Sunday, May 31, 2009

En route to Arlanda

Greetings from aboard the Arlanda flygbuss. Had a good morning, moving all the remaining gravel to cover the grey water system. I waited until 10 so as not to disturb the Sunday mornings of my neighbors with the clanging of gravel on wheelbarrow!

Marg came up for a quick visit and she was complementary of all the work that's been done. We went together to the taxi-boat dock and saw Olle and Annika with their son Patrick, and a very cool-looking boat. Hopefully Grant will get a chance to ride with Patrick this summer.

Even better was Britt and Ronnie waiting to take the same boat, so I got to ride with them to Stavsnäs. And then they drove me up to the central station to catch the airport bus. What service!

Still spectacular weather here; Stavsnäs was jumping and Stockholm itself was jam-packed with people enjoying the sunshine. One down note- the Stockholm Marathon was yesterday at 2PM in very warm temperatures, which must have made tough going for the runners.

I checked on on SAS through my phone last night; we'll see if they want to offer me €500 to take a later flight because I'll say yes for sure!!

UPDATE: SAS didn't need me after all and I took my original flight, arriving back home tired and dirty around 9:30PM. Ready to go back in two weeks!

A Beautiful weekend

It's Sunday morning and the weather has been absolutely perfect since I arrived on Friday. I'm in no hurry to head home this afternoon!

Here's a quick recap:
  • My SAS flight was late, and traffic to Stavsnäs was thick, so we missed our 4PM boat and took the jam-packed 6PM instead. Rutger started on making dinner as soon as we arrived, and we had his specialty of entrecôte with roast potatoes.
  • The next morning, we set to installing the ceiling fan, and I am happy to report we got it up and working properly on the first try! The remote control is cool, too.
  • I also trimmed and installed a blackout blind on one of the windows, and made one screen, too. I'll make the others at Rutger's now that I have the measurements.
  • I also got out our pump sprayer to apply mold retardant to the house. That sprayer is very handy and I think we will be able to stain the house in a half-day, easily.
  • Rutger left at 5 and I joined Janne for dinner, finishing up my night (high in Grant's bunk bed!) watching an episode of "The Wire". Today, I will be moving gravel to cover the grey water tank before my 14:30 boat.
Lots of photos in the webgallery and I will post more on the house progress shortly.

Friday, May 29, 2009

En Route to Stockholm

Writing this from Heathrow. My flight back from Dallas was fine, and I've just checked in for my SAS trip to Stockholm. They were oversold and really wanted me to take a later flight in exchange for 500 euros' compensation.

However, Rutger and the 4PM boat are waiting for me, so I had to decline. Perhaps I'll get oversold on the flight home Sunday!

Margaret reported lots of work being done on the house, and I can't wait to see it all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Update from the USA

I'm in Dallas for a couple of days. (Damn, is it hot here!)

Before I left London yesterday morning, I talked to our builders. Anders and Tommy were literally on the boat to Aspö start work that day. Wille was going to leave the next day for his finishing up, too.

So everybody should be working at the house as I write this. Rutger and I will be out late Friday to see everything for ourselves.

We'll all be on Aspö three weeks from today, so we should still be OK but it is getting pretty tight.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Margaret sends in photos

I had posted her report from Friday, and she sent along a whole bunch of photos this evening. The stairs Janne is working on look super!

There is a lot of progress to the skirting and the garderobes, which Marg has made available to all of us through the May webgallery.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My subconscious is telling me something

Long-time readers may remember that I had a dream last summer, based on a Werner Herzog movie, just before I set off on our house-building trip.

This past week, I was in a Herzog mood again, and I made Sooz watch Grizzly Man and one of his beautiful old short films.

I've had no new dreams yet, but I am reminded that Herzog's films are generally about outsiders who collide with a different culture. Generally, the poor deluded outsider doesn't end up well.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Margaret calls

She and Janne (and Dave!) visited the house today. She took a few photos, which she'll send later. But she was very complete, and even took a copy of my note to Wille to review everything I asked to be done.

The most worrying thing is that Janne couldn't get into the small house with his key, which shouldn't be the case, as I know mine works both doors and they all came from the same batch.

I called Wille and thankfully he said his key (the one we left behind at Anders' request) worked the small house. We talked about what remained to be done, which pretty much matched with what Margaret saw.

Wille had a good idea about replacing the white panel we have against the fridge with the same wood he's using for the closets, and going all the way up to the ceiling. That makes the wall a lot more seamless. I've put up a couple of photos to show the area. Wille mentioned that'd be a good place to put a flat-panel TV and I think he's right, although television is a topic for another post...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wille calls

He said he made good progress, but he'll have to come out one more time, next Wednesday and/or Thursday, to finish up. Although he didn't take pictures, he said the closets and Janne's stairs look great.

