Dala Horse Factory

First of all, if you don’t know what a Dala horse is, get a freaking clue.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Dala Horse factory. It’s located in a little village called Nusnäs. There is no train station in Nusnäs, so to get there you first have to stop in a town called Mora. Mora is famous for Vasaloppet, an annual 90km ski race. It’s also famous for Anders Zorn (a Swedish painter). It’s also famous for Dala horses, since as I said you have to stop here to get to Nusnäs, which is where the horses are made. Here is Kazuko about to get eaten by some ferocious Dala horses right before I heroically save her:

After that, I tamed one of the horses so that Kazuko and Noah could ride it safely. The locals were quite amazed with my skill:

We took a bus to Nusnäs, and arrived at the factory:

There are actually two factories in Nusnäs: Nils Olssons Hemslöjd and Grannas A. Olssons Hemslöjd AB. They are right next door to each other. You can walk in and tour the factories, watching them make the horses. To make a horse, first they need some wood. Once they get wood, they draw a basic horse shape on the wood:

Then this guy uses a (jig?)saw to cut the wood:

Next they are shaped a bit, so that they appear more round and have four legs instead of two:

Then they are placed in a stack…

…and sent to this guy, whose job it is to whittle the horses down to their final shape:

When it finishes, it places the horses in the basket. It does this whenever it is told:


This next shot is actually a trap. People think “shit yeah, free horses!” and then they get bit:

Next the horses are sent to this room, where they are hand-dipped in paint:

Then they are put on a shelf to dry for a few days. SPOILER ALERT: Don’t look at the left side of this picture because I haven’t gotten to that step yet.

Finally, little children paint the finishing touches. This saves on labor costs which means you, the consumer, pay less. Each child can go home after they finish 80 horses, though most do 100 to help pay against the brush debt they owe to the factory.

Actually, this cool lady paints them. If you pay a little extra, you can get them personalized. I looked around and most Swedes were doing that, so I did too. If you don’t like that, tough. This one is Kevin’s:

If your last name is Hjelm, your horse is in this basket: authentic, hand-carved, hand-painted, personalized, straight from the factory Dala horses from Sweden. I mailed them off the other day. Mom should get them soon and distribute them.

After touring the factory, you can relax at the cafe and eat a sandwich or pastry. They even have American tea:

Finally, take a picture next to the big Dala horse.

If you ever go to Sweden, don’t miss Mora and Nusnäs. It’s awesome. Aside from the Dala Horse museum, you can see some really beautiful countryside in rural Sweden. I love you Nusnäs:

Noah Can Walk Now

About a week ago (August 18th) Noah took his first steps. Since then he’s gotten pretty good at it and he’s started to crawl less and walk more (though he still crawls about 70% of the time). Here’s a video I took today of him playing guitar, climbing, crawling and walking.


Det står en stor sten där!

This was one of the first sentences I learned how to say in Swedish. It means “There is a big rock there!” This is a useful sentence when you run into a runestone, like I did in the Stockholm airport.

These go back to the Viking Age and are scattered all around Scandinavia. The one at the airport was cool, but it seemed like cheating. I wanted to find a runestone out in the wild.

This enormous piece of machinery sells airport train tickets. To get out of the airport, you first have to attempt to purchase a ticket here, then give up and buy one from a clerk at the counter.

The Swedish word for ticket is “biljett”, plural “biljetter”. I heard and saw this word many many times during our trip. Here’s the train we took to central Stockholm:

Here’s Stockholm Central Station. We searched around the premises, but there were no runestones to be found.

Kazuko asked some locals and this kind Stockholm gentleman offered to help us in our search.

No luck. Next we asked this troll for help, but he told us to piss off.

After endless hours of searching, we gave up. We weren’t going to find a runestone in Stockholm. But I did find an Affliction t-shirt:

And this relic from the Viking past:

Finally, let’s see what little Noah thinks about Stockholm:

How Swede it is…

Border Crossing

In addition to having spiffy baby bibs,

FinnAir had really slick napkin design. Napkins this beautiful make you want to wipe your hands on your pants.

Everyone knows that Sweden has the most beautiful people and the most beautiful culture in the world. What most people don’t know is that Sweden has the most beautiful clouds too. Spotting these is a sure sign that you’ve crossed over into Swedish territory.

Here’s some Finnish clouds for comparison:

Finally we arrived in Stockholm: the capital of … all Scandinavia.

In the homeland at last!

Finland #1

We took a trip to Scandinavia this summer. First we took a train to Himeji, where we boarded a bus taking us to Kansai International Airport. We got there really early so we had to wait a while. Here’s Noah in a Bears’ hat waiting to board the plane:

We flew FinnAir and they gave us a cool picture book and bib for the baby. Here’s Noah mugging down with a Finnish pop star:

We had a stopover in Helsinki. At the airport there, I found a shop selling reindeer skins. The sign warns that they might shed:

Almost all languages in Europe are related and belong to the Indo-European language family. There are a few exceptions and one of them is Finnish, which is a Uralic language (other Uralic languages are Hungarian and Estonian). Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. Finnish is the first language of about 92% of Finnish people. About 6% of the population speaks Swedish as their first language (and about a third of Finnish people are said to know Swedish). For a few centuries, Finland was part of the Swedish Empire. Most signs at the Helsinki airport were in Finnish, Swedish and English:

I needed to take a piss at the airport, and following the bathroom signs led me to an elevator .. labeled as a bathroom:

We weren’t the only ones confused. Another traveler was there holding her badly-wanting-to-pee 4-year-old daughter, looking confused. Rather than piss in the elevator I took it down. As luck would have it, there was a bathroom on the floor below. I think this was just a coincidence though. The urinals in the bathroom were big deep bowls that made a deep hollow sound when you pissed in them:

I’ll never forget you Finland!

