Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stamp of the Day: Finnish Birches

You rarely see stamps of these shapes, which only have become possible after we got self-sticking stamps that you no longer have to rip off a sheet along a holed line. And you rarely see stamps that feature such small botanical details as these two Finnish stamps of birch (björk, Betula in Latin).  The young bud and then the seeds in their catkin, ready to disperse in the wind.  Stamps really have changed, from the old time-consuming engraving and printing and licking, to the printed stamps from photos on sticky paper.  I like both types, but I think the older are really more like art and these feel more like quick mass-production.

JU snapshot: H20 melon

In Swedish stores, the managers assume that the customers know basic
chemistry. Photo by JU in Stockholm.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stamp of the day: Hand drill (borrsväng)

Do you think there is any other stamp in the world with a hand drill on it? Probably not.  And this one is from Sweden, a land that really values its industrial history.  We had one of these in our workshop when I grew up, and I remember drilling out bird house holes with it.  I think it came from my grandfather (morfar), who had been a wood shop teacher at the local high school.  Look at the cross section through the wood in the background too!  I think Swedish stamps are exceptionally well designed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In memoriam

hollyhocks, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.
For Joan, who died yesterday. I know you loved plants, so here is one in honor of you.

Our brains are lying to us

I just read this:

"the human mind is superb at seeing pattern, even when it doesn't exist, [...], and the human mind in contrast often has trouble seeing actual patterns in multidimensional space"  
[Curtis Clark on Taxacom]

...and it is so true.  Examples are sayings such as 'bad things come in three' (they don't, statistically).  Our brain is fooling us at times, and other times, we cannot just grasp the immense patterns in 3-dimensional space and time.  Just try to understand the universe...

Stamp of the Day: Swedish mountain hiking (fjällvandring)

Here they go, the four members of our family, up in the northern Swedish mountains!  It is an amazing place, with spruce and pine forest in the valleys, changing to low growing birch-forest as you go up the slopes, and at higher altitudes the tree-less area takes over with small gnarly micro-shrubs of heather and blueberry plants, willows, and many herbs, grasses and sedges.  Lots of lichens and mosses, and gorgeous views.  I really can't imagine a better place to hike, as long as the snow doesn't come (even in summer) or the mosquitoes don't attack. 

I really miss this mouintain kind of nature here in New Jersey, and the most similar we have are on some mountains in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The Swedish mountains are better to hike though, because it is less up and down, and you can drink the water in the streams (no giardia parasites yet!). Oh, I miss the Swedish 'fjäll'!

The stamp is from Sweden and the Pieljekaise national park in northern Sweden.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Signs of the times

It is amazing how much a sign can tell you about everything from the time period when it originated, who it was/is aimed for, who was selling something, and how it was/is sold.  Just see here:

real hog for the people
Whole pig sign seen in a small neighborhood shop window in New York City that still have not been pushed out by the supermarkets.  But, this sign is not from this store, but from a store that closed and now the sign is an antique item used to attract customers.  Mr Hodges is probably long gone, only his sign lives on.  Fantastic handmade tin sign, don't you think?

Chelsea Wine vault
Ugly sign in neon, very designed, and very fancy.  It just oozes dollars. Overdesigned to a fault.  I bet the prices here at Chelsea Wine Vault in NYC are four to ten times the prices at Trader Joe's.

Miller's Pub, a historic Chicago restaurant
Now this sign is REAL, not just a design job.  A food establishment, Miller's Pub, in Chicago, with an old neon sign and the traditional letters in the white box.  Straight to the point, effective, and historic, and some people probably think it is very ugly.  But it is not over-designed and doesn't try to look like something it is not. This just oozes tradition and good food feeling. (Smelt is a kind of small fish, you eat them whole.)

this way to good food
This is my favorite kind of sign.  It is new, but made with old methods, and cleanly and clearly states what this is about. Somebody took the care to design it, and it is simply beautiful. You want buffalo meat, just come here!  (Readington Buffalo Farm, NJ)

Have you ever wondered why it is called DE-SIGN?  Like undoing signs?  Is a designer someone that unconstructs old signs into something new?  I wonder how the words sign and design really started.

