Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, EH!

Only one hour left to EH's birthday in Sweden, and since I am usually late with congratulations overseas, here comes one 1/24th of a day too early! The photo is of a hummingbird on a ring gentian (Symbolanthus pulcherrimus, 'the beautiful ring gentian') in Panama. Yippee for EH, and how does it FEEL to be an age divisible by 2, 4, 5, 10, and 20?

OK snapshot: Hundbar

Man's best friend also needs a drink now and then. Hund = Dog in Swedish.
Photo by OK, from Stockholm.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Warming lampposts

The knitting graffiti mafia strikes again, this time in Sundborn, Dalarna (Sweden). Well, one is crochet, so they seem to branch out. This seems to be a big thing in Sweden, where fences, statues and other public things suddenly show up with fuzzy

Stamps of the day: Lighthouses

I just read LS book review below and I love lighthouses too, as do many of us. I think they are symbols of strength and solitude, and a respect for the forces of nature.

Famous lighthouse, "Gustaf Dalén" remembered from many weather reports on a scratchy old radio in the sailing boat as a kid. The very same radio that we listened to "sommarlovsföljetongen" a radio theather for youngster.

This one is special for me, I love maps, in my imagination I can go anywhere just to look at a map.

On the way to space-soon?

I have been following the news of STS-128, the space shuttle about to take off to ISS- the space station. On board there will be a swede, Christer Fuglesang, the first swede to go to the space. This will be his second journey. Next try to launch will be on friday, there been two cancelled launches so far. Read more on NASA webpage or in swedish at

Christer Fuglesang showing new swedish space stamps, below the STS- 128 emblem.

Monday, August 24, 2009

OK snapshot: Clawing bread

Apropos the postings by EH below, Crawfish inspired bread seen in Sweden.
Snapshot by OK.

OK Snapshot: Only Pacman can save the streets

Street art, and with Swedish text: "Bara Pacman kan rädda gatorna", probably
seen in Stockholm. I remember Pacman, it was one of the best computer games
ever, when personal computers were in their infancy. We were one of the
families with the first computer in the neighborhood, old class ZX81 that
you hooked up to the TV. I bet OK still has that computer somewhere in a
box. The memory of it was incredibly tiny, and once the TV burned up, and
we blamed that on the ZX81, but I doubt it was its fault. Oh memories...
Snapshot caught by OK.

Stamp of the day: Kräftor

This is a delicious stamp for crawfish lovers. How is the American crawfish? Or is it mostly oysters in your house?

What did you do this weekend?

At our house in Pretzeltown, we been putting up "tapet" (ie., wallpaper in swedish), painting, drilling holes in the ceiling to get internet connection by cable to the main computer, eating kräftor (crawfish) and having snaps, dad recited wonderful sayings to the snaps!, made and ate chocolate balls with sugar on them, OK expanded the electric net to our closet in the bedroom for all the routers and stuff and prepared for a TV-connection. The wallpaper (light grey with silver streaks, which shimmer in sunlight) is almost done, nothing shows of the old door to the hallway and the new door is ready with all the lining up.

How was your weekend?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

OK snapshot: Alternative solution

or.. "Nöden har ingen lag", as we say in Sweden, loosely translated as "In
emergencies there are no rules". We should have thought about this when traveling around Sweden with an oily hitch covered by a plastic bag. This is much more stylish. I wonder why it is hitch in English, but 'krok' (hook) in Swedish - did the Americans get the word from horse riding and Swedes from railroad cars?

Snapshot by OK, of course.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book review and stamp of the day: Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

The book Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson is not what you expect from the title. Sure, it is about growing up and tending to a lighthouse, but that is not really the point. Her words and sentences are usually not long, not complicated, and oh so beautiful. Winterson is known for her unusual, lyrical writing and this is the first book I have ever read by her. I read it straight through, it captured me. The story is several stories weaving between an old blind lighthousekeeper, an orphaned girl named Silver, an unhappy minister with a light and dark side to him and two separate lives as well, and with Darwin and Robert Louis Stevenson mingled in here and there. It is not a simple story, it is not just a story, it is bigger than that and it is about love and time through life and death. Here are some parts I really liked.

"Salts. My home town. A sea-flung, rock-bitten, sand-edged shell of a town. Oh, and a light house."

