To Build a Fire, Part 2

This is the continuation of this.

I made the fire on the third and final night.  I had made one the night before, but it was nothing compared to this one, so I’m leaving it out.  I pulled out my hatchet and began splitting the wood–first into large pieces and then some smaller ones for kindling.  I then began striking with smooth, glancing blows causing fine, curled wood shavings to separate from the log, cleaved free effortlessly by the sharp blade.

I walked around the camp site gathering dry grass which I fashioned into a bird’s nest looking thing.  I carefully laid the nest in the center of the fire pit and filled it with the shavings.  I then build a small fortress around it, starting with the big logs and gradually getting smaller.

When I was done, I stepped back and admired my creation for a few moments before lighting a single match and tossing it right into the heart of the fortress.  A little flame rose cautiously, shy at first, but rapidly growing until the entire structure was ablaze creating heat so intense I had to move my chair back.

I sat gazing into the flames sipping my beer and feeling totally one with my primordial instincts.  Had someone addressed me during that moment, I may have responded:  “Me Andrew! Me make fire!”

To Build a Fire, Part 1

The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.

Jack London, To Build a Fire

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This quote has nothing to do with this post.  It’s just one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite stories.  However, as we have spent the better part of January with temperatures never getting above freezing, it has felt a little bit like the Yukon.  Since we’re all longing for warmer weather, I decided to do a post that I should have written last summer but never got around to it.  It got pretty long, so I’ve decided to break it into two parts.  Robert, I hope it’s manly enough for you.

Last June, when Tara was gone for the week on business, I headed up into the mountains not far from my office for a few days of solo camping.  Granted, it was car camping, and that hardly counts when it comes to going solo, but I’d never done it before, and this was a good first step.  The plan was to spend the nights up at camp and come down each day to go to work.

When I arrived at Hope Campground up on Squaw Peak Wednesday evening after work, the campground hosts, a cute elderly couple from Florida, informed me every single spot was available.

“Anybody with you?” the man asked, looking curiously past me at my car, full of stuff, but void of another human being.

“Just me,” I replied.  Husband and wife gazed at me for a few seconds, their eyes slightly narrowed.

“Anybody meeting you?” He eventually asked, breaking the silence, and again I said no, feeling as though they suspected me of planning some sort of booty call up there.

The man abruptly stopped questioning me, put the friendly smile back on his face, and took my money and asked me if I needed firewood.  When I hesitated, because I did not have enough cash on me, he quickly told me it was free, and I accepted.  He retrieved a bundle of wood, tied with twine, which I took, thanked him and prepared to leave.

“Oh, you probably need some tinder!” He exclaimed suddenly and began rooting through the back of his pickup for bits of paper and other refuse that could be used as tinder.  I began to suspect that they felt bad for me coming up all alone.  The man, unable to find much in the way of paper grabbed a roll of paper towels.  I tried to gently decline his generosity, and he looked up confused, his hands poised to tear a few sheets from the roll.

“I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to fires,” I tried to explain, unsure of how to get the good-natured Florida couple to understand that I have a weird obsession with starting fires using only natural fuel.

“Well, this will burn pretty clean,” he tried to assure me, assuming me to be some sort of eco-freak.  I surrendered and took the paper towels, figuring I could always just use them for cleaning.

I did not have a fire that night.  Instead, I set up camp, grilled a steak which I washed down with a micro-brew, and headed for bead early.  I would be meeting up with the guys early the next morning for a mountain bike ride before work.  The trail was only a stone’s throw from my camp.

I awoke with a start quickly realizing I’d missed my alarm.  It had gotten down to around 40 during the night and my cell phone battery was completely exhausted.  It was 6:45 and I was supposed to meet the others at 6:30.  They may have already ridden by on the gravel road above the campground.  I jumped out of my sleeping bag, threw on clothes, downed half a can of Starbucks Double Shot, jumped on my bike and pedaled hard up out of the campground.  I had guessed right and managed to catch up with the others within a few minutes, my body still trying to figure out what the hell I was doing to it.

After a beautiful ride on Squaw Peak, I returned to camp for breakfast and a shower before heading down for work.  I had a solar shower that had been quite hot the evening before, but now was ice cold.  I had rigged up a crude structure with tarps to spare the host couple a view of my naked ass should they have happened by.

