Friday, December 30, 2011

2011, the year of the Dishcloth Knitting Frenzy

2011, soon over, was the year I discovered the Ballband pattern for dishcloths.  This is a pattern from the 1950s that was printed on the back of the band around the yarn balls. So, I started knitting some, then some more, then changed the patterns a bit, then knit, changed more, and so far I think I have made about 25-30 of these.  They are now spread out over the world, among families and friends, and maybe 8 are left here to be used in the house. As far as I know we are the only ones using them to wipe out old coffee and other things on the counter with, since most everybody else are using them as pot holders or hotpads in the kitchen.

If you make the dishcloths in cotton, then you can throw them in the laundry once a week, and I think the handmade cotton ones are a lot better than soggy, old-milk stinky Wettex wipes (that is a Swedish thing, for you Americans and other readers; OK, OK, I like them too, but these are much better). I bought a large box of the American-made Peaches and Cream cotton yarn, in many different colors, including some variegated ones and started knitting (while watching old Law and Order and other shows on Netflix and DVD...). And now I am out of yarn, so it is time for another project.  I am working now on two bathmats, also in cotton, but thicker, so we will see how they come out soon.

This is the original pattern:

Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
another kitchen dish cloth
knitted ballband dishcloths
knitted dishcloths
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
And here are some of my variants on the pattern:  
Ballband dishcloths, own design
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits

Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits
And this is how one of my new patterns looks up close:
Ballband-style dishcloths, handmade knits

Sunday, December 25, 2011

God Jul, everybody!

straw ornament, Swedish style, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.
Wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, or if you are just relaxing and taking a break before 2012 starts with a bang!

Friday, December 23, 2011

What are your favorite Christmas movies?

Here is my partial list:

In English:
It's a wonderful life [can't live without it, strangely enough I had never heard of this movie when I lived in Sweden]
Miracle on 34th Street [for the smartest Santa ever, plus black and white is fantastic]
The Holiday [modern romance, with modern complications, ah I love this]

In Swedish: 
Karl-Bertil Jonssons julafton [animated, a postoffice clerk decide to reroute some Christmas gifts to needy kids]
... (EH and the other can fill in the rest here, it was so long since I lived in Sweden)

Stamp of the Day: Pomegranate

Pomegranate (granatäpple in Swedish, Punica granatum in Latin) is a wonderful fruit.  It has hard seeds surrounded by fleshy, bloodred juicy arils, nested inside a labyrinth of white placental flesh (it is actually called that, botanically). Nobody really knows where it grows wild, maybe on the tiny island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, but it has been cultivated and eaten by humans for thousands of years.  We open the fruit, squeeze out the seeds over a bowl (so you don't get red juice all over you and your kitchen), and then put the seeds in salads.  For Christmas Day dinner we are having a turkey, served with balsamic-pomegranate glazed carrots.  Those carrots are to die for....   In case you didn't know it, the apple in the Paradise in the Bible most likely was supposed to be a pomegranate, but when they translated it into English for the northerners, nobody knew that fruit up in the cold north, so it became apple instead.

"Are you going to blog about that your daughter got into Pratt?"

Asked my daughter. Yes, I am.  Right here. Right now.  We found out a few hours ago and said talented, wonderful daughter is all excited.  Pratt Institute in New York City is one of the best art schools, and here is a sample of her art. Congratulations!!!!!!  What a wonderful Christmas present.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Today is the shortest day of the year....

... YES!  That is a good thing.  Of course, in the southern hemisphere it is the longest day of their summer.  Honestly, I don't want spring and summer yet.  I want winter with snow.  We had our crazy October snowstorm, and since then, nothing... not a white flake.  It rained all day yesterday, and somehow the Christmas feeling is not really there... yet.

Stamp of the day: Assar by Ulf Lundkvist or Sausage

I come from the land of sausages, mushrooms and spruces. Sweden!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ponderings over American school food and eating habits

It is a well-known fact that there are many kids that won't eat anything green, spicy, or 'weird'.  This might be based on their genetics, such as that they have specific alleles for tasting bitterness that some people don't have.  With age, we get used to it and the genes matter less.

However, I think most kids today stick to bland, mass-produced factory food because their parents feed them that kind of food, out of convenience and influenced by advertising.  McDonald's burgers (with no lettuce and tomatoes on the kid burgers, mind you!), french fries, chicken nuggets in a heat up plastic box, poptarts from aluminium foil packets, neon-colored 'cereal' with marshmallows, all soaked and dusted with fat, salt and sugar, oh the compounds we humans love!

