Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gott Nytt Är!

I received an email from Annika and Olle, out on Aspö for the holiday. She gave me a link for an iPhone app that makes it easy (and free) for us to send messages and photos.

I installed it and we've been chatting all morning. Annika sent me 5 new photos, which I've put up on her gallery. There's no snow at all, which is quite a contrast to last year.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Farewell to SAAB

It appears Saab, that quintessential Swedish car company, is no more.

I always thought a SAAB 900 convertible was a great blend of fun & safety. The Shelby, on the other hand, is not practical at all. Just fun. Lots of fun.

But I digress. Farewell, quirky little Saab.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul


Even though we're far away from Sweden this Christmas, that won't stop us from enjoying the long-held tradition of watching Donald Duck at 3 in the afternoon.

Through the magic of the internet, and although I know it goes against tradition of watching only live, we'll be revisiting last year's broadcast (which doesn't change all that much year to year).

Margaret sent me a Slate article about the tradition, and all my previous posts over the years are here.

God Jul till alla!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Filmjölk

I thought I had blogged before about my favourite Swedish breakfast treat, but it appears I haven't. So, to rectify my oversight:

Filmjölk is a traditional soured milk, somewhere between regular milk and yogurt in consistency and taste. I think it's delicious with granola and/or fruit in the morning, and it's my big breakfast treat on Aspö.

There are a whole host of similar soured/fermented milk products in dairy-consuming cultures all over the world. I don't mind sour cream on my baked potato, but that's about as far as I go here in the US. No buttermilk or whipped cream for me. But in Sweden, I can't get enough fil in the morning!

As I was looking up info on filmjölk for this post, I stumbled across a website that sells the specific starter cultures to make my own. This, I couldn't resist. I ordered a packet, and now Sooz and I have followed the video instructions and made our very own filmjölk.

I had my first bowl this morning, topped with fresh Swedish granola, courtesy of Marcia. It was damned good! The taste was exactly the same, and I had a tasty, if nostalgic, breakfast. It was funny to enjoy such a Swedish-specific treat here in Texas.

If I manage my culture right, I'll be able to enjoy a Swedish treat all winter long. I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'm back in Texas

72 hours after I left, I'm back in the Lone Star state. Thanks to the on-time performance of a number of global airlines, the public transportation systems in London and Stockholm, and above all, the cheerful and efficient chauffeur services of my good buddy Rutger, everything worked out fine.

It was nice to visit the house of course, but a little strange, too. Being on the island by myself on such a dark, wet, and cold day gave everything a melancholy, if not slightly threatening, air. I also had the constant reminder of being on the clock. I was there for about 5 hours, about twice as long as the Apollo 11 crew spent walking on the moon, but still.

I took photos for some future projects I'll blog about later. Everything else seemed in great shape, with the exception of our little shed, which is settling a bit. We'll have to jack it up a bit next year.

A batch of photos are up on a new webgallery. It's still hard to believe we won't be back until Easter at the earliest...!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hello from Aspö

I'm here, in the middle of a breakneck visit to Europe. It is grey and raw here. I'm having a hard time not imagining myself as a character in a Wallander book. I'd much prefer snow. But no matter bleak it is here right now, it's still beautiful in its own way.

The house looks good and the bathroom and water closet are both properly warm. I seem to have misplaced the key for the shed which is an annoyance. I'll find a weatherproof combination lock for my next trip.

I'll have a few photos up when I'm back in the US, which is tomorrow, believe it or not.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

St. Lucia's Day

It's Lucia's Day today. I haven't found much of a Swedish community here in Texas yet, as I posted last year. But I will try to get Sooz to make some saffron buns!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chicago Wolves Hockey

I have mentioned in the past that Wille's son, Eddie Lack, is a goaltender in the hockey minor leagues here in North America. You may recall that Wille hails from Leksand, the hockey-mad region in northern Sweden.

Eddie is now with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. I've been following his exploits closely.

Recently, Eddie was featured in the Wolves' online magazine, and it's fun to read about him. Wille told me he was planning to come to Chicago this winter, and we'd love to join him in my hometown to watch some hockey.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another Summer house

Dwell has a slideshow of a very simple and chic house in the Skåne countryside.

It's a bit too precious for me, I think. But it is beautiful and worth a look.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More photos from Annika

I received an email from Annika this past weekend. She reported:

"This weekend we visited Aspö again and it was very windy. However – everything looks great around your houses. No damages or anything unpleasant seen. Not a snowflake in sight and we are glad for that!"

She also attached a few wonderful photos from her iPhone. I've updated the webgallery.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Skatteverket

I received a familiar dark-blue envelope in my Texas mailbox the other day. The nice people at the Swedish tax authorities, Skatteverket, have tracked me down.

Actually, I was at least partially pleased to see the forms, as it proved at least that I correctly sent in my new address. And, reading the documents inside, I was not that upset to see what Sketteverket sent me.

I've posted previously about being a bit uneasy that my tax bill has been zero. Not that I mind, of course, but, knowing the tax regime in Sweden, I know that 'zero' is not a number they use very often. I had a nagging feeling that one day, some unknown bill would come due.

My dark blue envelope contained a förslag småhusenhet fastighetstaxering which is essentially a property tax proposal. It asked me to review their data about our little house and to update it if needed, as changes to the size or fittings of a summer house change its tax value. The homeowner fills out a survey about many elements of the property, and the answers are used to determine the tax base. The form's instructions are available in English on Skatteverket's website for those interested.

The good news for me is that our property and our little house was accurately recorded in Skatteverket's questionnaire. So my concerns about not being on the tax rolls are abated; I obviously did it right the first time. Secondly, since there haven't been any substantive changes to the house, there's no need for me to send anything in. Our new home value will be sent to us in July 2012.

It appears that new home construction has a 5-year tax holiday, so I have a couple more years before I start supporting the social state.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving

It's time for my now-traditional Thanksgiving post. And just as the previous Thanksgivings were very different from each other, so is this one.

For the first time in at least a dozen years, we're enjoying the holiday with our family in the good old USA. In fact, we're in our mother's house in Minnesota. Here's a photo of the whole clan. It really is great to be together.

The only one missing here is Ollie, which is a bit ironic, because for him, Thanksgiving has a special meaning. It's three years since his back was repaired. I am happy to report that he's still doing well, happy and healthy, and very well-loved in his new Texas home. Something to be thankful for, indeed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Iceman Ötzi

No, not DJ Ötzi, a very cool guy in his own right, but instead a very-well preserved body of a man who lived in the Tyrolean Alps 5300 years ago, and was uncovered in melting ice in 1991.

I watched a National Geographic special about a project to learn from Ötzi's corpse. It's amazing to see how much information can be gleaned from careful study: where he was from and where he lived, what he ate, his health and even his social status. Today, he has his own museum.

However, the most interesting tidbit of news to me was that DNA tests showed that our prehistoric traveler to have also been infected with Lyme disease. Just goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Swedish Design slideshow

Yet another slideshow from Dwell. I love the 'Boop' armchair (slide number 5).

The website of the Note Design Studio is fun to look at. I also love their 'Monacle' door with the teeny window above the lock.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Visit!!

