Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Diversion

You might have noticed a slowdown in posting recently. Our Cardigan Corgi, Ollie, unexpectedly suffered a ruptured disk in his back on Tuesday and has had emergency surgery to repair three vertebrae and protect his spinal cord.

He's just barely five, and I am struggling to accept how my beautiful boy could go from healthy to hurting so suddenly. Our little stuga seems the least of my concerns right now. (Although Grant did point out we should add a ramp to the deck, since Ollie will need to avoid stairs for at least a while, if not permanently.)

But, as of this writing, he is beginning his recovery, and if we all work hard, he should be back to his happy self in a month or two. Once he's better, I can start to think of other things again. For now, though, please keep him in your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Giant Moose

The latest American Way magazine has an article about a giant moose being constructed in Norrland as a tourist attraction.

My favorite part of the story is that it's being made of glue-laminated wood, just like our house. It didn't occur to me to make our own house moose-shaped. Darn.

UPDATE: Actually my other favorite part of that story is the moose cheese. I'm going to find some of that for sure!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Spacesaver Stairs

Wille sent a cameraphone picture of an alternate-tread stair for the bunk beds. I've been reading up on these, as there's a lot of information and examples out there.

They are a great space-saving solution, especially for lower use areas. Grant's bunk beds fit the bill perfectly, so we're going to go on ahead.

Monday, November 24, 2008

First snow of the year

Marcia called this morning and said they were having a big winter storm today. The Sandhamn webcam is being repaired but here's a shot from the camera at Finnhamn which is pretty representative. I wish I could see our house in the snow!

UPDATE: I found a great webcam of Sergels Torg, right in the center of Stockholm. Hours of amusement as it updates every few seconds.

UPDATE2: Marcia reports that the Sergels Torg cam doesn't accurately show large the amount of snow out by her. Fortunately, there's a webcam right in Järfälla, so we can see her neighborhood for ourselves.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Magica De Spell

Marcia changed her hairstyle a while ago, to a kind of black bob with bangs. I told her she looked like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. She said her friends thought she looked like Magica De Spell. (Of course, being Dutch, Marcia also goes by that country's translation: Zwarte Magica.)

I'd be willing to bet none of my American or UK readers have any idea who that is. But in Scandinavia, for various reasons, Donald Duck and all of his friends in Duckburg are hugely popular. Even today, millions of Swedes read or watch Kalle Anka (literally "Carl Duck") every week. So, telling someone they look like Magica makes perfect sense.

Swedish television has a tradition of playing a specific program of Donald Duck cartoons every Christmas Eve. Here's a good blog post on this phenomenon. I know Rutger really looks forward to watching Kalle on Christmas Eve. I look forward to watching all these cartoons with him this year!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Evening call from Wille #2

Another project was installing Grant's bunk beds. Wille measured everything, made the bed platforms back at home, and brought them out this week. He sent a couple of photos from the house today and they look great.

Wille talked to Tony last night, who had the idea of a ladder with alternating steps to give access to the bunks. I'm a bit worried about mounting anything permanently because I think I'd rather move a ladder back and forth as needed but Wille is going to send some photos about what he wants to do.

He also mentioned that he wasn't happy with the way our front doors were holding up. I know what he means; I thought the door's facings were warping already when I saw them in October. Wille says they are unacceptable and he is going to talk to Stefan on Monday morning.

Saturday Evening call from Wille #1

Wille called this evening with a good summary of his past couple of days. The weather has been very cold- in fact, Margaret reported quite a bit of snow in the city this morning. So Wille concentrated on indoor work, especially the bathroom. He installed the drains for the shower, sink, and washing machine, and has mounted all the waterproof boards; there's a special technique to mount them to our wooden walls so they are able to give with the flex caused by heating and cooling. He'll bring a bigger heater in a few days to keep the bathroom warm while he does the grout and flooring (in fact, he said it was colder inside than outside; that doesn't bode well for our planned overnight at Christmas!!)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Exchange Rates

It's 8.22 to the dollar today. Absolutely amazing.

I am going to have a little whine because, about a hundred days ago, I transferred a whole bunch of money at 6.02. Doing the same today would have saved me many thousands of dollars. It is puzzling to me how there can be that much of a swing, especially since the US economy is supposedly in meltdown.

Of course, future purchases (of which many are planned) will be much cheaper. My bad decision on my last money transfer still rankles, though.

OK, whine is over.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy World Toilet Day!

Yes, it's today.

All potty humor aside, over two billion people don't have access to any kind of toilet or sanitation. All of the searching for the right solution for my little house has taught me to never take toilets for granted again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Talked to Wille tonight

For a bunch of reasons, he's delayed a couple of days, but has booked a taxi boat for 0900 Thursday. The weather is also quite bad today (to put it mildly; the forecast is 1°C, 43kph breeze, and a 70% chance of rain), but the days after that look a lot better. He plans to stay through the weekend and get everything sorted out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A new toilet

...not for us, but for the International Space Station.

