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)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The forest is all gone

The few trees that remain after Hurricane Sandy are mostly spindly oaks in this planted norwegian pine forest. All the pines are down, hundreds of them. They are all arranged in the same direction, and took the powerlines out with them. It is like when a wheat field gets beaten down by a summer rain, except we are talking about 60 cm thick trunks that are maybe 25 m tall (at least) here. Incredible...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book review: We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich

I had heard about this classic book first published in 1942 and never out of print since then, as a must read for people that were interested in sustainable living and organic farming. When I started reading it, I immediately realized that this wonderful gem of a book doesn’t really have anything to do with sustainable living and organic farming, however, it is a great and fun read about how to survive as a family that lives partly isolated among the mountains and lakes of northwestern Maine. They lived on a 5 mile long road that connected two lakes that functioned as waterways.  Every fall and every spring they were totally isolated while the ice on the lakes froze or unfroze, until either a car on the ice or a boat on the water could again connect them to the ‘outside’.   

Their life is content, but not sustainable in our sense that you can live on the land without anything from the outside – they get their income from transporting tourists and logging supplies along their 5-mile road, they need to ‘import’ most food and all other supplies like gasoline, engine parts, and kerosene, and only get deer meat, fresh fish, and some corn locally (their back yard).  

Louise moved to ‘the woods’ when she got married, and subsequently had a baby during a winter storm (without problems), and at one point didn’t leave the ‘neighborhood’ of the few neighbors within a couple of miles away for a few years.  But people came to them, timber workers in logging camps in the winter, tourists looking for wilderness in the summer.  She describes her life, her practical problems with food, storms, clothes, and cooking, and her love for the nature and culture of the local people with great love and humor.   

You smile when you read it, and the writing is suffused with common sense that is ever more important in even today’s world, 70 years later, and eons away from a cottage without electricity.   It is a wonderful read, and Louise puts life in great perspective, looking out from a mountain top in Maine onto the world and its stresses and overabundance of things we don’t really need to thrive. So read the book, it is great!

And of course, in light of the recent horrific hurricane Sandy, an experience that will taint our lives in the future more than we expect, I think, a book like this is even more relevant.  What is important in life, really? What do you need to survive, to love, and to be happy?  It certainly isn’t instant gratification through fast food, expensive clothes, or pretty, but useless things.  Recently I have been very happy over having a non-damaged house and a safe family after the storm, over the incredibly orange sunrises we have had, and the fact that great books work without electric power of any kind.  That is, real printed books on paper, my favorite kind of book.

Some select quotes from this book to illustrate these points, and remember, this was written in 1942, not 2012:

“Christmas in the woods is much better than Christmas on the Outside. We do exactly what we want to do about it, not what we have to do because the neighbors will think it’s funny if we don’t; or because of the kids, who will judge our efforts not by their own standards but by the standards set up by the parents of other kids. We don’t have any synthetic pre-Christmas build-up – no shop window displays, no carol singers in department stores, no competition in the matter of lighting effects over front doors.”

“Here I can be a rotten housekeeper, and it doesn’t make much difference.  After all, this is the woods. People don’t expect quite so much in the line of shining silver, polished glass, and spotless woodwork. […] Now I am learning to spend my time wisely; and I don’t think it’s very wise to spend two hours waxing the living-room floor on a lovely day when I could be out fishing. “

“We went up the road and across Pond-in-the-River Dam just as the sunlight struck the tops of the trees on the ridge. The valley was still in shadow, with steam rising white from the churning water and turning to a lovely pearly pink as it reached the sun-shot air above. I knew how fish feel as they swim about in the depths and look up to see the light of day above them.”

6 days later - photos

Hi - back at work now with internet access, and the photos on New York Times websites are just devastating and so sad.  All that damage!  We haven't seen them before, and seeing them makes the size of the catastrophe so much bigger.

Here is the link.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sandy: the big picture

When something big has happened,  words aren´t enough. I recommend you to look at the pictures at

A light house struck by waves and wind, one of the photos published by, photographer Tony Dejak, Associated Press. The waves and the force of the wind has damaged so much along the coastline, maybe more than 1000 miles of coast affected on the NorthAmerican mainland.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Montgomery Township FAIL

Still the same – 6 days and no change after Sandy. I am getting pissed off.  Very pissed off.

(some hurricane photos of mine HERE)

Hurricane Sandy hit on Monday night, 6 days ago.  We had lots of trees down blocking our three access roads to this neighborhood on Sourland Mountain, and we are maybe about 40 households up here. The trees pulled down not only internet, cable TV, phone but also power wires, and those latter ones can’t be moved until the power company comes by.  And not one power company truck has been seen until today, and the only change is that now there is some absorbent on the road to catch the leaking fuel from the upside down transformer hanging from the wire in the middle of the only road.  To get out, we have to drive under the hanging wires, which you can, at your own risk, if you don’t have a tall car. 

Many of our neighbors have been without power for 6 days now.  Friendly neighbors have cut up and moved the trees on the roads out of the way, but the other two of our roads are still blocked  - another transformer down on one, and very much leaning telephone pole across the other. They say power will be back in 7-10 days. 

Since Monday, no ambulance and no firetruck have been able to get up here to this area of the mountain.  A neighbor had 220V come into his house, it made an outlet explode and catch on fire and he put out the fire himself.  What if he hadn’t been home?  What if someone has a heart attack?  Shouldn’t it be the first priority of the township to make sure that they tell the power companies which roads that needs to be cleared first so they can get access to whole neighborhoods. 

