Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Valborg!

Tonight is Valborg, a semi-official holiday here in Sweden in which bonfires are set to welcome the month of May and the end of winter. The practice has its roots in pagan times, although today it's formally known as Walpurgis night.

My first Valborg was 21 years ago, and my drive to work very early on the sunny morning of May 1 was an eerie experience. First, there wasn't a soul on the road. Second, the horizon was dotted with smoke trails from dozens of smoldering fires. I began to wonder if I had missed some Swedish broadcast about a Russian invasion! Although it seems funny now, I was a little creeped out at the time.

But back to the present day and it was another good one at our little stuga. The weather held up and we put up a bunch of shelves (after much measuring and discussing), and I figured out how to set our TV to receive Swedish channels.

We also visited Janne at his new work site on a beautiful point of land on the north side of the island; he's making a teak deck at a 55° angle, which combines woodworking and mathematical skills. He'll be over in a little while for an evening of chili.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A quiet evening

It took 6 trips with the wheelbarrow but I managed to get everything up without any damage to either the goods or to myself. The sun came out and it was a beautiful afternoon. We were able to start up the water system without any trouble, and the house was fully recommissioned by lunchtime.

We got lots of little projects done today, and tonight, it's Mad Men on our new TV. Janne is staying on Aspö, so we'll have our chili together tomorrow.

Photos going up on a new webgallery.

Onboard the m/s Minerva

We're motoring on our way to Aspö through a soupy sky and a slate-green sea, although it is fairly warm and not actually raining. We filled up the car literally to its max at Gustavsberg; not much fresh produce (chili for dinner tonight) but lots of bulky stuff since we had our own boat.

And we lucked out with Minerva, which seats 98 people, but today has only us and all our gear.

The last step is hauling all to the house. I'm not looking forward to that!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I was right!

Rutger's wagon is indeed loaded up to the gunwales. And this is before the grocery shopping.

We're all set to head out tomorrow. Grant and Ollie are doing fine back in London, so everything seems just fine so far.

At the SAS Lounge in Heathrow

...we are about to leave for Stockholm. Grant and Ollie are going to be bachelors the next few days. I am sure they'll be fine but of course Sooz and I are going to worry a bit! We are loaded up pretty heavy with our baggage, I'm sure Rutger's Volvo is going to be filled to the gills.

Good news is that the weather looks better for our time on Aspö.

More tonight from the Wilhelmis.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Leaving on Wednesday

I had posted in mid-March about moving our trip from Easter to late April, and quick enough, that time is almost here! Grant will stay behind with Ollie, and Sooz and I will leave Wednesday morning. We've booked a taxi boat for Thursday to transport the IKEA stuff Marcia bought for us. We also plan to make a big food shop at the ICA in Gustavsberg with as much bulky and non-perishable stuff as we can carry. A lesson I learned long ago was to maximise our trips out to the island!

The timing isn't ideal in many ways, though. Rutger's going to be away (although he will leave us his car), and we're going to miss Margaret, Janne—and Dave—by just one day. Plus the weather forecast those days is not looking too good, either. Drat.

But it will be good to recommission the house for the summer, and to have a couple of days with my sweetie!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Volcano

Sooz and Grant are stuck in the US for at least a few more days, leaving Ollie and I to bachelor it a while longer.

Living near London, it is strange to see skies so empty of planes, and Heathrow itself literally a ghost town.

I hope the cloud will soon disperse and we can all get back to normal, especially since we have a trip to Aspö planned in about 10 days!

UPDATE: They made it back Wednesday night, 4 days late. So we're all set for Aspö next Wednesday.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Eurovision #6: Finland

Here's the Finnish duo Kuunkuiskaajat (which translates as "Moonwhispers") with their song Työlki ellää (slang meaning "One can work for a living, too"). Over a million Finns watched the final. I'm not sure about this one, either. The lead singer is holding an enormous accordion, which I find distracting. It's like she has a refrigerator on her chest. And her hair? She's trying to look like a praying mantis? Let's not mention the backup singers and their little dance break.

