Spring 2021

Spring has come again and we enjoy that the snow is starting to melt and that days are longer than nights. The earth and the colors appear from under the snow. I miss very much the colors when we come to this time of year and everything has been white for a very-very long time. It is the absence of colors that I think is the biggest challenge for me. Not the cold or the short days, but the absence of the colors. I can feel completely euphoric when I see the first spot of soil and grass.

Another strong sign of spring is when the Sami people move their reindeers down from the mountains to their calving areas. This is one of my favorite moments. Seeing hundreds of reindeers cross the frozen lake in one large herd.

In April, the cranes also arrive and so do the great singing swans. April is also the month where, the bears wake up from their winter hibernation. They have youngsters with and there is no vegetable food for them to find, so we definitely need to be more careful when we move in the forest. I can feel the body is a little more on alert when you hear a sound from the forest. The dogs must be on a leash unless the area has been examined.

And to our great joy, small buds have appeared in the three birch trees we planted in the autumn. I had never thought so, because we had destroyed most of the big roots when we dug them up. But it gets so nice when leaves will appear. The birch trees usually spring out in late May here.

Even though I come from a gardening family, I do not have “green fingers” and growing my own vegetables is for me a learning process. Last year I made the mistake of sowing my vegetables way too late. Because the summer is so short, you have to sow plants indoors before getting the germinated vegetables in the ground when there are no more night frost forecasts. It is usually not before June. This year I have propagated much earlier and hope to get a little bigger vegetables when we reach August. The leeks and beets were miniature vegetables last year, while the kale and lettuce grew fine and large. It is unusually delicious with fresh vegetables when you can’t expect to find fresh vegetables in local stores. This year I have sown beets, lots of kale, leeks, lettuce, horse beans and artichokes (which may have been sown too late though). The carrots are planted out directly in the ground and so do the potatoes. Of course, we also need herbs like parsley, rosemary and chives.

If it is a success, it will never be known whether the range will be expanded next year. I would like to try my luck with cabbage too.

Spring has also brought Covid-19 here. So far we have been living distant to the virus that has affected the whole world and we have lived as if the world has not changed at all. It was a bit of an eye opener and one suddenly became aware of one’s and others’ actions. Fortunately, there were only two small outbreaks and no serious illnesses.

Since I work as a substitute at the small school in the neighboring village, I had a daily contact with people during that period.

I have been lucky enough to get a small temporary job at the local school, where I do a little bit of everything- cooking in the kitchen, working in the kindergarten and at the after-school center, teaching visual arts and little cleaning. It is super cozy and there are only 14 children divided between school students and kindergarten children. It also provides some security on the economic front after a slightly harsh fall and winter periods.

We have also had a couple of really exciting assignments. Orest has made a film for the fishing association’s website. You can see it here below and visit their website on www.storsjofisk.se .

We have made pictures and small videos of the Nordic countries’ flags for the Danish company Langkilde & Søn. Now there is not a single flagpole in the whole area we have not noticed or borrowed. We have to make new flag pictures in the summer country, so it is a task we are very much looking forward to work with.

We have also started with a little spring-cleaning in the garden. We have felled quite a few trees again this year. Even though we felled about 100 small trees last year, there is still a need to thin out a bit so that the remaining ones can grow larger. And in a few weeks, the snow will hopefully melt so much that we can burn twigs and branches and other wood waste.

When the heat comes we also get running water back in the house. It is a luxury that one learns to appreciate very much living this lifestyle. We look forward to the summer and to meeting the guests who already have booked our guesthouse. If you have considered visiting us, there are still weeks available and Orest has created a website thegreenfootprint.se where you can read more about what we can offer to our guests.

And then we have another good news to share. Our first financial result in our little company Big Lake Media.se have gone in plus. Not much, but still with a profit. This is very good as it is the company’s first year. But before we got there, the whole that financial accounting could cost us our marriage. We did not really have a system, no experience in the “art of accounting” in a new for us taxation system and unknown Swedish words. But it was like it was sent from heaven, we came in contact with someone who has a “cottage” some distance from us. She is an accountant, and she has simply helped us so much – both with reporting VAT and tax. We would not have been able to do it without her help and we had no money to hire an accounting service on market. 

Enjoy the last month of spring. May is the month of silence here – no snowmobiles, as the ice is too unsafe to cross the lake to our side, no boats and no cars on our side of lake. It’s not because there are many cars passing by on the gravel road close to us, but it is so quiet here and you only hear the birds. We have a bird that sounds like a computer game. This year I have to find out which bird it is.

Off Grid Lifestyle

Time runs really fast  in the wilderness and now we have been living  “off grid” since March 2020. It’s 13 months in challenging conditions and we are Still alive ;-). The question is: what have we learned and how are we going to live further with these challenges ? 

Access to electricity is just natural for many people in the western world as access to water , so you probably wonder how we manage living without permanent electricity and not connected to the local grid network? 

Off grid “power station” – what we have at the moment

As we told before, living “off grid” was not our intention, but the reality is a result of unfair behaviour and mindset of the local energy company, who owns the grid and has the monopoly on distribution of electricity on the local market. You can read more about the conflict in our previous blog. But the fact is that the conflict is still ongoing and after almost two years of courts we now wait for the decision from the Swedish court of appeal. Even if the Swedish Energy Market Inspection ( a government authority who regulates prices on energy market) will win and defend our rights as customers, the energy company has many options to delay their work on connection our property to the grid. The company, 36 % of which is owned by the state, can just even deny to provide service to us.  Remember that we live in the real “Wild West “ of Sweden, where access to grid electricity is not a human right. So we can’t rely on that company and wait years for the distributed electricity. In our daily work we have to use computers, mobile internet router and other equipment running on electricity, so we use what we can afford at the moment, hoping for the better times. 

