Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm back

I was pretty busy on my US trip what with my job and all, so no time to post. I even went hours without even thinking about the house, which is unusual. More tomorrow.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I am leaving for the US this morning on a business trip and didn't sleep well last night. (Lots on my mind, as you can imagine.)

A friend and I were talking about Werner Herzog earlier this week, which I guess explains why I woke up to a dream of sorts about Fitzcarraldo.

That movie is based on a true story of a Irish would-be rubber baron who hauled a steamship hundreds of meters overland between two river systems in the Peruvian jungle. (In real life, he had it dismantled and carried over; Herzog, however, had an entire steamship dragged by hand. It's an amazing film.)

You can guess by now I was Fitzcarraldo in my dream, a crazy foreigner dragging stuff through the wilderness. It wasn't necessarily a bad dream; just odd. Perhaps a bit appropriate, but still odd.

Off to my flight now; I'm sure I'll post state-side!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A good snake photo

I had posted previously about seeing a snake. That post was illustrated with a photo from a Swedish website. Now I've gone one better with an actual Aspö snake! The photo was provided by Margaret, who writes:

"This is taken last Mom, Dad, and I were walking back to our veranda after a visit over at Ann & Dave's, and Mom pointed out the snake. It was right outside of our little earth cellar. I bent down to take the photo and as soon as I snapped, the snake shot quickly under the deck of the house."

As long as they don't bother me, they are welcome to live under my house. Same goes for snails. Moose, too, are welcome (not under the house, obviously). Ticks, however, are right out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Chopper in action

Janne sent me the website of the helicopter company, It's all in Swedish, of course, but they have a few movies showing the work they do. This one shows what it's like to use the chopper, although we'll just be moving the beams and supplies, not full prefabricated walls, etc.

They are going to invoice Janne directly and I'll pay him back; they'd rather deal with him than a foreigner. Can't say I blame them.

Another 2-week milestone

Exactly two weeks from this post, we should be in the process of moving the house onto the boat from the dock on its way to Aspö. It will take two trips to move the house, and another trip for the insulation, gravel, and other stuff.

I'll be spending a lot of time at sea that day!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Return of the Insulation (Part VI)

I talked with Stefan today, he's at his own X-House in northern Sweden, still enjoying his holiday. He feels strongly we should add as much insulation as we can while we build; his house has the full 300mm. Rutger called me back and he's passionate about adding insulation, too.

Janne and I talked this evening and asked him how much I'd save if I cut the order back to thinner insulation. Much of the cost is transportation, so I'd save a few thousand kronor, which is nothing to sneeze at, but I've decided to keep my original order of 300mm insulation. I may regret this short-term, in terms of cost and trouble, but long-term, nobody regrets having a really well-insulated house!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Insulation Pt. 5

I talked to Janne today. He fears my insulation order of 300mm thickness in the roof and floors is way too much. He has only 100mm in his house, and most of his builds have only 195mm. Physically, I've ordered a lot of insulation, which has to be shipped and moved. Janne said he's worried about my back and my budget, and I appreciate that! Wille also said most of his houses have only 195-210mm too.

Plus, the walls aren't insulated, so it seems silly to have a lot more in the floors and ceilings than the walls. It's like wearing a ski hat and gloves with a T-shirt. And I have to remember this isn't a year-round house.

On the other hand, we have only the one chance to add insulation, and Willie brought up the possibility of an echo, or drumming, in the floors if we don't fill up the floor void, and leave a hollow space underneath.

I'll try to talk to Stefan in the morning and see what he thinks. At the moment I'm leaning towards the full 300 in the floor and 195mm in the roof. I'll report back.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

T-minus two weeks

We leave for Sweden exactly two weeks from now. The house arrives three days after that, just about as long as it took for Apollo to reach the moon after liftoff.

Let's hope our 'mission' will turn out to be like Apollo 11, and not like Apollo 13 (or Soyuz 23 for that matter).

Friday, July 18, 2008


I have been looking at my budget tonight. Despite all my gripes about spending, I seem to be pretty close on the big items so far- the house itself, the construction cost, transport, the well and pump, etc.

The helicopter is an unforeseen item, and the grey water system will be more than I had planned. And I will have lots of odds and ends for a few thousand kronor here and there, all of which will add up, and only some of which I had accounted for.

But Janne advised me well, so the basic spending seems OK so far. (Although we haven't built just yet!!)

