Category Archives: Uncategorized

A FEW Words on Email Signatures

The year is still young and it’s not too late to take up a resolution for brevity in the arena of email signatures. Far too often do threads end up as 95% signature text and 5% actually useful words. I have no credentials to provide advice—only an above average amount of unapologetic grammar snobbery thanks to some good friends in college that made a mockery of any sentence that so much as misplaced a comma, but here is my opinion.

  • Create 2 signatures in Outlook: The verbose one that is required by your company and a super short one, ideally just your first name. Configure your settings to use the long one only on original messages and the short one on replies and forwards. Remember you can always change it manually (by selecting the desired signature from the drop down) before sending the email. Pro tip: have the short one as the default and bring in the big guns only when necessary (i.e. the first time you are emailing someone ever). Another really good time to switch over to that short signature is when you are sending a personal email with your business email. (Or consider using your gmail for personal emails, but that is another topic)
  • Every character in the signature should have a purpose. I’m not going to say don’t do it, but I am going to point out that quotes rarely enhance a business email and that’s an awful lot of characters.
  • Nobody cares that you sent the email from your smart phone. It takes 30 seconds to change the default signature to anything other than that. I configured two signatures for my iPhone: “Sent from my iPhone” and “Sent from my Android”. I then select the one that matches the person I am emailing so they feel a false sense of camaraderie and are more likely to consent to do it my way. I don’t actually do that, but now I’m kind of tempted to.

My Favorite Children’s Books

I absolutely love children’s books that have beautiful illustrations and tell a good story and I love reading them to my kids. Here are a few of our favorites.

Imogene’s Last Stand by Candace Fleming / Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

I love history, but mostly I love how this story encourages kids, particularly girls, to stand up for what they believe in.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Peter Brown is a go-to author for us. His illustrations alone would do it for me and his stories are just as good. This is such a heart warming tale of being yourself even if being yourself is different from everyone else. We have been through it many times.

Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc

Read it and you’ll see.

Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess

This is such a no-brainer, it basically needs to explanation. However, what I like about reading this book is that contains lessons for all phases in life and it is always nice to have reminders for myself.

Chirri & Chirra by Kaya Doi

There are a handful of these books in the series, but the premise is almost always the same: 2 girls go for a bike ride and proceed to live out an adventure cyclist’s wet dream. They ride through incredible landscapes and make frequent culinary stops at ridiculously eclectic cafes. These books make me want to ride more.

Farewell to Shady Glade by Bill Peet

I read this book as a child and now I read it to my kids. It is a very approachable story of the impacts of urban sprawl and deforestation and rewards the more mature reader with ridiculously potent irony.

Locomotive by Brian Floca

We have read this book cover to cover more than any other book. Everything by Brian Floca is outstanding and we own a good number of his books, but Locomotive is our favorite probably because our love of trains.

The First Year Back in Flyover Country

A little over a year has passed since we pulled a reverse Brigham Young, said goodbye to the salt lake valley, ascended up parleys canyon, and didn’t stop until we hit Omaha, not far from where the pioneers spent the winter of 1846. And like good ‘ol Brigham said when he gazed upon his new home, I too can say “this is the place” even as I miss my Utah home dearly. The Mormons were chased out of Illinois by mobs with pitchforks so I imagine they didn’t miss their previous home in the same way. I am going to spend some words reflecting on our first year back in Flyover Country. Join me if COVID isolation has you longing for some very indirect social interaction.

Our last morning in Salt Lake City we attended service at Zion Lutheran ELCA—our church home for the better part of three years. Afterward when we got in the car to start our drive, Siri informed me it would be 10 minutes to get home. With a knot in my throat I told the phone—which of course wasn’t listening—“I’m not going home, Siri.” Indeed, the home Siri referred to, the one a couple 20-somethings excitedly bought in 2012, the one that had valiantly served as base camp for so many awesome adventures, not the least of which was bringing newborn Grant, Cade, and Harper home to, now stood completely empty awaiting its new owners. Our “home” was now nomadic—here in the loaded car with us, and in the back of an 18 wheeler headed east.

