Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Onboard the m/s Solöga

We're heading back on the 1830 boat. The Solöga is an icebreaker, which tonight is almost empty. We're on the upper deck by ourselves. It's an eerie feeling, scraping through the ice in the pitch darkness.

The walk to the dock was also surreal. It's hard to describe how dark it is at 6 o'clock! Thank goodness for flashlights.

Our last day was nice; we walked around the island (including the ice!) and Grant finished clearing the deck. Lots of new photos on the webgallery and I have a few topics to post about in the coming days. But for now, the bus from Stavsnäs is waiting...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We're here!

It was an early start but our trip out to Stavsnäs was smooth. The bus and the boat were both pretty empty, although we saw Annica and Ole, which was a treat.

The sea was pretty iced over, and there is a lot of snow on the island. The main path was OK but the last bit to our house was deep. We were knee-high in places!

The house was warm, it was great that Janne turned on the heat for us. It was a balmy 70°F inside by dinnertime, and only 20°F outside. Cozy!

Grant and I (well. mostly Grant) moved a lot of snow off the deck, I calculated 2700 pounds' worth. At least it was light and fluffy. Otherwise, the house seems to be in great shape. Lots of photos are on the Christmas webgallery and lots more tomorrow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Plan B

It's a lot colder than I had expected. I was fine with turning the on the water with the temperature close to zero. But with it dropping to -10°, I'm not happy with doing that.

So we're now planning to go out for only a day and a half, and do without the water. I have a few bottles of H2O under the house, and we'll bring paper plates. The Cinderella, of course, doesn't require any water, so we should be all set for at least an overnight visit.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kalle Anka

We're about 15 minutes away from sitting down together (with half of all Swedes) to watch the traditional Christmas broadcast of Donald Duck and friends. I've posted previously about this phenomenon. Marcia forwarded me an article from Slate which tells the whole story of Kalle Anka far better than I ever could.

After Kalle, then Marcia's julbord, and finally, the opening of gifts. Photos are up on the right in the 'Christmas 2010' webgallery.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fortune is smiling upon us?

Not only has the weather (and Heathrow's second runway) cleared up, but a friend at SAS called to say they were running an extra flight to Stockholm at noon, and would we rather take it than our scheduled 6PM flight? Yes, please!

So we're about to go to the airport. I'll update once we're on our way...

UPDATE: We're all checked in and sitting in the SAS lounge. We should be departing within the hour. It's darned busy here but things are moving pretty well.

UPDATE 2: We made it in around 5pm and had a lovely evening with the Wilhelmis, even though it is -19 tonight! Brrrrr....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weather, etc.

Lots going on this morning, weather-wise.
  • The trouble at Heathrow is well documented these past few days. I find it amazing that one of the biggest airports in the world can't clear both runways after one 6-inch snowfall. At the moment, our flight on Thursday evening is still operating, and the forecast the next few days is favorable, so I'm still confident we can make it to Sweden.
  • I called Janne just now and he was at our house! He said the bathroom was nice and warm and he was turning on the heat, as it was -10°C. He was also shoveling the deck a bit; he estimated about 70cm of snow there.
  • Skatteverket mailed tax forms yesterday, our first full year after registering our property. I'm pleased to report that our tax bill is zero! Hooray!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas weather

We'll be leaving for Sweden in just 5 days, close enough to take a look at the long-range forecast.

It doesn't look too bad, although there's a lot of snow on the ground, as reported by Janne, Margaret and Marcia. It's also snowing heavily in London right now, too.

We're still planning to spend a few days on Aspö from the 27th, although that depends on how cold and snowy it is there. I know Grant would love to stay in the snow- he's never seen the island snowed over. Sooz, on the other hand, is less enthusiastic.

At minimum, Grant and I will go out for a day to check on the house and bring stuff out. Janne is going to turn on the heat a few days early, so our house should be nice and toasty, which I think will help convince Sooz to spend a few winter nights on our little island.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


We're in the throes of our move from London; as anyone who has moved can relate, there are boxes all over our house. I'm responsible for the moving into our Texas home, and Sooz has the move out from London.

To complicate matters, we have one last big load of house stuff and Christmas presents to take to Sweden. We have, for example, a few 240-volt items that make no sense to take to the US, so we're carrying them to Aspö.

We've just found out about the weight of our items, which is pretty interesting. I had posted previously about living with less, and now I know the scale of the task ahead of us. The combination of our mystery box in Texas storage and our goods from the UK comes to almost exactly 10 tons of accumulated posessions.

Going through all of this stuff over the coming months will be interesting, to say the least. A simple summer holiday on Aspö will probably be just what the doctor ordered after that project!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Lucia!

I don't have much to add today; there's not much of a Swedish community in Texas as far as I can tell.

My previous posts will have to suffice for this year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Terror comes to Stockholm

Not to sound glib, but we're a bit used to extremist attacks here in London. To have read about a bombing on Drottninggatan came as a shock, although it's interesting the suspect in yesterday's attack lived in England for a period.

In hindsight, though, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. Immigration, especially from Muslim countries, is a hot issue all throughout northern Europe. The Sweden Democrats, a nationalistic, anti-immigrant party, made significant gains in the recent elections.

Sweden prides itself on being a tolerant and accepting society. However, the recent influx of immigrants, and the response to it by a significant segment of the population, is placing the country's self-image under a stern test these days.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Renewable energy

One thing I've found during my time in Texas is that energy usage is not viewed the same way as it is in Europe. I'm used to talking about it in terms of climate change, sustainability, the carbon footprint, etc.

Here in Texas, the lead story on the morning news was the rise in the price of a gallon of gas (to $2.75 a gallon, as opposed to $7.45 in the UK). It's all about consumption rather then conservation, which to be fair, might be expected in a oil-producing state. (I do drive past a gas well on my way to work every day).

The New York Times published an article today about the Swedish city of Kristianstad, who decided to change their energy usage from fossil fuels to a sustainable model. It's taken some work, but the city now gets their energy from local, renewable sources.

There's one great renewable energy source on Aspö: wood. Most every house has a big stack of firewood outside, and a fireplace inside. I've looked at fireplaces a lot over the years, and our stay last October would have been a lot more comfy with a roaring fire. One day, we'll have one...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

More on Winter Weather

I came back from Dallas yesterday to quite a bit of snow here in London. Whenever it snows here, there's always quite a bit of disruption and lots of national hand-wringing about our inability to handle the precipitation.

This article in the Guardian is a perfect example. Sweden is used as a model for handling winter weather. I think it's a little funny. Of course Swedes are accomplished at coping with snow and cold; after all, they have many months to practice every year!

We'll be there in less than three weeks to sample the winter delights ourselves. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Approach the Bench

We had thought early on about having some sort of a breakfast nook at the end of the kitchen. Sooz and I kicked around a lot of ideas but never settled on anything. When we bought our little round table, we thought we'd tuck it into that corner, but frankly it's been moved around a lot during our stays there, and rarely stays in that corner anymore. When we bought our big teak outdoor table, we found ourselves eating outside the majority of time.

