Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring is coming even if it doesn´t feel that way outside

Today I had an sudden idea to remove 0,5 m snow from my flowerbed where the snow drops are supposed to bloom in this time of year. ...And there they were, about an centimeter high, green tips in frozen soil. I suppose I just wanted to say to them: Don´t give up, spring will come!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Costa Rica photos

Are being uploaded to this place, if you feel like looking while waiting for a new post about our adventures...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Want some ants with that?

LA and I have spent the day exploring the area around Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica, where we will stay for a few days. The day started very foggy, but eventually the sun dried up the forest. This is a moss in my hand, like a little branched fractal.
Before lunch we went on a short hike into primary (=old) and secondary (=not so old) rainforest down to Rio Java, which actually is not filled with coffee even if the name implies this. On the way we saw several trails of army ants, which I unsuccessfully tried to take great photos of. Oh well, I have some less than good, so still proof that they were there. Now they have moved on, probably. They are nearly blind and only care about getting to where they going, so they won't disturb you if you leave them alone.
We also saw a really cool green fly that had legs on stilts, and here is a photo of that for my Dad. I am having problems uploading my photos to Flickr, I think I have to be closer to the router here at the station to get better connection, but the blogging works. I'll try to get some photos up here, directly to the blog.
The funny thing with rainforests are that everything is green and it is hard to see anything. Few flowers, fruits, birds, insects, mammals... it is just green, and very dark. Photographing is a challenge. But I love rainforests, you never know what you will see. But it certainly is hard to see the plants for all the green, and so far we haven't found any of 'my plants'. We will keep looking.

There are birds everywhere. In the morning you hear a giant cacaphony of birds you can't see, but they certainly tell you that they are around. Then when the sun comes up, you see some, and many are so brightly colored that it looks like a Disney movie. Today we have seen Cherrie's tanager, euphonias (one was Swedish - blue on the back, yellow on the belly), golden-hooded tanager, blue-crowned motmot (guess how it sounds? yes, 'mot mot'), chestnut-mandibled toucans, green honeycreepers and others I haven't identified yet. I am skipping all little and big brown birds and concentrating on the colorful ones as you can see. I have photos of some of these with the Olympus camera and the telelens but I can't download them until I get home. So my own (slightly less) gorgeous bird photos will come later.

This is the dry season, so of course it is raining for some strange reason. Seems like the weather is off everywhere in the world. Minus 27 degrees Celsius in Stockholm and one meter of snow, a little warmer and wetter snow in NJ, and now rain here (and 20 degrees Celsius). It is raining right now (9 PM at night), but it was nice until 4 PM, so we got lots of time in the Wilson Botanical Garden in the afternoon. The garden is the center of the research station, and to get to the rainforest you have to hike 1 km and more away. There are hundreds of different kinds of gingers, palms, ferns, and many other plants here. Heliconias are great, I love their bright shapes. Butterflies are common too, many many species.

And finally food. It is served family style here, lots of dishes on a large table and you sit down and eat with others and chat nd have a great time. Every meal, breakfast included, includes rice and beans (sometimes mixed, sometimes separate, sometimes black beans, sometimes red or refried). Then add suitable accompanying dishes - breakfast was bacon, yogurt, fresh pineapple and papaya, bread and jam - lunch was two different kinds of salads (cabbage with cheese and a pasta salad), cooked zucchini and orange juice, so VB6 (=Vegetarian before 6 PM) - and dinner was panfried chicken, salad, and hearts of palm salad that was cooked, not from canned hearts of palms. Very good.

(sorry, no food pictures yet)

One of the people here had a giant jar of salsa for the table, about a foot high, with extremely spicy peppers inside. PP would have like it. I ate the salsa but put the pepper pieces aside after having one, it was enough endorphins for the meal. There was also extremely hot pickled peppers that were from the "Cerro del Muerte" (mountain of the dead), but the area isn't named from the peppers but from a dangerous road that goes through it. But I didn't even try those :)

My favorite condiment is a local Worchester-like hot pepper sauce named Lizano that they tell me exist in every house in Costa Rica. I will see if I can find a bottle and bring home. It is great, great. Wish all my friends and family could be here and see all the gorgeous things.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Report from a gringa in Costa Rica

(that is apparently what we are called, white woman = gringa)

