Translation: Great-grandfather’s obituary

This summer, I spent some time poking around, a searchable archive of hundreds of Icelandic, Faroese and Greenlandic publications. I found dozens of articles about or mentioning my ancestors, and unlike when I searched this website a couple years ago, this time I could actually read the article reasonably well. The best find was an obituary for my great-grandfather. I was sitting at the kitchen table one evening when I came across it. I called my mom over and showed her, then started roughly translating it aloud for her. I was concentrating so hard that I didn’t look up for a while, but when I did, I saw that she had tears in her eyes. It was one of those beautiful little moments of affirmation when I know that I made the right choice to come here and study Icelandic, even if it doesn’t always make sense on paper.

Anyway, after I read through the article, I searched through our genealogy notebooks and found no English translation (although portions of the article were taken from almanacs and other publications, so paragraphs here and there were familiar), so I decided to try my hand at translating it.

The challenges were many – for instance, old-fashioned language and terminology specific to farming and church life – but the process was rewarding. Not only did I learn more about the Icelandic language, but I learned about the life of my remarkable great-grandfather, who unfortunately was gone more than twenty years before my birth.

I might write a bit more later about the process of translating this article and some of the specific questions and challenges I faced, but for now, I’ll just post my translation along with a link to the original text. I am absolutely an amateur, so if anyone has corrections or suggestions, by all means share them. Many thanks to Páll Baldursson for his assistance with some of the more difficult parts.

Original text (á íslensku): Merkur Íslendingur látinn

Distinguished Icelander has passed away

Originally published in the Lögberg-Heimskringla, Thursday, July 20, 1961

As previously reported in the Lögberg-Heimskringla, the distinguished Sveinn Einarsson Westford passed away at a hospital in Bellingham, Washington on Friday, May 12, 1961, at the age of 86 years, five months and seven days. He was born December 5, 1874 at the farm Miðhlíð in Brjánslækur Parish and was christened the 25th of the same month. 

Sveinn’s parents were Einar Magnússon Vestfjörð from Skáleyjar in Breiðafjörður and Kristín Jónsdóttir Magnússonar from Tindar in Geiradal, both of good Icelandic stock.

In 1884, at the age of 10, Sveinn came to North America alongside his parents. They settled first in Gardar, North Dakota, then in 1892 moved to the Mouse River area.

It was written about Sveinn’s father, Einar Magnússon, that he was a diligent and practical worker, a great farmer, and a strong figure to behold. The couple quickly prospered, and their home was known as a place of help and benevolence for the less fortunate and a safe refuge for helpless new immigrants. Sveinn and his late brother Jakob grew up in this charitable home, alongside their foster sister Anna, now Mrs. Svanson, assistant housekeeper at Stafholt in Blaine, Washington. Many years ago, something to this effect was written about the brothers: Einar’s sons are Jakob and Sveinn, the most stately of men, of calm temperament, popular, and well-respected by all.

In 1907, Sveinn married the beautiful Helga Þórðardóttir Benediktsson from Dalhús. She passed away several years ago. The young couple settled in the northern part of the Mouse River area among people of another nationality, but when Sveinn got the opportunity, he sold that land and bought a great farm that encompassed forest, meadow and fields.

In those days, many could not imagine taking on a debt of many thousands of dollars, but Sveinn Westford was full of optimism and unwavering faith and was certain that he would have great success in this undertaking. And that’s exactly what happened. Sveinn immediately got down to business cultivating the land and plowing that vast meadow, and experience proved that the work yielded rich fruit. Sveinn became one of the first men to show others what this good, rich earth could produce. He also raised cattle, which proved to be profitable. After just a few years, he had paid for the great land, and the ranch was one of the most beautiful in the area and one of the most flourishing farms in the countryside.

Sveinn the good farmer lived on this land until the government decided to put a large portion of it under water. A number of farmers, including Sveinn Westford, were forced to give up their land. Sveinn showed outstanding diligence in his farming at the Mouse River settlement and earned a wonderful reputation among the residents there.