I don't have any specific photos of the area in question but here's a couple from last summer. I've added yellow arrows for clarity:
We've hit upon the idea of building a bench along that wall. The space is 140cm, or about 55 inches wide. Luckily, this is a good length. It's a standard size for bench cushions (although there are a number of custom shops out there, too). It is also just wide enough for 4 IKEA baskets to fit underneath. An extra advantage of a bench is that it's simple enough for me to make myself.
I like the idea of under-seat baskets, as we accumulate recycling and various other stuff in that area (just look at the photos to see what I mean). We could easily keep those things neat and out of the way.

When we go at Christmas, I think we'll bring along a couple of baskets (with Marcia, of course, doing the actual shopping for us) and measure everything carefully so I can be ready to get the wood and install next spring. I'll leave the cushion choice to Sooz, though!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

'Sweden braces for record freeze'

From The Local:
"Stockholm is forecast to experience its coldest seasonal temperatures for over 100 years this week as winter weather takes hold of the country, according to the Swedish Meteorological Institute (SMHI).

Temperatures across the country are expected to drop to record lows for the first week of December, with the exception of the far north, with averages coming in 7-10 degrees Celsius below normal.

Stockholm registered -11 degrees Celsius at the weekend, the coldest November temperature since 1965 and the mercury is set to plunge further on Wednesday and Thursday, dropping as low as -15.

"It is far below average temperatures, which usually oscillate around zero at this time of the year," said Alexandra Ohlsson, a meteorologist with SMHI."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Janne's sense of snow

I talked to Janne, who reports a lot of snow on Aspö right now, he said there were drifts up against his house! I also filled him in on my power drill gambit, with the US drill and the UK charger. That might work out well for him as he'll be spending more time in Florida and a world-wide power tool would be handy.

Janne's also going to check out the temperature in our bathroom on his way to the dock today just to be sure it isn't too hot or too cold.

He and Margaret may well be on Aspö for Christmas, it depends on the weather and Marg's schedule. We'd really like that, but I agree the appeal is less if it's really cold or snowy on those days. (Although Grant still hasn't seen the island with snow, so he'd be more likely to go in a snowstorm!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's Thanksgiving today in the US, but a normal work day in the UK. I had posted last year about the contrast between the day's celebrations in America and Europe. This holiday is extra odd for us, as Grant is in Minnesota with his grandmother, and we're in London, with a house full of boxes, preparing for a move.

The day is also the anniversary of Ollie's surgery. It's been two years since his back went out. What I wrote last year holds true: he remains happy and gets around well, just a bit slower and more easily tired. I'm still enormously thankful he's with us to enjoy this Thanksgiving day. He'll get a bit of extra turkey, I think!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Further Fungus Follow-ups

Stefan sent me a informative reply, which I can boil down to:
  • Our spots are fungus, caused mostly by exposure to a humid environment
  • The jarn vitrol colors the wood but doesn't protect it from fungus, algae, etc.
  • The splotches are cosmetic and do not impact the structure of the wood at all
  • His own house has a few areas much like mine
  • There's a specific product I can use to remove the fungus if I wish
  • Stefan provided me the name and phone number of his fungus advisor and I've asked Rutger to give him a call on my behalf
I also received an email from Scott Hedges, a contributor to the LamiDesign blog. His advice was much like Stefan's, and he gave me some specific advice on what kind of paint/stain product I might use.

So the bottom line is that we don't have to do anything at all, the problem is just cosmetic. If we want a different look (other than splotchy), we'll need to paint. We might need to treat the house before painting; that's still an open question. But at least we have a good line to get a final answer on procedures and products.

UPDATE 1: Rutger spoke to one expert today who said it's very hard to tell if we killed the fungus with our previous treatment in September, and in any case, it could well regrow by next spring anyways. We can leave it and see how the house looks next year with no harm, but if we want to paint, we should scrub it again before painting. The good news it's only the one exposure of the house, not the whole thing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I've accumulated a few tools during all my trips to Aspö over the past couple of years. I haven't splurged on anything overly high quality but so far I've been happy with what I have— with one exception.

My simple cordless drill gets more use than everything else and it is showing the strain. I need a new one for sure. Janne and I had been talking about the huge price difference between a good drill in the US and the same one over here.

I believe the only difference is in the voltage; when I went to Home Depot in Dallas, I found their chargers only worked on 110 volts. I have hit upon a good idea, though. If the charger is the only real difference between US and EU versions, if the batteries and the drill itself is the same, why not just get a charger in the UK?

Sure enough, 220 volt chargers with the exact same model numbers as their US counterparts are easily available here for around £35. I should be able to buy a US drill, and just use my UK charger. That would get me a nice power tool for much less than the EU cost.

I'm in the US this week getting started in my new job. I've bought a very nice Makita drill with two batteries (along with a new car, but I digress). I'll buy the charger when I'm back in London and I should be all set for many happy years of high-power drilling!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A documentary sighting

Ronnie sent us a message about a documentary he recently watched on SVT. It's called "Den Nya Tiden" and the program guide says: "What choices do we make in our daily lives? We follow seven people in Sweden for some years. They live side by side, but their lives are completely different. Does the new age of choice really give greater freedom for the individual?"

The most interesting part of the film for us was a sighting of an X-House. The movie's available online until December 7; scroll ahead to the 32 minute mark to see the segment with the house. I've added a shot from the movie. It does look a lot like ours, that's pretty fun to see!

Watching the film, though, was a bit worrying. As best as Sooz could tell, the homeowner was saying she loved her house but was annoyed by having to deal with fungus. Fungus! I called Stefan right away.

He was aware of the movie, and said the fungus mentioned in the film was like the spots we had on our roof panels. It's just cosmetic, and in our case, the spots were covered by boards on the overhang. We did get to talking about the discoloration we have on the front of our house. Stefan asked for some photos and said he'd consult an expert.

I emailed him a chronology and also made a webgallery out of a dozen photos over two years. I'll be sure to report back what Stefan says!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fungus redux

When Sooz and I went to the house a few weeks ago, I was anxious to see how well our fungus treatment worked. Would the house look different?

I can report now the house looks exactly the same, even the experimental patch I had scrubbed with a toothbrush and undiluted solution.

This doesn't necessarily mean our work was a failure, though. We could well have killed the fungus, and only the discoloration remains. I looked at the wood very closely, and the dark spots just seem to be colored in, almost as if it had been stained. There's no obvious coating or growth of any kind.

Janne told us about the paint he's using on the stuga he and Tony are building. It comes in two parts, first a primer which is thin and is absorbed by the wood to seal it. The color coat goes over the primer and is very thick and long-wearing, lasting 15 years, according to Janne.

So we've decided to paint, probably next summer. In addition to covering the dark blotches, I think the wood needs to be sealed better; there were a few wet spots inside after I hosed the house in September. This product should do the trick.

However, Rutger is worried about inadvertently painting over live fungus, and sealing in a bigger problem. I can see his point. When I'm out to the house at Christmas, I'll pry off a dark sliver and see if I can take it for analysis, just to be sure we're doing the right thing.

That leaves us for the colour choice, but I'll leave that for another blog post!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Moving away

I've tried very hard to keep this blog focused on building and living in a Swedish summer cabin. I think I've been successful to a large degree. Out of the 750 posts so far, about 15 of them have been off-topic, and almost all of those have been about Ollie or Manchester City.

I say this as a warning that I'm about to go way off-topic. If you're looking for building tips or observations on island life, you'd best skip ahead.