LA and I got up at 3.30 AM at home, took a cab to Newark at 4 AM, arrived at the airport at 5.30 AM, left on a plane at 7.30 AM, suffered through a very bumpy ride to San Jose, Costa Rica, arrived right before noon (local time), waited in line for immigration control for 45 min, then got picked up by our driver for a ca 300 km car trip to a biological research station in the southwestern part of the country, but the boss (who was not part of the trip...) of the driver insisted that he should take the new, improved, longer and 'faster' route with us, so off we went, along the coast, driving and driving and driving by our poor driver, darkness fell at 6 PM, up hills with hairpin curves, got towed up one hill by three friendly Costa Rican's in a Toyota 4x4 because the roadwork people had left the roadbed just in soft gravel, which our Toyota Corolla we were in couldn't handle (I would like to have seen that happen in NJ), and then arrived at our destination at 9 PM (not 7 PM as planned) and 450 km later. And if you tell the youth today that, they won't believe you. Except for LA who was in the backseat and lived through it all. Actually, it was just tiresome, not dangerous or horrible at all. Sens moral: don't trust the boss when it comes to directions or travel advice.

So here we are, 17 hours after we have left NJ, in a cabin surrounded by rainforest sounds. We haven't seen anything of the forest yet since it is dark but we saw some other cool things on the way here. Frigate birds, kiskadee (yellow and black bird, catches insects in the air), a sign for DING car mechanics, lots of black vultures, some kind of large cat (maybe twice the size of Ella), pelicans, flowering trees in bright yellow, purple and white, immense palm oil plantations, and smelly factories where they extract the oil, very funny and skinny cows with long hanging ears, egret herons, and I have also learned many words in Spanish. And some I just suddenly remember, like el gato. Costa Ricans are extremely friendly - they all stop when you need directions. So far we have only found 4 ants in our cabin room. It looks like a wonderful research station and the accomodation is great. I wonder what kind of frog or bird or insect is making that funny sound outside? Time for bed, it has been a long day. Photos will have to wait until I have some.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Once in a while you read a book that is wonderful in a very unusual way. A book that is challenging in its way of dealing with life's big stories as well as the little things of everyday life, a book that makes you think philosophical thoughts that would otherwise not have crossed your mind, a book that keeps on living in your head after you close the last page after hours of smiles, sadness, fun, and internal laughter. This is a book like that.

If I ever have to restrict my fiction library to only 10 books, this will be one of them. I think I can read this book many times over and over and love it every time, and it would also be different every time. It is like layers you peel of the onion, you see more and more of what is inside and get a deeper meaning.

The story is both simple and complex. A young girl lives in an apartment building with many rich families in Paris and she is highly intellectual but has decided that life is not worth living, since what most people focus on is superficiality and banal things (especially her older sister is like this).

On the first floor of the building is the concierge, an older widowed woman that towards the rest of the world just tries to act like the normal boring, uneducated housekeeper people expect, but in secret she reads philosophy at the library, listens to classic music, and loves Japanese movies. But the keeps up the appearances not to disturb the set ways in the building.

Then one day a Japanese man moves in, and things are suddenly different. He changes the lives of both the suicidal girl and the concierge, and I won't tell you how, for that you will have to read the book. But I can tell you that is is extremely critical of the people that 'have it all', and gives justice to the people in the world that really think and care about life regardless of class, income, and age.

"Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant. " [about the concierge]

As far as I can see, only psychoanalysis can compete with Christians in their love of drawn-out suffering. [says the 12-year old Paloma]

Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment? [about drinking tea, among other things]

The language in the book is so beautiful that you want to underline sentences here and there and make comments in the margin all the time. It is not just a story about people, the book is about how we live life, how we look at life, how we look at objects, art, music, ourselves, our inefficiencies, our fears, and our loves. I loved this book. And still, I think I only really understood about half of what was in it, so I am looking forward to read it again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

OK snapshot: Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday)

If you wonder what this mountain of Swedish pastries are, I can tell you. These are SEMLOR (sing. semla), an amazingly good concoction served on Tuesdays starting on Fat Tuesday (=today) and then eaten on Tuesdays every spring from Lent until Easter. It is a very old, and tasty tradition. Of course, nowadays they start selling them in December and heretic people eat them on Wednesdays and even Saturdays, etc..

But we did it right this year. I baked sweet cardamom yeast buns on Saturday, and then filled them with almond paste and whipped cream, and served them floating in warm milk. Ahhh, heaven. Photos of our own will come later, for now you have to look at this snapshot by OK of a store window in Stockholm from today.

Some semla trivia: On February 12, 1771, the Fat Tuesday of that year, the Swedish king Adolf Frederick died after eating 14 semlor at dinner. Other things he had that night was sauerkraut, turnips, lobster, caviar, smoked herring (kippers), and champagne. What a mix, that is what I call overload. He ruled Sweden in the mid to late 1700s and is known as the 'king that ate himself to death', a weak ruler, and for making snuff boxes as a hobby.

