Saturday, December 24, 2016

God Jul!

I've posted previously about the tradition of Donald Duck's hold over Christmas Eve in Sweden.

The show is on in a few minutes. We're in London, so we will be watching over the Internet. I'm sure Rutger, along with a big chunk of the country, will be watching live.

Merry Christmas and God Jul everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Success!

I'm writing this from the temporary Saluhall in Östermalm this festive Monday evening. It's been a busy and successful 24 hours!

Yesterday's trip went like clockwork. Despite threatened train strikes and forecasted fog, I arrived to Stockholm on time, and my bus- train- boat journey out to the stuga went without a hitch.

It was just becoming dark as I disembarked the Waxholms boat yesterday, but I had my flashlight so the walk home was uneventful (if a little creepy).

The house was darned cold when I arrived, just a bit over freezing. I fired up all of the radiators but it took a few hours until I was warm enough without my coat. By bedtime, the bedroom was nice and cozy.

This morning, I met Andreas from Varmt och Skönt who had our luftpump, along with a load of extra parts and tools. It took two trips to get it all up from the dock.

Andreas went to work immediately. He was clearly someone who had done this a few times before! I tried to help, but frankly, my biggest job was to stay out of his way. When everything was done, I was amazed at how quiet the unit was—and how much heat it put out. The best part was the wifi connectivity, which allows me to run the unit from my iPhone anywhere in the world. I'll never again arrive to a freezing house.

Now I'm back in Stockholm, enjoying a little bit of festive time before I fly home later tonight. Thanks to the great wi-fi at the food hall, I'm able to upload all of my photos to a new album. Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Installing a Värmepump

I've posted a few times in the past about installing a heat pump in our stuga. A värmepump would allow me to heat the house much more efficiently. It would also allow a bit of cooling in a pinch, as well.

Installing one has always been on my list of "one of those days" projects. The problem for me was the installation, as it has to be done by a professional, and delivery on an island makes the project quite expensive.

Olle sent me a message about a promotion run by our electric company, Vattenfall, a few weeks ago. They were offering a subsidized price on värmepumps, along with installation, an internet remote control, a 2 year warranty, and a discount on power charges as well. A great deal.

I got in touch and things moved rapidly. The company were very professional and not fazed at all about an island installation. (Nor were they troubled in speaking to me in English.) The upshot is that we will install my new Värmepump next Monday the 19th!

I am going to take a quick trip over to assist with the installation, arriving on Aspö late Sunday afternoon. I'll bivouac in the house overnight and meet the installation crew Monday morning. They tell me it should take 4-5 hours to get the job done. We'll all take a taxi boat back in the afternoon and I'll be home in London Monday night.

The big advantage of installing it now is that our ability to visit the stuga over the next few months is greatly increased. If we want to do a long weekend, I can dial up the heat so we arrive to a nice toasty house, and start enjoying right away!

I will of course, be updating on the whole process, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Solid Wool

Sooz and I visited a market in Hackney recently and saw a fascinating chair made out wool, believe it or not.

We spoke to the designer, Justin Floyd, who told us his chair were made of local wool which had very little in and of itself. He's developed a way to mix the wool with resin and come up with a totally new material, which he's dubbed "Solid Wool".

It's similar to fibreglass but perceptibly different. The woolliness comes through, making the chair look and feel warmer.

Sooz and I liked the idea and the chair itself. Long-time readers may recall I looked into Welsh wool as insulation for our house when it was being built. We're not huge fans of our simple IKEA chairs. A couple of these would add a lot of comfort and warmth to our breakfast table.

I'm not too keen on the dark colour though; I'd much prefer white. Good news there, though: Justin is prototyping a model with lighter wool and should have one in January. I will stay in touch with his company and see how it turns out. It would be fun to have a bit of Devon in out little stuga!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November's Weather

Attached is November's weather summary. There was a good amount of snow and rain in the beginning of the month, totalling 2.3 inches (or 5.8cm). I'm all for winter precipitation!

The temperature dropped in the middle of the month, although there were not too many days below freezing.

We did see some significant wind gusts, however! Peaks of 30mph are pretty area in our inland position. I would imagine the shoreline had it far worse.

It's great fun to look at my weather station on my phone. It keeps me connected to my little stuga when I'm not there!


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving

It's time for my traditional Thanksgiving address. Our holiday was a bit unusual this year; we were gifted theatre tickets for Thanksgiving night, so we moved our dinner to the Wednesday. We were joined by Tim's girlfriend, Ashleigh, who was staying with us while she attended courses in London. Sooz made a lovely artisanal chicken along with all the trimmings. Grant had his own holiday with friends in Boston; apparently he was in charge of the bird itself. He certainly doesn't get any of those cooking skills from me!

And as is traditional, we celebrate the anniversary of Ollie's back surgery, which was 8 Thanksgivings ago. I'll say the same thing as I do every year: he's getting a bit older and slower, but he's still a happy and charming dog whom we all love very much.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pensionsmyndigheten

When we lived in Sweden those many years ago, Sooz worked for almost two years for a Swedish company.

We were struck recently that she may be eligible for a state pension because of her contributions during her employment.

It took some doing to figure everything out. As a non-resident, we had to file a request through the UK to apply to Sweden on our behalf.

After a bit of back and forth, we received word from the pensionsmyndigheten that Sooz was indeed eligible for part of the state pension payments. Effective today, she will receive a monthly payment.

