Showing posts from July, 2011

Open House

For the fourth time, the management company that takes care of my apartment is having an "open house" today. Which means that for 45 minutes, I am supposed to vacate my home while a parade of strangers, escorted by someone from the management company, peaks around at my living conditions. Of course they are supposed to just notice the wonderful view, and not the horrendous lack of storage and cabinet space (there is not even a proper clothes closet in this apartment). So, I suppose it is no surprise that so far, no one has jumped up and down at excitement upon seeing this place, and offered an immediate security deposit. And so the open houses continue.

My cat and I would be very happy to have our privacy back.

Vertical axis turbine

My father has a patent on a vertical axis turbine, an invention he came up with a few years ago and has been kind enough to write into the family trust. He has asked me on a number of occasions, both when I was in Iceland and now that I am here at UC Berkeley, to talk to people about this alternative energy source, which utilizes wind power in a way described as "truly innovative" by several professional engineers to whom my father has shown the design.

I have been promising him for weeks that I would go over to the offices here on campus where professors and graduate students are investigating alternative energy sources. He knows very well that having his daughter go in in person will make more of an impact, and lead to more meaningful conversations, than him just sending an email. He keeps reminding me that successfully building a full scale working model of the invention, and having it professionally tested, is the thing he needs to get his patent into reality. And that w…

Good point, bro

Last night, my brother and I were talking about the domestic terrorist attack in Norway. My brother is not perhaps your "average American" in terms of his knowledge of Scandinavia, since he has been to Iceland of course and pays attention to happenings in that part of the world. But compared to most of my friends and colleagues, who are completely obsessed with all things Scandinavian, I offer my brother as a more reliable witness to what most Americans thought about the events of yesterday.

He mentioned something I had not thought of at all. He said to me, "You know what surprises me? Norway has mandatory military service for all young men. They all learn how to shoot. They are all given sidearms. In that country, people are armed. How could it be then that not one of those kids out there camping on that island, had a gun? How is it that that guy got out of there alive?"

I of course admire the sentiment of the Norwegian prime minister, calling for greater democrac…

John Muir

This morning I read to Palmer, and then he read back to me, a book about John Muir, one of America´s first and foremost naturalists. He has been asking about John Muir ever since he noticed that his therapists office is at John Muir Health Center, and I told him that was the same man the big redwood forest on the coast is named after.

The book, which is a short children's book with wonderful illustrations, focuses mostly on his time at Yosemite, and his efforts to get that preserved. I actually started tearing up explaining to Palmer why John Muir did not want the ranchers and loggers to come into Yosemite. This got into a discussion of wilderness and nature. I told him that everything he could see out my window, over the Bay, was not wilderness. The whole Bay area is a compact whole, one community spilling into the next, with freeways lacing it all together. It is a dynamic, beautiful place to live, but most of it is too built up for my taste, too crowded. There are a few excepti…

Response papers

In the class I am teaching this summer, I assigned two sagas, Orkenyingja Saga and the Vinland Sagas (so well actually three sagas technically speaking...).  I also am having the students read the Skeleton in Armor by Longfellow, Lady from the Sea by Ibsen, Cod: a biography of the fish that changed the world by Kurlansky, and Smilla's Sense of Snow by Hoeg. This is the first time I have taught a class with this particular North Atlantic focus, and only the second time I have taught a writing class focusing on writing research papers. The students are researching various aspects of the North Atlantic.

As with anybody's first time doing anything, my plans kind of keep evolving. So I had not quite made up my mind about assignments when the class started, except that there would be two research papers. Now I have added short response papers for each reading. I told the students they would not be graded, but they do count towards their final grade, which is perhaps a bit confusing.…


Today, I got a new cell phone. I might even like it better than the cell phone I bought in Iceland two years ago. It is an android phone from Sprint with beautiful graphics, an app for kindle and games and all sorts of things. The phone was (practically) free with signing up for a contract. But the monthly fee is almost $100 a month (since I will also be using it as my modem to get online with my Macbook).

On the way home from the store, I decided I really am going to need to move in the fall. My apartment is so expensive that I basically do not have $100 a month to spare. Which is totally ridiculous. The main way I justified such an expensive apartment last semester is no longer valid. In the spring, I was teaching at 8am, and really needed to be able to walk to class. But in the fall I will be teaching two afternoons a week, which means I could live just about anywhere in the whole Bay Area.

Ah, freedom.

H squared

My office is in a building called Dwinelle Hall. It is in two parts, an "office wing" and a "classroom wing". Rumor has it that each wing was designed by two brothers in the same architectural firm, who had a falling out (probably over a woman) and therefore refused to cooperate in designing their building. The office wing is shaped like an square- four halls and hollow in the middle. The class room wing is shaped like an stumpy H. The two connect together at one leg of the H and one corner of the square, but at an odd 30 degree angle. Worse yet, the numbering of the floors on the two buildings are not the same. The office section has offices with 4 digit numbers (I am in 6416) where as the classrooms are 3 digit numbers (I teach in 235). But here is the kicker. The room I teach in is less than half a flight down from my office. There are two office floors for every one classroom floor. I have taken classes, had an office, and taught in this building on and off for…