Neck Injury

A few weeks ago (3 weeks and 4 days to be exact) I woke up one morning with terrible pain in my neck. At first I thought it was just a crick in the neck from sleeping in a weird position. Later that day it got much worse and I couldn’t really move my right shoulder at all without shooting pain in the whole neck/right-shoulder area. I came home from work and laid down on my back to rest and after that I couldn’t get up or even roll to my side. It hurt like hell. It reminded me of the feeling I had sometimes in college when I’d come home from jiu-jitsu class after being kimura’d to all hell and then being unable to sleep from the shoulder pain. Only this day it was worse than that and more centered on my neck than my shoulder.

So lying on my back, I was finally able to get up, but it took about fifteen minutes, inching my way up onto a side and then grabbing onto the wall with my good arm to pull myself up (planting on the floor and pushing with either arm was impossible). Man, I must have slept really weird last night, I thought.

I had Kazuko take me to the local family doctor and he just gave me some pain medicine and said if it doesn’t get better to see a specialist. The pain medicine didn’t work by the way. The Japanese dosage might as well be nothing at all. It didn’t take the pain away.

My neck/shoulder hurt really bad like that for about 3 or 4 days and then the pain started to lessen. I thought that it was healing. It still hurt, especially first thing in the morning, but as the day went on and I walked around for a few hours at work it would become tolerable. So I ignored it as best I could and waited for it to heal up.

Only it didn’t heal up. A week or so later it got bad again, then lessened, then off and on until 3 weeks had passed and I still had this bizarre pain in my neck/shoulder. Time to see that specialist.

It’s the end of the semester here in Japan, so it was easy for me to take a morning off of work. Luckily, we have a hospital right in our neighborhood that specializes as a biomechanics research center. In the middle of nowhere in the Japanese countryside. Pretty cool.

So I went and got xrayed. My Japanese is OK, but still not great, so I didn’t understand everything the doctor told me, but here is some of what I got:

In the neck, there are seven bones, numbered top to bottom 1 through 7. There’s a spacing, like a little hole, in these bones where the nerve goes through. These spacings in my neck bones are normally about 17mm. In bone number 4 (or was it 3?) I have a little bone spur. When I bend my neck to look up, the spacing in bone number 4 shrinks to about 14mm and the bone spur gets pushed up against the nerve (that is used to getting 17mm of breathing room) which sends shooting pain throughout my neck.

Ok, so why do I feel the pain every waking hour of the day? Because I have bad posture. The way I normally sit and stand, I have a bit of a hunched back, shoulders forward and my neck sticks out like a turtle. In other words, in my normal resting position my neck is bent in such a way that most people bend their necks to look up. So my neck is always in the looking up position, and so that bone spur (as of three weeks ago) is always pushing into my nerve, sending torture messages throughout the whole shoulder-neck region.

Why suddenly do I feel pain 3 weeks ago, but not in the previous 15 years of bad posture? It’s just a problem that has been building up and building up over time and finally something bad happened.

The doctor also explained some other side effects of my bad posture. My thighs and lower back are putting in extra work to make up for the slack in my shoulders. The muscles there are tighter than they should be. Might be why I’m so inflexible in my lower body. I wonder if that might be part of the reason why I’m clumsy too. Hmmm..

Anyway, Japan doesn’t let you take the easy way out if there is a harder and better way. The easy way out here would be surgery. The hard and better way is to fix the source of the problem: my bad posture.

I get sent to the “rehabilitation room” and get my body pushed around and massaged for a while. Then the doctor there tells me some exercises/stretches I can do at home, daily, which will help my bones and muscles get used to being in the correct position. He also tells me that I should watch my posture throughout the day, trying to make sure that my ears match up with my shoulders in a straight vertical line. He adjusts my head and shoulders for me to show me how it should feel and it is the most unnatural pose I have ever been in. I’ve been caught in a reverse triangle and a toe hold at the same time and that felt more natural than this. I knew my posture was pretty bad, but I didn’t know that it was so bad that adjusting to a normal posture was alien to my body. I have to really use my neck muscles to hold my head in position and I feel like I’m going to fall over backwards.

It feels to my body like this can’t possibly be the correct model posture for a human being, but a glance into a mirror to the side of me shows me that yes, actually this looks like the correct model posture for a human being who has good posture. How did I stray so far?

Anyway, I’m taking this seriously because I don’t like excrutiating neck agony, so I’m really watching my posture. It feels really weird walking around like this all day. I kinda feel like a dork sometimes because holding my neck back and down makes my chest puff out, and since my body isn’t used to this posture, I feel stiff and I think it must look to others like I am intentionally puffing my chest, thinking I’m all badass or something.

So at work, I make sure that I’m holding the correct posture as much as I possibly can. When I come home (for lunch or after work), whenever I get a free moment I’ve been standing with my back against the wall for several minutes. And I’m doing my stretchy-exercises. The model posture still doesn’t feel natural to me. But it’s not as foreign today as it was yesterday.

Here’s to good posture!

Noah the Climber and Reader

Two more Noah videos.

Noah Playing 9 months

I took this video the other day. Just shows Noah playing around:

Noah Crawling

We took this video on May 11th, not too long after Noah learned to crawl. Check it out.

Toothy Smile

Noah has 4 teeth now. Check out his smile:

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