Monday, December 31, 2012

October skies

(I wrote this in October while driving to work, but forgot to post it until now. There should be a photo from the Delaware-Raritan Canal path with this, but that seem to have been lost. I think you might be able to imagine this anyway. )

October skies have high ceilings.
Suddenly there is light again in the forest.
Dark tall trees stand naked, with ther leafy clothes on the forest floor.
Gold, amber, umbra shimmer along suddenly invisible paths.
Pure iceblue sky.
A red, red maple holds fast against frost and fall storms, but even it will give up its foliage.
Despite destruction, death and decay this is a happy time.
We are tired of hot, humid and hellish summers, the overbearing greenishness of if all.
The overabundance of tomatoes, zucchinis, and peppers.
It is a time for a pause, a piece of rest.
Brown branches reach out in October air, filled with spores, smells of soils and moisture, and interveawed by glittering spiderwebs.
We are all prepared for November now.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Only one day left

What do you think?  How will we remember 2012, this year of extremes...?

Will we remember hurricane Sandy? (Answer: yes, definitely.)
leaning pole, after hurricane Sandy
After hurricane Sandy, New Jersey

Will we remember the nor'easter named Athena, that arrived a few days after Sandy? (Answer: probably not, we have a lot of early snowstorms these days...)
nor'easther Athena

Will we remember the crazy election with Romney vs. Obama, and all the money that was wasted on political ads instead of putting to good use for a better world?
peaceful White House
collage about world history

Will I remember the year I started growing weeds on purpose? (Maybe not, but others might.)
growing weeds in my raised beds - so green!

My Agent Orange Hot Sauce with habaneros and carrots?  Yes, that is among the best ever made in this house.  A memory that has to be repeated next year, and this is probably the spiciest hot sauce I have made.
habanero carrot hot sauce - amazing!

I do know what I will remember:

The robin chicks in our garden:
robin chicks in nest

The poison hemlock that decided to grow in my raised bed (which is pretty funny since I just decided to learn more about weeds):
Poison hemlock, Conium maculatum (Apiaceae)

Seeing the original fossil of Tiktaalik, the missing link between lake-living amphibians and terrestrial tetrapods:
Tiktaalik - a missing link between fishes and tetrapods on land

Feeling strangely 'at home' in a tiny town in Vermont, a place that reminded me so much of the good parts of rural Sweden.
houses in Strafford, Vermont

I also think this was the year when the climate change opinion changed; I can feel it in the air, in the media, among my neighbors.  Nobody is arguing about the weather becoming wetter, windier, drier, stranger anymore.  Not here. Not after blooming flowers in January, snowstorms in April, drought and 'the-sky-just-opened'-rain showers in August, the superstorm/hurricane Sandy and then the snowstorms after that.  The weather just is crazy, and you can see it with your own eyes.

Time to face the facts and do something about it, people. And don't rebuild where it will flood again...  Do you think the stone age people rebuilt when the land rise changed the coastlines?  No, they were smart, they moved. It doesn't work to be stubborn when nature's forces are against you. How will we adapt?  (And for the record, all but 0.17% of scientific reports agree, the current climate change is caused by the human species. That debate is over.  Now it is time to decide what do to.)
Summer rain in sunshine

So, taking a census of the year, what were the highlights?  

Well, I saw a lot of things that was interesting: Ground Zero, the abandoned railroad terminal at Liberty State Park, Washington Monument, Edison Labs, the green mountains of Vermont (injured after hurricane Irene), shapes at Grounds of Sculpture, a rare pink gentian, Ken Hamilton's models, crocodiles and leafcutter ants in Costa Rica, the rescued SAAB museum, and Ai Wei Wei's exhibit in Stockholm. I also made some things I am proud of, like this scarf and about 70 jars of canned food.

But the highlights must have been all the good food we made from mostly locally grown meat and vegetables, eating fresh tomatoes from the reinvigorated and redesigned kitchen garden with blue highlights, teaching fun classes with great students and co-teachers on really interesting subjects (evolution can never be a boring subject), seeing my relatives in Sweden, learning about weeds that are beautiful and neglected, getting an art quilt by Erin Wilson, that the cats survived another year outside (even during Sandy), and getting AREA off to art college.