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Last photo at our Salt Lake City house

Our first stop was Yankton where we spent the week of thanksgiving at Tara’s parents’ house. Driving out to spend a holiday in South Dakota was a normal thing to do. For me, it was not until we drove down to my parents’ house in Papillion, where we would be living while we found a house, that the full gravity of the move set in. Even medicated sleep became a struggle. I started my new job the day after arriving and making a good first impression while sleep deprived and living out of a suitcase was a struggle. The kids also went through adjustment issues and had terrible tempers. Going anywhere in the car almost always led to everyone hating each other before we had even pulled out of the driveway.

With the help of Tara’s realtor cousin Ryan, we found a new construction 2-story in Ashland that we fell in love with. But when we went to make an offer, we learned there had been a miscommunication with the seller. That house was already sold, but the same floor plan was going in down the street and would be ready in April. Four months isn’t that long to wait for a house we really want and we get to customize we thought. Little did we know a pandemic would sweep through and push it out until nearly July.

Tara enrolled the boys in preschool in Ashland almost immediately. They had a Christmas program on a Sunday. It is a 30 minute drive from my parents’ house and we left with what we thought was plenty of time, but it was snowing that day and there was a terrible accident on I-80 that caused us to sit in traffic until long after the program had started. The boys were totally bummed so to soften the blow and somewhat justify all the car time, we went for milkshakes at McDonalds in Gretna.

The next day Tara took the kids to the grocery store. When they got there, the boys told her there was something in Grant’s milkshake cup which had been left in his cupholder. The something was a dead mouse which had evidently taken up residence in our car and had been living a rich gluttonous life on discarded morsels of delicious food for some time before drowning in the milkshake. Tara and I left the kids with my parents that night and “enjoyed some quality time together” at the self serve car wash spending about $10 in quarters vacuuming every nook and cranny. We found the main nest in the glove box and a food reserve in the storage compartment in the back of the car where whole Cheetos and the like had been retrieved from the kids’ seats and stowed there. It all seemed to be the work of one mouse. Evidently this issue is pretty common for those that park outside but we had always assumed a car was sealed enough to prevent small rodent intrusion. Not so. When it was all done, we put mint packets in every compartment and I’m pleased to say we never had another mouse issue.

For Harper’s birthday in early February we got an Airbnb in Omaha with plans to host Tara’s parents and brother’s family for a long weekend. Ironically, given what was to come in March, the flu messed up the whole event. Bryce got it causing them to cancel their trip. Cade developed symptoms as we arrived at the rental house. Tara’s parents still made the trip down, but Cindy would end up catching it from Cade. Despite it all, our time in that big old house was a highlight of the winter for us. We Door Dashed some really good food, went to the zoo and botanical garden, and enjoyed some really quality time together both as a nuclear family and with our extended families.

COVID-19 came along in March like a cruel joke. 4 adults and 3 kids in a 3 bedroom house and we were all of a sudden supposed to have a plan for how we would all work from home and a plan for quarantine. While it seemed irresponsible at the time, none of us actually changed to working from home except for Tara who had been doing it the whole time. I think this greatly helped with sanity. Worse than all that was learning that our move in date was shifting from April 30th to TBD.

But we found some fun ways to pass the time. We got a membership at the zoo immediately upon moving back and made full use of it before the shutdown in March. We also got a Fontenelle Forest membership which served us well throughout the various stages of lockdown. No matter how stressful things got, the forest always provided the calm that we needed. We dug the old tag-along bike out of my parents’ crawl space that Garin rode as a child and after some dusting and lubrication, found it road-worthy. I took the boys on many rides including some of my old haunts: the 5 mile gravel loop to Richfield and Council Bluffs to Mineola on the Wabash. My parents joined us on many rides, and Garin and Emma did as well for a ride on the Mopac. For that ride we brought along a camp stove and griddle in the car and feasted on a brunch of fried eggs, spam, and smoothies in the Elmwood park after the ride. It was everything I hoped it would be. Personally, I was lacking the motivation to do the necessary preparation but everyone came through in a big way to pull it off. Never underestimate the industriousness of a Newcomb picnic.

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Grant on a family path ride

In the spring—a large detail I almost forgot to add because it feels like they’ve been doing it for longer—both boys mastered two wheel cycling after some one-on-one practice at our storage unit. They can now handle a 6 mile path ride, but their preference by far is off road. After pump tracks, their favorite place to ride is the trails right here in Ashland. There is virtually no elevation gain which is perfect for them and the trail features keep them engaged. Harper shreds on her balance bike and desperately wants a pedal bike to keep up with her brothers.