More semla trivia: The word semla is related to semolina. Today, 2 million Swedes are having a semla. Considering that there are only 9 million of us, that is a rather large quota. 40 million semlor are sold in Sweden each year.

Egg breaks record...

With the egg post yesterday, which was mailed out and twittered to many people (not by me), we broke our old record of visits per day. 526 people took a look at our blog and the peacock by the egg tractor. Thanks for the visit, come back whenever you like!

More news in the world: Sweden got its first gold medal this year in the Olympics, in Women's cross country skiing. Go Kalla, go!

Check out the ferocious hunger of the geckos of Madagascar in Chad's fantastic blogpost.

In Stockholm there is the yearly design week. Some photos here.

Everything you need to know about brain farts. (you might have to subscribe for free)

And the seeds for the garden are ordered. On its way are Sungold orange cherry tomatoes, tiny pickling cucumbers, sunflowers, Chioggia and red and golden beets, Swiss chard with orange, pink, and white stems, lettuce in many colors and shapes, and some flowers that I hope will survive the onslaught of bugs and mammals, as well as rain and drought. Gardening in New Jersey is more of a challenge than I ever expected.

OK snapshot: Bra reklam

"Bra reklam" = good advertising in Swedish, not a lingerie store. Seen in

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The best eggs in the world...

...or at least the best we can get our hands on, come from a small farm in southcentral New Jersey, River Birch Micro-Farm, where a flock of hens live their happy life in a chicken tractor and lay 'pasture eggs'. The farmer, who is also a professor, is doing some really interesting research on small-scale farming and especially chicken tractors (read more here if you like on page 43). A chicken tractor is a very neat contraption where the chickens live in a henhouse and movable pen on wheels, so you can move the chickens around in your yard every day while they are still protected against foxes and coyotes. This chicken tractor has about 35 chickens and they have a very happy life picking at whatever flies by or tries to grow up from the ground.

Recently a peacock showed up to join them, and even if the chickens were first a bit apprehensive, the next night the peacock slept next to the chickens (albeit with a wire fence between them). Unfortunately the dog chased it off a few days later. Anyway, these eggs... they taste fantastic, like EGGS, and the yolks are the most yellow you can imagine. You whip up an omelet and at first you are thinking 'wow, it is so yellow, why?', but then you realize that these are chickens that are outside, picking on leaves and bugs and worms, and get a billion more vitamins and betacarotens than the poor chickens that provide store-bought eggs in chicken egg factories on an egg assembly line. If you can get local, free-range chicken from a farmer you know, do it! It will cost you a bit more, but the quality is really a lot better and worth it. Here are some photos and quotes from our 'eggman', courtesy of Dr. Joseph Heckman.
"Peacock likes it here on the farm. When I went out this morning it was sleeping next to the chicken pen with its head under its wing."
"My daughter came out with me this morning not wearing gloves. Very cleverly, she asked get me some warm eggs (body temp, just laid) to hold as hand warmers."
"A photo showing color contrast of a grocery store bought conventional egg (light yellow yolk, bottom) and an egg (orange yolk, top) from my pastured chickens. The color contrast is noticeable even in winter. The difference would be even more remarkable with the hens on spring grass."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Timeless image?

Now, THIS is beautiful! "The beautiful hourglass-shaped nebula Sharpless 2-106 shines with brilliant colors in this new image from the Gemini North telescope." Read more here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cold people

Joke of the day:

What's the difference between a snow-man and a snow-woman?
Snow balls.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February - the month of snowstorms

pining pines

We are getting pounded with snow here in NJ. So far today about 50 cm I think, and it is still coming down. Wet, icy, mixed with rain, nasty, horizontal, sticky, icky, beautiful, and heavy.

white-throated sparrow at the feeder

We ran out of birdfood this morning, so I looked in our pantry and then fed the wet and snowy birds (here a white-throated sparrow) flax seed, pumpkin seed and steelcut oats. They ate it, so it can't have been tasting that bad. Or they might have been desperate.

tracks on road

Our road, unplowed for hours - I am not really sure I am getting to work tomorrow... The snow isn't easing up yet, so we might get 30 cm more, who knows.

More photos are on my Flickr account.

OK snapshot: Dripp Dropp

Stockholm today.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Floating nymphs

waterlily banner
Happy birthday anyone and everyone born on this date in the whole world!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dor Beetle (Tordyvel ) Geotrupes stercorarius

I found this Dor Beetle under some pines this summer. It was searching for cow dung and will dig shafts below it and bury the dung for breeding. It is also called the Lousy Watchman because it is commonly heavily infested with mites. This is a watercolor of mine.