Present Reality – Basic “office “ needs for electricity: 

For our basic needs and daily work we have a little petroleum generator, which can provide 2 kW of power supply. It’s quite economic- it uses approx 0.5 – 1 litre fuel per hour, and it means it costs us up to 15 SEK per hour in our work. So you have to plan carefully what you are going to spend your money on and which tasks are the highest priority on your “to do” list. Some days we run it for 2-4 hours at a time , some days we don’t use the generator. The risk with this generator is not only the environmental impact or the cost of fuel , but you always have to be prepared that sometimes it just doesn’t want to start… then you have to go through a maintenance list – probably it’s time to change the engine oil, clean the fuel / air filter or you just spend time on finding “how to fix it” youtube videos… anyway, it has served us for a long time now … 

our primary electricity source for our “office needs”

20 years old solar system – still usable for charging electric devices. 

20 years old solar charge controller – still works…

Yes – we have actually a progressive technology implemented on our property and the principle of generating electricity from solar energy hasn’t changed for many years. But our old solar system is so outdated and inefficient as well as the battery storage bank has no capacity left after those  20 years… But still, using what we have available and adding the tractor start battery instead of the old ones helps us to use the solar energy for charging our electric devices like phones, iPad, small power banks, mobile broadband router and even more. We have also some lights in the house running on 12  volts and a 12 volt water pump used for circulation of the water in one of the houses in the summer period. 

the battery bank and inverter 12 v – 230 v
Little 12v – 230 v inverter of 100 watts – solar energy used for charging small devices

Electric dream – independent off grid sustainable energy production (at least for 8-9 months per year)

Any “electric” dream can be fulfilled by the existing technology and you can find many producers of the “off grid”  solar systems of any size and needs. There are lots of smart “plug in and play” products in many funny designs and configurations. All of those things are not that cheap. We may also start from a smaller system covering the absolute minimum of our need in electric power- computer and equipment we need for our work, as well if possible including a smaller refrigerator and water pump. I can also assemble the system by my self , but still the cost of the system with quality parts together with the reasonable battery storage capacity starts from 20- 25.000 SEK (2.500 euros). In comparison to the “dream off grid system” , covering all the needs of our property, which may cost 150- 200.000 SEK ( or up to 20.000 euros).  Plus cost of help from the professional electrician and cost of the newer and fuel consumption efficient generator to be used in winter period, where the solar panels can’t produce needed energy. Anyway – the cost is much lower than the cost to be connected to the local grid system – remember that the energy company required 390.000 SEK just for connection to the “end of our property “ ! And of course afterwards the cost of electricity distribution and other subscription fees and cost for the used electricity itself…. 

Any solution and configuration requires money. But we are glad that we have some job opportunities this period, so we can invest in the smaller solar system – still this feels like a great “upgrade “ in our daily life. 

Orest has written this blog and Lykke will tell about what has happen in our life last few months in her next blog. 

A cold time

Hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas and has come well into the New Year. Of course we follow the news, so we know that many had been affected by restrictions and probably could not be with all those they wanted. I had actually planned to write a “Merry Christmas” blog, but time passed fast. Even up here, where time sometimes seems to stand still, it can also suddenly pass by. We had a nice Christmas, even though it was just two of us – and the dogs of course.

It was our 3rd Christmas where it was just we and I have to admit I was missing being back in Denmark. However, it passed quickly when you read about the Corona situation, because it was anyway forbidden to meet with all your friends and family. Hope it is possible to come to Denmark in the spring. Now we’ll see.

But we were not alone all Christmas. Already on the 28th of December we had a visit. It felt almost like home, because it was my friend from Denmark (who has lived in Stockholm for 12 years) and her husband and their son. They were here until after New Year and it was simply so cozy with visit from good friends. Our “neighbor”, who has a little hut 4 km from us, was also here for New Year’s Eve, so we were exactly the 6 people as it was limited by the Covid-19 restrictions. The New Year night here is completely different to what we used to and it’s utterly silent here – no rockets, no party noises – just silence in the moonlight. Our friends had some nice big Thai lamps – they flew to sky with a small flame in. It was so beautiful and peaceful. A New Year’s Eve we will not forget.

Otis spent some time in December getting our website ready so we can rent the house out for the summer. I hope you have all visited the website. Some of you might like to come up here for a summer vacation. In any case, there are still weeks available during the summer. We will soon post it on the larger rental portals, so we think we will get many bookings. The website’s address is: https://thegreenfootprint.se

Right now it is only in English, but the plan is that we will also have it translated to Swedish. No one has any idea what the Covid-19 situation will look like, so we have to focus on the Swedish market this year. We must not repeat the same mistake as last summer, when almost all foreign bookings went in the sink.

Until January 3rd, the winter had been astonishingly warm and we have largely had running water until then, with a few exceptions where we had to shut down temporarily. With the 4th of January the real frosts came and we have pretty much had between -20 and -30 degrees Celsius ever since. Some few moments it was cloudy and we had little warmer temperatures. There is an interesting phenomenon, which in English is called inversion and which is very obvious to observe here where we live. This means that the higher you get up in the mountains, the warmer it gets. And it is not uncommon that the difference can be up to 15-20 degrees. The cold air sinks into the valleys (we live in a valley) and pushes the warm air up. Therefore, we must always put around 10 degrees down off the weather forecast temperatures.

Such a cold is harsh in our supply of firewood. It should not keep freezing so hard, because then the supply of firewood will run out before we reach the spring. The cold also meant that it was finally over with having running water indoors, so now we are back on the lake with buckets and a water pump. It’s hard physical training, and this year we have no snowmobile to drive the water up to the house, so we go back and forth with the buckets. And walking in deep snow will make you feel it as a harder work. And many buckets are needed for our week’s water consumption. It also makes you very economical with water usage. The used dishwashing water is used, for example, to flush down the toilet. You really get certainty about how big a consumption we had when we lived in Copenhagen. Flushed down the toilet after every little visit, bathed at least once a day, washed clothes without it being really dirty and generally poured many liters of excess water directly into the sewer. The same thing has happened to us after we started sorting waste and composting. We have become so amazed that you can sort so much waste for recycling that you do not really need to have a waste container service. Paper / cardboard and plastic make up 60% of total waste, compost – 35% and the remaining 5% are bottles and cans. We take these things to the recycling station containers in the village. We have actually terminated the waste collection service provided by the municipal company. A scheme, that anyway did not work as they promised. They would not pick it up at our property as they had promised when we booked the service, but they wanted us to drive a smelly trash can in our car 4 km to our neighbor’s house. Some may remember the story of the lack of sludge emptying. It’s the same company. A completely hopeless and unreliable company, if any should be in doubt about our opinion.