2012 was also the year where I gave in and got an iPhone, despite my severe reservations and horror at other people's addiction to this piece of technology. Honestly, I think it can be a good thing, but you have to learn to turn it off, and set all signals and notifications but the phone calls to silent. There is nothing more annoying than someone that has a phone on vibrate or buzz while doing other things so they and you (and the people around you) get interrupted all the time.  And don't take it to bed (as if I ever would do that... my phone lives in another room.) I wanted the GPS and a way to get news during the next storm that hits us, since all power and internet will be out again then for days, I am sure. Another day I will rant about Facebook etc., don't you worry.  As my brother says about me, 'you are certainly not an early adopter'. :)

And the people, art, and books this year that have had the most influence on how I think and what I do, are probably the author Cheryl Strayed (book reviews will come!), Anu Tuominen's art (the blogpost about her is here), and the book The War of Art (half of which is good about procrastination and getting things done, while the rest is mumbo-jumbo about spiritual inspiration). 

And with that - Happy New Year, Happy 2013!, with a photo taken exactly a year ago in the forests around here.  This is the fruit of a tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera.
remnants of tulip tree fruits (Liriodendron, Magnoliaceae)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Stamp of the Day: Julfrimärken 2012

Every year the Swedish post office gives out a holiday stamp collection, julfrimärken. This years stamps are gorgeous, and very fitting with your blue spruce tree  ;-). I will post a photo of our climate-friendly Christmas tree, far from dense, but homegrown Swedish spruce (sve: gran) and cut behind our barn. Since it has no transport and have been using CO2 to grow, I think the tree is climate compensating our clementines from the south Europe.
PS. Is Swedish spruce the same as Norwegian spruce? D.S


Do you want more Christmas stamps? Look here

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas stories from New Jersey

Reflections and lessons learned this year. 

1. It is actually snowing on our Christmas Eve!  Snowing, unexpected, and wonderful.  We are getting a white Christmas after all. Lets see if it lasts until tomorrow morning.

2.  I know you should buy local, but sometimes you need to buy further-local to get the really good stuff:  Christmas ham from Dakins Farm in Vermont, and many kinds of Vermont cheeses...  And yes, red currants from Chile, which is a sin, but they tasted better than expected. Homemade green tomato chutney balanced it all out on the cheese plate.
Vermont cheeses, green tomato chutney, red currants and blackberries, and framboise... yummy

3.  Our little gingerbread train put together by AREA and AC.  The kit didn't come with a smoke stack on the locomotive, so that had to be added, and then moved to the right spot (I will say no more... you would think that based on the number of train pictures in this house that the position of a smokestack wouldn't be a strange fact :)  Note the siding track, and the rock sugar trees that fell over in the Sandy hurricane.  Chocolate and licorice fills up the tender.
Gingerbread train

4.  Never get a blue spruce as a christmas tree.  They look great - dense and full, but the needles are horror stories.  I had to put on a raincoat with the hood up to be able to get under the tree to get the tree stand attached.  This is a really mean tree - we wore thick gloves when we put on the lights.  I prefer the softer Norway spruces... So, our tree this year is a true sharpie... and decorated similarly.
A very sharp christmas tree

5.  If you make Jansson's temptation with cream instead of milk  it tastes about 50 times better.

6.  After you make Swedish meatballs, save the drippings and fat from the pan and add it to the brunkål (brown cabbage), and that will also taste 50 times better.

7.  For gravlax, simplest is the best - salt, sugar, dill, and black pepper.... and a giant hunk of sockeye salmon from the wildest of Alaska. If you want the recipe, just holler here on the blog.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stamp of the Day: Julbak

Swedish Christmas traditions includes a big baking day - the 'Julbak', where the most common thing to make is 'pepparkakor' (gingerbread cookies).  Here on this Swedish stamp Pippi Longstocking ('Långstrump') is baking on her kitchen floor with the help of her monkey Herr Nilsson. Pippi is my favorite character in Astrid Lindgren's children's books.  We haven't made any cookies at all this year, but plan to make hazelnut bread, a family tradition from my grandmother, and maybe the kids will make some cookies too.  In Sweden ginger bread cookies are called "Pepper cookies", but they have no pepper in them at all.  I wonder how that name came about. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vintertid (Winter time)