I think he'll be out the same days next week as Anders and Tommy, which will probably be helpful. Then Rutger and I will be out next Friday evening, so fingers crossed, we'll see a lot of progress!

The Summer boat timetable is out

The Waxholmsbolaget has published their Stavsnäs timetable for the heart of the summer, June 14-August 16. They publish three other timetables, not surprisingly, Fall, Winter and Spring.

Weekday boats to Aspö leave at 06:50 and 15:10, returning at 12:05 and 20:10. There are a few adjustments to times on Friday/ Saturday/Sunday to help facilitate spending long weekends on the islands. The journey is 25 minutes.

The private boat-taxi people don't have their full summer schedule yet, but they generally fill in a few of the gaps on the Waxholm schedule. An advantage of the scheduled båttaxi is their smaller boats which can go to the private dock much closer to our house. The cost is a bit more; I think 85 kronor as compared to the 75 of the Waxholms.

Another thing to do is rent a whole boat for a big group and/or a big load of stuff. We did this once last year and will do it again on June 17 when we show up with Sooz's car filled to the roof. A boat used to cost about 700 kronor, which was an OK deal with 4 or 5 people and a bunch of stuff. In fact, it's the only game in town for moving bigger loads, as the Waxholm boats limit you to 30 kilos, and the scheduled taxis typically less. 30kg is fine if you're bringing food or incidentals, but not furnishing a new house.

However, Margaret told me the other day that a private boat is now 1000kr! The good news is that most of our house-building is over, so this should be the last private boat we hire.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Builder's Update

Wille called me around noon Stockholm time. He just arrived at the house to start work. He promised to send me photos from his phone and I will pass them along. (Margaret will be back on Aspö this weekend, and she promised to send photos, too.)

I just now spoke to Anders and he reports a little snag. Bauhaus has failed to order our sink and mirror, even though he paid for them long ago. Anders said he was "very angry" with Bauhaus, and they have promised to have the items delivered to Stockholm by June 5. That makes it fairly tight to get done by our deadline, and it adds complexity for Anders, as it's far better to do that kind of island work in one go, given the transport difficulties.

That said, if we have water in the kitchen, shower, and washing machine, and the Cinderella is installed, a delay in the bathroom sink is manageable. Anders is still confident we'll have all that; he said most of everything else is already at his place on Runmarö, and they'll start next Tuesday.

The actual laying of the tiles and running of the plumbing is a small part of the project. Ordering everything and hauling it all up to the house is a much bigger, although less visible, task. And that task is still on track.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Builder's Update

Wille called and he's on his way out tomorrow with a helper. He'll probably stay over one night, maybe two, to finish everything up. He also talked with Sooz about sleeping arrangements; she was concerned about who slept where on what, which isn't really the kind of thing a guy thinks too much about.

I also spoke to Anders. he's still waiting for a few things from Bauhaus but expects an update from them tomorrow, so he'll call me then. He still expects to be out later this week or next to start, and to spend no more than 2 weeks on the work. We'll be at the house 4 weeks from tomorrow, and Anders knows this.

I am less sanguine about the bathroom than last week, but we'll know more tomorrow.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's Norway!

Winners with a record points total, a real runaway result. Iceland was second (I think), and the UK was 5th. Sweden was way down the table and Finland last.

We now return to our regular house-building blog...!

Voting update 1

As anyone who's watched Eurovision will know, the voting is at least half of the show. Each country is contacted and asked for their results. ("Hello Riga. Can we have the votes of of the Latvian jury, please?") The top rated song gets 12 points, second 10, third 8, and so on.

For 42 voting countries, you can imagine this takes a long time, especially when some countries like to take their moment of fame and prolong it with painful banter.

At the halfway point, Norway is the runaway leader, with Iceland and Turkey tied for second. The UK is in the top 5, but Sweden is way down the leaderboard.

The home stretch

Ukraine up 21st; a very energetic performance. Points to the singer for holding a tune while doing the splits in a giant hamster wheel (which she mortgaged her house to buy, I'm told.) Romania, I've forgotten about already.

Our Jade did fantastic; she really brought it vocally on the night, although my friend Nan said she missed a few notes. (Being in 23rd position is good for the voting). Finland and Spain might have missed a few notes too, but the eye candy compensated. Both of them were pretty strong in my opinion.