And, it certainly doesn't help that most parents eat such food too, so they are not providing a home environment with real cooked food and a variety of ingredients.  Many parents just take the easy way out - why force Bill to eat broccoli and have a scene at the dinner table?  "Frozen pizza is so great, lets have it for dinner", again. 

So, it is absolutely no surprise to me that a big food experiment with school lunches in Los Angeles failed. (read the news story here) They changed the menus to include more vegetables and healthy food, such as new dishes such as veggie curry, jambalaya, and pad thai (Mmm...).  Now, my kids love those three things, but I don't think most kids do. Actually, I know most kids don't.  In the test program, the schools got rid of chicken nuggets, nachos, chocolate milk, and other fast food calorie-bombs.  The kids hated the change, many refused to eat the new food and just threw the food in the garbage.  Undercover food snack deliveries started, and it was just a giant flop.

I am not surprised at all.  First, these kids probably never or rarely had healthy food at home, at school, at restaurants or anywhere else.  They are brought up on the bad stuff, and their parents eat the same thing.  Unless you get the parents with you, and start this early on it will not work.  I guess the only exception are those weight-loss boot camps where there is no alternative, "either you eat this or nothing, and there is just desert around here so you better eat here".

Second, if you are in middle and high school, there is giant psychological tension at all time, and especially in the cafeteria.  Eating something weird, or not eating something, can easily turn into a trend, a thing to be teased over, or just something you don't want to deal with. Cliques of popular kids can very likely influence loads of kids not to eat something strange.

Third, in the schools, why was the left-over food thrown away?  Give it to some pigs if it is leftovers from kids' plates. Keep the pigs outside the cafeteria, and tell the kids where bacon comes from! If there are left-over food from the kitchen, pack it up and give it to soup kitchens, hungry Occupyers, disabled vets, or anybody else that needs some great, fresh food. (This idea came from VFK when we talked about this.) If the food could be thrown away like that, then they also have a bad recycling system at the schools. 

Fourth, if you really want people to change giant habits like this you to have to make it relevant to them.  It has to be personal, not imposed by Big Brother, and it has to feel like an option, not a must and something a teenager has to rebel against.  Use it as a teaching moment, without them realizing it is educational.  Have cooking classes with parents plus kids.  Do survival courses without any cooked food, with foraging from basic ingredients only.  Grow the food on the school yard, plow up all that useless grass. Make the football team dig potatoes by hand for exercise.  Keep bunnies, chickens, and pigs.  Eat weeds.  Cook cultural dishes from around the world, and cook ethnic 'fast-food' like dishes.  Spaghetti with sauce, tacos, hamburgers - these can be great and good!

If I could decide, certain foods would be outlawed, and there would be no food advertising in TV (or anywhere else) for kids under 10. And no fake infomercials either.  Everything would have 50% less sugar in it (if it had any to begin with), and no cereal would have food coloring.  Everybody would have to intern at least 2 months on a farm, in a bakery, slaughterhouse, kitchen, or something like that before they end high school, to understand where food comes from and how it is made. (Actually, interning at a hamburger patty factory might not be bad. Might turn you off hamburgers forever. )  And kids should visit farms all the time, from the time they can put their fingers in their mouths and say gaga over sheep and apples.  Chicken nuggets and other super-processed machine-made food should have giant warning labels on them, saying "NON-FOOD FACTORY PRODUCT".

In the end, I think this is of course a societal problem, but it really comes down to the parents.  If the parents don't care about food, and the food for their children, then the kids will not care. If parents give in and are laissez-faire parents (=letting any little kid decide for themselves all the time), then you get kids that are whiny, picky, irresponsible, selfish, and won't eat any anything real and interesting.  And who wants to live with such a person when they are adults?

Of course processed fast-food taste good, it is made to make us love it - it is all part of the commercial plans to sell more and to earn more money for the companies.  But you don't have to buy into it.  As a parent, stay strong, and if you slip now and then, that is OK.  I have given my kids Hungry Man TV dinners, mac and cheese from a box, Spaghettios from a can, and so on.  At the time, it was what I could handle, because of other circumstances.  But now they eat nearly everything (well, one is a vegetarian that eats fish, and neither eats beets, which is perfectly fine).

