Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring has sprung, seriously!

Photo from our garden in New Jersey, using the new little USB microscope.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stamp of the Day: Waffle Day in Sweden

 Today is Vårfrudagen ("Vår Fru" means our lady, and also Spring Lady, so this is an old Catholic remnant), in Sweden, and this has been changed int he public's eye and ear into Waffle Day (Våffeldagen, sounds similar). Swedes love waffles!  So, we had almond waffles for breakfast.  Homemade, served with yoghurt, locally boiled maple syrup, fresh strawberries from California, blackberries from Chile (I think), and homemade rhubarb and strawberry jam.  Very good, and thank you spring lady!

This day celebrates the day when archangel Gabriel told Maria that she was pregnant with Jesus so it happens every year 9 months before Christmas Day, = March 25, each year. In English this seems to be called "The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary".

Stamp from Sweden showing a piece of a waffle served with cloudberries ('hjortron', Rubus chamaemorus).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Into the micro

I bought a little handheld USB microscope with a digital camera, to see if it can be used in teaching and take photos of things that are too small to notice with our usual eyes. And yes, it can.

But it doesn't work like a camera - it works like a real microscope since you can't change the aperture and therefore not the depth of focus.  The result is that the depth of focus is minimal.  I think this is something you can get used to, in many ways, it just gives you attention only to one detail and not the whole field.  Of course, if you have a flat object, then you can get better focus...

 I also tried to fiddle with some extra light from a little LED flashlight, which sometimes work. The sensors sometimes get the colors all wrong, blue will be purple and that white background will be white. Things like that should be possible to fix in the software that comes with the camera, but it is not. You need to fix it in Photoshop or similar instead... But, it is a great little thing. I am planning to take many more photos of tiny things with it.

Here are some examples:

purple dead nettle, Lamium purpureum (leaf underside)
The leaf underneaths of the weed purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) look like an old, wrinkled man's face. Long gray hairs and sunken parts between the veins.

hairy cress, Cardamine hirsuta
Sometimes the lack of focus can be used to great effect. This is hairy cress, a spring-flowering weedy mustard plant.

US quarter coin: Colorado
A small coin - flat, so better focus. This is a US quarter (25 cents), showing the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bits and pieces on the internet: size edition

Big or small?  It is all about scale, and this is fantastic.  I could play with this power of ten website for hours. (by Cary and Michael Huang)

These are the most amazing spider macro photos I have ever seen. (by Thomas Shahan, on the Flickr blog)

IKEA things come in different sizes, but I doubt they have made a some-assembly-required dinosaur yet.  But there is how the assembly manual might look. (from CollegeHumor)

If you haven't yet, you can waste some time online, draw a stickman, and enjoy the creativity of this website (and it is fun too!)

The smallest thing I saw in Costa Rica was a tick crawling on my finger, and the largest - hmm - the largest animal was probably a 4+ meter long crocodile.  Nasty things, those ticks and crocs.

Testing my new little gadget

US quarter coin: Colorado, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.

What do you think? It is a piece of a US quarter (aka a 1/16, I guess), and the photo is taken with a digital USB handheld microscope.

OK snapshot food review: Pizza Anonymous

[LS is blogging this restaurant report on behalf of OK, just to make you all confused. A while ago, OK found this note below stuck to a door, without a sign, but somehow indicating that there probably was a pizza place behind that door. Now the place has been visited. So, here is OK's snapshot report from the anonymous pizza place in Stockholm, Sweden.]

Menu (in Swedish. tomat = tomato; oliver = olives; skinka = ham; surkål = sauerkraut; champinjoner = mushrooms; sardeller = anchovy; aubergine = eggplant; lufttorkad = airdried; ask about the rest in the comments if you want to know more)

So JU and I went to that nameless pizzeria with the strange sign tonight, and it was very good. Unfortunately they were out of the sauerkraut and timmerman sausage-pizza, so I ended up with the buffalo mozzarella and dried entrecôte pizza.
 JU had the buffalo mozzarella, bayonne ham and mushroom pizza. 

JU also had the dessert pizza with apples, jam and stuff... You can have a three course meal there, all pizzas!
 Some say that you can judge a place by their bathroom. I'm not sure what this tells you...hehe. 

Another interior pic from the bathroom. Nice lightning.

So all in all, I'll say it was an e on a scale to pi. 

Costa Rica - a green place

lowland rainforest

I am back home after a week in Costa Rica, where I spent gorgeous times in rainforests, tropical beaches, mangrove swamps and star-filled nights.  Here are some of the things I saw at the La Selva Research Station, northeast of San Jose in the sloping foothills(click on photo for larger pictures):

Heliconia wagneriana bractsHeliconia (rostrata?) inflorescence

The colorful bracts of Heliconias always fascinate me. The flowers are hidden inside, and only extend when they are flowering, a few at the time. Hummingbirds are the pollinators.

leaf-cutter antsleaf-cutter ants leaf-cutter ants leaf-cutter ants

Lots of leaf-cutter ants, carrying leaves of the Costa Rican guava called 'cas', which makes great juice (the guava fruits, I mean!). These ants work 24 hours a day, so when you are out walking at night they are still there, toiling away in the dark. Their nests are in the ground, and they enter them through big openings. It is easy to find the nests since their trails are all cleared from any vegetation. The ants carrying the leaves are bigger, and then there are small ants sitting on the leaves, protecting the carrying ant from parasitic flies, which tries to lay its eggs in the head of the carrying ant. Evolution is really fascinating, indeed. Underground the leaves are then chewed and become part of big chewed-leaf-fungus gardens.