During my long 'away period' between this September and next May, I had hoped I could piggyback a visit to Aspö onto one of my business trips into Europe.

I am happy to report that I've had success in that plan, and I will be making a very brief stop into Stockholm, five weeks from today, just before Christmas. I will fly into London on December 15th for an all day meeting, and then onto Stockholm that evening. Early on Friday, the 16th, I'll head out to Aspö for a day trip, then back to Marcia & Rutger's for the night. And it's out early again on Saturday for the long trip back to Texas, hopefully home in time for dinner.

I'll probably be jetlagged out of my gourd, but I will be able to see our house for a day, and my good friends for a night, all for the cost of a £130 round trip on SAS. I think that's well worth it.

UPDATE: The Waxholms winter boat schedules are out (departing, returning) and I can get to Aspö just fine in the morning, but there's no afternoon boat back on Fridays. I could take the scheduled taxi boat at 5:30, but that's going to be a long day out there, especially since the sun will rise at 8:40 and set at 2:47. I might get my own taxi boat in mid-afternoon.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Photos from Annika

I wrote Annika and Olle the other day, as usual asking for a favour. I was worried that my bathroom radiator was working properly (not too hot, or worse, not hot enough).

Not only did they go over and confirm a nice 8.8° degrees, she sent along a few beautiful photos of a sunny Autumn day. I made a webgallery of her photos. I hope she and Olle will keep sending them through the next few months!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

SMiLE

I had planned to write about the Beach Boys' lost album, SMiLE, released today after nearly 45 years. In fact, I had written a thousand words on the subject.

However, this review from Pitchfork said it all far better than I could have done. If you're curious about the "greatest album never made," it's worth a read.

And I highly recommend the CD itself. It is glorious.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Yet another fireplace

I've written a lot about fireplaces in the past. It really is silly to install one right now. We're pretty much going to be at our house only during summertime, so there's no need. The installation needs to be done by an expert and is therefore costly. Having a fireplace also raises my insurance significantly.

All that said, I still want one. Every proper Swedish house has a fireplace and my house is surrounded by free fuel. I came across a Swedish company, Contura, who have a big range of wood burning fireplaces, many of which would look great in our house.

Maybe not now, but one day for sure...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

A little slideshow

I found an interesting slideshow on the Dwell website about the ubiquitous Arne Jacobsen model 3107 chairs. These chairs are everywhere; I would think a week doesn't go by without my seeing one somewhere. These chairs are shorthand for 'Danish' all over the world.

I don't have any of these models myself, but I am the proud owner of a pair of similar chairs, the 3130, known as the 'Grand Prix' chair. Mine are the originals, from the late 50's, with the old-style wooden legs. They're still sturdy and comfortable today.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Toilets on Mt. Everest

I read in the news about plans to provide toilets at the Mt. Everest base camp. Apparently the whole mountain has become a dumping ground, with climbers leaving behind all sorts of discarded equipment, not to mention their waste!

Instead of just cleaning up, the plan is to introduce waste management to the mountain. That is the right way to go. As any camper (or island resident) can tell you, reducing the amount of extraneous stuff before you start is most efficient. In fact, that concept has coined a new word: precycling.

When we bring stuff out to Aspö, we remove as much packaging from the items as we can. It is amazing how a few shopping bags full of stuff can compact way down with a bit of judicious unwrapping. That allows us to carry more in, and carry less out. A win all around.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dual visits

Last weekend was an episode of synchronicity. Sooz and I were in Florida, visiting Margaret and Janne in their new home, while, at the same moment, Rutger, Marcia and her mom, (plus Archie) spent the weekend at our place on Aspö!

The most remarkable thing is that we all enjoyed perfect weather all weekend. Well, perhaps not remarkable for those of us in the Sunshine State, but a weekend of nearly 80° on the Archipelago in early October- now that's worth writing about!

Rutger did a couple of small jobs at the house for me. On the handyman scale, with Janne a 10 and me (generously) a 2, I'd rate Rutger a 7. He's a handy guy to have around. I think Marcia's mom had a good time, although obviously they put her to work washing the dishes.

Now the house is closed up until the spring. I may not be able to make it back to Aspö until then, but Sooz and I certainly plan to visit Margaret and Janne again!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

Like many millions of people in the US, I saw Apple's now famous "1984" commercial introducing the Macintosh. Being fairly geeky, I was impressed and curious.

About a week later, I was in Dallas at a training course, and Sooz came down to visit. We stayed an extra night downtown, and went for a walk before dinner.

An office-supply store had a new Mac in its window and I went in to see one. It's hard to explain how quickly and completely that little computer found its way into my heart. I remember that moment in perfect detail; it's no exaggeration to say it was one of the significant moments of my life. It's a good thing my girlfriend was with me, otherwise I might have stayed there all night. I might have quit my new job. I might have moved to California. It was that powerful.

I bought one, of course; it cost $2500 and I had to take out a bank loan. That little guy traveled all over with me for the next few years, even to Stockholm in 1989. I sold it then at a good price to a banker on Tomtebogatan. It was hard to let go but I had moved on to the ridiculous Mac Portable, which I happily dragged all over Europe in the early 90's.

In the late 90's, Apple was struggling as a company and its existence was in doubt. I was making plans to buy the most powerful Mac I could, just in case, to tide me over for a few years. Instead, I made a totally emotional decision to buy Apple stock, as a form of solidarity I suppose. Today that stock is worth nearly a hundred times what I paid for it.

But that financial gain is nothing compared to what I've received from Apple over the years. I'm a different person, I think a better person, because of that little Mac I saw all those years ago.

Thanks for everything, Steve.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Another iPhone app

I mentioned an iPhone GPS app in my previous post. In that vein, I have another app to share: Star Walk.

This app is like something from a science fiction movie. Just hold it up to the sky, and the iPhone knows exactly where it is and gives an annotated view of the stars above. That's how I was able to see that my star trail photo was focused on Arcturus.

If you have an iPhone (or iPad), I highly recommend downloading this program.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Surveying the path

My sister recommended an iPhone app to track my walks with Ollie. It works amazingly well in my neighborhood.

It never occurred to me to use it on Aspö, however, until Tony mentioned it at dinner one night. The next morning, I turned on data roaming, and Sooz and I walked the whole path.

The app worked just as perfectly out in the archipelago, and it produced the map above. The starting point is our house, which is close to the junction of the main path. The walk from home to the Waxholms dock at the south end of the island is exactly a half-mile, making it an even mile round-trip to drop off trash or pick up mail.

The circumnavigatory path is 1.75 miles around, making the total length of the pathways two and a quarter miles. The elevation information was also interesting:

The first mile shows the big drop down to the dock from our house, with the corresponding steep rise on the return (which I braved many times with our wheelbarrow crammed full of goods).

Back at our house, there's a gentle rise until we drop back down to the shore at the northeast. Then it's a pretty long uphill, past Janne's house towards the center of the island, and a downhill stretch past Tony's house, back to our home. The little app calculated the tallest part of the path is 78 feet above sea level. Pretty darn cool for an iPhone!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Star Trails 2

I've been playing around in Photoshop with all the star photos I took.

Here's the best so far, it's a composite of 304 photos taken at 30-second intervals, starting at 10PM on September 9.