Regular readers know that we moved to London from Texas almost 12 years ago. That's a huge hunk of time. Grant has changed from a little boy into a university student; Sooz and I have gone from being thirtysomething well into middle age. When we left, Bill Clinton was president, and the big worry was the Y2K bug. I could fill paragraphs with how the America we left was comically ancient, but I won't belabor the point.

Over this past decade, people have often asked us, "when are we moving back"? As time has passed, I found it a harder question to answer, as I didn't really feel a "back" anymore. We've worked hard to make a comfortable life in the UK, and we put down roots in Sweden. Asking when we're moving "back" implies, to me at least, that we're away from where we should be: "Yankee Go Home".

We made a conscious decision to stay put until Grant graduated from school. I was hoping he'd choose a university in the UK or Europe, but he wanted to go to the US. I got over my disappointment and now realize why he wanted to, as his perspective is that of a kid who grew up in England and wants to experience American life in all its technicolor glory. And who wouldn't want to do that?

Now that he is away at school, though, Sooz and I found ourselves at a bit of a crossroads. Do we make changes here in London, perhaps sell our Texas house and all those left-behind possessions, and really commit to being Brits? That's an appealing prospect, to be sure. We're close to our stuga, and our friends here, and we get to stay with the way of life we've become used to and enjoy so much.

On the flip side, there are a lot of advantages to moving "back". I haven't done my career any favors being away from our headquarters for so long. Readers of this blog know I'm 51. If I was 61, it'd be easy to leave the career ladder and stay in my London job. But I'm a little too young, I think, to do that.

Practically speaking, I'd be a lot better off financially in the US. Recent and impending changes to UK tax law aren't in my favor, especially considering I have a college tuition bill priced in dollars! Plus, our parents aren't getting any younger, and it would be nice to be nearer to them, not to mention to our stateside college student. And we still have lots of friends in Texas, not to mention our house and the Shelby.

So it should come as no surprise at this point in my missive to report that I have taken a job "back" in Texas, in our headquarters, a very good and exciting job I'm happy to have. I'll start soon, and Sooz and Ollie will move just after the New Year. We will all still go to Sweden this Christmas, with the Wilhelmis again, and we'll go out to the stuga for at least a day visit. But after that, we're Americans again.

What does this mean about our summer house? Sooz and I have talked about this a lot over the years, even before we decided to build. Basically, our plan is to take fewer, but longer, trips to Aspö. We can't go for a weekend, obviously, and even a week will be a bit of a stretch. But the Texas summers are brutally hot, and the archipelago weather during July and August is quite appealing to us! I have 6 weeks of vacation every year, so spending 4 weeks on Aspö in a couple of chunks sounds good to me. Remember too, that I work in the airline business, so air travel is a bit easier for us.    

It's not going to be a easy transition. We've been away a long time, and lots has changed. Re-engaging with American life is going to take some work, and there will be high points and low points along the way. I'm thinking about writing on this process, perhaps on a separate blog, so I can continue to keep this one focused on the details of Swedish island life.

That's it. If you've managed to read this far, don't worry. The next blog post is on fungus!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Address Change

We saw a number of official notices on the docks and on the Waxholms boat regarding changes to mail in the archipelago. Our current address is pretty simple: the name of island's dock (Aspö Brygga), the name of the boat line (Nämdölinjen), and a Stockholm postcode. But this colloquial address is being phased out in favor of the more official one.

The new address form uses the local kommun post code, bypassing 'Stockholm' altogether. So our new address will become:

                Runmarö-Aspön 233
                130 36 Nämdö

The changeover finishes next spring, but I thought it timely to get our new address out in advance of the Christmas card season!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Speaking of Christmas...

We are indeed returning to the Wilhelmi's for a week over this Christmas. Grant will be joining us, all the way from North Carolina, although Ollie will stay in London with Ethie.

We'll go out to our stuga, but we're not sure if it'll just be a day trip, or if we might try to spend a day or two there. I think we'll play it by ear and see how cold it is that week. (If there's snow, I know Grant will want to go. He still hasn't seen Aspö after a snowfall!)

In any case, I'm sure we'll have a super holiday!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Underhouse supports

In what seems like an eternity ago (but was not quite two years), I had a discussion with Willie about adding foundation supports to our house. He did, and so far, everything seems fine; the house held up well under the huge loads of snow on the roof and there's no obvious signs of settling.

While on one of my forays underneath the house this summer, I found one concrete plinth that Wille hadn't added a support to. I decided to handle this one myself, and looked on the web for some sort of product I could use.

Soon enough, I found the Ellis company in Oklahoma, "shoring and bracing specialists since 1951". I bought a timber jack, designed for a 4x4 piece of lumber which I could tighten under the house and provide one extra support.

I ordered and carried it from Dallas to Stockholm last month when Rutger and I were out. However, there was one snag- the metric lumber I had here didn't fit! I needed a good old American 4x4.

So when we visited Grant's school for parent's day, We visited the local Home Depot and some exceedingly nice folks cut me a piece of wood to measure. (I had measured it in centimeters and of course there wasn't one metric ruler in the whole store. But one of the younger clerks had an app on his iPhone to convert for me.) 

So into my luggage went my North Carolina souvenir, and we carried it out on this visit. I am happy to report it fit perfectly, and in only a couple of minutes, I was able to tighten the jack and provide the house one more contact with our island below.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bill, you got nuthin' on my Don

Just wanted to try my hand at a rare blog post, just to show Don that I -can-.
So, thought I would share this tidbit about Bill Gates, just in from my pal Susan, seeings as the subject matter has been a major issue on this blog in the past:

"According to MG Siegler at TechCrunch, Gates went on and on about the future of latrines. One quote from Gates:
Latrines are fascinating. No one wants to read about it — it’s one of the greatest under-investments.
In Gates’ opinion, according to TechCrunch, he sees the current flushable toilet as ‘the gold standard’, but it isn’t efficient in terms of water consumption. He thinks that the tech sector needs to focus more energy and money on toilets."

Well, well, well. Don was right on top of this one (no pun intended) a couple years ago.

Good morning from London

Sorry I didn't get a chance to write yesterday, it was a slow start to the morning and then a busy afternoon before we flew home. We visited a huge new shopping complex at Bromma airport; the old SAS maintenance hangars were turned into halls filled with stores of every description. My favourite was Clas Ohlson, a stuga owner's dream! I could have bought 50 things there, easily.

Lots more to write about but I'm off to the USA this morning, so more later.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We're at the Wilhelmis

We made the bus, no problem, and we stopped at the ICA in Gustavsberg to do a bit of shopping on our way to Rutger & Marcia's. Rutger is cooking up a huge sirloin steak for dinner. More tomorrow.

Snowy Saturday morning

It was a pretty unusual day for us yesterday. The snow came down pretty heavy until after lunchtime, I think about 3 or 4 inches. Then around 3 o'clock, the storm front passed in a very clear line. We walked to the dock to take a photo (it's on the webgallery), and the views were beautiful, with the sunshine on the fresh snow.

Janne joined us again for dinner. Sooz made a tasty pasta dish out of our leftovers. Janne and I talked about keeping the heat on in the bathroom. Last winter, my electrical bill was about 750kr a month. Janne, living in his house, was about 1500kr, so I think I overheated our bathroom!

I'm still going to leave a radiator on this year, but a smaller one, and I'm going to close the Cinderella's air vent, which I completely forgot about last year. We've also insulated the bathroom window, so I think I'll be a lot more efficient with my heating. We'll see.