It's not much, perhaps a bit of a subsidy for box wines, but it is something towards our Swedish retirement!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Snow!


November 7

November 8

November 9

November 10
November 12




















There was a record-breaking snowfall in Stockholm this week, 39 centimeters (15 inches) to be exact.  There's more snow in the capital today than there is in Lapland!

Both Marcia and Olle reported terrible conditions on the roads. This is far earlier than usual for the Stockholm area.

I took a few webcam snapshots over the past few days. Aspö is beautiful in the snow.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Learning Swedish

Sooz is continuing her language studies at the University of Westminster. She is well into the intermediate courses and has been a diligent student.

Unlike all of her classmates, she doesn't have a Swedish partner (at least not yet!). Her opportunities to practice her Swedish at home are therefore limited.

We have a Sonos speaker in the kitchen these days and have programmed Swedish radio for listening practice. Sooz also gets Swedish news alerts on her iPad.

I found recently that Swedish state radio operates a service for beginning Swedish speakers. A website and daily podcast is in simpler Swedish, and it also focuses on topics of interest to new Swedes.

Sooz gives it a listen from time to time and it is very well done. If you're learning or practicing your Swedish, it is an excellent resource.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

October weather

Here's the Aspö end of month  weather review.

The downward temperature trend shouldn't be surprising given the shortening days.

There was quite a bit of rain at the end of the month. Given that our water comes from our well, I'm a big supporter of winter rains!

It was also quite windy. Our house is pretty well sheltered, so to see a 18mph gust means it was damned windy at the shore.

Remember real-time info of the conditions at the stuga can be found on the Mapatmo weather map.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A 3D printed house?


The New York Times ran an article recently about technology that can 'print' a building, eventually without human intervention.

Buildings made in a simple and modular way should be able to increase the options for affordable housing in many parts of the world. In addition, homes that could be easily taken apart and reassembled elsewhere would be very useful in dealing with climate and demographic changes.

The video above is another type of a 'printed' house, this time in China. They aren't very pretty, but they are simple and cheap to build, although the use of concrete is problematic for the global environment.

Many new technologies and methods are being tested in the coming years. It will be interesting to see which of them take hold!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wooden Skyscrapers

I've posted before about the growing trend of wooden buildings being constructed with engineered wood like our little stuga. The Economist has a recent article about even taller structures being planned.

One of the most attractive things about a wooden skyscraper is its sustainability. Concrete and steel emit a significant amount of global CO², by some estimates over 5% of the annual total.

Wood, on the other hand, captures carbon dioxide, and comes from sustainable sources. When cared for properly, a wooden building can last as long- or longer- than a more modern structure.

The photo is of a proposed tower for central Stockholm, the "Tratoppen" (treetop in Swedish).

Who knows if anything like this will ever be built, but it is a lovely idea.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

September weather

I plan to make this a monthly feature now that my weather station is on year-round.

We had only two real days of rain during the month. The temperature only slowly  dropped, but the wind certainly picked up.

It's interesting to see how the house warmed up on the inside on sunny days, although it cooled down quite a bit at night.

Let's see how cold it gets this winter....!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Swedish wine

I posted about a year ago about the rise of Swedish winemaking. Climate change is slowly making southern Sweden suitable for vinyards.

This year is another good one for the industry. Swedish Radio reports on a great harvest due to the warm summer.

Who knows? Maybe one of our wine boxes from the Systembolaget will soon be locally sourced!

Monday, September 26, 2016

We're back!

It was a whirlwind trip. We took the Friday morning taxi boat and had Aspö pretty much to ourselves on the day.

In addition to the quiet on the island, the sea was unusually calm so we went boating around our neighborhood. We went to Namdö and climbed up to the observation tower at Nämdöbote. It was quiet and beautiful!

On Saturday, we worked with Olle and Annika to get all of our boats up out of the water at Bo and Gun's house. It was hard work but it was a lot of fun. Annika and Olle made dinner that night, and we had a great time.

Sunday, we closed up the stuga and went back to Stockholm in the afternoon. That's the saddest part of the year!

I have lots of photos up in a new album, and more posts will be up in the coming weeks, I promise.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Leaving soon!

Off for a 3-day weekend to close up the house and get the boat out of the water.

We'll see Annika and Olle, too, and I think Tony and Ann-Catrin will be on the island as well, so that will be lots of fun. (And of course, we get to stay at the luxurious B&B of Marcia & Rutger, too!)

Photos and comments will follow soonest.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fireplaces once again

I've posted many times in the past about fireplaces. I usually end up saying it'd be great to have one, but they're expensive, raise my insurance, and we really don't have any need. But still I look. There are so many cool ones out there!

Olle recently told me about a big showroom in Bromma that specialises in fireplaces of all types. Their website is amazing. I've seen a whole bunch of new styles and manufacturers I'd not heard of before.

The one pictured here is by a Danish company, Scanspis. I like the look, and it comes in many varieties- and in white as well.

I still think that we'll need a fireplace when we start using our stuga for our retirement. There are still chilly nights in May and September!

Friday, September 9, 2016

The 6-hour work week, revisited

I wrote recently about an experiment in Gothenburg in which employees of a nursing home worked only 6 hours a day, while still receiving full time pay. This was intended to reduce sick time and raise overall efficiency and happiness.

The test was deemed to be a success and made the news all over the world.