We moved into our house on June 22nd, three months after our original close date. My parents had been infinitely gracious throughout the entire ordeal, putting up with their home being a constant mess and taking the kids on numerous occasions while we took some time for ourselves. But the stress of being in transition and not having our own space for that long put a strain on our marriage like I have never known. But we made it through and the house and Ashland are everything we hoped it would be. We have since filled our time with nesting projects. In the warmer months we put in 4 tons of landscaping rocks, a truckload of mulch, and planted 7 trees. Now the projects have moved indoors and involve hanging pictures and installing storage solutions for all our stuff. It is tremendously gratifying work. It is what I look forward to doing on the weekend which weirds me out because historically it has always been adventuring that I yearn for.

In August we took vacation in Steamboat Springs for a week making it the longest trip we have ever taken with just us and the kids. We had a slight concern that the elevation would be hard on us after living at 1000ft for nearly a year, but the mountains welcomed us back with open arms. It was a week of riding bikes–particularly the pump track at the local bike park, swimming, and appreciating the miraculous realization that the number of things we can’t do with the kids is rapidly shrinking.

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Pump Track Cruisin’

After a lot of back and forth given how close their birthday is to the cutoff, we started the boys in kindergarten. Thankfully the COVID cases at the school have been minimal and they have been able to attend in person classes the whole time. Both boys are doing very well and like school a lot. Harper wishes she could go to school too but also enjoys having free reign of all the toys while her brothers are gone. She and Tara have a weekly library date for which Tara rides her bike with Harper in the child seat.

At the beginning of September I left the rest of the family home and joined my parents, brothers, and SIL in Vail to knock the final 2 (out of 5) fourteeners off my father’s bucket list. After a day and a half of attempted acclimation we headed up to 12000 ft to hike Mts Democrat, Lincoln, and Cameron. I quickly discovered that these are the elevations where stuff starts to matter. I have hiked above 12000 ft before but it has been many years. I forgot my ibuprofen and my head was pounding for most of the hike. But it was so good to be able to do this with my dad and brothers. The last peak we all did together I believe was Mt Newcomb in 2006.

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Proving Nebraska camping isn’t half bad

It was a rough year for us as it was for everyone, but it was also a year of progress and we are very happy with how it turned out. It has been wonderful being closer to family and being able to take weekend trips up to Yankton which we have been doing about every other month. We will always miss Utah and the friends we made there. However, transportation has improved significantly since 1847 and we are looking forward to many trips back to our old stomping grounds once this virus has been handled.


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 Thanksgiving just the 5 of us 



That minor life changing event

Cade came out first easily enough
never mind the huge gash in your mom’s tummy
Grant was more difficult
something like 10 glove covered hands poking and prodding
in a sea of white light
before somebody got ahold of his ankle
and plucked him out bloody and screaming.
Six doctors clad in scrubs and face masks
placed you on beds straight out of Star Trek
declared you each OK and passed you off to me
disappearing as quickly as they had come.
I’m not sure I’ve fully relaxed since.

But what was life
before it wasn’t all about me?
When a train was just a commodity
and a track was to be crossed
without a second thought of where it leads.
Lets find out together–
Just let me refill my coffee first.

Walking in a Pandemic

I like walking at night
and staring at the houses I pass.
Some have lavish exteriors
accentuated with delicate lighting.
Others are modest
and prefer a single porch light
or none at all.

But nearly every one emits the glow of a television
from at least one of the windows.
Some of the TVs tell their viewers who is to blame
and who to protect their kids from.
Some of the TVs focus on the solution
and promote solidarity.
But nearly all of them report the same statistics
the same hard truths
that make us all want the experts to be wrong
no matter what house we live in
or what TV we watch.
So I walk instead.

Spinning in Place

Each morning as I walk into the gym, the whirring cries of 50 some treadmills and ellipticals greet my ears.  The users of these stationary instruments of cardio-based torture put forth maximum effort not to move forward, but rather to turn back the hands of time.  The time which, year after year, like the rings of a tree trunk, added pound by pound and roll by roll to hips and bellies.  The average American gains 1-2 pounds a year through his or her 20s and 30s and I am no exception.  But I realize now, as every 30 something has before me: there is no going back.  You can burn off the fat, but the person underneath is no longer 20 and a fit body is simply a thinly veiled disguise—a homage to a time when we all but glowed in our sexuality and the pride of knowing the entire world was wishing they were us.  But now we have joined the ranks of the demographic spinning on treadmills, running from time while watching a fresh wave of 20 somethings in the free weights area spending more time taking selfies and chatting than actually exercising.  And we have only the grim vindication of knowing that someday they too will be here.