Today, it's a noon boat, so we have about 3 hours to close up the house. Sigh.

Friday, October 22, 2010


After a beautiful clear evening (a few night photos are on the webgallery) and another fine dinner with Janne, we awoke to a surprise snowfall! I took a panoramic photo from the deck. It's very pretty, big thick fluffy flakes and it's been coming down for at least 5 hours.

My building plans are on hold, so for the time being, Sooz and I will snuggle away our afternoon in our winter wonderland.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don gets into the act

It's turned into a really nice day, clear as a bell, a crisp autumn afternoon for the the textbooks.

Sooz continued with her citronsyra treatments and she's very pleased with the way it's cleaning up the walls. At Janne's suggestion, I've been building a couple of new bridges over the low spots in the path towards our house. Grant and I had nailed a few boards together 2 years ago but we need something more substantial. So far, so good, and I'll put up photos soon.

Tonight, we're going to Janne's for dinner. Sooz roasted a chicken and we'll bring that over. The moon is full and clear, it should be a lovely evening.

Thursday Morning

...dawned pretty clear but cold, close to 0°c. The rain and snow that had been forecast appears to be passing us by, although the north wind is quite bracing to say the least!

Yesterday was great fun. I managed to get the lamp mounted, and it looks great, works well, and I wasn't electrocuted. Sooz used the citronsyra solution (thanks to Janne's great advice) on the wood stains inside the house, to great success.

We visited Janne and Tony, working on a new stuga on the north of the island, near Janne's house. They joined us for dinner, and we had a great evening.

This morning, I added a second catch to all of our windows. I had used only one, and that north wind made it obvious to me that our windows needed to be squeezed shut on both sides! That has made a big difference already.

Not sure what else we'll do today but I'm sure I'll think of something. Photos are in the webgallery, and more will be up soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A video post from Sooz

It was a great evening last night at Margaret's, including dinner with Marcia and Rutger. It was an early start today, but we made it from St. Eriksplan with all our stuff intact.

The house looks great, and we've started on a few projects, but I'll let Sooz tell you herself...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The weather's not looking that great!

The latest from the SMHI calls for rain most of the time we're there, and not too warm, either, 8°C/46°F for the high.

Fortunately, Janne is going to stop by and turn on the heat for us. I'd prefer to keep it a little bit cool, however, so Sooz has an excuse to snuggle up for warmth!

UPDATE Tuesday evening, Just received this email from Margaret :"Snow arriving from the North, most likely on Weds evening...not much expected for Stockholm, more like 'wet slush'.

It's supposed to be very cold though, from Wednesday through the weekend...make sure you've got hats, gloves, scarves and an extra sweater on hand out there!"

Friday, October 15, 2010

Does Money Buy Happiness?

I sent this New York Times article to my friends and colleagues a few weeks ago. It must have struck a nerve; virtually everyone I sent it to replied with a thoughtful response.

Most of my friends are around the same stage in life: 20 or so years of accumulated stuff, kids off to school, retirement no longer an abstract concept. The idea of chucking it all, living simply and with little burden of possessions, is alluring to me and, and apparently, to my friends.

I have extra reasons for this article to hit home. First is the matter of an enormous box sitting in a storage facility in Texas. When we moved to London in early 1999, we didn't expect to be gone for very long, so we put most everything in storage when we moved over. Nearly 12 years later, this box has become a time capsule waiting for us (although to Sooz, I think it's more of a time bomb instead). At this point, I can only remember a few of the things left behind. Eventually, we'll have to open it, and I'm sure most of our life from the previous millenium will go either into the trash or on eBay. That really proves the point of the article; do without most of your posessions, and it's surprising how little of it you miss!

Another reason of course, is our stuga. Because our house is small, there's not a lot of room to fill with things in the first place. Even more important is the logistical cost of getting something out to the island. Carrying a big load of groceries on the bus from Gustavsberg, or a piece of furniture uphill from the Waxholms dock, gets old pretty quickly. I find myself thinking very closely about anything I might want to bring out to the house, because to get it there, I'll have to take it on a plane, a train, a bus, a boat, and a wheelbarrow. That's great motivation to cut back!

Which brings us back to the point of having a summer stuga—to live more basically, to have less stuff around you, to be closer to the rhythms and pleasures of daily life. If I don't yet have the nerve to leave it all behind and do it permanently, the simple life sure is nice for a few weeks out of the year.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The October weather

We leave a week tomorrow and I took a look at the Stavsnäs long-range forecast. It's calling for the weather to be dry but pretty cool, 8ºC (or 46ºF).

The Local reports on the first big snowfall in northern Sweden over the weekend. I think we'll be safe down south on Aspö, though.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Foreign Sheds

Not much progress on the shed front, unfortunately. I've called the people at Caboden twice and sent them English and Swedish emails, with no reply at all. I really like the look of their product, though, so I guess my next step is to ask Rutger or Janne to talk them Swede-to-Swede. But frankly, it's a Spring 2011 project now, so there's no hurry.

When Rutger and I went up to Aspö a few weeks ago, we stopped by Bygg-Ole in Gustavsberg to look at their shed collection. Rutger thinks I should get something bigger if I'm going to go through the trouble. We saw a model called "Skagen" on sale for 42,000kr which was nice, but I fear too large and definitely too pricey. I think the same company's "Lasse" is more my size (4.2 square meters) and price (15,000 kronor).

Last weekend, I visited a Home Depot while in North Carolina to visit Grant. I have to say I was amazed at the range, and especially the price, of sheds available there. Here's Sooz pictured in front of just the smaller of the models available.

This shed is closest to the size I want. It's actually a little larger, 8 x 8 feet, or about 6 sq. m. But notice the price; $1329, or just under 10,000 kronor with sales tax. That includes delivery, painting, and installation on site!  Holy moly.

I checked the paperwork, and that deal is unfortunately only for installation within 50 miles of the store. Seeing how Aspö is 4420 miles away, that probably wouldn't work. Darn.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Toilets, once again

I read recently of a photographic exhibition of toilets around the world. It was created by the French artist and environmental campaigner, François Cuel.

His key quote: "The exhibition is meant to make people smile but also to invite them to think. Access to proper toilets, and more generally to water, is a privilege denied to many people."

I've touched on this theme before. Dealing with the issues of waste and sanitation at our stuga has shown me how much we take our flush toilets for granted.

The Independent has an article on the exhibition, along with a few photographs, here. It's worth a look.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I'm still here!

Been travelling a lot these days. (In fact, I'm in Heathrow this morning, just about to leave for Amsterdam). I do have a few interesting topics to write about in the upcoming days, and we leave for Aspö in exactly two weeks. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More on lighting

I had posted about a month ago about a couple of light fixtures that I had found for above our front door.

After my last visit, I started to re-think my choice. I worry that a big square lamp would be a bit same-y on a big square house. I'm thinking now that something a bit more bright and chipper would be a better choice.

A bit of searching with my new criteria brought me to this lamp. It's called the "Lund" from a Scandinavian range of outdoor lighting, so that's a good sign. The Lund is also galvanized so it should be nice and bright, and it has a robust IP rating of 54.