Sadly, this success is not being replicated elsewhere. A recent trial in Umeå didn't have any of the benefits found in Gothenburg. In fact, use of sick leave went up!

It's still too early to say if the whole idea is a failure, though. I like the fact that different things are being tried, at least!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

August's weather

One of the tasks I completed during our last stay was to sign up for a full-time internet account.

It wasn't easy to enter a contract, as I don't have a personnummer, but Rutger came to the rescue and signed on my behalf.

Now I can keep my Netatmo weather station running year around and keep track of the temperature (both indoor and outdoor), rainfall, and windspeed.


When I visit in a few weeks, I will add one more thermometer to the 'water house' that holds all of the plumbing to ensure it is the right temperature as well. (Olle told me he checked it once and it was way too hot. No need to over-heat anything!)

It's fun to be able to see all sorts of information about the weather conditions in real time. I can also access summaries as well.

Attached for your interest are the statistics from August just past. The month ended on a cooler and wetter note, but I can't complain as July was glorious when we were there.

Stay tuned for more weather-related observations over the year!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Apologies for the lack of posts

It's been a whirlwind August since our return from Aspö. Both work and home life have been very busy, and I haven't had the time to post.

We will return to close up the house in late September. I have lots of topics to write about, as soon as I find the time. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

It's been a wild week!

And we're leaving today, sadly.

The weather has been so perfect, and we've been so busy outside doing fun things, that I haven't had time to keep the blog updated or manage my pictures.

Suffice it to say there'll be lots of pictures and many interesting updates in the coming weeks.

UPDATE: The photo page has been updated. Enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2016

We're on our way again

Off to Stockholm again tonight to spend the last week of July in Aspö. Stay tuned for more reports of our escapades!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The 6 hour work week

I read recently about an experiment in Gothenburg with a 6-hour work day. It seems to be working well, for some organizations at least.

Paradoxically, productivity seems to be enhanced by the shorter working hours. “What we can see today is that employees are at the very least doing the same amount in the six-hour workday, often more than they did in the eight-hour day,” said the manager of a Toyota repair facility.

The idea is that workers who are fresher and less stressed can contribute more in their shorter working day, to the benefit of all.

Sweden has a long history of experimenting with work-life balance.  It's one of the things I love about the culture there.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

A house of shipping containers

Using shipping containers for building projects is all the rage these days. The interesting thing is that containers can be left visible, as in the house shown here, or camouflaged into a more traditional look.

The trend has now come to the archipelago as well. I found a recent article in the Skärgården newspaper about a family building such a home locally.

My English language readers can click this link for a Google translated version of the article.



Saturday, July 9, 2016

Internet Update

I received an update about the archipelago's internet access plans over the past few weeks, and it's not good news, I'm afraid.

When we were visiting the farm shop on Östanvik, one of the owners, Stina, told us new installations were going to focus on the numbers of permanent residents.  Given that Aspö has only a handful, that would put us low on the list.

This was confirmed in a letter I just received from the Nämdö fibre association. Not only will priority be given to permanent residents, but any grant monies will be given in an "all or nothing" format. Previously, applicants could receive a portion of their submittal, so money was spread around. Now, it's going to be only an island or two a year being wired. This puts Aspö even further down the list.

As I said recently, this bothers me less than it used to. My wireless broadband is pretty good these days. In fact, I've just signed a yearly contract so I can keep it on year-around. This will allow me (and you) to access my weather station every day. I'll also be able to use my webcam to have a peek at the conditions, although I'm not sure I have enough bandwidth to keep it on all the time! We will see.

PS. If you're wondering about the photo, it's Tim Berner-Lee's first web server.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Back home

We flew back on Independence Day today (the real one, not the Brexit kind) after a lovely weekend. As always, it's was good to be home and Ollie was very happy to see us as well.

It was a lot easier to leave this time as we'll be back in three weeks, the last week of July. More on those plans later. But for now, back to real life.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Catching up

I've been bad at posting, my apologies. Lots has been going on— and nothing's been going on! We've had pretty good weather, with a couple of spectacular days. Sooz has been working hard on her tan, I've been watching the football, and we've painted the doors and trim a nice shiny blue. The highlights:

  • The midsummer celebrations with Peter and Jeanette's family and a fantastic smorgasbord after.
  • Olle helping us drag the boat into the water- and rowing it halfway around Aspö himself! Sooz and I both tried to row but we just made the boat spin around drunkenly.
  • A visit from Rutger and Marcia and Marcia's mom. We had a beautiful Saturday and a rainy Sunday. Rutger gave me seamanship lessons with my little boat. We spotted a mink of some sort on an nearby island.
  • Sooz and I took a few boat trips, one again to the farm shop at Östanvik where we bought a lovely piece of lamb for dinner.

I've puttered around with lots of little things. The days and weeks seem to fly by, even without any huge construction projects! We have kept the photo page updated, though.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mat Hem

I wrote last year about the grocery delivery service, MatHem. They're big in the major cities in Sweden, and they branched out to archipelago deliveries last summer.

We decided to give them a try this year. They started island service on June 15, and Sooz made an online order from London that day for delivery yesterday afternoon. She was amazed at the range of goods available. When we first moved to Stockholm in 1989, the selections at the grocery store were limited, to put it mildly. Today, she's able to click on just about anything she could want and have it delivered! Amazing.