But something interesting happens around age 30: a drive for personal growth.  Maybe it’s the fact that structured learning is no longer a part of our lives.  Or that our entire agenda is no longer based completely around sex.  But suddenly we crave challenges like riding a bike further than ever before, running faster than ever before, performing better at our jobs than ever before, or raising the children we got as a result of the activities of our 20s.  Many elite marathoners are in their 30s.  At 38, Constantina Diță of Romania won the women’s marathon In the 2008 olympics.  At our jobs, we have the advantage of both looking young, but also old enough to be taken seriously and the experience to back it up.  So make a goal to move forward, not backwards, and achieve something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.  Do we miss our 20s?  Absolutely.  But it’s not going to slow us down.

Family Fun vs. Strava

“Be careful, Daddy!” the little voice of my son Cade calls out from the trailer behind me interrupting my efforts at ignoring my burning legs.  I am pedaling hard, laboring my bike up a 3% grade that, thanks to Cade and his twin brother Grant in the Burley Bee Double I’m pulling, feels like at least 10%.  80 pounds of toddler and trailer make for a heavy load.  My legs are on fire and I’m breathing hard, but I manage a reply.

“What should I be careful of?”

“Wolves!” comes his emphatic reply.  I chuckle aloud.  We are riding through suburban Salt Lake City.  There are no wolves—only well manicured lawns and the occasional dog on a leash.  Cade is demonstrating his vivid imagination, a trait that has only recently emerged, and I’m thrilled and flattered to be included in the make-believe.

“OK, we’ll be careful,” I assure him.  “Let me know if you see any.”  And I can’t help but let my own imagination transport us to an epic Alaskan byway with a pack of wolves running alongside us.  Suddenly I’ve forgotten the burn in my legs.  I look up from the pavement in front of me and take in the fine spring day.  The grass has turned green, the trees are budding, and the flowers are blooming.  My eyes have grown accustomed to the grays and browns of winter, and this is a feast of color everywhere I look. 

I am excited for our ride today.  I have designed the ride over the past several nights using the cycling map and  I was able to incorporate some new areas of the city which I have never seen before as well as some of my all time favorites such as City Creek Canyon. 

It was not always easy for me to amp myself up to tie an 80 pound trailer to my bike and ride further than the ice cream shop just down the street.  The competitive side of me craves putting up big enough miles to make it to the top of the weekly leaderboard of the office Strava cycling club, but this is an endeavor that is clearly absurd with toddlers in tow.  Aside from the obvious resistance the trailer adds, there is the effort of hooking it up, putting shoes and helmets on the two little riders, attempting to democratically settle any disputes about who sits in which seat before giving up and forcefully buckling each boy to a chorus of nearly harmonized wailing.  By the time I roll out of the driveway, my heart rate is typically already at 160.  Overall, Cade and Grant really do enjoy riding in their “yellow trailer”, but I’ve learned through trial and error that they have a hard stop for sitting nearly on top of each other in a confined space at the two hour mark.  Any more and we enter a volatile territory which almost always ends with all three of us sick of the others. 

A January Stroll in Snow Canyon

A January Stroll in Snow Canyon

In the past, I have attempted to balance my duties as a father and a husband while ducking out during down time for solo cycling outings, which worked out well enough, while I readily admit that the existence of parental “down time” is questionable at best.  But when we added baby number three to the fold in February, I unilaterally decided it would be best for the family and our marriage if I simply took Cade and Grant with me on all of my cycling adventures leaving Tara and Harper home for some much needed peace and quiet.

Riding with the trailer was extra work, but I told myself it increased my workout intensity making me stronger.  The internal conflict came from Strava, relentlessly logging all recordable stats from my jersey pocket all the while blissfully ignorant of the 80 pound bomb I was pulling with a two hour fuse.  Several times a week I would completely trash my legs with only 20 or so miles to show for it.

