Viking Village restaurant.

Viking Village restaurant.

I’ve been looking forward to attending the Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival since we arrived. So I must have built it up quite a bit in my mind. Not quite sure what I was expecting…something bigger, I guess. It was still cute, but the whole thing was basically a bunch of tents set up in a parking lot next to a Viking-themed restaurant.

And the atmosphere was kind of bizarre. There were people that were nice and friendly and happy to show you what they had set up in their tent. But there were also a few people that gave you the impression that you were trespassing on their role playing day.

I was hoping that A would participate in the kids’ Viking battle since he had no hesitation whatsoever running out into a field of strangers at Hever Castle when he was 3. But this time he refused and said he was shy. I don’t know if it’s an age thing…he’s just a little more self-aware now that he’s 5, or if it’s a direct result of being in groups of kids for the last year that only speak Icelandic.

We also missed the adult Viking battle if there was one. But it was fun to see all the great crafts. Lots of leather and furs and handmade jewelry, wood fires and animals cooking on spits. A participated in a couple fun games…fishing and archery. He acknowledged that archery was a lot harder in real life than on the Wii and never hit the target…but that also might have been because they wouldn’t let him get any closer than 30 feet.

Everyone working was dressed up and a few of the patrons were as well. I wore my winter boots with the faux fur trim, a long brown shirt, brown pants and a faux fur vest. So I felt slightly authentic. Got some weird looks from the locals though. So I wasn’t sure how to take that. Maybe you’re only supposed to dress up if you’re working. A wore his Thor costume from Halloween and got some attention for that as well.

I did get a really cool souvenir though. One guy was selling random things that he collected around Scandinavia, and one of them was a candleholder made from reindeer antler in Sweden in 1969. So I guess I’m continuing to add to my mid-century art collection.

The other thing that I really enjoyed was the Viking-themed restaurant. They’re actually open all year round. The menu wasn’t terribly authentic with hamburgers and fish and chips. But they were good! You could get a really small and really expensive cup of mead. And they did have rotten shark, sheep’s head and horse available.

They’re usually open for dinner throughout the year and supposedly have live entertainment most nights and a special buffet around Christmas time. So I might have to add that to my list of places to drag people when they come visit…if they’re into a bit of Viking kitsch. For a really authentic experience, you can arrange to be kidnapped by Vikings between 18:00 and 20:30.😉

Pigs on spits.

Animals on spits.

Woman selling handmade games and jewelry.

Woman selling handmade games and jewelry.

Kids getting ready for a battle.

Kids getting ready for a battle.

Lupines near Strokkur geyser.

Lupines near Strokkur geyser.

School’s out for summer! A wrapped up his last day of Kindergarten a little over a week ago, and it’s going to be a busy couple of months. Iceland has a lot of working parents, so they have a ton of summer day camps and programs for kids. I was fairly frustrated a couple months ago as I couldn’t find anything suitable for A’s age. We’re going on three weeks of R&R in July, but we still needed care for June and August. So we went ahead and hired a nanny for a month. And it’s working out really well.

A friend at Embassy London suggested that many of the interns aren’t in a hurry to go home and that it might be a fun opportunity for them. So we spoke to a couple, and even though schedules weren’t initially lining up, one recommended her sister who is a college student in the States. We chatted via email, got our job descriptions sorted out, and picked her up at the airport at the beginning of June.

Thankfully, everything’s going really well! She’s really patient and down to earth, and she and A get along nicely. It’s such a relief! The irony is that suddenly I’m finding all kinds of camps for A, so I guess it was meant to be. And he can still do some fun things in August without us having to stay home with him.

In the meantime, summer is looking great on Iceland! The lawns and fields are covered with buttercups and lupine. And the dandelions are just starting to pop fuzz. We drove around the Golden Circle on Saturday, and there were baby animals everywhere. So here’re a few more of my favorite recent photos of Iceland in summer.

Calves at Efstidalur farm hotel.

Calves at Efstidalur farm hotel.

Rainbow over Gullfoss waterfall.

Rainbow over Gullfoss waterfall.

Foal near Strokkur geyser.

Foal near Strokkur geyser.

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Sometimes, I like to eat plain yogurt and granola for breakfast. But I haven’t had much luck finding anything resembling plain yogurt in Iceland.

They have Skyr, which is fantastic. It’s high in protein, looks like a thick yogurt, and comes in a wide variety of flavors…strawberry and blueberry are my favorites…but they also have everything from chocolate chip to orange and ginger. The recipe was brought from Norway to Iceland more than 1100 years ago. Apparently the tradition died out in most of Scandinavia, but it lived on in Icelandic culture and parts of Norway.

It’s advertised as being low fat, which it is. An American woman told me when I first arrived that it’s amazing low in calories as well. Apparently she had a diet version that she was unaware of, so if you’re not quite sure, check the ingredients on the back…”acesulfame” translates pretty directly.

I tried their “Greek” yogurt. But it is the consistency of Cool Whip. So if you add milk and stir it, it’s kind of like plain yogurt. But I’m fairly lazy in the morning, so I was still searching for something closer to the real thing.

This morning, I finally got brave and tried súrmjólk. A 2008 article on Icelandic dairy products in the Reykjavik Grapevine describes it as follows:

In English, ‘sour milk’; this acerbic yogurt-esque liquid takes a little getting used to, to say the least. It starts off innocently enough but then hits you with a pungent roundhouse kick to your stomach, guaranteed to knock your socks off if you mistake this for regular milk. This esoteric drink comes in several different flavours including strawberry and mixed berry. I have to admit it isn’t my favourite and threw my gut into knots. This is reserved only for the most adventurous of milk connoisseurs.

