Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gott Nytt År!

Or, "Happy New Year", as they say på Svenska.

It's been a good year; our house has gone from a shell to a finished home. We enjoyed a super summer there with our friends, and we look forward to spending time on our little island for many years to come.

Here's wishing a successful and happy next decade to all!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A White Christmas

Ronnie sent along these photos from Christmas Eve on Aspö. He wasn't able to get a photo of our house- the snow on our little path was too high!

And, yes, that's a moose footprint on the lower left.

Friday, December 25, 2009

God Jul!

Here's my gift for the day: my favourite Kalle Anka bit from the traditional Christmas broadcast on Swedish TV.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Card from Stefan

It's a gingerbread copy of their latest design, which is being built at the new Villa Expo near Arlanda. Cute.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Winter Solstice

U.S. Naval Observatory
Astronomical Applications Department

The following information is provided for the island Aspö:

21 December 2009 Universal Time + 1h

Sunrise 08:40 AM
Sun transit 11:43 AM
Sunset 02:47 PM
Total sun exposure 6h 7m

Friday, December 18, 2009


Margaret wrote last night that Stockholm's been hit by the first big snow of the season; Janne reported Aspö received over 25cm. I found this webcam shot of the snow from the personal website of a Stavsnäs resident. (In fact, that site has a lot of goodies on it, I'll put up a permanent link).

Anyways, Janne's water has frozen at his house, which worries me a tiny bit; after all, if his water has frozen, what about ours in an empty house? I spoke to him last night, and he is going to double-check our place today and report back tonight if he sees any trouble.

In related news, I'm planning a quick island visit in late January (on an interesting itinerary, more on that later). Janne and Ronnie will be away by then, so I promised I'd check up on their houses in a rare role-reversal!

UPDATE: Janne trudged through the snow to check out our house and all was well. Phew!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

St. Lucia's Day

Today is St. Lucia's Day in Sweden. I had posted last year about the holiday, and the Lucia before that, I was writing about news from the kommun.

We don't have any big plans for ourselves today, although I might try to talk Sooz into making lussekatter for us!

UPDATE: She indeed did make the "Lucia Cats". Yum!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Moose did it!

Marg sent along a story about a woman who was found dead in unexplained circumstances in southern Sweden. It turns out, after long investigation, than the woman was killed by a moose.

This is tragic, of course, for the woman and her family. It's also a bit of vindication for Margaret, as she has quizzed Janne and Tony repeatedly about the best way to deal with the danger posed by moose on Aspö. The menfolk always told her not to worry, the moose is more scared of you than you are of it, there's no danger at all, don't worry about it, etc., etc.

Still, there's no significant risk for island residents. As the story's expert puts it, “We’re not aware of any similar case in the world.”

UPDATE: More moose news yesterday.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A word with Janne

I forgot to mention that I talked to Janne last week. He said he had checked out our house and everything seemed fine; he went inside and the bathroom was plenty warm (although it's been mild lately).

Before he and Marg leave for Floridian sunshine in the New Year, he'll give the house a good once-over. Having Janne's seal of approval will make me a lot more comfortable.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More on Lyme disease

Two key points for my readership:
  • First, there are about a billion Lyme disease websites out there. Most are not happy reading. My favourite quote so far is: "[Lyme] causes functional, chemical, and structural changes to the brain and alters almost every organ system of the body." Lovely. May I offer the same advice I gave Sooz: don't go googling for "Lyme". It's better that way.
  • Second, in hindsight, I really should have seen the doctor when I originally developed the red spot. I managed to post a photo but not to get treated. Stupid on my part.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tick diseases

I posted more than a year ago about a tick bite on my ankle; it flared up into a red spot (and blog post) a few weeks later. The spot went away and I forgot about it.

A few weeks ago, 16 months after the bite, I noticed a bulls-eye rash on my ankle, right on the same spot. Since the bulls-eye is a characteristic of Lyme disease (or Swedish, borelia), I visited the doctor to check it out.

My local surgery took some blood and sent it off to be tested. Just in case, they gave me a 2-week prescription for antibiotics.

Yesterday, I got a call from my doctor who told me I tested positive for Lyme antibodies. So it appears that tick bite did indeed carry borelia. Technically at least, I have Lyme disease. Bummer.

The good news is that I have (and have had) no symptoms at all. I feel fine. Sooz isn't too happy, but in a way, I consider it a badge of honor!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Another moose sighting!

Marg writes in this evening:

"Janne and Cal just finished up a boys weekend out on Aspö; they were 8 or 9 guys in total, great time.

The attached photo was taken by Ronnie during the weekend, when they had an unexpected visitor - hoping for an invitation to join the boys I guess!"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saab Style

The Local has a great photo gallery on their website of Saabs over the years.

Being a fan of old cars, Sweden, and mid-century style, I got a real kick out of the photos, especially the first dozen.

My favourite one is attached. That's Sooz and I in another life, on our way to Stavsnäs.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Today is Thanksgiving day in the USA. It's a little funny for Americans living abroad, as it's such a big holiday at home, yet pretty much non-existent outside the US. I've found that ex-pats band together and have their own makeshift family dinner. In fact, we've already had ours, last weekend with friends in the Kent countryside.

Last Thanksgiving, however, was a terrible one for us; it's been exactly a year since Ollie hurt his back.

I found it interesting to go back over my past year's posts about Ollie's surgery and recovery. In hindsight, I was a bit optimistic about his progress early on. However, he did recover well enough to travel to Sweden this summer and enjoy his experience there, although outdoor life did tire him out quite a lot.

However, Ollie probably won't come with us to Aspö next summer. We aren't going to drive again, and we probably won't spend as long a period there as we did this year. My general plan is a couple of two-week visits: one family vacation early summer before Grant goes to university, and one late summer as new empty-nesters. I'm not sure if it makes sense to fly Ollie out just for a couple of weeks.

To be clear, although Ollie is slower, he is perfectly happy and pain-free. It was good fortune he was able to have surgery at all, and I have been thankful for his recovery every day of the past year. That makes this Thanksgiving day especially meaningful for all of us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Our loan came through today, so my bank account was in six digits, but only temporarily, as I paid Jesper and Anders straightaway.

Even better news is that my mom's home!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A quiet week

I'm afraid we're entering the winter lull, at least as far as the stuga goes. But there are a few things to report:
  • Ulrika has our loan papers back and we should have the money deposited next week. That's good, because I owe both Anders and Jasper a balance for their work.
  • I've analysed my electrical bills over the past 9 months. The cost of electricity, including all connection charges and taxes, is about 15kr per day. The electricity itself is 8.20kr, although with my new contract, it'll be about 5.90 a day going forward.
  • My original estimate of the Cinderella's cost of 3kr per 'flush' appears to be correct. Half of that is electricity and half is the cost of the paper filter.
  • And, lastly, my mother's recovery is going well. She should be back home next Thursday.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Loan paperwork

I received the paperwork from Ulrika on Friday, and sent it back to her yesterday. All being well, I should have the money in our account within the next two weeks. That will be handy, as I owe both Jesper and Tommy a balance for their work last month.

The interest rate is now 1.49%! My monthly payments are going to be ridiculously low- under 900kr a month.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The final cost of the roof

I had posted that Jesper (plus three helpers) got our roof done last week, and I promised that I would be transparent in accounting for the roof's costs. So here we go:
  • The roof panels and trim materials: 19,000kr
  • Jesper's labor to install: 13,000kr
  • Transport of materials from Stavsnäs: 3,000kr
So the total for roofs on both houses was 35,000 Swedish kronor. This is more than my original estimate of 25,000. However, it's a lot less than all of the recent job quotes I received, which ranged from 40,000-75,000, and not all of those quotes were for a metal roof.

I managed to save money in a couple of significant ways. Firstly, as a favor, Janne ordered all of the material on my behalf through his account at Fredells, so I was essentially able to order direct.