We bought a few groceries on our way out to Aspö on Sunday, and Sooz took stock of what we had at the house. She was able to alter her online order up until Monday evening, which was quite handy as we were able to fill in some grocery gaps we hadn't realised. We also added a bunch of heavy items like charcoal and bottles of tonic.

On Tuesday, we received a number of status messages from the delivery boat, and they arrived on our dock at 5PM loaded with all kinds of goodies—even a selection of ice creams, which is a rare treat!

Overall, we were quite impressed with the efficiency and professionalism of the service. It wasn't cheap: 295 kronor, although that's the same as 2 round-trip boat rides to Stavsnäs, so the price isn't that far off.

Sooz is worried about another potential cost, though. One of the things that makes life out here interesting for us is that it's a little bit hard. Having to think carefully about what you buy is very different to our lives in the city. It's a fun challenge to think through what to buy, where to buy it, how to get it to the house, how to manage our supplies.

With the ability to just click on a huge array of groceries and have them brought to us, that specialness goes away. What with the internet and HD television, and boat deliveries of ice cream, Aspö becomes more convenient, but perhaps a bit less special, too.

A few more ice creams will help me get over that feeling, though!!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hello Again from Aspö

We've had a busy couple of days. Our bag didn't arrive with us Friday night so we didn't make it to Aspö until Sunday afternoon. We were able to have a great dinner with Marcia and Rutger on Saturday night, however!

Everything is fine with the stuga. I spent yesterday on a surprisingly complicated project to relocate the TV antenna. A tree was blocking the signal from its old location, so I decided to fix it properly and move it to another part of the roof.  That took the whole day of going up and down the ladder, and boy, do I feel it this morning! But all's well that ends well and our TV signal is much better. The weather yesterday was superb and it's looking decent for the rest of the week.

I't's the longest day of the year today- the sun rises at 3:30 and sets after 10PM. I found a cool solar graph for Stockholm. Today is the centre line:


The midsummer celebrations begin in earnest later in the week, so more to report on then!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

On our way tomorrow!

After work, I'll be hopping on a Norwegian flight for my usual Friday evening arrival. Sooz will be joining me; we had originally planned for her to come a couple days later to match up with our dogsitter's schedule.

However, that dogsitter fell through, so we have found an alternate plan. Ollie is going to spend two weeks in Essex with a family that specialises in posh puppies like himself.  So now, thanks to flexible Norwegian ticket pricing, Sooz is able to travel with me.

Our plan is to spend Saturday with Marcia and Rutger and then go to Aspö on Sunday noon. Stand by for lots of midsummer posts and photos!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Makita Batteries

I bought a nice cordless Makita drill with a pair of 18V Lithium batteries almost 6 years ago. Since then, I've added a cordless saw, sander, and planer to the system. I have been very happy with all of my tools. They're clearly well made, and I've had full use out of them every summer.

I had a bit of a disappointment on my last visit, however. Both of my batteries would no longer charge. I was not happy, seeing how expensive they are! But after talking to Olle and Janne, it seems that I was perhaps uncharitable. They've lasted over 5 years, and my pattern of using them a lot for short times and then setting for a long time in cold weather is hard on a rechargeable battery.

Substitutes for the original Makita batteries are available from many different suppliers at a much lower cost. On the other hand, if my battery fails, I'm totally without a power tool. So I compromised and bought one official battery and one aftermarket model.

I'll do my best to take better care of them in the future. I will also report how well the aftermarket battery holds up. I could save a lot of money over the years!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Internet access

I've written many times in the past about broadband internet access in the archipelago. Looking back, my hopes were high (perhaps too high) that I'd have a 100mb fiber connection by now!

Obviously, that hasn't worked out. A reduction in EU grant money has slowed the rollout. Nämdö, the biggest island in our archipelago, has been installed and is working well. However, there's competition among the smaller islands in the area. We will get there eventually; one year it will be Aspö's turn! 

However, I'm less worried about it than I was, for a couple of reasons. First is the news that Vattenfall, our electric company, is planning to take down the phone poles around the island and instead put the cables on the ground. It makes sense, as a lot of time and energy is spent each year looking for fallen branches. Many of the poles are over 40 years old and will need to be replaced eventually. Putting the cables on the ground will solve both problems. I think it will look nicer too.

Why am I mentioning the power company in a post about broadband, you may ask? The answer is that when the power cables are re-laid, it will be simple (and much cheaper) to add the internet fiber cable to each of these runs. Piggy-backing on the Vattenfall work should relieve me from having to run the fiber to my house myself.

The second reason is my current internet setup with Tre.se is pretty darned good these days. I had my router on all winter, and I was able to peek into the house reliably. The speed is good enough to FaceTime back home, which fits my needs.

Once the fiber is available, I plan to get it for sure. But in the meantime, I'm connected to the internet just fine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lucky 13

Today is Ollie's 13th birthday. He poses here for his audience at one of our local pubs on his morning walk.

I've looked back at all of his posts on the blog. I've apparently used it as a bit of channel for my concern over the health of my furry boy. Sorry about that.

In the scheme of things, though, Ollie's doing pretty darned well. Thirteen is a decent age for a Corgi, especially one who's had a repaired back most of his life.

Ollie is slowing down quite a lot these days, but he remains a happy and charming dog, and we are blessed to have him in our family.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Beavers in Stockholm

National Geographic magazine recently published an article about the rise of beavers in Stockholm. It's worth a read.

I had not known that beavers were last seen in the capital in the 1790's. In fact, beavers were declared extinct in the whole country in 1871.

