Thursday, December 30, 2010

I love these...

Good design and thinking is wonderful - we need these ie tags for our cookbook marks! They are made from recycled paper too, and are perfect for marking spots in books, much better than regular post-its. Smaller, smarter, and friendlier.

Some amazing and cool Scandinavian style fabric designs can be found at this UK website, Fabric Rehab.  I love this owl print, and it reminds me of late 1960s early 1970s things I saw when I grew up (or maybe it was early 1960s and they were still in style in my part of Sweden?).

How about this dandelion fabric? OK the color is a bit mustardy, but otherwise?

Kristen Kimball, of The Dirty Life fame and hard work, has written an essay on the Oprah website - worth reading.  There is also a great interview with her here, which I don't think I have linked to before from this blog.  More about living off the land locally, on this blog.

And while you are reading all these great things, often building on shared resources and shared commitments and responsibilities, here is one woman who's research is famous for studying this, everyday life around the world and how we share things ethically and honestly: Elinor Ostrom. She got the Nobel prize in Economics for her research, which is pretty remarkable, when you realize that:

"Ostrom’s key idea is that neither the state nor the market is the best manager of our collective resources—it’s us, we the people. The commons concept is catching on in a big way as we look at how to lighten our impact on the earth, live within the means of our natural resources, and navigate the ownership issues of a new digital era."

Read more here, and there is an interview with Elinor here.  I met her last year through work, and the best quote from her that day was: "Shame can be a most useful feeling."  She was talking about shaming people into doing the right thing, like when they had mock trials along the Rhen River accusing big companies of destroying the water of the river with pollution.  It led to the clean-up of the river, quite voluntarily, by several companies who wanted to be known as the ones that do the right thing, not the wrong thing.  The same process can be used when a village manages a common forest, grazing land, etc., but it only works if you have democratic processes in place and if all people care about the outcome.  Her research is most fascinating, and have implications for how we don't manage common resources today like the air, oceans, water quality and quantity, and carbon dioxide pollution.

Hybrids make us confused...

...especially mallard hybrids. It is all explained here, but even after that thorough explanation and gorgeous photos, could you always identify a mallard duck hybrid?

In Swedish, mallards are called 'gräsand', which means grass duck. Ni idea why, I guess they like grass.
(PS. It seems the Manky Mallard website is down right now (link above, so if it doesn't load, try again later.)

When you are hungry in Philadelphia...

...head down to the corner of Market Street and 19th Street (maybe 20th? I am not 100% sure), and stand in line at the Greek falafel street cart and you will get the best falafel in town. The vendor, a very talkative and funny Greek chef, runs a one-man show with all food from scratch and fresh, including marinated grilled lamb, chicken, and of course, falafel. There is fantastic grilled jalapenos, tahini, salad, olives, fleshy giant grapes, and on and on. All plates are made to order (and he makes everybody wait while he makes them, so the line is slow but worth it), and there is no menu. You just say what you want, and he makes it and you pay. Fantastic!

Trains, snow, and Sweden - a good combination?

It has snowed in Sweden nearly every winter for the last 10 000 years (and before then too, but 10 000 years ago is about when humans showed up after the ice had retreated).  And for maybe the last 150 years or so, trains have been running through the snow and ice, with various success.  But apparently this winter the train systems have broken down with some trains stuck whole nights out in rural forests, without food and drink, thousands of canceled trains, and switches and rails that freeze and break.  Everybody blames each other (in Sweden that would be SJ [the railroad], Trafikverket [the maintenance company], and the government [currently a conservative-liberal minority coalition]) and the weather (ha!). People start talking about how better things were when the government owned the railroads, and the trains actually run on time.

As on cue, just like last year, the old reliable heavy-duty trains made for winter and to last are brought back to life - here comes the 50+ year old museum locomotives to use again, and in another place on Sweden a 100 year old snowplow is also being used.  One major problem is of course that Sweden has the harshest (coldest, snowiest, etc.) winter in over 100 years, but with global warming more and more snow and colder winters can be expected here.  Another is the lack of financial support for maintenance.  And the third, is that modern trains are too technologically vulnerable (just like our cars, computers, and stoves), and are more electronic than mechanic, and electronics and microchips break more easily.  Plus, the new modern locomotives do not have big good snowplows on them in the front.  It seems to me that a large part of the Swedish winter train failure is not just lack of money, but modern technology.