No more "Just one more thing"

Today, one of our most favorite actors died, Peter Falk, 83. He is most famous as the police detective Columbo in the TV series with the same name, but I think I first saw him in the movie the Princess Bride where he plays the old grandfather reading the story to the sick kid in bed.  That is a lovely movie.

And as Columbo, he became Columbo, famous for his smart intellect he hid behind his everyday rumpled looks inside an old gray beaten up French car and his trenchcoat that looked like he had slept in it.  His most characteristic line was probably, while walking out after an interview with a suspect, turning around and saying: 'oh, just one more thing', and then the question came that skewered the unsuspecting person, or providing some important clue to the solution. He was very popular as Columbo in Sweden when I grew up too.

He was also in Wings of Desire and in the very funny movie Murder by Death.  If you haven't seen him acting you have missed something, but these days that is easy to fix.  Just rent the movies!

Here is a slideshow of photos from his movies. Enjoy!

Stamp of the Day: Happy midsummer!

In Sweden midsummer is celebrated today with traditional food and customs.  Pickled herring (sill), new potatoes (färskpotatis), sour creme (gräddfil) and chives (gräslök) is typical, served with Swedish akvavit (herb-flavored vodka, snaps).  Mmmm, good! Other traditional food is salmon of course.  But these days, I think anything good goes.

Here in New Jersey it is foggy and raining and no summer weather at all.  Except, this is kind of Swedish weather, it if wasn't so humid and hot later during the day. I hope the weather is better in Sweden, especially for our hikers in the Swedish mountains.

The real midsummer is of course on June 21, but since midsummer is a holiday in Sweden, the Swedish government decided it should be on a Friday each year, so everybody gets a 3-day weekend.  Stamp of the Day are four Swedish stamps celebrating Sweden, with the midsummer one in the top left corner.

Old midsummer traditions are to dance around a pole covered in green tree leaves (birch usually) and wild-picked flowers. Then late at night, which doesn't get very dark in Sweden, young women should go out and pick 7 flowers and jump over 7 fences and then they put the flowers under their pillows and go to sleep, all without talking to anybody (if you do, it doesn't work).  If you did this you will dream about who you would get married to.  Believe me, it doesn't work! :) But it is fun.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bits and pieces from the internet: Scandinavia edition

It is strawberry season in Sweden.  And Swedish strawberries are local, red all the way through, and much tastier than any strawberry you can buy in a store here.  Only at the farmer's markets can you find anything like it in the USA.  Story from Serious Eats here.

The vikings Erik the Red and his son Leif Eriksson had amazing lives and journeys.  You can read about them here on this website about stamps, with great philatelic illustrations.  Their viking boats are also featured.

If you read Swedish, I highly recommend Olle Wästberg's monthly newsletter about issues in culture and politics that connect USA and Sweden.  He served as the Swedish consul in New York for several years, and has worked very had on promoting Swedish design, music, art and theatre and other export industries. You can sign up on his website.

Not one but TWO hotels from Sweden were featured among these crazy places to stay. Which hotel would you pick?  The sewage pipe ("cardboard box! you were lucky!"), tree house, or ice hotel?

Before TV and the internet...

...there was dioramas at natural history museums, and there still are (at least at some). These stuffed animals in their nature-looking environment is so much better at conveying their story than a flat photo or a flat screen. Can't you see how cold they are? How treacherous their environment is? Exactly my point. I hope they restore these exhibits instead of getting rid of them.

Stamp of the Day: Swedish azalea (Lapsk alpros)

Right now, four members of our family (three generations, the youngest about 10) are hiking in the Swedish mountains, fjällen, from one hut to another each day over vast heaths. Hopefully rain and mosquitos are staying away. I am eager to hear their stories when they come back, filled with memories of giant skies and vistas of mountains, reindeers, camping food, and maybe eagles and owls too. 

But I don't think they will see this plant, the 'lapsk alpros' (loosely translated as Lapland Alp Rose, in USA it is called Lapland Rose Bay), which is the only Swedish member of Rhododendron, the azalea genus.  In Sweden, this plant only gets about 5 cm (2 inches) tall, and grows high up in the northern parts of the mountains.  I still remember the first time I saw this plant, with its dark pink flowers.