Thankfully, they were successfully reintroduced in the 1920's, and within the past decade, they've made their way to the big city.

I'm pretty sure they won't make it out to the archipelago, however. At least, I hope not, since my house is made entirely of wood!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Stavsnäs Vinterhamn Pizzeria and Restaurant

When we took our shopping trip to Gustavsberg recently, we had some time to kill in Stavsnäs. Over the past couple of years, there have been a few additions to the little bunch of shops at the harbour. 

One of those was a pizzeria. We stopped in and were the only customers. (In fact, I think we were the only people at the whole harbour early on a Wednesday afternoon.) Sooz and I spoke with George, the charming young man behind the bar. He’s probably close to Grant’s age, and he’s attending university. It turns out he was the owner!

George’s family moved to Sweden from Serbia a generation ago from a family of restauranteurs. He bought and re-opened the pizzeria two summers ago. We talked about their business, and as you’d imagine, the summers are busy, and the winters are very, very quiet. Most of the off-season is just take-away pizzas for those people who live year-round in the Stavsnäs area.

We will certainly stop by George’s restaurant whenever we get a chance. I want to support him and his local business as much as we can.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eurovision wrap-up

It's Sunday afternoon. I woke up just a little while ago, not getting home until almost 2AM!

Eurovision was a fantastic experience live. I have to say the most fun part were the crowds beforehand. The whole area around the Globe was packed with people of all sorts in costumes of every type. And I mean all sorts and every type!

The best part is was the atmosphere. It had a bit of a contest element to the party vibe; everyone wanted their country to win, but having a good time trumped everything.

Måns and Petra were superb hosts. The show was nearly 4 hours long, but it kept moving. Broadcasting such a complex show live to over 200 million people is an enormous challenge.

I was to the side of the stage and so got to see some of the mechanics behind the staging, and it was mightily impressive to a nerd like me.

There were lots of highlights. Justin Timberlake was great, for one. But the number by Petra and Måns outlining how to make a winning Eurovision song was outstanding:



I have a Flickr page of the day's activities. There are many more photos (perhaps too many more) on my Instagram page as well. Now back to real life...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Eurovision Final is set

It was a heck of a show. Mans and Petra are great hosts. The only snag was that none of the other Nordic countries made it through. This will impact Sweden's votes, I think. Will Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland give all their votes to Sweden? Or, freed from the obligation of reciprocal  voting, will they vote their hearts for a change?

I'm getting excited for the trip, to say the least!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Other favourites

Ukraine is also proving a popular pick this year. If she can get by the semi-finals on Tuesday, Jamala may do well with her song "1944", which refers to the Russian annexation of Crimea in that year (as opposed to its re-annexation this year):


The Eurovision rules preclude songs that are political in nature, but Jamala's song was approved despite Russian complaints. Voting will be interesting!

Another song with a bit of subtext is France's Amir, with "J'ai cherché". It can't be an accident that the French broadcasters chose a multi-cultural singer this year. Here's his winning performance:


The first semi-final is tonight, and I'll report on the big winners and losers tomorrow!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The bookie's favorite: Russia

Below is the official video from Sergey Lazarev, Russia's entry this year. Oddly, given the geopolitical climate in Europe, the bookies have Sergey as the top pick for this year's contest:



Here's a snippet of his rehearsal yesterday, which gives a good idea of how his performance will be staged. There are lots of Måns-esque interactive lighting effects. One thing that Eurovision can be counted on is to repeat what won last year!



Saturday, May 7, 2016

Precisely one week from now

... I will be in my seat at the Globe arena, watching the grand final of the 2016 contest in person. It is safe to say that I am tremendously excited at the prospect!!!!!!!

Each day this week, I'll share the videos of the top contenders, along with info from the semi-finals.

For now, here's a recap of all of the competitors. It's seventeen minutes well spent, if you're into this sort of thing:

   


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The hus is getting older

We were talking with Marcia and Rutger about how long it has been since we built our house. We were all a bit surprised to realise this summer would be eight years since the house went up. It is amazing how quickly time flies. In many ways, it seems like yesterday. But then, I look at old pictures and we can see how much has changed.

I bring this up because this realisation has changed our thinking a bit. We took a lot of stuff out to the house in the first couple of years that we haven’t used. I’ve not wanted to throw anything away because of the effort of carrying anything out to the house.

This spring, though, both Sooz and I had a bit of a clean-up and earmarked a lot of stuff to get rid of. If I haven’t used it in a few years, I don’t need it! We’re a lot more organised and knowledgeable these days so we don’t need to hang onto stuff “just in case”. I don't want our little summer house to start filling up with junk like my regular house!

The other thing about the passing years is that we’re starting to see a need for maintenance and upgrades. Weatherstripping is becoming brittle, our door and window trim needs a new coat, our TV set is looking very dated. Up until now, we’ve been building and adding to the house. 

I expect we will be moving from constructing our house to maintaining it over the next few years. It may not be as much fun, but it’ll keep me busy, which is the important thing...

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Trevlig Valborg!

Tonight is Valborg, the night before May 1st, and the traditional start of Spring in Sweden. Tonight is celebrated by a big bonfire, and tomorrow is time for speeches by the "politically active", as the official Sweden website puts it in describing the day.

I wrote about my first Valborg on the blog six years ago for those readers interested in mining the archive.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cinderella maintenance

We were able to open up the house surprisingly easily after its winter break; everything was in fine shape. There was one little issue, however. The first day we used the Cinderella, it was unusually smelly.