This summer, Otis built a sauna in a small annex in the garden, where we previously had an outdoor bio toilet. It was an absolutely amazing and meaningful decision. We use it a couple of times a week to get properly warmed up and take a “shower”. It is absolutely wonderful that you get completely warmed up while there is severe frost outside. It is not that big, so it can reach 80-90 degrees in an hour even if it freezes -30 degrees outside. And going out and rolling in the snow and afterwards back into the heat feels like the best therapy for the body. All muscles get relaxed. This is the way people has bathed in these regions for generations.

This January, I have also been working on a fantastic assignment. I have photographed a Christmas collection for one Danish company. It has been exciting to play with setups and staging out in the snow. I am still not quite done with the task and Otis will also have to edit some small films, which will show the “behind the scenes”. I hope for more of these types of tasks in the future. When we moved up here, I had ATBO (a Danish furniture design company) as a customer, where they wanted original photographs of wood and nature. In any case, there is always a guarantee of real snow up to 6 months a year.

The day has already become over an hour longer and the sun has risen higher in the sky. Each day lasts an average of 5 minutes longer. It’s half an hour a week so it feels almost completely “visible”, every single day.

Difference between integration processes in Denmark and Sweden

Orest is writing here and I want to tell about my experience of integration after two years of living in Sweden and compare that experience with the integration process in Denmark during the same period. I hope this is an interesting reading and there are some good “take aways” from my observations, and this is not intended to be understood as just criticism, but the attempt to show that there’s so much space for improvement in the integration area on the regional municipal level. 

I have had a dynamic life so far and I’ve been moving from country to country, since I was a little child. First it was with my parents – they moved several times between Russia and Ukraine. 

And during my “adult life “ I have had two integrations so far. First it was move from Ukraine to Denmark in 2004, and second one from Denmark to Sweden in 2018. And here I want to share my thoughts, comparing my two and so different experiences of integration into a new to me society. 

But first I would like to split the definition of the integration into three parts (at least how I understand it): 

  1. “Social” integration – interaction on individual level (and this one is probably the most important part for feeling of successful integration)
  2. “Official” integration- on municipal level – interaction with local authorities. In this case I will describe and compare my experiences I had with Copenhagen Kommune and Bergs Kommune ( “Kommune” is a municipal authority).
  3. Labour market integration – also kind of official one – this is about ability to find a job and being integrated that way

I will start from a positive experience

Social integration 

Social integration in Denmark was straightforward due to the fact that I was married with Lykke who is a Danish citizen. So all her family and friends naturally became my family and friends. And I am really thankful for that smooth and effortless integration. It’s much more difficult to integrate into a new society, when you move to a new country with your family- I know it from my former colleagues who were expats at Mærsk Oil in Copenhagen. 

It was actually not an issue for our “Danish” family, when we moved in Storsjö Kapell with its little community. Already from the beginning we could feel that we were welcome here by those who were curious and open to meet us. We are warmly called “Danes” here :-). Basically it was an additional reason for our decision to settle up here along with the main reason of our choice – outstanding nature in the area.

I want to add here, that the social integration is very different in the urban area and in the remote areas like here. Even if you share a staircase with neighbours in Copenhagen, you may not know each other’s names for a long period, but here everyone knows you – no matter how far you live from each other. We are well recognised even in the neighbouring village. 

The “Official “ integration. 

Here is unfortunately a huge difference between my two experiences. If I have to measure success of integration in percentage, then in case with Copenhagen Kommune I will say 100%, while Bergs Kommune is 0%. Let me try to explain it. When I officially was registered as resident in Denmark and I got my personal number, within two weeks I got an invitation from Copenhagen Kommune to the official introduction meeting. It was two hours long meeting in person, where I was interviewed about my background, education, ambitions for employment, as well as I was introduced to main services and professional organisations I could rely on and seek help from, including the right to learn Danish language paid by the Kommune. As well as a direct contact person in the Kommune if I needed any helps in the future. This was actually a solid starting point, which saved me a lot of time and efforts. A language course covered also introduction to the Danish culture, where we all from around the world including Swedes discussed the cultural differences between nations. 

 Sweden, Bergs Kommune. Two years after the official settlement I haven’t experienced any interest/ initiative from the authorities. Simply Zero. No introduction/ welcome or so on. Actually recently we heard from the local journalist how one of the Bergs Kommune’s employees said to him, that “Bergs Kommune is not good to integrate citizens from the Nordic countries “. Recognising the problem, but still doing nothing about it – this sounds like a cynical arrogance, doesn’t it? 

I have also a funny story to mention here. We had actually short interaction with the regional politician and it was in connection with some issues we had with the public municipal services (you may read here). We wanted to meet with that person, but as she explained she didn’t have time for that in her calendar. And then it happened a funny thing – while we waited for her response, one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers published a big interview with us (link here- it’s in Swedish) and, suddenly there was time in the politician’s calendar to meet with us. The main question the politician was worried about on the meeting – if there were planned another interviews with us. When we said “no”, the politician disappeared and she has been ignoring us since that meeting. Maybe we have to arrange couple of new interviews? 

Well, as you understand, there’s not much success in the “official “ integration in my second experience.  

But seen from my perspective, I just don’t understand why it should be such a huge difference in strategies between Copenhagen and Bergs Kommunes, especially in the reality where Bergs Kommunee is challenged by a critical demographic situation. You can’t rely on just paying money for a “branding” campaign for the region- it will not work, unless you create appropriate conditions for the efficient integration, which will pay back in the future. It is a “win-win” for both parts, and the best “branding” is a real case stories. 

Well, enough on this. 

Let’s move to the last part of integration- via labour market and employment. 

Probably in this part it is hard to draw parallels and make comparisons- as the difference between Copenhagen and Bergs Kommunee in this area is really huge. But I want to tell about one thing, where both of cases may have in common. I will talk about discrimination during job search process. 