The Swedish railroad authorities just opened a new museum exhibit called "Oj det snöar!" (Wow, it is snowing!") about railroads and snow through time, which opened on Dec 11. I don't think they expected it to be as relevant as it is this winter.  But still, why is anybody surprised it is snowing?  In the Rocky Mountains a hundred years ago they had trains going through snowdrifts 5 meters tall and the trains were seen as reliable and functional ways of transportation.  And now the trains are having problems with 15 cm of snow. 

All the convenience and efficiency innovation we love so much doesn't work so well when, for example, electrically opened doors freeze shut and there are nobody to shovel off ice snow of a rail switch (apparently this takes 2 people 2 hours of work per switch, and there are 12 000 switches in Sweden, according to the Trafikverket).  What priorities should be prioritized? Convenience in the short term or reliability in the long term. 

I should add that American trains have huge problems too, especially during the last snowstorm.   Sweden has a fantastic train system compared to USA, for example, connecting many of the smaller towns and with fast and efficient trains.  The Swedish railroad system is an important part of public transportation together with commuter trains and bus lines that crisscross the nation and millions of people use these everyday.

My last comment (ha! you think so?) on this is that "Oh boy, it is snowing"!  Maybe we humans have to realize that the forces of weather and other Earth processes (remember the ash clouds from Iceland?) are stronger than we sometimes, and you just have to hunker down, stand back, and not try to travel in the worst weather. Sure it inconvenience us, but come on, it is only in recent years that we even have expected to always be on the go.  

In really severe weather it is best just to stay home (or away) and be flexible with your plans.  The problem is when a little severe weather breaks down systems that have worked before. Another problem is our demand for convenience because what we have to do all the time is so hurried, important, and can't be changed - come on, relax and throw a snowball, make a pot of soup and reschedule your plans. Reduce your need for instantaneous gratification from the web and other non-real sources of friendships, and appreciate the moment and the people around you.  And this summer, by a ticket and ride a reliable (non-plastic) train at a train museum to support their work in preserving the locomotives that are needed when the weather gods hit hard, at least in Sweden.

PS.  PP asked me to add this: Fire keeps both switches and people warm. (link to photo by Nick Suydam on Flickr).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Setting a curved record straight

If you have heard, like me, that there now are more people alive than ever have been alive before on Earth, you have heard a myth that seems very resistant and impossible to kill off.  Apparently somebody in the 1970s uttered this false fact, and it has made the rounds many times now in articles and books.

The truth, as calculated by the Population Reference Bureau, is that "about 5.8 percent of all people ever born are alive today."  (That is today = year 2002). Read their article, it is very interesting how they calculated it, taking birthrates and death rates, world population sizes, average age of death, etc. In total, they estimate that 106 billion people have lived on Earth until now.

Imagine all those millions and billions of people!  I think it is strange we don't run into old archeological bones more often than we do. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

There is Fast Food...

...slow food, fat-free food, good food, bad food... but what is OPEN FOOD?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book review: Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Jeanette Walls wrote the fantastic but also tragic memoir The Glass Castle (I guess I never reviewed it here on the blog but it is an A+++ book), and this book, Half Broke Horses is her follow-up.  It is not a memoir in the usual sense, because it is about her grandmother, and to some degree her mother, but she didn't have all the facts about her grandmother's colorful and adventurous life.  But she had some, so she wrote a 'true-life novel' where she filled in what could have happened between the things she knew and had (photos, letters, etc.).  Her grandmother was independent, wild, and not the typical southwestern girl - she helped her Dad break in wild horses at a young age and became a school teacher in remote, rural villages in desert Arizona as a very young girl.  Half Broke Horses is different than The Glass Castle, less immediate, less heart-breaking, but still a great book where you get the feel for everyday life, tragedy, and adventure out in Texas, Arizona, and Chicago in the early 1900s.  I loved it, mostly for the personal style of writing in direct and short sentences about life as it is - not to intellectual and reflective, but straight-forward, funny, and unhappy, just as it can be, and because she can describe characters as real people, not simplified caricatures. Lovely book, well worth reading

A sample (when her grandmother has decided to learn how to fly an airplane):

    "A fellow came out of a shack behind the plane and sauntered up to the Flivver. He had a windburned face, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and a pair of aviator goggles pushed up on his forehead. He rested his elbows on Jim's open window and said. "Looking to learn her?"
   I leaned across the gearbox. "Not him," I said. "Me."
  "Whoa," Goggles said. "Ain't never taught a woman before." He looked at Jim. "Think the little lady's up to it?"
   "Don't you 'little lady' me," I said. "I break horses. I brand steers. I run a ranch with a couple dozen crazy cowboys on it, and I can beat them all in poker.  I'll be damned if some nincompoop is going to stand there and tell me that I don't have what it takes to fly that dinky heap of tin."