A bit of investigating found that the toilet had moved away from its chimney just the smallest amount, allowing some of the exhaust to blow back into the room.

I was able to re-seat it easily, and that fixed the issue. But we found that it had not burned its waste as completely as it usually does. Since the Cinderella was entering its seventh year of service, I thought it might need some sort of overhaul. 

I called Johan, our trusty Cinderella vendor, and he emailed me a maintenance document. Sooz and I cleaned out the exhaust pipes per the instructions. It wasn’t that bad, which we were happy to see. We also steamed it out with a litre of boiling water, and everything was back to normal. 

We will take good care of our Cinderella. It’s very important to us!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Swedish Number


Incidentally, this happened while we were in Sweden recently. The Swedish tourist board has set up a "national phone number". 

Dial +46 771 793 336 and you'll be connected to a Swedish person to talk about anything at all. Since the program started, 17,000 Swedes have signed up to have calls sent to them. People from all over the world are calling in to talk to a random Swede, even the Prime Minister:


Naturally, this experiment in openness and tourism has gained a great deal of attention. The Atlantic, Guardian, and New York Times have all written about the experience. Here's a tip, though: don't ask about ABBA, Ikea, or the Swedish Chef!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New money

I saw a few stickers on cash registers last week with pictures of Swedish notes crossed out and a date of June 30th.

A closer look showed the 20, 50, and 1000 kronor notes are being taken out of circulation in the next couple of months, replaced by newer, more secure versions. I'll admit I had completely missed this news.

Next year, the 100 and 500 kronor notes will be withdrawn, along with the coins.

I looked at my cash (as I said recently, Sweden is pretty cashless already) and found some old bills. I'll be spending them them in advance of the changeover!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A quick update

Starry Night The week has unexpectedly flown by, despite it being mostly drizzly, and me unusually with no major projects. We spent the day at Gustavsberg shopping for various supplies, Janne visited us Thursday, we had dinner with Peter and Jeanette Friday, and Marcia and Rutger are arriving today for their birthday sleepover.

Oh- I almost forgot- I managed to score a ticket for the Eurovision final on May 14th! I'll be back to Sweden for that.

I have been updating the photo page, and there are lots of blog posts coming over the next few weeks.

UPDATE: I took this panorama last night, and I think it turned out very well. I'll tweak it a bit in Photoshop later, but it's good enough to share right away.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

We're here

...and all is well. We arrived to the hospitality of Rutger and Marcia's house Friday night, and left at midday Saturday to shop and take the 16:10 boat from Stavsnäs. Thankfully, Annika and Olle met us, because we (as usual) bought way too much stuff to carry!

Sooz got to try out her new shopping trolley. We've seen many islanders with a certain brand so, after much debate over the array of choices available, Sooz chose a lovely turquoise model with big wheels and a freezer compartment. It swallowed up a whole load of groceries and bumped along the path like a champ.

The funniest thing is that our boat from Stavsnäs had maybe 6 people on it, and one of those passengers had the exact same trolley as ours. It's a small world!

Annika and Olle joined us for Sooz's fish tacos last night and we had a wonderful time as usual. The house is in great shape and we got everything up and running in an hour.

I've started a new photo album for this visit. More later in the week.

Friday, March 25, 2016

T-Minus one week!

Seven days from now, we'll be in the air on our way to Stockholm. Sooz is taking Ollie to his old dog sitter in Ascot, and I'm meeting up with her to take Norwegian Airways after work.

We will take the late afternoon boat to Aspö on Saturday, so we will have time to shop on our way to Stavsnäs. We'll be having dinner with Annika and Olle that night. We can't wait.

PS. Happy Birthday to Grant!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cost of Living Index

I found a fascinating interactive chart at the Economist website.

It shows the current cost of living in a number of world cities, using New York as the baseline.

Singapore retains its #1 spot as most expensive. London is 6th, just ahead of New York at 7th.

Copenhagen is 8th, but I was surprised to see that Stockholm has fallen all the way to 42nd! Much of this is the strength of the dollar. Looking at the chart for five or ten years ago gives a different story.

I had quite a lot of entertainment looking at this chart, and I hope my dear readers will enjoy it as well.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A small house in New York

I saw this New York apartment on Dwell recently.

Two things caught my eye, first that the house was about 600 square feet, the same size of our own stuga.

Second was the quote: “seldom-needed stuff (luggage, winter clothes) is stashed in the higher cabinets. ‛Believe it or not, we have empty cabinets,’ says the owner. ‛There’s space for everything.’”


Our own house is exactly the same way. A combination of lots of IKEA cabinets, and not owning too much to begin with, leave lots of free space!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Frans is the winner!

It was another fantastic Melodifestival finale last night from the Friends Arena in Stockholm.

The hot favourite, Frans, won with his "If I Were Sorry," which is posted in last week's entry. It was different from most of the other entries— no fancy staging, no backup singers or dancers, no pyrotechnics or light shows. We'll have to see how he does in the big show with such a simple song.