It is never too late to change, to try something new. But to dare to try, I don't think you should be in a giant high school cafeteria and be served lukewarm sticky jambalaya surrounded by other teenagers that tell you it looks like "you-know-what"...  I think this whole food movement would work better if people knew how to cook better, so maybe that is where things should start.  With a knife, a pot and a cutting board.  Maybe we should have survival courses in the kitchen.  "How to cook from scratch during 5 days without electricity and a functioning fridge", hehe... Well, we don't have to be that drastic to begin with.  How about "How to cook from ingredients that come in boxes with less than 3 ingredients listed on each box"?

(And a caveat - there are exceptions of course, but I think everybody can eat better.  Being 3 years old is no excuse to live on only 4 types of food.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This makes me feel small...

A satellite image from NASA taken yesterday. It looks like there is frothy diluted cream whipping around in most of the atmosphere.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bits and pieces from the internet: stringy edition

The Ford Focus orchestra, a must see: LINK
Update: More info on the Ford Focus orchestra here.

And here is a stringy favorite! Check it out. (I love the sightings.)

I believe Sweden still is String Cheese free.  That is good for them. Except, maybe Swedes can buy it now.  I just read on the all-knowing Wikipedia that is actually comes from Europe.

Let kids make things with strings, and other things.  Make them into makers.  (Wired)

Real packages uses string. Except the US post office do not allow string anymore.  It is all tape, tape, tape....  (Shorpy)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This is your computer when sick...

No wonder this computer was underperforming.

Stamp of the Day: Three cows

A simple stamp from a couple of decades ago, I think.  Cows, three simple Swedish cows eating grass.  I love the simplicity of it, and the design.  What do you think?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book review: How to survive the end of the world as we know it by James Wesley Rawles

After recently reading S M Stirling's Emberverse series and liking it (at least the 2 first books in each series), I decided to look into the survival literature, just in case 'what if' happened. Rawles' book How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It describes how you prepare for a doomsday scenario where government and facilities such as electricity, fuel and food deliveries, and communication breaks down.

His advice is to live in a place that can be self-sufficient for years, and that is defendable against rioters and other criminals when law and order is no more. He describes in details which food items that store well, what medicines to keep on hand, where to get training in First Aid, canning, shooting, and how to learn how to barter (and what to barter with).

The beginning of the book was OK, but it was lacking details for many things when it comes to food production, preservation, and medical issues. Most of the book is focused on details in radio communication, weaponry, and defense tactics. I realize that such knowledge and tools might become a way of surviving, but in the end, what will matter is if you can feed yourself for a longer time.

Of course this book includes a lot of right-wing frenzy, but the truth is that many of us could be much better prepared for a week or more without power, water, and ways of communicating - situations that have and will continue to happen based on hurricanes, storms, and other such events.

For example, more of us should know first aid. But going to army surplus and buying razor wire for cash (so it can't be traced) and hiding old silver coins in the walls for when the dollar is gone, that is not really my thing. But apart from the fear-mongering, there are some really good advice in it. I wish he had included more summaries such as tables and been somewhat less repetitive with his favorite abbreviations. The third, forth... fiftieth time he uses WTSHF (= when the shit hits the fan), it is kind of tiresome.

One interesting fact I learned was that dried wheat grain can be stored for 30 years if they are in moisture- and vermin-proof containers.

His best advice overall are:
1. Don't become overly dependent on gadgets.
2. Learn First aid.
3. Buy tools that last, which are usually older tools.
4. Don't assume that you have access to anything in the rest of society. Be as self-sufficient as you can.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spots, threads and snippets from the internet and media

From my forays and wanderings around the internet the last couple of weeks (months, maybe...):

Newsweek has an article about rich people buying modern art, more to show how rich they are more than because they like it.  One of the artists they say is overvalued and will not last is Damien Hirsts with his paintings of colored spots. The same week (= today), New York Times has a long article about Damien Hirsts and his marketing scheme and moneymaking art.  I can definitely live without a spot painting in my house, but I think they are cool.  The kind of cool that would fit in a modernly designed library or hotel foyer. If I had something like that in my living room it would b dizzifying and disturbing, and probably reminding me of ads for M&M candy or something.

A famous needlework woman just died, Erica Wilson, and I unfortunately didn't know about her until now.  Being in a family filled with embroiderers, I immediately notified he other side of the Atlantic (Sweden). Here is an example of Erica's design.  I wonder if she is related to the incredibly talented Erin Wilson, who makes the most artistic and amazing art quilts I have ever seen.  We bought a tiny sample from Erin at our visit to the Philadelphia Crafts Show, which I will write about later.  But her quilts, oh wow! But Wilson is such a common name, so probably not a relation. Example of one of her quilts (my own photo, so not that great):

Amazing quilts by Erin Wilson

Some exoplanets might be made up of lots of diamonds.  You think they sparkle like diamonds then? It must be hard to dig there, the shovels loose their edge pretty fast.

