End of an Era

Caleb charged out of his room. He was 2 years old and his pants were dry, a miracle at the end of a day filled with potty-training drama. The washer steamed in the background from continuous operation.

He looked at Rachel, and then at me. A dark spot formed on the front of his pants, grew down his legs, and drained into an expanding puddle on the floor. He shifted his bare feet slightly in the liquid.

“Nooooo!” Came Rachel’s voice, forced from exhaustion. “What is that?!”

Caleb looked at the puddle, and then at us, before stating the obvious: “PEE!” He punctuated the statement with a firm clap in front of himself, then quickly raised his arms above his head like a European footballer celebrating a goal in overtime.

Elizabeth was a hide-and-seek ninja-master at age 2. She couldn’t count, but would hide her face with a rhythmic da-da-da-da while Caleb scrambled to hide. On her turn, she would fit in the smallest of spaces in silence while we looked for her.

Isabella is 2 for another month. If all goes according to plan (embracing here the risks of public family planning), she will be the last 2-year-old for Rachel and me. She takes this responsibility seriously, for example by charging suddenly out of the Airstream and into the woods to put a toy “sphider” (spider) in time-out behind a specific oak tree. We watched with curiosity as she went (she is the third, after all), and she did eventually come back.

It’s probably a good thing the 2-year stage only lasts for a while. It’s also a good thing that they’re funny, or you (and they) wouldn’t survive.

And I know we have bigger and better parenting adventures ahead of us. But it’s still a little sad to see “the end of two.”



Is it all Monsanto’s fault?


The most obvious answer is “yes!”  Consider the story of Monsanto.  The  Ag-Chemical giant has been in and out of court for everything from cancer possibly caused by the wildly profitable Round-Up, to lawsuits they filed themselves against unsuspecting non-customer farmers for inadvertent cross-pollination of said farmer’s crops by Monsanto’s GMO seeds.  Clearly they’re the bad guy. Those seeds, by the way, are modified to tolerate direct application of Round-Up, after which we eat the Doritos, sodas and hamburgers (via feedlot cows) that result, pesticide residue and all.  So whether or not it does cause cancer, it’s no wonder the question is raised; the last time a company promoted pesticide so safe it could be eaten was DDT (also a Monsanto product, by the way), and that didn’t go well.

But before we call out Monsanto as the bad guy in the demise of modern agriculture, consider a day in the life of Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s final and highly awarded CEO.  (Grant announced his departure in March, after Monsanto was acquired by Bayer.)

Grant (suddenly top candidate as bad guy in our story) led Monsanto from 2003 to 2018.  He would have woken up those 15 years with a handful priorities, most of them related to profit.  But does that make him a bad guy?  His 10 million dollar compensation puts a target on his back, but that pales against the 2.27 billion net income he created his final year for shareholders.

And who are the shareholders?

Most of us, actually.  As a part of both S&P 500 and Dow Jones, the value increase of Monsanto stock was likely tucked into your (and certainly my) 401k and IRA to create a diversified retirement account.  So really, we all profited from Grant’s business acumen and profit focus.  Meanwhile, we all got the cheaper food we asked for (at least indirectly by voting with our dollars), so does that make US the bad guy we’re looking for?

Maybe.  But nobody can blame us for investing our money wisely, and trying to save on groceries.  And our buddy Grant was actually obligated by law (and pressured by shareholders, like any corporate CEO) to create maximum shareholder value.   Our hunt for a bad guy comes to an end.  There IS no bad guy.  As far classic storytelling goes, this story stinks!

Or does it.

Classic storytelling requires a protagonist, an unlikely hero who “undergoes change” to overcome adversity.

I think THAT’S us.  We Americans are the protagonist, the hero of our own story.  Historically we have asked for groceries to be cheap, creating a need for the Monsanto’s (now Bayer’s) of the world.  GMO’s and factory farming have replaced poly-cultures as we vote with our dollars, at the cost of soil and human health.

But Americans are a clever bunch.  At our family’s Six Sigma Ranch & Winery, we saw 4,000 guests last year who figured it out.  They came to see grazing cows and sheep-filled vineyards.  And they voted with their dollars to the tune of $19 per pound for bacon, and $48 for a great bottle of Tempranillo.  Is that expensive?  Yes.  But it makes an event out of a meal with friends and family, and steers clear of many issues tied to factory farming.