Sveinn and Helga had eleven children, seven boys and four girls. The sons are:

  1. Victor, a resident of Seattle, Washington
  2. Einar, New Port, Pennsylania
  3. Grímur, Oakland, California
  4. Oscar, Seattle, Washington
  5. Fredrick, San Lorenzo, California
  6. John, Ferndale, Washington
  7. Sveinn, Bellingham, Washington

Their daughters are:

  1. Mrs. Christine M. Turnipseed, Newton, Illinois
  2. Mrs. Jakobina Paulina Hillman, Mountain, North Dakota
  3. Mrs. Ellen Lunde, Upham, North Dakota
  4. Mrs. Lillian Cairns, Seattle, Washington

All the children survive their parents and they are, without exception, the most promising people, intelligent, cultured and highly regarded by all who know them. They are all good church folk, raised to be god-fearing and good-mannered.

Within the Icelandic community, Sveinn Westford was among the most pleasant individuals. Alongside his beloved wife, he was involved in anything related to the church. He was a faithful member and for a long time chairman of the Icelandic congregation in Upham, North Dakota.

Twenty-six years ago, Sveinn and his wife and most of their children moved west and settled in the Blaine area, just south of the town. They purchased a beautiful farm and lived there for several years. They immediately joined the Blaine congregation, as did all the children who had accompanied them west. Within the Blaine congregation, Sveinn and Helga proved themselves to be some of the most faithful congregants. In all efforts, Sveinn was encouraging and always willing to give of his time, money and energy.

Sveinn Westford was a strapping man and decided in all that he put his mind to. I, who am writing these few words in his memory, knew Sveinn Westford, his wife and their children very well. The entire family was involved in the church those seven years that I was their priest, and I had the honor of performing church rites for these pleasant folk.

I’ll give one example of Sveinn’s work ethic. In 1940, the church had fallen into disrepair and the interior needed to be painted as soon as possible. Sveinn was on the congregational board as he always was in those years. Sveinn was one of those who took on the most work. We did not have to wait long until the project was completed, because a few days after the repairs were approved at a congregational meeting, Sveinn came with a large group of church members and the work was completed within a few days.

In the parish council, Sveinn always had a lot to say. Everyone trusted him and appreciated his advice, which always proved to be wise.

The Westfords were known for their Icelandic hospitality, both in the Mouse River area and also after they moved to Blaine. The couple were extremely likeable and had many friends, and there were often many at their good and cheerful home. Young people also often gathered there together.

A few years ago, Sveinn sold his farm in Blaine and bought a modest home in Bellingham. It suited the couple well, until their health started to decline, and after a few years in Bellingham Sveinn lost his good wife. Shortly after her death, Sveinn began to lose his sight and eventually he became completely blind. After that point, he lived with several of his children, including his son Victor in Seattle. Sveinn’s daughter, the schoolteacher Mrs. Jakobina Hillman, moved to Seattle and supported her father with her presence, so he was as happy as could be expected. Sveinn was grateful to his children for graciously aiding their helpless father when he most needed it. The last two years of his life, Sveinn lived with his son John, who is married to an American woman. They live in Ferndale, not far from Blaine, and while living there with them, Sveinn’s condition deteriorated and he even became bedridden. His daughter-in-law was extremely kind to him, nursing him and doing all in her power to help him. Sveinn was later moved to the medical wing of Stafholt in Blaine, Washington. After a few days he was moved to the hospital in Bellingham, and there, after just a few hours, he passed away. Thus ended a long and prosperous life.

Sveinn was, in truth, a fortunate man. He was lucky to have such a wonderful wife, who was his anchor in life, and to have so many practical children, who honored their parents and will always honor their memory.

With many friends and family present, Sveinn was laid to rest in Bay View Cemetery on Friday, May 19. Arrangements were taken care of by the John Westford Funeral Home in Bellingham and Guðmundur P. Johnson presided over the funeral.