It is a typical example of when the wild plant is smaller (and in some ways more exquisite and detailed) than the gory, large horticultural species and varieties we cultivate in our gardens. This species is also interesting because it occurs all around in the northern Arctic, from Sweden through Russia, into Japan, Alaska, and Canada and USA.  So, stamp of the day, Rhododendron lapponicum, from Sweden, issued 1989. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not what I expected

blurry, like a painting, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.

...but still really nice. This is what happens when you take a photo of a stained glass window at low light and have a slightly shaky hand. You get a photo that looks like it was painted in oil, blurry by design. The window is in the Princeton University Cathedral.

Really good things from our kitchen

My very first homemade cherry pie came delicious! And nect to it, AREA's cappucino in her handmade cappucino mug, ready to be swept into her mouth. Nice things, indeed.

My new favorite green thing Spotted Trout Lettuce, a romaine type lettuce with little specks of red. Fantastic grilled with ceaser dressing or just in salad. You can buy the seeds from the Hudson Library Seed Library (in an art seed pack if you like). Lovely green thing!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Walk the High Line

High Line, NYC

On southern Manhattan on the eastern side of the island in the neighborhoods of Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District are the remnants of an elevated train line. It was used since the 1930s to get the dangerous freight trains off the street, and shipped in produce, meat and wares to stores, warehouses, and markets in lower Manhattan.  As trucks took over this type of transportation, the High Line because less and less used, with the last train delivering frozen turkeys in the 1980s.  Since then it was abandoned and became an eye sore, until a visionary proposed to make it into an elevated long, narrow park.  Imagine a steam locomotive coming by on that elevated railroad.  It once did...
High Line, NYC

The High Line is a long narrow park, with gorgeous plantings and many places to sit and ponder the city scapes. The first section opened in 2009, and I walked it a few weeks ago.  Two more sections will open (one just did), and when finished it will run from 34 Street all the way past down 13th Street.  In many places, the High Line is the only real green you can see in this urban landscape.

High Line, NYC

Right next to the High Line are abandoned old factory and warehouse buildings, inhabited only be pigeons and rats (and maybe some homeless people too). You have the urban history within literally hand's and feet's reach, and you walk the line past in time. 

High Line, NYC: bench

I love the benches, with shapes inspired by railroad sidings ('sidospår' in Swedish).

High Line, NYC: view over the Hudson River

You can see New Jersey on the other side of the Hudson River from the High Line.  Tugboats, ships, ferry terminals, they are still there.

High Line, NYC: benches under trees

Parts of the elevated tracks are wider and have been made into meeting spaces and performance scenes.  Even trees are planted up here. I bet they have a large water bill.

High Line, NYC: Nouthern spur, now deadends into building

This railroad spur once went into this building to unload cargo, but now it is a wildflower meadow.  What a juxtaposition with the industrial, natural and architectural all meeting at one point.

High Line, NYC

You are not allowed to walk on the tracks, except here. I love 'frogs'.

High Line, NYC: one-legged skyscraper

You can walk under people's bedrooms.  And underneath the High Line is a Bier Garten.

High Line, NYC: hair and flowers

The High Line is really an amazing place.  It brings people outside, and it is green snake oasis in a environment of hot (in the summer) or cold (in the winter) concrete, metal, and glass.  It elevates the whole neighborhood, from just regular dirty New York (with fancy bars and stores mixed in) so something that is awesome. The person that pulled this off and got this done, has done amazing things for southern Manhattan.  Finally some green is back on the island.

High Line, NYC

I didn't see one weed on my hour-long walk.  There are gardeners everywhere and the plantings are impeccable, made to look natural but with horticultural varieties and species. It is gorgeous, designed, and honestly, not naturally planted, but who cares?  This is really like painting with living plants, and I love it too. And after all, the plants are growing on a railroad track, in the air, on a man made structure.  I was wondering what would happen if you stopped weeding and watering - probably just what happened when the railroad was abandoned in the 1980s.  Weeds and trees came in, and now they are all gone.  Removed for more organized plants and less dirty, less chaotic plant life.

Many more photos from my visit here.

Stamp of the Day: Can you see the stars?