Unlike the other lights I was considering, this one is available locally, so I'm going to take a look before I buy. If it passes muster, I'll bring it out and install in October.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The welcome into Arlanda

I teased this subject a while ago on the right-hand side of this blog. After my last trip, I saw something that compelled me to write a full post.

When entering the baggage hall at Arlanda airport, the traveler is greeted by a photo wall of famous Swedes, each bearing the same legend: "Welcome to my hometown".

It's an eclectic bunch from all areas of Swedish life. Classics like Alfred Nobel, Raoul Wallenberg, Carola, and Mats Sundin, to name a few, lead up to the pop stars and celebrity chefs of today.

Looking down from the prime spots, just before the exit, are those one might expect: the King and Queen, ABBA in their spandex, and Björn Borg, resplendent in his Wimbledon headband. But last Friday night, I noticed a new face in that elite group, welcoming us to his hometown, a place not friendly to tourists, but a Stockholm teeming with murder, racism, misogyny, sex and violence.

Yes, Stockholm's newest welcoming face is none other than Stieg Larsson.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fungus Update

Time for a little update on the main reason for our trip this weekend: the fungus.

Rutger and I applied the fungicide pretty liberally. We brushed it on all the stained areas and let it set for 15 minutes. I rinsed it off even more liberally with the hose, and we left the house still quite wet the next day. As an experiment on Sunday morning, I applied straight solution with a toothbrush to one dark spot to see if it acted differently than the other areas. 

But I can't say that we really accomplished anything- at least not yet. The dark patches still look darker than the surrounding wood. Does this mean the fungus is dead or not? The goal was to arrest the spread of the fungus; have we done that? Is it safe to paint over all this now? I don't know for sure, and I don't know how to get that answer definitely, short of bringing a fungus expert in. I find that very frustrating.

To make matters worse, my rinsing of the house caused a few watermarks and drip streaks to appear on the interior walls. The good news is that Janne told us lemon juice would remove the marks,so Rutger rescued a lemon from the previous night's gin & tonic, and went after the marks with a Q-tip. Sure enough it worked like a charm. Of course, now I have to go over the walls on my next trip. One step forward, one step back. 

I will be very interested to see how the house looks when we're there next month. I hope that will give me some reassurance and direction going into the winter.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

Quick update

Safely home in London, all is well. The elections are over, and it appears the Alliance has won again (much to Rutger and Janne's relief), although they were denied a majority by the Sweden Democrats, which is a pretty big development in Swedish politics. Further developments on that soon, I'm sure.

I also have a few photos up in a new webgallery. More info in the upcoming days.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

On the boat home

Apologies for not posting before. Rutger and I have been pretty busy these past 24 hours. We managed to apply the fungus treatment. Not sure how much it helped, the house is still pretty wet and therefore dark, Micke's hose connection was perfect so we sprayed a lot of water. We also burned all the scrap wood and branches from the past year in a huge bonfire.

Rutger made a great meal for Janne and I, and the three of us got through most of a bottle of gin. (A small bottle, I should add.)

Today's election day and the whole country is buzzing. I'm sorry to be leaving, I'd love to watch the election results tonight.

More info and photos over the next few days, but all in all, a successful trip, and a fun time with my buddy Rutger!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Leaving tonight

...on British Airways after work. Rutger's picking me up and then we're on the 0725 boat out Saturday morning!

One potential snag is that Micke couldn't come out yesterday to do the hose. Apparently there were pretty rough waves in the area. Janne told me they were nearly 2 meters in Stavsnäs! Glad we're taking the big boat tomorrow.

Micke will try again today. If not, we'll use the kitchen tap, as Janne has set up an adapter just in case.

UPDATE: Janne sent me an email the morning: "Micke is done." Hooray!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another house blog

One of Sooz's friends has started a blog, detailing her work to restore a 50's ranch house in Tucson.

Peg's efforts, both in terms of her project and her writing, are a lot more sophisticated than my own. It's certainly worth a visit to

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back in a few days!

I'm leaving Friday night, with a suitcase crammed full of an old garden hose I never use (why buy a new one??), and a couple of metal supports I plan to write more about in future.

I also have a piece of perspex cut for use as a sink backsplash to match the one I have behind the stove. One day, we'll have some funky tiles in place, but for now, the perspex protects the wood in a simple and neutral fashion.

The weather (above) looks pretty decent. Even if it rains a bit, that's fine, as we are going to spend most of our time rinsing the house. Perhaps we should want it to rain!

UPDATE: Rutger called this morning and said that Micke the plumber has promised to be out tomorrow, so no worries about having a water hose available.

UPDATE 2: Janne emailed me this afternoon and said he attached an adaptor to our kitchen faucet as a backup water source just in case. It's great to have friends!!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Learning Swedish

Let’s face it, I’d love to be able to speak Swedish. Whenever I talk with my fellow Aspö residents, I'm aware they all have to accommodate me, which is pretty un-neighborly in my book. After all, if I’m going to be living on a Swedsh island, I should speak the language!

What makes it worse is that my friends are multi-lingual. I think Margaret speaks Swedish better than most Swedes, and everyone in Marcia & Rutger's household is perfectly fluent in Swedish, English and Dutch. Sooz has a degree in Italian (besides remembering an impressive amount of her Swedish from her time there), and Grant is taking advanced placement French in university. So I’m embarrassingly mono-lingual both in public and at home.

I found myself evening Swedish classes at a local college; the UK does a great job of adult education, it’s much more common here than in the US. I also looked into Rosetta Stone software, which many people rave about. (UPDATE: Note Dawn's lengthy comment about Rosetta Stone, perhaps I might try a 30-day trial?)

The technology to learn languages is always changing. Recently, the New York Times ran an interesting story about the web bringing native speakers together to improve language skills. I even looked into other alternatives to get myself some Swedish exposure.

After a lot of investigation, however, it doesn’t seem practical for me to study Swedish, at least for now. With my daily life in London, I wouldn’t be able to practice in any significant way. And without that daily exposure, it’s not realistic to think I could master another language.

If and when the time comes that we spend significant time on Aspö, then I think I could make a good effort in learning the language. But for now, living in the most Anglophone country of all, and without regular contact with Swedish, it doesn’t seem possible. I’ll just have to get used to my guilty feelings when everyone switches to English for my benefit!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

National elections

The Swedish National elections are coming up a week from Monday. Currently, a center-right coalition is in power, a rare departure from the left-leaning governments of the past generation.

It appears that the "Alliance", as the coalition is called, leads by a few points in surveys leading up to this year's election. The margin is small, however, and the coalition nature of the parties makes swings in the poll results more likely.

Speaking personally, I like the Alliance's tax policies regarding island stugas, so I am wishing them luck on the 19th. and both have good election summaries I plan to visit over the upcoming days.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Margaret was on Aspö this weekend, and she sent me a couple of snapshots of Janne's latest handiwork. He's finished the stairs along the front of our house!

We first talked about putting steps on the house a year and a half ago. The most important installation was the main stairs, which Janne finished in May last year, but we always intended to do the wide, low ones off the front door, leading downhill.

Now they're done, and they look great! As Margaret said, another great hang-out area. I'm looking forward to seeing them weekend after next.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Canada's Wilderness Cottage Culture

The BBC ran an interesting video piece about the tradition of remote lake cottages for Toronto residents.

