Showing posts from June, 2011


I found out yesterday that my father towed the Bayliner out to Searchlight Nevada, where we have our weekend cabin. This despite the fact that my dad's larger speed boat, the Sleekcraft, is already out there, where it is permanently stored. I love the way in my family, the old things never get thrown out, and new things just keep getting added. The new things tend to get used more though, I do believe.

The Price is Right

After spending the last three years reliving my childhood summers in Iceland, I decided I needed to spend two weeks this summer reliving my childhood summers in California. (I spent every other summer in Iceland as a child).  So I am staying at the house I grew up in, and my mom and dad and brother are here with me this morning, as well as my son and my niece. The day is going EXACTLY the same as it did when I was 12 years old or so I guess. My dad is doing some project in the backyard, my mom is slowly getting ready for work, and I am watching the Price is Right.  Well, there is one difference. Palmer is watching with me, and I am justifying this all as a math learning exercise. Because you know you only get in the showcase showdown if you spin the wheel twice, and get 100. 

Speaking of Karens

So today I drove from the Bay Area down to the OC, and it took, all told with stops, 8 hours. Most of the time I was chatting with Palmer (who was very upset to have lost his digipet yesterday), but there were times when he quieted down and my mind wandered to random thoughts. Like about the name Karen. There are two Danish ladies in my department at UC Berkeley named Karen. Well actually, one is named Karen, and the other one named Karin. I used to know how to pronounce their names properly, but it seems during my time in Iceland, I have lost the ability, and now everyone is always correcting me whenever I say either of their names. So I was trying to get it straight in my head today. Karin, the professor who was chair last year and is on my dissertation committee, has an accent on the first syllable. She also has an American husband named Kenny who miraculously recovered from a debilitating brain tumor and a grown son who is now teaching in Denmark. Karen is a lecturer who is the h

Karen, hair goddess

Oh my poor readers, I do apologize. And really my enthusiasm is uncalled for. My hairdresser in Iceland was great, I mean who can complain about a 2nd cousin who does hair at a studio called Valhalla right on Odinsgata, and also happens to do the hair for Vigdis? Not I! She did a great job cutting my hair in November, such that it is just now reaching the point of "Cut me now or I will strangle you in your sleep."  Every morning for the last two weeks, my hair has looked at me menacingly in the mirror, and I have sheepishly promised, "Well, what am I supposed to do? We aren't in Iceland anymore you know. But I will try to see if I can get ahold of Karen." (Who cut my hair from the age of 17). Yesterday I took the plunge, and sent an email to an email address I had for her, last used in 2007. It worked! She responded! She will cut my hair next week! Old connections never die, no matter how long it has been since they were last used.

It was only sunscreen

Yesterday, I bought three different types of sunblock. SPF 15 sheer aloe vera to wear on the first couple of days of my trip to So Cal. Then SPF 30 for my face and Palmer's face. Finally, spray on SPF 50 for when we head out to Nevada. Ironically, I want a tan very badly. And yet one does come to learn that a dose of the sun's rays are often more powerful than our skin can deal with. By the end of the summer though, I expect to have a deep enough tan that I will not burn, even on a bright sunshiny day.

Complicated plans

This weekend Palmer and I are heading down to Southern California to visit my parents. That sounds simple enough. But Southern California is a big place (approx 40,000 sq km), and my family is spread out all over it. So I was thinking in Icelandic terms it would be something like driving from Egilsstaðir to a house in Selfoss (Mission Viejo, CA), and from there going to see my brother who lives in Seltjarnes (Carlsbad, CA) and my parents who live in Keflavík (Rainbow, CA), and visit my niece who lives in Akranes (Huntington Beach) and then all of us trying to coordinate a trip out to Akureyri (Searchlight, NV).  From there of course we'll all head to Lake Myvatn (Las Vegas). That is a lot of ground to cover, and lot of people to see, in a 10 day trip. I do not imagine my readers will be able to keep up with all of it.

