Cozumel

In March, Tara and I took a second honeymoon.  We didn’t really call it that, but it was a full week vacation to the tropics just the two of us, and we haven’t done anything like that since our honeymoon.  We first visited Cozumel on our honeymoon cruise and had wanted to return ever since.  And so, in the peak of spring break season, we boarded a plane and flew from winter to 80 degree sunny skies.  After a 45 minute ferry ride on rather choppy seas, we landed in Cozumel and took a taxi away from the city to a small all-inclusive on the beach, surrounded by jungle.

We had left all the spring breakers in Cancun.  This resort was secluded and quiet.  The demographic was surprising, but a good mix.  It was mostly older (than us) couples and families with some retirees.  I think we were the youngest people there that hadn’t come with our parents.  At least 50% of the guests were Canadian.

The all inclusive bar scene is fascinating.  Everyone gets up pretty early because it gets dark so early and by 7 AM the sun is out in full force.  After eating breakfast, the guests head down to the beach bar and line up, waiting for it to open at 9.  It is not unlike a herd of cattle eagerly anticipating meal time.  Veteran all-inclusivers have brought big gulps and travel coffee mugs to have their libations made in as the resort cups are so small they make Main Street’s glasses seem king-size.  My UNL Alumni readers will appreciate this comparison, for everyone else, the glasses are really friggin’ small.

The bar tenders are totally chill, but can make frozen cocktails faster then anyone’s business.  90% of the patrons order drinks that require the use of a blender, so there is an “express” cerveza line.

Early in the week, we took a taxi to the only city on the island, San Miguel.  We went to the Cozumel history museum at which I was able to get my Carribean anthropology and geography fix (totally fascinates me for some reason).  We then enjoyed lunch at the small cafe at the museum overlooking the ocean.

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We tried some shopping in the afternoon, but quickly tired of the high pressure marketing made prevalent by cruise shippers’ tendency to spend a lot of money fast just because they think they’re purchasing an authentic souvenir from a land they spent 3 hours in.  At one point, while we looked for a sun hat for Tara, an American woman came over in a sun dress she had tried on and asked “You like?”, evidently forgetting that although she was in a foreign country, most people around her spoke fluent english.

We padded our way out of the cruise ship zone seeking a mini golf course I had read about that supposedly provides walky-talkies so you can call in drink orders while on the course.  Alas, it had gone out of business, but some excitement was had anyway when I nearly leaned on a massive iguana sunning itself on a stone wall.  Out of my peripheral, I had mistook it for a sculpture.  I swear it made a weird croaking noise to alert me of its presence.

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We then came upon an old catholic church with its doors open welcomingly so we stopped in briefly to look around before heading to a seaside bar for Pina Coladas and churros.

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Another day, we rented a car and drove down to Punta Sur Eco Park for exploring and snorkeling.  The recommended snorkeling route was to paddle 300 meters off-shore to a buoy, then turn right and follow the reef which parallels the shore for about half a kilometer until “you see a black coral”, then head back to shore and walk back up the beach.

This turned out to be a marathon of a snorkeling trek, but was absolutely amazing.  There was so much sea life and the water was perfectly clear.  We were exhausted by the end and it felt like we were having to fight the current to get back to shore.  When we finally did reach the beach, we collapsed on the sand to rest and found ourselves completely alone with nothing but palm trees and jungle to the inland and pristine blue ocean off-shore.

We walked back up the beach back to the little outfitter to return the gear.  We checked out the light house, and some of the other sites at Punta Sur before driving on to the far west side of the island to the same seaside cantina we ate at on our honeymoon, and once again had barely enough cash…

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The rest of the time we spend relaxing on the beach and snorkeling.  We did aqua aerobics one morning, or as the Mexicans call it: “Exercise in the Pool”.  This turned out to be a gaggle of drunk, middle-aged women and Tara and me.  The young male instructors knew exactly how to appeal to this crowd and the workout involved lots of pelvic thrusting and cat calling.  I felt totally out of place and was wishing I’d hit the pre-workout Pina Coladas a little harder.  At the end we all lined up and gave each other massages.  Yep, that happened.

Oh yeah, I should mention the limbo contest that I took 3rd place in, beaten only by a couple Brazilians.

 

 

 

The week went way too fast.  I’d highly recommend this destination to anyone considering the Cancun area.  Here are some details if you decide to go:

The Occidental Allegro, Cozumel MX

Flying into Cancun is the cheapest, but requires a 45 minute taxi to Playa del Carmen followed by a 45 minute ferry to Cozumel.  Next time I think we’ll fly right into Cozumel.  Even just avoiding the Cancun airport would make it worthwhile.