Secondly, I provided the labor to carry all the panels from the dock to the house. (Actually, Janne and Tony did a lot with Janne's ATV, and Sooz helped me carry the biggest panels.) Jesper quoted me 8000kr to transport the material, so even if I subtract the 3,000kr to move the panels from Stavsnäs, I saved 5,000kr just by moving them myself. That's nearly 15% of the total bill.

As an aside, I paid the full freight for the trip to deliver the goods. Typically, I've been able to pool my material delivery with others and therefore share the cost. However, to have everything delivered in time for my visit, so I had to bear the total price. Lesson learned for future projects!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Electricity costs

I had posted earlier about the mystery of my bill from Vattenfall, and why I seemed to have such a big credit.

Rutger got to the bottom of it, and it turned out to be fairly simple. My first bills were based on the usage of a year-round house. Since our home isn't occupied that often, we used a lot less electricity than estimated, and so I built up a big credit.

He also saw that I should have been repaid about 1200 kronor of my overpayment into my bank account this spring; in fact their bill said they would refund me, but they didn't. After some strong complaints about this treatment, Rutger got them to agree to give me a further 500kr credit. Wow!

Rutger also advised that I was paying the 'full' uncontracted rate of 69.5 öre per kilowatt, which I could lower significantly with a long-term contract. I emailed Vattenfall and they responded (in English) that I could get a fixed 3-year price of 47.3 öre, which is what I've done. I've also signed up to get all my bills online.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Time for an update

First, my mom had surgery to replace her hip and she's starting therapy already. So far, everything seems good. The people at the hospital are great and Mom's spirits are high because she gets to see her little boy.

Jesper and a team of three did indeed finish off the roof in one shot on Monday. He was short a little bit of roof material, but Janne came to the rescue once again and donated the needed piece. Jesper also has my sketch for a walkway between houses and will get back to me with a quote to do that work.

No word yet from Ulrika at the bank on my loan; I should be hearing yea or nay around now. If it's 'nay', I'll just move more money from the USA, although I'd prefer not to.

I do have some news from the electrical people at Vattenfall, but I'll save that for another post. I need to return to my nursing duties now...

UPDATE: Ulrika emailed me with the excellent news my loan's been approved!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Keeping up my theme

...of writing while traveling, I am updating from American Airlines flight 665 to Minneapolis, thanks to the miracle of inflight broadband.

When we landed from Stockholm last night, my sister called with the news that my mother had fallen and broken her hip. Surgery is tomorrow, so I'm en route to be at her side.

And while I was in the air from London, it appears that Jesper and a bunch of helpers came out and finished off our roof today! Margaret sent an email that everything was done, although I don't have any other details. I sent Jesper an email and will report back when I hear from him.

Ulrika from the bank also emailed me and said she hopes to have word from her boss on our loan application in a day or two. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that.

I'll post again when I know more on any or all of these topics.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Aboard the M/S Roslagen

...heading back to Stavsnäs. We did have a pretty lazy Friday as predicted, mostly cleaning up and organising our stuff. Sooz made an inventory of food and clothing, and I sorted out all the tools and spare parts in the little house. It was cool and a little rainy, perfect for staying inside!

Janne came over and we enjoyed Sooz's lovely roast Gotland lamb. We got about half-way through "Atonement"; we'll watch the rest on the bus ride to Slussen shortly. ("Adventureland" was more my speed; Hüsker Dü and The Replacements on the soundtrack.)

This morning we cleaned up and I drained the water system, which was easy enough for even me to figure out. We put our freezables in the bathroom with a radiator, to keep everything warm.

It was a little bit sad to leave our house behind. But we'll be back soon enough!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Our last full day here

...will be pretty lazy, I think. Sooz is going to do an inventory of all the remaining foodstuffs, and we'll pack away everything that will survive the winter. I'm trying to figure out the circuit breakers again, because I lost the list that Göran left me. We want to keep the bathroom electricity on for heating but turn off everything else.

We managed to burn everything yesterday, thanks to Sooz's campfire skills. I used the chain saw with no injury, and we have only 5 more roof panels to move today. The area looks much cleaner and I'm very happy about that.

We rented "Adventureland" on iTunes yesterday (although it took 5 hours to download.) Tonight it's "Atonement" on my MacBook Air, snuggled on our couch.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Another good day

Today's weather was like yesterday's, grey to start but sunny later on. Sooz finished up with the stain and everything looks great, only a few touch-ups remain. We moved about half the remaining roof panels and will be able to finish those off tomorrow easily. Jesper will be here next week to put it all up.

Most of the day centered around the fire to burn the remaining wood and cardboard. It took a while, but Sooz used her summer camp experience to get a roaring fire going. We won't get it all burned off tomorrow, but we will have made a big dent in the remaining junk pile.

Marg and Janne came over for a nice dinner in our place. Sooz pulled out all the stops in the kitchen, and we ended up with a whiskey tasting! How civilized...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Near Marg & Janne's house on our way for dinner, we heard something crashing in the woods nearby. Sooz went to investigate, and whispered back to me, "moose!"

I opened my camera and took a few shots of the moose, who was about 25 yards away, looking straight at us. This is the best one of the bunch; I enhanced it a bit. No antlers, but it seemed pretty big, so I'm guessing a mama moose.

We had a great dinner afterwards; no moose meat, but röding on the grill instead. Delicious.


Sooz and I had no problem starting up the house last night; Janne had turned on the heat and the fridge so everything was a good temperature when we arrived.

We had a bit of a lazy night; the most interesting thing was how dark it was, both outside (low clouds and a deserted island) and inside (we really need more lights!)

Today was busy; Sooz stained the doors and half of the windows. Thankfully, Tony and Janne moved our roof panels about two-thirds of the way on Janne's ATV, so all I have to do is haul them one-by-one overland to the house. They aren't too heavy, but they are awkward, and there's a lot of them! I think I got about half moved, and we will finish tomorrow.

The weather improved during the day and we had some lovely autumn sunshine at the end. We're about to head to Marg and Janne's for dinner. Photos on the webgallery now; more soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Aboard the M/S Madam

Enjoying the sunset with Marg and Sooz on our way to Aspö.

I talked with Ulrika at the bank and we had a good discussion, but no resolution yet. Everything seems to hinge on my personnummer; that's like a social security number for US citizens, or National Insurance for Brits. I have one from my time here 20 years ago, and it's still on file for me, but it's now "inactive" since I've moved away.

The tax authorities won't activate it, because I have no income in Sweden. So now it's up to the bank to decide if they'll approve the loan with an inactive personnummer. If they say yes, it'll be approved in a couple of weeks; if the answer is no, it doesn't appear I can get a loan in Sweden at all. I'll report back.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Greetings from Stockholm

Writing this evening from the Wilhelmis kitchen. We went to Bauhaus and IKEA today and decided on our stain for the doors and window frames. I've started a new webgallery for those interested in seeing what colour Sooz chose.

Tomorrow, I meet with Ulrika at the bank, Sooz goes grocery shopping, and then we'll meet up with Margaret mid-day and drive with her down to Stavsnäs for a 16:40 boat.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Preparing to head to Sweden...

...and Anders calls tonight, with perfect timing. He has finished the little insulated box under our house, to house the water hardware and keep it warm over the winter.

He pointed out the need for a insulating cover for the well as it comes out of the ground (as seen here). I'll talk to Janne and Jesper to see what they say. I have plenty of wood and leftover insulation to fashion something temporary for at least this winter, I would think.

I also owe Anders' electrician for a couple of hours of extra labor to hook up all the water-heating units. That loan from Ulrika's going to come in handy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest"

I just finished the third and, sadly, last of Stieg Larsson's novels.

They are cracking good detective thrillers, but they're also much more, as the Independent illustrates.

Thanks to Marcia and my mother for suggesting them to me. I recommend these books highly to all my readers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I love it when a plan comes together

Apologies to Hannibal Smith for the quote.