Maybe not, it depends on where you live.  And soon you might not see many stars in most places, due to light pollution.  There is a great article about this on Design Observer: Starry Night. The most stars I have seen recently were in Costa Rica.  It is amazing to think that all those thousands of stars are here in New Jersey too, but we flood them out with lights.  Our township, for example, have parking lights on at the highschool even in the evening when nobody is there.  Neighbors sleep with floodlights on.  Princeton glows with a pink haze some nights. Imagine how many northern lights are being missed because of our electricity obsession. Most of those lights are just wasted electron movements created by coal, oil, gas, or nuclear power.  The article is great, and a good read, so take a look and check out the maps too (Europe included).

Stamp of the day are two Swedish stamps from 2009, a star map with the Crab Nebula and a polarimeter.  Nice designs as usual from the Swedish postal service. (Information in Swedish about these stamps)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Furry evening visitor

A few nights ago I met not a nemesis, but a furry face and naked wings when I was about to turn off the lights in the living room downstairs.  A bat was flying around unhappy and couldn't get out.  How it got in is a mystery, since all our doors and windows have screens.

Wise from past experiences with bats you should not try to catch them in the air, you just can't.  Better to turn off the lights on the room (and the rest of the house), and turn on outside lights, and leave the doors to the outside open (and hope not many night-flying insects come in).  LA and I did this, but the bat disappeared.  We turned on the lights again, and didn't see it, but we heard it.

A small high-pitch chirping sound from behind the uninstalled cast iron wood stove... We got thick leather gloves (bats can bite) and the old salad spinner bucket we use to get salad from the garden, and then looked for it.  It was hanging from one of our thick cotton curtains and was not that happy when I tried to remove it and put it in the bucket, but eventually it loosened up its grip on the curtain with its thumbs on the wings.

In the bucket it first acted dead, but suddenly came alive and started walking around in circles on its knuckles on the wings, which looks just like the vampire bats walking towards some unsuspecting cow that will be bitten in its leg (except ours was just crawling, not walking).  Camera out, to prove the presence of the bat, camera on, take picture, take picture 2 while bat is desperately trying to get out.  They can't get out of buckets, at least I don't think so.  We then let it onto the porch railing and it took off fast.

Big Brown Bat, Eptesicus fuscus

I e-mailed a bat research friend, DW, and asked him what species it was based on the photos.  Around here we have two common species with the most boring names you can imagine for bats: Little Brown Bat and Big Brown Bat (I am not making this up). Do bat researchers call these LBB and BBB?  I don't know, but I would if I was doing bat research. Except LBB is used for any Little Brown Bird by the birders too, so you have to keep track of night and day animals.

What we had in our living room turned out to be a Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus), but a small version of it, like a teenager.

Big Brown Bat, Eptesicus fuscus

As DW said: "See the really dark fur around the face? That is actually subadult pelage, and this little guy is just molting into adult pelage. He may not have been flying on his own for all that long, and got a little confused."

pelage:  the complete furcoat of a mammal

OK snapshot: Gatukonst (street art)

Seen in Stockholm, Sweden.
LS comment: Nice oil painting!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weed blog

A new blog is up, WEEDS - what are they good for?, founded by me and someone else. The subject is weeds, of course, these misunderstood and subversive plants that stalks us humans through our increasingly non-natural manmade landscapes.  Personally, I think weeds are among the most interesting plants, and our reaction to them is equally interesting.

Take a look, and you can subscribe to the the weed blog (and this one) using e-mail or a Google Reader.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Art gallery hopping in New York City, 21st Street

Recently me and two friends from the art world spent a few hours looking at mostly contemporary art in galleries along 21st Street in Chelsea, NYC. It was an interesting experience. Variable impressions, many types of media and like a long entertainment event for the brain. Here are works of some of the artists we saw, with my very personal, and non-artsy comments.  I didn't know any of the artists from before so this was really fun, like a new world that opens up. The photos are linked from Flickr (Vilsekogen) so you can click on them and see larger versions.

Ellen Koi photos

Ellen Koi: Seen at the PPOW gallery. Ellen's giant photos are gorgeous, and something you can look at for a long time. Each one is slightly mystical, tells a story, but you don't know exactly which one.  Like this one, probably from a seashore in Holland, where a family is out maybe digging for clams in the dawn, or maybe looking for something else.  The photos are staged, but they are also very natural. I love these. More of Ellen's art here.