For those of us that still write and draw by hand, think and take notes, there is MoleskineA company that is doing better and better.  It is the backlash against the techno-stupid, I am convinced of this.  While some people follow their GPS' directions literally and take a right turn straight into a church, others are contemplating life with carefully (or sloppy, it is OK) drawn lines generated by real thoughts. It is your choice: be real, or be a automaton, copycat, and online addict.

That's all for now.

Tranströmer - tired of words

During the Nobel Prize party a few days ago, the wife of Thomas Tranströmer, the Novel Laureate in Literature, read this wonderful poem by him:  

Trött på alla som kommer med ord, ord, men inget språk
for jag till den snötäckta ön.
Det vilda har inga ord.
De oskrivna sidorna breder ut sig åt alla håll!
Jag stöter på spåren av rådjursklövar i snön.
Språk men inga ord.

Tired of everybody that comes with words, words, but no language
I traveled to the snow-covered island.
The wild has no words.
The unwritten pages extend outwards in all directions!
I discover the tracks of deer hooves in the snow.
Language but no words.

Thomas Tranströmer [translation by LS]

I can see it in front of me, an island surrounded by frozen water in winter, stillness, no people, just the man and the snow, frozen bare branches, blue icy sky, and a few birds looking for something to eat in the brush.  And then the tracks of the deer, winding its way through the landscape, telling a story without words.
Winter sun
Winter Sun, a photo from the Finnish Baltic archipelago by Niklas Sjöblom (Flickr)

In a way this also reminds me of a very different poem/song, Blå Hjärtans Blues, by Eva Dahlgren.  In English, the song (called Blue Hearts' Blues) starts with these lines (translated by me):
The island lays empty in the winter sea
a last ferry turns back towards the city
at the pier, here I stand
and see my lover choose
My head so heavy of the truth
I see your foot tracks in the snow on the way home
so light steps that say so much more
than frozen words on your lips

Bye baby blue
caresses me in the night
with her sadness
bye baby blue
all these memories
in a dull moonlight blue tune

That is the beginning of this song about relationships, break-ups, winter, ice, and islands, just like Tranströmer's poem. The blues song ('bye baby blue', etc.) she refers to I guess is something by Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. Listen to Eva performing the song here: Youtube link, and here are the complete Swedish lyrics.

Stamp of the day: Christmas flowers

This years christmas stamps from Sweden are wonderful, especially for plant lovers!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quote of the Day: autospeak from customer care agents

I called the Wells Fargo bank about our mortgage, and got to the wrong department.  The friendly, human but slightly automated person offered to transfer me to the mortgage department and I said 'of course, yes please'.  She then continued with this phrase:

"If I connect you, will that take care of the reason for your call?"

My mind did a double-take, went into reverse warp speed, hiccuped, and then I said "what?", since the logic didn't work in my brain.  She repeated her question, exactly like before. By then I had figured out what the sentence meant and how stupid it was, so I just answered:

"I don't know yet."

Whoever is writing these scripts for customer 'care' people who are answering the phones for companies really need to think a bit more human and logical.  How in the melting snow of Antarctica am I supposed to know if a transfer will take care of my problem?  How many stressed out people don't even bother to think and just automatically answer 'yes', when confronted with this an unanswerable question?  It seems like that the question is there just to provide some positive feedback to the customer 'care' agent.

A while ago I had to call the internet company and was on the phone with someone in the Philippines for half an hour.  When the call ended, he entered into the auto-stupid-written-down-speak and said 'thanks for calling Comcast, we are happy we could help you today..', whereby I interrupted and said 'actually, you didn't, the problem is still here and you couldn't solve it'.  He then admitted to that at least.

Monday, December 5, 2011

leaf hoppers on Prunus

leaf hoppers on Prunus, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.

Are there leaf hoppers in Sweden? There should be, I think, at least if they are this gorgeous. I took this photo in a wetland near a pond, here in New Jersey. But the small hoppers look tropical in their colors!

"I Don't Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore"

I just read a great thing about the way many people talk today = they talk in a way where it is impossible to understand exactly what they mean.  Or even remotely understand what they are trying to say.  The article is by Dan Pallotta, was published in Harvard Business Review, and you can read it here.  It is really worth to spend a few minutes on this article (it is not long).