So the bad news is that we all created the problem.  The good news is that we can switch our purchasing from corporate farms to thousands of transparent family operations and fix it.







About Us, Personal Growth

Life in an Airstream

I appreciate the admiration when people check in on Project Airstream. It usually goes like this: “You guys aren’t still living in that thing, are you?” To which I reply, “We sure are! The Ahlmann Family Airstream is alive and well.” And they respond, “Wow, we wouldn’t survive. How can you do it?” This comes with an expression that skates the border between admiration and pity, depending on the person, and then the conversation moves on.

Let me tell you a secret: It’s not that hard.

When we sold the house, gave away most of our stuff, and moved into a 31ft. Airstream, we didn’t put a timeline on it. We figured, better leave ourselves a way out in case we go crazy. But then, 18 months later, we forgot about it. It became normal (at least until somebody brings it up), and we found that the following things result from our unusual tiny home accommodations:

1. We have more fun. It takes 15 minutes to clean the “house,” so that leaves more time for soccer, running, family trips and cooking with friends.

2. We spend more time outside. Quite a few activities don’t fit inside, so they happen outdoors. This means fresh air and connection with nature. Another family in a similar Airstream once told me: It’s not like living in a tiny house; it’s like living outside, with a l luxurious kitchen and bedroom.

3. We usually know what the kids are up to. There’s no way to get far away from mom and dad to cause mischief, so this makes lines of communication very open.

4. We take more family trips. Packing takes 20 minutes. That is, I can hook up the Airstream to a truck in that time while Rachel and the kids secure the cabin and load the bikes, at which point we have “packed” everything we need for a week (or a year.)

5. We have more money. We bought the thing for the price of a used car, and spent half that amount painting it and fixing it up. That leaves the former mortgage payment available for college savings and other useful things.

6. We worry less about stuff, and more about people. This is likely because we don’t have very much stuff, meanwhile we have more time to spend with people.

So I appreciate the admirations. But now you know the truth. Living in an Airstream is strange, but it’s not as hard as it sounds.


About Us, Personal Growth, Strategy

A Married Man’s Guide to Having an Affair


You first notice her smile. She’s cute. Especially when she smiles.

Then one day she isn’t smiling. So you ask her why. You listen. Really. You hear about her trouble at work. Or better yet, with her husband. You work to really understand her. She feels heard.

Someone interrupts your conversation, so you make a note to ask about it later. You sneak off to have lunch. You pick up the bill, and don’t wince at the price. You just hand over your card. She’s worth it.

This takes some planning. Some dedicated time and money. Some effort and mind-share. You put her ahead of your own priorities. She notices.

You hear about her dreams. You tell her she can do anything she wants. She’s so talented and charming. You believe it.

For bonus points, you engage with her kids. It’s tough to make time for all that, and even harder to find mind-share for it. You are a busy and important man. But she’s worth it. And the kids are beautiful. They even look like you.

And here is the real coup. Here is why your affair is a great success. While others get caught and lose their family and reputation, you’ve got it made.

She’s your wife.

Go back to the top. She’s your wife! You first noticed her smile. She’s cute. Especially when she smiles. So you set everything else aside years ago when you first met her. And she noticed. She was so impressed she picked you over every other man in the world. She said yes.

So you honor that commitment. You pick her first. You listen to her dreams. You tell her she can do anything she wants, because she’s talented and charming. And you believe it.

You sneak off to see her. You take her out to lunch. You are more engaging, wise and influential now, so you can do it even better. You engage with her kids. They look like you, because they’re yours.

Excellent work sir. You got this. Now go get it done.



Midlife Crisis Planning

I turned 35 last week. Just 5 years short of 40.

In early preparation, I selected a ‘93 Mustang as my midlife crisis car. It was unfortunately vetoed by Rachel as too ugly (despite my explanation that it epitomizes the American Dream in 1993, the year I first arrived in the USA.) We settled instead on a ‘97-ish Corvette (a ‘93 Corvette is apparently also too ugly). Marriage is about compromise.

I did plan ahead and marry an engaging woman whom I intend to keep, so that will save me the trouble of seeking a midlife crisis trophy-style replacement.