Two in a row

I am afraid I may have given my friend's husband the wrong impression of me last night, when I mentioned I had been out drinking with the graduate students in my department Thursday evening, as I sat at a posh restaurant outside of Sacramento with a huge "mar-tea-ni" in front of me.  Two nights in a row of heading out for drinks puts me in the category of a "party girl." Well, that plus the fact that I had been living in Iceland, where he had heard the only thing to do in the winter time was "get drunk and have sex." I neglected to ask him where he had heard that bit of branding because of course it is rather counter to what we say in my field: "Icelanders preserved the sagas because there was nothing else to do during the long cold winter nights but tell each other stories." It was more that bookish side of Iceland, rather than the party scene side of Iceland, with which I was identified by my colleague in the department on Thursday evenin

June 17th

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, me and all my classmates used to celebrate the 17th of June. But alas, it was not because of Icelandic independence day. It was because it was the last day of school. One of my very best friends in elementary school, Christine, also had her birthday on this day. Her and I lost touch with each other in 8th grade, but rekindled our friendship a few years later. Last month she moved to a new house in a town called Roseville, east of Bereley by about 100 miles, and this afternoon I am going there to see her for her birthday. I will be sure to tell her this is also Jón Sigurðsson's birthday. I have not bought a gift for her yet, but I think making the effort to go see her is the best gift I could give one of oldest and dearest friends anyhow.


Saturday was the 60 year anniversary of the end of the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz. It is interesting the way different media outlets look at this event, which was highly controversial at the time. The Sacramento Bee seems relieved the Indians were finally forcefully removed from Alcatraz after more than 18 months of occupation of the island. However, t his piece, written from a Native American perspective , puts the occupation in a much more positive light. The Sacramento Bee story ends with a note about how it is now a National Park, "visited by 1.4 million people annually", as if to prove that things worked out for the best. Although I like to consider myself an optimist, always willing to look on the positive side, I must say in this regard, I am not. What everyone wanted in 1969 was change. The Federal government wanted to sell it to a developer, and thereby bring in some (probably much needed) cash. The American Indian Movement wanted to reclaim it as Native Land

Population of Iceland

I remember so well when I first started becoming a bit of an authority for Americans on all things Iceland in the early 90s. Back then, I would tell everyone who wanted to listen to me babble about my favorite place that Iceland had a population of a quarter-million. By the time I was working at the Smithsonian, the population statistics were 275,000, so I of course would use that number when giving public lectures and such. Around the time I moved to Iceland, the population had gotten up to 300,000, and well honestly that is the number I still use generally speaking. But about two weeks ago I had a facebook comment about 300,000 Icelanders, and was promptly corrected by my friend Valdimar, who sent me one liner telling me I had seemingly forgotten about the other 13 thousand. I thanked him and left the matter at that. But until the population gets to 325,000, I am not revising my statistics.


Today, Palmer finished kindergarden. I tried to make the day a bit celebratory - met him with a balloon and candy and took him out to pizza, where he played games and won prizes. He had a great time and it made me so happy to see him so happy. And he was still in a great mood when we went to the store after dinner, just chatting and joking and being good. When I put him to bed just now, I laid my head on his chest for a minute, and hugged his legs. I do not think we ever had a day like that in Iceland, where we were just relaxed and calm and enjoying each other's company, holding hands while we crossed the street. Me and my little guy.

Bully on the playground

Today Palmer and I were talking about a song their teacher plays for them sometimes in class, an uber-patriotic version of the Pledge of Allegiance set to a rock ballad tune . This is one of the songs the kids performed at the musical on Tuesday morning, and I was pretty surprised by the way the kids and the audience reacted to this song. Several of the children were tearing up, and so were some of the parents. The kids did sign language to the song, while this video was projected on the screen. So today I asked Palmer how often the teacher plays this version for them, and he said not too often. Then he asked me what the line meant, about people dying for their country. So we talked about soldiers and wars, and I told him about his uncle, my brother Erik, being in the Navy for a while. He asked if Erik was in a war, and I said no, that there was no war when he was on active duty. So Palmer asked if there was a war going on right now. And I told him yes. I told him right now the United