Amy Jean Porter

Amy Jean Porter:  I have been looking for art that includes weeds, such as dandelions in this painting.  Otherwise Amy's art is a bit to simplistic for me, even if she builds a lot on old historical storybook drawings which I love (such as Elsa Beskow, John Bauer, etc.). But she has weeds in her art! (Which is a good thing.) More of Amy's art here.

Jessica Rohrer painting: book shelf

Jessica Rohrer. Painting exhibit at PPOW gallery. It was very hard to find information about Jessica Rohrer online, but she has refreshing paintings of everyday objects (an open fridge, a shelf with household cleaning supplies, cars, etc.).  A painting like this can tell you a lot just with the selection of books on the shelves...

Mary Frank: Wood sculpture and drawing exhibit at DC Moore gallery. I don't have a photo of Mary Frank's amazing wooden sculptures, but click on the DC Moore link and you can see some of them at the gallery. She made these over 40 years ago, and their dark wood, organic shapes and half-formed figures remind me of smooth ocean stones, driftwood, Picasso, and Dali all at the same time. 

Clifford Ross: Landscape to imagination exhibit at Sonnabend Gallery. Clifford Ross' digital video movie installation of a photograph of a mountain transformed into a myriad of swooping color and black and white photo pieces was simply STUNNING.  I wish it was available online so you could all see this 5 min movie. Philip Glass provided the music, and a prime example of a kind of movie/art/photo installation you could never have done before, because you need computing power and giant hardware storage.  But I liked it not because of the technological feat but just because it was natural, artificial, and beautiful, all at the same time.   One large prints from the movie sells for $30,000.

"Academy Award winner Philip Glass composed Harmonium Mountain to accompany the Clifford Ross film of the same name. The groundbreaking animated film presents an imaginary landscape of colorful, animated elements derived entirely from one high-resolution photographic image of Colorado's Mount Sopris, the latest step in Ross' exploration of objective reality and subjective experience." (link to source,

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns: Sculpture and prints at Matthew Marks Gallery. 
I guess I should have heard about Jasper Johns because he is one of America's most famous artists.  But me, I stay mostly in scientific worlds, and never took an art class since 9th grade (I still love art though).   These giant metal sculptures of numbers are impressive - and immediately made me think about old typography techniques and industrial and publishing history.  To take something common and enlarge and blow it up, gives it such a new perspective.  Here my thought was: "Oh my god, those number 3's have gorgeous shapes, and we don't get that anymore with our laserprinted Word documents."  I love when art makes you create new connections in your brain, especially between emotion, facts, and history. So I loved, loved these.
"One of Johns’ best known series is his numbers works. Using the numbers zero through nine, the artist has revisited the classic grid with an exhibition of relief sculptures at Matthew Marks. A perfect example of his obsession with creating something, refining it, and doing something else to it, Johns has produced these pieces in bronze, aluminum, and silver, each with a unique patina. They are on their own pedestal display, allowing us to view both front and back."  (link to source here)

Wolf Kahn: More artwork here. Interesting paintings by Wolf Kahn, famous for his massive colors and giant paintings.  Maybe not what you want to have in your living room, unless you have a white-painted sparse living room with nothing else in it.  It would easily become a bit overpowering.  Still, the aspen (?) forest he had in this exhibit reminds me of early spring in Sweden, with sunset colors on purple-colored snow in the forest shadows.  I guess it was just too much of the good thing (color) for me.

"If we lived in a small town we wouldn't have cultural opportunities like this"
Urban Street Art.... The bubble says: "If we lived in a small town we wouldn't have cultural opportunities like this."  So true. That is why I like to visit New York City now and then, but not live there, ever again.   I don't know who the artist is, but Simpsons is an obvious influence. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bad fires are raging in Arizona

Murphy Fire June 1 2011 004, originally uploaded by Matt Hays.

A gorgeous photo of a horrific event. Wildfires are a natural process, but with the current drought they are going haywire in S USA and have burned out of control in many states.

Photo copyright by Matt Hays, blogged from Flickr. Click on the photo to see more of his photos.