Snön har lagt sig som ett täcke över hela vår värld här i Mälardalen. Stora sjok tynger ner träd och grenar och stora snömassor täcker grönskan. Under snön är det ganska varmt, jag skottade igår och fram över stenkanten tittade några blåsippsblad fram ur snötäcket. Det kändes nästan som att jag borde stoppa om dem igen, med ny snö, men gjorde det inte. Kraften finns i rötterna , och i bladrosettens mitt finns en hårt knuten knopp med blom-embryon. Ljusblå, mörkblå och röd blåsippa finns det i hörnan. Det känns trösterikt att veta att de finns därunder, och mer snö kommer snart.
Mer snö väntas, men först har vi kallgrader några dagar efter vad jag förstår av väderleksrapporten. Ute kör stora lastbilar iväg snölass ikväll, det var enorma mängder snö som kom, så den måste flyttas för att göra plats.
Luciafirande idag på skolan, alla barnen var så söta och sjöng så fint som bara barn kan.
Förra helgen var det skidpremiär för familjen och två barn försvann iväg på snabba skidor genom skogen, i varsitt spår. När rundan var avklarad ville de åka mer, men mörkret föll.

Jorden passerar genom Geminiderna just nu, men vi har mulet så vi ser inte stjärnfallen. En meteor syntes härom kvällen över delar av Sverige.
Om det är stjärnklart över norra Sverige kan man njuta av norrskenet i Abisko, via deras webkamera.

The snow has fallen and created a thick blanket over all of our world here in the Mälar Valley. The trees are decorated with snow on the branches and all the green is covered in white.
Below the snow it is still relatively warm, as I found out when I was moving snow in front of our house entrance. More snow is expected, but we will have some days with cold weather first if the weather forecast is correct. Outside tonight there is large trucks moving snow away from the streets; there are huge amounts of snow that need to be moved.
Today is Lucia Day in Sweden, and all the school children have been dressed up as gnomes (Santa), ginger bread cookies, Saint Lucia, maidens and Staffan the stable boy. It´s hard to explain this mix of religion, fairytale, Christmas and maiden and boys, but it is all very traditional. They sing the same songs as I did in school, and it is the first real sign that Christmas is soon here.
Last weekend was the family's skiing debut for this winter. Two fast boys disappeared on their skis, in one track each, into the silent, snow-covered pine and fir woods. When the tour was finished they wanted to go on another, but darkness fell.

The earth is passing through the Geminides now, but we don't see the shooting stars, it's cloudy. A meteor was seen in some parts of Sweden a day ago. If there is a clear sky in the north of Sweden, one can enjoy the Northern Lights in Abisko, through a webcam.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Color.... dyes from our food

There is a great little article in a New York Times issue about how to use food scraps to dye shirts and towels with onions, cabbage, curry or whatever is left over in the kitchen.  Fascinating. An earlier article talk about dye plants available in the garden. such as marigolds, Oxalis, and madder (Rubia, which of course makes red).

The article ends with these words, which I like a lot:

Will these gorgeous new hues be permanent? Short answer: who knows? If it’s any consolation, on a celestial scale, nothing lasts. Cosmologists suggest the universe has passed through its own dye bath over the eons, shifting from bluish to reddish.

How often do you see the physical phenomenon of red shift being mentioned in a craft article? :) Nice.

Now I want to go out and boil up lots of weeds, but it is winter...

Stamp of the Day: Swedish socks

Just a few days after I wrote the Socks entry here on the blog, a Swedish postcard showed up in our mailbox from friends in Sweden.  And guess what the stamp was?  Socks!  What a coincidence.  Socks are not really common stamp motifs indeed, in fact I can't remember ever seeing any other stamp with socks on it.  And here they are - striped, knitted socks on an official Swedish stamp. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Winter is coming

( If you have seen Game of thrones, you know.....this is the Stark familys saying)

Winter is here. Since last Friday when the first snow came, a few centimeters at first. Then some more. By Sunday we had 10 cm or a little more. Last night, it started blowing and snowing. The front door was nearly blocked, we had to push the door open. And then, all this snow!!!! Tonight we have something like 40-60 cm of snow, and the wind is moving it around. (Snödrev in Swedish.)
The trains, buses, airplanes, cars are slowed down or stopped by the snowstorm, (ok, it´s not a storm but its a hard wind). I left the car on the parking lot at work and went home by foot. The parking lot was covered in deep snow, and cars got stuck all around. This is what I came home to!

Quote of the Day: rainbows

Recently heard in our kitchen:

"Bacon is like a rainbow of flesh and fat..."

(from someone that really loves bacon)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Stamp of the day: The most amazing creatures...

