Some Pictures

Just thought I would upload some of my fluffy pretty pictures...

Last night. 
This morning.
And the most beautiful view, saved for last!

Home on the Range - Now In Color!

Just a quick follow up to that last post--shiny color pictures of some of the projects going on out there.

Old sickle, new edge. 
Mowing the lawn...pioneer style. Except for the hair, I guess.
Our water purification operation. The bucket in the front catches the spring water coming from a buried pipe, and the orange buckets in the back are the biosand filter, found here in its native habitat. In this picture I'm filling the solar water heater with filtered water. Sure beats showering in dirty lake water!  
Bucket getting the spring water. 
Hi-tech water heater. Works surprisingly well based on the low expectations set by its appearance. 
Solar shower. 
Yep, that's a rubbermaid cooler with a valve installed on it. That hose leads down to the shower head. If I fill the cooler the night before with ~115 deg F water, it will be around ~90 deg F in the morning. We usually shower at night anyway though because getting into bed after sweating for 15 hours isn't very pleasant. 


Home on the Range

Hi there, Internet! It's been a while. While we haven't been totally away from the Internet lately, every time we have been around it, its been because we actually had some sort of important business to do. When you only get internet a couple of hours a week, you find that you end up paying bills and deleting emails the whole time rather than writing blog posts. But hark! we have made time to do some writing. Unfortunately, we don't have the cables to upload our pictures as of yet, but hopefully we will be able to coordinate that at some point soon too.

Living at the cabin has been an trip. While we do have an air conditioner (set at a cool 80 deg F anyways), which makes sleeping tolerable out there, we spend the majority of our time outside anyway. Cooking, eating, using the outhouse...even in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm, purifying our water, showering, and just generally relaxing is all done outside. And we've been broiling in the heat some of our days out there. It's so different from our recent stint in the desert because of the humidity. Even some days sitting still in the shade with a breeze, I'm still overheating. But we've got a lake there, so it's pretty easy to cool off. At least its easy to stay hydrated compared to the desert.

I spent about a week setting up all of my projects, and everything is running smoothly. Solar hot water heater is heating, the shower is showering, and the sand is filtering. On a good sunny day, the water heater gets the water up to about 110-115 deg F, so it's not super efficient, but good enough for a hot shower before bed. It also stays hot enough over night to have a greater-than-luke-warm-but-not-quite-hot shower in the morning. And with the low flow showerhead drilled out to work with my low pressure system, we get a decent flow for about 6 minutes of shower.

My sand filter is up and running as well. It filters the water so that it looks crystal clear and clean, but we're not drinking directly out of it yet. The filter reaches it's peak efficiency in purification only after 30-45 days of continuous use, and we're only about 3 weeks into the cycle. So we're using the water in cooking where it's going to be boiled and for dishes, but we are yet to drink it straight. Combined with solar disinfection though, we're solid on the drinking water and haven't even gotten sick yet! Honestly, the spring water would more than likely not make us sick to drink it straight, but I'd rather be extra safe than sit in the outhouse all day.

So now that we've spent all this time doing projects, cleaning, raking, weeding, and cutting the lawn (with a sickle, yes a sickle), we've finally got some time to just relax out there, without any TV, Internet, or phone calls to disturb us.


MJ Beer

No, not Michael Jackson beer--Mike and Jay beer! I made my transition from homebrewer to commercial brewer last week. The transition mostly happened with me spilling things on the floor then cleaning them up. Hmm...pretty much what I did as a homebrewer. Shocking. I brewed with Mike Ptacek, my longest running roommate and brother-in-brew, at his brewpub the Green Room! We brewed an awesome belgian pale ale, which we made even more awesome by adding raspberry liqueur and Grand Mariner to the firkins. Mike wrote a much better and more technical explanation about the beer over on his blog, 1 Barrel Brews. Well, I guess as technical as the nano-brewing industry gets, anyways. The beer should be on tap at Green Room next weekend.

Mash paddlin'. 
More cleaning? Yes. 


My DIY Biosand Filter

I've been thinking for a long time about how we will get drinking water out at the lake. Its a question thats got obvious applications beyond our little sabbatical. I've done a little work with Engineer's Without Borders (although not as much as I would like), and civil engineering work in developing countries primarily covers delivering clean drinking water and improving sanitation systems. Unsanitized drinking water is one of the top causes of death in children around the world. So this has been a learning experience in more than one way for me. After researching lots of different methods, I decided to build myself a biosand filter.

