Showing posts from February, 2010


Upon arrival Palmer had to make sure he knew where all of his toys were, including the "monster truck with the light up wheels that we bought at the train station in Prague?" (far right, with his friend Grave Digger). 

Snow, and lots of it


Describing the landscape

I try sometimes to capture in words what the landscape here in Iceland is like, and I do not think I always do a very good job. But on days like this, when everything is covered in a thick blanket of white snow, it is considerably easier. The little details are less important, but the contrast between the land and the ocean greater. It is lovely.

Driving in the snow*

This morning my car had an appointment with the local mechanic to get his (bíll in Icelandic being masculine) brakes fixed. I very much wanted this done before Palmer arrives, so even though there was a mound of snow right behind my car, and four more mounds of snow in my parking lot, I knew I would have to find a way to get the car out. Shoveling the entire parking lot was clearly not a good option, so then I noticed how much less snow there was on the windward, grassy side of my house. I decided I would have to do a bit of off-roading in my little gray mini-van. There was of course one pile of snow in my way before I could get to the road, but since the car had built up some momentum, well, he went right over it, no problem. So my driving lesson for the day is that in the snow, one sometimes has to just go for it. *Probably not a topic of interest to most, but since my expose to this sort of driving was severely limited growing up in California, I am still gathering up neuropaths o

Child-centric evening events

I know some American parents who put their children to bed at around 6:30pm, and if the kids are up past 7pm, that is considered a very late night. Here in Iceland, especially in the summer time, it is not unusual for a kid-friendly event to begin at 7pm, 8pm, or even 9pm.  And even if it is perhaps not a kid-centric event, Icelanders still take the kids to things in the evenings, like the jazz concert I went to the other night. So I am wondering when Palmer gets here whether to try to be American or Icelandic about his bedtime. For the first week or two obviously, he'll be rather more on California time, so he will naturally want to stay up pretty late. That might be a good time therefore to do things the Icelandic way. Like take a 4 year old to a classical concert at 8pm.

Snow, and lots of it

I am relieved that my car itself is not buried under a mound of snow, but since the barrier between me and the car is growing by the minute, I am thinking I should have bought a shovel at some point in time. I am of course giddy as a child about all of this. It really is pretty entertaining, for a girl from California.

Feeling pretty calm and organized

Today I went through the closets, getting all the clothes that do not fit Palmer out of the way (and off to needy friends), making room in the front closet for his shoes, putting the new bedding on his bed. Now I think I am finally starting to let myself really look forward to seeing him. Could probably start counting hours, but that might be a little excessive. I am so happy it snowed, too, since it means we can go take a walk in the snow, maybe even throw some snowballs. He does not get a chance to do that much in California.

Personality versus identity

I just had a rather interesting conversation with my friend Valgeir the Philosopher. Reminded me of the sorts of conversation I would have if I were still on campus at Berkeley, so that was nice. We were talking about whether or not digital communication is changing the concept of individuality. Lots of people are talking about that these days, I think. But you know it occurs to me that somehow the terms personality and identity have been conflated in a lot of these discussions. Icelanders make a big deal out of how unique they are, but I am not sure that makes them extremely individualistic. And although I am not going to launch into a big essay on the subject at the moment, it just seemed worth it to note that to me, individuality is a concept of boundedness and separateness that has little to no place in Icelandic society, whereas personality--having divergent opinions and ideas and different senses of humor--does.

Skypeless tonight

Well, I try most nights to stay up late enough to talk to my family back home in California via Skype, but tonight will have to be (and has been) a silent skype night.

Snow suit

My friends Cassie and Koleen had planned a shopping trip, and invited me along. This was fortuitous, since I really needed to shop but am really not that good at it. I mean sometimes maybe, I have little shopping victories, but not usually. We were in fact talking about how good it is to go shopping in a group; Cassie made the point that when she goes shopping alone, she always talks herself out of most everything. Koleen does not have a car, so shopping for her is a major trek, and she heads into it with a well prepared plan. I am kind of a careless shopper, I pick the first thing off the shelf that I think might work, only occasionally changing my mind. Well, so, the three of us together balanced things out nicely. This winning combo meant that Palmer will now be suitably attired his first day in Iceland, with a cool new red 66 Degree North zip up snow suit bought at the incredibly good price of 9999 ISK. Kachow!