While I was studying Danish language I had my first job as a craftsman in Copenhagen Kommune’s culture house. Unqualified job, but I had most amazing colleagues and managers.  Of course I dreamed to find a job according to my engineering degree from Ukraine. So during that period I had meetings with engineering professional association, who guided me through job searching procedures. And on one of the meetings I was told that it was strategically clever that I had changed my Ukrainian surname to a Danish one. Why? Because, if you have a “non-Danish” surname, your job application can be sorted out during the first evaluation round. “It’s just a reflex, many employers have“ – as I was explained. I said that it sounded like a racist discrimination. “You may call it that way, but this is still a fact” – the answer was. Later on I was lucky to get a job according to my education in the most prestigious company in Denmark at that time, A.P. Møller-Mærsk. And it was not because I was “Andersen”. It was actually a global corporation with many nationalities represented in the Copenhagen HQ office and with more than 120.000 employees around the world. 

Let’s get back to Sweden and the little local labour market. It’s natural that the job openings are very few. Ideally we want to be self-employed, but on the way to our dream we need other sources of income. What skills can I offer? I have a driving license and I can drive both car and truck. So I have applied twice for a job with the same local transport company. In the first case there was one response on my application, but the employer never responded on my further requests about status of the application… even no official: “thanks, but we have chosen another candidate “. 

During Second occasion it was better communication- I did apply immediately after the vacancy was posted on social media and I got a nice confirmation that my application was received as well as I got the job description with question if that fitted my expectations. I responded “yes”. After few weeks of waiting time and several queries about status I got a short message: “the vacancies were filled with another candidates”. On my question “why I was refused?” I got an answer: “there were others who applied before you”. I cannot understand that, as I heard from other people in the local society, that they still were looking for people after my application was sent. And I of course mentioned that to the employer, but there were no further explanations. What should I do in this case? Should I have changed “Andersen” on “Andersson” to succeed? Or are there some private reasons behind that? But in any case this is a worrying combination of the cultural aspect, where Swedes don’t say honestly what they mean, and the size of such a little community.

Conclusion

A period of two years is a lot in one’s life and more than enough to make one’s conclusions. Of course, it is disappointing for me to experience the “official” integration in Sweden in this way, but this is not new for me – this is very similar to what I remember and know from Ukraine, where people have given up having a vote in relation to the authorities. But the life goes on and there are many happy people in Ukraine as well as in Sweden, so I know that our integration is on the right track. Thanks to the positive experiences in the social part of the integration – in this one we trust.

Denmark – Sweden 1-1

I am often asked about the difference between Swedes and Danes, so here I will try to describe a few of the differences I have experienced. Hope I do not offend anyone 😉

1

The first one I actually heard from another person in the area, but this must be included, because it is so precisely describes the culture. At least it refers to the local area. When people meet to discuss a real problem, then people start finding all the positive things about the problem so that in the end there is no problem at all. Isn’t this smart?

2

Swedes NEVER come late to a meeting. Better to arrive 5 minutes early. So don’t count on that you have the “academic quarter” of being late so you can use time to change clothes or set up the table.

3

Recently I attended an online art portfolio presentation meeting hosted by Networking North. 25 artists from all over the northern Sweden were selected to meet a number of art curators from around the world for a personal 30 minute talk about your artworks. This by itself can be fairly anxiety-raising event, so the organizers were incredibly pedagogical and said to us something like this: “We had a meeting with the curators yesterday and they are really sweet and they are really looking forward to talking to you. You must not be nervous”. If it was in Denmark, it would have sounded something like this: “You have 30 minutes each, so make sure you get maximum out of the meeting and you must do your very best, because you will not get this chance again.” I know which model I prefer and it is not the last one of the listed above.

4

The Swedes are incredibly bad at answering on e-mails. You go and wonder whether the e-mail may have ended up in the spam filter. After a week, you are convinced that this is the case and then you send a new e-mail with request to hear if it has not been received before. And then the answer is that it has been received. So far so good.

5

The Swedes are incredibly afraid of conflict. People don’t discuss. So if you come up with criticism because something is not working optimally and you mean that the things can be improved (that’s why you want to discuss it), then you are met by the remarkable silence. And as a Dane, a criticism is an introduction to a dialogue about the problem so that it can be solved at the end. And in opposite – there is NO ONE who would say that you have done or said something wrong, but you slowly begin to understand it, because you are simply being ignored. And when you ask directly “What’s wrong? “, then the answer with 100% certainty is: “Nothing”, but there is no doubt that you have “stepped on someone’s feet” . In my perspective, when you are not told what you are doing wrong, you do not have any chance to defend or explain yourself. This fake politeness I have a bit hard to deal with.

6

But in return, I love that the Swedes keep what they promise. The Danes can promise a lot and when it does not happen and you ask: “ Hey, have you not promised to help with that?” , then you can expect the usual reaction: “Shit, I forgot it! Can’t it be next week instead? ” And here it’s clear –  that it never be done.

7

Here in the area I have never heard a Danish standard reply: “I have only 5 minutes…” People take the time what it takes and you feel how the stress level drops. I love the Swedes for that.

Now I hope no one has been harmed here, but you may agree that it becomes more clear to understand, when you come with exaggeration in the examples.

Hard Times

It’s been a long time since I’ve written and the winter has already arrived. The days go by and time is filled with many small things, but I do not think we get done as much as we would like. We are in a period where things are not going as smoothly as we had hoped for and we are sometimes left in doubt about what the future will bring us and whether we have been too naive.

One reality is that our last appeal to the highest Nature and Environment Court has been rejected, and if they have not been “killed” by Covid-19 economic consequences, the Swiss owners of the island nearby now have full permission to build a luxury hotel just in front of our property.