The foundation that has done the work to develop and promote the biosand filter has extensive plans on construction and studies on efficacy of the filter [PDF]. Their design is a bit over the top for our use though, using concrete and sheet metal to construct the thing. So my challenge was to build my own biosand filter for as cheap as possible, to make so that I could easily move it around, and design it in a way that I can repurpose the parts when we're done using it (cradle to cradle design, baby!). The design closely matches all of the recommended dimensions from the biosand design manual. Here's what I came up with for $40:

3 x 5 gal. HDPE Bucket (doesn't matter which--all HDPE (#2 plastic) is food safe)
3 x Bucket Lid
1 x 3/8" Brass Close Nipple
2 x 3/8"x3/8" Brass Hose Barbs
2 x 5/8" Neoprene Washers
4 x 5/8" Galvanized Cut Washers
5' x 3/8" ID Vinyl Tubing
6' Silicone Weatherstripping
16 x Zip Ties

Construction is rather simple, and just consists of three main steps:
1. Install a simple outlet on the bottom bucket and attaching tubing,
2. Attach the lids to the bottom of two of the buckets,
3. Drill holes through the bottom of the buckets/attached lids.

After all of this, it is just a matter of obtaining sand and gravel, and washing the silt out of those materials. I haven't done this step yet because I don't want to haul 50 lbs of sand from Kansas City to Kahola. I'll do all that once we get out there. You can find a video of this process here.

(Here's just a quick aside about the use of buckets. I would have loved to find something in a single piece that wouldn't have required joining, but I couldn't find it. 12" pipe was too expensive, a 55 gal plastic barrel was too large in diameter, and no trash cans I found were tall enough. If anyone has any ideas of a plastic alternative, I would love to hear them.)

And here's how you build the thing! (Note: some of the pictures show some out of order steps, like the holes being drilled before I say to, due to my experimenting and messing up some steps. Maybe some day I will take more helpful pictures...)

Step 1: Install the outlet.

Here are the materials, except that you will need 4 fender washers instead of just the 2 shown. The things you see there are the fender washers, neoprene washers, 3/8" pipe nipple, 3/8" hose barbs, and about 5" of 3/8" vinyl tubing. 

Drill or cut a hole in the bucket. Make sure you leave enough room for the washers to fit on the inside of bucket. 

Here's what the outlet looks like assembled. (Note again that you will need 4 metal fender washers instead of 2 to get a good seal)

Here's a view of the outlet on the inside of the bucket. 

And again on the outside. 

Step #2: Connect the Buckets. 

In order to seal the bucket to the lid I used silicone weatherstripping. It was much cheaper than big a rubber o-rings. 

Install the weatherstripping to the bottom of the bucket and attach the lid back to the bottom of the bucket. (Never mind those drilled holes...kind of did it out of order myself...)

Set a lid from one bucket on the bottom of the bucket and drill holes for zip ties. I used zip ties because they were cheap and available. You could use bolts & nuts, or sheet metal screws to connect the lids with the buckets as well (if they're galvanized). 
Here are some of them installed. I used 8 total to get a good seal. 

Step #3: Drill a bunch of holes. 

They don't have to be particularly uniform or a specific size. I used a 1/8th inch drill bit and just went at it. 

Here's what it looks like finished. 

Now you just have to assemble the thing and attach the outlet hose. The tube should loop over the bucket handle, and the end of the tube should sit 4" above the bottom of the top bucket. This allows the water to sit above the top of the sand to keep the biofilm that forms from being disturbed. 

The only thing left to do is to add 3" of coarse gravel at the bottom of the bottom bucket, then 3" of fine gravel. Then you fill up the rest of the bottom bucket and the middle bucket all the way full of sand. This will give you the recommended 23" of sand in the column. 

P.S. Looking around for some info while I was writing this post, I found another website that had a similar design for the biosand filter using buckets. It is supposed to only cost $20, but there isn't a lot of details on design. 


Get Out There!