The death of Sveinn Einarsson Westford is the loss of a distinguished Icelander, who will long be remembered by those who knew him. 

May the Lord bless the memory of this good man.


Original Icelandic text by Guðmundur P. Johnson, 20 July 1961

English translation by Julie Summers, October 2015

tíu dagar á íslandi, part 2

addendum to friday

I forgot to mention in my previous post that on Friday evening, I went with Ásta Sól to a reception for the current Snorri Plus group.  Relatives of each participant were invited, plus supporters of the Snorri programs, and it was a very full house (well, office).  I got to see Kent, tour guide and bus driver extraordinaire, who informed me that I get to be an honourary Canuck for Canadian Thanksgiving this year; Halldór, who I first met while on the Snorri Program; and Rúnar, a professor, author and translator I met at Þorrablót in Seattle earlier this year.  The crowd was rather overwhelming, but watching people connect with their long-lost relatives, hugging and taking photos and poring over genealogy together, was an impressive and moving sight to behold.

laugardagur / saturday

Saturday was Menningarnótt, or Reykjavík Culture Night. Officially, Menningarnótt is intended to celebrate the start of a new year of cultural events, or something like that.  Unofficially, it’s a good excuse for a city-wide party, including free events and food!

Before I partook in any Menningarnótt festivities, however, I went to Café Babalú to meet Kelsey, a fellow Icelandic as a Second Language student and Árni Magnússon grant recipient.  Kelsey had found me on Facebook somehow and we thought it would be fun to meet each other and postulate about what to expect on the looming stöðupróf, the placement test we had to take to determine if we could begin the BA program.  Kelsey is from California via British Columbia and if she wasn’t so great, she would be incredibly intimidating, on account of being fluent or near-fluent in at least 3 (?) non-native languages.  We sat chatting over cups of coffee long enough that we were kindly asked to leave due to the encroaching Menningarnótt hordes.

So back to that whole Menningarnótt thing. There were events going on all around the city throughout the day. I studied the schedule and saw a few events I would have liked to go to (including “Free Hugs” on Laugavegur from 2:00-3:00), but ultimately decided to meet up with a couple new friends and just wander around and see what we found.  I met up with Daniela and Harry in the afternoon (see: fimmtudagur here) at KEX and we set out to see what Menningarnótt might hold for us.  Before long, we found our first stop: vöfflukaffi!  There were several places around the city that were offering free waffles and coffee to visitors. We happened to stop at a little house that is a resource/community center for people living with HIV.  We sat and enjoyed some fresh vöfflur með sultu og rjóma, then continued on our merry way.

For lunch, we went to a little pizza place tucked away on Hverfisgata, and I was introduced to the phenomenon of pizza that comes with a salad on top.  Apparently this is considered normal by many people who are not Americans.


I went home to escape the crowd for a few hours, then set out again to meet up with Kimberly.  She was with her frændi Helgi and his girlfriend Sóley, and they were bouncing back and forth to different venues to watch friends playing in bands (because, Iceland).  I followed them around like a little duckling for an hour or so, and then decided I had to escape the crowds again.

There were fireworks by Harpa starting at eleven, but after I fought my way home through the crowd and settled in on the couch, I wasn’t terribly excited about venturing back out into the insanity.  So I joined Ásta Sól’s family in watching the festivities on TV, which was kind of strange during the fireworks as we could see flashes out the window and hear the explosions.

To summarize: Menningarnótt is quite a spectacle to behold.  There are endless options for how to spend the day, and the city is buzzing with energy wherever you go.  But the crowds definitely got to me after a while.  If I am here for Menningarnótt next year, I might try to plan out my day a bit more and compare that sort of experience to the wandering experience.  I’m sure both are enjoyable in their own way.


sunnudagur / sunday

After a lazy Sunday morning, I went with Ásta Sól in the afternoon to Þjóðræknisþing – the annual convention of Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga, the sister organization to the Icelandic National League of North America.  We arrived a bit late (Iceland may be a rather large island, but I think “island time” still applies) but still got to see most of the program, which was, no surprise, almost entirely in Icelandic.  I understood a very teeny tiny fraction of what was going on, but it was still interesting.