Comments during tree decorations

- I bet our tree is the only one in New Jersey with mushrooms on it, says daughter.
- Mom, how can mushrooms grow straight out of branches, says son.
- Because they are endophytic and can grow inside the branches until the fruiting body comes out, says the botanical mom.

(Of course the red and white fly agaric never grows endophytically, only in the soil, but who cares? It is Christmas! And Swedes love to decorate with replicas of poisonous mushroom at Christmas time, :). )

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day

chili lights, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.
I got so many useful christmas presents this year - A french cork screw, a rain gauge for the garden, and a watering can! All extremely needed. But I also got some things for the soul, like Lynd Wards wordless novels of wood engravings, which we had seen some of during our visit to the Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown a weekend ago. Amazing things, I'll show you later on the blog.

In our kitchen PP's New Mexico heritage is showing with the glowing chili-shaped lights around the window, and outside the cats are chewing on the sharp holly leaves (who said cats were smart?). For dessert our amazing neighbor brought over the most amazing chocoloate cake with raspberry sauce - mmmmm! That has become a tradition. We fed him and his wife some homemade gravlax in return, but I have a feeling we owe them some more...

Not a snowflake in sight here in New Jersey, but it is supposed to start tomorrow... and northern Jersey might get over 20 cm. God Jul everybody!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.
God Jul and Merry Christmas to everyone everywhere on this planet! These lights are from our house in USA in 2007, but the message is still important - we need more peace, love, and understanding. I hope you all have a great holiday, get some rest, make some good food, have a great time, and I wish you all a happy (and happier) 2011. I am ready for a change for the better here in USA, that is for sure. So lets work for it. As Gandhi said: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world. " Fred till er alla!

Let me guess...

This car is blue, of course, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.
This person also grew up in the 1970s when the smurfs ruled the toy world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stamp of the Day: Lunar eclipse

In honor of the gorgeous lunar eclipse the other night, here is a stamp from Portugal.  
And now, the days will be getting brighter and longer (even if very slowly in Sweden).

Need a last minute Christmas gift?

When only the best will do:

Hand sharpened pencils

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The moon last night

The disappearing moon last night, right before the total eclipse. Click on the photo for a larger version.
copyright 350z33 (talk) [via Wikipedia].

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bits and pieces from the internet, solstice edition

There are many kinds of accidental mysteries out there. (Design Observer, always a joy to look at)

Isn't this a really cool bench? (core77, another internet place with fun stuff)

I still don't get why Swedish design magazines love black and white and not some color... (Sköna Hem)

This is one of my favorite photos of the year - you never feel as small and insignificant as when you stand next to something like this, right? (photo by Terje Sørgjerd)

Lunar happenings tonight...

There will be a full lunar eclipse tonight, which we in North America should at least be able to see, if the skies stay clear (keep your fingers crossed, right now we have scattered clouds).  In Sweden, you have to look at it right before sunrise. Not since 1638 has there been a lunar eclipse on the winter solstice. I am setting my alarm clock to get up at 2 AM to see some of it. Imagine the old vikings, celebrating around a bonfire on the solstice, and then suddenly the moonlight disappears and the moon turns dark red - how could that not be seen as a sign of some sort? 

In honor of these amazing celestial phenomena, I also would like to share a great moon poem by Molly Fisk:

Hunter's Moon
Early December, dusk, and the sky
slips down the rungs of its blue ladder
into indigo. A late-quarter moon hangs
in the air above the ridge like a broken plate
and shines on us all, on the new deputy
almost asleep in his four-by-four,
lulled by the crackling song of the dispatcher,
on the bartender, slowly wiping a glass
and racking it, one eye checking the game.
It shines down on the fox’s red and grey life,
as he stills, a shadow beside someone’s gate,
listening to winter. Its pale gaze caresses
the lovers, curled together under a quilt,
dreaming alone, and shines on the scattered
ashes of terrible fires, on the owl’s black flight,
on the whelks, on the murmuring kelp,
on the whale that washed up six weeks ago
at the base of the dunes, and it shines
on the backhoe that buried her.