Anyways, it seems like things are coming together. We'll be spending this upcoming weekend with Marcia & Rutger. I will be meeting the bank in Stockholm on Monday morning to finalise my loan request, and then we'll link up with Margaret at St. Eriksplan to all head out to Stavsnäs for a Monday evening boat.

We'll share island dinner duties during the week with Margaret and Janne, and then back to Marcia and Rutger's Saturday morning before we head home Sunday.

Jesper's all set to do the roofing work, although he pointed out that it snowed today, which was too early even for him. (Margaret also mentioned the snow, but since she and Janne will be wintering in Flordia, she's not bothered!) I checked the webcams and it appears everything's melted. Good thing Janne's going to turn on the heat early for us so our home's all toasty when we arrive!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Electrical bill

I received the summer electrical bill from Vattenfall yesterday. I had been waiting for this one as it represented the month we lived at the house, with all the lights and appliances, and especially Cinderella using power. I had posted earlier this year that I had hoped for about 3kr per 'flush'.

The invoice was mixed news. The good: I don't owe anything. Apparently I had a credit. The total charge for June and July was 746kr. The bad: I have no idea why I have a credit, plus I believe the summer charge was estimated and not actual. So I don't yet have an accurate picture of just how much it costs to live in the house. My financial reckoning is just delayed.

I spent this morning trying to figure out the bills and, frankly, I'm even more confused. My original thought of about 150kr a month for the connection charge seems right, but there appear to be different types of electricity at different rates. I'll bring the whole stack of invoices to Stockholm to see if Rutger or Janne can explain it all to me. I should also try to take an actual reading when I'm at the house; let's see if I can manage to do that accurately and without electrocuting myself.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Loan Application

I sent our loan application to Ulrika at Nordea. It was a bit of a struggle to get through all of the Swedish legalese, but Google translate came in handy.

I also added a cover letter to fill in any gaps in the application form, as being a utlänningar adds complications to my request. We may be able to meet in person when we're in Stockholm the Monday after next, which I'm sure would smooth things.

I've thought about how much cash I need. Taking into account everything I foresee over the next year- the roof, the water cabinet under the house, winter's electricity, taxes, a few items from IKEA, the deck between houses next spring- 60,000 kronor should do the trick.

However, I get a much better interest rate of 1.59% if I were to borrow 100,000 kronor, which I think I'll do. That's really cheap money!

With Grant's university fees coming up next year, conserving my pounds and dollars is a good idea. Plus, we plan to spend a lot of time on Aspö over the coming years, so establishing credit at a local bank should be useful for the long-term.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grant's Road Trip?

Grant was typing on his MacBook last night, and asking us detailed questions about this summer's drive to Sweden: how much did the boat from Kiel cost, how long did we drive on the second day, etc.

Turns out he's been talking to three of his friends about taking a road trip after graduation and spending a week on Aspö. So he was gathering details and sending them along to his prospective driving buddies.

I'll admit the idea tickles me. I was about that age when I took my first cross-country trip with two friends in my first car, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1. (It looked exactly like the one in the ad above, although of course, we didn't drive that fast.) We drove from Minneapolis to central Pennsylvania, with stops in Chicago and Indianapolis.

His mother, however, is less sanguine about the prospect. And I imagine the mothers of the other three boys would be even less so! Still, I like the idea, and we have plenty of time to develop it. I think it would be great if it worked out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Our land is registered!!

As I expected, a bunch of documents came from Lantmäteriet today, and to the best of our Swedish comprehension skills, our land is now officially registered in our names.

The key phrase for me was underrättelse, lagfart which translates to "notification of title registration"; a pretty good clue. Of course there's a 4575kr fee for the registration. But it's ours now!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Material for the roof

I've been emailing between Janne and Jesper about the material order for our roof. At Margaret's suggestion, the two of them spoke directly on Friday (cutting out me, the inefficient middleman) and now we're all set.

Janne will order the roof panels and ancillary stuff and have it delivered. I'll move it all from the dock to our house when I'm over in two weeks, and Jesper will be out thereafter to install it.

The only other big projects to be done are the staining of the doors and trim, which Sooz will do, and the burning of the remaining scrap wood. Hopefully, I'll get some relaxation time!

As an aside, it's probably going to be chilly. Temperatures right now are between 40°-50°F (4°-10°C).

UPDATE: Marg writes in that "everything is ordered and will be delivered 19 October. And I am definitely going out on the same 4:40pm boat as you...I can stay until Thursday morning, too!" Excellent news.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our contract's back from Lantmäteriet

...but that was all we got, our original contract back with a stamp on it, and a number handwritten on the stamp. No other documents, just the contract in a big envelope.

I assume more info will be forthcoming, but I take this as a good sign!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Swedish loans

Ulrika from Nordea bank sent me an email about my loan question. She's sending an application form to us, and seems positive about our prospects.

I don't yet know the terms, or even how much I would plan to borrow, but it is a good start. I think having a loan in kronor would be helpful in terms of cash flow and protection from currency exchange swings.

The psychology of having a "holiday home"

I was traveling for work last week, and feeling a bit stressed, I sent Sooz a text: "I really want to be back on Aspö".

It was more than a little whine- at the time I wrote that SMS, I didn't just want to be away from my job. I really wanted specifically to be at our little house, not to be away, but to be there. That subtlety didn't come across in my little message, at least I didn't think so.

This weekend, Sooz said to me, pretty much out of the blue, "I know what you mean. I want to be on Aspö, too". She had been thinking the same way, and received the meaning of my message after all, which was nice.

It got me thinking. We're still in the honeymoon period of our little house; we've had the excitement of building and furnishing it, and it's been pretty much a non-stop party once we moved in.

After we're there next month, though, we don't have any firm plans to go back until April. It seems odd to me to leave it empty for 5 months, but it also seems wrong to go to the trouble of visiting just to visit (especially in the winter).

Also, the money we'll be spending on the house going forward won't be as exciting. Paying for insurance, taxes, electricity, etc., isn't nearly as much fun as designing kitchens or researching types of tarpaper (which was fun for me, at least).

So- what's going to happen in the upcoming months? Will the "holiday home honeymoon" be over quickly? Will it be a case of "out of sight, out of mind"? Will I start to resent sending money away to Sweden when I'll have college tuition to pay for?

I posted before about making the transition from a "building" blog to a "living" one. These are the kinds of questions I plan to blog about during the winter months.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Swedish helicopters

Margaret sent me a news article about a daring robbery in Stockholm involving a stolen helicopter. (I checked, and it wasn't the same chopper we hired to move our house last year. Phew.)

Marg pointed out her favourite quote: "Swedish police couldn't pursue the thieves because a bag marked 'bomb' had been placed outside the police heliport, and officers had to deal with the bag before they could enter."

That seems like a scene from a Roadrunner cartoon to me!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We've settled on the roof

I spoke to Jesper this morning and Janne this evening. As per my previous post, we're going to do a metal roof. Janne will order the roof panels, I'll carry them up to the house when we're there in October, and Jesper will come and do the installation later in the month.

Jesper will need a few pieces of wood trim and other accessories. He'll send me an email with all of his requirements, and Janne will place the whole order to be sent to the midsummer dock.

If all goes well, I'll have a metal roof by Halloween, at a cost near my original budget of 25,000kr.

There once was a man from Nantucket

...who contracted a nasty tick-borne illness from the island's deer.

The New York times has an interesting article on the problem. There are parallels with life on Aspö, although our island is much smaller and less developed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Roof finances

I talked to Anders and he thought a paper roof would be a little bit less than a metal one- but still close to 70,000 kronor.

Janne and I talked tonight and he still fells that's too much. He said he could order metal roofing and have it delivered to the midsummer dock for about 13-14,000kr. If I could get the metal roof panels schlepped up to the house (perhaps by doing it myself in October), all I'd need to do is pay for a day or two's labor (at 350-400kr an hour), making the total cost–for a metal roof–around 20,000 kronor.