Obs-lista June 7-8, 2011

An 'obs-lista' is an observation list of the species you have seen at a particular place, during a particular time, or for a particular project.  When we grew up in Sweden we used to make lists like these for certain trips and cross off as many species as we could.  This is not a complete list at all, just a few notes of special things seen in New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the last 24 hours.

Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)- this invasive species has taken over like a 1.5 m tall dusty green plague along the railroad line between Trenton and Levittown, Pennsylvania.  It was initially planted as a nice garden plant in the US, but quickly became a horribly invasive weed.  The rhizomes in the soil shoot up new shoots over and over and the plant spreads sideways very quickly.

Cedar waxwings ('sidensvansar') - they are back!  Every June we see cedar waxwings that come and eat the fruits on our Amelanchier tree ('häggmispel').  Only problem is that our Amelanchier tree died last summer from a fungal disease.  The cedar waxwings didn't really look hungry, so I hope they find some other berries to eat.  I love these birds and their 'sirring' sounds.

Monarch butterflies - they are back too!  I have only seen one so far, but still, one butterfly can lay a lot of eggs on a milkweed plant (assuming she mated first...). Apparently there is another invasive milkweed called swallow wort that monarchs also lay their eggs on, but the larvae become sick from that species.  Monarchs, stick to the real milkweeds (Asclepias), so you don't fail to make more monarchs.

Box turtle.  This was a sad occasion this morning.  A nice sturdy box turtle had tried to cross our road but got run over.  All that was left was the 15 cm long shell, broken in one end.  I put the shell up on a rock in the forest.  These ancient creatures are amazing, but they don't do well on asphalt with fast cars.

Colorado beetle.  Only one seen so far on our property, and I hope this is not the beginning of this year's garden pest.  It seems like every year a different insect species becomes a problem.  We have had invasions of Japanese beetles, brown marmorated stinkbugs, Asian lady beetles, toxic blister beetles, and bagworms during different years.  I have no problem with killing such insects, but not with poisons - we mostly use the drowning technique. We picked the blister beetles off our beets and swiss chard by hand last year, with gloves on, since they can cause bad dermatitis and poisoning. Not only the weather is out of control but the invasive animals and plants too!

Fire flies - they are back!  I love fireflies.  Their green glow make nice streaks in the hot summer evenings, and make this place tropical (in the good sense).  The heat makes it feel tropical in the bad sense.  Tomorrow it is predicted to be 100 degrees Fahrenheit (=37 Celsius) here. Too hot!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stamps of the Day: Knitted mittens

I was looking around on the internet for stamps with knitting, and there sure aren't many that I could find.  But there were two, and gorgeous knitting on them as well.  Latvia has issued two stamps with traditional knitted mittens in multi-color knit, very similar to traditional Scandinavian mittens.  I made one pair like these a long time ago, but I haven't seen them in years.  I have a feeling there were lost at some train maybe 20 years ago.  I love the design, except for that a lot of cold air comes in through the wide wrists, but you can make it tighter there if you like by changing the design (but then it isn't so authentic... so beware, if you care about such things). When I was a kid, if you were wearing mittens like these ones you were decidedly uncool, but these days they are a fashion statement, at least in some circles.  Or, rather, maybe not a fashion statement, but a political and life statement.  You can't make these mittens in machines, they have to be handmade.

No more stinky Wettex!

knitted dishcloths
When you watch old episodes of the classic TV series Law and Order on instant Netflix I needed to have something to put my hands to work with. There is nothing better than mindless (well...) knitting so many cotton kitchen dishcloths being knitted up. You can make make about half of one during one evening, so pretty fast too. This is the old classic Ballband pattern (more examples here, not mine; pattern here).

They are made in 100% cotton, so throw them in the washing machine when they start to be dirty or smell bad. No more self-disintegrating, sour milk-smelling Wettex dishcloths in our kitchen. OK, I admit, I used to love Wettex, but not any longer. I hope I will never have to have a slimy Wettex cloth in my kitchen. The Wettex wipes kind of take on their own (microbial) life after a while, and these handmade knitted dishcloths works a lot better!

If you  blog reader know who I am and want one or two dish cloths, send me a note and they'll come in the mail (well, depends on how many of you that respond). Which color combination is your favorite?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Reading outside the box

Which books are you reading now?  I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, Tom Standage An Edible History of Humanity,  and several other books, all at the same time, as usual.