Dan Pallotta talks about the five expressions of this epidemic of stupid talking:
Valley Girl 2.0
Meaningless Expressions
Abstract Valley Girl 2.0 Acronymitis Using Meaningless Expressions   

I have seen all of these in presentations and discussions, and it often drives me crazy, even if I am guilty of it too.  But no longer.  But I will still wear my T-shirt (which is on today!) that says "think outside the box"  with a drawing of a TV.  But I do think we need to get the language we use back to reality.

It is very interesting to ask someone that just has fed you a long sentence of abstractionitis, "So, what does that really mean?"  Often, they have no good answer.  Which means, they had nothing real to say to begin with. In Swedish, we call this 'ordbajseri'. (That means sort of like 'bullshitting' in Swedish, but more mean.)

Dan's example about 'exceeding expectations' is hilarious.  I think most consumers no longer have any (and certainly not high) expectations regarding services and products.  The products or services just break or don't work out well.  Just ask anybody that is flying with Continental recently, for example. So, exceeding expectations is not really what you want to focus on as a company.  How about focus on making products that are not made to break, try to make customers happy and satisfied and not just poor and angry, and have a personal, local touch?  Without speaking abstractionitis or acronymitis... :)

What if the people that suffers from these epidemic speech patterns not only speak but also think this way?  That would be scary.  How can they then reason logically, think straight, and make good decisions? So, back to simple reality, in speech too.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The most farfetched advent calender ever

Count down to Christmas with Hubble telescope images: LINK

A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula

This is just amazing, I love it!  (thanks IS, for the link). The photo above is of the Crab Nebula.

Twittering in the forest (the real thing)

This morning I was going for a walk along our rural road on the mountain, watching the bare branches, some broken from the previous storms, and enjoying the clear, frosty air. The iPod in my pocket was playing a podcast of a short Swedish radio program called Tankar för dagen (Thoughts for the Day), where authors, ministers, scientists, physicians, social workers, artists, etc. write short essays, no longer than 5 min, that they then read.  It can be reminiscences and memories, thoughts about religion, ethics, psychology, or just reflections over modern life or times passed.

I was just listening to a short essay about how we often plan for a better life and for things to happen, while life just happens around us.  The author quoted John Lennon: "Life is what happens when you plan other things." (Or something like that.).  Suddenly I saw something and stopped.  Turned off the iPod (which was on a very low volume anyway).  Beside me, in the forest, were thousands of migrating grackles.  And more were coming.  They were on the ground, creating an image of boiling leaves when they where throwing leaves up to look for something to eat.  Some were in the trees.  Some were flying up, some were flying down.  Pitch-black metallic bodies, with metallic blue heads, like dark shadows, just chirping and twittering a bit.  More and more were coming, with no end.  They came between the tree trunks from the north, thousands and thousands.

They got scared and all flew up as one from the ground and a giant swoosh of wing sounds.  Down again.  Over the road.  More grackles coming through the forest, for ten minutes at least. It was impossible to count them, too many.  I think there was about 50-100 crackles per second arriving from the north, and since this happened for many minutes, that are many thousands of crackles.  Giant large flocks, flying seemingly synchronized and random, maybe 50 000 birds?  Where did they come from, in December, and where are they going? The grackles left us months ago, so these must be from the north.

Two cars went by, as did two bicyclists in their silly streamlined spandex suits, but nobody stopped to look.  You couldn't miss the birds, the drivers just weren't interested.  And there is was, life happening, right in the forest, while most of us where busy planning for other things. It was a gorgeous experience, a happy event, something Bob Dylan could have written a song about.  The largest flock of grackles I have ever seen, and it just happened to fly by.

I think this is relevant in many ways these days because so many of us forget to really experience things.  Instead we read about them, watch them on YouTube, hear about them through Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail, but we forget to see the real things right in front of us.  It is like this comment by comedian Louis C K from a YouTube video - what if Jesus would come back to Earth, would people listen to him or just send instant text messages about their experiences? All this instantness is stupidifying and shallow, it makes us forget to think, listen, and reflect on what is really around us. 

For the record, I am not on Facebook, Twitter, I don't text (SMS), I have no cable TV, but I think the internet is good, in the right doses at the right times. But all this electronic, digital media and instant, stressful communication can destroy the real experiences and make us make stupid choices. We forget to see, listen, and think about the real things, since we are just rushing to the next thing online. It worries me profoundly. More on this later...