And here I am complaining about how hard it is to move things out to Aspö.

Box Wine

I'm not a wine snob by any means, but I do like a nice glass now and then (mostly now). A huge selection of excellent wine is easily available here in the UK, and is comparatively inexpensive (especially if one travels across La Manche). And like most Americans, I used to think of wine sold in boxes as pretty low quality.

But box wine is very popular on the islands, largely for logistical reasons. It's much more efficient to carry and store, it keeps for a long time, and the only trash it generates is the plastic bag, so no need to carry back bottles for recycling (as Margaret told me once, you really want to avoid carrying stuff back off the island). And boxes are certainly cheaper than bottles at the Systembolaget.

The good news is that boxed wine- especially in Europe- is on the up these days. Lots of good wine is now being sold in boxes, and the idea is taking hold in the USA as well. We will surely be enjoying lots of box wine next summer, I'm sure!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Garderobe is Swedish for "clothes closet". (I think the term also applies informally to any sort of non-kitchen cabinet in a house.) Swedish homes and flats are typically pretty small, so they have to use their space very carefully. Efficient furniture is IKEA's stock in trade, so there's no surprise they have a very robust garderobe offering. There's an online planner on the UK and Swedish websites, although not the US one, likely because homes there usually have built-in closets. Rutger and I spent time on the planner last weekend when he was visiting, and there must be literally a million variations that can be put together.

Our house needs storage, of course, and space being at a premium, we want to make good use of what's available. The photos to the left show the entryways in both Stefan's own home and the X-House show home. Along the exterior of the bedroom wall, just past the front door, is a space about 1.75 meters long, about 80cm deep, and over 3m high. In both photos, plain vanilla IKEA cabinets have been stacked high, even above the bedroom doors, and then given a pine fascia to give a nice built-in look.

Sooz really wants the same in our house, in fact she doesn't want to put up anything there even temporarily. I can see her point; if we were to put up a bunch of white cabinets, we'd have our storage, ugly as it might be, and I'd move on to other matters.

Stefan gave us a lot of information on how he achieved this look, and we're going to make that an April project. For the moment, we'll put simple cabinets in the small house, because the aesthetics there aren't as important.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Those Dancing Days

I'm quite fond of a girl group called "Those Dancing Days." They're from Nacka, a suburb of Stockholm which we pass through on the way out to Stavsnäs. They have a myspace page if you're interested.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wille's sleepover

Wille will be heading out next Monday (the 17th) with a load of supplies. He's going to work on the finishing items for our houses, and to do all the bathroom prep work (drains, waterproofing, and wall and floor treatments.) He also has plans for the foundations, too.

The bathroom needs a number of coats and drying time between courses, so Wille's plan is to stay over during the week and do the woodworking while the bathroom is drying. So it looks like he'll be the first person to sleep over in our house! At least we have beds, a kitchen, and electricity for him.

By the end of that week, we really should be substantially done, save the water and bathroom tiling. Janne will work on the water infrastructure over the next few months, and I plan to tile the bathroom when we're there in April.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


When we were at the house last month, there were a number of little things that needed to be completed. Sooz tallied a list to send to Wille. Most of the list items are small trim and completion things that he was going to do anyways.

But there was one big issue remaining. Basically, neither Sooz or I are happy yet with the foundations on either house. Our house is damned heavy and it sets on a number of plinths, some fairly tall. A few of them are a bit out of alignment, two were off-height, and perhaps a third of them are not perfectly straight. These misalignments make them not as strong as they were designed to be, and they don't look quite right, especially set against the lines of our great cube of a house.

And there's an issue about the proper number of foundations in the first place. Stefan added two plinths to the original drawings back on March 1, and Wille has spoken to Stefan about the need for more, especially on houses of our size.

I think Wille's done a good job on our house overall, and we are happy, but the foundations are the one area that isn't up to the specification of the rest of the building. I spoke to Wille at length and asked him to do two things.
  1. Add a few more foundation posts at some of the key load beams under the building to make sure it's well shored up. The idea is that three posts at 75% strength are as good as, if not better than, two at 100%.
  2. When done, we need to cover up the perimeter of the house with skirting boards. All of the houses on Aspö have these installed. The underside of an island house is pretty unsightly, especially with all of the plumbing and electrical infrastructure snaking around. In our case, the boards will also cover up what will become a bit of a jumble of foundation posts.
I had flirted with the idea of leaving the posts as an integral part of the building, like the Villa Savoie as shown above. But frankly, given the exigencies of island construction, that really wasn't realistic. And comparing my little stuga to one of Le Corbusier's is a tad harsh, too.