It will destroy our dream of creating an artist refuge, because the completely unique natural silence will become a noise hell and the notion of living in harmony with nature is spoiled by tourist groups’ selection of entertainment activities depending on the season. Our drinking water from the lake will be undrinkable while such a large construction is underway. But almost worst of all is that all authorities try to downplay the scope of the construction to “just 6 small cabins for overnight stays”, knowing that the 6 cabins make up only approx. 25% of the total size of the complex. You feel powerless and we live in one of the absolute finest areas in Sweden. This is where you experience authentic life and an untouched nature. It’s obvious for many that ecotourism is the future here and then the authorities sell out of nature to foreign capital that wants luxury and entertainment facilities. It is an avalanche that can be difficult to stop. I have never experienced a municipality is ignoring local people that way like this little Bergs municipality does. One feels completely incapacitated. Right now I’m so frustrated as I have not been for a long time.

Next, – at the moment we are challenged financially like we have never been before. It’s really hard to get customers in the area where everything goes from “mouth to mouth”. And of course we do not have a large network. And I had expected the sale of my art works, which most likely will not turn into anything anyway. It was a large art piece for “Dansk Metal”, but suddenly the person with the decisive voice became in doubt and wanted more time and asked their art consultant to find something else for comparison. I have not yet received an official “no”, but what started out as a formality now hangs in a very thin thread. Another case, the regional hospital services have been interested in buying two of my art works, but the person who was responsible for the purchase has been reported sick for long period and what should have been in place by appointments in August has been postponed with no deadline in the future. It was these two sales we could have lived on for 8 months, so right now the financial part is a reason we don’t sleep well at night. Only hope is on a miracle.

In addition, due to Covid-19  we lost 90% of our guests who were interested in renting the house this summer and the few those from Sweden who had booked a stay, they cancelled it at the last minute, so we did not have the opportunity to find replacements. It was a lesson to us that in the future it would be a good idea to charge a deposit. In general, we were too late to catch on the Swedish tourists who were on holiday in their home country exactly because of Covid-19. Maybe everything is just a little bit “black” at the moment – and it is literally how it is physically. The days are short and we live in the glow of the candle. We have moved into the rental house to live there during the winter months. That was not the plan, but it works better. We live, sleep and cook in the same room so there is less space to heat up and here are a few lamps that run on three old batteries we have. However, there is not much sun but then the batteries can be charged with the generator when we work on the computer so we have light for approx. 30 minutes of usage. The batteries are old, but we do not even have money for new ones. And here in this house we have a toilet with a temperature that is not around freezing point as in the old house. Yes – we used a cupboard in the toilet as a fridge in the old house last winter…

It all does not have to be understood as we are about to give up even though it looks a bit “black” and it is by far the most difficult period we have had in many years. But In fact, our small company is doing quiet well, taking in consideration that we are completely new to another country and without any help, but the challenge is that we only have the company to live on. We cannot receive unemployment benefits or supplementary public support. I could not bring my unemployment benefits to Sweden, nor could I be transferred to a Swedish unemployment insurance fund without first having had a full-time job for a year. So we have nothing of any safety network like everyone else has.

And the never-ending story with Härjeåns Nät AB energy company and provider of electricity has received a decision after the appealed case and it has once again ended positively for us. However, the decision was that the price should be the one we got in the first offer – 116,000 SEK against the 450,000 SEK which energy company wanted. But the case is not over yet because the Energy Market Inspection has chosen to appeal the Linköping Court’s decision, so the story continues.

But here it’s a bit of some positive updtaes – I have been selected as one of 25 visual artists in the whole northern Sweden to show my art works to some selected curators from around the world. The renowned Bildmuseet in Umeå organizes an event. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also pretty nervous – I have been living a very long time in my own little universe.

Winter is upon us and we are waiting for the lake to freeze to ice and we will once again experience one of the most magical natural moments found here. This is the sound when the water is turning to ice. The sound is so violent, beautiful, and mysterious and would excite everyone to experience it just once in their life.

One year with our home Green Footprint

Hello and “what’s up?” . Orest is here and I have got the opportunity to write the next chapter of our story. So the writing style will be a little bit different from what you are used to. 

The summer 2020 is officially a history and it’s already one year since we got our new home the green footprint. It remembers clearly how excited we were when we received a bunch of keys to numerous facilities in the property. So many things to try and learn, and so many things to be changed ! So many ideas! 

No doubt, we are still very excited about our new home and many ide@s have become more clear for us. But realisation of them takes time. Longer than one year. Much longer than I expected. 

In this chapter I wanna cover some of those main projects we managed to do during this summer and, of course, tell about expectations, which have to wait . 

Firewood 

Distance between th firewood depot and storage place in the house

Story about our firewood didn’t end up in the last chapter. After we were finished with cutting and chopping 20 cubic meters of wood it had to be stored outside to have possibility to dry as much as possible it should be moved inside of one of the storage buildings. And the main storage room has a volume for approx 12-14 cubic meters of firewood. So Lykke motivated herself properly and carried most of the firewood with help of little wheel trailer and did it 140 times covering 70 meters each way. That took time… rest of the firewood she placed close to another little building and it was a shorter way for transportation.

We actually can’t say how long time the whole project  “firewood “ took us from the beginning to the “final product “, but we really hope that we have enough of firewood for the cold period of the year.

Grass .

It’s a huge difference between 70 sq meters in Copenhagen apartment and 20.000 sq meters of land and two houses on it. A lot of place to care about… and the most of the land is a nice grassy field. And of course it’s so pleasant to watch on a freshly mowed grassy area. We have a tractor and a grass mower to it. It sounds straight forward, isn’t it? But it takes time… first I had to learn how to safely operate that machine, and after that  it takes around 5 hours to mow the most of grass . And afterwards I collect the whole grass manually and move it to a dedicated to it place in the forest on our property. Spending 1-2 hours each day it takes me around 10-14 days to remove whole grass away… maybe it’s a waist of time, but it looks so beautiful afterwords! And it’s a natural physical training on fresh air. “Natural gym”. 