Have you ever seen a live nudibranch in the wild open sea? (nakensnäcka in Swedish).  I think I might have seen one once, off the coast of Norway on the island of Runde.  I know I definitely saw a squid there, swimming in the kelp, while I was kayaking on the sea surface and being amazed at all the amazing sealife we didn't have in the biodiversity-poor Baltic Sea.  Anyway, nudibranchs are so incredibly cool. They swim, sail, change shape, and have the most amazing colors and patterns.  If I am reborn as an animal I often think I butterfly or cross beak (bird) might be fun, but recently I have been thinking nudibranchs might have a really interesting life too.  Some float around in the sea as plankton until they find an interesting place, others eat algae until them themselves become photosynthetic.  Life is truly amazing...

Stamps are from Australia and all about nudibranchs...

Saturday, December 1, 2012


CONGRATULATIONS on the big day, mamma!  Here are some flowers to enjoy in wintry Sweden on your birthday and in the future.  (Click on the photos for more information)

flower arrangements Clivia - nicer flowers than name Spring garden bouquet: cultivated flowers, overwintered vegetables and weeds flowering Amelanchier Pine Barren gentian (Gentiana autumnalis) Spring garden bouquet: Dicentra Willowwood - cherries forget me not
lupines in rain morning glory studies Summer rain in sunshine

Thursday, November 29, 2012

For the love of socks, and not just any socks...

I spend about half of each year wearing my favorite socks - those times when it is colder and you need something warm and cozy on your feet.  It is even better (I think) if the socks both makes your body and your mind happy, and therefore I love colored, patterned socks, especially striped socks. My favorite winter socks are from Smartwool, an American company that actually makes their socks in the US.  They have striped, cabled, patterned, funky, long, short and just gorgeous socks.  OK, so I am a sock woman...  Right now I have Swedish socks on, cotton with black and white stripes like a piano.

A few days ago I ordered a 3-pack of new socks from them.  I expected to get just the usual, three pairs of socks tied together with some plastic strap in a plastic bag.  But, big happy surprise when they arrived today.  I opened the postal package and inside was a long, narrow brown cardboard box.  On the top of the box it said "Lucky, lucky you!".  Ahhhh!  I opened the box, with a Christmas feeling in my stomach, and there they were, neatly folded up, three pairs of differently patterned red socks.  My heart filled with joy!  Not only did I get socks, but I got LUCKY socks!  Smartwool really knows how to please the customers.  Thank you, Smartwool!  And the box, that will be perfect for storing my jewelry-making tools...

Oh, I should also tell you that these wool socks can be washed in the washing machine (on cold, low temp), and last for a long time.  Yes, they do wear out, but that is because I wear them so much. 

PS.  I rarely endorse products, but in this case I really think this product is great.  And I didn't get paid a penny to write this, in fact, I paid over $40 to get three pairs of wonderful socks.  Nobody on this blog gets any freebies from any company in return for good reviews.  Nope, here we tell the truth as we see it.

Last night's sky

Did you see it?  I giant full moon at 6 PM here in New Jersey, USA, and right next to it, Jupiter!  Wow!  Isn't the world amazing?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stamp of the day: Roasted dinosaurs

Last week was Thanksgiving, this best of holidays in USA.  No presents, just good food and company.  And central to the food is the turkey, which is of course a bird.  And birds are just a kind of living dinosaur.  It is not that birds evolved from dinosaurs, but birds actually ARE dinosaurs.  That is what the most up-do-date science tells us.  So, have you had any good dinosaur meat recently?  We had chicken for dinner, yummy, dinosaur flesh!

The stamp is of course a roasted chicken with some other Czech (I think) food specialties, like beer (which is a food, according to some). 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Columbia River Sunset

Columbia River Sunset, originally uploaded by ericwill.
Another fantastic train photo from Eric. This is from Oregon, USA.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Elevator quote

"Dear elevator, work has been up and down recently". 

(heard in our kitchen a few days ago)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Stamp of the day: Alpine Speedwell

This gorgeous flower is one of my favorites.  It grows in the mountains, is blue, and is not a gentian (which usually are known as the blue flowers).  Its English name is Alpine Speedwell, which is not at all as nice as its Latin name, Veronica fruticans, or Swedish name, klippveronika (it means Rock Veronica). The small flowers are deeply blue, but the most beautiful thing is the center ring that is the deepest red-purple you can imagine, with a white center.  Its English name comes of course from past medicinal uses of its relatives, 'speeding wellness', i.e., curing you.  I remember seeing this in flower in Abisko (northernmost Sweden) and other places in the Swedish mountains during our travels decades ago. On my wall here at home I have a nice, small watercolor painting made by my mom of this species. I wish you all could see this species in real life and really see how the blue, purple, and white draws your gaze into the center of the flower.  It also draws in pollinators of course, that is the whole evolutionary point.