Cubby hole

Today Palmer's preschool called me, and we talked about how many hours a day he would be in school there. The teacher said she was looking forward to having him, and that they had already set up a little cubby hole with his name on it. I think that will help a lot, since he had a little cubby hole like that in California also. It could not hurt anyhow for him to have another little something familiar and comfortable. It will be a pretty big transition, afterall.

Hot water

They are getting the floor heating system fixed at the museum; it was a bit chilly in there this weekend. I am really still amazed by the myriad uses of the geothermal potential here in Iceland, everything from electrical power plants to swimming pools to growing vegetables and heating the houses. Even just little things like getting my water boiling are easier here in Iceland. It is really quite nice.


Today is something they call here in Iceland Konudagur, which translates as "wife day." The ads suggest this is a day men are supposed to buy their wives flowers or some other gift. Now, last Sunday was Valentine's Day, which I guess used to not be celebrated here in Iceland but now rather is. So for the last two Sundays, Icelandic men were supposed to do something nice for the woman in his life. I am trying to understand if Valentine's day is intended for unmarried couples, and Kona dagur for married couples, or if Icelanders are just happy with the redundancy, or see one as foreign and the other one as authentic. Now from my American perspective, the distinction should fall along the lines of the difference between Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. Those are two distinct roles, the lover and the mother, both of which deserve to be appreciated and acknowledged. Each one in fact is a lot of work.

Butcher block

Last night as I was falling asleep, I started thinking about how I need a butcher block for all my knives. Palmer is coming soon, and I hate having the knives in a drawer right where he can reach them. Plus on my last trip I picked up two more good knives, so now I have really almost a full set of decent cooking knives and steak knives. And then I started wondering what in the world I did with the old butcher block I used to have. So strange when I start thinking about all my stuff strewn all over the wide world, from two houses in California to this apartment in Iceland and now some of it seemingly stuck in Brazil. That my mind even remembers an old butcher block (one I had gotten when an undergraduate actually) is kind of amazing, except that well it was my first butcher block. We never had one growing up as a kid, and so I remember when my mom bought it for my college apartment, how surprised I was at how handy it was. I'd like to find it again if I can, because it really is nic

Scotsmen in Iceland

Yesterday at the bilaskodun I was reading the only newspaper they had, a Frettabladid from several days ago. It included an indepth story on the rescue of a Scottish woman and her son from a nearly 24 hour ordeal stuck on a glacier, when the snowmobiling company leading their tour under stormy conditions failed to take note of it when she lost sight of the group and got lost. The story seemed to put a bit of blame also on the husband, since it pointed out he also failed to take note of her not being along for the latter part of the ride, and the picture of him looked for all the world like he was in an orange prison jumper. But the story ended on a happier note, of her talking about her gratitude at being rescued, and her hopes of coming back to Iceland since the emotional response to her had been so honest and open. I think everyone really admired her survival skills, using the snowmobile as a wind block and building a snow cave to keep her and her son warm. They were found in surpris

Car maintenance

I am not a very good car owner, really. I do not obsess about how many miles it has been since the last oil change, I do not keep track of the tune-up schedule. If the car is driving well and seems happy, then I am happy. This lackadaisical attitude was more appropriate in California, where the weather first of all was not so hard on the cars, and second of all, where, if the car did happen to break down, there was always a service station within walking distance and the handy Automobile Association towing service. I must say I have grown a lot more dependent on my car being in good working order here in Iceland, and therefore more conscientious about taking care of it (though still not perfect by any means). Therefore, tomorrow morning I am resolved to take the car in for a proper oil change and a thorough inspection, before heading off to meetings at the museum.

10 days and counting!

Met my friend Angel for lunch and she asked me at least three times, "Aren't you just so excited your son is coming?". Of course the answer is yes, but I've also got a definite agenda for when he is here, a goal as it were. My plan is to try to make my son at least 25/75, maybe even 50/50 like his mom. I think it would be great if he felt both Iceland and the United States were his home. So my mission between March 1st and July 15th, is to Icelandify him. I am not entirely sure how I will accomplish this, having him in leikskóla is a big step in that direction, then trying to get him time with his cousins on the weekends and evenings, I guess maybe also taking him to as many kids related things as I can find around and about here in Iceland. I am thinking it will be almost a full time job, til að koma smá íslensk í honum.


