Reykjavik, Iceland

If your idea of the perfect vacation is warm days full of continuous sunshine, then Iceland should definitely NOT be on your bucket list.  If, however, you are intrigued by quirky experiences, visually spectacular landscapes, geology, elves and trolls, go ahead and book your trip.

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I was amazed that the plants were thriving in this cold, gray weather! 

Those of you that have been following me know that I am a lazy, somewhat random blogger, but my friend Nancy is not.  If you want interesting, timely accounts of our trip, hop on over to her blog.  She’s done such a fine job, There is no need for me to take you over the same ground.  Instead, my post is a loose collection of whatever caught my eye.

Although Mike and I arrived in Reykjavik a day before the tour officially started, we took it slow, using our extra time TRYING (and failing ) to get over jet lag.  

The one in the middle belonged to a giraffe

While in Reykjavik we DID manage to make it to the museum Nancy (intentionally and wisely) missed.  Unless you are particularly intrigued by pickled whale penises, I recommend you do likewise.  Save your $15,000 kroners admission fee ($10,000 for seniors) and buy a glass of wine instead.  Good news: You can tour the gift shop for free.

 

 

 

My family will be pleased to know I did NOT do any Christmas shopping there.

 

 

I am  particularly fond of outdoor art and Reykjavik had plenty of it, both traditional, like the statue of Leif Erikson ( a gift from the USA), and unconventional (on the sides of buildings).

 

Icelanders are hearty souls.  Check out this sign above one of the restaurants.  1E24E02F-2AB3-4A9C-A011-22E2511561AF.jpegFor those of us not familiar with the metric system, 5 degrees Celsius translates to a balmy 41 degrees Fahrenheit.  While we were in town, the mercury skyrocketed all the way up to 52 degrees, still WE drank our coffee inside!

The Hilton Reykjavik is a lovely hotel some distance from the town center.  No matter.  During our stay, we were content to spend our evenings at the hotel.  One night, Mike organized a surprise party to celebrate the start of the last year I’ll be in my sixties.  Yes, that banner DOES light up and yes, it WILL be used again for the August birthday girl in my life.  

The second night at the hotel, everyone was gathered either around the big screen TV in the lobby area, or by the smaller one in the bar, to watch Croatia win the soccer semifinals.

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No restaurant meal for THESE soccer enthusiasts! 

Although ours is an organized tour, it is possible to go off on your own.  Sam did just that, hiring a guide to take him salmon fishing on  a “two rod river”.  What is THAT, you ask?  Well,  for that one day, Sam and the guide (2 rods) “owned” the river.  No one else was allowed to fish there.  Was he successful?  Well, OUR tour guide took home two of Sam’s three salmon.  (Photos courtesy of Sam’s guide).

 

While Sam was fishing, the rest of us were touring the Ocean Cluster House, an absolutely fascinating place.  With most of my family still living in or near New Bedford, Massachusetts, I am well aware of the impact changes in the fishing industry can make on an area’s economy.  Icelanders dealt with fishing restrictions very creatively.   They don’t (can’t) catch as many fish, so they have figured out how to extract maximum value from every pound of fish they are allowed to catch.4D7C4ED2-385F-4F10-A781-6D90B70F5B01
 This jacket is made entirely of processed fish skin.  It is incredibly soft.  Yes, I touched it. 

Fish skin is also being used as bandages.  Apparently, the fibers in cod skin are more similar to human skin than the skin of pigs, so the bandage can be absorbed into the body. 

Other products are used for cosmetics—fish intestines for hand cream, because (according to the Ocean Cluster House guide) someone noticed that Icelandic fishermen have very soft hands, and figured they got that way from handling fish intestines. (My Dad must have steered clear of fish intestines!) 

Even fish heads are utilized.  They are dried and exported to Nigeria for use in soup!?  By using all parts of the fish, Icelanders have upped the value from $8 per pound to about $3000. 

71551513-8F2B-4FF7-BDD6-F5B729E92814Better yet, because these products are manufactured in Iceland, they have created new industries and new jobs.  That’s a good thing, because today’s Icelandic trawlers are able to catch 200 metric tons in one trip, with far fewer fishermen, doing very little actual fishing; they now just monitor computers that run the equipment.   

72ECD07D-4C8C-4520-B301-B04F1823E5A0Our last stop was at the National Museum, an incredibly beautiful building, where we learned Iceland’s history through artifacts, clothing and household items.  Given that we will be riding Icelandic horses in a few days, I was particularly interested in the saddle exhibit.

Fortunately  women are no longer required to ride sidesaddle or wear corseted riding habits.

