I wouldn't really call myself a particularly brand-loyal person. For the most part, the whole concept of branding seems rather dubious to me. Paying extra money for a name brand product usually just means you're paying a premium so that you can see the company's advertisements everywhere. However, there are a few brands that I can actually trust to be something better than the generic, and I just have to give a little credit right now to Marmot.

I bring this up because a few nights ago we went to the Gear and Beer event at Backwoods in Overland Park, where Marmot reps fed us free Boulevard beer and food. Now, you may think that anyone who gives me free beer gets my seal of approval. While this is mostly correct, I also have other reasons to think Marmot is the best gear outfitter on the planet. I got my first gore-tex shell jacket for backpacking in 2001, a bright orange Marmot jacket, with a zip-in fleece liner. I wore this jacket for ten years, without getting a single tear, or having the zipper, buttons, or anything else replaced. It was also pretty much the warmest jacket I ever had until I got a Marmot down jacket last year. (Honestly, the Zeus jacket is so damned warm, I can't hardly ever find a time to wear it where I don't overheat. Also doubles as a great camping pillow.)

Since then, I've got Marmot rain pants, a packable rain jacket, fleece, and gloves. Everything I have ever owned from Marmot has been awesome, and after years of use is still in great condition. And now, I can add the Marmot Kompressor Pack to my list (bright orange no less), as I won it at the Gear and Beer party by running up to the front to answer the trivia question of what a Marmot is. (Hint: it's a woodchuck that lives in the mountains. Or was that a groundhog? Apparently, they're really just giant squirrels. Where's Punxsutawney Phil when we need him?)

Now, I know what you're thinking: this guy must be rich! To be fair, Marmot is super expensive, and I don't think that I've paid full price for any of the stuff. It's pretty much all closeouts from the previous year, mostly off of Sierra Trading Post. Hopefully, some day I can do the company more of a service than spreading the word by actually buying some of their things at full retail price.


Kahola Preppers

Well, I survived my first week back to work. I don't know that my survival was ever in doubt, but some may have questioned my ability to actually do something productive for 8 hours a day. After five years of engineering prior to the sabbatical, much like the proverbial bike, it was a bit wobbly for the first couple days, but then it was back to business as usual. It helps that I'm picking up on all the same projects that I left off on 7 months ago. And I'll probably still be working on them 7 months from now. Yes, things go slowly in the development world. Now we've only yet to see if Lauren will survive her first week. Something tells me she will.

Regardless of our inevitable return to working life, the sabbatical seems only half over. We went straight back out to the cabin this last weekend after work on Friday. It felt as if we just needed to get some business done in town over the week and were getting back to our real lives for the weekend. The only difference at the cabin this time is that I didn't have any projects to work on, so we actually just relaxed the whole weekend. The water filter was flowing, the stone pathway was built, solar shower running, and all of the other little things were taken care of.

My biggest goal was realized out there in the form of a self-sustaining drinking water supply from a system that I built myself. The biosand filter worked wonders on the lake water. Only rarely could you smell even a hint of fishiness, and you could never taste anything off. I had to start using the lake water because the small spring on our property dried up on us after a month without rain. However, I came to like the lake water more (considering how much improved it was through the filter) because the spring water was extremely hard water, which is something no water filter can change. It sometimes tasted like I was hanging drywall--liquid chalk. I don't think I could build a reverse-osmosis filter myself for under $50...

I combined the biosand filter with solar disinfection, and for the last three weeks of being out there, that is all the water we needed for drinking, cooking, dishes, and showering. For the two of us, that equated to about 10 gallons of water a day, or about 300 gallons a month. If we were doing more laundry out there, I imagine that might have doubled that number to 600 gallons a month. Considering the average American household consumes more than 10,000 gallons a month, I would say that we're doing pretty good. You start to really understand how much water you use when you have to manually filter all of your water yourself, and carry it around your property instead of having it piped. However, except for the manpower involved in carrying water around, there wasn't any external power source needed for the purification process. Our Prepper street cred must have surely ticked up a couple notches. Now we just need to get our booby traps installed...



Jay is back at work and I am soon to follow starting next week.  After being together nearly twenty four hours a day for the past nine months, getting back into our work schedules and the time spent apart is taking some getting used to.  Let's just say I miss him a lot which is being reflected in the elaborate lunches that I have been packing him for work each day.  I guess I'm hoping that extra snack sized Snickers bar helps him through the day too.  When we were fresh out of college we both had job offers at each others companies and made the decision to work at separate employers as to not complicate our new relationship.  At the time we didn't see it as an excellent opportunity for more time together, but now I'd like to think we could have made it work.  I have faith that we'll soon get over our separation issues and get back in to the swing of this big city life.

Now that we're back in the city we're working on finding a more permanent place to live.  We shared a town home for 3 years and are ready to graduate to home ownership.  The deal isn't done yet, but we've found a gem in Prairie Village that we're hoping to close on in about a month.  It's been pretty difficult not to plan our whole future including paint colors in the house while we wait for the closing date to approach.  It's well suited for entertaining and I've got a myriad of party ideas that I can't help but dream about.  Our fingers are crossed that everything goes smoothly until we seal the deal.

Did I mention that it is a mid century modern style home with awesome potential for a danish modern interior?  Yes, that means we'll be searching for those awesome 1950's pieces at thrift stores and garage sales when the time comes.  Meanwhile, I'll be daydreaming about teak chairs and waiting for Jay to get home from work.