Yesterday I worked at the museum, and today I am working on my dissertation. A part of me, and many of my friends and family, have doubted my ability to move both of these projects forward simultaneously. Afterall, although the subject matter is related, they require really different methods and working styles. I have therefore considered setting aside certain months for one project or the other, and indeed the museum has gotten stretches of dedicated time. And I think the dissertation deserves that too. But it is hard to pull off, with so many things in medias resi at the museum. So I am working on a schedule of switching day by day. It is working out pretty well this week. Yesterday I met with Gunnar, and I was really happy to get a positive reaction to most of my ideas. Then today my attention snapped right back to my dissertation. Of course it is a little harder to gauge on the dissertation if I am making adequate progress or not, but I suppose any progress is better than none.

Pork and beans, Iceland style

I talked Koleen into celebrating Spengidagur with me tonight, mostly by pretending I actually knew something about the holiday. Truth is I had only heard little tid bits, but that is usually enough for me to make wild extrapolations. We found out near the end of the meal that in fact it was supposed to be soup with lamb and kidney beans in it, not pulled lamb shoulder with baked beans; we had done something more akin to Thanksgiving I think with sides of mashed potatoes and corn. But anyhow, we liked the way it tasted so that I guess is what really matters. I also managed to eat enough to be totally stuffed, so I think that is deserving of some recognition.

Then end of skammdegi

I am not sure what the official end date is for this Icelandic term, skammdegi, literally the "short days." In the United States, we have the beginning and end of daylight savings to help us mark the changes to the lengths of the days. But here I feel like it just happens day by day, we all know it is happening, we all anticipate the end of skammdegi, know it is approaching, even if there is not a particular end date set in stone somewhere. Today though, Heida, Gunnar and I here at the museum, in the midst of a bright sunny day when the light is shinning through the wall of windows, we decided skammdegi were ending. This means it is time for me to take down Yggdrasil, at least in its jólatré form. We are going to move it outside, to be a welcoming sculpture, at least until we can commission a new work of art.

Best laid plans

Taking the Reykjanes Express this morning reminded me of taking the BART back in San Francisco, so I intended to enjoy one of the real, if seldom mentioned, perks of public transport -- feeling justified buying a really good coffee upon arrival in the big city. In Berkeley, Sufficient Grounds and Pete's Coffee are both right there at the BART entrance. So it was with a sense of glee that I realized the bus stop I use drops off right near the Kaffi Tár at the National Museum. This steeled my resolve as I headed out into the cold, windy morning towards the bus stop: the promise of a decent latte. One little detail I overlooked is that the museum is closed on Mondays. This would not happen in Berkeley.  

Not sure

...what instrument this is but it sounds pretty neat. Icelanders pull off intimate and experimental very well.

The drop in

As I experienced Iceland as a child, there were always people dropping by my grandmother's house, and then later my aunt's house. But in the younger generation, it seems more customary to call first, before just dropping by. In some ways, as an American, I am a lot more comfortable with that, but in another way, I think something special about Icelandic culture is lost, when people do not know that they are really always welcome to drop by. Like my distant cousin did today.


Yesterday at the grocery store, I really did my best to buy all Icelandic. Icelandic meat, cheese, butter, carrots, tomatoes, eggs, bread. But then I spotted the grapefruit. Round, shiny, fresh, tasty grapefruit. I could not resist. I think this is because when I was in California, I never did find the time to cut into the gigantic grapefruit my mom had brought from their house in San Diego, even though I kept glancing at it. So instead of eating one that was huge, locally grown and free, I now this morning had a tiny one imported from I do not know where. The price of delaying satisfaction, I guess. But at least it still tasted pretty good. view of my parent's back yard in San Diego, with citrus and avocado trees. Not visible here is the pond and the gazebo. 

Gotta show some respect

This weeks Vikurfrettir, the local paper here in Suðurnesja, has a very nice 3 page interview with volunteers from the area who went to Haiti. It is really sobering to think about what all they have been through.

Godiva Chocolates

This year for Christmas, I ordered online boxes of Godiva chocolates to be sent to most of my family members in the States, as a way to let them know I was thinking of them. It is one of the best brands of chocolate. So when I saw some Godiva chocolates on sale at the airport duty free shop here in Iceland last Monday morning, I bought them. The Christmas packaging made it pretty obvious why the boxes were on sale, but I thought hey, chocolate is chocolate. Plus of course I had not ordered myself a box at Christmas. Well, now I know for sure that chocolate can go stale. Even something as yummy as Godiva chocolate has a shelf life. Although the chocolate heart I just ate was delicious.