Compost and the waste issue in general 

We did tell before about the missing municipal service with emptying our waste container on our property. In the beginning the municipality said it was possible for the service truck to drive to us, but at the end we received a message that the truck can’t make last 4 kilometres to our place. So we wanted to find a solution for us. We evaluated in details our waste we produce living here and we started to separate different kinds of waste and sort it into groups. 20 km from us there is a public depot – a place where you can deliver recycled waste . There are categories of common paper, packing paper, glass, cans , plastic and used batteries. Sorting in that way reduced our waste , but still we had a lot of organic waste. And of course you straight think about composting. We know nothing about it, so we tried to read about it and about those plastic compost containers you can find on the market. But they are quite expensive. And then we had an idea : “ why not to build our own compost container from that wood we have and why shall we buy the plastic one?” . So we built it, and now we hope that the exciting composting process will start before the organic waste will freeze in the winter. 

A food cellar

Entrance to our food cellar was totally destroyed last winter due to probably permafrost, which moved walls together and it was no passage down to the cellar. Thanks our friend’s help we managed to move the stones in the walls on their original place and now we can use our cellar again. It’s very practical and it keeps temperatures around 4-7 degrees inside the cellar year around and the humid air in there keeps vegetables fresh for a long time. Just think – it is cool to have a huge environmentally friendly “walk in” refrigerator . Smart thing .

Something what I personally had issues with this summer, was expectations. Especially those expectations that weren’t realised this summer , because they obviously require more time. And these expectations about making our everyday living more comfortable. 

Electricity 

Electricity. As you know, our property is not connected to a local network and we live “off grid”. We have diesel and gasoline generators to produce electricity for various purposes.

We have told about the unpleasant case with a local energy company, which owns electricity network grid and which has a monopoly on the distribution of electricity to customers. They have abused their monopoly and have cheated us several times with the price they want to charge us for connecting to their network. Although the Swedish Energy Market Inspectorate, the authority that controls fair prices on the energy market, agreed with us and confirmed that the price for connection must not exceed approx. 80,000 Swedish kroner (against the company’s “offer” 450,000 kroner!), the energy company Härjeåns Nät AB appealed the decision in a court, so the case is further delayed. And, if the court wants to give the right to the Energy Market Inspectorate, then the electricity company has countless opportunities to delay and not connect our property to their network. It may take several years. So we explore alternatives. And as we said earlier, we are very excited about the idea of ​​establishing an “off grid” system, consisting of solar cell systems, battery storage and a “backup” petrol generator for the winter months when solar cell system will not produce enough electricity due to lack of sun light. I have spent a lot of time finding a solution – there are ideas, but most require more products from different manufacturers. And none of them could guarantee that the system will live up to our wishes 100%. Now I have found and established contact with a Danish company that works on designing and developing “hybrid generators” for industrial use, but they were enthusiastic about our new lifestyle and property and they promised to come with a proposal and of course they have to calculate the price for the possible solution.

Water

As we mentioned earlier, our two houses have a primitive water system, which works ok in summer period, but all pipes can be destroyed by Frost in winter and in the period when you have constant minus degrees outdoors. This is a problem and the entire water supply system needs to be redesigned so that we have running water in pipelines all year round. A well must be drilled and pipelines must be laid and frost-proved. This is not so much about smart solutions, but about money that must be paid to carry out the work.

So the problem of expectations is very much related to the last two projects, which were not realized due to lack of money. We have tried to reach out to several banks and other institutions, but they cannot loan us the money needed to improve our standard of living. We do not have a stable income during this  period when we are in the process of establishing ourselves as self-employed, so we have to get ready for the new season with a lack of water and a small petrol generator, which we hope can give us light and electricity in the winter. And Winter is on its way.

Project Firewood

Most of the summer has passed, and if there is one thing that has filled up much of our time, it has been firewood splitting. We have also been on a short trip to Denmark, had a heat wave, celebrated Swedish Midsummer and seen a bear.

Let’s start from firewood- the ambition was to cut down trees for firewood by ourselves, but that project would have taken the whole summer… Firstly, because the snow remained until the end of May, and secondly, because of our lack of experience in tree felling. The actual transport from the forest to our home was also not something that could be done in a day or two. Instead, we ordered whole birch trees in amounts of approximately 20 cubic meters, which we had to saw for approx. 20 cm long  pieces and then split them. And this was the hardest and heaviest job we have ever done. And then it was a time consuming project. It took 2.5 hours to split 1 cubic and the forces were only 2 cubic meters of wood per day. I would like to guess that a single tree piece can weigh up to 100 kg and there were about 200 of them.

It took us a whole month to split firewood for winter usage. We hope it’s enough for the whole winter – but it depends on how cold and long the winter will be. Firewood is our only source of heat. But the work is not over yet, because we still need to stack it inside. It must be done before the snow comes. Now the firewood is lying out for drying, unless there will be a weather forecast with heavy rains, then we’ll need to cover firewood. 

In June I unfortunately lost a family member very unexpectedly, so we hurried to Denmark for the funeral. It was a sad occasion to travel and it became a very short stay. We had rented a trailer for a week, so we could take home the rest of our things on the way back. The whole drive to Denmark and back took us 4 days round trip. We had room for almost everything in the trailer, but still we had to leave a few boxes of books, because the trailer was dangerously close to overweight and the car was filled to the breaking point.

To my great frustration, but to the great delight of our guests, it turned out that our much-loved and absurdly expensive Dux bed, which we brought from Denmark, could not get up in our bedroom. It has now become a guest bed. But it happens we go to the other house just to sleep in our comfortable bed.

After all, it’s nice to be surrounded by our own things again, after living a year and a half in other people’s things and things we have not chosen by ourselves but they were part of the property. And so I have carpented a bookshelf, which I mean I managed to do quite good.

We returned from Denmark in mid-June to an unusual heat wave in this region. For over a week, the temperature rose up to 30 degrees Celsius, which is very unusual for such a long time. The water in the lake reached 24 degrees! It must be very close to a record. We could constantly swim in the lake those days. It was such a luxury to be able to get up and jump into the water without getting a cold shock. Now the water is back to a more normal 12 degrees Celsius.