(c) Molly Fisk, reprinted with permission, and you can read more about her work on her website.

OK snapshot: Morning photo from Swedish winter

On the branches, Frosty Flakes, and in the gutters of the streets, oatmeal...

OK snapshot: Avdelningen för... (Department for...)

...oönskade julklappar? (...unwanted Christmas gifts?)

Explanation for non-Swedes: Julklapp-skit = Christmas gift shit;
julklapps-kit = Christmas gift kit

OK snapshot: Julmat (Christmas food)

Homemade sausage is a tradition in our Swedish family, and here are
chorizo and lamb sausage made by OK and EH and friends this past
weekend. Yummmmmmmy! I wish I could be in Sweden and eat it too.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Long nights

Winternight in Sweden in december, how long do you guess it is?

12 h? 14? 16? No it´s 17h and 28 min at the longest! And around 'midvintersolståndet' the nights is all the same length since the sun is so low. More here (swedish, sorry guys)

Natten till 19 december – 17 timmar och 28 minuter
Natten till 20 december- 17 timmar och 27 minuter
Natten till 21 december – 17 timmar och 28 minuter
Natten till 22 december – 17 timmar och 28 minuter
Natten till 23 december – 17 timmar och 28 minuter
Natten till 24 december – 17 timmar och 28 minuter

Christmas in New Mexico

When you are at a restaurant in New Mexico they might as you if you want 'red, green, or Christmas'. This refers to the chili sauce that they slather gorgeously on top of enchiladas, burritos, or whatever fantastic Mexican dish you order. The sauce can be made with red or green chilies, and Christmas of course refers to having it both ways - red plus green sauce.

This plate of chile rellenos from High Country Restaurant in Chama, NM, has only red sauce on it, but it was fantastically delicious anyway. If you are ever in Chama, avoid Foster's Bar and Restaurant (=worst huevos rancheros I have ever had) and go to High Country instead. Foster's is the only place where I have ever seen a sign like this... and it is not that hard to refuse service when you barely have any to begin with. Foster's have great history, but it seems like it has been sliding downhill recently.

Summer memories from Cumbres Pass in Colorado

Aster and Melampyrum?
Summer flowers from the Rocky Mountains - red Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata), blue Aster, and yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus).

Time to split
Which way to go?  The rail will make the decision for you.

through the Tanglefoot curve
Here comes the narrow gauge steam train of the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad through the Tanglefoot curve, shaped nearly like a circle.  It is named after an event where someone jumped of the train at the beginning of the loop and run across to the other track, through brush and bushes.  But his foot got tangled, and he fell, so he missed the train he should have jumped back on.

The Galloping Goose, a funny train contraption.
The Galloping Goose is a funny railroad contraption, unique to this part of the world. With its cowcatcher, silver box, and railroad bell, it looks like a hybrid of train, airplane, and small truck. When the narrow gauge railroads here started to do bad financially, one railroad (Rio Grande Southern) used these customized one-car trains to get mail and passengers to the different stations and save money. They were first made from Pierce Arrow cars.

baby fly agaric
The Rockies are home to lots of mushrooms, including ones that look just like Swedish 'flugsvamp' (fly agaric), which are popular Christmas decorations in Sweden (and on our Christmas tree too).  This 'baby' mushroom was about 5 cm in diameter.

Lapland owl

A lapland owl that I saw in Westmanland last summer. The feeling I had when I sat beside the big owl, just a few meters away, was enormous. Now we have deep snow but the owl can still hunt because of its good hearing. It can hear the mice under the snow. Now I have painted a picture of the memory.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It was a cold, snowy morning...

..and our two cats got to experience their first real snowfall that stuck to the ground.  Don't worry, they get heating pads and hot water bottles in their little insulated boxes, so they are fine during the cold nights, and their thick fur has thickened even more and they burr themselves up as little furballs with just ears and legs sticking out.  When they walk on the cold stones on our paths they seem always to be equally surprised at each step how cold the stones are against their paws.  Just like Sweden's current Arctic chill, we have a much colder fall than previous years, but not the giant snowstorms and 0 degrees F that Swedish people had to deal with for the last couple of weeks.  Maybe we will get a white Christmas here in NJ, that would be nice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A fantastic little movie about bookmaking

Pictorial Webster's: Inspiration to Completion from John Carrera on Vimeo.

