Blimey, it’s almost three months since I last posted anything. I just checked whether this blog still has visitors and, lo and behold, we have readers out there. Thank you for dropping by! I much appreciate it and it certainly motivates me to post again.

Life has been so busy for our family. We are about to embark on our Sweden adventure with only a good 12 weeks left in Lyon and we have been preparing this big step for the last few months: We’ve visited Sweden to look at schools and explore our new hometown, I had an informal interview (which I am pleased to say went well, so even for me, the trailing wife, the job situation is somewhat promising!)

Very importantly, we also looked into housing and now we are currently in the process of buying a place way up in Northern Europe. This is all very exciting and a new experience for us — the process only bears some similarity to our previous jump onto the property ladder in the UK. But all seems to be going well so far and hopefully we will be able to finalize the purchase of the house in the near future.

But I was not really going to talk about all this, which is just external, preparatory stuff for our life  in Sweden. I find it so much more important to share with you how wonderful it is that we have the opportunity to start a brand new life:

We will be moving from our beautifully quirky, shabby-chic Lyon town centre apartment into a house just outside Gothenburg. A huge nature reserve boasting beautiful lakes will separate us from the city. We are in fact swapping city-life for something akin to countryside living. This was, at least for me, not an easy decision to take, because I love living in town, I love people watching, hanging out in the cafés, enjoying the sunshine (yes, we skipped spring and went straight into summer just this week!) and being able to go out any time to see a movie or benefit from some retail therapy, all without having to use a car.

Gothenburg will be different. Although we will be very well connected to the town by public transport, we are going to live in an oasis of nature, peace and quiet (or so I think, we’ll yet have to wait and see ).

I became so acutely aware of how much I will miss the city life just yesterday, when I went to the market. Lyon was teeming with people enjoying a sunny, warm and lazy Sunday morning. This is so typical: As soon as the sun’s out, people seem to be out on the town and that’s what I like so much.

This is will be different in Sweden: From what I could gather, people in Sweden live very much in tune with the seasons, their short, bright summers and the long, cold winters.  They seem to go out in the summer and get cozy indoors in the winter. We decided to go along with this and  looked for a spot that offers us comfy hibernation accommodation. We think we have found just the place. It is great that with this house also comes a decent sized garden that has already inspired me to no end. Lucy and I are planning on fostering our countryside-tendencies by keeping chickens and growing vegetables in a permaculture. I have been reading about both and universe after universe of fascinating knowledge keeps popping up.

I am so excited about having the opportunity to try country life and I can’t wait to put all my farming plans into practice. (Although I have the option of escaping to Gothenburg town centre by bus within 20 minutes, or even by bike 😉  )

So once we have successfully managed our move, transferred those belongings that survive the clear out from France to Sweden and unpacked at least the essentials, I will start gardening and I will have loads to write about. Bear with us until then, we are all inspired about getting creative with gardening and I have a feeling that this blog will move into a new direction over the next year or so.

Have a great day and I hope, wherever you are, the sun is also shining on you!

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I have been toying with the idea of buying an e-reader for a while now. Initially I wanted one to help me manage and annote research papers, but the internet tells me that e-readers are not great for that kind of thing.  So I came off the idea. Still,  I almost, almost bought one last week. I did not do it in the end, because I am reluctant to read on screen. I spend too much time in front of the computer as it is and an e-reader would not help matters. I am also a person who literally likes to stick there nose in a book and take in the smell of cheap paper, glossy paper, old faded paper, fresh ink, remnants of solvents (oh, I go for those 🙂  ). Another argument against it is that in my experience electronic gadgets have a shelf life of a few years. Does it make sense to fork out 100+Euros for a thing that might only work for four years?  And there is the tying yourself to a company like Amazon and giving them access to your device… So as yet no e-reader in the Heckemann household.

But the thought sticks in my head. How on earth did it get to be so obstinate, persistent and hard to eradicate? I always thought that I don’t easily fall prey to lifestyle products, but on the contrary, my case is worse: Easy prey, yet late adopter. How uncool is that?

So I am still undecided, but I thought that I should at least give e-readers a try. So at the weekend I bought my first e-book which I am now reading on my Mac. Quite aptly  it’s Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, a book about real books, old books, e-readers, Google and a secret cult. This is a novel that I have been wanting to stick my nose into for a few months.

Now I am just reading it, not smelling it. So far the experience is ok. I can read easily on screen, the print is nice, obviously I can fiddle with the background and font size. Turning pages by pressing buttons feels odd, but it’s just a matter of getting used to, I guess.

This experience has again fed the “e-read-weed” in my head.  My cunning brain  has now convinced me that an e-reader could be of use to me after all: To store those novels that I like, consume and that, as hard copies, afterwards occupy shelf space waiting to be passed on to someone else. Alas, they often do not get passed on. So basically  I am (yet again) responding to the argument that by buying a product I can make my life and living space less cluttered and more organized. This is just like Ikea catalogues work!!! (And yes, just think about the imminent move! All those boxes full of books that could be avoided). So much for my free will that somewhat does not feel too free at present :). I’ll keep on pondering for a few days and see if the “e-read-weed” shrivels up and dies a natural death or whether the only cure is to buy yet another gadget to simplify my life.