We've been writing a lot of posts lately about our recent travels out west to the national parks. There's still a bit of that to write, but I wanted to get in some other thoughts too. Sometimes when we write a lot about our travels, I start to wonder if you all think that we're just gloating about our lives. Now, I do recognize that we are pretty awesome. But this is not the point. The point is that we hope to inspire you to get out and see more and do more. Also we want to show that there are a lot of amazing things to see right here in America, easy and cheap to drive to and camp at for a weekend, a week, or a month.

One thing that I've been thinking about throughout this sabbatical is how much there is in the world to see and do and experience, and how little time we have to do it in. We have accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do this year, but every time we go do something it just shows me how little I've done and seen, and just whets my appetite for more. I learned how to make cheese and ski backcountry powder in Colorado, and now I just want to do those things all the time. We went to two carribean islands, and have dozens more to visit. We went to eight national parks, and have 51 more to go. And thats not to mention hundreds of national preserves, monuments, and historic sites.

I know that it is not possible for most people do what we are doing. We were lucky to have the support to get the education that we did and worked hard to save our money for this year off. Obviously we've had to make sacrafices too. We would both like to have a house, pets, and children, but we can't have any of that doing what we're doing. However, we also recognize that once we have those things we won't be doing anything like this sabbatical again until we're retired.

Knowing this, I'm so glad that we made the choice to do this now. And this is the point: if you don't do it now, you never will. I hear so many people say, "I just want to do XYZ some day..." My answer is: do it now! Life is short and none of us are making it out alive. Its not as hard as you think either. It doesn't have to be a month long or year long trip. It starts as easy as making the choice to turn that 3 day weekend into an awesome camping roadtrip instead of sitting in front of the tube.

You will have to make some sacrifices--maybe not buying that new TV, or keeping your old car for another 50k miles. But I guarantee that you will have more enduring happiness after going travelling--especially if it is a more adventurous trip and not the tour bus/cruise ship kind of trip. You'll save money, and have a more exciting trip. Things will go wrong, but that's what makes for the best stories anyway! And if you're lucky enough to travel with your spouse, family or friends, you'll get to re-live the trip for years. So I hope that you get out there, and I hope that we've given you a few ideas to help you on your way.


Aber and Out West: Sequoia National Park

Rain. Sleet. Snow. Hail. Rinse and repeat...

The temperature began to drop as we ascended the "long and winding road" to the Giant Forrest in Sequoia National Park. We entered Giant Forrest and were in freak out mode with every glance out the car window.  The trees were simply enormous! It felt like we had entered some magical elven forest straight out of lord of the rings. It took us over an our to make the climb to our campsite that was simply breathtaking. The huge treas and boulder lined sites really made one feel like you were right on the edge of the rugged and wild.

Ahh! Bear! Run!
The cold crisp air was a welcome change. It began to mist as we finished setting up camp and headed to the trail head for our first trek into the forest. We started with a hike to see the General Sherman Tree, the largest living single stem tree on earth by volume, and maybe the largest living thing period. From there we continued to hike through the forest passing numerous famous trees including the Lincoln, Washington, Senate Group, McKinley, and Arch. Several of the hollowed out trunks that we crawled inside were bigger than our two person tent. The scenery and atmosphere of the forest was beautiful and well worth hike the last half of the trail in pouring rain. We also encountered a bear moseying along between the trails who took no interest in the handful of hikers surrounding him.

Back at camp we battened down the hatches and prepared for rain as the sky remained gray and the cold kept getting colder. We managed to cook some macaroni on the camp stove while huddled under our umbrella. I slipped on all the cold weather gear I had and took cover in the tent and Jay took advantage of a short break in the weather to set up a tarp shelter over our kitchen. We shivered in our tent all afternoon with a few trips to the car to blast the heater for a warm up. Our camp was visited by four dear on their evening stroll.

Just as dinner rolled around the hail started pounding, so much so that Jay was deafened to my instructional shouts as he tried to cook dinner under the tarp shelter. He braved the freezing downpour and we had our dinner in bed of garlic and butter couscous. After nearly 48 hours of freezing cold precipitation I wasn't feeling like the tough, outdoorsy, seasoned camping girl that I usually play the role of. I was done. And when we woke up to heavy snowfall we decided to forgo our third night scheduled at Sequoia and head west for the beach and dryer weather. We shoved all of our wet gear in trash bags and made a run for it.

Dinosaur bones.