This movie is amazing - telling the story of finding an old encyclopedia with pictures, and then remaking it from the original image blocks with old-fashioned methods.  Each copy is over $4000. It describes the process of printing and bookbinding in fascinating detail. PP found this. The Linotype machine is my favorite.

Delicious swedish treat - salty licorice

Something for all the licorice lovers!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stamp of the day: Soon it is Christmas (Snart är det jul!)

And in Sweden this means Lucia buns ('lussebullar') on December 13 (today), a new advent candle lit for each of the 4 Sundays before Christmas, gingerbread cookies ('pepparkakor'), stars, presents, food, and decorations and ornaments, and so on.  All featured here on official Swedish stamps as letters spelling JULPOST 2010, which means "Christmas mail" and used as stamps for holiday greetings and any other letters.  Enjoy!

Skrovmål (Nut-fed meat)

This is what I discovered outside my work building last Friday - a hawk showing off its rank in the food chain. We are still not sure what hawk species it is, but the prey was a grey squirrel. The secretaries walking out for lunch were aghast, the scientists were amazed, and the students took photos with their cell phones. 
Photo copyright Ilya Raskin, used with permission (with a real good camera, my photos are not this good).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Spineless life forms

Invertebrate animals are strange things - some have skeletons outside their bodies like insects, lobsters, sea urchins, and spiders, and others have some kind of skeleton inside themselves, such as squids and some slugs. Others have none at all (think worms and jelly fishes), and then there are those that build their own house like a skeleton around them (corals).

The drawing above is by one of my favorite biological artists, Ernst Haeckel, who lived at the end of the 19th century. He was an accomplished scientist and drew both animals and plants, and both large and small things. This drawing is of nudibranches, 'naked slugs' or sea slugs, that live in the ocean and often have elaborate appendages on their colorful bodies. I love these animals, and they often look out of this world. There are over 9000 nudobranch photos on Flickr to explore and there are more than 3000 species of sea slugs in the world.  They can be pink, yellow-pointed, dotted, look like plastic toys, or like bursts of icicles. Amazing creatures.

The evolution of fish

Just a diagram showing the evolution of the fish symbol, originally a Christian symbol.  It seems like that the evolution- and food-linked symbols on the left have evolved a lot faster in their design than the religious ones on the right. The sushi symbol we saw in Durango, Colorado, this summer, at a Japanese restaurant of course!
(note the font - it is a new variant that needs to be added to the evolutionary tree above)

And talking about sushi, this looks delicious, doesn't it?
sushi galore

Mumintrollet blir film igen

Ny film med filtfigurer om Mumin och kometen / New movie with Moomin

pictures here

Look at Aurora borealis online

Picture from the live cam at Abisko, northern Sweden. This one is from dec 7, 2010. At this very moment light is faint but check in, it can be quite a show. LA -good for stargazing and from time to time you can see a "shooting star" on photo

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

immature scrap metal without bones

Book covers can be great.  Which one of these would you like to read?  (Click on the images to see larger versions.)

Sometimes the internet is very funny...


(Click on them to get larger images.
Source for the last one: Toothpaste for dinner, a wonderful place for a laugh)

Book review: The dirty life by Kristin Kimball

Another name for this memoir, The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball, could have been The inconvenient life or The unexpected happiness in a ditch or under a cow belly.  Kristin Kimball is a New York City journalist when she shows up at an organic farm in Pennsylvania to interview the youngish farmer, Mark.  He was too busy running the farm so he put her to work, weeding, to begin with. During the second day she finally managed to get some answers to her questions, and by then she also had her old interest in farming come alive again (she was always interested in food).  

This book describes the development of her passion for farming, and first her relationship and then marriage with Mark, who is a somewhat crazy hippie-like man.  She is brutally honest, funny, and writes eloquently about everything from her mom's appalled face when Mark shows up with a newly slaughtered turkey in a plastic bag (with the neck hanging out) at their first Thanksgiving, to the feeling of warm, good soil that is just waiting for the spade and shovels and plows.