The big problem is I had budgeted at 6.9 to the dollar and I'll be paying an average of 6.2. That makes everything automatically 11% more right off the top, and it makes this post fairly ironic.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Margaret has made a group order from the Systembolaget for all three families to be delivered to the island. A couple of cases of beer and three boxes of wine is about a thousand kronor. Alcohol is taxed very highly in Sweden, and sold only through state stores, as a means of dampening consumption.

She also gave us a good list of shopping tips; Marg has honed her logistical skills from many trips out to Aspö, and has graciously shared them with us. Although it is an option to visit the store on Namdö, (or potentially arrange a delivery), that's fairly troublesome, so it is better to shop wisely in advance and bring as much as we can on the boat with us. Sooz will have that work cut out for her because if shopping was left to me, we'd eat mostly potato chips and sugar-based snacks!

UPDATE: Margaret wrote tonight: "We just got back from a 'trial run' on the Namdö tour - 3:30pm boat from here, arriving at Solvik (where the shop & restaurant are) at 4pm, left there 7:40pm. Perfect! Honestly the time just flew by, so much so that we actually had to rush the shopping at the end. We skipped the walk and just enjoyed a nice long dinner..."

A bit more about Wille

Here's a good shot of Janne, aka Wille. He is from Leksand, a hockey-mad town in central Sweden, and Wille is a hockey-mad guy.

His son is a goalkeeper with the Leksand Stars, who are, as Wikipedia says, "one of the most popular teams throughout Sweden because of their consistent success despite the fact that the town of Leksand only has 6,000 inhabitants."

Wille has spent time in Minnesota (related, of course to hockey), and he took a Greyhound bus from Minneapolis to Boston, which I bet was an interesting journey indeed.

He's been involved in building ever since he was young; he has an older brother who helps him on occasion (and I think will join us next month). Janne said his work looked good, and that he 'talks the language', and by that I think he meant the language of building, not Swedish. His girlfriend is a hairdresser in Stockholm, although Wille doesn't need her haircutting services, if you catch my drift.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Venom Sucker

Sooz is in the States right now, visiting family and friends, gallivanting about, having a grand old time.

Actually, she is contributing a great deal to the house-building enterprise, in fact she just emailed me this photo of her latest purchase- a venom sucker. Click on the photo to see more details.

A few months ago, we were looking at these. Now it's immunizations and moose sightings. Hmmm.

Grey Water

I had mentioned waste water in a previous post. The more correct term is grey water; it's not sewage but rather the runoff from showers, sinks, washing machines, etc.

Janne made a drawing for the environmental permit we received, so we're all set. But I didn't realise until I talked more with Janne last week how much is involved. Essentially, we have to bury a 700 liter plastic tank to hold runoff, and then dig two trenches 10 m long into which we put gravel and then lay drainage pipes. (The environmental requirements have become more stringent in the past few years.) The idea is to filter this water slowly and have it the groundwater table safely. Here is a good overview of the system.

Janne says the hole-digging and trench-making are fairly simple as there is a bobcat on the island which will make short work of it. Plus the tanks and pipe are light plastic, and so easy to handle. That leaves the gravel, which isn't, so we've decided to buy now and helicopter in with the rest of the house so it's onsite when we are ready for it.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Talked to my local doctor's office this morning. Vaccinations for TBE are available, and I was able to get an appointment for all three of us before we leave on August 2. It's a course of three shots over 18 months, but at least we will have the first one out of the way.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bit of a crisis this morning

My new neighbors, Olle and Tony, are upset with me this morning. Apparently, Willie took some scrap wood from their yards as we built the frame. Janne had given us some wood from his building site and I had assumed we had the OK to use what we did.

Apparently not, as Olle and Tony saw we had used some of their stuff, obviously without their permission. Olle, especially, was hopping mad yesterday. Margaret sent me an email this morning. I talked to Janne and Willie, and the two of them also spoke this morning. Willie will call Olle later today to set things right. I'm not sure what we used, but whatever it is, we'll replace. (Remember on an island, everything has to be hauled out, so even seemingly small things have value just because of cost of transport.)

Besides upsetting the neighbors by taking stuff from them, I've disappointed and embarassed Janne, who now has to help clean up my mess. That fact disappoints and embarasses me.

UPDATE: Willie has spoken to Olle and apologised directly. I think the initial upset is smoothed over, but we will make tangible and emotional amends directly when we're there in August. What is annoying is that the sense of community on a small island is really important- and one of the reasons we want to live there. And here I go, throwing a monkey wrench into that at the first opportunity. Sigh.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ticks Part 2

Just got back from the local hospital. After last night's find, I looked as best I could and found one more in the center of my back. Being alone in the house, I couldn't do anything about it, and I really couldn't pop by my new neighbors asking for help. ("Excuse me, sir. I've just moved in next door and I wonder if I could trouble you to check me for ticks?")