Fourth of five

Denmark up first with a good song but let down by the singing, I fear. Germany was as un-Teutonic as you could imagine. Their singer looked like Ricky Martin's brother; he wore shiny silver trousers, and Dita Von Teese came on stage and wiggled for a few moments in a ridiculous corset. As Grant would say: WTF?

Turkey belly danced forgettably; Albania kept their mint-green gimp; Alexander from Norway performed well, and the crowd loved him.

The middle batch

Up next is Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Moldova, Malta, and Estonia.

Nothing noteworthy here. Malta did well, but their singer has finished 3rd and 2nd in previous contests and I think she'll be a bridesmaid again. The Estonian singer sang in her language, which is a double-edged sword, but she did have an appealing Magica de Spell vibe.

The final, part deux

The next batch is Portugal, Iceland, Greece, Armenia, and Russia.

A strong bunch. Portugal was really sweet; Yohanna from Iceland sang well and was gorgeous, if her song was a Taylor Swift-y. Greece was as handsome as before. Armenia was strong too, although Russia's entry seemed designed to ensure they wouldn't host again next year!

The Eurovision Final, Part 1

There are 25 countries performing tonight, so I'm going to post in groups of 5.

First is Lithuania, Israel, France, our Malena from Sweden, and Croatia.

The best of the bunch was Lithuania. Israel's singers were two women from the Arab and Jewish sides of the country singing "There Must Be a Better Way". They were OK but the best part of their performance was a drumming duet on olive oil cans. Really. Croatia and France were insipid, and Lithuania's entry was hurt slightly by his hat.

Malena did better than in her semi-final, but I don't think well enough to win, and being 4th in the order is not good. Graham Norton of the BBC said, "her dress supposedly cost €37,000. They should have saved a little for hair and make-up." Touché.

Preparing for the Eurovision final

We usually have a big party at our house for the final, but other commitments mean I'll be in front of a friend's TV set tonight. But I still plan to live-blog during the show, so stay tuned!

The bookie's huge favorite is Alexander Rybak from Norway. I like Denmark, but frankly, the guy can't sing that well, and there are fantastic voices in the competition.

Last year's winner (Russia), and the big four countries (France, Spain, Germany and the UK) all go straight to the final, so I've seen them only on video. Apparently Patricia Kass from France is a well known singer (although the song's a little slow for me). Germany is supposed to have Dita Von Teese onstage for the performance of "Miss Kiss Kiss Bang". Indeed. Spain, I know little about, but Soraya sure is cute.

That leaves us Jade from the UK. She's grown on me, and she can sing at least, which puts her in the top half automatically. And Lord Lloyd Webber will be playing the piano onstage which shows we're taking it seriously, which we haven't been the past few years.

The voting system is half popular vote, half professional jury this year, in an attempt to dampen geopolitical voting and support for novelty acts. This means the better songs and singers have more of a chance than in previous years.

So, without further ado, my prediction is that the winner be... one of Azerbaijan, Norway, Iceland, the UK, and my dark horse, Portugal, who sang a traditional song, beautifully. My hunch is that an "old-school" song like these may well fit the current mood. We'll see.

The Stockholm Marathon

The 20th running of the Stockholm Marathon is two weeks from today. I ran the race in 1990 and 2000. (If you don't believe me, see here.) The first one was really interesting; Stockholm in May is as nice as any place, anywhere, in my opinion. The days were getting long, the weather was sunny, and the whole city just unfurled in the sunshine.

My long runs took me from my house out to Drottningholm (I waved at the King one day as he drove by, and he waved back) and to the Stadshuset. I ran past the academy where Björn Borg learned his tennis, and past the sunbathers along the shore of Lake Mälaren. I've run thousands of miles since, but nothing has topped those weeks in Stockholm.

Anyways, as much as I enjoyed my training, I didn't do enough of it, and the race itself became a bit of a slog. I was passed at one point by a runner dressed as the pope, with miter, robes, and crook, and another as Batman, complete with mask and cape. So I don't consider my finish that day as much of an sporting accomplishment.

A decade later, I ran much more easily. The Swedes really make an effort to support the race, and the finish is inside the Olympic stadium so I can say I actually ran competitively on an Olympic track.

I had hoped to run it again next year so I could have a set of three medals, exactly a decade apart. However, the 2010 date's just been set and it is the same day as Grant's graduation, so my running will have to wait another year. At least it gives me extra time to work on my Batman costume...!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The second semi-final

Another madcap evening in Moscow. Tonight's was a pretty dismal bunch, heavy on oddball backup dancers.