Ascending City Creek Canyon in Fall

Ascending City Creek Canyon in Fall

Then one day, while ascending a bike path gently winding along roaring Big Cottonwood Creek, Grant commented on the beauty of the water, and it dawned on me: Strava, by design, encourages quantity over quality.  Through its lens, an extra large fast food chain meal looks better than a tapas plate from the local joint down the street.  The clever algorithms don’t care if I take the scenic route up a mountain canyon and discover a stream-fed pond rimmed with wildflowers just feet from the road.  In fact, Strava actually discourages my rolling onto new roads by rewarding repetition in the form of achievements for competing against my previous attempts.  An entirely fresh route typically yields a big fat ‘0’ next to the trophy symbol.  I changed my outlook immediately.  Strava would continue to log the numbers, but the true measure of a ride’s quality would be the photos captured and the memories created.

Keeping a wary eye for wolves and other beasts, I pedal up out of the city and into City Creek Canyon.  The road here only allows cars on certain days and today is not one of them.  We have the road to ourselves and the abrupt transition from city to peaceful wilderness is profound.  As we ascend the gently sloping road, Cade and Grant have switched games.  I’ve missed the theme, but evidently it is hilarious and their rolling giggles mingle with the singing birds and babbling creek.

Snack Stop in City Creek Canyon

Snack Stop in City Creek Canyon

The road is lined with picnic stops and when I’ve had enough of the climb, we pull over at one.  In my haste to leave the house, I’ve forgotten our snack, but a search of the back of the trailer produces two granola bars that aren’t too old.  We divvy up the loot and sit at the picnic table chewing in silence as we take in the peaceful mountain setting.  Grant wants to know what the creek is called.  On a previous adventure, I had taught them all creeks have names.  I explain to them now how snow melts from the peaks above and feeds the stream we are looking at now.  I don’t know if they get it, but they listen intently with wonder nonetheless.

“OK boys, you ready to go fast?” I ask them, finishing my granola bar.

“YEAH!” They answer in enthusiastic unison.  We mount up and cruise down the twisty canyon road.  With the warm wind in my face and the satisfaction knowing my legs pulled us all the way up, a sense of euphoria comes over me.  It continues as we exit the canyon in downtown Salt Lake City. 

There are many ways to ride through downtown and Main Street is definitely not the fastest, but I choose it today because it is my favorite.  I love the narrowness of it and the way the buildings tower above on either side like an urban canyon narrows.  I have to dismount and walk through Temple Square, but the tulips are in full bloom and its worth it to observe them in slow motion.  The city is oddly quiet on this Sunday afternoon and it feels as though we have the whole place to ourselves.  South of downtown we pick up Parleys bike path and ride it up to Sugarhouse where Tara and Harper are waiting for us at Habit Burger with hot burgers and cold milkshakes.  It is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful adventure.

The ride was barely 20 miles, but we rolled through the tree-lined streets and perfectly manicured lawns of some of the nicest houses in the valley, left the city and followed a mountain stream up a verdant canyon, and then soared down, gliding amongst the skyscrapers before arriving in Sugarhouse for dinner.  I have seen less on 70 mile rides.  The joy of designing a executing a bicycle-powered adventure such as this one is a metric Strava is not capable of measuring.  But my memory is designed to record it in high definition.  And the pure excitement Cade and Grant demonstrate when they see me hitching the trailer to my bike tells me they feel the same way.


When I was young I had a 9:00 P.M. curfew, except for the first day of the summer, for which my mother graciously extended our play time one hour to 10:00 P.M. in honor of the longest day of the year.  For a few years, this was our tradition–exploring the neighborhood by bike or by scooter until the last bits of summer sun had dissipated amidst the corn stalks and fire flies filled the sky.

One year we rode scooters down from the gravel road behind our house through the backyard.  Jeremy, disoriented in the darkness, inadvertently jumped his scooter off the three retaining walls in our side yard.  Our laughter echoed off the neighboring houses and our bellies cramped from the effort as we rolled around in the grass.  

It was only a few years before I was old enough that my curfew was extended, but the magic of that day lived on.  This year, Tara and I decided to take a walk through our neighborhood to Parley’s Park.  We found ourselves in an adventurous mood, taking streets we had never been on and following Parleys Creek far into the park.  When we reached the far end of the park, at a place where young people do something called “Shooting the Tube”, I realized it was 9:30 and we were nearly 2 miles from home.

So we walked back towards the sunset, the Salt Lake City skyline and Antelope Island in the distance pasted against the pink sky.

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.



Christmas 2011 at Tahoe

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!


The Newcombs