August 3, 2012 | 2
I’m Back! Miss me? Thought I had dropped off the face of the Earth? Well, given my blog stat numbers and the internet attention span you probably forgot I existed. Nevertheless, I am back and ready to swing into bloggy action – and yes, even actual science blogging. When I left off in May my family had just found our first home in Sweden and we were moving in. We’ve had two months to get settled and spent much of that time getting to know our community and surroundings.
We are just in love with our new home. We are renting a farmette 35 km from the nearest town. We don’t live on a street or have a house number, but instead mail finds its way here via our house name: Grantorpet (meaning Spruce Cottage). Of course our mailbox is about 2-3 km northwest of where we live cause our home is part of a large farm that raises beautiful jersey cows and makes gourmet ice cream from their creamy milk. Of course if I want to actually *mail* a letter, its a 1 km hike to the south on one of Sweden’s national hiking trails, the 160 km Ostkustleden (East Coast Trail), which runs through our property to the nearby village of Mörtfors (mört is a type of carp fish, fors means rapids).
Mörtfors is a ridiculously idyllic village of about 80 people set on a small rapids linking the lakes Ramnebo and our lake, Mären. My wife’s brother lives near here as well and his family is well-integrated into the community. This was no small part a large reason for us moving here – aside from the beautiful home we found – but to be closer to her family to have a support network for us and our children while we adjust to Swedish society. We’ve come to know several people in Mörtfors and in a time of dying rural areas with aging populations, we’ve found a haven of younger families who are filled with the spirit of entrepreneurship and community. Of course, being a small village they knew all about us before we set foot in Grantorpet: “Ahh, you’re the americans in Grantorpet!” “Oh, you must be Johnny’s sister’s family”.
The house and property itself is old, though it has been remodeled and added on. I’m not sure how old, records I’ve found on the internet for people who lived at Grantorpet date to the 1800s, but the farm itself goes back to 1500s. So, to reiterate, we are renting a farmette composed of a large main house, log cabin shed, outhouse, well pump-house, chicken coop, small barn with a wood shed and stone cellar attached, and a large barn built for horses with a workshop and storage room attached. All for less than my wife and I paid (in USD) for our first studio apartment in Berkeley, CA 12 years ago. Score!
Oh, did I mention it is on a lake, which is also a nature reserve? With a national hiking trail and a 1km long dirt driveway off the main highway, and our neighbor is herd of adorable jersey cows? Not to brag or anything.
Not to sound too idyllic, we still need to make a living somehow and living out in the forest has some distinct disadvantages, as you can imagine. We are situated between two larger towns on the Baltic coast: Västervik, 40 km to the north, and Oskarshamn, 35 km to the south. So getting supplies can take a half day since we combine trips and plan out we need very carefully. My wife has a sales job working with her sister’s company in Oskarshamn and I am still maintaining freelance consulting and science writing from home. In addition to I AM SCIENCE, I have a few other projects on my plate, but only enough guaranteed paid or paying work for the next 3 months. This is the life of an independent worker, as I think many readers can sympathize with.
Over the coming months I will be putting together a proposal for a science communications consulting company. Starting a business in Sweden is not very difficult and there is much support from government and outside agencies. My concern, which I’m looking into currently, is how to pay for the social services taxes as an entrepreneur. Income tax for my bracket (i.e. poor person) is actually very similar to US. But since I am my own employer I will likely need to pay for social services that is usually fulfilled by a traditional employer. This is one of the differences between working in the US and in a socialist system where you buy into healthcare and the social safety net. As I figure it all out, I’ll be sure to write about my experiences in this transition.
But it feels good as an entrepreneur and self-employed person to know, no matter what, that I will always be taken care of should I or my family fall ill. This is a luxury that has held me back from forming a proper business while I was working in the US and could not afford individual healthcare coverage for our family. Furthermore, thanks to subsidized child care my wife can return back to work after nearly six years away from the workforce to take care of our two children. Child care rates in the areas we’ve lived in the US were too high to afford the low-wage positions she could qualify for. And frankly, we’ve mostly lived rurally where any jobs – skilled labor or not – are difficult to come by. So this big change should have a dramatic result on our personal economy, along with the right to healthcare access.
As far as living out in the middle of the forest, it has its issues as well! It took over a month to get basic TV and internet access because they couldn’t find our home anywhere and had to wait a long time to send a technician out to flip the switch. Hence, the online disappearing act. Of course, it proved to be a blessing in disguise. It is amazing what you can accomplish when freed from the hypnotic rapture of the internet and social media! In addition to moving in and getting supplies and furniture, etc. I fixed up the chicken house and we got five gorgeous hens that have giving us 3-5 eggs a day; cleaned up the barn; got a cheap used rowboat and fixed it up for the lake; took care of all immigration necessities; our son started school and finished his first year of kindergarten; started work on a home-brewery set up in the barn and brewed my first all-grain pale ale; and so on! Country life is no walk in the park, so to speak!
Swedish words of the day: Roddbåt (rohd boht)- row boat, Hönor (hun-or) – hens, Barnbidrag (barn-bid-rahg) – child allowance: every resident in Sweden regardless of income receives 1100kr per child (~$160 USD) every month directly deposited into their bank account until the child is 16 (and thereafter as long as the child is enrolled in high school).