In the middle of the heat wave, it was a celebration of midsummer. A very old Swedish tradition and an important event when people gather, eat herring and sing songs. Last year we were in Estonia on Midsummer’s Eve, so this year it was the first time for us in Sweden. We were visited by Anna, who has her summer house 4 kilometers from us, and she had brought herring, which is the traditional meal this day of the year. She both showed us and told us how this evening is being celebrated. However, we did not sing any songs, but we made a traditional midsummer sign. It was a cozy evening, where we could sit outside as long as we could tolerate mosquitoes and other insects. We are already looking forward to next year.

After midsummer the days start to get shorter. You think summer has just arrived, and then we face darker times. The evenings are slowly reappearing after two months of light 24 hours a day. I don’t know if we are completely ready for a long and dark winter again. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a solution for the electricity. We had hoped we could. A decision has not yet been made in the case and it seems that it may drag out. We do not have money for solar panels and batteries this year, so the winter will be like last year, with water from the lake that we have to pick up every day, oil lamps and a wood-burning stove. Fortunately , the summer is still here, so we are gradually getting used to the darkness and the cold. After all, we are more prepared this year and we have bought a used snow thrower machine so that this winter we can plow the road for snow and driving by car to and from our home. But I must honestly admit that I am a little nervous about the coming of winter and about what the job situation will look like. We take it one month at a time, trying to have confidence that it is going to be ok for us. 

Right now we are enjoying that it is still summer. And the mosquitoes are gradually disappearing as we get closer to the autumn. Enjoying my home-grown lettuce and kale that is just growing and growing. Still waiting for the coarser vegetables like beets, carrots and leeks (which one of the dogs has been dug up halfway) to grow large and ready to eat. But what a privilege to be able to pick up your own fresh salad. I love it. 

And then to the famous potatoes. While I have been writing this blog, we have for the first time seen cranes dangerously close to our potatoes, and unfortunately it looks like they have already been there ..! Santa has obviously lost his authority, so now I want to go out and cut strips of plastic bags so that there is a little more “activity” in the field. Was actually afraid they would die, because suddenly the leaves started to turn yellow. They’ve obviously got a bit of night frost. We had two nights where it was minus degrees in the village on the other side of the lake, but I think we stayed around 0 degrees because we are so close to the water. The experienced local people say they should probably survive, so I bet that.

And then I will end this blog with, in my eyes, a great experience. I’ve met a bear ! A scenario I have seen for my inner self countless times, and it was certainly much more dramatic than it turned out to be in reality. I was out cycling with our “neighbour” Anna, and approx. 15 meters in front of us a bear jumped across the road. The bear was scared. We were not. We were actually more curious. It was not that big. Maybe between 1-2 years old. But psychologically, it has done a lot for me. I’m no longer afraid to walk alone in the woods, and I do not get scared of the slightest noise in the forest. It was a big experience.

Summer has reached The Green Footprint

Finally the snow is disappeared. One month later than usually. And the snow came even earlier this winter than it used to. So we had snow from late October to mid-May, and for us it was a great pleasure to see the grass again. There is still plenty of snow in the mountains. We have had so much snow this year that they expect the flood of water from the mountains to the lake to hit the record of year 1995. The snow is the rainfalls in our region so the warmer the winter is the more snow we get.

As soon as the snow disappeared we spent a lot of time and efforts working in the garden. Our garden is almost 2 acres, so although we don’t exactly have many flowerbeds, here is really a lot to do. Shrubs that grow as weeds and invade the grassland. They need to be removed and the thickest sawed over. We have several times made large fires for burning branches and twigs from the removed trees.

Moved on giant rocks that were on the bottom of the lake on our boat’s way from boathouse. The lake’s water level is controlled and lowered due to a dam 8 km from where we live, so we had to hurry to remove rocks before the water would rise again with spring flood of melting snow. The water rises quickly and on a hot day the water can rise by up to 30 cm. There are 4 meters between the highest and the lowest levels. Work is underway to restore the lake’s level permanent as it was before the dam was built. Furthermore, it will have a positive impact on wildlife in and around the lake and the ice in the spring will be much less dangerous and the dangerous cracks will be avoided.

The big project for spring and summer for me is growing vegetables. As a child, my family was very close to being self-sufficient, but unfortunately I have not been taught so much about the knowledge of growing vegetables. In short, I am a beginner and have had to ask the experienced people for advice. It is also different what can grow here and what can grow in Denmark. The summer here is really short. I started by growing the seeds indoors and then later planting the sprouts when the night froze is not an issue anymore.

I have built boxes with high edges. They are not straight and crooked but I am convinced they can make my vegetables grow.

I have sown beetroot, kale, carrots and leeks. And a lot of salad. “If you can’t make the salad grow, it’s bad,” they said in the plant shop … What a performance-enhancing comment but it was said with sweet optimism. And I have got cuttings for strawberries, which I cross all fingers for we will taste this year.

Then we’ve come to the potato chapter. They have almost caused a marital crisis. Orest, which grew up in Ukraine, where most of people in the cities had utility gardens at the times he was teen. Every year, his mother forced him to help with the cultivation of potatoes. As a teenager, he remembers nothing more embarrassing than being met on the street dragging 10 kilos of potatoes… Next was the location of the small potato field. It was suddenly impossible to find a space of 3×3 meters in our garden with the size of a smaller park. It should be mentioned that potatoes must be grown near the water edge; otherwise they will have difficulty growing. These are wise words from local people. They actually grew potatoes on the small-uninhabited islands in the old days.

Something about the ground is being warmer near the water. We finally found a location when I stubbornly refused to give up my potato project. But it was tough. It was done by hand and an old plow originally used with horses. We tightened the tractor to it instead. And just as potatoes were planted in the ground we are told that the cranes love potatoes, so we had to better hurry to have an installation made to scare them away. Then Santa cloths came into play, with the shiny wig. Think he does his job well – I haven’t seen the cranes … yet.

But what a pleasure to enjoy the warm weather has come. Our canoes and boat have been launched into the water for the first time. We have white nights these days. This means we have light all day round for the next two months. There is something magical about these days. You get so much energy from the light. Paddling on mirror calm water surface on a late night or early morning is, for me, the most calming and relaxing I can do. We have always paddled a lot on holidays and it has simply become a sacred ritual and one of life’s best moments.

