In my last post, I shared some of the more stressful happenings I’ve experienced in the last five weeks. Thankfully, life hasn’t been all stress and worry, though. We’ve been enjoying a perfect warm, dry, sunny Northwest summer, which I am trying to relish, knowing that I will dearly miss such weather over the next nine months.
At the end of June, my brother Scott and his wife Gloria came to visit from Texas and brought their friend Laura with them to explore the Northwest. It was the first time I’d seen them in almost two years, I think, so of course it was great to have them here. We all drove up to the Seattle area for a family wedding and then continued on to Lopez Island for the week of July 4.
It was the first time I’d been there since November, and the first time my family had been up in probably two or three years. It was wonderful to reconnect with my dear island friends and my beloved island locales. Lattés were enjoyed at Robert’s café and almond butterhorns from Holly B’s satisfied my tummy and left my fingers wonderfully sticky. We went to Odlin one evening and watched the sun set while we toasted marshmallows over the fire. Scott and I hiked at Iceberg and Chadwick Hill. I enjoyed a couple evening walks along the spit just like I used to. We meandered around the Farmer’s Market two days in a row.
On July 4th, we sought treasures at the library book sale; watched the parade with amusement and delight (the parade is so much more fun now that I know at least half the people in it); and watched from the Whiskey Hill Dock as fireworks burst over the bay late that evening.
And of course everywhere I went that week, I had to stop and talk to at least one person, more often three or four or five. In fact, it started even before we got to Lopez. I spent the entire ferry ride from Anacortes talking to Jeanna, who I used to work with at the school up there. She was so excited to hear my news, and having grown up on the East Coast, had plenty of advice about dressing for cold winters. On island, I caught up with Celia, Patsy, Steph and Tessa at the LIFRC; dropped in on Georgeana at the LIPC; picked up some gossip from Robert at the café; ran into church friends at the library and the parade; stood outside talking to the neighbors while Zorro the cat roamed around seeking birds and attention; hung out with Hannah and saw Gretchen and Björn. Even if I never again live on Lopez full time (but I certainly hope I will!), it will always feel like home.
Last weekend, I enjoyed a lovely Icelandic-Portlandian barbecue with my friends Andrea, Viðar, Þorsteinn, Edda, Vanessa, Ken, Brynya, and Lilia. We had authentic Icelandic lamb, pylsur, hjónabandssæla, and more, and enjoyed a relaxing evening outdoors eating and chatting and watching the kiddos play.
When I haven’t been vacationing, socializing, or working, I’ve been shopping. I wear pretty much the same clothes year-round here in the Northwest, give or take a pair of leggings and a jacket, and after I finally tossed all my worn-out pairs (including some black sandals I wore at my high school graduation 9 years ago), my shoe collection has dwindled to a couple pairs of sandals and ballet flats that simply will not suffice for an Icelandic autumn and winter. And spring. And summer, for that matter.
The good news is that despite the back-to-school displays that went up around July 4, most people are still buying warm-weather clothes, so just about everything I’ve been buying for Iceland has been on sale.
One thing I was thrilled to not have to buy was luggage. I’ve never had my own set, and I wasn’t looking forward to spending a couple hundred dollars on two big suitcases. I posted a plea on Facebook to see if anyone had a suitcase or two that they wanted to sell, and I was blessed to be given two big, like-new suitcases for free!
I still have quite a few things on my to-do and to-buy lists, but I am slowly getting there…
I’ve canceled my Netflix subscription in anticipation of my move, and my brain can’t absorb any more Icelandic language study tonight, so I guess that means it’s time to blog.
I am moving to Iceland in three weeks.
I can’t even wrap my mind around that.
The past five weeks, since I last posted, have been full of challenges and blessings alike.
In early June, I went in to see my doctor about a concern that had come up, and while that concern turned out to be nothing to worry about, the lab work she ordered came back with some abnormalities indicating a different problem. Obviously, a new, potentially serious health issue is about the last thing I was expecting to have to deal with in the last couple months before my move. It probably comes as no surprise that this discovery has added a great deal of stress to my life.
I was hoping to be done with work around July 18, giving me a full month to focus on preparing for my move. The problem was that my employer-provided insurance only extends to the end of the month in which I stop working. So if I had stopped working on July 18 as planned, I would have only been covered until July 31, leaving two weeks of insurance limbo. I chose to work until August 1 so I will be covered until the end of August, which means I won’t have any gap in insurance coverage (I’ll also be covered as soon as I get to Iceland).
Anyway, I was told that I would need to see a specialist for evaluation. Then I was told the first opening was August 22 (just to recap, I am moving to Iceland on August 17). I didn’t take that news so well, but once I calmed down, I started strategizing. I was put on the wait list for an earlier appointment, I asked my primary care provider to order any additional testing that might save us some time, and I asked her for a referral to an outside provider, hoping I could get in sooner elsewhere. Thankfully, she was on board with ordering the additional testing, and someone on whom I wish many blessings canceled an appointment with a specialist at my regular clinic, so I was able to get in last week.