As I stood naked in my makeshift shower, shivering uncontrollably from the cold water, I was less than satisfied with its construction.  The ground was just dirt, so it immediately turned to mud.  It was also sloped, which proved to be nearly disastrous as I attempted to wash my hair and my feet slipped out from under me.  Blind from the soap in my eyes, I grabbed for anything that would save me from going ass-first into the mud.  I found the shower head, a small plastic sprayer attached to a tube that goes to the big black reservoir.  This provided just enough resistance to arrest my fall before it popped free from the reservoir.  I stood for a few moments afraid to move, the disembodied shower head in my hand, using my full lexicon of curse words two and a half times through while water from the bag sprayed everywhere.  I resolved to use the shower at work for the remainder of my camping.

The Pilates Experiment

Last night at the gym, I tried Pilates for the first time.  Tara and I have been talking about going to the class for a while now, but I kept chickening out.  Not last night!  I made it through the whole class.

It was not easy, however.  On the way up the stairs to the classroom, it was all I could do to keep from turning and running back down the stairs, seeking refuge in the basement amongst the free weights and B.O. where I spend most of my time at the gym. But Tara was with me serving as my permission slip for going to girls-only places and doing girls-only things.

It had started with the women’s clothing section.  I used to hate such shopping trips back when we were barely dating.  Waiting outside the dressing rooms alone, standing awkwardly amongst the intimate apparel, not knowing what to do with my hands left me longing for an invisibility cloak and some better antiperspirant.  But over time it got easier, and before I knew it, I was perfectly content in such circumstances.  We graduated to Victoria’s Secret, which eventually lead to a solo VS run last year when I got Tara some flannel PJ’s for Christmas.  Granted, it took me two laps around the mall to build up the kahunas to actually enter the store, but I eventually managed to slip in amongst a big group of teenage girls.

And so I decided I was finally ready for a Pilates class.  After all, Pilates works the core which improves balance and stability, which in turn improves the only thing that matters in life: Snowboarding.

We entered the classroom.  The estrogen count was through the roof.  Girls everywhere.  Some grabbing mats and baby-sized dumbbells from big totes, others already sitting cross-legged on their mats, shoes removed, still others using the restroom at the back of the classroom, the door inexplicably wide open.

At first, I only spotted one other man in the room–the ubiquitous fitness class creeper.  He looked to be in his mid 60s, was there alone, and was sporting a rather impressive handlebar mustache.  “Are you kidding me?”, I heard him mutter to himself as he came to stand behind me in line for a mat.  Perhaps he was mad another dude was there.  

Three other men had joined the class late.  One seemed to be quite experienced and also seemed to have a thing for the instructor.  The other two may have been gay.

With much guidance from Tara, I gathered my own compliment of Pilates gear and set up my space: Not-so-cushiony yoga mat goes on top of more-cushiony mat, exercise ball goes on top of ball holder (these are apparently for noobs only) .  I sat on my mat to remove my shoes, hoping to sit meditative like some of the other participants before the class began, but had barely gotten my shoes off when the instructor came in and immediately turned on loud pop music and started calling out maneuvers in what I can only describe as Pilates jargon.

The commands were coming so fast and so Chinese to me that I could only look at the instructor’s motions to figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing.  Often, my view of the instructor was obscured by dozens of elevated legs, arms, or pelvises, so I had to watch Tara and some of the other people in the class who looked to me like they knew what they were doing.  This worked fairly well at first, but soon we were assuming positions and movements that typically require a browser history purge when viewed online.  It was at some point during this that the instructor actually used the word “Cervix”, and I was wondering what the heck I’d gotten myself into.

Once I was able to figure out what “Point”, “Flex”, “Articulate”, and “Pulse” mean in Pilates, I began to feel much less awkward and was actually rather enjoying myself.  I also realized the reason for the loud music, which I had found obnoxious at first, having expected Pilates to be a quiet, relaxing atmosphere.  The music covers up the inevitable mid-plank fart.  This phenomenon only happened to me once, but I caught whiff of another.  Tara, for the record, swears it was not her.

After the class, I felt totally relaxed and slept amazing that night.  Today I am friggin’ sore.  Who knew?  Pilates is actually a good workout.  I’ll probably go again, if only to see if the instructor says “Fallopian Tubes”.

 

Edit: 
After proofreading, Tara informed me the instructor said “Cervical” and was referring to the cervical spine, or the neck.  Wow, I was totally flexing the wrong area on that one…

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.

DIY Home Maintenance Pro

I’ve never been much for home maintenance.  This is likely because I totally suck at it.  I am also a proponent of outsourcing everything.  With Tara and I both working full time, the last thing we want to do in the evenings is more work.  But I’m trying to come around.  Call it a New Year’s Resolution if you will.  I understand that doing your own home maintenance can be rewarding.  I also understand that I have a ridiculously hard time spelling “maintenance” properly.