I think my favorite presentation was from a University of Iceland researcher who has been studying so-called “Western Icelandic,” the distinct dialect of Icelandic that developed among Icelandic settlers in North America and in some cases has been passed down several generations now.  From what I understood, part of her project was that when she met with speakers of Western Icelandic, she brought an illustrated, wordless book.  The pictures clearly tell a story, but the experiment was in hearing how these people chose to tell the story.  Because there were pictures, and because it was a children’s story, it was much easier for me to follow.

There was another Icelandic-language presentation of which I understood very little, but Ásta Sól explained it to me a bit later on.  It was about the concepts of “blóðtaka” and “blóðgjöf.”  The words don’t translate directly into English very well, but “blóðtaka” would be something like bloodletting and “blóðgjöf” is like a gift of blood of gift by blood.  Since I couldn’t understand the presentation, I don’t remember the details of the story very well, but it was something about an Icelandic woman who emigrated to Canada, had one child and then died, and her family in Iceland completely lost track of her.  As it turns out, her child has many descendants, including a very prominent family in the Winnipeg area.  I think the overall idea is that the emigration of so many Icelanders to North America was a painful loss, a hugely significant event that tore families apart, but had that blood not been taken from the body of Icelanders, fewer would have survived overall (due to a stark lack of resources), and people would never have known the joy of reconnecting with long-lost relatives from across the ocean.

That is a very inarticulate summary, but I have to say that the presentation struck a chord even with as little of it as I could understand.

Other presentations included:

  • A recap of the 2014 Snorri West experience (which made me homesick for my own Snorri experience, especially since none other than fellow 2012 Snorri and overall fabulous human being Sacha made an appearance in the video)
  • A brief speech about Icelandic settlers in Utah by Dr. Fred Woods, a BYU professor and researcher who gave a wonderful presentation at the INL Convention in Seattle last year
  • A beautiful presentation by the always-sunny Sunna Furstenau about her Icelandic Roots organization
  • A presentation by Egill Helgason, whose TV show Veturfarar finds him traveling to North America to explore the areas of settlement, stories of immigrants, and the Icelandic heritage in North America today (it’s a 10-part series that will run on RÚV on Sunday evenings; you can watch the first episode here but note that it’s all in Icelandic).

After the program, I got to chat with a few people I know and meet some of this year’s Snorri Plus participants, including one with the fabulous name of Julie.

I also got to give a quick hug and hello to Sunna mín.  Sunna has been a tremendous example and encouragement to me and was kind enough to write me a recommendation for my Fulbright grant, so I literally would not be where I am today without her.


Áfram Jóð Té!

You may have heard that Justin Timberlake was in Iceland last weekend.  It was a Big Deal.  He had never performed in Iceland before, and although Iceland has an incredible amount of talented musicians, many of whom are internationally known, they do not often attract útlendingar with names as big as Justin Timberlake.  Earlier in the week, there was a two-page guide in Fréttatíminn with information about the JT concert, including the ridiculously complicated parking/carpooling/public transportation rules.  Apparently people who live in the neighborhood of the venue had to have special passes to even get to their own homes.  So not everyone was thrilled about JT’s presence here.

Anyway, the powers that be decided that the Official Hashtag for this magnificent event should be #JTKorinn (Kórinn being the name of the venue).  Before the concert started, one of the Icelandic TV channels was showing a feed of Twitter posts and photos with the #JTKorinn hashtag.  Iceland being Iceland, Ásta Sól and Addi kept pointing out people they knew in the photos.  Something went wrong with the licensing or the technology, though, because the channel just kept cycling through the same 12 or so Tweets, which was awkward.