Facebook friends

One of the first people to friend me when I joined facebook was a guy in Turkey. I have kept him on my friend's list for no apparent reason, except it was nice to feel welcomed into the community somehow by him. Then I started adding lots of my friends from highschool and college, and then foreigners living in Iceland, and now I am building up my Icelandic friends, even getting added by Icelanders I do not know but who may either be related to me or know someone I know--one older guy living in Akureyri that I friended recently had the good advice that I should start taking Lysi cod oil every night for my aching wrists. I guess that makes him a real friend, and not just a facebook friend, but it is hard to say. Yesterday I got a request from Alisa, a Texan living in Iceland, to be my friend. She would have been my 201st friend, if I had said yes without removing someone. Since I had already made the decision not to go over 200 friends, I went ahead and deleted a couple of old high

No help needed, thanks

I have a cool cat cousin in Chicago, on my dad's side. She grew up in New York City, the Bronx to be exact. Then she went to law school in Boston, and has been a practicing lawyer for several years. I have always admired that she want the non-corporate law route. Worked for a battered women's shelter in Milwaukee for a while, for instance. She got laid off in the midst of the current recession in the U.S.. Like Iceland, the Mid West has been especially hard hit by this downturn. And like Iceland, it is the construction sector and the white color sectors have endured the most layoffs. But she does not need any help finding a new job. I have every confidence in her ability to land something perfect all on her own. Good luck Michele!

Very mysterious

The guy from Brimborg just called me, said my car was ready to be picked up but that we "need to talk about it once you get here." Cue scary music. Now in the States the dealership has had no qualms about breaking the really bad news to me over the phone: "Well, see now, you need a whole new engine. That's all there is to it." Jæ jæ, svo fer ég.

Bus fare

The driver this morning did not want my cash, only all my "klink." In the U.S., the exact opposite has happened to me, when I do not have exact change for the bus fare. I have had to pay $5 for a $1.25 bus ride on more than one occasion.

Fridge poetry

There was a fad in the US about a decade ago now of fridge poetry. Companies were selling boxes of tiny thin magnets, each with a word on one side. At first it was just common English words, but then the boxes started to be specialized by theme. I was given a box of word magnets by my colleague Stephen from Arctic Studies; that had words related to cats, in addition to just normal English words like "the" "is" "and". The idea is to put a few of these words on the refrigerator. One person puts them up one way, then another member of the family comes along and changes the order of what is on the fridge, or takes out new magnets and adds to the sentence. It is a game that is played without rules and without a time frame; they are always on the fridge and anyone at anytime can read what is there and change it if they like. I've always thought it was a really neat way to communicate, reminded me a little bit of a game us employees at the Smithsonian Natural

One more sign

that I have actually moved to Iceland: I waited to get an appointment with a dentist here, instead of having one with my old dentist in the States. Of course, my dentist here has a fabulous waiting room that is practically like a spa, and last time I went in, I thought he did a good job on my dental work. Worth the Icelandic copay, I would say. Pretty ironic though, since the only time he had an appointment was at 8am Thursday morning. Just before I called him, I had called to get a time at the Mazda dealership in Reykjavík, and had said I could not possibly make it in before 10am. Now I have both appointments on the same day, so my Thursday will be a big busy day in the big city.


I have to admit that I really enjoyed driving along the coast in California. I hit PCH in Laguna Beach, and Shoreline Drive in San Diego, even snuck in a turn on Mulholland Drive. The red cadillac did a fine job with the turns, and kept up its pep, so even though it was not a convertible, I still had fun tooling around. Now in Iceland, convertibles are down right silly. This is not the place to drive with a huge gaping hole in the roof.

My last night in Cali...

We went to Olamendis , one of the oldest and best Mexican food places in California, and a favorite of the Republican elite ever since Richard Nixon frequented the place. Their shredded beef chimichangas are especially famous, but I declined to order them, since they are a wee too fattening for my tastes. The main reason I went there really was because I thought it would be a good chance to see a nice sunset, right over the ocean after a rainy day. Turns out I was wrong, the sunset was blocked by the clouds. Tonight here in Iceland I meant to try to catch the sunset, but it seem to have happened very fast or very early, or maybe both. Sunset deprivation: more serious of an ailment than you might imagine.

Tiny little plus

Saying bye to my son, and missing the super bowl, make this a bummer of a day. But at least routing through Seattle Tacoma airport makes the trip itself a little easier.