Oddest of all was Albania, backed up by a mint-green gimp and two guys painted to look like Ben Stiller, but they made it through anyways. Denmark and Norway also succeeded, so it was 5-for-5 for Scandinavia. And Sakis from Greece made it to the final, much to Sooz's pleasure, as she likes the swarthy types.

The Netherlands had three guys in spangly jackets who were old enough to be the fathers of all the other contestants. I called Marcia to make fun of them and she said "yes, they're terribly old, maybe as old as 50!" Snap.

An email from Margaret

"Janne is working at your house today - he finished off the Indran [grey water] system and says that is now ready. Now he has started the staircase.

He was able to be there today as a delivery for the big house he's working on was delayed...not sure when he'll continue but at least it's started!"

Friday email update:
"...from Janne a few hours ago is that you're gonna have a fab staircase...and if you're like me, that'll be the place you sit on an early sunny morning with a bowl of fil & fresh fruit, and the twitter of birds in the background ; )

I'll take photos when I get out there next Thursday and will email them when I get back to town the following Monday."

To quote a famous American, I love it when a plan comes together!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wille checks in

He's been putting up a couple of X-Houses the past two weeks, one near us in the archipelago, and another north of Stockholm. Fortunately the weather has been good, and all is going well.

Wille is going to come out next week, probably Tuesday, and finish everything off. He's going to bring a few people with him, so everything should be done in just a few days. We've been talking and emailing back and forth about the stuff to finish. Just to be sure we were on the same page, I sent him an email with photos and instructions about everything we talked about. To see the message I sent (in PDF format), click here.

He also couldn't help mentioning the hockey results, too!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The First semi-final

The semi-finals are the best place to see the oddball acts. Tonight brought us a Czech 'super-gypsy', Belgian Elvises, a Bulgarian Renaissance Fayre act, and heroic Bosnian drummers, among others.

I was disappointed in Malena; she seemed washed-out. The set, her costume and make-up, and even her voice all seemed overwhelmed by an over-lit set. However, that didn't stop her from being voted through to the final. (And, yes, I voted for her!)

Finland had an old-school Eurodisco song, and they made it through. Armenia was a successful dark horse winner; see the video and you'll know what I mean. I liked Turkey too, but then I'm a sucker for belly-dancers, and so were the voters. Finally, I should mention that Iceland also made it, making Scandinavia 3-for-3 on the night. Norway and Denmark are also hotly tipped for Thursday's show, so we may have a clean sweep for the Nordic countries.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Update from Anders

I talked to Anders this morning on the bathroom/water work. He said everything's been ordered and should be delivered over the next week. Stuff is coming from at least four vendors, probably more, so it is a bit of a logistical effort to get it all together and then delivered to the island.

Anders knows we have a move-in date of June 16, which is 5 weeks from tomorrow. Figure another week from today to get everything, and an estimated two weeks of work, and that gives us two weeks of cushion. He's sanguine about getting everything done in time; Sooz is not, however. She won't be comfortable until the work is fully complete and I'm sure she will get more antsy as the days go by.

I'm more sanguine than antsy right now but I will be much happier when work actually starts.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Joining the Aspö Community

Last week, I had noticed a new posting at the dock of the Aspö summer guide for 2009. The Aspö community maintains a website,, which has information for visitors and residents about the islands of Aspö, Ladholmen, and Högholmen.

Of particular interest is the summer guide, which is an important calendar of events. (Click here for that page, translated into English fairly well by Google.) The most important dates during my stay are the midsummer's celebrations on the 19th, and the refuse collection on the 27th. Sooz will have to represent us at the island meeting on July 5, as I'll be back at work.

Margaret also forwarded the yearly email from the Aspöbrygga, which had payment info for the yearly association fee (275 kronor), and interestingly, the island's directory. It was fun to look at all the names of homeowners; we'll have to study the list to get to know more of our neighbors. I saw one Swiss and one French address; Ann and Dave are from the US, of course, and we'll be the only English on the list. Most people are from the Stockholm area, naturally.

My last task was to pay for our garbage pickup (1500 kronor), and a one-time fee of 4000 kr for our share of maintining the big Waxholms dock (which Janne built, by the way). I drafted a little email in Swedish to Tommy, the island's webmaster, introducing myself, and providing our info for the next directory. Margaret was impressed with my lingustic command, but as I told her, my Swedish is good only when I have my dictionary, a pencil, and enough time to think things through. I'm not up to following the call-in shows on Skägårds Radio just yet!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Eurovision in just 5 days!

The first semifinal is Tuesday night, the 12th. There are 18 countries and ten go through to the final on Saturday. Sweden is up 5th with Malena Ernman's "La Voix". I'm not too sure about how Malena will be received by the voting public; her song is a strange mix of opera and disco.