Next stop, Stykkishólmur.   Okay, so we have already been there for two days, and are now in Aqua-ree-ray (That’s how it is SAID, not how it is spelled).  I’m just having too much fun to keep current! 

Small Town Love

Our family is like a little solar system.  At our center is our sun, my sister Sue, radiating warmth and love that sustains her six siblings, who, like planets, revolve around her.  Although she never had children of her own, she is a second mom (and now grand-mom) to satellite nieces, nephews, cousins’ and friends’ children.

Although four of the seven “kids”  have moved away, Sue, our sister Sandy and brother Tom have all  lived in the same area their entire lives, accumulating a glorious galaxy of friends.  (See how you think after being married to an astronomer for four decades?)

Recently, Tom’s daughter gave birth to premature twins.  Sadly, one died shortly after birth, but thanks to the wonderful medical team in Providence, his twin has grown from 1 pound 6 ounces to just under 4 pounds.

Modern medicine is truly amazing; it is also really, really expensive.  Even with insurance, the high deductible, coinsurance, and uncovered expenses all equate to huge bills, as any parent with a sick child can attest.  So, Sue decided to gather the troops to create a benefit dinner– “Pasta with a Purpose”.

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Just a small sample of the raffle items

Fortunately, Sue has a talent for choosing loyal and giving friends, that are just like her.  Sheila, an elementary school buddy, has worked in the restaurant business for years, and like our brother Tom, is an amazing chef.  Who expects benefit food to be good?  It was at THIS benefit, thanks to a team of cooks.

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But the real stroke of genius was making friends with Debbie, who like other elementary school teachers, is a force to be reckoned with.   Teachers know how to create something out of nothing, how to get the unruly to behave and how to keep calm in the midst of chaos, and how to make great displays.   Let’s hear it for the teachers!

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Within three weeks, family and friends had secured the Knights of Columbus hall,

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The “elves” worked hard to get this all set up and orgnized

gotten food and raffle donations,

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As the evening progressed, donations kept coming in– we were running out of space!

found a DJ,

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sold hundreds of tickets, enlisted student volunteers to serve food,

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These kids were “on it”, serving, clearing, and setting up for the next round of diners

and taken care of the hundreds of tiny details necessary to make the event a success.

And what a success it was!  All to help this little guy and his loving parents.

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With so much negativity and violence these days, it is heartening to see how people can come together to support each other in time of need.

Our family includes the normal mix of in-laws, out-laws, and sheep of all colors.  If you were to chart us — along economic, political, and religious lines, you’d find someone on just about any point in the spectrum.  But when it comes to things that really matter, that all gets put aside.  It is family and friends,  all the way.

So in addition to paying tribute to my amazing sister, Sue, this is a huge thank you to all you small town inhabitants with big hearts, who came out on November 5th to show the love for Haylie, Greg and Baby Spencer.  Forgive me for not mentioning or photographing all of you who did so much to make the day so special.   You know who you are, and so do we.

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Could this be the start of another lifelong friendship?

 

 

Cure Whatever Ails You

I know that you are all on the edge of your loungers (please don’t tip over) just DYING to hear all about Queretaro and our work assignments. I promise you will.  But first, breaking news.

My dear friend Sally came down with a killer cold a few days ago.  Not to be outdone, I decided I wanted one of those too.  So, here we be, dos Amigas in need of a cure.   

Ginny from Worcester (pronounced Woos-TAH) heard me coughing and sneezing.  She insisted that we IMMEDIATELY adopt her fool proof cure.  She guaranteed that a hot toddy would get Sally and me on the road to recovery.  (Or was that alcoholism?  I forget.  One of those.  Or both.) So what if it is only 10 AM?  

Being an obedient Catholic school girl, and wanting to protect the rest of the group from our germs, I immediately sprang into action.  Despite being somewhat competitive, even I had to admit Sally won the sickness award.  So off I went to the market.  My sweet young fruit seller was glad to see me, despite my tiny order of only two lemons.  I normally am good for a couple of kilos of bananas.  He pointed me in the right direction for miel (Spanish for honey.)


Past the CDs and stuffed animals, beyond the floral displays, beyond the fruit and boots.

NUMEROUS Mexicans stopped what they were doing to help me.  What a gracious, welcoming culture!  
I left with lemons, honey and a bottle of what my Grammy would call medicine, except she pronounced it “med-SIN”).   My black medical bag was now complete.

Take a look.  The white plastic bag contained a cup half full of honey, scooped  from a huge barrel.  The big cup was from Woolworths.  (They are getting to know me there. The cashier that kissed me last time asked me in English “you sick”?) 

Did our “med-SIN” work?  Well, take a look at Sally and you tell me

We are feelin’ no pain!