"But today when the sun is everywhere, and everything solid is nothing but its own shadow, I know that the real things in life, the things I remember, the things I turn over in my hands, are not houses, bank accounts, prizes or promotions. What I remember is love - all love - love of this dirt road, this sunrise, a day by the river, the stranger I met in a cafe. Myself, even, which is the hardest thing of all to love, because love and selfishness are not the same thing. It is easy to be selfish. It is hard to love who I am. No wonder I am surprised if you do."

"If the earth's history was fossil-written, why not the universe? The moon, bone-white, bleached of life, was the reolic of a solar system once planeted with Earths. He thought the whole of the sky must have been alive once, and some stupidity or carelessness had brought it to this burnt-out, warmless place. [...] Now the sky was a dead sea, and the stars and the planets were memory-points, like Darwin's fossils. There were archives of catastrophe and mistake. "

I have always been fascinated with lighthouses. They are unreachable in a way, even if they are on land. They tower over you, provide protection for seafarers, but are distant buildings for the land bound people. Once in France, many years ago, I saw an exhibit at a photo gallery of remote lighthouses in storms. The photos must have been taken with helicopters, and on one you could see a lighthouse surrounded about giant waves about the crash and a tiny person standing in an open door at the bottom of it - hopefully ready to close the door the second after the photo was taken so he wouldn't be pulled off by the strength of the waves when they passed by. Lighthouses provide refuge and safety, but are in themselves isolated places, what a contradiction. Tove Jansson's wonderful book Moominpappa at Sea ('Pappan och havet') is also a tribute to lighthouses and lighthousekeeping.

I think Winterson's Lighthousekeeping is really about living your life, in isolation and not, in fear and not, and with time and stories drifting by.

Here is a suitable stamp of the day, a recent issue from the US of Edward Hopper's painting The Long Leg. The lighthouse in the distance is Cape Cod's Long Point Lighthouse in Massachusetts. Hopper liked lighthouses too, of course.

PS. I found the photo of the French lighthouse - it is by Jean Guichard and is of Jument lighthouse.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fulufjället National Park - mooses, lichens, and water

During our mountain trip to the Swedish 'fjällen" the name for the alpine mountains in Sweden, we visited Fulufjället National Park (English link1, link2). I hadn't been there since fourth grade I think, and it is a lovely place. The mountain is large and flat, and in the northwestern part of Dalarna province. We stayed in the hostel in the village of Mörkret (=Darkness!), which is next to a large enclosed area with wild moose (Moose Adventures). One of the moose had had twins earlier that year, and we saw them through the tall electric fence (it was late, dusk and rainy, so the photo is not good). If you buy a ticket you can go inside the fence and see all the moose better, including the giant bull, The King of the Forest ('Skogens Konung').
It had rained for days, so everything was wet, including the gorgeous lupine flowers that actually come from North America and have spread like a pink-lilac-purple wildfire over Sweden.

The next morning we drove a couple of miles up to the entrance to the National Park, at Njupeskär, the tallest waterfall in Sweden. It is about a mile's hike up to the waterfall, first through boardwalks and trails on bogs, and then through an old virgin spruce forest filled with ferns, blueberries, lichens, mosses, and some mosquitoes. The lichens are amazing, from the 'map lichen' (kartlav), which grows extremely slowly on rocks and makes topographic maps in its patterns, to the lobaria (lunglav) that we saw on a few birch stems. The lobaria looks like lung lobes, and was therefore used as lung medicine in the old days. The soldier lichen is cool with its red spore-bearing parts on top of small trumpet-shaped structures.
It was still raining but not so hard, so my photos are not the best. On one spruce tree we saw the markings of the three-toed woodpecker (tretåig hackspett) that had looked for food, probably bark beetle larvae or other insects. The fireweed (mjölkört) was flowering, and flies took refuge in the flowers that provided shelter from the rain. On the bogs where some cloudberries (hjortron), but not too many. To find lots of them you have to go away from the trails. Old log cabins, without Falu redpaint here in the north!, provided shelter to hikers.

Near the parking lot is a small interactive science center, a Naturum (nature room), which is one of the best I have seen anywhere. The design is astonishing - one wall is all glass an out towards the bog, with not one human-made thing in sight. Kids (and adults) can sit and watch the birds with provided spotting scopes. There is information about the forest, forest fires, mammals (including wolves and bears), birds, lichens, weather (which is extreme here by Swedish standards), and history.
Things are arranged so that toddlers also have things to look at, it is at all levels, which I really like. You can touch and hear different animal's fur and sounds, look at videos of forest fires, and find out what you saw during your walk. Nothing is plastic, or at least you don't get that impression, everything seems to be sustainable and from natural origin (wood, rock), except for some metals.
One cross-section through an old pine tree showed healed fire damage nine times since 1497 - so this tree is older than Colombus' discovery of America. And it was just a tree like any around here. Well, a lot of Dalarna was clearcut for the mining industry, but the logging didn't reach all the way up here, thankfully. Another tree was standing at a road crossing and people carved their initials or signatures (bomärken) and year into it for the last 200 years at least. That tree fell down and the trunk was preserved here as part of the local history.