So Cal Storm

In the movie LA Story, a running joke was what an easy job weather newscaster's in Southern California have.  Steve Martin, as the weather man, would throw suns wildly all over a big map of the LA Basin, and at one point even prerecorded the weather report for 4 days in advance. Of course, this bit of on the job negligence was motivated by lady troubles; he was trying to figure out how to get a beautiful, quirky Australian tubba player to fall in love with him. The electronic freeway warning signs magically lent him a hand. It is a cute movie. Anyhow, it just so happened that during these 4 days when his pre-recorded reports said "sun sun sun", a big rain storm came through. That is how it happens here in Southern California. It does not rain at all for months and months, but when it does rain, it is a long steady rain that soaks everything until the streets look like shallow rivers and the soil gives way under its own saturated weight. Kids sit at the window just watch

Conan O'Brien

Last night I saw a few minutes of the Tonight show with Conan O'Brien. They are running reruns until something can be figured out with this whole Jay Leno vs. Conan mess. I find Conan too sarcastic and self-absorbed, his humor mean-spirited and uninteresting. So, I suggested to my parents that perhaps we could watch Letterman, who my father characterized as "way too quirky." But then my mom and I were saying that at least Letterman seems comfortable in his own skin, i.e.: he occasionally smiles and laughs, he seems to actually enjoy what he is doing. I also like that the man wears very nice suits. Conan just always seems to have a chip on his shoulder. And yes, this now means I have made the transition over to California time, three days before I am leaving for Iceland. Því miður.

Commute time

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Kendra, who is an avid fan of all things Icelandic and also a professor at UCLA. She had the keys to my storage room--long story--so it seemed wise to just drive up to LA and get them instead of having her mail them. She always asks me about my progress on the dissertation, since she's a Berkeley PhD and knows how tough it is to actually finish. So I was telling her about how hard it has been to figure out where to work on my dissertation in Iceland. At my apartment, I have a very nice home office with a comfortable chair and a great view, but being alone all day is hard for me. So I reserved a desk at the Arni Magnusson Institute, where there is a nice routine of coffee breaks and interesting people around and lots of books, but the chair and the desk are so uncomfortable, my back, arms, and wrists are killing me after working there. Kendra always worked at the National Library, and I like working there also, the desks are clearly more comforta

State of the Union address

I started drafting this blog entry last week, and now it is high time I published it. Perhaps I am doing this just to be different, since right after the speech, of course everyone was talking about it. Or maybe I am lazy and like to procrastinate. But also I think the real impact of a speech takes time to settle out. What has stuck with me about that speech is actually what I learned about Joe Biden's role in the administration. The role of the Vice President is constitutionally ill defined, and there are a variety of ways it can be performed. Many films and shows about the White House treat the office of the Vice President as some inconsequential distraction to the main show of the President, but that is not the way I have experienced it as an American the last 20 years or so. I think that is a relic of the Dan Quail years, but since the Clinton/Gore administration, an appreciation for the capacity of the Office of the Vice President to be an integral part of the governance of

Birth hospital

Yesterday, I took my son, who has had a raspy cough on and off for about a month, to the emergency room down here in Southern California. We took him to the same hospital where he had been born, over four years ago now. Every part of me remembered every part of that hospital, so comfortable, so familiar, even though the week we spent there, while my son was in NICU (neonatal intensive care), had been a harrowing week. Whatever animosity I had felt, whatever questions about this treatment or that treatment I had had, whatever stress over the uncertainty of that week, were all gone. Instead I was just so grateful to be at a hospital I knew very well, and had come to trust. It felt like I was taking my son to a new moment of origin. Plus I got the exam and all the medications without paying a penny for any of it, which would not happen had he gotten sick in Iceland. So I considered it an afternoon very well spent. And now we know that Palmer is one of those kids who just wants to keep p

Best little playground in California

Yesterday, after I got my hair done by the best little hairdresser in California (I have written blogs about her  before), I was in the mood to take Palmer out on the town. So we headed down to Laguna Beach, in search of a toy store. We found one, right at Laguna Main beach, dubbed the "best little toy store in the world" where we picked out a train set and Gavin, the clerk, showed us a magic trick. Laguna Main also has a boardwalk along the sand, a basketball court, a volley ball court, and a playground I have decided to name "the best little playground in California." The equipment is compact, well made, and a ton of fun--tunnels and bridges and stairs that all intertwine--a whole little world just for the kids. Well, Palmer and I had a great two hours hanging out down there, eating icecream, playing on the swings, watching the sunset, and twirling on the sand until we fell down dizzy. And to think my first idea was to take him to the mall. That can clearly wait