I like the idea of moving the roofing material myself; it keeps me involved and saves me money too. I left Jesper a message tonight to see if he'd be willing and able to do a metal roof if I provided and delivered the material, and if so, how much.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fönsterfärg a Swedish word that translates literally as "window color". But practically, it's a type of non-transparent stain that is used mostly on window frames and doors, hence its name.

When we visit in October, we're going to stain the doors and window frames with an opaque stain, because the jarn vitrol has, despite our best efforts, made a number of indelible streaks on our nice pine doors.

The question then, what color? Red is typical for Swedish homes, but we really don't have much red in the colors of our house. I prefer blue; after all, we want to name our house "blue moon", and the house is blue-grey already. And Sooz is thinking about green, which does fit in well with our environment. The colour swatches are from a US website, but they're representative of what we're thinking about.

To close, dear readers, I seek your input in the comments. Feel free to write in with your colorful thoughts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More roof info

Jesper sent me a message today with the details of the product he proposes to use: the Mataki Självtäck 5000 (which sounds like a Japanese robot to me).

Självtäck translates as "self cover"; it's designed to be easy to roll out and glue together. The '5000' version is much thicker and is designed to be used on roofs like ours with a shallow pitch.

I'm waiting to hear Anders' new price for a paper roof, and I want to talk to Janne, too, before I decide. But the clock is ticking; the roof really needs to be done within the next 6 weeks.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Back to the Roof

I spoke to Anders this morning. He thinks a tarpaper roof is a perfectly fine choice, and has installed them on houses in the islands before. He mentioned Icopal as a good roof provider; here's a link to a brochure (in Swedish, but with lots of photos).

A takpapp roof will cost less than metal, but the key is how much less. Anders is going to check and get back to me on a renewed price.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thank You For the Music

We're off to Hyde Park this afternoon to see Benny and Björn and a cast of singers performing ABBA's hits.

I was already pretty jazzed about going until I found out that Kylie Minogue will be singing "Super Trouper". Wow. It hardly gets better than that!

UPDATE: After re-reading this post, I wonder if it makes me come across as a bit camp. Readers? Your opinion please?

UPDATE 2: A great concert, enjoyed with my sweetie and 35,000 of my friends. Kylie was, of course, the highlight. Her version of "When All Is Said and Done," accompanied by Benny on his piano, was superb.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fritz De Quervain

...was a Swiss doctor, who in 1904, first reported a thyroid condition which eventually took his name. Sooz was disgnosed with it yesterday after a number of tests.

The good news is that it's relatively benign, as thyroid ailments go. It should, over time, heal itself, so there will be no need for surgery or medication. In fact, she's felt pretty good the past few days.

One wrinkle is that Sooz was found to have a little nodule growing on her thyroid, which doesn't have anything to do with the de Quervain's. It's possible it has been there for a long time, but her doctor has ordered a follow-up test, to check it out more thoroughly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Letter from Ann-Catrin

A signed note from Ann-Catrin arrived today, and I'm sending it, along with our original land purchase contract, back to Lantmäteriet for another go.

I wrote a cover letter in Swedish. I tried to keep it simple, but let's hope not too simple. I don't want the authorities to think a 6 year-old is trying to register a land purchase!

Roofing costs, Part III

I spoke last night to Jesper, a friend of Wille's who runs a Stockholm-based construction business. He was out with Wille when they came in June for the final finishing-up, so he's seen our house.

We spoke about my roofing needs and he felt strongly that roofing paper was the way to go. He called me with a quote for the job:
  • 18,000kr for the material plus transport costs. This is 125 square meters of high-quality roofing paper, which should last 20 years, plus all of the trim, metal edging, glue, etc.
  • 20,000 to 26,000 for the labor, which is 3 guys for two days, with about a half-day allocated to schlepping the big rolls of stuff. I dearly wish Grant and I could come out and provide the labor to move all the rolls, but that's the cost of being a non-resident homeowner.
So we're talking 36-44,000 kronor, which is more than I had budgeted, but is still a third less than Anders and Tommy's quote.

In fairness, their price was for a metal roof, so I really need to talk to them before I make a final decision.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A potential loan

Margaret was at Nordea last week and asked her banker (who's our banker, too) about the possibility of our taking out a small loan.

The initial response was positive, although I expect a complication or two as we aren't Swedish residents. But if I could borrow just 5% of the value of the house, that would simplify the household finances quite a lot.

I hope to follow up on this when we're there in October.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Roofing Costs, Part 2

When Anders and Tommy were over in July, I talked to them about doing our roof in corrugated metal.

I received an email from them a week ago and they gave me a price of 75,000kr. This is nearly three times what I had planned! I haven't yet spoken to them for details but obviously I can't proceed at that price.

I have talked to another builder, though, and have a potentially different solution. Currently, the roof is covered with two layers of tarpaper. It's pretty lightweight stuff, but there are much more robust versions of roof paper (in Swedish, takpapp). The high-quality versions have a 20 year guarantee.

I found a good website of a provider which shows takpapp in detail. (It's in Swedish but has lots of photos). It's a little specialised in that seams need to be glued using a heat source, but if done properly, it's solid and long-lasting. It's even approved for a 14º roof pitch like ours.

Another advantage of the paper is that it can be transported in rolls, and is overall simpler to move and handle than corrugated sheets. As I've posted before, being on an island makes transportation a significant part of any building decision.

So, you ask, how much for a takpapp roof? I should have a formal quote in a couple of days.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Swedish bureaucracy

This is an interesting twist. When I came home tonight, I found the postman had delivered a thick envelope from our friends at Lantmäteriet.

Inside were all the papers I sent them as part of my application, each dutifully stamped and initialed in an official manner, plus a big detailed printout called a inskrivningsdagbok, which I translated as "enrollment diary".

It appears to me that everything has been officially approved and recorded, despite our rejection letter of earlier in the week.

I've sent scans of the inskrivningsdagbok to Tony and Rutger for their opinion. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I talked to Rutger and my optimism was misplaced; our application is still "avslag", or rejected. We still need to submit a note from Ann-Catrin, which is on its way to me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reply to Lantmäteriet

I talked to Tony and it appears the people at the Lantmäteriet need a short statement from Ann-Catrin regarding the land sale. She will send me a letter with her approval and I'll send all the paperwork back.

As Janne said, "at least we have a dialog with the authorities," so I'm relaxed that it will all be sorted out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We've received a letter today...

... from the Lantmäteriet about the registration of our land (as I had posted previously).

Unfortunately, it's been rejected. Sooz has translated the letter, and it appears there's a problem with the purchase contract. I don't believe there's anything significant, however.

I'll send a copy of the letter to Tony tonight so we can determine what to do next.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Interest rates

Here's an interesting post from CNN International. Apparently, the Swedish central bank, the Riksbank, has reduced interest rates for saving accounts to negative 0.25%. Lending rates are also below 2%, all as a plan to increase liquidity in the Swedish economy.

With that kind of fiscal policy, it seems silly to move money from the US or the UK into Sweden. There might be a better way to finance those finishing touches on our little house...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Roofing costs, part 1

In the past, I've been a bit cagey about the exact costs for our house-building project. However, I'm going to be open about the finances of our roofing decision.

First, when I say 'roof', I mean of course 'roofs' because we have two houses, the big one at almost precisely 100 square meters, and the small one at 24 m2. For the sake of simplicity, though, I'm just going to say 'roof', which will refer to both roofs at a total of 125 m2.

Janne has told me a simple corrugated metal roof costs about 90 kronor per square meter. The rule of thumb is to double the cost of materials to account for labor, transportation and incidentals, so let's make the installed price 180kr per m2. This gives us a benchmark cost of 22,500 kronor, which is why I had originally budgeted 25,000 for the roof.

