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.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Yearly Meeting

Grant and I had the pleasure of attending the yearly Aspö residents' meeting down at the Midsommer Äng this morning. There were about 100 in attendance and the meeting was led by the Director.

After being asked to stand and introduce myself and Grant as new residents, I threw in a few key words in Swedish to show that I'm at least thinking about learning the language. Of the many topics discussed, most of which I was having trouble deciphering, the one that seemed to get lots of people interested was the garbage situation. It seems we are producing more than can be handled in a once-weekly pick up. Another topic I picked up on was the complaint that the warning sign down at the big dock looks like graffiti and everyone would rather have a more tasteful sign in its place.

It was a nice hour of practicing my Swedish listening skills and we also got to meet a really cute couple who are our neighbors: Emil and Sophie, who are building on the "south farm" site, to the envy of all. (It's a beautiful location on the water.) Unfortunately the old house currently on the site will be torn down, but not 'til next year now.

The rain of last night has passed and we are again enjoying a beautiful sunset.
Ahhh, this is the life!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Transition

I've found it hard to blog this past week since I've returned to London.

It's not a matter of having time. With the family still in Sweden, my evenings are free; all I have to do is watch season 5 of "The Wire". I have been tired all week; the heat here in London makes it hard to sleep. But that's an excuse. I realise now that I'm suffering from a bit of a letdown after the big event.

Today's the Wimbledon final, and it was the day of last year's final that Wille and I put the foundations into place, so I've been actively building this house for a year, and planning (and blogging) about it for nearly two. Over those years, a lot of my energy has building toward the celebration of these past two weeks.

And we made it; the house was done on time (albeit barely); friends came out to visit; the weather was great; and I had a super time on my birthday. All of it was as good as I could have hoped for.

So now I'm back in London, in a hot, empty house and I'm thinking: now what?

Short-term, I'll be back next weekend for a 3-day visit, and I'm planning a quick visit for the next garbage day in August. Sooz and I will probably be back in October during the week of Grant's senior trip. I still have to figure out what to do for the new roof, and for next year, I think a deck between the houses will be essential. So there will be projects to work on.

Long-term, we'll have to transition from creating to maintaining, and to being more a part of the culture and life on Aspö. The future won't be as goal-driven as my past two years, but I look forward to that transition. After all, I'm 50 now! Time to kick back and enjoy our Swedish house...

Old Glory paints the breeze....

Happy Independance Day everyone!

Friday, July 3, 2009


Alas our mega-streak of sunny weather has been broken this morning with the arrival of some rain showers.

I hate to say this, but it is rather refreshing.


Uh-oh. This was on the deck. We think it was blown off by the stormy winds, which is good, maybe they will be deterred from making another.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day Recap

Nick and I woke up at 5:30 and went to have breakfast. We packed up and got Nick checked in for his flight to Madrid and all went fine. I hope he survives 3 weeks in Spain with all those trash Cobham kids. Jkjk ...but not really. I found my way home fairly easily although I mistimed it like crazy. I got to Stavsnäs at like 11 for a 3:10 boat. I guess I just got caught up in the hustle and bustle of the city. Lol.

I finally arrived home safe and sound, but really tired. Mom and I went to Janne and Margarets for dinner. Malcolm (Janne's grandson) was there and we went swimming after dinner which was
fun. I need to go to bed now so I think that is what I am going to do now, go to bed. Night.

Sent from Grant's iPhone

An apology

Things have gone quiet the past few days. I've been busy at work here "on the mainland" and Sooz and Grant have been pretty occupied, too. Stay tuned for more regular updates over the weekend.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Airport Hotel

Nick and I are at the hotel now and this is a picture of our room. Everything is fine and we are going to go walk around soon.

Sent from Grant's iPhone

Second Leg

We are on the bus now, surprisingly we have encountered little trouble. The bus ride lasts about 40 minutes so we should get into Slussen around 1:30.

Sent from Grant's iPhone

First Leg

I'm going to the airport with Nick tonight because he has an early flight tomorrow morning. We are here on the boat on our way to Stavsnäs. We are almost there so I have to go but I will make another post on the bus.

Sent from Grant's iPhone