I had my first opportunity to put my resolution to use when we returned from our holiday travels and Tara announced that both bathroom sinks were draining unacceptably slow.  I did not call the plumber (although I really wanted to).  Instead, I headed to the hardware store.  Cleaning sink drains is one task in which I actually have a little experience, which means I both know somewhat how to do it as well as how much I dislike doing it.  Hair likes to get caught on the plunger mechanism, which in turn collects gunk and more hair, surreptitiously growing into quite the little drain monster until the drain no longer works.

I spent a fair amount of time in the plumbing aisle at Home Depot surveying the arsenal of drain-cleaning apparatuses and scheming.  Then I saw it.  A snake-looking device about 3 ft. long with a spring-loaded claw on the end.  This would be my Golden Gun.  I grabbed some rubber gloves, goggles, and a thing of Draino and headed into battle.

The task proved to be surprisingly easy with my well-chosen tools and planning.  Both drains were cleaned and working like new in under an hour.  It was disgustingly satisfying.  Kind of like popping a zit.

I feel like a friggin’ champion.  Unfortunately, small bathroom fixes are not unlike seeing an old manly movie like The Godfather for the first time in 2013.  Nobody wants to hear about it.  I, however, have a solution to this quandary: a blog.

So thank you for reading.  I’m definitely glad I didn’t call the plumber this time.  Now to use the money I saved on lift tickets…

AbsolutelyAndrew Turns 3!!

It has been 3 years since that infamous backroom deal went down in which a generous gift of server space made AbsolutelyAndrew possible.  In the weeks that followed, I would rise from street corner of Xanga hormone angst to the penthouse suite of self-hosted stardom.  If you have been with me ever since the pilot post, I salute thee.  And seriously, you rock.  Thank you.

I regret to admit that this past year was a slow one for AbsolutelyAndrew.  Our new house managed to take over much of the time that was previously reserved for blog updates.  Although I barely had the heart for it, I convinced myself to conduct my yearly Analytics review and select my top posts for the year.

Top Posts by Numbers:

  1. Dear Ex-Girlfriend
  2. Dresser Refurb
  3. Andy Sandberg Look-Alike
  4. In Which We Find Ourselves Homeowners
  5. Blog Dares 2012

My Favorite:

  1. Dear Ex-Girlfriend
  2. In Which We Find Ourselves Homeowners
  3. Christmas Letter 2012
  4. Andy Sandberg Look-Alike
  5. Mothers’ & Fathers’ Day Tributes

Check out the video at the bottom of the Christmas Letter for a compilation of all my favorite photos from the year.

Christmas Letter 2012

Dear Friend,

How have you been?  What is up with your Facebook profile pic?  Hilarious.  It’s hard to believe another year has gone by.  Things have been pretty good for Tara and me.  We didn’t do quite as much traveling as last year, but we managed to find other ways to spend exorbitant amounts of money.  In particular, on a new house.

Are you still living in that same place?  It’s been too long since we’ve been over there.  We’ve really enjoyed our house since we bought it and moved in back in April.  Aside from a tree branch falling on the roof during our first big snowstorm in October, we’ve been really fortunate as far as home maintenance goes.  The branch didn’t do any damage.  Rather, it ended up being small enough for the roofer to throw it off with his bar hands while I watched from the ground.  Pretty emasculating, but I hate ladders.

My brother, Ben, moved into the basement in August.  He just got out of the Marines and is now attending the University of Utah which is not far from our house.  He helps us out on the mortgage.  Also, my football knowledge has increased significantly since he’s made sure to have all the big games on.  You’d be impressed.

We’ll have to have you guys over some time.  You should come out for skiing.  The guest room gets a little lonely in the winter months.

Speaking of travel, did you go anywhere fun this summer?  We went on an Alaska cruise with my family in July.  It was awesome.  I would highly recommend it.  Just make sure you bring a wind breaker.  It can be friggin’ cold on deck.  Our favorite stop was Ketchikan.  It’s this sweet little fishing town surrounded by rainforest.  Someday we hope to return and backpack across the island.

We traveled back to the midwest twice for weddings over the summer and a third time for Tara’s Somer family reunion.  It seems like most everybody we know is married now.  I’d say it’s hard to believe, but I have 14,000 Sky Miles to remind me.  Not that I’m complaining: we love traveling back for weddings.