Size 10 at least

All of my clothing is getting too tight on me. Though I could blame the hormones in the food in the U.S., I am pretty careful actually about only buying natural freerange non-hormone added type meat. So that is not it. I could also blame all the restaurants that pile up the plates with huge portions, but then it is rather my fault if I eat it all, isn't it? 
I could say it is the lack of good drinking water. In Iceland, I drank so much water I was hardly ever unbelievably hungry, so I ended up eating less. Here, I drink less water and I eat more. So that might be something I can blame on someone or something else. 
But the real problem is that I have become lazy. Lazy Liz. I meander down to my classroom to teach, I take my time with my dissertation, I have no emails piling up screaming to be answered. My only slight area of stress is my son Palmer, who has a rather ridiculously busy summer schedule. It makes me realize just how very easy my schedule is, as a part time teaching instr…

California and Icelandic felines

I think cats may have it better in Iceland than they do in California. For one, they get to eat a lot of fish and very fatty milk, or at least that is what my amma always fed the cats she had. For another, cats in Iceland do not get flea infestations. Though fleas are known to have spread to Iceland and Greenland during the Viking Age settlement, the flea population gets killed off very successfully every winter in Iceland. This does not happen in California, where fleas enjoy year-round good health.

So although my cat has an Icelandic name, she has a California flea problem. We just gave her the eucalyptus oil treatment that is supposed to drive them away, but this evening, as I sat at my computer, I noticed several black flecks moving around in the white fur of her underbelly.

Not the popular image of California cats, I know, but true none the less.

Library access

I get emails all the time from the University of California library about the books I have checked out, whenever one of them is due for renewal. As a graduate student, I can check most books out for 3 months at a time. Undergraduates get the books for three weeks I think, whereas professors can check out a book for a whole year. Anyhow, considering the number of books I have checked out over the last 8 months, I get these emails a lot. 
And I do not mind one tiny little bit. 
When I was here in Berkeley last October, I could not get into the library at all.
You see, unlike the University Library in Iceland, the University Library at Berkeley is absolutely off-limits, unless one is a student. The same goes I think for every university library in the United States. Just to get into the library at the University of Washington, without even checking anything out, I had to show a current student ID from another university, and fill out a form with my name and address and phone number. 
It is o…

Pacific Gas and Electric

Yesterday, my oven suddenly stopped working. So I made calls to the property manager and the building owner and the maintenance man and to the gas company, PG&E. Turns out, no one had paid the gas bill to my unit for the last 6 months. Turns out also I was supposed to do so. Woops! So I called PG&E this morning and set up an account.

When I called PG&E, I was at first a little nervous, since of course not realizing one is supposed to pay one's gas bill is pretty flakey. But once I gave them my social security number, and they looked up my credit rating, the tone of the conversation changes. No deposit was needed to open an account, because my credit rating was so good. And they apologized for the mix up.

In the United States, there are very few forms of clout that count for much of anything, because name recognition is confined to a very small circle of people, unless one is a hollywood star. This is, afterall, not Iceland. But I do have one of the few forms of clout t…

Spanish mission style

One of the things that drives me absolutely crazy about the debate in the United States, especially the Southwestern United States over "illegal immigrants" is that those who want to "ship the illegals home" tend to forget that almost all of the Southwest of the US used to belong to Mexico. Thus a lot of the "Mexicans" living in California have been here for 300 years or more, before California was even a state.

In fact, Spanish missionaries started coming up the western coast of the US before the 13 Colonies declared independence from England. The cities of Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Juan Capistrano, were all first the locations of Spanish missions. That means the first building built in all of these areas was a large Catholic church. Priest and monks lived in these missions and tried to convert the Native American populations in each area; those who converted lived on the mission lands and helped with farming and other …

Putting them and myself to sleep

Today I lectured to my students about the history of the Icelandic manuscript production, collection, destruction, and repatriation. I had the powerpoint in my collection from a speech I had given in Los Angeles two years ago I think. I distinctly recall members of the audience (an adult audience who got me to come as part of their annual banquet) at that event two years ago enjoying my lecture and laughing and asking lots of questions. Today the same powerpoint elicited only a few nods and I think one half-hearted chuckle from the 15 students in the summer session course I am teaching. I cannot blame the topic (who would not find the history of the Icelandic manuscripts fascinating??), of course, so I think it must have had something to do with my delivery. Repeating the same material in a presentation always takes some of the excitement and energy out of a talk, definitely. But today I figure postprandial shunt had probably directed all the blood away from my brain. So I blame the b…

Greed x 20

I only spent about 20 hours total in Las Vegas, but it was enough to reaffirm my general dislike of excess. I was sooooo happy to get back to my Saab, and to think about how much more environmentally conscious and socially conscious and just responsible-human-being-ish it is to not want or need brand new and super fancy. Vegas has enough brand-new hotel rooms and casinos and restaurants and shops to satisfy the world-wide quota for the next ten years at least. It is the only place I know where something 20 years old is considered "shabby." My car is 20 years old, and I like it just fine. Even if the interior lining is sagging in the back, with a little spray glue, my girl will be perfect. That and fixing the hole in the muffler. 
And with the money I save, I can get her a really cool custom paint job. 

Searchlight Nevada

Today I am driving out to Searchlight Nevada with my mom and my son, and I was just thinking about all the guests my parents have hosted out there through the years. My cousin Fanney from Sandgerði went there when she was 13 or 14, and crashed my scooter into a neighbor's garage. He did not know my cousin was from Iceland, but he did know my parents were from California, so he shouted out, "Crazy Californian!" when the accident happened. (people in Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington have a prejudice against Californians, who are not as conservative as the rest of the West).

When my parents first bought the place--a doublewide trailer with a big cement porch all around it and a few storage sheds--my dad used to let people take the keys and go out there. It is a weekend place that sits empty most of the year, afterall. But the list of things to do to get the "house" operational, and then back in "stand by" mode was hefty, and people invariably forgot to t…