There were plenty of other highlights from the show. First off, we got to watch it from a local pub with Marcia and Rutger and a packed crowd. That made it a lot more fun!

video

There were plenty of other highlights too. Måns performed "Heroes" in an acoustic version, and with a replacement for his laser-generated children:


My other favorite bit was the return of "Linda Woodruff" of the European Broadcasting Union (who's really Sweden's own Sarah Dawn Finer):


I have to say that SVT does a fantastic job of putting on a live show. Not just last night's finale, but to hold six live semi-finals all over the country every Saturday is quite the feat. I'm sure they will pull out all the stops for the Eurovision finale in May!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Melodifestival: Halmstad

Last night was the 'second chance' show, this time from Halmstad. (I had to look it up; it's on the western coast, between Gothenburg and Malmö.)

The format was new. Each of the eight acts were pitted one-on-one against each other. Four duels, four winners through to the final.

Much to Sooz's pleasure, Samir and Viktor made it through to the final show. It is a catchy tune, but watch the video all the way through to understand just why she likes this duo:


The bookies have put Frans as an early favourite. I thought this song was a bit droopy at first, but it is growing on me:


Next Saturday is the big final and we'll be watching live at a local pub. The best news is that Marcia and Rutger will be visiting London this weekend, and they'll be joining us for the show! I feel a little bad that my Swedish friends come to England and I make them watch the Melodifestival, but they're good sports and I'm sure it will be a fun time.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Making plans for Ollie

I had written that, during our April visit,  Ollie is going to be with his old dog-sitter, Ethie, in our previous neighbourhood of Ascot. 

It turns out that we may not be able to do the same this summer, as Ethie is pretty booked up around the summer dates I'm able to be off work. 

I looked into the possibility of taking Ollie with us to Sweden. It turns out to be surprisingly inexpensive for him to join us on our Norwegian Air flight. The import rules for his moving between the UK and Sweden are also straightforward. We'd love for Ollie to be with us all summer, and we know he was happy out there last time. 

But things are a lot different now. Ollie will be 13 by then and he can't get around as well as he used to. There are a lot of steps and uneven ground around our little stuga, neither of which Ollie likes much any more. He also doesn't have much stamina, so he couldn't, for example, walk all the way to the Waxholms dock. We worry it may be too stressful for both him and us to have a good summer in Sweden.

The other option is a new dog sitter. We've had a trial run with a young lady whom Ollie seems to love. She may be able to stay in our flat while we're away. That makes things easier and simpler for Ollie, and so less a concern for both of us.

I haven't totally given up on the thought of our furry boy being with us, though! I'll share our thinking on this as we make our summer plans.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Melodifestival- Gävle

Not a bad show last night in Gävle, no real stinkers, but I don't see a winner from here, either. Joining Gina Dirawi as co-host was old favourite Sara Dawn Finer. I'm really starting to like Gina, she's multi-talented!

Going through to the final was the single-named Frans and another old hand, Molly Sandén. Molly's staging was interesting, but her outfit was bizarre. Her skirt looked like to was going to be pulled off and turned into a stage prop at any moment, but it never did.

In other news, we watched the UK selection show on Friday night. It was, frankly, embarrassing. For a start, the show was on BBC4, with a C-list host. Måns performed "Heroes" at the opening, but he didn't participate at all elsewhere in the show. The production values were far worse than a Melodifestival semi-final in Gävle. And this from a country that was one of the world's first broadcasters, not to mention bringing us the Beatles and the Clash! Like I say, embarrassing.

At least the public picked the best of the acts performing that night. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the entry of the United Kingdom, Joe and Jake:




Thursday, February 25, 2016

Expat.com

I registered my blog a long time ago with expat-blogs.com. Over the years, I'm sure many people have found this site through their referral. I've probably disappointed many folks looking for information on work or life in Stockholm, though!

The website has changed recently to expat.com, and it is a much broader and sharper-looking site these days. It's easy to find information on most any city in the world now.

It is certainly worth a look if you're thinking (or just dreaming) of living elsewhere.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Melodifestival- Norrköping

Things were pretty "meh" last night in Norrköping. The highlight for me was the opening performance of "Under Pressure" by co-hosts Henrik Schyffert and Gina Dirawi:
As for the acts themselves, let's just say there won't be anybody playing in the Eurovision final coming from this heat!

Although, Lisa Ajax's "My Heart Wants Me Dead" must be in contention for the best/worst song title ever...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Back to Aspö

We've set the date of the first trip back to Sweden from our new London home.

We'll be there the beginning of April, just after Easter. Ollie will spend the time back in Ascot with Ethie, his dog-sitter from our previous time in the UK. Everyone is happy about that!

To maximise our time, we will take Norwegian Air Friday night and then back early Monday morning the following week. That will give us two full weekends with no jetlag. Perfect.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Melodifestival- Malmö

The second semi-final was last night in Malmö, with guest host (and previous Eurovision winner) Charlotte Perrelli.

There were a number of repeat acts again this show, David Lindgren and Isa (whom you'll remember from last year's blog) primary among them. In fact, David and Wiktoria went straight through to the final. Isa (with a new brunette hairstyle and a less poppy sound) made it to the second chance show.

Wiktoria's staging was very different. She wore a body stocking for her performance, which was a platform for an array of digital effects; it was an spectacular look.
 
Sooz had a great observation that many of the acts had unusual lighting schemes. Given that Måns won last year with his interactive laser show, it's no surprise that many artists are doing something similar. It's quite common for entrants to copy last year's successful entries!

Friday, February 12, 2016

The ABBA Museum

The recent edition of Intelligent Life magazine has a wonderful article about the ABBA museum. It really makes me want to go next time I'm in Stockholm!