Thankfully, the specialist was great. He was patient, clear, asked me many times if I had more questions, and not in a flippant “anything else?” while walking toward the door way, but in a sincere and patient way that frankly I haven’t seen in a lot of doctors lately (or ever, really). He was understanding of my timeline and willing to try rushing orders for the additional testing we need to do (he mentioned putting the order in “stat” and I felt pretty special). Best of all, though, he reassured me that there is no reason to cancel my move. He feels quite certain that whatever is going on (there are a few possibilities) is something quite manageable.
The last few weeks have reminded me in many ways of the experience I went through the summer after my junior year of college. It took an entire summer of being nauseated and dizzy and overall miserable, four months of testing and doctor’s appointments, before I was diagnosed with a migraine disorder. I remember the fear and exhaustion that came with not knowing what was going on. Within the same week, same day, even the same hour, I could go from feeling incredibly hopeful to wondering if I’d ever feel normal again and, maybe if I was lucky, back to feeling hopeful again. Thankfully, we seem to be moving much faster toward diagnosis and treatment this time around, but I have certainly experienced that same rollercoaster of emotions, only heightened by the whole moving-to-Iceland thing.
Of course, I would never have chosen to move overseas and embark on this great adventure when I’m not feeling my best. In my ideal scenario, I would be feeling fabulous my last few months in the States, full of energy and able to put in many hours of focused language study so I would be as prepared as possible to start school next month. That hasn’t been the case, but I suppose now is just a good a time as any to start working on my “Þetta reddast” attitude.
I don’t know exactly what is going on with my body or how it will affect the next few weeks or the next year or three. I don’t know why all this is happening now.
But I do know that as stressful as this whole issue has been, there have been some tremendous blessings for which I am extremely grateful:
I am grateful I had the opportunity to ensure continuous insurance coverage simply by working a bit longer than I had planned.
I am thankful to have wonderful coworkers who have been tremendously kind, supportive, and understanding of my absences for medical appointments and my sometimes-unexplained emotions as I swing from moments of feeling overwhelmed to moments of feeling hopeful.
I am thankful that an American friend of mine who lives in Reykjavík connected me to another American (a Washingtonian, even!) living in Iceland who has had similar health problems and is totally willing to share what she’s learned about dealing with it and navigating the Icelandic health care system.
I am grateful for another friend of mine who sent me essential oils to help with my health.
I am unbelievably grateful and relieved that not only do I know where I will be living in Iceland, but I’ll be living with an Icelandic family – and one that I already know! I know there are some international students starting at the University of Iceland this fall who still don’t have their housing lined up. If I had to worry about finding housing on top of everything else that’s going on, I think I would really be (even more of) a basketcase by now.
And finally, I am grateful to be moving to a country with readily available, affordable health care. I will be living in downtown Reykjavík with easy access to primary care, specialists, and (hopefully I will never need it) hospital care. For the first six months, I will need to purchase a medical cost insurance plan, but it should only cost about $200 or so ($200 for 6 months? You read that right, my fellow Americans). After six months, I will be fully covered under Iceland’s national health care system and will pay the same low fees for care that Icelanders pay. It has not escaped my attention that had I received a Fulbright to study in a more remote area of the world, I would very likely not be able to move forward with my plans to relocate.
So, a lot has happened in the past five weeks, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in the next three weeks both in terms of getting medical answers and crossing more items off the never-ending “things to do before you move overseas” list.
My friend Nicole, a fellow lover of Iceland, recently posted this quote, and I don’t think she’ll mind me borrowing it:
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”
Do I have fears about the next three weeks, and about getting settled into my new life in Iceland? Absolutely. But I have no doubts that this is what I am supposed to be doing, with or without a few extra challenges, and that there are beautiful things awaiting on the other side of this fear.
I’ve only reviewed a few books for the Lögberg-Heimskringla, but I think each one has been better than the last. I recently finished Iceland, Defrosted by first-time author from across the pond, Edward Hancox. Let’s just say Icelandair should be paying Hancox, because the book brought me this close to buying a ticket to Iceland. Here is my review:
Iceland, Defrosted a warm read
Edward Hancox, like many of his fellow Englishmen, used to know very little about Iceland, assuming it was all about “polar bears and penguins… deep snow year round and the Northern Lights arching over frozen landscapes.” But with his first trip to Iceland eight years ago, and countless visits since, Hancox has developed an obsession with the people, places, and music of the island nation. And with the recent release of Iceland, Defrosted, Hancox has shared that obsession – and the real Iceland he discovered beyond the stereotypes – with readers across the globe.
