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!