My favorite part is the little shooting star I captured, just left of center.

I'm pretty sure the brightest star in this image is Arcturus.

Unfortunately, it may be a year until I can do another such set on Aspö, as it won't be dark enough in the summer to take photos like these.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Back in Texas

It's been a whirlwind week but we're safely back in the US of A and our little stuga seems far behind. We arrived into 106° heat but mercifully that broke the next day and it is about 20 degrees cooler now.

There are a few things going on over the coming months, including, but not limited to:
  • Painting
  • Electricity to the shed and new lights
  • New stairs for the little house
  • Perhaps buying a boat, halfsies with Rutger
  • Training for the Stockholm Marathon!
We also have a few home projects here in Texas, too, which I'll blog about if they have any relevance to living in Sweden.

Our next firm plan to return is in late May, which I have a hard time getting my head around. We'll see if I can hold out that long!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sorry for being offline

Sooz and I have been too busy doing things, or too busy not doing things! I have managed to put up a selection of photos, at least.

We're closing up today, going back to Stockholm on a 5:30 boat this evening.

Lots to write about over the coming days, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A really lazy day

Tuesday started out with the excitement of a moose sighting. We saw the young one about 25 feet uphill from our deck. I managed a decent photo for the web gallery.

It was mostly sunny, so we just putzed around and enjoyed the nice weather. I managed to extract the hornet's nest with no difficulty, and I installed a few LED 'party lights' above the couch, just for fun.

We saw lots of apples and plums on our walk in the evening, and Sooz is going to try a bit of cooking with the local ingredients. I also tried to take a star trail photo last night, but my first attempt is a bit underwhelming. Friday night is forecasted to be clear so I will have another crack at it then.

Today is rainy, so we're going to paint in the little house, and Tony and Ann-Catrin are joining us for dinner tonight.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Greetings from Aspö

Our morning trip out was fine, albeit early. Marcia lent us her car, so we cruised through the rush-hour traffic to Stavsnäs just in time. The house is in great shape, although I got a heck of a fright when I opened our water cabinet and was eye-to-eye with a giant hornet's nest!

We're getting pretty used to recommissioning the household. It was nice and sunny most of the afternoon, so Sooz worked her sudoku and I got out my trusty circular saw to build a little cabinet in the little house.

We took an evening walk, and checked on Janne, who has a bit of the flu, so we didn't stay long so he could recover for dinners with us later in the week!

Photos are up on the latest webgallery.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Greetings from Stockholm

We're here after a typically whirlwind weekend. I met up with Sooz as planned on Saturday morning and Rutger picked us up as usual. We went straight into the yearly neighborhood party, and both of us were up past 1AM! We had a great time, but frankly, the next morning, it became apparent that I had been overserved.

Nevertheless, we managed to summon the strength to shop for supplies, and prepare for an early departure Monday.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On our way!

I leave tonight for a day of work in London, and Sooz joins me the next day. We'll fly to Stockholm together Saturday morning, spending the weekend at the Wilhelmis, and then on to Aspö Monday morning.

Besides visiting our good friends, and staying on our little island, an extra bonus will be to escape the terrible heat we've been blighted with here in Texas. As of this writing, we have had sixty-six days of temperatures over 100°F (38°C). In those 66 days, we've had a streak of forty consecutive days over 100 degrees. And of course not a drop of rain.

Even our pool brings no relief. The water temperature is 96°F (35°C). It's like taking a bath! We thought  Ollie could cool off in the pool, but the only thing that works for him are pre-dawn walks, and laying prone on the tiled kitchen floor by an air-conditioning vent. Welsh farmers never bred their Corgis for heat like this.

The forecast for our arrival in Stockholm is 16°C/ 61°F with a chance of rain. After the summer we've had, I'm so looking forward to that.



Monday, August 29, 2011

Star Trails

I'd like to try some star trail photography when we're on Aspö next week, as seen in this example. I feel I should take advantage of the wonderful dark nights out there.

One of my colleagues is an accomplished photographer, and she lent me a number of articles about the technique. I now have a bit of software on my mac, along with a star tracker app for my iPhone!

We'll see how successful I am (weather permitting) in just a few days, and of course I'll share any decent photos that I may come up with.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Birdhouses

I found a website with a bunch of cool modernish birdhouses. They are also pretty pricey but it gave me the idea to perhaps make one of my own. I have plenty of scrap wood and I might give it a go.

What we really would like to do is to make a bat house; we've seen a few bats on Aspö and they're threatened in Sweden. I looked into plans and kits but that seems a more complicated project than I'm willing to get into right now. I'll give a birdhouse a try for starters!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Labor Day

I realized that I haven't posted about our next trip to our house.

It will be pretty soon, just over two weeks from now, as we're going to spend the week of Labor Day on Aspö. We don't have a big agenda this time. Getting away from the Texas heat will be nice. Seeing Rutger, Marcia and Janne is always great.  We'll have dinner with Tony and Ann-Catrin one night. And we plan to meet with Krister the painter and Janne the electrician too.

The only building project I have is to make a cabinet for the circuit breaker box in the little stuga. I also want to try to take more time lapse movies, should the weather permit. But that's it. Just island relaxation.

We will also be closing up the house for the winter which is bothering me a bit. We're not planning to be back until next spring, and I find it unsettling to be away for 7 months. Also Janne won't be on Aspö this winter, although Annica and Olle have said they'd keep an eye on our place.

You may ask why we'll be away for so long? It's a good question. It is because of the different policies  regarding vacation time in the US and UK. Interestingly, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not have any legal requirements for vacation time. Vacation rules are up to one's employer. New employees joining my company here in the US earn their vacation during the year to be used in the next year.

For various tax and legal reasons, my return to the US after so long in the UK caused me to be treated as a new employee, and as such, I have no paid vacation at all this year. This became clear to me only after I had already spent three weeks in Sweden and bought tickets for a fourth.

Fortunately, my employers are reasonable, and a fair solution was reached. The big downside to me is that my September trip will use up my last vacation days this year. I'll have my usual 6 weeks next year, but it doesn't make much sense to go all the way to Sweden for a limited trip in the wintertime. So it looks like perhaps Easter next year for our first trip back, which is why there's a 7 month gap between visits.

Sooz and I are talking about changing our travel calendar for next year, in any case. That will be a subject for us, and for this blog, in the coming months.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Other Homes

I've been flying a lot recently, and on a trip home the other day, I read about not one, not two, but three interesting houses. The first was in the New York Times about a home near Death Valley, built for an Italian couple. I love its interior, and I share the owner's admiration of their night sky. Seeing a huge field of stars is one of my favourite things on Aspö.

The second house was in Dwell, a simple little cabin, but with the ability to literally crank the deck up and close the house away from the elements. I looked at the architects' website about the cabin and found another house I liked even more. I spent a lot of time reviewing all their projects and I highly recommend a look.

Dwell also provided the third house, a funky blue number on Quebec's Magdelen island. I like the way a simple house, which reflected a simple way of life, can be restored and updated so charmingly.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Box Wine Redux

I posted almost three years ago about the phenomenon of boxed wine. The logistical appeal of an easily transported unit of wine is very strong for island dwellers. On the mainlands, box wine is increasingly popular, especially on the lower ends of the wine market.