2-toed sloth with baby

Two-toed sloth with a baby. These move really slow. A friend told me that once a sloth gripped his arm, and he thought he would loose his arm, the grip was that strong, and the sloth would not let loose. No wonder, if you spend your life in a tree, you better not fall down, ever.

Montezuma oropendula nests on the tips of the palm leaves
The Montezuma oropendula birds (one of the weirdest birds I have seen, they sit and fall downwards on their branches on purpose; video here), are now making their nests at the tips of long palm-leaves. Poor chicks, they were being bounced around in the wind all the time. (I can't figure out if it should be oropendula or oropendola... both spellings are used.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

OK snapshot: Skandinaviska (Scandinavian)

Nu med egna vokaler...
a new language, Scandinavian, now with its own vowels? The umlaut o got
both dots (from Swedish and Finnish), and a slash (from Danish and
Norwegian). Well, whatever works, right?
What is in the bag? Strawberry-flavored candy that looks like long string.

OK snapshot: Ordföljd (word order)

Den hårfina men betydande skillnaden mellan "endast tillsatt" och "tillsatt endast"... ;)

English explanation:
Supermarket sign for dried fruit ('torkad frukt') with the addition 'Endast tillsatt socker' = only added sugar. I bet it should have been 'Endast socker tillsatt' = only sugar added. Sometimes the best order of words is a bit hard to figure out!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Field report from Philadelphia International Flower Show 2012

Each year there is a massive flower and gardening show in Philadelphia, a giant pompous event on par with the Chelsea Show in England.  This year I went with neighbor and friend JL, and we had a blast.  The theme was Hawaii, which means that they invite garden designers to design and mount exhibits with flowers, structures, and other gardening features on this theme.  You would think Hawaii wouldn't be that hard - just think lava, lava, silverswords, rainforest, pineapple plantations, ocean, and some more lava.

Hawaiian model

Unfortunately, it seems like most designers never had been to Hawaii, nor looked up some basic facts. I don't have any good photos from the "Hawaiian" exhibits because I had set the ISO on my camera wrong, but if I had to categorize these ca 10 different garden designs I would say:  stuff a square on the floor with palms, anthuriums, orchids, all in a variety of chaotic colors, and maybe have a little lagoon, sand, and a surfboard - always a surfboard.  The native Hawaiian species were absent.  Lava, who cares about that!?  Not hint of volcanism.  And the exhibits all looked the same.  Stuffed full with the same artifical-looking tropical plants from any tropical island, nothing Hawaiian specific at all.

It really was rather painful, I think. I like the tropics, but I like people to design from real things and real plants, not pick things out from a hotel planting in any tropical country.  But then, the designers care very little about botany, history, geology, soils, and what can actually grow together for real.  They just stuff things together in some artificial design, in a unnatural and I would say, messy and illogical chaos.

jellyfish from sand dollars and tillandsia

This was pretty cool though - put an upside down Tillandsia on a stick, glue a sand dollar (sea urchin shell) on top, and wow, you have a jellyfish in your coral reef plant design.

the lava interrupts dinner

This was the only exhibit we saw that actually built on the lava theme.  A patio dinner table set for dinner, and then the lava comes and disturbs the scene.  I wonder how the lava was made, it was very real-looking, it was even glowing with red lights.

flower arrangements flower arrangements small flower arrangements simplicity and nice flower view...

At the show are also many other exhibits and exhibitors, some of which where really great. People compete over the best dinner centerpiece arrangement, best bonsai, largest flowering cactus, nicest tiniest flower design, and so on.

pressed flower design, dog with lei, by Michie Fukuoka  Pressed flower art by Reiko Ono
I bet 90% of the contestants are women.  The Asian women rule the pressed plant art exhibits, and their artwork is amazing.

you take some bamboo and throw some orchids and stuff on it.... 'it is too much Michaels here' you take some bamboo and throw some orchids and stuff on it.... 'it is too much Michaels here'
In some cases the organizers tell the contestants to make a flower design containing specific things. These two were under the category "bamboo, cheap ugly glitterish stuff from Michaels, and then throw some orchids on it". It was horrendous. Generally it was far too much orchids and anthuriums. Come on, was there a sale on these? There are tens of thousands of tropical flowers, why just pick what is popular? One exhibit got an award for having 'the best design with rare and unusual plants', but I didn't see any rare and unusual plants in it! Strange... maybe anything but palms, orchids, and anthuriums is considered rare by non-botanical horticulturalists? (OK, I know I am critical here, but come on! There are a quarter million plant species out there. And design is supposed to have a thought, a theme, a line, a pattern, not just be mish-mash of the plants you expect to see in front of a Caribbean hotel).