Visual culture versus tactile culture

I took a course once on the "anthropology of the senses", and the basic premise of the class is that different cultures conceptualize the senses differently. And this changes how they experience the world. The class also looked at some recent scientific studies of brain function, which show that the idea of 5 discreet senses is incorrect. Sensory data goes into the same place, and affects the interpretation of each other. The book I remember the best from that class was called "The book of skin" and it described the way the skin has been thought of in different cultures. This involves everything from tattooing to piercing, but also the symbolic and metaphorical ways scars and moles and other marks on the skin have been expressed in language, writing, and images. The book argues that in modern western culture, individuality is directly related to understandings of the skin not only as a boundary but also as the thing which carries our individual life history. Each sc

An unusual mourning

Today, I was very glad that I had gone to Iceland in May to pack up my apartment, instead of going now in June. Because this week, Dave needed my help here in California. He had to go to Georgia for his brother's funeral, and I am therefore spending the week with Palmer. It is the last week of kindergarden for him, and there are lots of events planned, which Dave will miss, but Palmer and I won't. Had I not been here, Dave would have taken Palmer with him to Georgia I guess, or had to make the difficult choice between consoling his mom or celebrating his son. Fate has a way of making sure all the important things get done.


Facebook displays, as everyone knows who uses it, advertisements to the side of one's "homepage" or newsfeed. They also appear on one's profile page, and in fact when one is looking at photos or anything. There is always some ad in the corner, on every page, and like Google ads they are supposed to be relevant to your likes and interests, according to your facebook profile. Three times, I have marked a little "x" in the upper left corner of one particular ad that I get shown all the time. It is an add for a coupon for a manicure/pedicure place here in Berkeley. Unfortunately, the photo they use to advertise this "special deal" is the foot of a woman whose nails have been painted some sort of greenishblue with small polkadots all over it. Her toes are rather short and pale and a bit puffy, and well, I have to say the overall effect is that I am looking at the toes of a dead person, who has become pale and swollen and whose toenails have been cover

Anti-tourism campaign against Iceland

I was checking around online for a detailed map of the park where I would like to hold Palmer's birthday party, and clicking on a promising link called "Park Trails" I saw something that surprised me. An advertisment their boldly declared "I will not visit Iceland" with a picture of a whale, and text stating that Iceland killed 273 endangered fin whales in the last two years. I clicked on the ad, and read about the concerted effort on the part of this group to specifically target high-traffic websites which ecologically minded tourists in the US and UK use to initiate an anti-Icelandic tourism campaign . Not exactly the way I wanted to observe sjómannadagur.

Hof brau

I have not been to the grocery store in a few days, and even my plans to stop by the corner store and get milk and eggs Friday afternoon got changed when Palmer was given a 16 oz glass of milk at a cafe on the upside of campus. I decided not to make us therefore walk downhill and back up again to the nearest store, and instead we made do with the milk he got from the cafe for the night and the next morning. I am a strategic mom, I like to think. For lunch Saturday I had to be strategic also; I had expected we'd be at a barbeque Saturday for lunch, but then a soaking rain storm cancelled that. The left over mexican food came to the rescue, since leaving the house in that downpour for any purpose was not high on my list. So when Palmer asked if he could stay at my house Saturday night, I immediately wondered what in the world I would feed him for dinner, without having to go to the store. I do in fact have spaghetti, and some other things, I could make. But no milk, his drink of choi

Mig dreymdi

My last dream of the morning was a vivid one. I was on a viking ship, sailing around Breiðafjörður, or somewhere with lots of little islands off the coast of Iceland. I could literally feel the wind filling the sails, and I went out onto the prow. The weird thing was we sailed past several other vessels in the water that had no one on them. A dingy, a jet ski, a rubber raft, just floating empty. I shouted out that we should turn back to open waters, and we did. It was magnificent.