We use the motorboat when we go to the village to pick up our post. It is definitely the fastest way to sail across the lake. And the dogs love to join us in  the boat.

Before it becomes too romantic storytelling I get presented here, it must also be mentioned that the mosquitoes are crazy here…. It is always exciting, whether it is a mosquito year or a moderate mosquito year. So far it has been more acceptable, but we have also couple of ideas about mosquitos. Among others we think that we have far fewer mosquitoes here than when we lived in the rented house in the village.

The beech sprouted on June 1 and here it has grown green with record speed. And if you have not yet planned a summer vacation, we still have available periods in our rental house.

In times of COVID-19 crisis, springtime and more in between

Many have asked us if we have experienced any changes, caused by the COVID-19 crisis. We certainly have, but just not in the same physical way as most of people we know have. We are so isolated where we live and Sweden has not had the same restrictions and actions as many other countries have. We have been able to move freely and it doesn’t seem that people feel unsafe by socializing with each other in our small town of less than 100 inhabitants. But you are, on the other hand, afraid of people coming from outside, – of those who have summer cottages here in the area and who usually come every year at Easter vacation break. Many stayed home this year to protect the residents in the village, most of whom are over 70 years old.

Our everyday life has not been affected, but it is not every day that we meet other people. Once in a while, a snowmobile comes by on the lake or we have to go to town to pick up mail and buy food. In some way, we live in a little isolation where COVID-19 is something distant and what we read about in the news and media. When you don’t feel it on your own body, it’s hard to relate to it. But financially we get hit. We had just decided to rent out one house during this summer. There were several interested people, but a few days later COVID-19 crisis came with its restrictions and many countries decided to limit travelling for their citizens. We hope that the borders will open soon again and that people still want to spend summer holidays in our beautiful surroundings.

Also not many companies, who is willing to order our services – video products or new photographs during this uncertain time. Such products as websites and art are not items of the highest priority nowadays and people won’t invest in that. Our potential customers work primarily with tourism and it is those who are most severely affected. Yes, we are very concerned about how things are going these days. Fortunately, there are also some positive actions. I have been selected as one of the region’s artists to make a 20-minute long film about my art. An effort has been made to support artists who are losing revenue on their art due to closed exhibitions, theaters and venues. It will be shown around the region in the near future. I am excited about how it will be received and whether people will be able to understand my Swedish language with the very strong Danish accent. I was also assigned to write an article in one art magazine, and as an artist there is an opportunity to apply for emergency artist grants. Some very nice actions actually. I have some applications for some decorating tasks. There are many about the bid, but certainly this is not impossible. I hope all I can.

Those who have been following the blog for a long time know that we have had a rather unpleasant case with the regional energy company Härjeåns Nät AB, which has a monopoly on supplying electricity to customers in our region. At the moment we live off grid and get power from a generator. This is not a viable solution in the long run. Therefore, we were curious to get prices for to be connected to the local grid. The first price we got was 125,000 SEK. Orest had difficulty with understanding their calculation according to the provided “proce calculator”. In his calculation, the price would be significantly lower – below 90,000 SEK. Therefore, he sent the material to an independent state inspection, which verifies that the prices from the regional companies who have regional monopoly are correct. His query resulted in that the energy company changed its technical solution and the price raised up to 300,000 SEK in the first raw, and afterwards it ended up at 430,000 SEK. We actually thought it was the final price offer, but then we got the final decision from the Energy Market Inspection and they mean that the price must be below 90,000 SEK, as Orest thought according to the calculation method. This is a nice victory for us, but this is also scary that such a company deliberately goes after scoring a profit using unclear methods. Of course, Härjeåns Nät AB has appealed the decision, so that is the case in the curt now. In the meantime, we have completely lost the desire to be connected to the electric grid, which also has sky-high charges and fees and who wants to buy service from the provider, which has not subsequently promoted its own credibility. Now it is all about an off grid solution with solar panels and battery bank system. But this is just not so easy with our dark winters. The batteries and power inverter setup that we have been recommended were recently withdrawn from the market as it was found out that they may destroy the fuel generators – this is an option in our case – the generator must be used in the dark period for charging the batteries. So, as it seems now, everything suggests that we have to wait another year before we get a solution with energy supply setup. And unfortunately it is also a matter of economy for us – we don’t have that amount of money for the installation – approx. 300,000 SEK . But it is also a market that we are predicting has great future and there are many companies working on off grid solutions. It is actually a very exciting world to gain insight into.

Spring has also arrived in our region. We start to see our ground under the snow, and my transplanted rhubarb sprouts are alive – a big win since I have virtually no experience with plants.

The ice on the lake is getting thin and unsafe. We are excited to see when the ice breaks up and the ice surface will turn into water again.

Our dogs must not be left alone these weeks because they can be seriously injured if they break through the ice or fall into one of many crevices in the ice. Of course, they think it’s pretty frustrating to be limited in their freedom. They are used to be able to go in and out of the house as much as they will. We enjoy seeing the colors again after a long “white period”. Streams appear and become wider and more full of water every single day. The swans and cranes have already arrived. The mosquitoes are not here yet and the first bear tracks in the region were spotted….

The days are already very long and soon we will have the bright nights.

We have got running water in the houses again and the washing machine has been connected and it works! The ultimate upgrade of our residence- running water is the wildest luxury!

Now we wait for the snow to melt so we can use the shorter road for driving car. Orest used the tractor and he managed to make the longer road to us around the lake drivable for the car and we actually made all the way by car recently – 8 km in almost 3 hours – in the snow with chains on tires… 

And so I read about herb gardens and growing vegetables in the climate we live in. It will be my project for this summer. My parents had horticulture, but I somehow managed not to keep that knowledge. I start from scratch and have to try myself. We have cut our first trees, but only as a “clean-up” in the birch trees garden.

We will soon have to cut down trees in the woods for firewood, but having to cut 25 cubic as a beginner seems overwhelming, so we ordered wood as long trees, we by ourselves have to split them. 25 cubic is approx. 3-400 birch trees. We may also need chickens, but it depends on whether we can get electricity because otherwise they will freeze in winter…