Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Wisconsin prefab summer house

Our friends at Dwell have a nice slideshow of a prefab summer cabin built on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. At 1600 square feet, though, it's perhaps too large to call a cabin. Treehugger has another article, too.

It's built through a prefab system called "FlatPak", which has been developed by a Minneapolis-based architectural firm. Dwell has a longer article about Flatpaking. It's an interesting concept that makes for a stylish house.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Graduate

On a personal note, Grant graduated from Elon University this weekend. The good news is that he's starting a new job straightaway. The bad news is that he won't be able to join us in Sweden.

I'm disappointed, but I remember that he can't visit us because he has a job, so that's very good news.

Congratulations, Grant!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mackmyra Whiskey

I'm not a whiskey drinker. However, it's not uncommon to end a meal out on Aspö with a little taste of spirits. Having access to (relatively) cheap Scotch at Heathrow duty-free has made it easy for us to bring over a few interesting bottles, either as gifts, or for serving ourselves.

I had heard of Mackmyra, a locally-made Swedish whiskey which was apparently well-regarded by those in the know. It was available at the Systembolaget, although at quite a high price. Not really being a spirit drinker, I always passed it by, preferring to spend my kronor on my beloved Pripps, or perhaps a nice box of wine.

Earlier this year, I decided to see if Mackmyra was available in the USA. It was, but hard to find. Being a Texas resident, mail order wasn't possible. My local vendors weren't able (or, I think, willing) to order me just one bottle.

A Scandinavian connection came to the rescue. I found a store in Minneapolis, close to my family, which had it on their shelves. My sister picked me up a bottle, so now I can say I'm a Mackmyra drinker. (I did the math, and the cost to me in Minnesota was exactly half the cost in Sweden.)

Sooz likes it quite a lot; she's much more of an expert than I am. I've had a few sips in the evening, and it's growing on me.

I might be a bad luck charm for the company, though. Not long after I obtained my bottle, the distillery announced losses, and a retrenching of their business. It appears they'll be focused on their home markets, with no more sales in the USA.

My sister got me another bottle before they disappeared. If I do acquire a taste, I'll have to pay Swedish prices!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cafe Saturnus

Sooz and I were watching House Hunters International the other night about a couple looking for an apartment in the swanky Östermalm neighborhood of Stockholm. Sadly, the episode isn't available online, but suffice it to say the asking prices were in the $1.5 million range.

The episode did serve to remind me about my visit to Café Saturnus in Östermalm last March. I went there for brunch with Marcia & Rutger and their friend Patrick. We had a fabulous meal, everyone was very nice, and the place was as trendy-hipster as it could be.

The New York Times wrote a review a few years ago about Saturnus and a number of other fashionable Stockholm bakeries. I'm happy to report the café is still thriving, and the bulle are just as supersized.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A messge from Lars today

I received a bunch of info from our handyman Lars today. He is almost finished with washing and sealing our deck, and he is very happy with the results so far.

Through the miracle of iPhone technology, he sent along a little video of the process. It's obvious the deck is much lighter underneath the scrubbed portion! We are looking forward to seeing it in person in just under three weeks.

I don't believe the painting will be done by the time we arrive, however. It's not yet consistently warm enough to paint safely. Who knows? I might be able to be part of the painting process when we're there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A six-hour workday

News arrives from Gothenburg about an experiment with a group of municipal workers. A group of employees will work a 6-hour work day (with full pay) to see if they are more productive than another group working a traditional full day.

Part of this is the left-wing local government flexing its muscles in favor or worker's rights. But there is science behind it, too. There is a correlation between shorter working hours and greater productivity. German workers, for example, work fewer hours on average than their European counterparts, yet have the highest productivity. The OECD has a great data set online that tracks many statistics about work hours and productivity across developed countries.

I've blogged before about happiness, and how Scandinavian countries usually lead the pack in that measure. Work/life balance is an important component of that formula. It will be interesting to see the results of this experiment!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Conchita Wurst is our Eurovision winner!

Our Danish hosts put on a fantastic show last night. It was a perfect mix of whistlers, trampolinists, rappers, trapeze artists, erotic butter-churners, circular pianists, and in the end, a bearded lady won it all.

Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst ended up winning fairly comfortably, although the country & western duo from the Netherlands came a respectable second, and Sweden's Sanna Nielsen finished third. My sister somehow managed to pick first, second, and third places correctly. Seeing how I manage to only pick the winner every 5 years, I'm amazed at that!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

The final line-up is set

Another great show from Copenhagen today. The last ten acts were chosen, including Swiss whistlers, Greeks on trampolines, Slovenian flautists, and everyone's favorite transgender belter, Conchita Wurst.

The final running order has been set, and the United Kingdom are in the coveted last spot. Sweden is exactly in the middle at 13th. As I wrote before, going later (at least in the last five) is far better for the final vote.

A couple of news stories have surfaced today, too. The Economist reports on an analysis of voting patterns, which finds that "block voting" of neighboring countries is not as prevalent as some think.

For my American readers, the New York Times has a good recap from the U.S. perspective.

It looks to be a super show on Saturday. We will be having our usual Eurovision party in the evening Texas time, so I will resist the urge to see the result live!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The first semi-final is over

Thankfully, Sanna Nielsen and Sweden made it through to the final, as did Aram from Armenia, so the favorites survived.

Rounding out the ten were Montenegro, a hunky guy from Hungary, Russian twins (whose selection was roundly booed for what I assume political reasons), Ukraine (who featured a guy on a hamster wheel and were roundly cheered for perhaps the same reasons), Azerbaijan, plucky little San Marino, the Netherlands (with an odd California-country rock duo), and a bunch of colorful dudes from Iceland.

Even better was that Marcia and Camille were also watching from Stockholm so we were able to keep up a text chat in real time. Perfect.

It was a textbook broadcast: lots of charmingly stilted banter from the three hosts, hokey little interstitial videos, and a bizarre intermission dance number. Very well done, Copenhagen!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The countdown to Eurovision has begun!

We are only one week away from the big show. Actually, things are hotting up already in Copenhagen; all of the acts and their entourages are in town, drumming up support, and practicing on the big stage.

The first semi-final is only 3 days away, on Tuesday the 6th; the second semi is May 8th. Sixteen countries will compete in each semi-final for ten places in Saturday's show. Sweden's entry, Sooz's look-alike Sanna Nielsen, performs "Undo" on Tuesday. One potential sticking point is that she sings 4th out of the 16 acts, and going early is usually bad news. (In the past seven years, all of the winners have come from the final 5 songs performed.)
I admit I didn't like it at first, but after hearing it on Swedish radio these past weeks, it is growing on me. Interestingly enough, the bookies have it as the second favorite in the betting!

Who's the bookie's favorite, you ask? Why, that would be Aram MP3, with "Not Alone."
It's not bad, actually. It appears the bookies are going for ballads this year. However, he has an even worse spot in the semi-finals, going first on Tuesday. Ugh.

And who has the longest odds of winning? at 250-1, it's Tijana from the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia with "To the Sky." The video for the song has a nice eurodisco thump and lots of beefcake if you're into that sort of thing:

But it's the live performance from the Macedonian final that shows why bookies have it at such long odds:
I will be reporting after the lineups are set on Thursday. It looks like another great show!!!

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Lars, the ÖtomtenLast fall, I met with Lars, a local handyman who is going to clean and seal our deck, and (finally) paint the front of the house this spring. I've been pestering him with videos and emails about exactly what I want these past few weeks. He has withstood all of my input with good grace.

Lars recently told me he's retired from the police force and will be working full-time on a firm that offers security and management services in the archipelago. Their website,, (in English here) is one of the most beautiful and professional I've seen.

The idea is a good one. Most of the people I know on Aspö are there quite frequently, so keeping an eye on one's property is easy for them. But many more island residents aren't.

A guy like me is a perfect candidate for Lars' services: far away, and with little ability to address problems as they occur. Fortunately, I am blessed with such great neighbors as Olle and Annika, who really go out of their way to look after our house, especially during the winter.

Although I don't see myself using his security services, it is good to know somebody like Lars, both personally and professionally. And his website is a real winner!