The stamp is from Sweden and was printed in 1995.

And now...

... I think there is time for something totally different than hurricane Sandy. Don't worry, there will be more hurricane info, but I think we all need a break.

So, here is a rock dassie (also called hyrax) , an animal smaller than a hare or groundhog, and a relative of elephants (DNA says so). It is looking out over the Southern Ocean, at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. It was so unafraid, just let me take the photo with my little point-and-shoot camera, unfazed by us. If you click on the photo and enlarge it you can see how its toes actually look a bit like elephant toes.

Friday, November 9, 2012

nor'easther Athena

nor'easther Athena, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.
Ten days after hurricane Sandy, we got hit again. But this snow's effects didn't last as long.

nor'easther Athena

nor'easther Athena

Snow in November is really rare.  Last year we had the weird Halloween snow storm and now this?  The weather is piling it up on us.  And for those that say man-made global warming isn't here and real and that it doesn't affect the weather, I'll say - Look out the window!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Matchbox of the day: Storm matches

Storm matches
I have never seen matches like these in stores, but I believe they are good to have at hand in some situations. Since the chimney channels were cleaned last time in our summer house, the drought in the stove is so intense that the match is blown out before I can lit the fire!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The immensity of it all still lingers...

Just some updates on what is going on on the Sourlands 8 days after hurricane Sandy.

It is SNOWING.  Many, many centimeters. We are having a freaking snowstorm, another nor'easter storm. I just heard the snowplow go by on the road outside, which is a very good sign.  (Both that it is a plow and that it is on a truck, i.e., trucks can get into the neighborhood now).

Our neighbors have their power back, it was fixed tonight.  We got internet back around the same time, which is pretty amazing.  The power and internet companies must actually have collaborated. Most likely the neighborhood is now accessible by fire trucks and the like.  They weren't this morning, but if they fixed the lines, then now, after 8 days, we can feel safer.  One road is probably still closed, but they are working on that too. Many of our neighbors do not have power yet though, because their powerlines were ripped out of their houses when trees feel on them.  It will take longer for them and I feel really sorry about all their troubles. The township has gotten lots of letters and calls from us about the situation, and it actually made a difference.  Good.
Bad news - Election results show that the two open seats on the township committee were won by the two republicans.  They won with only 50 votes more than the Democratic candidates, out of over 9000 votes cast.  Incredible. So, two more years of republicans running the town.  (Voting results for the Somerset county is here, and yes, Obama won in the county too.)  There is always The Swedish Party as an alternative for disillusioned Americans  :)
Very good news - Obama won the presidency again.  As someone said 'The republicans made sure that Obama would become a 2-term president'.  Presidents here can only be elected for 2 terms, so now he can focus on doing the right thing and not get reelected.  Like, put some bank fraud CEO's in jail, etc. :)  Mitt Romney seems to have disappeared instantaneously.  

The NJ railroad system suffered horrible losses.  Just look at the railroad bridge after the storm in the photo above (more info here).  Apparently they lost 1/3 of their locomotives and 1/4 of their passenger cars in the storm.  Imagine that.  That must be many hundreds of locomotives that are gone, so the commute to New York City will be hell for many months for many people.

I believe that the mental effects of Sandy will live on for decades in New Jersey.  People will try to be more self-sufficient.  Have more gasoline and generators ready. Get water bottles. Take weather reports seriously.  Value friends and family more.  Not trust township administrators and politicians as much.  Friends and relatives of friends of mine have lost everything.  Whole houses that washed away, and all that is left is a foundation.  Some people got their cars flooded.  Trees on roofs that cracked houses.  Horrific storm night memories, with fear of breaking windows in high-rises in NYC.  Children that lost everything.  It is just so incredibly sad, and maybe a fact of life because weather does exist and always have, but it seems so incredibly wasteful and sad.  I am sorry I am harping on on this, the hurricane I mean, but the rest of the world goes on, and we see it and are reminded about Sandy all the time.  Even if electric and internet and gasoline is soon back to normal, the New Jersey world has changed, permanently.  And so have we.

And finally, just some images to really show how big this storm was. 

Hurricane/Cyclone Sandy, 30 October 2012

(Image by NASA - more photos of Sandy from NASA here)

(Image by, a weather website)

(Image by NOAA)