I called the NHS; they advised me to visit the local hospital. I did, and it turned out to be an ingrown hair, but the nurse was nice about it. My car park ticket said I was there for 19 minutes. I love the NHS.

Longer-term, there are two threats posed by ticks. First is TBE, or tick-borne encephalitis, potentially serious, but it can be prevented by a vaccine. TBE isn't in the UK, but the hospital said the vaccine should be available, so I am going to check into shots on Monday. Marcia said they're all vaccinated.

The other disease is Borelia, which I think is similar to Lyme disease, although it is fully treatable if antibiotics are taken promptly. Janne's had it at least once.

Simple precautions can keep one from having ticks in the first place, and if they're removed within 24 hours, there's little chance of catching anything. So don't be put off from visiting!

Wildlife Part 2

About 0800 Wednesday morning, as Willie and I were working, we heard a loud crack in the woods to the west, and the sounds of something big moving around. We never saw anything, but we both thought it had to be a moose.

Then, on the way toward Janne's to borrow a few tools, Willie saw a snake on the path. Willie hates snakes, and wasn't too happy. I think it was a type of adder; there aren't too many snakes in Sweden and they are all protected. We saw a couple on our land last summer, so I think they're fairly common, on Aspö at least. Marcia told me their bite is like a wasp's sting, not that I ever hope to find out.

Lastly, Willie moved a pretty good-sized rock late in the day and jumped back like he was shocked. There was a huge ant colony underneath, and the ground literally exploded with ants. They were everywhere in a split-second; I've never seen anything like it. Unfortunately, one of the foundations had to go right on the colony. In the future, whenever I see an ant in the house, I'll suspect it is a great-great-grand nephew of one we displaced that day, out for revenge!

Friday, July 11, 2008

My first tick

As I said previously, I have poor eyesight, and I have hundreds of moles just the size and color of ticks. Looking for ticks isn't working out for me, so I have been trying find them by feel.

Just now, getting ready for bed, I found one on my left ankle. It wasn't in deeply and I was able to tweeze it out easily. At first I thought it was dead until I saw the little bastard wiggling its legs. Janne said to crush them with your nail, which I did with a satisfying snap. As best I can tell, that's the only one.

Kind of different when you go from the idea of ticks to actually plucking out your first little wiggler. Ugh.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Home at last

It's been a hectic day; up at 5 to catch a 7AM flight (driven once again by Rutger), then straight into the office for my Captain of Industry gig, and then dinner with a colleague. Whew! Am I bushed.

I have a few emails from Margaret and Willie to return, and a few new ones to send. Plus more paperwork. Always paperwork. I will update further on the weekend.

Note- I have moved the webgallery link to a new box on top of the blog; I'll keep all the photos together there.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

All finished

Writing this from Marcia & Rutger's. We had a good day and finished all the foundations for the big house by 1630. I was in charge of concrete mixing and I think I'm gonna feel that tomorrow, too!

We had one snag with a foundation post that was supposed to be sited directly over a tree trunk (the same tree in fact that Rutger cut down last fall). We decided to do two foundations, one on each side.

Willie ended up driving me all the way home as he was staying in Sollentuna, close to M&R's. That was great; I've really enjoyed my time with him.

New photos of course in the webgallery.

A nice sunny morning

Ready to head out to the site and hit it hard. I'm a bit sore, especially my arms, but my back still works! Hooray!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

All the concrete has been moved!

I moved 30 bags from the end of the main path overland to our house. It was quite a haul; the way is pretty narrow, mostly uphill, and filled with rocks. Eventually, I cleared a few rocks, navigated a path, and got into a rhythm. But I'm gonna feel it tonight!

The weather is improving today and the forecast still looks great for tomorrow so we should be able to finish then.

New photos are on the webgallery.

A technical milestone

I am posting this from my MacBook Air on the exact site of our front deck. About 1.7Mb for those of you interested, a bit slower than at Ann & Dave's, but perfectly good.

Plan C

Woke up at 0530 and it was raining heavily. I called Willie, we decided to cancel this morning, and I went back to sleep. At 9 when I reawoke, it was drying up and the weather forecast now looks good for late today and tomorrow. Willie will take the early boat tomorrow and we'll hit it hard and finish then. I have to take the 8PM boat back but we should be able to finish.