I love The Lacuna, even if it is a slow read.  It is about a boy that grows up to be a man working for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and helps protect Trotsky when he lives in Mexico. The book is in the form as long letters and a diary, so it is an unusual format, but it is a great read.

Tom Standage's book shows too clearly that he is a conservative historian (he loves to write about communist famines, but doesn't mention the Depression in the US in the 1930s), but it has some great information about the beginning of canned food (to feed troops in the Napoleonic wars) and the old spice trade.  Generally a good read, but watch for what is not included.

So, what are you blogger-readers enjoying, reading-wise?

Is complaining OK?

I don't like people complaining about things, but today I feel like complaining.   I just don't get it - how hard can it be just to be efficient, official, and friendly to make everything go more smoothly?


If you write an official work-related letter (= e-mail) to someone you don't know at your workplace or wherever, at least include a title on the letter (so it doesn't look like spam), explain what the request is about (don't just ask them to open an pdf), and include a signature line with your full name and contact information so the recipient know who they are dealing with and where they are located. This is just common courtesy among work people, I think, but I see people failing to follow this all the time at the Big University where I work.

If you send a letter to a foreign (American) address, at least include the full address (even if it doesn't fit Swedish standards), and don't just delete the city name.  Thankfully the letter we were waiting for made it anyway, despite being incomplete and arrived here today.

If you write a letter, don't date the letter three days after it was sent.  Postmarks don't lie.

If you write to anybody, by e-mail or letter, sign any decision or order or directive with your name, and your contact information.  Don't let the letter be a anonymous bureaucratic nobody's responsibility. Take responsibility for your actions, even if it is just for sending a letter or making a decision.  In my experience, many Swedes are especially bad at making official decisions (it has to be backed up by official policy or a boss have to tell you what to do).  Here in America you can always make decisions and then apologize for them, which has other problems associated with it :). But making a decision and then not signing off on it, is weak.

Make sure you write the addressee's name correctly, and especially do not mix up last and first names.  (OK, this can be hard for Chinese names, but should not be a problem for Swedish and American names that are constructed the same way).We just got a letter today where the last name was the first name and vice versa and it should have been obvious it was wrong.  So nobody took the time to 1) put in the name correctly, and 2) check that the name was correct. (They also got the street name wrong... sloppy....)

A new rule from our not so dear governor of NJ, states that to be a professor, custodian, or just an employee at a NJ state-funded university you have to live in NJ, unless you get a special exemption. All current employees are exempt, but not if you move or get hired. The governor doesn't care that only 20% or so of the university budget is funded by the state and that considerations regarding spouses and others might make you decide to live in New York and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), cities that are right next to NJ but not in our state.

More annoyances - the Check Engine light on my car goes on and off like a delayed lighthouse with PMS.  You never know when it will hit and when it will turn off.  I ignore it mostly. As long as the engine runs smoothly it is OK.  But it has done this for 7 years... Subaru, fix your electronics.

But there are good things too:  The Griggstown CSA had their first pickup today and it was great (about 8 kilo of fresh organic vegetables), the sun was shining without it being to hot, and the tomato plants are thriving in my garden despite the Colorado beetle I found yesterday. It is now dead and will soon be mounted on an insect pin for my Dad in Sweden.  I bet he doesn't have one in his collection.

OK, I am cranky tonight.  But in general, life works so much more smoothly if everybody is just trying to be pleasant, efficient, exact, and do the right thing.  It is not that hard, but it doesn't allow for sloppiness or irresponsibility, I guess. Accountability is not a bad thing...

Stamp of today is an adjustable wrench ('skiftnyckel' =adjustable key), a Swedish invention patented by Johan Petter Johansson. I love these old drawings with their letters and lines for the hollow parts you can't see from the outside.  I like the design with the postage inside the mouth of the wrench too, 2 kronor 70 öre. growing up in Sweden I didn't think these wrenches were such a big deal, but I learned better after hearing from the experts. 

You can see on the picture how these developed from the ones made in Enköping, Sweden, in the 1880s to today's wrenches sold by Bahco (still in Enköping). They are nearly the same! (Click on photo for larger version.  Photo by Theresemk and from Wikipedia. )