One of the typical rocks in the area is porphyry (porfyr), a kind of rock that locks like colored clay with little tiny dots in it. The basic color can be many, here is Blybergsporfyr which is dark with light dots. Many more photos from Fulufjället kan be seen here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A night story from second grade (Smygande natt)

Another old story written by me in 2nd grade:

Det var månsken och regnade och var tyst. Bakom den höga muren, där borta var juvelerna. Nu, sa tjuven till sin kamrat. De sprang över skogsgläntan. Nej, jag vill inte vara med om det här sa tjuvens kamrat, med en rysning. Tjuven klättrade upp i ett träd och hoppade ner på andra sidan. Hans kamrat gjorde likadant men hamnade i en jordhög och gav upp ett skrik av skräck. Tyst, sa tjuven. Han var stel av spänning. Nu såg dom huset. Det var mörk i fönstren. Nej inte i alla längst upp var det tänt, där syntes en skugga av en figur. Det var nog en flicka. Tjuvens kamrat gjorde stora fotspår utan att han visste om det. Han öppnade väskan och tog ut några vapen och en kniv. Då, fick dom syn på de gula, runda ögonen. Slut.

It was moonlight and rained and was quiet. Behind the high wall, over there was the jewels. Now, said the thief to his partner. They ran across the opening in the forest. No, I don't want to do this, said the thief's partner, with a shiver. The thief climbed up a tree and jumped down on the other side. His partner did the same, but fell into a soil heap and screamed out of fear. Quiet, said the thief. He was stiff from tension. Now they saw the house. It was dark in the windows. No, not in all, up at the top it was lit, and there you could see a shadow of a figure. It was probably a girl. The thief's partner made big foot traces without knowing about it. He opened the bag and took out some weapons and a knife. Then, they saw the yellow, round eyes. The end.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Old tales (Gamla svansar)

This post is by request from my sister and brother... (and for Sarah too)

When I was in Sweden I found my old writing books from second grade, when I was about 8 years old, and I very much wonder what my teachers really thought about my stories. Talk about lively imagination... Unfortunately they didn't grade each essay. Here is one example:

Originalet på svenska (original in Swedish, med exakt grammatik ur skrivboken):
En aprilmorgon gick Fantomen till livsmedelsaffären för att handla påskmat till sin lata och ilskna lyxhustru, Diana. Hon hade ocksaå bett honom köpa en rulle sytråd för att laga hans strumpbyxor. Med sig hade han Devil, hans gammla sjuka jakthund. Hunden tiggde om leverpastej och nötkakor. Men kakor fick han inte, eftersom han kunde få magplågor då. När Fantomen svängde runt hörnet vid ostdisken halkade han på ett bananskal och slog huvudet i en vetemjölspåse. Han fick en stjärnsmäll. Hans lösgom for ut ur munnen och råkade ge Devil ett bett i vänsterörat. Vid åsynen av blodströmmen från såret kräktes Fantomen upp frukostgröten och svimmade bland toalettpappersrullarna.

Loose translation:
One morning in April the Phantom went to the grocery store to buy Easter food for his lazy and angry luxury wife, Diana. She had also asked him to buy a roll of thread so she could mend his tights. With him he had Devil, his old, sick hunting dog. The dog begged for liverwurst and nut cookies. But he didn't get any cookies, because then he would get stomach pains. When the Phantom turned around a corner by the cheese counter he slipped on a banana peel and hit his head on a wheat flour bag. He saw stars inside his eyes. His loose teeth flew out of his mouth and happened to give Devil a bite in his left ear. When the Phantom saw the blood streaming from the wound, he threw up his breakfast porridge and fainted among the toilet paper rolls.