They move away from New York, trying to find some land to farm organically and 'completely', in the sense that they want to be a self-sustained farm that produces everything a family might need year round: grain, sugar (maple syrup and honey), vegetables, milk (and cheese and yogurt), pork, chicken and eggs, beef, sheep for lamb, and so on. That is a lot complex than to farm just one thing (milk cows or corn for example), but also much more rewarding.

They find some land they are allowed to lease in upper New York State and start Essex Farm.  Mark is a true back-to-old-times person, hating any kind of plastic and waste of resources.  They decide to try to do as little as possible with tractors and instead they buy two draft horses, which will help them to plow and weed and transport manure and maple syrup buckets around, you name it. There is a great interview with Kimball here.

The first year they work all the time, live on nearly nothing except on what they can grow and are worried because they are not sure that the neighbors are willing to become members and get everything they need from the farm instead of from the regular grocery store.  But, if you build it they will come. The neighbors, many of them retired farmers from farms that now are abandoned, help them out with sage advice, ancient rusty but important draft horse equipment from old barns, and a hand here and there when needed.  And they start to sign up as members to get part of what is produced at the farm.

Today, 7 years later, the farm has over 100 members and is thriving.  Kristin Kimball wrote her book on early mornings between 4 and 7 in the fire station, before her daughter woke up and the work at the farm started.  I really loved this book, and read it faster than most because it captures you.  Not only is the story both compelling (and sometimes disgusting) and interesting, Kimball's way with words is beautiful, often poetic.  But mixed with a great sense of humor - she never takes herself too seriously, but she also can be very serious at times.

I am not ready to become a farmer with draft horses after this book, but I sure would love to have a farm like this close-by to get great, real, local, handmade food from.  I am so glad Kimball wrote this book because I hope it will inspire both young people to become farmers and conscious eaters and 'cookers', as well as all of us to think about what it is that we really need in our lives.  Flat screen TVs and the latest world news don't seem that important after you have read this book.  A bunch of hay and a sunset and a well-cooked meal is more real.  So, read it.  It is one of the top ten books I have read in 5 years, and I mean it.  So, grade A+, 5, or *****.

[Disclosure: I did not get paid to say anything of this. :)  Better put this in here so I am not like those corrupt and greedy economy professors in the movie Inside Job, which I recommend the whole world to see, but more on that later.]

Some excerpts:
"A farm is a manipulative creature.  There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can't, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die.  It's blackmail, really."

About preparing bull testicles for dinner after a slaughter:
"I peeled off a layer of membrane only to find another layer. Maybe a testicle is like an onion, I thought, and if I keep peeling I will end up with nothing.  So I left some of the white and squiggly purple stuff on until I got to slicing them into rounds and discovered that the true interior of a testicle is light brown in color, with a fine granular texture - more prairie uni than prairie oyster, if you ask me.  I tossed the slices in seasoned flour and pan-fried them in butter, and served them for breakfast along with scrambled eggs and toast.  The taste was interesting, not too far from a very fresh sea scallop, which the slices resembled in shape and size."

"My existence, from daybreak to dark, became focused on the assassination of weeds. Before that first year, I'd filed "agriculture," in the card catalog of my head, in the same general place as "nature." As in many things, I was so wrong. Farming, I discovered, is a great and ongoing war."

"It was September, deep harvest season, days of pulling carrots, pulling beets, stacking hundred-pound bags int he root cellars.  Mark scythed the rows of black beans and kidney beans, dry and hard in their brittle pods, and I forked them, stems and all, onto the wagon, which the horses drew slowly down the row."

"The food at harvest season is so right the less is done to it, the better.  Sunday dinners were exercises in simplicity. Green salad, practically naked. Steamed green beans with butter. Beets roasted in a hot oven, sliced and tossed with a whisper of oil, a suggestion of vinegar, a bit of dill on top."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Some thoughts on books (for those that say they are dead)

"Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one" -Augustine Birrell
"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read" -Groucho Marx
"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." -Mark Twain
"The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television" -Andrew Ross
"Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me" -Anatole France
"No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting" -Mary Wortley Montague

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Help, I am pixelated!

Here is a really cool animation movie. Unfortunately you have to ignore an ad first for 25 seconds or so, be patient, and the fun will come.

Uploaded by onemoreprod. -

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bird feeding online

I have search the net for webcams with bird feeding. Here´s some favorites.