At the appointed hour, The Event began, and because it was live streamed on Yahoo, we got to experience it almost as if we were actually there with the rest of the country.  JT got himself in a bit of trouble, arguably, by addressing the crowd as “Reykjavík,” when in fact Kórinn is in neighboring Kópavogur.  Úbs.  But Kópavogur not exactly being a booming metropolis, and Reykjavík being home to two-thirds of Iceland’s population, it is entirely likely that the majority of the crowd was from Reykjavík.

The media coverage of #JTKorinn was quite a sight to behold.  I say “media” rather than “news,” because it very quickly devolved from things that are actually news (the occurrence of the concert itself, the traffic jam it caused) to things that could only loosely be considered news (an interview with the first two people in line for the concert, two women who traveled from Denmark just to see JT) to things that might as well be BuzzFeed articles, so little do they resemble actual news (e.g., an article about the long bathroom lines at the concert; although I will say that this one was educational as it taught me the Icelandic phrase “að kasta af sér vatni,” which means “to make water” or more colloquially, “to take a leak”).

I think the volcano could have erupted and the media might not have noticed, so focused were they on JT.  And the obsession did not end with the concert.  The next day there were articles dissecting the show, making fun of JT’s Reykjavík mistake, predicting that other big international stars will come to Iceland soon, telling the story of a girl who fainted at the concert and a bartender who gave JT’s drummer a cigarette and got drumsticks from the show in return, etc.  It was nonstop, it was ridiculous, and it was entertaining.


Well, I have finally recapped one full week, which only leaves one more week to go until I am caught up.  Writing about JT was exhausting, though, so I shall stop here for now.  Until my next post is up, you can entertain yourself by reading Vísir articles about JT or perhaps listening to N*Sync’s new hit album (yes, you read that correctly, and no, it is not 2001).

margir Íslendingar í Seattle: INL Convention, Days 1 & 2

This April, the annual convention of the Icelandic National League of North America was held in Seattle.  It was the first time Seattle has ever hosted and only the second time the convention has been in a U.S. city in 94 years of conventions.  Ninety-four years!

Each convention has a theme, and this year’s was “There’s No Place Like Heima,” playing off the Seattle/Emerald City/Wizard of Oz connection and the Icelandic word for home.

Program photos/design by Amanda Allen
Program photos/design by Amanda Allen

Many months ago, my friend David, a member of the Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle and head of the Convention planning committee, asked me to help with some writing, editing, promotion, name-tag-making, music-mix-burning and other miscellaneous tasks in preparation for the big weekend, and I was more than happy to help out.  Most of the time, that is.  Perhaps I was a little less than happy when I spent the greater part of an entire weekend trying to get the name tags to print out with the proper margins and color.  Þetta reddast.

I have so much to say about this incredible weekend that I think I may need a couple posts to cover everything.  We begin with…


(thursday night)

I left work early Thursday afternoon, finished packing, then headed north.  Did you know procrastination is an Icelandic trait?  Way back in January, David explained to me his idea of having a few people give very brief speeches, little vignettes almost, ruminating on the theme of heima/home, and he asked me to do one of them.  I had more than enough time to plan and practice it, but I am not a fan of public speaking and I didn’t know how to condense my thoughts down to just 5 minutes so as of Thursday afternoon I still hadn’t quite figured out what I was going to say.  I had a general outline, and as I drove north on I-5 I practiced and tried to work out the kinks.  Eventually I got to a point where the speech was more or less coherent and I was feeling more confident.  The problem was, every time I got to a certain part, a lump would form in my throat and I’d have to stop to fight off tears.  It was an emotional topic magnified by my absolute exhaustion (I had been working extra hours to make up for the day and a half I took off, as I couldn’t yet use my vacation time).