Finland does have recent history in the Eurovision song contest. They won for the first time in 2006 with Lordi, a heavy-metal band who perform in elaborate costume. The video of their winning performance is here. After their victory, I saw a reporter ask the lead singer about the huge number of fireworks in their act. The lead singer replied, in his latex mask, that they had taken up collections from fans during the summer hard rock festivals circuit. I just love that thought.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


A few weeks ago, I started thinking about the finish of our house. I used jarn vitrol to allow the wood to weather naturally over time. Since our house is so square, I liked the idea of helping it blend into its surroundings, by colour if not by shape.

Recent photos show the front of the house is weathering well, perhaps too well. There is a bit of mottling on the exposed side of the house, although it's not so bad in person. Margaret has reminded me that jarn vitrol takes a few seasons to settle in, and my timescale on the house is long, so it's not really a problem. But still... there are a lot of variations in the look of the wood. It goes against my Miesian tendencies.

I've attached photos from the x-house website of a few homes stained with an opaque colour, like the blue stain we used on the doors and window frames. I rather like the look. Instead of trying to mask the squareness, big square planes of colour would embrace it.

Of course, I want to be a good neighbor so something too bright is out. Maybe Pantone 405 or 437? Something brownish-greeny-grey? I am famously colour-blind, though, so maybe I'm not the right person to make such a decision. There are practical considerations, too. At the moment I have pretty much a no-maintenance exterior. If I do stain, I'm signing up for lots of cost and labor over the upcoming years.

Comments on this subject very welcome.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Further IKEA Progress

I posted a little while ago about trying to sort out getting our (hopefully) last sizable IKEA order. I did end up ordering the corner cabinet here in the UK and had it delivered to me for £92, which is about 1000kr, a lot cheaper than the 1790kr quoted for the same thing delivered to Stavsnäs.

Rutger stopped by on Sunday when he was in town on business, and he carried back half of the cabinet yesterday. I'll check the other half as baggage when we go in a couple of weeks. It does seem odd, though, carrying an IKEA cabinet into Sweden!

As for the remainder of our order, Marcia and her friend Ursula went to IKEA and successfully bought everything else. They good-naturedly sent a few photos of the whole mass they purchased on my behalf. (I owe Ursula coffee and a bullar on our deck this summer!) Marcia will keep all this stuff in their garage; I'm sure Rutger will be grumpy, but it won't be there for long.

I've also decided to get a taxi boat for ourselves when we go out on the Thursday. We have a lot of stuff already, and Rutger is lending us his car, so we're going to load it up as much as we can. Sooz and I will stop at the ICA grocery store in Gustavsberg on the way down to stock up on bulky stuff and perishables. I also want to buy a big ladder of our own, too.

Hopefully, when we show up for our midsummer holiday, all we'll need is the clothes on our back and a few coolers full of fresh food.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eurovision #5: Slovenia

This is more like it. Slovenia's Ansambel Roka Žlindre and her band Kalamari are performing Narodnozabavni rock, which translates to "Popular Folk Rock".

They aren't misrepresenting the song, that's for sure. It has folk and rock, albeit in a horribly mixed-up way. And it was popular, winning the public vote in a runaway, with 15,907 votes. I'm not sure about the song but do like the set. Slovenian TV must have bought it from the Jackie Gleason show.

This is a good example of the "head-scratching" category of song entries. What were they thinking?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Rutger is over this afternoon on a business trip and he took a look at my tax returns. The key part I missed was that the taxes are set based upon the owner of the property as of January 1, 2009.

Since I didn't register the house and land until October, Tony was still the official owner, and so I had no tax exposure this year. I filed online with just a couple of clicks.

I'll talk to Tony when I'm there in April about any bills he received for our land in 2009. Even though I wasn't yet registered officially, I should pay for those myself.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"Foreigners Buying More Swedish Houses"

Margaret pointed me to a story in The Local which reports an increase of non-Swedish owners of summer houses.

