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 sl.se 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, wordle.net, 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??