model of downtown Philadelphia with xerophytic landscaping - great!
This was fantastic on the other hand. A simplified model of central Philadelphia, from the art museum to Center City, with xerophytic succulents as the model plants. Wonderful, and done by the Philadelphia Parks department. Innovative, beautiful and educational, all at the same time. 5 stars!

neat wedding dinner arrangement neat wedding dinner arrangement

The tropical wedding dinner table was a bit too much, and a bit too yellow in its filtered yellow spotlight, but still interesting. There wasn't much space to actually sit, eat, and talk, but who cares. And they covered the cycad stems with tubes of red flowers - cool, but why?

primrose plants arranged using gauge blocks or something - talk about unnatural feeling
One of the things that bothers me most is how artificial all the designed gardens look like. For example, here the plants are spaced far too evenly, like if they were measured out with gauge blocks ('måttsats' in Swedish, which is a Swedish invention from my hometown!), and not just grown there for a while. It is nearly like having a Lego garden - the plants can only sit on the Lego knobs, not in between. It gives you this feeling of it not being real, not being alive, not being natural. One exception was a garden with spring bulbs, which was gorgeous, and there they had also used dried old oak leaves as mulch, not the regular ugly cedar mulch that was in most exhibits.

mushroom ceramic at Lichen & Moss Favorite seed company: Hudson Valley Seed Library Dried weeds grown in Lancashire and sold expensively nice Ikebana vases from Maine

Lots of funny and nice things were for sale. Morel pottery. Seeds in packets designed by local artists. Weeds dried and sold as fancy flowers. Pottery vases from Maine.

silk flowers inside bottles with oil as oil lamps No, no doggies here! glass fountain with bobbing glass ball
ugliest palm at the whole show
Lots of very ugly, tacky, and cheap-looking (but not cheap) things were for sale. Metal palm lamps that looked like they belonged in some NJ mafioso home on the sea shore. Oils lamps with silk and plastic flowers made from oil-based plastic. Here you dig up oil from the Earth to make flowers with the Earth while it is full of living flowers? And glass fountains that would break if a bluejay was just looking at it, I bet.

sponge holder, the latest thing
In case you didn't know it, the sponge holder is the latest thing to have! You might think I spent the day being upset and disgusted, but not at all. It was a great show, a great trip, I just feel I don't really relate to some of the things the garden designers and horticulturalists do. I know, I am 'miljöskadad' as we say in Sweden, i.e., damaged by my career choice and education... :)

(And here is a link to all photos at the Flower Show 2012 - there was much more to look at)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bits and pieces on the internet: itchy edition

Fossil discovery: Giant fleas from the Jurassic, that might have sucked blooded from dinosaurs (NY Times). How about meeting some of these 2 cm long creatures on the inside of your wool sweater?

Some of the Republican presidential contenders appear to want to live in a different century.  Like the 1800's or something. This is both sad and upsetting. (NY Times opinion piece by Charles Blow)

Did you know cashmere comes from goats?  And angora from rabbits? So, why are people OK with wearing the hairs from goats and rabbits, but not eating them? Eating the meat, not the hairs, I mean.

Itchy poison ivy doesn't let a simple fence stop it.  In fact, it enforces it and makes it its own fence.

So, what are you readers itching about?

Book Review: Om jag var din hemmafru av Lotta Lundgren (Swedish cookbook, English review)

Fantastic Swedish cookbook: Om jag var din hemmafru av Lotta Lundgren

Om jag var din hemmafru by Lotta Lundgren, is an amazing cookbook (in Swedish only, for now), by Lotta Lundgren, a former advertising copywriter who changed careers to become a food writer and chef.  I got this book as a present, and I love it, not only for the amazing gorgeous photos (which Lotta as the model!), but also for the food writing.  The recipes are fine, but the best is the intros to each dish and the irreverent humor that is everywhere, in every line. 

It is hard to explain this in English, but she has a fantastic tongue-in-cheek, silly, intelligent, and contemporary humoristic take on life, food, love, and eating in her Swedish text.  It is just GORGEOUS from both a visual, intellectual, and foodie viewpoint.  I have so far cooked two things out of the book, but I have read the whole cookbook, from front to back page.  And that is usually not the case!  Often Swedes are too serious, and this book just loosens everything up!

In many ways this is an anti-book book, a book that suggests that you don't take life, food, recipes and work so seriously - that you just let go and enjoy it.  Many of the recipes do not give exact measurements.  Lotta, THANK YOU! 

USA needs this cookbook, but I am not sure most people here would get it, considering the backwards, horrible trends among some groups here (anti-love, anti-good food, anti-birth control, anti-personal freedom - just thinking about the recent republican presidential campaign makes me shudder of disgust).  At least we Swedes have this book to be happy about. 

Sweden publishes the most cook books per year per capita, which is pretty amazing.  But Swedes care about food, good food, organic and local products, and they also travel near and far so they are used to many different cuisines.

(If you can read Swedish, here is a great review of the book from Kulturdelen)

Fantastic Swedish cookbook: Om jag var din hemmafru av Lotta Lundgren

[Large photos by Vilseskogen on Flickr, Creative Commons; book cover by Norstedts]