The Somer family reunion was a lot of fun.  Tara’s parents rented cabins on Lewis and Clark Lake for everybody.  Her dad had to say goodbye to the beloved family ski boat, which finally bit the dust that weekend, but we still got some skiing in with a rental.  We also held a small memorial service for Tara’s grandpa, Larry, who passed away in April.

We have a goal this year to go camping every month.  We started back in May and will hopefully continue through the winter hitting every month until next May.  The goal fosters creativity and hopefully when it’s all said and done, we’ll have camped some places we wouldn’t have otherwise.

I also did a little bit of solo “Mountain Manning” this past summer.  Tara was gone for a week on business, so I set up camp at a campground not far from the office.  For three days, I slept and ate in the mountains, coming down during the day to go to work.  I used a shower at the office to keep my coworkers from hating me.  It was quite the experience.  I would highly recommend you try it.

Have you done any good camping lately?  I keep thinking we should meet up in Wyoming for a weekend trip sometime.  There’s supposedly some good camping between Laramie and Cheyenne.  Vedauwoo, I believe it is called.

I hope you’re still enjoying your job.  Tara and I continue to feel rewarded by our careers.  Mine has not been without its share of excitement, however.  A year ago September, due to a growing complacency at my job, I developed a crazy plan to go to grad school for a Masters degree in engineering and MBA.  I had studied, passed the GRE, and been accepted into the program when it was announced in January that my company had been acquired by the largest DoD contractor in the world, Lockheed Martin.  Much change happened, including my job description, and suddenly work was exciting and fulfilling again.  I did not quit my job, nor did I show up for the first day of classes.  I have been tremendously pleased with this decision ever since.

In October, Tara and I officially joined the ranks of America: we bought a second automobile.  For the past 3 years, we shared our Dodge Stratus.  I’m sure you remember it–the paint chipping off the bumper and all.  At least the paint is no longer chipping.  It’s all chipped off!  Anyway, it now has to share the garage with a brand new Subaru Outback.

We were able to confirm that the Outback is indeed the king of road tripping vehicles by taking it back to Omaha for Thanksgiving with my family.  Four adults can ride comfortably for 13 hours with plenty of room for weekend bags in the back.  We also took it on it’s first camping trip down in St. George in early December.  This also went exceptionally well, except for when I learned that the car has a car alarm at 3:00 in the morning.

Well, I think that’s a fairly compete update.  We sincerely wish you and yours the best this holiday season and coming year.  If you’re searching for something, I hope you find it.  If you already found it, hold on to it and give thanks!  And if you ever need anything, don’t forget Tara and I are just a phone call away.  At the very least, we’re always available to listen.  I may even offer some unsolicited advice!  Happy Boxing Day!

Sincerely,

The Newcombs

 

Check out the New Header

I just updated my header photo and figured I’d better do a post to commemorate it.  I think this is the closest I’ve come to actually having the current season represented by the header (aside from leaving the same photo up for so long that the season comes around again).  However, as of this week, those mountains are already covered with snow.  Oh well, I’m not going to complain about that.

Painting an Accent Wall

This past weekend, Tara and I took on our very first home improvement project in our house.  We painted an accent wall!  We both have pretty limited experience when it comes to painting actual walls, so we were a little nervous, but it ended up being surprisingly easy and only really took a few hours.  I’ll even put a step by step in case someone actually deems my expertise worth emulating.

  1. Get samples ($3 each at Home Depot) and paint little patches of each.  Don’t go thinking that floor/baseboard coverage is not necessary for this step.  Even though the spots you’ll be painting are nowhere near anything, white baseboards attract red paint, especially if gravity is involved.
  2. Let the samples dry and evaluate under a variety of lighting.
  3. Go back and buy the winner.  We like the paint that has the primer built in.  Totally idiot proof.
  4. Remove outlet covers, etc.  No, you don’t need to turn off the outlets at the breaker (Unless you have a propensity for sticking screw drivers in open outlets).
  5. Time to mask.  This is by far the most time consuming part.  Frog Tape is the way to go.  Use a putty knife to help evenly press down the tape.
  6. Put on some music that fosters good, smooth brush strokes.  Pink Floyd is absolutely perfect.   Almost euphoric.
  7. Paint the edges with a regular brush.  Evidently this is called “Cutting In“.
  8. Hit the rest of the surface with a roller.  Turns out there is no wrong way to do this as long as you don’t press too hard and ensure each part of the wall receives several passes to evenly spread out the paint.  I spent about half an hour watching videos online and each one described a different technique with at least one comment from a “professional” painter ripping the method shown.
  9. Wash the brushes out with soap & water (unless you got oil-based paint–then you use Everclear followed immediately by fire)
  10. Let it dry for a few hours and repeat 5 & 6 (unless your skills are far superior to ours and you got it in one coat).
  11. Remove the masking.  Frog Tape advises removing the tape while the paint is still wet so it doesn’t tear.  This seems completely unpractical to me since multiple coats is almost always required.  We waited until the paint was almost completely dry and didn’t have any problems.