As I posted previously, my original thought was the Ruukki, which is a high-quality, handsome, and easy to install metal roof. Janne had estimated it would cost around 45,000 kronor, not including installation costs. A Ruukki roof is very easy to install, so if we pretend I'm available to help, it would just take a day's skilled labor to put up. The average workman's rate is 350kr per hour, so 10 hours would add 3500kr, making the best-case total cost of the Ruukki around 50,000kr.

Given the dwindling amount left in my budget, and the fact the roof really isn't visible from the house, we're going to pass on the handsome Ruukki and go to plan 'B'. That plan is developing, and there'll be more news this week.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Snow on the roof

One thing to think about is the potential weight of snow that may accumulate on the roof. Historically, there's been a good amount of snow on Aspö in the winter, but Janne says there's been very little in recent years. (We visited in February 2008 and it was almost balmy!)

In any case, we need to be prepared for whatever snow that may fall. It's fairly easy to determine the weight of snow on any surface. The metric system is fantastically elegant in this regard: one millimeter of water covering one square meter weighs one kilogram. Using a standard snow water content of 10:1, that means 1cm of snow equals 1mm of water.

Our roof is 100 square meters, so a snowfall of 8 cms (or 3 inches) would weigh about 800kg, or 1760 pounds. A water ratio of 6:1, which is more typical of the wet snow we're likely to see, makes the weight 1330kg/2930 lbs!

Roofs in snowy climates are typically highly pitched (like the Colorado example above), to ensure snow runs off and doesn't accumulate into very heavy loads. The roof on our house is pitched at 14 degrees, which is well within the building codes, but isn't near the 45 degrees of an alpine chalet.

We want to be sure snow slides off as easily as possible, which is one advantage metal or even tile has over a tarpaper or shingle roof. This is worth keeping in mind as we decide on what kind of roof we will install.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sooz's health

We now know why Sooz hasn't been feeling well- she has been diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid.

We're deciding the best course of action going forward, which may include surgery or radiotherapy. Sooz has started taking medication, which should treat her symptoms pretty quickly.

I will update on significant events, but I promise not to turn this into a medical blog!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The new roof

As I've posted before, we need to put a permanent roof on the house before the upcoming winter. We have three layers of tarpaper but that is really intended only to last for one winter.

I had originally posted about a Finnish roof system, but after further investigation, this type of roof seems like overkill for our needs. The design and location of our house makes it very difficult to see any of the roof, so there aren't any aesthetic concerns.

The other options are a simple corrugated metal roof, or perhaps a high-tech tarpaper roof, which goes on in giant rolls and is purported to last 25 years. Each of those types have advantages and disadvantages. And finally, there's the question of who will do the work. Wille is back to Leksand pretty much permanently now, and Janne is booked up for months, if not years, to come. So we'll have to turn to Anders and Tommy, or perhaps find someone new to do the work. In any case, we have about two months to decide and get it installed, as rooftop work after November 1 is not a good idea.

So there's a lot going on regarding the roof and I'll be posting in more detail over the coming weeks.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the bus from Stavsnäs

...and it is packed. I've never seen it this full. Same goes for the boat leaving Aspö.

The weather's been great today and I had a productive morning of little chores, plus more moving of scrap wood to be burned. I visited Olle and saw his deck, which is really beautiful. Then it was to Margaret and Janne for a great lunch. They've painted and refurbished their kitchen and living room, and it looks super.

A quick jaunt home to tidy up and decommission the house, and I was on my way. A few photos are available in today's webgallery.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's been a long day

...after a short night at Marcia and Rutger's, Wille picked me up at 6AM and we headed through the rain to Stavsnäs. (Marcia still managed to be up before me and had a cup of tea all brewed before I left. Wow.)

The big Waxholms boat had only 5 of us onboard, which was odd for August, I thought. Wille finished the garderobes and a number of other little tasks. He left at noon and I hauled trash from noon till 3. I think I took seven wheelbarrow trips in all. Man, was I tired after that; I hardly remember ever being so wiped out.

I cleaned up the little stuga in the afternoon and tomorrow will bring the remaining scrap wood down to be burned in preparation for our October visit. This evening I watched the athletics live from Berlin on my laptop, which was cool. But now it's bedtime!

Friday, August 21, 2009

En route onboard SAS

I'm writing this on my iPhone as we're about an hour from Stockholm.
It's a clear evening as Scandinavia passes below us.

I always get a little emotional flying to Sweden (I originally wrote
'back' to Sweden). Maybe it's the two cans of Pripps consumed
inflight, but I do feel tremendously lucky to have found this
beautiful place with so many good friends. And to have designed and
built a little house here seems like scarcely believable good fortune
right now.

I also feel compelled to report (the effect of the Pripps again) that
as i compose this post, I'm listening to one of my favourite
recordings, a reconstruction of 'Smile' by the Beach Boys, the story
of which is just like its music: by turns beautiful, mysterious, and heartbreaking.

I'll probably regret posting this, but what the heck.

To Stockholm tonight

I'll be leaving this evening after work and Wille is going to pick me up at Marcia and Rutger's tomorrow at 0600 (!) to catch the 0725 boat from Stavsnäs. I'll head straight back to London from Aspö on Sunday evening.

Anders called yesterday and he won't be able to come over Sunday as originally planned. He sent me a combined bid to do the roofs and the deck between the houses. It's more than I can spend right now, so he's going to separate each portion of the work in his quote. I'll also talk to Janne and Willie for their opinions.

Lastly, in medical news, Sooz received results from her blood test and she does not appear to have Borrelia or Lyme, or any other tick-borne diseases, so that's good news.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


That may sound slightly dirty in English, but it's actually an artisan food fair in Stockholm this weekend. Unfortunately, I'll be hauling trash on Aspö, but maybe it's for the best. I could do with a bit less food intake these days!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two-Year blog anniversary!

I found it fun to look at this first post, two years ago today. And then this one from a year ago.

A lot has happened in that time, hasn't it?

Monday, August 17, 2009

A little update

  • Sooz talked to her doctor this morning and told them of her weekend doctor's visit, and they moved her blood test up to noon today from the original appointment of Wednesday. She's feeling better today, too.
  • I talked to Wille and he'll meet up with me at Marcia and Rutger's this Saturday morning and we'll head out to Stavsnäs together. He has a last few things to tidy up, and I have a lot of trash to haul.
  • And I talked to Anders about the roof. He will come out and see me on Aspö Sunday afternoon, so I'll have a good idea about when and how we will proceed.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Here's a timely opportunity to write about nationalised health and island life in the same post.

Sooz hasn't felt 100% the past few weeks. She especially didn't feel well while she was away in the US, and in fact cut her trip short to return last Thursday night. Her complaint was mostly a headache, feeling tired and achy, and a low-grade fever that came and went.

As I mentioned the other day, Sooz had a doctor's appointment to discuss her symptoms, and she was set up for a blood test and a visit to an ENT specialist later this week. But she had a rough night last night, with a bad headache and another fever. I did some googling and it seemed Sooz had many of the symptoms of borrelia, which is the Swedish equivalent of Lyme disease. (Although she had only one tick bite, and no signature bulls-eye rash, it appears that's no guarantee of not having the disease.) Margaret also weighed in with some practical advice.

So we called the NHS and Sooz went through her symptoms with a nurse on the phone. A doctor called back and arranged for her to come to our local hospital for a quick check and prescription of antibiotics, just in case it is borrelia. We'll know better after her blood test, but there's no harm in antibiotics for now.

And, no money changed hands for today's medical services, except £7.20 for the prescription.

UPDATE: Sooz feels better this morning. She is also worried this post will dissuade visitors for fear of infection. So I remind my readers that we don't know if she has borrelia, and even if she does, it's easily treated. Also, visitors (with the exception of Rutger) won't be put to work in the woods. It's hard to attract ticks sitting on the deck with a G&T!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care

I've recently read here in the UK of the escalating debate in the US about health care reform. Apparently, some politicians there are attacking the NHS as an "Orwellian" system that would diminish health care provision, and at great expense to boot.