Things seem to be changing these days, however. The New York Times ran an article last week which points out that some pretty good wines can be had in boxes these days. I just might splurge and bring a special box from the USA out to Aspö next summer!!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Paint colors

Sooz went through a huge number of options when we repainted our Texas kitchen. Being color blind myself (and a fan of primary colors), I found the process a bit difficult. Sooz would show me a selection of paint chips that all looked pretty much the same to me, yet I felt compelled to provide some sort of input.

In the end, the kitchen island was painted "Moose Mousse", the walls "Apple Blossom", the breakfast room "Raffia", and the living room is in "Cliff". The dining room is now covered in "Sheer Pout" and our office is "Morning Sand".

I mention all of these color names because of an amusing article in the New York Times about the trend for obscure paint naming. It's worth a read.

As for our stuga, I've spoken to Krister, the house painting expert on Nämdö. He's seen our place and he will be back in September to talk to us about the best way to go forward. After talking to a bunch of people and researching a bit, we know we need a specific type of paint called slamfärg (literally "mud paint"). The traditional red color of Swedish houses comes from the copper mines in Falun, commonly known as Falu red. Slamfärg is a derivative of the standard Falu red; it contains more linseed oil, among other things.

Red is by far the predominant color, but yellow and grey are also popular. The good news is that we can get slamfärg in most any color we want. The bad news (see my previous post) is that we can get just about any color we want. We had chosen a medium grey which just about matches the non-darkened exposures of the house. I have to say I'm wavering on that now. Perhaps a darker grey would be better. Maybe even a greenish or brownish grey?

We will talk further with Krister when we see him and of course we'll have to think this over thoroughly before choosing, as I assume he'll be painting next spring.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Other house work

Sorry for the lack of posts. Things have been pretty busy on the Texan front. We've just had our kitchen here refurbished, which went pretty smoothly, overall. Having a huge building store down the street and a bunch of eager tradesman in the neighborhood makes it a lot easier than building on Aspö!

In some ways, though, it was more difficult, for two reasons. First, this is our main house. We were able to gloss over things to some extent in our stuga by thinking, "it's only a cabin". We also didn't want anything too nice out there because we want the rustic lifestyle, and pratically speaking, we will only be in the house a month or two a year. That doesn't apply to our house here. We're living in it most every day, and we also have resale value to think about.

The second problem is that, frankly, we had too many choices. There are hundreds of kinds of countertops to choose from, just at our local store. What material? What thickness? What color or texture? Sooz must have looked at fifty different sink/faucet combos. Our new fridge, stove, and dishwasher were each winnowed down from dozens of candidates and vendors. (The issue of paint colors will deserve its own post in the coming days).

Recent research is finding that having too many choices actually lead to stress and dissatisfaction. When one has many possible choices, it's easy to think "did I make the right one?" Having fewer options makes one much more likely to be satisfied with one's decision. After our kitchen project, I can say the theory does indeed work in practice. Nearly three years ago, Sooz knocked out our whole kitchen (plus a lot more) in one day at IKEA.

The good news is that we're happy with the way it all turned out, and our experience of building on Aspö made us far more educated clients this time around.

Monday, July 11, 2011

All back in Texas

Sooz & Grant made it back to the US with no problem and Ollie was thrilled to have us all back together. It's hot as Hades here; we had become used to the Swedish weather!

There's a bunch of updates coming, so stay tuned while we acclimate to the sunshine.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Winding down....

So. It's just Grant and Me left out here enjoying our last day at the stuga for this summer.
The sky is overcast giving the day a melancholy feel. To combat the mood, Grant and I just went out for a walk: specifically to collect some wild blueberries that are just coming into season. Here are some photos from our stroll, including a nice little bowl of our harvest. Wish you could smell them! There is enough for one pancake.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I'm back in Texas

It was fairly cool on Sunday. Sooz and I attended the annual meeting, which was in Swedish of course. It was great fun to watch. Obviously a lot of care goes into running an island association like this one.

Then it was time for me to leave in the afternoon, on to Marcia & Rutger's and then the long trip today from Arlanda back to the 100° heat here. Ugh.

Sooz and Grant follow on Thursday so it's just me and Ollie for a few more days.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saturday morning

It's warm and sunny yet again today. It seems warm but it's still 30 degrees cooler than Texas!

We had a fabulous dinner of Sooz's Mexican casserole with Olle and Annika out on our well-lit deck last night, and tonight Janne's joining us for a cookout.

We finished the first coat of primer in the little house. Olle loaned me his sander and I touched up a few spots on the deck. We wrapped up well before 3 so we're now just hanging out.

After some discussion and investigation, we've decided to paint the front of the house. Sooz has decided on a slightly yellowish grey, and Janne is going to put us in contact with his painter, who does a lot of work in the archipelago. He may be able to stop by next week before Sooz and Grant leave, it would be better to discuss that in person instead of over the internet!

More details on the paint, and a few other projects, in the coming weeks. For now, it's time to chill.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Morning

It's been a jam-packed few days. First, we did indeed go boating with Olle and Annika and we had a super day. They took us to the little island of Alskär ("Alder island"), an uninhabited little rock of a place with a great stone harbor and lots of places to climb and explore. They laid out a super Swedish lunch and we relaxed, all alone in our little world, on a perfectly sunny day, all afternoon. To call it blissful is an understatement.

Lots of pictures from that afternoon are on the webgallery. It was truly special.

Yesterday, we decided to go to Nämdö with Janne for a bit of lunch and shopping. However, his boat's propeller developed a fault, so we turned back and went with plan 'B', which was to catch the Waxholms boat. The one drawback to that plan was that we'd have 4 hours to kill before our return boat. There's not much to do on Nämdö; we visited the church, which was beautiful, and we looked carefully at all the groceries offered by Guns Livs. Fortunately, it was sunny, and the bar was stocked with lots of good food and beer, so the afternoon passed quite quickly in Janne's company.

The weather forecast for today is rain, but it's 11AM now and we have sun, so we hope the forecast will remain wrong and we can relax on our deck.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sun, Sun, Sun

It's been super nice the past two days- crystal clear with a warm sun and a cool breeze. Yesterday, Grant and I finished the drop ceiling with spotlights over the deck. Grant said it looked like a yacht. I have to say I'm pleased with it. (Photos are on the webgallery now).

We cleaned up all my gear and then Britt & Ronnie and Callan & Janne came over for dinner. We had a great time. Janne thought the ceiling looked good, which meant a lot to me.

Today and tomorrow will also be nice weather, we hope to go boating with Olle and Annika. I'll have a lot of photos, I'm sure!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A time-lapse movie

Here's today's action compressed into 45 seconds. Grant and I are working on a drop ceiling over the deck, you can see the boards going up one by one. Also look out for Sooz following the sun.

UPDATE: Swedish TV is showing Citizen Kane tonight. Perfect.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Just about the perfect day

Firstly, it was sunny and warm. We gathered at the midsommar meadow to decorate and raise the stång, and to set up tables for the afternoon's celebrations.

Ole invited us onto his boat for the traditional procession of boats around the island, which was a scenic and fun ride.