Apparently us foreigners now own 33,168 summer houses in Sweden. Danes are the most common nationality; no mention of Americans, although Marg does point out we are a statistically significant percentage on Aspö at least!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Eurovision #4: The Netherlands

In honor of Marcia's Dutch heritage, next up is this year's entry from the Netherlands. It appears they went old-school, and I'm not just talking about the singer. The organ is a nice local touch.

I can't tell exactly what they're singing, but the title is Ik ben verliefd, which translates to "I'm in love", and everybody seems happy about it.

The Netherlands has a long history with the Eurovision contest. They were one of the original countries to participate in 1956, and have won it 4 times, although the last winner was in 1975, with Teach-In singing "Ding-A-Dong". Really.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Just got an email from Margaret, out on Aspö:

Have you looked at the cams? We woke up to a RAGING snowstorm...we were due to take the 11:30 boat back today but no way, would be too difficult to get to dock. We will now leave at 10.30 tomorrow instead, and MUST take that boat, so hope it clears up by then. It's pretty, but I mean, c'mon! Enough! It is absolutely pouring down thick snow and the entire property is well and truly covered. Get me to Florida!!

And sure enough, I looked at the cams and it is snowing like crazy. This is the day we originally would have gone out to the house. It's probably for the best we didn't now, although Grant really would have enjoyed it!!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Skatteverket the name of the Swedish tax authority. Today, at last, our tax returns arrived in the post. Sooz and I each received a mailing; the house, and our bank account, is 50-50 in both our names.

We were given a little pamphlet in English for "people who live in another country". Reading through the documents, it's clear we have to file a return as we own a property in Sweden. It appears, though, that's all we have to worry about as we have no other income in the country.

All the pre-filled areas on the return show zero, so I just can't hit 'send' on the internet. I'm sure we have to pay taxes on our house in some fashion! From what I can tell, we would owe 6,362kr in municipal tax on a detached dwelling.

I've made a scan and will email the documents to Rutger for his advice. But I won't do it today as it is his birthday and I'll give him the day off. Happy birthday, buddy!

The IKEA order

I had mentioned in February our spring IKEA order. Click the image to see our shopping list in all its detailed glory.

It's time to get a bit of colour into the house, so we've ordered a big square rug, some red and yellow shelves with matching lamps, shelving for the little house, and a corner bathroom cabinet.

But just like the rest of our April trip, there's a problem. The cabinet can't be picked up in the store; it has to be delivered at a cost of 500kr. No problem, I say, we can just add all the other stuff and make one big order.

That's too logical, though. IKEA says the non-warehouse stuff is a second order and another 500kr. Rutger called on my behalf and used all his negotiating skills to no avail. So now we're talking a 1000 kronor delivery charge on a 5757kr order. And that's just to Stavsnäs. Then I have to pay again to get it to Aspö. Arrgh.

So now we're on to plan B. I'm going to order the bathroom cabinet here in the UK. The total cost and delivery to my house is a lot less than the cabinet alone in Sweden. I'll check it as luggage on SAS when we go in a few weeks. Meanwhile, Marcia is going to take my shopping list and pick up the remaining stuff over the upcoming days. Then Rutger will lend us his Volvo and we'll drive it all down to Stavsnäs ourselves.

The only kink in this plan is if the Waxholms boat will allow us to carry all this onboard. I'm not too worried; I've seen a lot of stuff go on those boats in the past, and if my charm and negotiating skills fail, I can leave the offending items in Rutger's car (which we couldn't have done had we taken the bus). We'll see how well this goes!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Eurovision #3: Belgium

There are two state broadcasters in Belgium, one French, the other Flemish. They take turns picking the country's entry, and this year it's the responsibility of VRT, the Flemish TV channel. Unlike our Swedish friends at SVT, they didn't run a contest, and instead chose Tom Dice and his guitar. He came in second place in this year's version of the 'X-Factor'.

Belgium doesn't have a great record in the contest; they've won only once, with J'aime la vie, sung by a 13 year old Sandra Kim. The eligibility rules have changed, so she should permanently remain the youngest ever winner. Not that confident Tom will be winner #2.