Besides being interesting in itself, it also shows many parallels with archipelago life.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A few updates

I head over in two weeks for a quick trip out with Rutger to finish the fungus treatment. As I had posted, we need a hose to be able to rinse the house. Rutger called me today with the news he was able to reach Micke the plumber, so we should have a hose connection installed in time for our visit! That's great to know.

I also talked to Janne today, he said it was raining hard but that was fine with him as he wasn't working outside. He'll be on Aspö when Rutger and I are there, so we'll have a boys dinner on Saturday night. Rutger's a good cook so I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The World's Oldest Tree

I had always thought the oldest tree in the world was a bristlecone pine in California's White Mountains. In fact, hiking out to see one is a trip I've always wanted to take.

Anyways, it appears I was wrong. The world's oldest tree is named "Old Tijkko", and it's only a couple hundred miles from Aspö. It's a spruce in a park in Dalarna, and it's 9,550 years old!

It's not exactly like a bristlecone, which has been the same object, growing over thousands of years. This spruce is a clonal organism, which means it has regenerated many times over the millennia. There aren't any original parts of the tree left, but the organism is still the same.

I read something that gave me pause, however. This tree has managed to live so long through a process known as "layering". Each winter, heavy snow pushes the tree's low-lying branches to ground level, where they take root and grow again the next year. Layering is when new roots sprout from the contact point.

Over the past few years, Sooz and I have removed a bunch of scrubby trees whose branches have layered and taken root in a bushy fashion. Now I'm worried. In my pursuit of a holiday home, did I cut down some terribly old tree that has survived on a little island unmolested all these years ?

In other words, have I become, God forbid, the archipelago's Don Currey?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Off on an important errand

I’ll be offline for a few days. Sooz and I are leaving for North Carolina, helping Grant move into his new school.

Fortunately, this is a blog about building and living in a Swedish summer house, so you, dear reader, will be spared a long post about the miracle of parenthood, transitioning to life with an empty nest, the issues of having homes in three cities and a child in a fourth, etc.

I’ll just say this: Grant is a good kid, I’m proud of him, and I know he’ll do well, both in school and in whatever else life has in store!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lighting redux

I had posted a couple of weeks ago about our search for an outdoor light fixture. Sooz and I have been trolling the internet and I've found a couple of possibilities.

After we were at the house last weekend, we realised we need a pretty big fixture if it's going to be up on the outside all by itself, and I convinced myself it should be something square to match the rest of the house.

These two fixtures are made by a company called Forecast, based near Chicago (although they seem to be a subsidiary of Phillips). The left one is about 40 x 25cm, which is pretty good sized, and it holds two 75 watt bulbs. The other is taller but narrower, and holds one 75W bulb.

I emailed the company and they confirmed that both are rated at 220 volts, so we may have a winner in the light fixture pageant!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I've posted before about the allure of boxed wine for island residents. The Swedish alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget, prides itself on providing a wide range of wines. Many of their boxed wines are pretty decent, although there's rotgut on offer, too.

We decided to treat ourselves, and splurged on a nice bottle of Riesling. It turned out to be a real winner, so we hit the internet to see where we could buy it back home. My most interesting find was a blog which concerns itself with the wines for sale at the System. However, I had no luck finding that wine online.

I did find the winery, online, though, and asked a German-speaking friend to call on my behalf. Interestingly, she was told that wine is only sold in Sweden! The Systembolaget has contracted to buy all they can make of this particular vintage. My friend is persistent, though, and she asked the winery if they sell anything similar in the UK, and they obliged her with the website of a distributor in Luton.

I contacted them, and received good news/bad news. The good news is they do indeed carry many nice Rieslings by Schloss Johannisberger. The bad news is they're quite pricey; we're talking £20 and up per bottle. That's well out of our price range!

Sooz came upon the simplest solution, though: we'll just buy it in Sweden and take it home! The equivalent price is £7.70, which is more in our ball park. It seems odd to bring alcohol from Sweden, but then again, I did bring an IKEA cabinet into Sweden, so there you go.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A similar pattern....

With what appears to be turning into a habit, immediately after returning to London yesterday, I started to look at going back to Aspö. We still plan to visit for a week in October, but I really want to get that fungus treated before the winter sets in. Before I can do that, I need a hose hooked up so I can have enough water to rinse the house.

Enter Rutger to the rescue. First, I had been talking to Anders, who had been talking to Micke the plumber about installing a garden hose. Rutger is going to cut out the middlemen and just talk to Micke directly to ensure the right thing gets installed. Secondly, I've just bought a ticket to Stockholm the weekend of September 18-19. Rutger and I will go up Saturday morning and back Sunday noon. We'll do the fungus treatment, give the hose a good test, and Rutger wants to cook a nice steak on the grill.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time to go. Sigh.

It's been a lazy day. I've decided not to do any more fungus work until I can get a hose hooked up so we've mostly chilled today. This is pretty much a first for me here, and I have enjoyed it.

We did cover the deck lumber with a tarp as Janne suggested it'd be best, more for sun protection than waterproofing. I did a bunch of measuring for future projects, went up and down the ladder for exercise, and tried to figure out how to drain the washing machine for next winter.

Sooz picked a bunch of plums and especially wild raspberries (not strawberries), which were the most delicious I ever tasted! They were especially tasty at breakfast.

She also finished "Män som hatar kvinnor"; a Swedish island is an appropriate place to read that, I think.

Now for a taxi boat, the drive from Stavsnäs, and the late flight on British Airways. Back in October for sure, earlier if I can swing it.

UPDATE: A few more photos have been posted on the webgallery.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cloudy Monday evening

It's been a mixed day in a number of respects. The weather has been mostly cloudy although the sun poked out here and there, and it's breezy, too. But the temperature is perfect.

Our main goal was to apply the fungus treatment, and that was only a partial success. I had borrowed Janne's power washer but failed to realise I needed a hose to provide the water. Not having a hose, I tried to siphon out of a bucket but that didn't provide enough pressure. So I ran a few trips to the well and we splashed buckets of water on the house to rinse after applying the fungicide.

It worked OK but it wasn't sustainable. We stopped after doing perhaps a fifth of the house. To do the job, we really need a hose with a whole lot more water. I talked to Anders about the possibility of Micke, the plumber, coming back to run a spigot off our tank. That's a prerequisite for fungus removal, I think. If I can get a hose installed soon, I might come back for a quickie September weekend to do the rest.

The good news is the area we completed looks lighter after the treatment. And we made productive use of our freed-up time; Sooz put Cuprinol on all of the trim and the deck. I fixed up a few more window blinds and literally spent the whole day puttering. Bliss.

Tonight it's "Mad Men", plucked from the ether on my MacBook Air, snuggled with Sooz on our IKEA couch, which wasn't plucked, but instead carried on my back through the woods. But I digress.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the wasp's nest I stumbled across. I was looking at Micke's work in my well-insulation box and pulled up the lid to find myself literally nose-to-nose with a big ol' nest. Usain Bolt had nothing on my first 10 steps! Sheesh.

Sunny Monday morning

Sorry for no updates yesterday, we hit the ground running and didn't stop!

First off, Marcia lent us her car which was a real luxury. We loaded up with not too much stuff and stopped at the Stavsnäs ICA for a few groceries. Our provisions were bolstered with leftover party food from the previous evening's festivities.