In any case, Wille was gracious and understood our concerns, he said he was glad we were honest with him and he wants us to be satisfied. He's going to work on adding foundation posts and then skirting the perimeter of both houses.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Wilhelmis are visiting...

...this weekend. It's only fair, since we seem to have moved into their house this year. The girls will go shopping, of course, and us boys are going to a football match, QPR vs Cardiff City. And I'm sure Rutger will go to a museum or two, as he is a history buff, especially WWII.

The handsome picture of Rutger is from our trip to Berlin last year.

UPDATE: The home team won 1-0, and the girls' shopping trips boosted the retail sector of the UK economy, so everyone's happy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An email from Göran

Got this email last night:

"Hello Don.

I think we will be back in two weeks and put the electricity on. We
installed everything we can and will be back when we can finish up the rest.


Trip to Maidenhead

I have just picked up the afore-mentioned door screws from a very nice lock shop in Maidenhead (First time for me there, so it was an added bonus to see what the town's all about). We'll send to Janne and hope they work!

Mail efficiency

I left behind a couple of prescriptions at Marcia and Rutger's house when we last visited, and of course realised this about an hour after we left for Aspö. I called Marcia and she retrieved them and mailed an envelope to me later that day.

The next morning, when the 0830 boat arrived, there was my envelope in the mail packet. Marcia said she mailed it at about 1400 the day before. How's that for postal efficiency!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Weather report from Leksand

I just talked to Wille, he said it was below zero and they had 15cm of snow over the weekend. It looks like more of the same for the next few days. Good hockey weather, I guess. He is feeling better, though; he was rough when I talked to him last weekend.

Wille is going to get together all of the materials needed to do the bathroom and to finish off the house trim, bunk beds, etc., and head there next week. The bathroom needs a number of hours to dry between waterproofing treatments, so he plans to stay through a few days, work on the trim items during drying periods, and get it all done. We should certainly be able to stay there for a night, at least, when we visit in December.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Door hardware

We bought a couple of standard door handles and locks on our last trip. I had info on the doors from Stefan and we picked up what we needed.

But of course, I ran into a snag. The screws that go through the door to attach the handles to each other are a smidgen too short. The size was the standard 90mm but it seems I need 95 or so. I'm not sure why, but I think our door is a little warped which probably added the extra width.

Finding longer screws for a Swedish door, especially here in the UK, has proved to be a challenge. However, I've talked to three unexpectedly helpful locksmiths in the London area, and one of them has ordered what we believe to be the right screws. Sooz will pick them up next week, and we'll mail them to Janne, who has offered to screw everything together properly.

Introduction, part 2

My first post was well over a year ago. I thought it'd be a good idea to recap what has happened since then, so new visitors have a place to go to catch up, rather than just starting cold with seemingly random stories of swimming moose and toilet technology.

So, in a nutshell:
  • I'm Don, my wife is Sooz, and our son is Grant. We're Americans who lived in Sweden 1989-91, and we've lived in London since 1999.
  • We all love Sweden, and have many friends there. It's common for Swedes to have a summer house, often on one of the many islands in the archipelago. We were able to buy land on the island of Aspö in the summer of 2007.
  • I like modern Scandinavian design, and found a Swedish company, X-House, who make very square and clean timber buildings from glue-laminated wood. We designed two homes, a large (62 sq. m.) house and a smaller guest house, and applied for permission to build.
  • We received our permission in April, and built in August 2008. As of this writing, the house is essentially done, save the bathroom and interior plumbing.
  • Building on an island, especially in another country, has with it many challenges, to say the least. Our friend Janne, an island resident, has been essential to this process, although, frankly, I've leaned on many friends, both old and new, to get this done. You'll find many references to all these people in the blog.
  • In fact, there are many posts about Swedish and island culture, as well as asides on related topics. This isn't just a building blog, although I have tried to give realistic and practical information.
  • I have many photos of the building process, which are arranged in galleries, along the right side of the blog. I've also been careful about tagging my entries, so you can easily find posts related to building, people, culture, etc.
  • For the next few months, the winter weather will slow work on the house, but I'll continue to post on a number of related topics. Our big push will be towards midsummer's day 2009, which is an important day on the Swedish calendar, particularly for island residents, and also especially for me, as it's my 50th birthday.
I welcome comments and feedback. My goal is to make this blog useful and amusing, and I can always use help from readers to accomplish that!

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I found a cool website in which you can input your latitude and longitude (or your zip code if you're in America) and get a chart of the sun's seasonal position at your location.

Thanks to Google Maps, I have the precise location of our house, so after a bit of data entry- voilà! (I will admit to spending a good part of the morning entering various locations and playing with the chart output.)

When we arrive in December for a short visit, we'll have (fairly weak) sunshine only from 8:30 and 14:30. But next midsummer, we'll have sunshine between 2:30 and 21:30! Better buy some window shades.