Notes: The Phantom (Fantomen) is a comic hero, and the stories were translated into Swedish. The nut cookies were probably the ones my grandmother made with hazelnuts, oh, they were delicious. The rest I have no idea where it came from.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ferocious creatures, big and small

Giant Megaloptera insect - Corydalus cornutus

This amazing insect, over 4 inches (10 cm) long, was sitting on a gas station wall on our way to Connecticut on Monday. What a beast! It is a male dobsonfly, in the order Megaloptera, named after its giant wings of course. Wikipedia says dobsonflies are "known as "the king bug" because of their intimidating mandibles", but the males can actually not bite anyone with them and only use them to hold on the female while mating. Imagine carrying around something that big that you don't use that much! And they live most of their life as larvae in streams, only to come up and hatch to live for a week. I have never seen one before, and even if amazing I wouldn't want one of these caught in my hair at night. (Two more photos of this on Flickr, photo 1 and photo 2)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stamp of the day: Skärgården (The Archipelago of East Sweden)

I´m going to the archipelago this weekend, kayaking and camping. The salty (bräckt) water is warm and the boat people have already gone home. I love to be there.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A pile of 7 books tells one story

More amazing art made from books on Design Observer's website. Art photo by Nina Katchadourian, her website is worth a visit!

Kravallslöjd (Underground handicraft)

My brother OK forwards us all kinds of cool photos from his iPhone and some
make it to the blog, like this one. In Sweden a new underground handicraft
movement has been cropping up in recent years: The Knitting Mafia. They are
anonymous and knit colorful pieces that they then sew onto light poles,
fences, and other objects in public places as adornments. Here is one
example, and I especially love the snake on top of the hat. Seen in
Stockholm of course.

Mining down in history - a visit to Falu Gruva

Falun Historical Mine (Falu gruva) in Falun and the province of Dalarna in Sweden is a great place to get a sense of many things, such as history, hard work, darkness, and the power of minerals. It is also called Stora Kopparberg (Great Copper Mountain, and the company Stora started in 1288, must be one of the oldest in the world). We went there during our roadtrip to descend into the areas of the mine that was mined in the 1700s and 1800s. First they used fire and water to get the copper ore out (fire mining), then gunpowder, and finally, thanks to Nobel, dynamite. The 45 min tour took us through low tunnels, dripping walls and ceilings (thanks for the hats and raincoats!), and large open rooms inside the mine. Down at 67 meters we saw a living Christmas tree, green and fresh, but it hadn't been watered for 4 years. It had been totally preserved by the minerals in the water in the mine. (More photos from Falun on Flickr.)

The miners had it hard, they had to descend on long stairs or by riding the ore bucket down and jump off at the right tunnel entrance, the bucket didn't stop. More miners apparently died from missing the jump, than in other accidents in the mine. The mining started already in the 1300s, and this area has been the center for the mining and metal industry in Sweden since then. One wall is a guestbook with signatures from many of the kings and queens of Scandinavia. The all so common red paint on Swedish buildings also comes from this mine and is called 'Falu rödfärg' (Falu red paint). It was a mining byproduct and was the cheapest paint available, so it became very popular.

Linneaus visited the mine in the 1700s as part of his travels in Dalarna and was horrified by the conditions and drinking habit of the mine workers.
'Linnaeus had the opinion that the people of Dalarna lived a sober and healthy life apart from those in Falun connected with the mine. The miners often died of stone dust in their lungs. These miners also used to drink great quantities of ale. A new guest was expected to drink, without pausing, two or three great tankards of ale when he arrived and Linnaeus wrote: "your belly might burst, your head crack open and your health, the joy of all life, be abandoned." '

Linneaus was on the trip as the world's first ethnobotanist and noted that: "when there was a shortage of flour, trees were chopped down and the bark ground to eke out the flour. Linnaeus thought the people should grow potatoes instead, but many were still skeptical as to this new-fangled vegetable."
People didn't understand that you could only eat the tubers and not the leaves of the potatoes, so rumors that it was a deadly plant abound. (link to more Linnaeus information)

Outside the mine there were other historical things to look at. The Swedish Ferguson Tractor organization had its local meet with about 5 old grey beasts on display. Inside the Mining Center, you could admire some classic motorcycles, including an old American Indian, an iceracing bike (with nasty dubbs on the tires), and the bike that Sweden won VM in Speedway with. An old Swedish SJ railroad boxcar was displayed on the plaza, painted in the ubiquitous red of course with white lettering and a white royal crown. I have always wondered what all the numbers on the box cars mean. There were also prominently displayed posts with dog poop bags on the plaza - in Sweden the owner is always responsible to 'pick up after your dog'.

PS. Falun is a World Heritage site. The mining stopped in 1992.