Actually, life in London is plenty Orwellian, for other reasons, but in this case, I can report we've all had good experiences with nationalized health care.

Here in the UK, one's doctor's office is determined by their address; we've been going to the same place for 10 years now. It's easy to get an appointment to see your GP, and they're the ones who see and treat you first. If needed, they'll authorise a visit to a specialist, or for tests, therapy, etc. For example, my local office was very good at finding and administering our TBE vaccinations last year.

Last year, I spent a night in the hospital for an urgent problem, had a couple of tests, an ambulance ride, a 'procedure' or two, and a bunch of drugs. (It wasn't as much fun as it sounds.) The upshot, though, is that I'm perfectly fine, and I never paid anyone a penny for my care. I'm sure the same experience in the US would have been thousands of dollars, plus hours of paperwork and haggling over the phone with my insurer, assuming I was lucky enough to have an insurer.

To bring the topic back to Sweden, Sooz had a short hospitalization in Stockholm when we lived there, and she received excellent care at the Karolinska Institute. These are the people who decide the Nobel Prize in medicine, so they're no slouches. And again, paperwork- none; cost to us- none.

Of course, we do pay in the form of higher taxes, as per my previous post, but the key element is everyone here gets the same access to care, which I think is the biggest failing in the US.

As far as island health care goes, there is a doctor boat on call in the summer for both pressing needs and general medical care, such as vaccinations. (I should ask Margaret to share her superb story about Ann's visit to a doctor boat). There's always the air ambulance as a last resort, too. It landed near us once during our summer visit.

UPDATE: Criticism of the NHS is becoming a cause célèbre today.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I haven't yet heard from Skatteverket, but I thought I'd have a look at my papers to see what I've paid already. The easiest thing to total up is VAT; it's shown clearly on every invoice.

Looking at the invoices I've kept (big ticket items like the house and labor, the bathroom, electrical wiring, helicopter, and smaller ticket items like the kitchen, furnishings, appliances, tools, stain, etc.), I've found about 285,000 kronor paid in VAT. Using the exchange rate at the time, that comes to about $45,000 (or £25,000).

Next, I'll add up taxes and fees paid to the kommun. But I need a stiff drink first!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Happy Tax Freedom Day Sweden, that is. Today, the average citizen finishes paying the government, and can now keep all of their salary for the remainder of the year. (In the UK, it's June 3; the USA, April 30.) Tax revenues are quite important to the Swedish government, as they represent 54% of its GDP; in the UK it's 37%, and the US, 29%.

I've been looking into information on tax rates in Sweden as compared to other countries. There's a wealth of data out there on the interwebs; I've found it surprisingly interesting.

My favourite stat so far is Sweden's total tax burden for a single worker: 48.6%. The US is 30%, and the UK 29.7%. (Belgium is over 55%. Whoa.) On top of that is VAT, which at 25%, is the highest in the world, adding a quarter to the cost of any good (like an incinerating toilet) or a service (like building a bathroom).

Once I receive my response from Skatteverket, I'll try to total up all of the taxes and municipal fees I've paid to build the house. I'm sure it will be a depressingly large figure.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


We are almost there!

[Ed. Note: Sooz and Grant are in the US, visiting grandparents and looking at universities. Yesterday was Earlham, tomorrow, Wooster, and Monday, St. Olaf. Stand by for random posts.]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Email from Göran

Göran emailed me last night. He's going over to the house this Thursday to finish up a few small items, mostly in the bathroom, connecting the heated towel rack, the sink cabinet, and wiring the washing machine permanently. I also asked him to look at the load of the circuit the Cinderella's on, because we blew a main fuse while operating both it and the oven one day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Swedish taxes, part 1

I've been checking Google to see what shows up during a search for "Sweden". No surprises, really: it's cold; the people are blond, and, shall we say, welcoming; IKEA, ABBA, the Nobel prizes and Björn Borg are also high on the list. (I'd add Ann-Margaret but she's probably high on just my list...)

My googling also found that the Swedish health-care model is getting a lot of exposure in the US press these days, which is a good topic for another post, but for now, it leads me to the topic at hand, and something else Sweden is known for: high taxes.

Let's face it, Scandinavia is pretty darned socialist when compared to the US, and even the UK. The level of benefits and services are high, and they're paid for by commensurately high taxes. Here's a little chart of tax rates:

       Corporate  Personal  VAT
Sweden    26.3%   0-57%    25%
England     28%   0-40%    15%
U.S.A.    15-35%   15-35%    0%

I realise this is by no means the whole picture, but in general, it shows that taxes in Sweden are a lot higher than my other two countries. And taxes are much lower today than they were previously. My tax rate when I lived in Stockholm in 1990 was 71%. There's also a story, probably apocryphal, that at the height of ABBA's success, they were asked to pay 106% tax for all earnings over a certain amount. No wonder Benny had to be creative over his business dealings, and Skatteverket is still chasing him even today.

So, based on all this, you would think I'd be fearful of what the tax authorities have in store for me. However, I'm really not, and I'll explain more in a later post, but the key is to remember that we've built a summer home, or fritidshus. In Sweden, that's important.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Registering the land

Last month, Tony brought us a form from the Swedish tax authorities (in Swedish, Skatteverket), showing that he was still owner of the land we bought from him nearly two years ago.

It turns out I had been careful about registering the house with the kommun, but I didn't complete registration of the land sale. Tony and Janne gave us information on how to handle the process; they both made a number of phone calls, and Janne gave me a couple of draft letters to send to the right people.

The first thing was to clear the sale through Värmdö Kommun. The kommun retains right of first refusal on the sale of all land in the archipelago. Usually, they want to keep hold of shoreline and blocks of land for nature preserves, so I wasn't worried about their wanting dibs on my little rock. A couple of weeks ago, I gathered all the documents, wrote a cover letter in Swedish, and sent it all off to Värmdö.

Yesterday I got the good news that all was approved, and I received my land contract with the appropriate seals and other documentation. That allowed me to make the next step, which was to send their OK and another letter off to the Lantmäteriet, the authority in charge of land registrations.

Assuming I've done it all correctly, the land will then be registered in my name and Tony won't be bothered by the tax authorities any longer. Of course, that means I'll be bothered by the people at Skatteverket, but that's for a future post.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Japanese toilets

I'm back safely from Tokyo, and since toilets are a popular topic on this blog, I thought I'd comment on the hi-tech toilets common there.

The attached photo is from the men's room in a karaoke bar I visited last night. You'll notice the wiring and motor apparatus on the left of the lid. There is also a control panel on the right, with a whole number of buttons and switches, all in Japanese of course.

These toilets commonly have heated seats, automated seat and lid operation, little robot arms with warmed water and air for washing those sensitive parts, scent dispensers, and sound generators to either mask the noise of the user's functions, or to soothe the user for a more successful result. I'm not exaggerating; see here for a summary of Japanese toilet tricks.

I thought the hardest thing I had to do last evening was to hit the high notes in ABC's "The Look of Love" in front of a dozen colleagues, but no, I had to figure out how to flush—and only flush— this toilet at 1AM, especially after the ingestion of a number of alcoholic drinks. Thankfully, I managed it with no problems, which I can't say for my rendition later that night of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back".

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A bit of a lull

I'm off on a trip to Japan, so things will likely be quiet for a few days.

The only impending items on the 'calendar', so to speak, is word back from both Göran (electrical work) and Anders (roofing quote), both of which I hope to hear next week.