As I neared Seattle, I decided to rest my voice and my emotions for awhile.  After I conquered the maze of one-way streets downtown and finally found the Crowne Plaza, I went to check in.  As I was standing at the desk, I saw someone out of the corner of my eye, a guy about my age, long hair, orange sweatshirt.  “Julie?” he called.  I turned to face him and discovered it was Johnathan, or Nonni as he is known by many, a 2009 Snorri I had chatted with on Facebook but never met before.  “Hi!” I said.  He gave me a big hug and we started talking like we were old friends.  And that was the first of many moments that combined to create a remarkably warm, moving, joyous weekend that I will not soon forget.

After I lugged my bags up to my room, I joined the crowd mulling about in the hospitality suite.  And I do mean crowd.  Those who know me well undoubtedly know that I am not much for crowds.  I get overwhelmed rather easily.  And this crowd was definitely overwhelming, but in the best way imaginable.  First I saw Helgi, a former Snorri who was actually in Iceland during my trip last year and had dinner with our group one night at KEX Hostel.  That was the only time we’d ever met, but of course he too gave me a big, warm, lopapeysa-wooly hug.  Within a couple minutes, I had spotted David, Amanda, Sacha, Ásta Sól, Halldór, Kent, Sunna, and so many more.  It felt like a homecoming.  These are my people.  This is where I belong.

Helgi introduced me to his girlfriend Friðný and another friend, Signý, and I chatted with them for a little bit.  We spoke a little Icelandic together and I was encouraged by Friðný’s kind and generous assertion that my pronunciation is very good.

I stepped out to escape the crowd for a bit and ran into Judy, an associate editor for the Lögberg-Heimskringla with whom I have exchanged many an email over the past several months.  She was heading up to the bar and Signý and I decided to join her.  The three of us took a small round table, sat back, and, away from the happy chaos downstairs, realized we were starving.  Before we had even ordered dinner, we were joined by a couple more Icelanders, then a few more.  One by one more tables were added until there were probably 20 people, 6 tables, four people sharing two extra chairs.  The non-Icelandic people in the bar grew more bewildered as our group grew larger and more boisterous.

Eventually, dizzy and exhausted, I said goodbye to the (still quite large) bar crowd and went back to my room.  I spent a half hour or so staring at my speech, made a few minor changes, then decided it would have to take care of itself in the morning.



Breakfast and a couple cups of good strong kaffi, then welcoming remarks from our fearless organizer David, Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen, the Executive Director of the Nordic Heritage Museum, and a representative of the Seattle-Reykjavík Sister City Association.  While listening to these speakers, I was also thumbing through the beautiful program that Amanda designed.

Amanda's handiwork
Amanda’s handiwork

She sprinkled a few quotes throughout, all relating to the theme of home, and I was struck by this one, which was overlaid on a photo she took while our group was at Hofsós:

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.”
– Christian Morgenstern

In that instant, my nerves were calmed and I knew I would make it through my speech.  I was surrounded by people who understood me, and they would understand what I was trying to convey even if I wasn’t the most eloquent or engaging speaker.

David introduced me and I gave my speech, which I called “Home as a Place of Belonging.”  It went so much better than I could have hoped.  I didn’t trip over my words too much, I remembered to make eye contact, the audience laughed when they were supposed to.  Someone even came up to me afterward and said, “You’re such a natural speaker!” (ha!) [You can watch it here, if you’re so inclined.]

When I finished, I introduced Sunna from North Dakota, who shared a presentation she gave all around Iceland last fall as part of the International Visits Program titled “The Love of Iceland in America.”  As you can likely deduce from the title, it’s about how people of Icelandic descent in America have kept Iceland in their hearts over the years.  It was an emotional presentation for many.  Some in attendance were born in Iceland, some, like me, were born in North America, descendants of those who left their homeland and their families behind in search of a better life.  In many cases, their departure left a rift of bitterness behind.  And in a sense, it’s only in relatively recent history that there’s been a fuller reconciliation between the families of those who stayed and the families of those who left.  But there we were, a group of people diverse in many ways but tied together by this obscure, out-of-the-way island in the North Atlantic and touched by the stories Sunna shared.  Eyes watery, hearts full, we broke for a brief intermission.