The narrative roughly follows a path around the Ring Road, but incorporates stories from a number of different trips to Iceland, as well as stories of encounters with Icelanders abroad. Hancox weaves together anecdotes, trivia, history, a lot of music, and a continuous search for the Northern Lights and binds it all with contagious passion and an understated British humor. To those well-acquainted with Iceland, the book offers little new material; but Hancox’s genuine enthusiasm makes even well-worn topics readable.
Indeed, Hancox covers a fair amount of expected material – the vibrant Reykjavík nightlife scene, Iceland Airwaves, the best and worst of Icelandic cuisine, the surreal experience of visiting the phallological museum, curiosities of the patronymic naming system. But Hancox recognizes that what makes Iceland so unique is not the fact that it is home to Europe’s most powerful waterfall or that 10% of the country’s population once attended a free Sigur Rós concert (although he clearly enjoys sharing such facts). Rather, Hancox understands that Iceland’s greatest natural resource is its people: “I’ve spent time trying to get to know the people and places of Iceland; to experience more than just what is available to the average tourist on a weekend trip,” he writes. Hancox doesn’t just write about tasting hákarl – he writes about meeting a farmer who produces it and learning the ins and outs of the process behind the infamous foodstuff. And he doesn’t just explain who the húldufólk are – he writes about searching for them in Hafnarfjörður with a true húldufólk believer. These experiences and many more give the book an authenticity that elevates it from a mere tourist tale.
The author’s love of Icelandic music radiates throughout the book. Hancox includes snippets of interviews with Snorri Helgason, Sóley, Hafdís Huld and Lay Low, and admits that the one Icelandic musician who has rendered him completely starstruck is Jónsi. Meeting Jónsi backstage at a Sigur Rós concert in the U.K., the only question Hancox could think to ask is, “Can I have your photo?” Readers looking to include more Iceland in their music collections will appreciate Hancox’s list of “further listening” suggestions in the back of the book.
For Hancox, discovering writing went hand-in-hand with discovering Iceland. As he began exploring Iceland, he said in an interview, he needed a way to record his experiences and found photography lacking. A friend suggested writing. Before long, Hancox had written a few articles for the Reykjavík Grapevineand Iceland Review. The latter asked him to become a regular columnist. Writing Iceland, Defrosted was a natural progression.
Frustrated by the state of traditional publishing and bolstered by encouragement from supporters on Twitter and Facebook (even Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr tweeted in his support), Hancox used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to finance the book’s publication. Within days of listing his project, his funding target was met. Ultimately, Hancox raised 179% of his initial goal.
Response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, with supportive reviews, a recent mention in National Geographic Traveller magazine, and continual reader interaction via social media. Readers have taken to sending in photos of the book set against an impressive array of backdrops across the world, including the Colosseum, Niagara Falls, and Lake Louise. Hancox said he is constantly surprised by the book, which he described as having a life of its own. Hancox spent six years writing Iceland, Defrosted and has no current plans for a follow-up, although he said he has contemplated writing a novel set in Iceland.
Whether he ever sees a pod of spouting whales or catches the elusive Northern Lights, Hancox has discovered a plethora of Iceland’s gifts, and his ability to effortlessly, humorously, and sincerely share those discoveries will make any reader warm up to Iceland, Defrosted.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most presentations from the 2013 INL Convention can be viewed here.
After my last post, I had a couple requests for my rúgbrauð recipe, so here it is, with the disclaimer that I’ve only made it once and there is undoubtedly room for improvement. If you try it, make sure you leave a comment and let me know how it turned out!
Proof the yeast by adding it to 1/3 cup warm water and 1 tsp. white sugar. Stir until dissolved, then let sit about 10 minutes or until frothy.
Stir together flours, salt, and baking soda; set aside.
Blend together molasses and buttermilk; add yeast mixture and stir.
Gradually add dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture, blending well by hand or with a stand mixer. Mixture will be fairly thin, more like a cake batter than a bread dough.
Pour batter into lightly greased pan(s). Find a large baking dish with sides at least 2 inches high that your pans will fit in (I used a 9×13). Place your pans in the large baking dish and put it in the oven. Use a pitcher or measuring glass to fill the baking dish about half full of water.
Bake, uncovered, for about an hour or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Run a knife around the edges to loosen, let sit for just a couple minutes, then turn over onto a cooling rack.
Note: this is the first time I made rúgbrauð, and it was a bit of an experiment, having to combine ingredients from one recipe with directions from another, but what I’ve written here is what I did and it turned out quite well. Playing around with the baking method and temperature may improve the results. I cut the above recipe in half and ended up with two short loaves (I filled two large loaf pans half-full); a full recipe would probably make 4 short loaves or 2 full ones.