Then we joined friends for cake and coffee on the meadow and enjoyed the youngsters dancing around the maypole, as it were.

The evening was capped off by an invite to Britt and Ronnie's house for a barbeque with friends and family. It really was a wonderful day- and to make it better (for me at least)- it was my birthday! Perfect.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A fairly lazy day

We had hoped to go to Nämdö with Janne to pick up some groceries at Guns Livs and perhaps to have a spot of lunch. But the weather put paid to that, Janne thought it imprudent to be out in his little boat with the weather so blustery. Instead, he and I took the Waxholms boat into Stavsnäs and we did our shopping at the local ICA on a 3 hour round-trip.

On the back, Stavsnäs was as busy as I'd ever seen it, which makes sense, given that it was the afternoon before midsummer. The weather cleared in the evening and the forecast for tomorrow is good, which is important, as it is the big island celebration tomorrow. As usual, new photos are in the summer webgallery.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is it Tuesday? I've lost track of time.

It's about 9PM here on the longest day of the year. The weather has been very typically Swedish June; an hour of sun and an hour of rain and then repeat. We managed to get the shed oiled and the roof paper on, just in time for the afternoon showers. Janne joined us for dinner last night but otherwise, we've just been hanging out and enjoying life. Lots of photos are on the Summer 2011 webgallery.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Rainy Day

It was, as forecasted, rainy today. Rutger and I managed to get the door on the shed before the rain really got heavy. Sooz and I hitched a ride with Rutger at noon and went to Gustavsberg for a 90 minute blitz of shopping. We topped up our groceries and decided on a grey stain for the shed, plus a heavy roll of roof paper.

I hope to finish the roof tomorrow and we'll stain the shed over the next few sunny days. Photos are in the Summer 2011 webgallery.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

First day: hard at work!

I had a quick night with Marcia & Rutger, and Rutger came with me to Aspö this morning. He went straight to work with Grant and I on the shed and we managed to get it mostly done before gin & tonic time.

The forecast is for rain tomorrow which seems hard to imagine given the clear evening. The 'dance floor' opened on the midsummer meadow tonight and we went over for a quick glass of champagne to celebrate its inauguration. Sooz and I cut the rug a bit ourselves. More photos and info later but for now, the jet lag is striking me hard...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Almost there

I'm in Heathrow, about to board my SAS flight. Good 'ol Rutger will pick me up and then we'll head to Aspö tomorrow morning. It's cool and drizzly here, which is not surprising, of course, but a good change from what I've been dealing with.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The shed saga

After a great deal of misunderstanding and calling back and forth, the shed finally arrived on the dock today. Thanks to Sooz and Marcia and Rutger, and Helene at the Stavsnäs harbor, it all got figured out. Phew! Tonight Sooz and Grant and Janne will haul it up our way from the dock. Now all I have to do is assemble it!

I leave this evening for London and I'm really looking forward to it; Ollie and I have been dealing with lots of 100+ days. A few nights at half that temperature seems like heaven to me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Eaglet has landed

...that would be Grant, who successfully negotiated the London-to-Aspö trip today. He's safely home with his mother, as well as Marcia, who got to stay another night.

Everyone seemed to have had a good day, from what I could see on our video chats. The girls were sunning during the day and in sweatshirts at night. Ollie and I are sweltering in 100+ temperatures all day, however.

One snag is that the shed is held up in some transport confusion, despite all my careful arrangements. Sooz and Marcia are on the case, although I'm really worried that if delivery is delayed this week, midsummer traffic next week might really screw up my schedule! Let's hope for a good resolution tomorrow.

UPDATE Tuesday- the girls have sorted out the shipping issue and the shed should arrive tomorrow (Wednesday).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Eagle has landed!

I just video-chatted with Sooz and Marcia out on Aspö. It was a sunny afternoon and the girls were already tanning. They decided to rent their own boat, which made sense given the volume of supplies they bought. Fortunately Marcia is in great shape, and so did most of the carrying from the dock!

The house is good shape and all is well. Sooz has promised to send photos and I'll put them up when I receive them. UPDATE: Photos are on the 'Summer 2011' web gallery now.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Entryway Rug

One of the things that's been on on my "to-do list" was to find a rug for the front door entry. That area gets a lot of traffic from dirty shoes, and none of the various IKEA rugs we tried seemed to fit or wear very well.

We looked in England for a nice rug but nothing was the right size, and cutting one to fit was way too expensive.

I hit upon the idea of a sisal rug a couple of months ago, and found a few places on the internet that would make a custom rug for a reasonable cost. I had to convert my centimeters to inches, so I've ended up with a rug 3'8" by 5'11".

Sooz chose the material and the colors, I placed the order online and it arrived the other day. It's inexpensive and small enough that I won't have any issues with customs into Sweden, and assuming I measured correctly, it should be perfect. I'll bring it along with me next week and there'll be a photo on the gallery as soon as I roll it out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sooz is on her way!

She's probably 35,000 feet above above Chicago as I write this, enjoying her inflight beverage. She'll connect in London onto our favored SAS, and be in Stockholm mid-afternoon (local time) tomorrow.

She and Marcia will shop for groceries (along with fashionable accessories, I would imagine), and the girls will spend the weekend on Aspö together. Grant (and the shed) show up next Monday.

The weather looks pretty good for the next week: mostly sunny, temperatures in the high teens C (high 60's F). I'll pass along any reports she sends from Scandinavia!

UPDATE Wednesday morning 8AM: Rutger just called and he has picked up Sooz at Arlanda. She had a good flight- although she realized she didn't bring the stuga's key with her! Fortunately Janne has a spare. But lesson learned for next time...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Shed!

Believe it or not, I've finally bought a shed. I saw a decent deal on one of the cheap Bauhaus sheds in May, but when delivery was added in, the deal wasn't that good. Plus it has very thin walls, about 16mm, which is barely half an inch.

Last summer, I had found a shed from Polhus with walls twice as thick but also quite a bit more costly. This year, however, they've introduced a new model, the "Lelle," which is a bit smaller and cheaper.

I've arranged with Christer from Polhus to buy a Lelle and have the shed kit sent to the big Waxholms dock on Aspö the week before I arrive. Conveniently enough, Grant will already be there so he can bring the lumber up to the house. I've talked to Janne and he said he'd help Grant move the big pieces with his 4-wheeler. Typically, Janne only uses his vehicle in the off-season due to traffic on the island's paths, but he said a few weekday evening jaunts are no problem.

With a bit of luck, (and hard work by Grant), the shed kit will be on-site, ready to assemble as soon as I arrive on the 18th. It should be a fun building project for Grant and I, and Sooz will get all of my tools and parts out of her guest house.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Ollie

My furry little boy is 8 today. The photo at the left was taken on Memorial Day. Although he is not enamored of the Texas heat (or its thunderstorms), he sure likes our pool cleaner, stalking it all day.

It struck me recently that Ollie is now about my age, (depending on the conversion formula one uses). I certainly share many of Ollie's symptoms of middle-age: we both really feel it the day after a lot of physical activity; we're less of a morning person than we used to be; our doctors are prescribing us more pills; and Sooz has had to cut back on our dinners to keep us trim.