The leader so far in the sublime nuttiness race is Marko Kon & Milaan from Serbia. If you can figure this out (watch to the end, in which you will see "a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade"), please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Ceiling Fan

I've planned all along to have a ceiling fan in the main room. At the moment, we have a simple IKEA lamp in that outlet. I asked Göran not to put a switch on that circuit, because I am going to work the fan by remote control. That caused a bit of confusion when Janne turned on the electricity in December and couldn't find a way to turn off that light!

Anyways, this is the fan I chose, the "Ball" model from I think it will fit the decor of the house; I like the mix of the brushed aluminum against the pine. The fan comes with an optional light, which I wanted to order, but Sooz didn't. So we compromised and I didn't order the light.

They're making me a 220 volt model (at no extra charge) and sending it to Texas; I'll bring it back from the USA on my next trip.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Back to reality

The rest of the afternoon went according to plan. I hit the Nordiska Gallery, one of my very favorite stores, to check out "dot" seat cushions from a Swedish company Sooz and I had seen a few months ago. I thought it would be fun to have some funky, colorful cushions on our stark white IKEA chairs. They're a little pricey but I'm still thinking about it.

Then I was off to Barkaby, and Marcia picked me up for a run to IKEA and Bauhaus for more house stuff to fill up their garage. In addition to all the taxi service, Marcia gave me design advice, and cooked dinner, too. I really do have it made.

I'll be back the very end of May, and Rutger is planning to join me for a bit of a bachelor weekend. We'll do a little home improvement, drink a few Pripps, and maybe hunt the moose if conditions are right.

Monday, May 4, 2009

En route from Stavsnäs

On the 433 bus right now, passing Gustavsberg. While in Stavsnäs, I bought a prepaid Waxholmsbolaget card for Sooz and Grant; it cost 750kr for 1000 kronor's worth of travel, which is a good deal if you travel as much as we will. I also ordered us a taxi boat for Wednesday morning, June 19, as we'll have a whole bunch of stuff to take with us.

My last task was to check into parking. That is a potential sticking point as the parking lots at Stavsnäs get filled up around the holidays, and midsummer is the biggest holiday of all in the archipelago. I found a parking lot that charges only 40 per day (compared to the biggest pay lot, which is 70.) They wouldn't let me prepay because they couldn't guarantee a place, but they thought Wednesday morning would be early enough to bag a spot.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A busy afternoon

We arrived from Saltsjöbaden around noon, and I went up to Marg and Janne's for a nice lunch of herring, meatballs and boiled potatoes, along with a shot or two of aquavit.

Thus fortified, I spent about 2 and a half hours oiling the deck with 5 liters of Cuprinol. The wood really needed the treatment, especially since Janne told me this past April has been the warmest and driest in 100 years.

Then back to M & J's for a lovely evening meal of pytt i panna. Island life is pretty cool with good friends taking care of you!

Tomorrow, it's a few odds and ends around the house, and then a late morning boat to Stavsnäs for more errands, and on to Marcia to complete the obligitory IKEA run...

Here in sunny Saltsjöbaden

Margaret and I are on the boat from Saltsjöbaden to Aspö right now. I've never taken the 'Saltis' boat; it's a shorter train journey from Stockholm but a much longer ride on the water. Still, as Marg points out, it is beautiful (if I wasn't inside tapping away on my blog, that is!)

Anyways, we had a great party last night, meeting old friends from two decades ago. I'll post a bit more on that, along with photos, soon. But for now, we're enjoying the sunshine and I'll be to work on Aspö this afternoon, with more progress updates to come.

Friday, May 1, 2009

"The Shelby"

My previous post included the phrase "selling the family jewels" which produced a spate of comments about "selling the Shelby". I thought I should clarify those comments for my readership.

When I was 18 years old, through a stroke of good fortune, I purchased the car pictured here, a 1968 GT500KR Shelby Mustang. These are rare and desirable American 'muscle cars', and over time, mine has become quite valuable.

Since I've had the Shelby for literally all of my adult life, it is a significant part of who I am, which is why my friends and family thought of it immediately when I posted about selling my "jewels". Fortunately, though, my current little budget crimp comes nowhere close to such drastic action.

As an aside, old American muscle cars are very popular in Sweden. At the first glimmer of Spring, the streets are full of shiny old Detroit iron. In Marcia and Rutger's neighborhood alone, I often see a '67 Trans Am and a '70 Bonneville cruising incongruously through the suburbs.