none so much as in the world of outdoor adventure.  Growing up in Nebraska did not stop us from taking frequent backpacking trips to Colorado and California as well as mini trips in our own backyard (in this instance, by “backyard” I do mean Nebraska and the general vicinity.  We’ve had many a excursion in our own literal backyard, so I feel it is necessary to specify).  It was during these trips that my father taught me most everything I know about the outdoors, such that once I grew older and joined the Boy Scouts, I became frustrated with their methods of filling trailers with heavy camping gear and camping within a short distance from the cars.  Fast, light, and low impact was our mantra.

When I tell people about some of the expeditions Tara and I have been on, a common response is: “Wait until you have kids–you won’t be able to do stuff like that then”.  I’m sure my parents often heard the same thing, and I am incredibly grateful that they didn’t listen.  The trips we took starting from a young age united us as a family as well as instilling a passion for the outdoors in my brothers and me.  Some of the best memories of my childhood are from these trips.

  • Backpacking near Steamboat Springs where we explored run-down cabins and old ranch land.  My dad made the most comfortable toilets out of rocks for each of us.
  • Garin falling in a stream and my mother hanging his superman undies out to dry.
  • Me falling in a stream and my dad commanding me: “Get out of the water, Andrew!”
  • The team effort to get over New Army pass in the Sierras.
  • Celebratory wine on the summit of our namesake mountain after a grueling climb with the sun getting low in the sky and 8 miles to go back down to base camp.

Fatherhood scares the crap out of me, but I have to admit, nothing makes me more paternal than the anticipation of introducing my children to the wonders of the backcountry.  Naysayers be damned.

Thanks for being so awesome, Dad.  You’re right up there with Jon Krakauer in my book.

 

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Indian Cave SP Spring 2009