On the plus side, he is still as handsome and charming as ever, another trait he shares with his owner!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Radiator II

I posted in February about a radiator with a digital thermostat I had seen at Bauhaus. I planned to use it to allow much more precise control of the temperature in the bathroom over the next winter. Rutger picked it up for me, in fact I think it was the exact same one pictured in my post, as it was a floor model, and it was only 249 kronor. Such a deal!

It fits perfectly in the bathroom and it looks great. However, I found a fatal flaw. I can set it to 5 degrees, no problem, however, if the power were to go out at our house, its thermostat resets... to 25 degrees! That would be really bad. So this radiator is definitely out for winter use.

Thankfully, Clas Ohlson came to the rescue. I found a plug-in thermostat online which can be used to work any radiator. Their helpful tech support desk confirmed to me this unit has a battery inside so it remembers its setting in case of a power cut. It is designed to do exactly what I want, in fact in Swedish it's called a "frost guard". I ordered one and will use it this winter for sure.

The good news is that the radiator and the extra thermostat ended up costing far less than the radiator's original price. I'm happy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Skatteverket

... is, as you may remember, the Swedish tax authority. My tax forms arrived to my Texas address this week, and once again, my net tax is zero. I like that figure, but I admit I still retain a nagging feeling that I should owe something.

Rutger happened to be visiting and he looked at my papers. He agrees that I have properly registered my house; all the numbers and names match, so I'm not hiding or misrepresenting anything. If the authorities say I don't owe them anything, I'm going to believe them.

Skatteverket has a cool iPhone app to submit your taxes; unfortunately, it doesn't work from the USA as their text number isn't recognized. I had to do it over the internet, but that took about a minute.

There's a wealth of info in English on the Skatteverket website. My favorite is "Purchasing and performing undeclared work in Sweden". These guys are serious about collecting tax on everything.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Another power cut

We found a postcard from Vattenfall in our Texas mailbox when we got home. They said our power was going to be out for an hour at 9:00 last Tuesday morning. (Readers may remember the same thing happened last summer.)

Normally, I wouldn't worry too much about this, but we left our fridge on with lots of food, so Sooz was worried about the power not coming back for some reason and spoiling our stuff. I called Janne and he said it was no big deal, but of course Sooz still worried. Janne came to her rescue with a site visit and confirmed all was well at our home.

Then we got another postcard yesterday about yet another power cut, coincidentally yesterday, too.  I sent Vattenfall an email asking why they send postcards about this, when we correspond over email on everything else. They responded that, legally, they had to send a postcard. Still seems strange to me. Since this is becoming old hat nowadays, we won't bother Janne to double-check this recent power cut, too. Who knows how many more postcards we will get over the next few weeks?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Meet Viktor!

On our most recent visit, Sooz and I took an evening walk through the center of the island, instead of our customary lap of the perimeter. We came across someone working on a site fairly high up on the berg, or "rock". When we went over to introduce ourselves, the workman said his name was Viktor, and we told him we lived in the X-House further downhill.

To our astonishment, he said, "oh yes, I know you, family Langford". Turns out Viktor is building an X-House much like ours, and Stefan had showed him our blog. He has been reading it closely and said it inspired him to build an X-House of his own. Wow.

He came over to visit us the next day and we had a good walk through of our house, shared our photos and plans, and Viktor made a few measurements of his own. It was great fun, and we look forward to seeing him again when we're back this summer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eurovision wrap-up

We had a great party with a bunch of ex-pats and one newbie family. I was able to get the show on a Spanish TV channel in the end. My friend Kenji picked Greece as the winner a number of years ago at a party in my house and he did it again by picking Azerbaijan. Rick (the newbie) got into the spirit very quickly and had a number of excellent one-liners throughout the show.

The UK entry was OK- I think it was let down by the costumes and staging, which were a bit odd. Sweden's Eric Saade did well- for a while there I thought he might win and make my day perfect, but he faded a bit in the end.

I'm sure we will be hearing a bunch of these songs all summer on Skärgardsradio!

Next year in Baku


Azerbaijan is the winner of tonight's contest, and I give myself credit for calling it in Tuesday's post!

We had a super party at our house, but it's bedtime now. More tomorrow.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The day has started out very well!

For the first time in 42 years, City are the winners of the FA Cup. Thank God!

Now all I need is a Swedish or English win at the Eurovision tonight and it will be a perfect day.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The second semi-final

I'm pleased to report that Sweden's Eric Saade made it through to the final with the last available slot. Ireland made a good call with their crazy twins Jedward also making the final. Austria's Nadine can actually sing, which is becoming a rarity in the show these days. (Sooz also liked her asymmetrical haircut).

The bookies have France as the big favourite, with some sort of opera number. France is one of the "big five" countries (along with Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK)  that don't have to qualify. So all we know of those songs are their music videos, which aren't always indicative of the live show.

I'll try to post a recap before the show, but I may be distracted by the FA Cup that morning!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The First Semi-Final

....was held in Dusseldorf last night. I watched it on the Eurovision.tv website. The stream suffered a bit on my big TV but was perfectly watchable.

The semi-finals are fun to watch as the likes of San Marino won't ever make the final so this the only place to see them. However, there's a lot of dross on offer as well. Obviously, auto-tune hasn't made its way very far east across Europe.

Croatia didn't go through, which was a shame as they has a couple of classic-old school costume changes. Turkey had a contortionist in an ball cage for some reason. As for Portugal, I really don't have the words.

From the ones that successfully went through to the Saturday final, I liked Serbia and Sooz's favourite was Russia. Look at the clips and you can guess why. I have to say that Azerbaijan had a pretty catchy mid-tempo duet. They may do well on the big day.

I trawled through the depths of my cable TV guide and found a Portugese channel which looks to be showing the final live. I signed up for the station on a 3-month trial. We'll see if it works; if not, I have my trusty, if slightly pixellated, internet for our evening's Eurovision party.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ugh.

I found one consequence of returning to the US rather than the UK: jetlag. I've been up for a couple of hours now with no more sleep on the horizon...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hello from Heathrow

As I thought- we had a great time with a bunch of really interesting people at a trendy restaurant last night. One of my favorite comments was when my seat-mate told me he had heard on the radio that this was the coldest week in May since records were kept! It sure felt that way on Tuesday and Wednesday, especially.

Our 0500 wake up call hit us pretty hard. Thankfully it was quite bright outside already which made the journey easier to take.

We made our SAS flight with no problems and now are waiting for our connecting flight to Texas. So it's back to Ollie and our American life for now.

Stay tuned, as there will be a few Eurovision posts this week, leading up to the big day on Saturday!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Onboard the m/s Roslagen

Damn is it hard to leave, especially on such a beautiful day. There aren't many of us on the boat going from the islands on a sunny Saturday afternoon. At least we didn't have to do a lot to close up the house as Sooz will be back in just 4 weeks.

Claes and Eva-Lis, the artists who have a studio behind our house, are holding an open house today, sponsored (I think) by Varmdö kommun, so they have little signs and ribbons along the trail. We'll be missing that as our boat left just as things were getting started. Damn again.

Our plan is to do a bit of shopping at Gustavsberg and then back to Marcia & Rutger's. We've been invited to join a birthday party of one of Marcia's friends in the city tonight which should be fun, but it will probably make for a short night as we need to catch the 0600 airport bus the next morning.