Our local township, Montgomery, NJ, in Somerset County, has been incredibly poor in their handling of all of this.  And I assume our neighborhood is just one little part of large, large areas without power.  What people need the most is water, food, and information.  We have been well-prepared, so food and water has not been a problem, but information – abysmally absent.  NOT ONE phone call from the town.  Which by the way is run by five elected republicans… 

Oh, there is an election on Tuesday too, in case you didn’t know.  Three days before the election we had still to receive our voting ballots by mail (first mail was delivered on Friday, yesterday), and the township offices were still closed with no message of where to call for more information.  Our county board of election answered their phone and said it was up to each township to decide to postpone elections by 5 PM yesterday.  No news today about Tuesday’s election… we will have to call the county office to find out. 
The first police car showed up Thursday and Friday on our streets.  We had to erect the fallen down signs that the roads were closed, nobody else cared. 

OK, so if you signed up for text messages or emergency e-mails ahead of the storm, then you got some information, but both assumes people have cell phone service with internet access, and we are many that do not.  There will most likely be weeks before we get internet up here again…    But what bothers me most is that a fire truck or big ambulance can’t get up here – that is just horribly wrong.  And incredibly dangerous.  There are live wires hanging in trees, power lines ripped out of houses and laying on the ground, trees leaning everywhere – accidents are about to happen!  And if they do, then you are on your own.  Shouldn’t it be the townships first responsibility to secure the main access roads, and tell the power companies where the priorities are?

The radio stations have been horrible at giving local news.  The only exception was Brian Lehrer’s show who let people call in and ask any questions and report problems, and that was in NYC.  

Our supermarket Shoprite opened yesterday, and was running on generator power then, and today the full power is back.  Everything in the refrigerated and frozen sections had to be thrown out and are slowly being replenished.  There is plenty of drinking water to get there, so Shoprite has their priorities straight. 

The school office called and a recorded voicemail says – ‘Schools are open on Monday, and check our website for more information”.  How the h-l are we supposed to check the website?  Do they not realize that our roads are blocked?  No school bus can come up here?  The kids up here are supposed to walk under a power line hanging low over a road that is officially closed by the police?   Many people here drive carefully under that line right now anyway, at our own peril, so people can get gas for generators, food, ice, and medicines.  To fix that access road should be the highest priority, and the mayor should just get on the phone with FEMA and PSEG (our power company) and talk to them until that transformer in the road is removed.  

And why doesn’t the township use the giant list of local parents and their phone numbers from the school district to get out important information.  There is something called CONTIGENCY and EMERGENCY PLANNING – you use a multitude of ways to get out information and for people to contact you, you don’t rely on only one way of communication in times like this.  Some people will have a landline, some cell, some mobile internet, some TV and some nothing and then you can walk over to the neighbors .  The idea that only people with can afford to pay for mobile internet access deserve to get information bothers me enormously. 

The good news – We did fine in the storm and have no property damage, we have great helpful neighbors, and we say the first power company trucks today, seven of which were from Missouri, halfway across the country. A neighbor with a backhoe went around and cleared the trees from the roads the day after the storm as good as he could, just avoiding the trees with the power lines.  Without him many more people would have been trapped in their houses... 

I have seen more people walking our roads and chatting to strangers in the last couple of days than in months, and you get to know your neighbors, which is all good.
Conclusion: Total fail in government  emergency response here at the local level in our town, however, neighbors are fantastic.  Rutgers University failed equally when it comes to emergency information and updates, but more about that another time. It is amazing how governments rely on the internet these days to get out information, and how cut off you can get even if you are just a mile away from 'normalcy'. 

(All posted after driving under the powerline to a neighbor who has internet…)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Art exhibit

Today I have hung up my new painting in a new exhibition with art from Swedish nature. The pictures are made with soft pastel or watercolour. The opening is on Saturday. The works of art below are from Gysinge at the Dal River (Dalalven).

Storm update

Hi again,
I am writing from the neighbor's computer via mobile network from the disaster zone in NJ.  Luckily we have power, but no internet, no phone (only texting with cell phone words well).  Millions of people have no power at all. The university and schools are closed at least until Saturday - all snowdays are being used up and the winter hasn't even started. Can you imagine the cost of all of this?  Lab freezers full of invaluable tissue samples, reagents for millions of dollars,

Our supermarket has no power, as most people, and food and gas is not available to buy because there is no power.  Imagine all the spoiled food that has to be thrown away, and then the shelves have to be filled in again.

Crazy things are also happening - our neighbor put out his garbage to get it picked up.... which what?  No trucks can get to our house.  You can leave the house but you have to dare to drive under hanging trees and wires, which you don't.  Well, some do. Another neighbor was wasting gasoline using his leaf blower to clean up his yard!

Highland Park has no power, Cook/Douglass Campuses at Rutgers is without power, large swaths of New Brunswick is inaccessible (no travel allowed on streets), student dorms and hotels are being evacuated due to no power, the cell phone network is really slow (those masts need power too!). 

We have been feasting on things from our fridge and freezer, pork loin roast, kielbasa and sauerkraut, tortellini with homemade tomato sauce, grilled cheese sandwiches with pesto, arugula salad... but if this goes on for 4-7 more days, which I am sure it will, since we haven't seen any repair trucks at all yet, we will run out of fresh veggies.  But we have plenty of food, water, and things to keep us occupied.

It is strange not to really know what is going on in the world.  We have found out that there is really no good radio station anymore that just gives local news, at least not one that reaches us.  Without internet it is really hard to find out what is happening...

Anyway, that is the update.  This morning I woke to a strange yellow light at dawn, which then changed to overcast and gray all day.

Take care everybody!

PS.  The aboe was written on Oct 31, but was never published do to slow mobile internet access.  NOthing new to report today - large parts of town without power, trees down, no school, horrible news from Hoboken, Atlantic City and southern Manhattan. There is a real problem with getting news if you don't have internet access (or TV, like some have).  It is like the radio stations have forgotten that people need them in times like this.  And same with the township... But we are fine!