Pennsylvania, US:

Atlantic rainforest, Brazil: Wildlife focus

Dalarna Sweden; winterfeeding

Store Mosse, Sweden: eagle feeding in winter (not active right now)

Estonian website:

Yesterday I took some screenshots from Brazil, see more pictures here.

Have fun!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Amazing snow photos

The most amazing snowflake photos can be seen at  These are taken by Kenneth Libbrecht.  It is incredible the shapes water can take.  And they are not just hexagonal crystals, but also pillars, plates, needles, and many other shapes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Evening snapshot - moon and Christmas lights

It is really hard to take a photo of the moon and trees with Christmas lights with a tiny camera without a tripod. I thought it was cool how the color of the moon was so different from the lights, I couldn't really tell that by eye. The moon is also so tiny, our eyes are so often zooming in on it that we forget how small and far away it really is.

Ponderings on originality and authenticity

Interesting thoughts on originality, copying, authenticity, sharing, borrowing and creativity in these two linked articles: To live outside the law, you must be honest (Mobylives) and The Work of Art in the Age of Maniacal Appropriation (UTNE). I took the freedom to borrow the image by Jim Jarmusch that goes with them (see below), and hope that is considered creativity and not stealing, as suggested in the articles. I don't condone any plagiarism, but look below - we do share and borrow ideas and images and thoughts and inspiration from books, sunsets, old and new art, knitting patterns, photos, views and landscapes, and just snippets of information anywhere.  These are not easy questions, and to talk about them is to talk ethics, not an easy thing, and maybe something we talk too little about.  Sometimes we want it all for free, sometimes we want to own our own creations, and sometimes we just want to connect it all and take what we want and reuse it in new ways.  Reality is never so black and white as in movies or made-up school examples. The Mobylives article is really worth reading about this topic.

Smokey didn't even notice her first snowflakes

On Thanksgiving Day, this past Thursday, a few snowflakes fell down from the sky and landed wherever, including on sleeping Smokey. She didn't even wake up to notice her first snowfall after moving outside 6 or so months ago. All furred up and bundled up, she stayed warm and was happy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ponderings on utopias

When I grew up I remember seeing the movie Shangri-La on TV one Sunday afternoon, and I loved it.  A hidden valley, far away in the Himalayas, a paradise away from everything else, isolated and self-sufficient. Last night PP showed me an old movie by Lewis Mumford called 'The City", which shows another kind of utopia - a village where workers live in nice houses without industrialization's horrors and pollution. It is worth watching, and you can find it here, in the Prelinger Archives of ephemeral films.

What struck me after seeing this movie is that there aren't any utopias anymore.  We can't realistically dream about paradise islands where you can live away from the rest of the world.  Everything is connected, affected, even if you want to be isolated.  Every hidden valley, little town, or tropical island is affected by the global climate change, atmospheric pollution, radiation, and trash and toxins thrown into the sea, groundwater, or rivers. Over you satellites are watching you or give you connectivity to anywhere else in the world.  All economies are linked, and what happens at Wall Street or in Asia's stock markets affect a country and village across the world.

So, the idea of Utopia has changed.  Now we wish for small Utopian things, like affordable health care for all, toys without lead, and cleaner streets, while in the past you could dare to think big and dream away... I think this creates a kind of hopelessness and apathy in the new generations - it is much harder to change anything, the problems are big, global, and enormous.  Even if you plan a small better village locally, you run into global and national problems and forces, since so much is controlled at a higher level, not locally anymore.  Here in New Jersey, there used to be several local villages (like Roosevelt) built and based on Utopian ideas of fairness, sharing, and ethics.  Now they are all just regular places like any other (with a few exceptions, like Free Acres).

Who even wishes for World Peace anymore?  I do, but who really works for it?  No big masses of people...  I think the whole world view has changed since the hopeful 1960s, and gone downhill since then.  The only way to change global things is for all of us to work together in all countries, and that seems pretty much impossible, sometimes even within just one country (US for example). Sad and depressing, unfortunately.  Now the only real Utopias are new planets somewhere out there in the universe.

Maybe Utopia is just an impossibility, because humans are too selfish and competitive, and that all goes back to evolution and competition over scarce resources for survival?  Still, I like the thought of better places for all...