I'll putz around today; besides moving concrete, I have plenty of house-related and work-related work to do, all made possible by my lovely wireless broadband. (I'm listening to the Milwaukee School of Engineering college radio right now; they have a very cool 3AM show!)

Monday, July 7, 2008


We talked earlier today about moose. Apparently there are moose (mooses? meese?) who live in the archipelago and swim between the islands to forage. A few days ago, a family of three (with a new kid) was seen munching the greenery of our island. I like that thought; it would be great to see a big ol' moose family ambling around on Aspö, the three of them new here, like the three of us.

Speaking of wildlife, there are snails all over our property, fat and white as golf balls. I moved at least two dozen of them out of my way today to keep them from being crushed.

Moving down the phyla, Margaret spoke at great length today about the abundance and menace of ticks in the area. I looked as closely as I could tonight and didn't find any on myself, but my eyesight, as everyone knows, is poor. (And with Sooz away in the US right now, I have a dilemma- who will check me for ticks? Hmmm...) Apparently there's a vaccine here in Sweden and I may look into that. I'm more worried now about Ollie, as we plan to take him with us next year. Although he has thick fur, he is also very low to the ground. However, we've seen a lot of dogs and cats here so it's certainly common. (A thought- what would Ollie do if he saw a moose?)

UPDATE: Marcia has volunteered to check for ticks when I get back to their house tomorrow night. She also has a lot of info on ticks and their diseases.

Plan B

Had a great dinner with Janne and Margaret again, I brought the chicken (Marg is a vegetarian) plus we had pasta and much of a nice box of Chenin Blanc.

It has dried up although the weather is still grey. I'm going to look out the window tomorrow morning at 0600 and call Willie if it looks good. He can hustle down for the 0715 boat if we decide to try again. Also I found a pretty accurate weather website (or at least it appears so, we'll see.)

Janne brought his ATV down to the dock and we moved the rest of the concrete half-way up. The hardest part is the final overland 250 meters with my trusty wheelbarrow but it's at least half done. I wish I had a helicopter today!

Monday afternoon washout

Willie showed up on the 0715 boat and got started very quickly. He built a frame to show the outlines of the house and started siting the posts. I, with great effort, wheelbarrowed up all the goods and about a quarter of the concrete before the day's drizzle intensified into a downpour. We came back for lunch like drowned rats around noon and have now given up for the day. Willie's going to head back to Stockholm on a 1730 boat.

The weather looks marginally better tomorrow; I'll give Willie a call in the morning and if it looks OK, he'll come out and we'll finish then.

Fresh pictures are on the webgallery.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sunday Evening in Aspö

Well I made it. Sitting here at 10PM in Ann & Dave's kitchen (that's my view out the window), typing away on my pleasingly-fast wireless broadband connection. I had my usual great time at Marcia and Rutger's and a nice dinner tonight with Margaret and Janne, after he conducted a tour of the island. I have a ton (!) of cement to wheel up tomorrow, but Janne has arranged water and electricity and the supplies are on the dock ready to go.

I have set up a webgallery of photos rather than fill up lots of posts; click here and I'll try to update it nightly.

The sunset is beautiful and I'm chilled again. Stay tuned for tomorrow's updates.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

En route

Writing this as I fly over Gothenburg and the western archipelago. It's a beautiful sight and a beautiful day.

But I feel quite nervous today, not anxious or excited but more a sense of "what the hell am I doing"? I suppose this is part of the building process, but it's not a feeling I'm used to. I thought I might've felt this way when I signed contracts for the land or the house, not when looking at the sunny Swedish countryside from 37,000 feet.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Leaving Saturday Morning

I'm almost packed. Sooz is making up a good-sized box of various stuff to leave at Ann & Dave's, and I have my clothes and gadgets in a carryon. Margaret will be going out with me on the boat Sunday night, which is a great treat; we'll meet at Stavsnas as I'll be driving down with Rutger as my chauffeur. Marg also gave me some good shopping tips, as we'll have to feed ourselves.

I also talked to Stefan about the shelf in the smaller bedroom for bunk beds, as in the show house; I suddenly realised we never closed the loop on that. He will have beams made up and added to the shipment for us to install as we build.

And I emailed Johan about the Cinderella, telling him we were still interested, although we wouldn't be ready until later this year. I asked if it could be used tempoarily because we'll have to tile the bathroom before we can mount it permanently. The short answer is yes, we can, with a few precautions.

With luck I'll be posting from Marcia and Rutger's house Saturday evening.

UPDATE: I just checked the weather. Looks cool (60°F) and at least a 20% chance of showers.