UPDATE: We talked to Willie; he called while we were at Gustavsberg. All is well in Dalarna, but like all contractors, he's scrambling because the harsh winter took away a couple of months of the building season so there's a big backlog to get work done. His son, Eddie, is doing well playing hockey in Canada. Willie said he might be in the archipelago at the end of June, so perhaps we'll get to see him at our house. We both would like that.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What a beautiful day!

It was finally clear and sunny today, with a great big blue sky and warm sunshine. If only the whole week was like this! Sooz burned all of our trimmings from yesterday and I stained the deck. Our neighbor, Karin, came by to say hello, plus another visitor, Vincent, whom I'll write more about later. I also tried to straighten out one of the deck planks which turned into a larger project than I had planned. Lots of photos are on the gallery.

Janne was over for another fine dinner, and we ended up with 'Dancing With the Stars'. There are plenty of stars outside, tonight, too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Becoming sunnier!

We didn't sleep in quite as late today. The weather seemed to be improving, so we went down to the dock to dump our trash and check our mail (like we ever get anything other than birthday cards for me!)

Sooz decided to spread some grass and flower seeds on top of the dirt mound covering our grey water tank. I dug out the bridges I built last fall to try to get them to set better into the earth. I put some grass seed around my dug-up areas as well. Hopefully it will look great when we're back in June!

I noticed that our Cinderella exhaust pipe was knocked askew, probably by the same storm that took down all our branches. I was able to put it back into place but I feared it may not yet be sealed fully. I called Anders, who installed our bathroom, and he said he'd stop by over the coming weeks to take a look.

We spent the afternoon cutting trees and brush. I used the chain saw with no damage to myself, I'm happy to report. It is almost an addicting pursuit; there's always one more branch to lop off somewhere.

Tomorrow Sooz will burn the pile and we'll be all neat for the summer. Janne stopped by with our paper towels and ketchup, bless him. He didn't stay for dinner as the dentist really did a number on him today. We'll dine together tomorrow for sure.

Tonight is 'Modern Family' and 'Glee', downloaded over my surprisingly fast internet connection. First, though, I'm making Sooz listen to 'My Life In the Bush of Ghosts" which she's not really enjoying, I'm sorry to say.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I talked today to Johan, my Cinderella vendor, about a question I had. He remembered us very well after 3 years, which I thought was very nice. He told me his business was doing great; they're selling more Cinderellas every year!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A rainy Wednesday

...is better than snow, I suppose! We slept to 9 (I blame the jetlag) and didn't do much besides a lap of the island to see Janne and Tony and their latest building project. A few photos are on the gallery now.

Janne's going into town tonight and he's going to pick up some ketchup and paper towels, both of which are vital goods we seem to have run out of.

We are expecting improving weather over the next couple of days. We sure wouldn't mind some sunshine!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

All is OK!

Sorry for not posting the past couple of days. I was hit with jetlag Saturday night and Sunday was spent shopping at Bauhaus for various supplies. We crammed Marcia's car Monday morning with the Fatboy and the rest of our stuff. Sooz drove it to Gustavsberg for grocery shopping and I took the bus to Stavsnäs. We met our taxibåt, and laden almost to the gunwales, we arrived on Aspö around 12:30 to a nice sunny day.

Janne and Tony met us and a quick wheelbarrow brigade got all our goods safely home. The house looked in great shape, (except for a number of fallen branches on the property) and our well-practiced routine had it all cleaned up and commissioned in no time.

Sooz caught some sunshine and then we retired for the evening by watching 'Dancing With The Stars' through my MacBook on our TV set.

Tuesday wasn't sunny, in fact it was pretty cold and damp. I set to making my storage bench, and after a few hours, and with only a few mis-steps, I ended up building exactly what I was hoping for. Sooz started a fire to burn our wood scraps and the fallen timber. Good thing she started early, as the cold and damp turned to snow later in the day! Sooz was Not Happy. I hid in the little house, replacing the ugly shop light with a more stylish IKEA paper one.

Janne and Tony came over for dinner and we were all cheerful after Sooz's lemon-thyme pork chops and a half a box of red wine. It's an early bedtime as we're both beat. But what's that? Where are the pictures? Don't worry—click here for your May 2011 photo gallery.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stage 2

Sooz and I have met up at Heathrow. She had a great time at the Royal Wedding and was able to check all of the baggage with no problem. We're about to leave for Stockholm!!!

UPDATE 1: We've arrived safely into Stockholm with all our stuff...
UPDATE 2: Now at Marcia & Rutger's and all is well!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our trip has begun

Sooz is already in the UK, visiting friends and preparing to be part of the throng celebrating Friday's royal wedding. She's brought two big boxes of stuff to take onward to Stockholm. I'm sure she'll be picking up a William and Kate tea towel to go with our Daniel and Victoria mouse mat. I'll be leaving from Texas on Friday and we'll meet up (hopefully) in Heathrow on Saturday morning.

The weather has been hot and dry in both London and Stockholm. Rutger and Marcia are sporting tans already and Janne says it's sunny but strangely with no buds on the trees yet. But as the latest weather forecast shows, it will get rainy just as we arrive on Aspö.  (Of course yesterday, the same forecast said it'd be sunny, so who knows???)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Time Lapse Photography


I've read of a photographer, Randy Halverson,  who makes the coolest time lapse movies in South Dakota. I experimented with time lapses last summer, although I'm not nearly this sophisticated!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Logistics

We're getting closer to our trip. This will be the first time we've gone from the US to Sweden, as opposed to the simpler trip from London. We'll be staying a couple of days at Marcia & Rutger's, to see them and do some stock-up shopping.

Marcia is lending us her car for the week (she takes the train to her high-powered job in central Stockholm). So we're going to load it up to the gills with our stuff. I may well take the Stavsnäs bus, freeing up even more space in Marcia's car.

I booked a noon taxi boat on Monday. This allows Sooz to drive to Stavsnäs after the rush hour traffic. It also allows her to grocery shop in Gustavsbergs to pick up fresh items, and, importantly, to stop at the Systembolaget when they open at 10:00 to get a few boxes of wine and a case of my precious Pripps.

It's my hope to get the bulk of our stuff out to the house on this trip, so when we go in June, we can travel a lot lighter.

Monday, April 18, 2011

May 14

...is the date of the Eurovision Song contest, and long-time watchers will know it's fairly early this year. Typically, it's the last Saturday in May. It was moved up this year because the Champion's League final is on May 28, which is the second most-watched television event in Europe! So Eurovision had to move.

The final is at Wembley Stadium in London, and there's a rule that the field can't be used for a minimum of two weeks before the final. This has caused the English Football Association to move up the date of their FA Cup final from its traditional late May to the 14th as well.

And the reason I mention that date change is that it's suddenly become important to me. My beloved Manchester City are in the final and will be playing for their first Cup victory in 42 years.

May 14 has the potential to be a very good day for me!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We're getting closer!

Not just in the sense that it's now less than three weeks until we leave for Sweden, but also because I just received the 2011 Aspö Sommarguide. This is put out each year by the island's bryggeförening, which translates literally as 'bridge club', but I think it more as the island's resident's association.