The article covers much more than the museum, though. ABBA's place within mid-70's Swedish culture is discussed, and it is a fascinating read.

There's a podcast version, too, if you're into that.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Melodifestival is back

Just a quick update today from the first semi-final in Göteborg. All of the acts were Euro-ready for sure. A bit disappointing that all of them were so professional!

Ace Wilder returned with a much more grown-up look and song, and went straight to the final with "Don't Worry." She is one to watch.

Sooz rather liked the second-chance duo, Samir and Viktor, with "Bada Nakna", or 'Swim Naked." Quite a bit of beefcake on stage.

We've also booked our place at a local pub to watch the final on March 12th live. That should be amusing. Next week, Malmö!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"A very nice hand for these Texan gentlemen"


December 1, 1957. Still sounds great today, over fifty-eight years later.

RIP Buddy Holly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Back to School!

I blogged recently about Swedish life in London. The things that most excited me were filmjölk and Scandinavian restaurants.

Sooz, however, had a much better idea. She decided to take advantage of the educational (as opposed to culinary) opportunities and study Swedish.

She has started a course at the University of Westminster to brush up her language skills. She's skipped the beginners courses and is an intermediate learner. She now has a student ID, which I think is really cool. I can now brag that I'm married to a college girl!

Who knows? I may sign up myself one day. I would, of course, have to start at the very bottom, but I'd love to be able to have even the simplest conversation in Swedish with my neighbours.

I will try to get Sooz to blog here about her experience. Stay tuned over the coming months.

UPDATE 16 Feb: Sooz has left behind a Swedish note in the comments!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Longbranch Cabin

Grant sent me this one- it's a cabin on Puget Sound in Washington state. What makes this one a little different is that it's been added to, bit by bit, since it was first built in 1959.

It's a testament to the skill of the architect, Jim Olson, that the house stays a unified whole after all those years, and not a mishmash of different styles.

Many of the houses on Aspö share this expansionist design.

Olle is always working on a new project at his house: a new deck, a sauna, guest houses. Our own house is different seven years later: the guest house redesigned, the addition of the shed, the walkway between houses, and most recently, the big deck. I admire the way this cabin has managed to add on so many new parts, but still maintain its cool look.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Shopping in Södermalm

The southern part of Stockholm, Södermalm, is one of those areas that has transformed from a rough-and-tumble part of town into a hipster enclave.

When I worked in Sweden 25 years ago, I had a colleague who lived in Söder, and I remember everyone's reaction to his living in such a dicey area. His rebuttal was that it was far cheaper than living further north!

Margaret's son, Callan, who is a naturally hip guy, lived in Södermalm a number of years ago when its revival was just beginning. Now that I think about it, maybe he was one of the people who helped start the transformation.

Totally Stockholm has a long article about Söder and the taxonomy of hipsterdom.

The reason I'm writing on this is that my friend Rob sent me a New York Times article about shopping in that area. It also references shopping in Shoreditch, an area of London that has gone through a similar hipsterfication. Sooz and I have visited Shoreditch a few times and we really enjoy it. I know we're too old to be hipsters, but we can visit at least!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cashless Sweden

I have found that, over my years in Sweden, every place I go accepts debit cards. I've paid for hot dogs at a kiosk, and my taxi boat through a wireless dongle while on the high seas. I've sent money electronically all over Sweden for all sorts of business and personal reasons.

The New York Times has written recently about Sweden's progress in becoming a cashless society. Old-fashioned physical money represents just 2% of Sweden’s economy, compared with 7.7% in the United States. The Guardian has a similar article, pointing out that robberies have fallen in line with the lack of money available to steal.

Although I haven't seen it yet myself, apparently many ATM machines have been removed due to lack of use, and some bank branches no longer keep cash. It's not just credit cards, too. Camille uses an iPhone app called 'swish' to send and receive small amounts quickly and easily.

It's not just the citizenry that endorses going cashless. Skatteverket, the Swedish tax authority, loves eliminating cash transactions. The high tax rates in Sweden give ample incentive to tax dodge when possible. Paying a workman in cash in an undocumented transaction avoids the payment of VAT, which can be as high as 25%. Of course, Skatteverket does a great job of chasing down such activity.

Despite such work, the shadow economy in Europe is still huge, nearly a half-trillion euros last year. In Bulgaria, 31% of the country's economic activity is off the books. In Sweden it's still over 13%.


As more transactions take place online, more taxes can be collected, which is something the Swedish authorities love!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Micro-Apartments in New York City

I read recently in the New York Times about a new apartment complex in the city.

Much like the legislative changes to address housing shortages in Stockholm, laws have been changed in New York to allow much smaller flats to be built.

These flats are around 350 square feet (32 square meters), and are filled with space-saving design features. One touch I like is the 9-foot ceilings, which adds a sense of space to a small flat, much like the high ceilings in our little stuga.

Another innovation is Ollie, not our dog, but rather the trademark for a set of amenities designed for micro-living. Ollie provides a number of shared facilities, and along with conveniences and services to make it easier to live together in small private spaces.

Ollie seems a bit fancy but I endorse the idea. On Aspö, we have shared facilities and events on the Midsummer meadow, and the sense of community is quite strong. Who needs a trademarked New York idea when we have island life?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Photos from Annika and Olle

A trace of snöThey're out on Aspö for New Years' and have sent me a bunch of great photos from yesterday and today. I've added them to my page of their Flickr photos.