Enjoy whatever you’re reading!

PS: If you are planning to read Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, do it within the next couple of years! It is a cool book and it provides a snapshot of the current state of art in computing as well as on social interaction and a few other things. It will read weird and dated though in ten years time… and our grand-children will marvel at the funny things they did back in the second decade of this millenium  🙂

Ch- ch- ch- changes…

8 January 2013

So here it is, 2013. We welcomed it amongst friends, delicious food and drink here in Lyon. And now, as always this early in January, I wonder what this year will bring. It’s still so new, crisp, and shiny! Something to marvel at.

If anything I think, it will be change, change and more change. And not just for us. We have a number of friends who consider, or already have concrete plans, to leave Lyon, Europe, or the Northern Hemisphere altogether, who want to change jobs or are just starting new jobs, who have big changes looming in their family lives… it seems to me that  we are currently floating around in a ‘cloud of mobile people’ whose lives are in constant flux. (I don’t want to call it  “expat community”, as this “cloud” is most certainly not made up of well-to-do, company sponsored employees or diplomats that may be associated with the term). Despite all the work and logistical challenges associated with big changes (uarghh moving!!! I am so over it…), these people, just like us, realize and enjoy the positive aspect of a fresh start. When changing countries, there is hardly anything as invigorating (and at the same time exhausting 🙂 ) as experiencing a new culture, seeing your own culture from a different perspective and letting this change who you are along the way.

Recently, I realized that this “cloud of mobile people”  is a most incredible resource to facilitate our impending move. One very distinct feature of the “cloud” is the ease with which people, who may be mere acquaintances, network, help, and support each other. So we’re preparing to leave Lyon for  that cold, but apparently friendly, country way up North knowing that we’re by no means on our own with this. The other day, for example, I met a mum with whom I had run the primary school library a couple of years ago. When I told her about our planned move to Sweden, she immediately offered to put me in touch with a lovely family that recently moved from Lyon to Gothenburg. Their children used to go to our local school in Lyon and are apparently now happily settled at  the school in Gothenburg that we have (tentatively) picked for Lucy. Another acquaintance of mine actually spent 30 years in Gothenburg, so has in-depth local knowledge that she is happy to share with me. I have thus already recommendations for an excellent family doctor, massage therapist, swimming pool, food hall… I think there is more information to come my way over coffees and lunches in the next few months :). She also managed to put my worries about Swedish food to rest: Apparently there is more to eat than fish and rye bread up North. Thank goodness! Just to be on the safe side I have still booked myself in for a special “fish cooking class” here in Lyon. One has to prepare …

I am starting this year curious as to the challenges, opportunities, and experiences it will bring, knowing that it is not going to be plain sailing all the way. There is so much more happening in our lives than just our move and, as usual, fate may serve you a big, fat plateful of worry and pain when you least need it. But still: We hope and wish for all of you dears out there that life will be exciting and full of goodness and health in the next 12 months! Enjoy!

Here’s Rolf with a new type of post for this blog: a product review! Don’t worry, it’s just a one-off, and it’s just because I’m so pleased with this particular gadget.

BootstrapSolar Chi-qoo, front view

The transparent front

BootstrapSolar Chi-qoo, back view

The engraved back

It is a Chi-qoo solar power pack, financed with a generous contribution from my dear mother-in-law on the occasion of Christmas. I found it on Kickstarter, a site where inventors and creators solicit support for innovative projects. I made my contribution to BootstrapSolar and they sent me a kit, which was reasonably straightforward to assemble. The case is mostly bamboo, with a transparent (acrylic?) cover to reveal a view of the innards. The battery holds a whopping 6 Ah, enough to charge two or three mobile phones via the two USB ports. The internal battery is recharged via the two 5-watt solar panels. Theoretically, this should take no more than 3 hours — I haven’t had a chance to verify this because the weather conditions were not favourable. I could charge it with the AC adapter instead, but I’m loath to contaminate this precious device with French nuclear-generated electricity 🙂

What I like about this gadget is that it reduces my dependency on grid power for running small electronics. This makes it useful for travelling and camping, as well as for emergencies (the latter having been the inspiration for the inventor — he spent several months volunteering in Japan, helping victims of the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake). It may also be a step towards sustainability, although of course the device isn’t exactly sustainable. It relies on limited resources in multiple ways: there’s the lithium used for the battery, precious metals used in the circuitry, and large amounts of energy used in making it. The solar panels in particular have probably been made with much more energy than I will be able to recuperate in my particular use case.

Another open question with the Chi-qoo is how useful any small electronics would be in the kind of emergency where grid power is lost on a large scale. Mobile phones would be useless, at least initially, since the base transceiver stations would also be likely affected. But having a small broadcast radio receiver could be vital. The most promising means of enabling two-way communications would probably be participating in an emergency radio network. Hey, that reminds me of my amateur radio days — maybe I should reactivate my callsign (DG6YHS) and set up an emergency rig for disaster preparedness. That would be fun! I’ll keep you posted 🙂