Jokes aside, there must be something to the midlife crisis thing, and I will speak to it when I get there. But I already have a suspicion. I don’t think it comes from a fear of age, but rather a fear of not getting enough done. “Did I build a great company yet? Did I gather a seven-digit 401k? Am I a recognized expert in my field? No?? Well drat! I’m halfway out of time!”

That’s my theory, anyway.

And the topics listed above are interestingly impossible to complete. Because each one has a next step, and so can’t be finished. “Could I build the company better? The 401k bigger?” Yes, and yes.

And pursuit of them won’t avoid a midlife crisis. Even the Corvette, I suspect, would just be a patch.

No, a company is just a tool to build relationships and engage people, and the Corvette is only an instrument to have fun and engage a co-pilot. (See earlier paragraph about lifetime trophy wife.)

And thus the real midlife crisis solution seems to be people. Time with great friends like Ben Morrill and Ben Kaesekamp, Eric Schlange and Eric Stine. Time with mentors like Eric Sims, Doug Bridges, David Bantly, Glenn Bridges, Garry Zeek and Steve Hines, with the team at Six Sigma Ranch, business partners, and with my kids, parents, siblings, miscellaneous family and beautiful wife. The categories, of course, begin to blend. For what’s the purpose of mentors who aren’t friends, or friends who don’t challenge or teach, or business associates who aren’t good people?

35 years in, and I’m still learning this stuff, that people matter more than projects, and time spent matters more than spreadsheets completed, even though Jesus said it 2000 years ago: “First love God, then love people, and the rest will work itself out.” (My paraphrase.)

35 years in, and that’s what I’ve got so far. Midlife crisis averted. But I’m still keeping an eye out for that perfect ’97 Corvette ; )


About Us, Personal Growth

Couch Time


(Fair Warning: This post has more transparent and personal insight on life and marriage than most. If that’s not your thing, scroll along. If it is, enter your email on the website for a free subscription. There may be more transparency coming ; )

Now for the actual text:

There is not, for all practical purposes, a couch in the Ahlmann Family Airstream. By that I don’t mean there isn’t one, for there are in fact two. (Separated by a table at the front end, they frame the dining room, living room and bedroom, as the table sinks to form our bed.) But for practical purposes, or rather one specific purpose, a couch doesn’t exist.

I can see I will have to explain.

The purpose to which I refer is the occasional evening when a casual conversation becomes a constructive discussion. Or worse, an unconstructive one. You know, the kind of marital debate that requires private time of reflection because further exchange is going nowhere, and the passing thought appears that spending an evening on the couch, with a little distance, might be a viable and even beneficial option.

But for that specific purpose, a couch doesn’t exist. Because the couches that do exist convert to become the master bedroom, i.e. the one and only cushioned surface available for sleeping, with little opportunity for “distance.”

The décor of our Airstream thus encourages what any good marriage counselor recommends: Solve your issues before you go to bed (however long that takes.) And that length of time, interestingly, seems to be unchanged since we first got married 12 years ago. The topics of constructive discussion have evolved (we spend little time now arguing money or sex, the statistical #1 and #2 sources of marital strife), but we do occasionally spar on topics of life plans, raising children (and related coordination), and a recent category that I will call “great ideas that Christian can sell everybody in the world on, except Rachel (because she has already seen through them).”

For those evenings, when opposing views require focused verbal exchange, we are stuck to sort it out. Stuck to agree, at least, on where to cordially park the topic to be solved another day.



You Have 3 Cows… no really.

3 cows

It’s raining and getting dark.  The kids are doing homework and I’m making dinner.  Isabella (1.5 yrs) is standing in the window of our Airstream, watching the clouds and blowing leaves.  Water is dripping off the awning. 

Suddenly, she looks at me, excited, and yells “coooooooow!!!!!”  “What’s that honey?”  She points out the window.  “Cooooow!”  Sure enough, 3 cows are sauntering up the steps to our Airstream above the ranch, proudly flashing their Six Sigma brands. 

I put on a movie to entertain the kids, and go outside to engage our trespassers… and keep them off the road!  I call Christian to tell about our guests. He promises to bring home hay that they will enjoy more than the meat sauce (beef!) I made for dinner.  I explain to the ladies that there is better grass in the valley of Six Sigma Ranch than our place.  They agree, and with a little encouragement from me they return the way they came.  Christian arrives with the dinner for our guests, but they have already left.  Better safe than sorry. 

 Ladies and gentlemen, You Have Three Cows.