As they say: all good things must come to an end. Better put, all things come to an end, considering the sun is going to obliterate the earth in a couple of billion years, wiping out everything humans have ever done. This is getting way too deep though. More immediately, after 16,000 miles driving, 680 miles of hiking, 6 countries and 8 states our sabbatical journey came to an end today with my re-entry into normal American life. Yes, today, I went back to work, and Lauren will be back next week.

This may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you. We had planned to be on sabbatical through the end of August, and I imagine some of you may have believed that we were never going back. Being the complete networking professional (read: I show up at happy hours), I had been in touch with those at Lutjen on and off throughout this last year. I talked to Scott, the President, in mid June about whether they would need my help again this fall. Turns out, they needed some help a little sooner--like by today. I reflected on the last year and thought--Ok, I've had it way too good, and Lutjen has been too good to me--how can I turn the offer down for a few extra weeks of time off? In a similar turn of fate, Lauren's company asked her back as well starting next week.

I've been thinking for a while about our re-introduction to Corporate America. I had some plan a while back to shave my head, burn my clothes and emerge from the ashes wearing a polo shirt and khakis--a born-again engineer after our year off. However, the closer the time came to the date, the more I realized that there is no such thing as being reborn in the span of a few minutes in some sort of ritual. Much like at the end of the Camino, lots of us said--well, so what? We all thought that upon arrival in front of the cathedral in Santiago we would have some sort of moment where some great epiphany of thought or feeling would shine upon us. The moment was rather anti-climactic though. How can the experience of 500 miles of walking be condensed into an instant? It was only through a long process of reflection afterwards that we were able to see the ways the Camino had changed our lives.

I feel the same way about the rest of the sabbatical. I came back to work--it was as if I had never left. Nothing had changed, save for a few new employees and some new projects. I fell back into the rhythm of work immediately as if I had just taken a week vacation. On the flip side, it's as if our sabbatical hasn't ended. We're going to be back at Lake Kahola this weekend, and most likely the rest of the weekends this year. I'll be back to brewing beer and making cheese. We've got plans to do more camping, and backpacking--being out in nature and being more active as we were on our sabbatical.

However, I can already start to see the ways in which this year has changed me. The biggest change must be that I don't have the same cynical and fatalist mindset that most corporate worker-bees have--what I used to have. I've always liked the work that I do, and I like the company I work for. I've been lucky in that regard. However, if I didn't like it here, I wouldn't be back. Some people are stuck in their position in life, due to unfortunate circumstances or poor decisions. However, I believe that most people have much more control over their destiny than they believe.

Sabbaticals should take place every seven years (its a corollary to the Sabbath day every 7 days). What the year 2020 will bring, I know not. I do know that we will still be blogging. There are exciting things on the horizon, which we will be updating everyone on shortly!


4 Days and Nights of the 4th of July

Happy 4th of July! We had an awesome four night long celebration with all the coolest people in the world (at least those within reasonable driving distance who didn't already have other commitments and who also don't mind using an out-house for a toilet). It was an epic four days of grilling, swimming, sailing, drinking, and fireworks. It was a bit taxing though, and I can say with certainty that I'm glad its all over. We're most definitely getting too old for this stuff.

The other part about having awesome friends over for a four day long party is that when they leave, instead of leaving you with a huge mess, they leave you with a awesome new limestone pathway. I literally could not have done it without them, considering some of those stones weigh 200+ lbs. The limestone blocks came from the same quarry up the hill where the stones for the cabin were quarried. How awesome is that?

He's swedish-american, get it?


The Weather

There are certain small joys in life that come from living closer to nature. One of those things that I have come to embrace is the feeling of weather. In all my travels I haven't met a one that doesn't enjoy discussing the peculiarities of the weather. What happened yesterday or yesteryear, how much rain or how little rain has been or would to be. The heat, the cold, the dryness or humidity.

But we've distanced ourselves from actually experiencing the weather we love to discuss. We're removed from the weather inside our climate controlled and weatherproofed houses and cars. There is nary a moment when the sound, wind, or moisture punctures this shell and reaches our senses. Obviously this is a good thing and a hallmark of our society. It's not pleasant to be in a tent during a Kansas thunderstorm--its actually terrifying. But there is something primal and exhilarating about being in the thick of it.

Before the thunderstorm last night, the sultry air was thick and oppressive. The light wind served only to wash the hot, humid air over us without providing any respite from the heat. All was quiet as the storm clouds silently slipped in front of the dipping sun. All went steel grey and blue as the sun was obscured behind the thunderhead. As the sun dipped lower, it passed under the storm clouds and lit the sky ablaze with the green-golden colors of tornadoes. Traveling below the horizon, the sliver of clear sky turned to the deep orange of dying embers in a fire. All the while, the storm clouds loomed ever greater yet remained silent sentinels, flickering with the electric warning of the coming storm.

The air became more stifling and the wind died to nothing up to the the moment that the storm squall hit. A noticeable chill ran through the air as the wind shifted 180 degrees, now coming out of the North and started whipping up the surf. Spray off the white capped waves reached us on the dock as the wind increased to 40 and 50 mile per hour gusts. The thunder and rain followed shortly after, causing us to make a hasty retreat into our stone and wood cocoon.

I think that we all have some innate yearning for the outdoors. Sometimes it seems uncomfortable making the transition from urban environment to the harsher and more raw natural environment. After a time though, I have come to wish that I could spend ever more of my time outdoors. Experiencing nature first hand, rather than vicariously through weather forecasters and documentaries of the natural world.