 

Now, before the pros rip me apart, heres a couple pics:

 

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In Which We Find Ourselves Homeowners

It started out as a game.  Home ownership seemed like something “old” people do.  We just wanted to pretend.  We’d sit at the sun-drenched table on cold Saturday mornings looking at the real estate listings in the paper while sipping steaming coffee.  The newspaper would be excitedly passed back and forth as one found something to be shared, be it of interest or just comical.  Thus we began to learn the attributes we both like.

The game progressed to a new level when some friends of ours, who were seriously house hunting, shared a website with us their realtor used.  Suddenly, we were able to see myriad high resolution photos of a given home instead of just one tiny picture of the outside with a cheesy description.  The site also had a monthly payment estimator which, optimistic as it was, helped us realize that even us kids were capable of buying a home.

We started a list of “requirements” for our future home.  Many of the items were heavily inspired by our rental house:

  • No wood paneling
  • No carpet in the kitchen
  • No pet stains/odors
  • Windows that actually keep out the cold
  • Basement I could actually stand up straight in
  • Newer than 1930

Then there were some wish-list items as well:

  • Window in the master bath
  • Master on the same level as other bedrooms (I was hoping to locate screaming babies as far from us as possible, but Tara reminded me that we’d be responsible for caring for the screaming babies and it would make sense to have them closer to us)
  • Open floor plan
  • Good sized kitchen with plenty of counter space
  • Garage
  • Reasonably sized yard
  • Granite counters
  • Anything that wasn’t build in 1995
  • Close the the university and downtown
  • Good interstate access
  • Close to the mountains
  • Ready to go as is (Not a fixer-upper)

Towards the end of March, we found ourselves with a Saturday with nothing planned.  I suggested we go out and hit a couple open houses.  Tara was suspicious of the idea, worried that it would be awkward, but I coaxed her into it.  We looked at 4 homes that day.  None of the houses were that appealing to us, but at the third house we met Gordon, who would become our realtor.  

Within a matter of days, Gordon had us in touch with a mortgage company submitting materials to get pre-approved for a home loan.  The second he learned we were approved, he began sending us tons of real estate listings which we were to go through and select a few to go see.  This process took hours and was both exciting and trying at times.  One of us would find something we really liked and then the other would point out a practical reason why that wouldn’t work.

We went on home tours with Gordon on 2 separate occasions.  It was the 2nd time out, the 2nd house we saw that evening, that we found ourselves in a house that singlehandedly met every single wish list item.  Not a single compromise would be made on mine or Tara’s part on that house.  2 days later we put in an offer.  It was the 9th house we set foot in during our search that had only officially began a couple weeks prior.

The seller accepted the offer less than 24 hours later, before noon on Saturday and we found ourselves under contract.  Throughout the 4 week process of due diligence, we kept telling ourselves that something would fall through and we’d be back on the hunt, but nothing did, and before we knew it, they were telling us that we could pick a date to come in and close.

 

We’ve lived in our house for nearly 5 months now.  We are mostly settled in.  The summer was so incredibly busy, I wasn’t able to find time to sit down and write this until now.  The house continues to be amazing, although I think we’ve finally gotten used to it enough to not feel like we’re just living in someone’s vacation home.  My brother, Ben has taken residence in the basement while he attends the University of Utah.  A portion of his GI bill helps pay the mortgage.

Many consider buying a house a fairly major life accomplishment.  I personally am not sure taking on the biggest liability of one’s life is grounds for a “Congratulations”.  Yes, we did plan, work hard, and save up for a downpayment, but the rest was just luck and our uncanny ability to combine tastes and find big purchases that we fully agree on.  Congratulate us once we’ve got it paid off!

 

There is wine tasting in the pantry

The Kitchen

 

Tara thinks she is out of the photo

From the Living Room.  Can you find Tara?


She's just so cute

Tara tries to stay out of the pictures


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Master Bedroom


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Master Bath with our IKEA spa bench