It was gray and fairly wet on Aspö. It drizzled a bit but mostly it was humid. We saw Ole and Annica who said they saw the moose right next to our house the night before! I had ordered some wood for the deck between the houses so Sooz and I spent the afternoon carrying that up. Olle helped out as well, and Annica told Sooz to help herself to their plum tree.

Salmon for dinner, then "Project Runway" on the iTunes and an early night. Between the lumber and the late-night party, we were tired.

This morning is sunny and breezy. We have a few chores to do but we'll be chilling out, too. New photos are in the webgallery.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

We're Here!

The flight into Stockholm was great, and with only a bit of confusion, we made our experimental train connection to Marcia & Rutger's. It worked as advertised, and it was only 60 kronor, a lot cheaper than the airport bus.

One wrinkle is that it's hot here, much warmer than we expected. I think it's in the high 80's and muggy and I was expecting 20 degrees less. Rutger lent me a pair of his shorts but they're a tight fit, to say the least.

The big neighborhood party is about to start so I must go. More tomorrow.

UPDATE: The City match was on TV here! So I watched us draw 0-0. Frankly, I'm happy with that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday morning Grab Bag

We leave in 24 hours. Grant is going at the same time, but he's heading west, to Minnesota to see his family there for a couple of weeks, before he heads off to university. A post on that subject is forthcoming.

Janne sent me an email that the electrician has come and installed a few extra outlets for me. He also mentioned there was work remaining from last year regarding the water system's heating. I talked to Anders, and it seems there was a small bit of plumbing and electricity left undone from last autumn. He is getting that finished today and I'll take a look when I'm there.

The IKEA lamps I bought for our shelves above the couch didn't fit, as the shelves were far too thick. A friend of mine contacted a friend of his at a metal fabrication shop, and voilà! I have a couple of custom-machined stainless steel fittings. Very cool. I will be sure to put a photo on the blog when they're installed.

My friend Rick sent along an article from MSN about traveling in the archipelago. It's always good to see press on my favourite part of the world!

Lastly, my beloved Manchester City are taking on Tottenham tomorrow and as luck would have it, the match is on TV and I'm going to miss it. We usually (but not always) lose to Spurs, though, so it would be good to get it out of the way early. I would be in an exceptionally cheerful mood on Saturday should we win, however!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Travel logistics

With only a 4-day weekend to work with, we're trying a few different things with our travel plans. First off is that we're getting to Marcia & Rutger's without our usual chauffeur service, i.e. Marcia or Rutger. There are express buses and trains to the city center, but that's way out of the way for travel to the suburbs. (There is an airport bus that brings us to within 50 feet of Margaret and Janne's place in St. Eriksplan, which is a real luxury).

Checking the website, we found a local train from the airport, which connects to the commuter train line, which connects to the train to Barkaby. The whole trip should take 55 minutes and brings us within walking distance to the Wilhelmis. We've never tried this before, but it's a good test for us.

We will be spending Saturday evening as guests at their neighborhood barbecue, and then up and out Sunday morning to Aspö. The local grocery at the Barkaby station is open at 9, and the train to Slussen leaves at 9:37. So we'll shop for a few provisions and hop on the train to connect to the Stavsnäs bus.

We'll catch the 11:00 Waxholms boat (there aren't many boats to the islands on a Sunday) so we'll be at our house by lunchtime.

Going home Tuesday evening is more straightforward. We'll take a 5:30 taxi boat, and then bus to Stockholm and another bus to Arlanda for the late BA flight.

The weather looks wet for Sunday morning but better for the rest of our stay. I hope I'll be able to do both the fungus treatment and the Cuprinol on the deck. Stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Not Bob, but black. I've written about the dark blotches on the front of the house before. Looking at the photos I've taken over time, the transformation of the house from fresh pine to a dark grey is clear to see. On the front, however, it's not just a nice weathered grey but grey with black mottling.

Margaret wrote me recently they she thought the spots were getting worse. As I posted before, it seems the they're a type of mold or fungus. It's natural they grow only on the most exposed side of the house; moisture is necessary for mold growth.

When we go next week, I plan to use fungus treatment on the wood. Rutger and I bought a solution, as advised by the expert at Bauhaus, and Janne is lending me his power washer. At the moment, Sooz and I plan to brush on the fungus-killer, and then give it a good power rinsing. There's some thought about using bleach and/or soap, but I think I'll be conservative and try this stuff first. We plan to be back in mid-October, and we can be more aggressive then if needed.

I assume this will just kill the mold, not remove its effects altogether.  That being the case, we'll still have to paint at least that exposure of the house next summer, if we can decide on a color!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yet another shed post!

I called the people at CA-Boden today (they're the ones with the mini-Funkis) to talk about a possible shed. Somehow, I rang through to their director, Christer, who was a little nonplussed by my American accent, but agreed to send me an email for a quote for a small shed.

I asked for something about 6 square meters, not insulated, with a window and a door, delivered to Djurö. Janne suggested I insulate the shed (or at least a portion of it) because I could keep freezables like paint in there more safely. But I thought I'd get a non-insulated quote as I still have 4 bales of insulation stored under the house from our original construction.

When I hear from Christer, I will of course report back!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Word Cloud

I found a pretty cool website,, which makes a graphic out of any entered text. Words that are used frequently show up larger in the graphic.

All of the entries from this year's blog generated the attached word cloud. The size of 'house' doesn't surprise me, but it seems I use 'little' and 'back' a lot. I assume it's phrases like "I want to go back to my little house" which drive the usage.

It's a fun website, there's a surprising amount you can do in terms of fonts and layouts of your text.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Here's a perfect example of how something seemingly simple turns into an educational experience (or a big production, depending on your point of view).

When the house was wired, we made provisions for a light over the front door. A cable was run in the rafters and down in the right spot. We figured we'd find a nice light, put above the door, and there you go. The photo to the left shows the way things look right now, and where we plan to put a light.

Well, it's not that easy. As we're learning, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. First is the weather rating of outdoor lamps. In a harsh environment such as ours, we need a higher 'IP' rating, so that excludes a lot of possibilities. For fire prevention, there's a question if the lamp can be affixed straight onto a wooden house. Plus, we have the electric cable on the exterior, coming down from above. Most lamps are made for a flush mounting, with the wire coming straight out of the wall. We can't do that with an external cable. So how would we mount a lamp? Could we use a spacer of some sort? Would that ruin the look of the installation? And would a spacer invalidate the weather or fire rating?

This doesn't even mention the lamp itself. We wanted something square and modern, which throws light out as well as down. Even given all of those restrictions and issues, we're still spoiled for choice. Typing "modern outdoor lamp" in google returns 2.9 million hits. Restricting our searches to only big providers, there are still literally thousands of potential light fixtures we could buy.

We visited a local lighting store and found one model (the 'Ohio') that seems pretty cool. A problem is that it's made for a flush mount and the manufacturer told us it may not be weatherproofed if mounted out on a spacer. Plus, I'm not too sure about the round globe; I think it's better to keep everything square. There aren't any round bulbs in the Schröder House.

UPDATE: I was mostly right. Gerrit Rietveld's lamp for the house was square, with round tubes. Wonder if I can get one of those with an IP rating of 54??

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Progress on the shed front

The shed-hunting has turned into a family affair on Aspö. Ann brought over a magazine with a number of possibilities. A new company they found was Jadestugan, but it appears they make the same type of 'plywood' sheds of which Janne disapproves.