This trip's for business, but Grant and I had a great holiday in Tokyo a few years ago.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What we did well

I suppose as a companion piece, I should write about the good things, too. That list is more enjoyable:
  • The bathroom, for starters. It really turned out superbly. The size of the room, our choice of tiles and colours, Tommy and Anders' workmanship, and especially the Queen of toilets, Cinderella herself, all make our bathroom the envy of many. I wouldn't be exaggerating to say it's nicer than the bathroom in our home in London!
  • I also think we sited the house ideally. It perches nicely on the rock, and we have privacy with a nice view off both of our decks. I also added a meter to the overall length of the house in the initial specification, and that seems to provide just enough extra room inside.
  • The kitchen is just big enough, and the extra space afforded by the IKEA cabinets, not to mention the built-in garderobes, is huge. We really aren't suffering for storage at all, even in a small house.
  • Grant's bunk beds also are great. They make good use of his high ceilings and in a way, it's two rooms in one, the upper and the lower. He and his friends were "upstairs" watching videos late into most nights. (And sleeping late into most days, but I digress...)
  • The Sky chair, especially hanging right over the edge as we've installed it, is a very popular place to sit. We're already thinking of getting another.
Fundamentally, though, to have actually done it, to have gone from nothing two years ago, to our own nice cozy little house, just the way we like it, well, I think that's pretty cool. As Warren Oates said it, "Those satisfactions are permanent."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Toilet problems

Not on Aspö, of course. But lots of problems on the International Space Station. Perhaps they should look into a Cinderella??

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What I'd do differently

Marcia has a great saying, I think it's from Dutch: "The first house you build, you sell to your enemy; the second, you sell to your friend, and the third, you keep for yourself."

I take it to mean that you learn as you go. Although we love our house, and it's turned out almost exactly as we had hoped, there are certainly things I would have done differently.
  • The big deck should be deeper. It seems fine until you fill it with an outdoor table and six chairs. We've found ourselves shuffling around the edges of the table, and an extra meter of length would have made a big difference.
  • Because the whole side of the house is glass, the far part of the house by the front door is comparatively dark; the nearest window is over the couch. I think a window in the door would have helped that. And I'd add a small window high in Grant's room; the bunk beds are like a little cave up there. (Although I think Grant may disagree).
  • The bathroom door should really swing the other way. Today, you exit the bathroom right into the living area. Make sure your towel is firmly wrapped when you leave! Opening the other way would provide more privacy.
  • I would have oiled the deck boards much earlier and more liberally, as they are weathering more than I'd like, especially on the long stretch by the front door.
  • Speaking of that deck, I had made it a meter wider than the original model, but I didn't extend the roof on that side, so it receives more weather than I had intended.
  • I mentioned the jarn vitrol in a previous post. Ideally, I would have stained the house before the beams even went up. That stuff is nasty.
  • The jury's out on whether or not I would have made the house itself smooth on the outside as well as the inside. The rough finish helps keep the house from looking like a geometric cube, and it weathers much more naturally. However, glue drips come with the rough finish, which are still annoying, and in some places, it seems like it has weathered an awful lot already. Time will tell on this one.
  • Although I'm OK now with the structural soundness of the foundations, I wish we had been a bit more precise with their placement. The house is so neat and square, but some of the pillars are a few inches off in places. I think it spoils the look a little bit, but then again, I'm a Mies man so I love my right angles.
It may seem churlish to air these little dissatisfactions but I am trying to be open to you, dear readers, about the design and building process.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thoughts about driving

Sooz and I talked about the Big Drive she just completed.

It was clearly more expensive than flying, which would have cost her and Grant maybe £250 round-trip. In total, the bill for driving was at least £1000 for the ferry boats, parking at Stavsnäs, gas, etc. It also took 6 days, rather than the 6 hours of a round-trip flight. The drive itself was also unedifying; mostly freeways, and nothing really scenic.

On the other hand, Sooz and Grant got to visit Marcia's family (twice) and experience the vastness of the markets in Kiel. And we transported Ollie relatively stress-free, plus we carried a hell of a lot of stuff in the car.

Overall, though, we won't drive next year. Even if we bring Ollie, the total airfare for four of us will be cheaper than driving, with a lot less time spent in transit. And since our house is pretty much finished, we're in the happy position of needing to bring only food out with us, rather than our usual loads of building stuff and furnishings.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I've signed up for Twitter today. My football club has started using it to communicate news to their fans, so I thought I'd give it a try. I've also activated it on my phone.

There's a spot on the right side of the blog which will show my latest 'tweets'. I thought it might be a good way to separate the little news items from the more substantive posts.

At the moment, it's experimental. Comments welcomed.

UPDATE: My niece in Minneapolis is on Twitter and we're following each other now. Apparently, however, direct messages between us (the ones prefaced with "@") also show up on the blog. Not sure I like that...a little too much sharing, perhaps.

UPDATE 2: On reflection, there's too much trivial stuff in there, so I've taken the list of 'tweets' away. However, I have left a link to follow me under the list of 'relevant links'.

They're home!

Sooz, Grant, and Ollie all arrived safely around 11:00. The photo shows the exact moment of arrival. The car was filled mostly with dirty laundry and booze!

Sooz is cleaning the kitchen now (apparently, I didn't do well enough), Grant started playing Halo about 5 minutes after walking in the door, and Ollie is in the shade with his favourite tennis ball.

A couple new photos are now in the midsommar gallery to end up our 5 week advanture!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The best-laid plans...

Unfortunately I got a tad lazy after being out in Paradise for a month, and I thought we could just sashay back into Blighty on our good looks alone. Sadly, not only had I failed to book our Channel crossing in advance, thus incurring a ridiculously inflated charge of more than double what we had paid coming over, I had also forgotten that Ollie had to have his worm pill/ tick & flea treatments administered at least 24 hours before returning to the UK.

Having gotten this accomplished only this morning in Holland, he was denied entry when we showed up at the Eurotunnel around 1PM.

Oy. Let's just say that I was NOT the most popular family member today. After the horrid reality of the situation set in (i.e. being stranded in Calais for almost 24 hours), we went about securing our teensy, tiny room at the local inn (The Kyriad) in Coquelles, a seemingly "new" town that has sprung up since the opening of the Chunnel.

The neighborhood is actually rather cute, bordering on farm land, with neat and tidy little houses festooned with summer flower boxes. Our room, however is minute, and the three of us are cheek by jowl this evening, as we play Skip-Bo on the beds.

To kill time this afternoon, I left "the boys" and drove the 5 minutes to the Cité de l'Europe Monster Shopping Center, to see what was on offer. I left an hour despair. If you can imagine the worst in both UK and US mall shopping experiences, then you're spot on! Maybe I'm past my shopping prime-or is it really that horrible out there? Ugh.

Good news however, we have gleaned several bottles of interesting wines from various stops along the way down from Kiel.....and if all goes well, we will be back HOME tomorrow!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A clarification

Although I am a 50 year-old man, and I was in Sweden last week, I was never in Örebro and certainly not on a bicycle.

UPDATE: I just noticed this was the 500th post. Congratulations (and sympathies) if you've read them all.

Sooz texts in

They're all at Marcia's parents and having a grand old time. Based on the messages I received, I think wine has been involved at some point during the evening.

Grant texts in

They're leaving the boat now after a good trip and are going to stop again at the massive Citti Markt to load up on cheap goodies for the larder in our London home.

All is well and they should be with Marcia's family again by early afternoon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


We are on the boat now but the weather is pretty bad. We found the right boat and the whole thing was fairly easy, we even recognized the place where we got off the boat. There are no outlets in this room which is kind of annoying seeing as I have 24% battery left...

Sent from Grant's iPhone

Is This The Way To Göteburg

We are on our way to Göteburg where we are catching the ferry to Kiel. There was one patch of extremely heavy rain but it did not last for long. It is sunny now though and the GPS is telling us we will get there in about an hour at 5:13.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ollie on the Island

I haven't posted too much about Ollie's life on Aspö but Sooz called me this morning with a cute story which I thought I'd share.

To set the scene, Ollie seems to have settled well. He palpably enjoys his walks, explores actively, and has been marking his territory diligently. However, it's a lot rockier and hillier than our usual paths in England, and we have learned he's physically up for only a couple of jaunts a day. (He did have one bunny-chasing episode up at Margaret and Janne's; it scared the hell out of Sooz, but Janne told me later he was pretty impressed at Ollie's speed through the brush.)