The bryggeförening organizes summer activities, including two 'work days' in which residents jointly maintain the path and other common facilities; the big trash pickup days with the recycling boat; the yearly meeting; football matches and sailing lessons, and especially the midsummer celebration itself.

This year, midsummer is exactly on my birthday, a fact of which I plan to remind everyone. The recycling boat arrives on June 18, which is also the day I arrive, but I'll get to Aspö later, after the boat, so Sooz and Grant will be responsible for hauling trash that day. However, I will arrive by that evening's inauguration of the dansbanan, or dance floor, at the big midsummer meadow. After traveling straight in from Texas, I'm not sure what shape my dancing legs will be in, but I'll probably give it a try anyways. Especially if Akvavit is involved.

The other good bit of news is the big island meeting is on July 3; I've missed it the past few years and Sooz has by all accounts been very charming in representing us. This year I get to be there myself. I'll try to keep up the family reputation!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Grant's Blog

Grant is keeping a blog of his own as an assignment for one of his classes this semester.

He's not quite up the standard of his old man just yet, but it's a good read nevertheless.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A weather aside

Ollie experienced his first real thunderstorm last night. We had to fish him out from under the bed this morning.

And a clarification from my previous post: Sooz is attending the royal wedding in the stand-in-the-street-waving-a-Union-Jack sense, not in the seat-in-Westminster-Abbey sense.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Four weeks from today!

I'll be flying off to Sweden. Sooz will already be in London, attending the Royal Wedding.

As we get closer, I'll be posting more about our plans and logistics for our trip.... and maybe a bit about Eurovision as well!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

UK Eurovision is Blue

No, I'm not describing the color or the mood; I'm referring to the boy band 'Blue', who are performing the UK's entry for Eurovision this year.

Blue were very popular in the UK from 2001-2005, split up, and reunited last year. There's a bit of debate in the country over the question of performing for Eurovision: would it help or hurt a 'serious' artist's career?

In the rest of Europe, it's not a critical question, but being from a country that produced the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, the Clash, and Radiohead...well, let's just say that puts a lot of pressure on the boys from Blue. I think they'll be OK if they get a respectable score in the contest. But if it's nul points, then I think it's bad news for their comeback.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Extremes of weather

One thing I've noticed living in Texas is the huge swings in temperature. Over the past two months, we've had a low of 15ºF and a high of 85ºF, making a swing of 70 degrees.

Looking at the same time period for Stockholm, the lowest temperature was a chilly -13ºF, with the warmest being 44º, making a swing of 57 degrees.

It's no surprise that London was the most temperate, with a high of 59º and a low of 26º, making a difference of only of 33 degrees.

I have to say, living in London all these years, I'm not used to overcoats on Tuesday and shorts on Thursday. I think the cycle of warm and cold (and this summer, just blazing hot) takes its toll on a building. I've actually run heat in our house at night and the air-conditioning in the afternoon! It seems to me the more gradual cycles of hot and cold are easier for a structure to deal with, and I haven't even mentioned hairstorms or tornadoes yet!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pay-as-you-throw

One of the things I notice in the USA is the amount of garbage I see being put out in my neighborhood. In London, we had two wheelie bins, one for trash, the other, recycling. Each was picked up every other week, along with food waste which was picked up for composting weekly. We did fine with that, in fact, even with Grant in the house generating lots of food waste, we rarely filled either bin.

In my new neighborhood, however, the trash is picked up twice a week, and there is an amazing array of refuse out of the curb on pickup days. Selfishly, I don't mind that because I have a lot of moving trash to get rid of right now, and there's no financial penalty to me if I leave a huge pile of boxes and broken junk out on the curb. All of that is paid for in my monthly municipal fee.

There's a move afoot in more liberal (or landfill-strapped) parts of the US to something called 'pay-as-you-throw'. The idea is that the average family's garbage would cost them about what they pay today. If you throw away less, you pay less; big trash producers would get hit in the pocketbook. Having a direct link between actions and costs is Economics 101. The EPA has a good webpage about the concept.

The same applies out on Aspö, with a bit of a twist. The island residents pay into a fund to the Värmdö municipality for trash pickup at the big dock during the peak summer months. So there's a financial contribution, but almost the bigger cost is the effort required to wheelbarrow stuff to and from one's house.

The solution is called 'precycling'; reducing waste by thinking about our purchases holistically. Recycling is good, but there's still energy required to sort and reprocess materials (and, on a very local level, to carry them down to the dock). Precycling tries to avoid excess stuff to begin with, to eliminate trash and recycling materials at the time of purchase. Good examples of this are box wine, rechargeable batteries, or UHT milk, all of which are island staples.

When one has a high cost to throw away something, either a fee from the local government, or the hassle of carting it a kilometer to the dock, it's a great incentive to avoid having those things to get rid of in the first place!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Eric Saade wins!

I'm intensely jealous of Marcia, Rutger, and Camille because they went to the Globe yesterday and were in the sold-out audience for the dress rehearsal of the melodifestival final.

The winner, as I had pretty much expected, was Eric Saade with Popular:


It was popular among the Globe's crowd, too, but as Marcia put it, 11-year old girls with their cell phones put Eric over the top. Not that sure how well he'll do in the big show, however.

But my favorite part—in fact, one of my favorite bits of television in a long time—was a performance by Nanne Grönwall, Christer Sjögren, The Ark, and the gorgeous Lena Ph performing the Scorpion's "Rock You Like A Hurricane". Check it out: 

We're only 2 months from the big show in Düsseldorf. I can't wait!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mold

When I was at the house last Christmas, I pried off a few of the darkest slivers of its exterior. My thought was that Rutger could get the wood tested for mold.

Recently, I saw this family-friendly testing kit during one of my many visits to the local Texan home-improvement store. I gave Marcia a ring and she graciously mailed me the ziploc bag with its little shards intact.



The kit was simple to use; I put the special solution into the petri dish, tweezed in the bits of wood (mold side down), and waited.

And guess what? Nothing happened. There was no growth at all. Sooz thinks maybe the mold didn't survive the rigors of its trip, but I think sitting outside in Aspö right now is even more harsh on a fungus than a baggie in Marcia's dresser.

I'll bring along another kit and we can test for mold in situ this May.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oh My God

...is the title of one of the Melodifestival finalists this year, by the Moniker. I don't have the critical skills to describe it properly. Take a look and see for yourself.

The rest of the final ten to compete at the Globe this Saturday are almost as goofy. There's Swingfly's dual-rapper "Me and my Drum" with the bizarre drumming-girl break at 2:05.

And there's the lavishly-tattooed Nicke Borg, a long-time punk rocker who sings a power ballad in English. (Think Poison's "Every Rose has Its Thorn"). The tats come out around 1:25. Still don't get the trousers though.

The Playtones are a bunch of middle-aged guys doing a rockabilly number which should be a German entry, actually.

Danny's "In The Club" might have won in 1989.

I think the winner might be Erik Saade's catchy "Popular". It goes last in the final's running order, which is good. All the girls love him. Good thing it's not a lyrics contest, though, although the shattering-glass trick is pretty cool.

I will miss going to the Swedish pub in Marylebone to watch it, that's for sure.