He and Margaret spotted a potential alternative close to home, however. A new house is going up on the path near their (and Ann& Dave's) home, and a little stuga was built there a few years back as an initial building. It appears to be a step up from the thin sheds I've been looking at, and it also has the same slanted-roof profile of my X-Houses.

Janne talked to his neighbor and found they were made by yet another prefab provider, Caboden. I checked their website and saw the "Mini Funkis" range, which does indeed look like my X-Houses. As best as I can tell, they have a 6m² model for around 18,000kr, which is double the cost of the cheaper sheds, but half the cost of a full X-House. I take that as good news, as it's likely to be much more sturdy, yet it's still (probably) within my budget. This might be just what we were looking for!

I have sent an email to the company asking if I could talk to someone in English and I'll report back when I (if?) hear from them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The x-house shed

I had posted previously about asking Stefan for a quote for an X-House shed, which came in at 39,000kr. I asked him it it was possible to do anything different to help reduce the cost. He replied yesterday with what I thought to be a very useful and detailed reply, which I thought I'd share. (NB: I removed prices because that might be commercially sensitive information):

Hello Don,

I agree with you, to build a small house like this shed could be built more cost efficiently.

You cannot compare our building method in solid wood with a simple shed made of thin panel, it is a different way to do it. We don't sell any small houses, our bulding method is most cost efficient in larger houses.

For this small shed I quoted you for example we have one entrance door which have a cost price for us to buy [removed] SEK incl VAT. I have calculated 200 screws, cost price for us to buy [removed] SEK and all other material. I have calculated the offer for you with a very small margin. If we make it in a thinner wall dimension the price will reduce a little bit, but still it is impossible to compete with a shed made on site from thin panel.

For example I have my own shed in Täby from Coop Forum instead of glulam like the X-House. It is impossible to make it in glulam quality like other X-House in the price level they offer at for example: Coop, Bauhaus, K-Rauta etc. Remember that the quality is not the same, but for a simple shed you don’t need more quality maybe.

Regards Stefan

I have always been impressed with Stefan's responsiveness and detail over the past three years. This email is just another example of his patient dealing with a pushy American customer!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A shed-load of sheds

This one's called "Tim" by Polhus, a Swedish company who make a wide range of sheds and cabins. It is a bit more robust, with 28mm walls compared to the 16mm of the Lillevilla. The size is right, at 6.2 square meters. It's pricier, however, about 10,000 kronor.

JABO is a big pan-European shed manufacturer (which is a phrase I never thought I'd use in a sentence.) They have a nice 4.6 sq. m. shed at a good price, but again, the walls are pretty thin, only 20mm.

Janne shares my concern about these thin-walled sheds (he calls them 'plywood' sheds.) He suggested I ask X-House, and in fact, I had. Stefan gave me a quote for a custom shed, built in the same manner as my other two houses. However, their quote was 39,000kr, which is quite a lot when I've been looking at sheds between 5 and 10 thousand.

I replied to Stefan asking if there was a way to lower the specifications and price of their shed. I also dropped Wille a line to see if he had any ideas or recommendations. Even with price concerns, though, I don't want to put up something cheap and nasty. It would be better to have something solid like my X-Houses.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Our Dock

All of the homes on Aspö have access to a dock. The waterfront homes all have their own, of course. Those of us inland use a different arrangement. A master plan for the island assigns properties into groups of communal dock areas. Those property holders agree to jointly share the cost of building and maintaining a dock, and in exchange, everyone has their own space for mooring their boat.

The group of properties to which our house belongs have been mostly vacant, so there’s no communal dock for our house right now. But that appears to be changing shortly, as Margaret and Janne were brought papers regarding a meeting on August 1 about a dock for our area. Janne has volunteered to attend on our behalf to discuss either building a new dock, or extending an existing one to provide access for all. When this is decided, I’ll pay my portion of the construction and then the yearly upkeep. Since we’ll be sharing it among many families, our costs should be pretty small. The new dock will be to the south, a short walk downhill from our house.

I’ll report back after Janne attends the meeting.

UPDATE: The photo is of the dock on the northern end of the island shared by Marg & Janne and Ann & Dave, among others. Unusually for Aspö, this one wasn't built by Janne. And I should point out the beautiful sailboat is for sale, should any readers be interested.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The first shed candidate

This one's from Bauhaus, the European home improvement chain (not the German art school). They have a store near Marcia & Rutger, so we've made many, many visits there over the years.

Bauhaus sells a wide range of little cabins and sheds. This model is appropriately called Lillevilla. It has a couple of things going for it. First, it's about the exact size I had envisioned, 1.8 by 2.4 meters, giving a bit over 4 square meters of interior space. Secondly, the price is right, it's fairly cheap at 4995 kronor.

The biggest downside is that it's pretty flimsy. The walls are only 16mm thick. (That's a bit over ½ an inch.) As Rutger puts it, you can't really hang much on the inside, a nail would go right through. I also worry that exposed life on the island will be pretty tough on such a thin structure. (For comparison, the walls on the little house are 66mm, and the big house, 140mm.)

I think we'll have to go a little bit bigger, or sturdier at least. Fortunately, there are a lot of options out there, and we'll look at another in the next episode of "The Shedhunter"!

UPDATE: I thought I had read that the walls on the Lunar Module were very thin, and I was right, much of it was less than a ¼ inch thick. (It is ironic that I spent time today, of all days, looking at Apollo info on the web!) Unfortunately, in my research, I came across many "moon landing is a hoax" websites, which really annoyed me. Idiots.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blog visitors

I don't have an agenda for keeping this blog other than as a bit of entertainment for myself and my friends and family. I have had a few charming people find my blog and leave comments, but I always thought it was seen by a very small group.

Just for fun today, I looked at the analytical information on the blog, and I have to say I was amazed by the numbers. In just the past 6 weeks, there have been 1,769 visitors, and 789 of them have been new viewers. Who knew?

A dizzying array of information is available about these visitors. As you might expect, most are from the US, UK, or Sweden. However, readers from 50 other countries took a look these past weeks. I appear to have a regular reader in Santiago, so hola, whomever you are. I'd love to visit your country some day.

Reaching back to this blog's beginning, the single most popular subject has been the Cinderella toilet. It looks like people searching (in English) for information on incinerating toilets find my blog from the main Google search page. The second most popular search term is "Marcia Rutger", which I find intriguing.

There are some disappointing stats, however. Most new visitors spend less than a minute on the site, so I don't appear to be enrapturing my audience. And 56% of my visitors use Windows on their computer, which is 56% too many in my opinion. But there are 9 iPad users who've stopped by, so a shout-out to all of you!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Heat!

It's been a scorcher in Europe the past week. Here in London, we've been sleeping with just a sheet and a fan (and Ollie has opted for the kitchen tile overnight).

The heat is even worse on the continent. Marcia & Rutger are in Munich and it's 36°C (95°F) there in a hotel with no A/C!

Margaret reported the same temperature in St. Eriksplan yesterday, although I've just heard from her on Aspö that it's cooler there today, but still warm enough for her to brave the waters off their dock. (My Stavsnäs webcam guy reported 30°C (86°F) as his high temperature.) The Local is also reporting many temperature records this weekend.

Suffice it to say we're not built for those kinds of temperatures over here, although 95°F would be a relatively cool July day back in Dallas!