As Sooz pointed out to me today, he's obviously getting to know the lay of the island pretty well. I left yesterday on the taxi boat; Ollie's seen a whole bunch of departures from that dock. This morning, while breakfasting on the deck, Sooz heard the taxi boat in the distance, and in a flash, Ollie trotted off towards the dock. Sooz was chasing after him through the woods in her pajamas but Ollie was on a mission and it took her a while to catch him. (I wish I had a photo of that for the blog!)

So we assume now that Ollie not only knows how to get to the boat dock from our house, but also that the sound of the boat means someone's coming. Maybe we're reading too much into his behaviour, but I like the thought, so I'm sticking with it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yes, it was hard to leave

Sitting here now at my usual spot in Arlanda, near a power outlet for my MacBook Air (and also beneath an air-conditioning vent; I've got this terminal well scoped out.)

The boat-bus-subway-train-plane routine is working very well. I left Aspö at 5:30 and should be home in London around 11:30, so 6 hours door-to-door.

It was sunny and beautiful when I left, again. Sooz and Grant were on their way up to Ann and Dave's for a quick visit. I wish I could have joined them!

I talked to Wille and he's going to come out with me on the trash weekend to finish up a few small items. I also left a message for Göran to finish up on a few electrical items, too.

I talked to Marcia; they're on the Gothenburg-Kiel ferry right now. Sooz, Grant, and Ollie will be on it in 48 hours. I think they will stop by Marcia's parents' again on the way home. I'm sure Grant will keep up blogging on the road.

I've got a lot of things to do back in the office, and I am looking forward to a few projects at work, so re-entry into my 'real life' shouldn't be a problem. But, man, do I wish I could be here every weekend!!!!!

Busy Monday morning

I went to see Janne over some tax issues I need to resolve with the sale of the land. I obviously hadn't done everything I needed to do, so Janne made a number of phone calls on my behalf, and he gave me specific instructions on who to write and what to say.

I also have a package sent to me from the US which is in mail limbo right now. We got a note saying it is in the post office on Nämdö, but that office is closed so we're not sure what's up with that. So Janne made more phone calls, until he figured out the package is waiting at the post office in the ICA grocery store in Stavsnäs. So Sooz can pick it up when she and Grant leave on Wednesday. I hope.

UPDATE: The mystery package showed up on our dock this morning. It's a cool Bears pullover from a friend. There may now be another package in Stavsnäs; Sooz will check on Wednesday.

Tommy and Anders stopped by and we discussed their putting on a finished roof and also building a deck. I've re-thought the Ruukki roof, as it is more expensive than the more common corrugated type. It's a lot prettier, but the roof isn't visible on our house at all, so we can safely go with a more utilitarian (and cheaper) covering. We also discussed making a deck between the houses, which I am becoming more convinced is a necessity. They're going to give us a quote to do those projects.

The weather is great once again, sunny and fresh. It will be hard to leave at this evening!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Having a great time

The weather's been good, defying the forecast of rain. We had the whole posse over last night, Ann and Dave with their kids Robbie and Mary, plus Janne and Margaret. The menfolk grilled, and we tapped my little keg of wheat beer. It was a great night.

New photos are added to the midsummer webgallery, so take a look.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Safely home!

The plane-plane-train-subway-bus-boat connection worked just fine and I arrived on a jam-packed 4:50 Waxholms boat. I was met by my family and we had a nice dinner of Swedish meatballs.

We all headed over at 7 to help Dave and the kids meet Ann and Marg's boat with all their supplies.

The weather is breezy but clear. Looks like a chance of rain the next few days but right now, at least, it's as clear as a bell.

On my way

Writing this from the SAS lounge in Heathrow's beautiful Terminal 3. My flight back from the US was great, and now I'm about to board the mid-morning flight to Stockholm. With luck, I'll make the 4:50 Waxholms boat. Can't wait!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Old eagle eye (Grant) spotted a MOOSE walking by our big window just now. Our first sighting!! We were all so excited-and luckily Ollie was inside. She just strolled past in the dim light-as big as a horse- about 15 feet from us, just off the deck. She paused and looked at us (while we frantically tried to get a picture, alas unsuccessfully) and continued on up the hill.

It's been a big day in the wildlife department: first our resident pheasant came squawking by this morning, then a deer (A Buck? It had horns) ran up the hill around 6P and now this.
Very cool!!

Bathroom Ceiling

The ceiling in the bathroom looks great. With another coat it will look even better. The frame of the door and the window have been primed and are going to be painted soon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Zurich crossed with Sydney"

I found a great quote about Sweden in this week's Economist:

"Its fearsome levels of organisation and conformity are offset by a relaxed, outdoorsy culture, and the openness that goes with being a small, maritime country. If Zurich were crossed with Sydney, the result might be something like Stockholm."

All Work And No Play

All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy All Work And No Play Makes
Jack A Dull Boy All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy All Work
And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy All Work And No Play Makes Jack A
Dull Boy All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy All Work And No
Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy
All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy All Work And No Play Makes
Jack A Dull Boy All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy.

Sent from Grant's iPhone (while alone in the house tonight- Dad)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Darn Vitriol

Thought I would google "vitriol" just to see what would come up.... I really think #2 says it best about this nasty stuff: This is how you feel when you use it.

vit·ri·ol (vi-tree-uhl)
1. a. See sulfuric acid.
b. Any of various sulfates of metals, such as ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, or copper sulfate.
2. Bitterly abusive feeling or expression.


I'm leaving for Dallas for a couple of days this morning. I'll be back in London Friday morning and will connect right onto a SAS flight to Stockholm. This being Friday, I'll have a selection of boats at 3:15, 4:50 or 6:00 to catch. (If it was any other day of the week, I'd have only the 3:15, making such a connection almost impossible).

Sooz is going into Stockholm with Margaret for the night tomorrow, leaving Grant and Ollie as island bachelors. That should be interesting! I'll have to ask Grant to blog about that experience.

I'll leave Aspö Monday evening after a 4 day weekend, and then the rest of the family will load up the car a couple of days later for the long journey home to bring our first summer to a close.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jarn Vitrol

When we built the house last summer, the pine was fresh and very light in colour. Sooz wanted to keep the inside floorboards that fresh and light so we had them sanded and treated with white oil.

We put clear stain on the deck to help keep it light, although I wish I had done the first coat last October instead of this May.

We had planned all along to let the house itself weather for the first winter, and then to protect it with "Jarn Vitrol", which is a very Swedish product. It's essentially an iron powder which, when added to water, and sprayed or painted onto wood, accelerates the weathering of softwoods to a silver-grey. It's also possible to add a coloring agent to help adjust the tint of the solution to make the color more uniform. We chose a standard silver-grey tint to add to ours.

Rutger and I used a garden sprayer to put the jarn vitriol solution on the house and it went pretty well, with one big exception. Because it is water based, it's very thin, and it's also pretty much invisible when it first goes on; the greying of the wood doesn't become apparent for a few hours. So, when I removed the masking and tarps from the deck, the doors, and the window frames, I found a number of grey spots and streaks in places I didn't want them.

Both doors, especially the little house's, have grey drips on the fresh wood. We had hoped to keep the doors light and natural, but the darkening can't be removed, so we're going to have to paint over the doors now. We will probably do the window frames, too, as there are stray spots and drips on the otherwise light pine. I'm very annoyed.

The deck has a few spots on it as well, but it was going pretty grey in most areas already, so most of those marks aren't as apparent. I'm thinking about having the deck sanded or planed at some point in the future, so that's less of a problem. It's the doors which are a disappointment.

Sooz looked into stain options and found a nice darkish blue which might go well with the new grey colour of the house. Doors are traditionally blue on summer houses, anyways, so this might end up being a more appropriate result than the light pine in any case.

Lesson learned for the future, though: jarn vitriol is insidious. Handle with care.