Links for more information (to avoid the breaking up of your reading* I put these at the end)
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Where does the stuff go?
Prelinger Archives: Lewis Mumford: "The City"
Free Acres, New Jersey : Roosevelt, NJ

* Researchers have showed that reading online text with a lot of links in it breaks up the thought process and you get distracted and don't learn and think so much.  At each hyperlink in the text your brain thinks "should I click on this or not", and you loose your thought and memories of what you just read.  So even if you don't click on the link, you are affected, without knowing it. So, links at the end on this post.  (Link to more about this here and here.)

Made by nature in a man-made form

SF Bay mudflat capillaries, originally uploaded by aroid.
From the air over San Francisco you can see these mudflats with their meandering veins, capillaries, and branches. Photo by our friend aroid on Flickr.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Book review: American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen

This is one great book: American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen.  One not too thick, not too dense, not too preachy, not too boring, not too silly, not too detailed, not too American book.  American terroir (not terror, not terrier, but terroir – as in the land and microclimate that give wines special flavors, "the taste of place") is a book that takes us on a tour around North America to ten great food products, and their greatness are because of where they are grown and the history and climate of the place.

Rowan Jacobsen writes in a funny but detailed way, giving you an abundance of history, science, and culture in short but dense sentences that never become a chore to read.  In fact, when I fell asleep reading this at night I was unhappy because I wanted to continue reading it, not go to sleep. This is in stark opposition to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (TOD), which I am struggling to finish after a year of trying to get into it.  I ought to like TOD, because I ought to like Michael Pollan and his work for better food and agriculture in America, but I just don’t like it that much.  This book, this little gem of red rowanberries, this I LOVE! 

The chapters deal with the following ingredients and food products: maple syrup from Vermont, coffee from Panama, apple cider from New England and apples from Washington State, honeys from everywhere, potatoes from Prince Edward Island, wild mushrooms and native plants in southeastern Canada, oysters from Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, avocados from Mexico, Yukon River King Salmon, unusual wines from California, cheese from Vermont, and chocolate from Chiapas in Mexico. 

While reading this book my brain kept constant notes on which people I would recommend each chapter to (coffee to my brother, salmon to my husband, etc.) but in the end, I will have to recommend the whole book to everybody.  There is no best chapter, they are all great.  It is easy reading, but chock-full of great facts and stories. Each chapter ends with a few recipes and a list of suppliers and websites for more information.

Rowan Jacobsen manages to teach the reader a lot of plant genetics, breeding history, soil science, and microbiology without the reader even noticing – we are too busy just enjoying the story.  By highlighting not just the local food and sustainability, but the connection of these foods to the natural places, history of its people, and personal stories, Jacobsen made me want to know more and more about our little corner on this Earth and its connections to the past.

This book was a great surprise and a great find, and I recommend it to anybody – chocolate fanatics, oyster nerds, historians, and food people, grandmothers, teenagers, and husbands, Swedes, and Americans, and any mycologists and farmers out there.  It is just a GREAT book, probably one of the best non-fiction books I have read in 5 years.  (Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham was also great, but this is more mainstream). It seems like many people like this book - I just found some of the reviews here. A new classic, indeed. 

The only thing I missed was a detailed index, please, publishers, don't skip on this.  We need indices! Books on paper don't have Google attached to them.

 Here are some excerpts to give you a feel for the writing style:

(on maple syrup):
"Caramelization is one of those unlikely tricks that reminds you that the world is magical and mysterious. It's the flavor equivalent of using a prism to transform white light into a rainbow. In this case, the prism is heat, which breaks and odorless sugar molecule (sucrose) into a rainbow of delightful aroma compounds."

(on cheese):
"Cheese used to be something that nature did spontaneously, We didn't design the cheese so much as guide it, like an equestrian riding a horse. The cheese powered itself and the cheesemaker gave it some direction."

(on oysters):
"A geoduck looks like something that might owe a lot of money to Jabba the Hutt. A giant clam that burrows so deep that armor becomes superfluous, it maintains a vestigial shell that sticks to its backside like a G-string on a sumo wrestler."

(on apples):
It turns out that, given a choice, people overwhelmingly go for the reddest apple. So growers kept selecting for the reddest. They were not, however, selecting for the tastiest. Eventually, Red Delicious apples eclipsed fire-engine red and reached a color imaginatively described as 'midnight-red'. And most are virtually inedible, with dry flesh and thick skin.  Good-tasting apples have small, tightly packed cells that break apart at first bite, spilling their juice in all directions.  Red Delicious have cottony, dry cells with too much air in between."