A lady I had never met before, several inches shorter than me, her pale blonde hair pulled up to one side in an elegant braided chignon, came up to me, introduced herself as Sigrid, and thanked me for sharing my story.  I don’t remember our exact conversation, except that at one point she said something about how it’s people like me who are keeping the Icelandic heritage alive in North America.

Ég og Sigrid
Ég og Sigrid

How do you follow all that emotion?  With sugar, of course.  The crowd meandered back upstairs to the hospitality suite for kleinur (a traditional Icelandic doughnut) and some kind of layered cake that looked like it’s related to vínarterta.

Reinforced by sugar, the tremendous energy of that morning continued throughout the rest of the day.  The afternoon brought a brief presentation by Amöndu about her family’s tradition of making vínarterta every year, and a presentation by Ásta Sól about the Snorri Program.  Dr. Steve Guttormsson, a retired Minnesota doctor who started a nonprofit foundation to support American Snorri participants, presented Ásta with a check to cover $2000 for each of three 2013 participants.  Amanda and I were the recipients of the first two Guttormsson Family Foundation scholarships last year, and we finally got to meet Dr. Guttormsson and thank him for his part in getting us to Iceland last year.

Me, Steve, Amanda
Me, Steve, Amanda

The main event of the afternoon was a lecture by Alene Moris entitled “Women in Iceland are Unusual and Happy.”  Moris co-founded the Women’s Center at the University of Washington and is an outspoken advocate for male/female balance, especially in the workplace.  She’s an absolute powerhouse and it was a privilege to hear her.

Friday afternoon brought some much-needed free time.  I think I did some more visiting, wandered over to the Seattle Public Library, then met up with Sacha and Amanda.  We walked to Pike Place Market, watched a little fish throwing, then headed downstairs to Pike Brewing for dinner.  Sacha ordered a pitcher of Naughty Nellie Ale to share, mostly, I think, because she just wanted to say “Naughty Nellie Ale,” but it turned out to be delicious, as were the fish and chips.  When our waiter checked our IDs, he noticed Amanda had just had a birthday, so he brought her a little molten chocolate birthday cake treat.  After a bite, Amanda realized it contained walnuts, to which she is mildly allergic.  She ate more of it but said her mouth felt rather itchy.  We helped her out by removing some of the temptation.


We lingered over our beers a little too long and missed the first part of Friday night’s program, but made it in time for remarks by Halldór Árnasson of Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga (INL – Iceland) and the keynote speech by Ambassador Þórður Ægir Óskarsson of Canada.

[Speaking of ambassadors, I can’t recall when exactly this happened, and this won’t make sense unless you’ve listened to my presentation, but some time after I gave my speech, the Icelandic Ambassador from D.C., Guðmundur Stefánsson, came up to me and said, “So that guy you were talking about, at the coffee shop, was he hitting on you?”  It was hilarious and embarrassing and I had to explain that actually, the guy was with his girlfriend but I hadn’t mentioned her in the interest of keeping the story short and simple.  I got the feeling Mr. Ambassador didn’t entirely believe me, and then I made the huge mistake of saying that his hometown of Hafnarfjörður is basically a big suburb of Reykjavík, but anyway.]

Friday evening, former Snorris (and friends of Snorris) gathered together for a casual time of conversation and reminiscing.  Many different years were represented, ranging from 1999 (the very first year!) to 2012.  Ásta Sól said a few words and told us about a documentary she made telling the story of three Snorris from several years ago.  She was going to show it but we couldn’t find a projector, so instead we talked.  And drank.  And laughed.  And talked and talked and talked.  Oh and at one point some people started singing Icelandic folk songs.