We were infinitely glad we went with the all-inclusive.  It was so nice not to have to worry about meal expenses all week.  Unlimited alcohol is a nice perk as well.

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Farewell Grandpa Ploetz

This past Tuesday I received a call I’ve been expecting for a while.  In the same strong, calm voice she used throughout my childhood to reassure me there was nothing to fear, my mother told me my grandfather had passed away as he slept, never betraying, with even the slightest crack or break, that she had been with him the previous afternoon, said goodbye, and then waited by his side until the wee hours of the morning, and probably hadn’t slept since.

Grandpa did not speak a lot.  In fact, his voice was so gruff it almost sounded like it pained him to talk.  But when he did, it was often to tell a server if wasn’t finished yet as he white-knuckled his plate (Great Depression kid with a huge stomach), or to tell a joke.  He and my brothers and I shared an appreciation for big-breasted women and we loved sharing racy jokes.  This put my poor mother in the awkward situation of wanting her boys to bond with their grandfather yet disapproving of the topic.

When Grandpa laughed, his face would contort and his eyes would squint into a look of pure glee–an expression that beautifully contrasted his otherwise gruff, German demeanor.  When Ben laughs, he makes this exact same expression.

Once on a family trip to Buca di Beppo (our favorite restaurant while it was open in Omaha), my brothers and i discovered pictures of pin-ups adorned the walls of the men’s room.  We told Grandpa this and he immediately excused himself to go to the restroom.

Grandpa had a wide repertoire of jokes and euphemisms he had picked up during his time in the Army in WWII.  One of my favorites was “Used Beer Department”, which I referred to as “Used Mountain Dew Department” until I went to college.

He was impressively up-to-date on technology his whole life.  He was an early adopter of email and even had a Facebook account.  For a while, he was buying nearly every new Apple computer to come out.  He skipped over the first iMac (I imagine neon colors weren’t really his thing), but when he got the Sunflower iMac, I would make excuses to come up and play with it.

Oh how he used to pound the mouse and keyboard!  I’m not sure why he thought he had to hit the keys that hard.  Then again, I kind of do the same thing…

With a rich German ancestry and having been stationed in Belgium in WWII, Grandpa spoke fairly fluent German.  He was delighted when my brothers and I elected to take German language classes in high school and used to bark “Bitte leiten Sie die Kartoffeln!” across the table at us in true German style.  Alas, his dialect differed from the pasteurized German we had learned in school so we could never decipher what he was saying.

Grandpa loved his beer and wine.  Once on a family vacation in Arkansas, we visited a winery where my parents bought a few bottles and Grandpa bought an entire case.  A month or so later, he had finished all of his wine and was quite incredulous when he learned my parents had barely made a dent in theirs.

Christmas in Tahoe in 2011 was the last Christmas we’d spend together as an entire extended family.  We had 15 people crammed in Larry & Sonja’s cabin and it worked well enough.  I brought some of the stout I had brewed to share with everyone.  Grandpa took one sip and declared it good.  It is the best and most regarded compliment I’ve ever received.

I don’t think I fully realized how similar I am to Grandpa until after his death.  He was a man that never aged or became complacent mentally.  He was always learning, always asking tough questions his whole life.  I truly respect that.

As I drove home from work after receiving the news, I reminisced on all my memories of Grandpa and said to myself, as tears of joy streamed down my face, “My grandpa was totally bomb”.  I’ve never used those words to describe anyone in my entire life.  Why they first came out to describe a 92 year old man, I will never know.  But it’s totally true.

 

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Christmas 2011 at Tahoe

Yay Homebrew!

I have been homebrewing with a friend for a couple years now, but thanks to lovely brewing equipment gifts from my in-laws for Christmas, I now have my own setup.  So far, I’ve done two batches: a hazelnut brown ale and an oatmeal stout.  Gavin suggested making labels with fun pictures for the beer.  I was a little skeptical at first, but this proved to be one of the most fun parts of the process.

When my family visited last August, my dad stuck his thumb drive in my computer an unloaded some 30 gig’s of family photos.  Gee thanks, Dad.  Anyway, it was in these pictures that I stumbled upon a self portrait of Garin in a suit wearing headphones.  The potential was there.  I threw it in PS, applied a couple filters and BAM!  The Gentleman’s Oatmeal Stout label was born.

Oatmeal Stout in a Row The Rocker Top Label Closeup

Garin with the Virgin

 

Ben and I spent a few hours over the weekend constructing this sweet brew shelf.  We wanted to make it strong enough to support a couple fermenters.  This was probably overkill, but it works.
The Brew Shelf

 

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.

 

 

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…