I spent most of the evening chatting with Matthew, an alum from the Seattle area.  He participated in the program 12 years before me, but we had so many of the same experiences and feelings.  I don’t think anyone but a fellow Snorri can truly understand the joy and fear and awe and magic of the trip and the way you feel like a little piece of your heart has been ruined forever and nothing else will ever satisfy it and you have to go back, you just have to.

Matthew og Julie 2
Matthew og ég

Sacha og Amöndu
Sacha og Amanda

góður hópur
góður hópur

Most presentations from the 2013 INL Convention can be viewed here.

Flatey, Part 2

Flatey: The Rest of the Story

I already wrote about most of our Flatey trip, but there are a few more pictures and stories about that day that I want to share.

First of all, when we boarded the ferry, Hrafnhildur asked me if I was going to get seasick.  I assured her that I am quite used to ferry rides (in the summer anyway) and would be just fine.  It was a clear, calm day and I was indeed just fine.  Apparently in the winter they often have to cancel the crossing due to bad weather.  It’s a fairly small boat… not sure about the vehicle capacity, but there’s a little galley with ridiculously overpriced food, plus a nifty little theater where they show movies (there was some oldie on starring Mel Gibson).  Kind of a nice idea for winter crossings, or for people who ride the ferry all the time, but I wasn’t about to waste my time watching Mel Gibson when I could be enjoying the scenery.

Skipping ahead to Flatey, let’s recap: we perused the fish-factory-turned-giftshop by the dock, walked into Þorpið (the village), said ‘góðan daginn’ to all the summer residents who were out painting their houses, listened in on choir practice at the church, had kaffi at Hotel Flatey, and enjoyed the constantly beautiful view.  Eventually we ran out of things to do, so we lingered by the hotel for awhile and watched kids jumping into the water, then meandered back to the dock and sat in the sun while we waited for the ferry to return.


Flatey Scenes:


Sheep! I took this photo just for my mama, who has an inexplicable obsession with pictures of farm animals, specifically sheep and chickens.



These contraptions are all over the place. They’re for hanging fish to dry. Why anyone would want to ruin a perfectly good fish by drying it for 6 weeks until it looks and tastes like fishy straw is beyond me, but it seems very popular.


Flateyan Goods


Enjoying the sun and waiting for the ferry


The ferry arriving to take us home


Homeward bound


On the ride back, I once again stayed above deck the whole time.  This time Sæmundur and Hrafnhildur joined me, and Sæmundur tried to locate Skáleyar, the islands where some of my ancestors lived.


Looking for Skáleyar


We ate pizza at a little restaurant back on the mainland, and I eavesdropped on the conversation of some English-speaking tourists sitting behind us.

On the drive home, Sæmundur suddenly pulled over.  He wanted to show me the area where my great-great-grandfather’s farm was.  First he showed me Neðri-Arnórsstaðir, but then right across the street we discovered a sign for Miðhlíð, the actual name of the actual farm where my great-grandfather was born (and I think where he lived until he left for America at the age of 9 or 10).  I don’t know if the land boundaries are the same as they used to be, but in any case, he was born in this area and enjoyed this incredible view of Snæfellsness.  Impossible to really wrap my head around, but incredible nonetheless.  I would have loved to be able to talk to the people who live on the farm now and see what they know about its history.





The sign for Miðhlíð, the farm where my great-grandfather was born.


Not a bad place to live, eh?


My ancestors had to suffer this terrible view.


We had to take Astrós back home to Tálknafjörður, so we enjoyed some heitt súkkulaði out on the deck and then her younger sisters said ‘komdu!’ and invited me to jump on the trampoline with them. The language barrier didn’t matter too much. We just jumped and jumped and laughed and laughed.


This morning Hrafnhildur and Sæmundur showed me a book with information about farms and towns in the area and the people who lived there in the past century.



Here’s the page about Miðhlíð:




Patro, circa 1913


I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I am walking on the same land as my ancestors did, seeing the same views of the same impossibly beautiful land, but it’s true.  Hey Mom, have I convinced you that you need to come yet?  🙂