And guess what?! It worked perfectly. It’s a bit more liquidy than regular yogurt, but still not as runny as milk. I would say it’s more of a kick to the mouth than the stomach, but it goes quite nicely over granola. So I guess now I can get one of these.

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Flag Day at FSI in June 2011.

Flag Day at FSI in June 2011.

Today marks the five-year-anniversary of our joining the Foreign Service!! It’s been long and slow and short and fast all at the same time. A lot of hurry up and wait followed by some pretty amazing experiences. We are now at our third post, and this is what I have to say about this life so far.

Our first post was Belize. Belize was low on our bid list, so we were less than thrilled to be going there. But having low expectations made it a little easier to spend two years there. The housing compound was gorgeous. The embassy staff was good. We made some good friends that I’m still in touch with. Our son had an absolutely fantastic nanny that loved him and treated him so well. The Mayan ruins and the hand crank car ferry were adventurous and interesting, and there were a few animal highlights like random iguana farms, the jaguar rescue program at the local zoo and dolphins in Mexico. The reef was my favorite part…snorkeling or diving…fresh lionfish ceviche and some of the best piña coladas I’ve ever had. But it was far too hot and humid and corrupt and criminal, so I would probably never go back. But it did give us a bit of bidding equity!

Daddy and A getting ready to tackle Xunantunich.

Daddy and A getting ready to tackle Xunantunich.

Me and a friend at the San Ignacio Iguana Farm.

Me and a friend at the San Ignacio Iguana Farm.

So our next post was London! And what do I really need to say about London?? It’s awesome, and it always has been. By the time we left, we were ready to go just because there were so many people. But I LOVED being in London. I loved our little apartment near Abbey Road studios with the big windows and the garden. I loved walking to the embassy from A’s nursery school in the fall watching all the leaves on the plane trees change colors and the daffodils come out in the spring. I loved being surrounded by so much history and architecture and life and beautiful Christmas decorations on the shopping streets. I loved playdates with our new friends in the park and afternoon tea. I loved going behind the scenes at the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London and the Ambassador’s Residence in Regent’s Park for work events. I loved watching celebrities perform in local theatres and seeing a little bit of glamour every now and then. Traveling to Scotland, Russia and the Netherlands. Even though our next post was number one on our bid list, my heart is very much still in the UK, and it might be there for some time.

The Ambassador's credentials ceremony in London.

The Ambassador’s credentials ceremony in London.

Daddy and A at Hever Castle.

Daddy and A at Hever Castle.

But now we are in Iceland! And I’m quite happy here. We’re almost one year into our three years…what?? A has just finished Kindergarten…his first year at big boy school. He has good teachers, and the friends are coming and going. The dog we acquired here is almost eight months old, finally potty trained and with such a happy disposition. The cat is no longer pulling her fur out after quarantine, but she is now diabetic and quite large. The reason for coming here was to spend more time outdoors as a family and create a stronger home life, and we’re still working on that. But we’re enjoying small town life, trying all the local restaurants and walking on the beach with the dog.

Thorfinn at the beach.

Thorfinn at the beach.

But there are downsides. Each time we transition, you’d think it would get easier, but I hate it just a little bit more. The packing, the moving, the flying, being forced to go on home leave, moving the animals, all the stress and the expense. Our son was very emotional this last move, which made it harder on everyone. Even when you’re in one place for three years you still feel like your life is slightly accelerated, and it’s all speeding toward your next departure. For some reason, my heart is weary. Perhaps it’s just been a rough year with the personal losses in my family, which is another downside…being far away from people when they need you.

Just when I think I might’ve had enough…I’ll start looking at jobs in the States and thinking of a life in one place…but that doesn’t fit either. So my challenge is to be able to take things one day at a time and continue to enjoy the special moments with the wonderful people that take the time to come visit and the amazing ones that have chosen to share this life with me. And I must say that slowing down is just a little bit easier during a long dark snowy winter in Iceland.:)

View of the park from our house in Reykjavik in December.

View of the park from our house in Reykjavik in December.

We had our first Icelandic summer day at the beach on Monday! This is the last week of the 2015-2016 year at A’s school, so the International Department planned a lovely BBQ at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach in Reykjavik.

Memorial Day was a US holiday, so the embassy was closed, which was convenient since I had volunteered to be a chaperone and otherwise would’ve had to ask for time off. And the day was absolutely gorgeous! The weather in April and May had been beautiful, but the weekend had been rainy and windy. Monday however was bright and sunny with hardly any wind. And the air and water temperatures were about the same…46F.😉 So it couldn’t have been planned better.

And, yes, the kids actually did go in the sea! But the man-made beach also has two hot pools: one long rectangular one up by the concession stand and one round one right at the water’s edge. So instead of kids running across the hot sand to the cold water…they ran across the cold sand to the hot water!

I had brought my swimsuit just in case. But in the end decided that it would be easier to keep an eye on A if I were fully clothed and mobile, which came in handy when it was time to sort out the food or run back and grab things from the car. All in all it was a lovely summer day, and I even managed to have an ice cream and get a tiny bit of sunburn.:)

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Flowery entrance to the beach.

Overview of the beach and hot pools.

Overview of the beach and hot pools.

Kids soaking in the hot pool with ice creams.

Kids soaking in the hot pool with ice creams.

Running across the cold sand to the other hot pool.

Running across the cold sand to the other hot pool.

Mom and I having afternoon tea in London, January 2015.

Mom and I having champagne afternoon tea in London, January 2015.

Next week would’ve been my mom’s 70th birthday. Earlier this month was the first Mother’s Day without her. I don’t expect this to be any easier.

She was originally going to come visit us in Iceland this summer but got mad at me during home leave and decided to go to Alaska and spend her milestone birthday with her friends and family there. I can’t say I blame her. Our relationship had become complicated in the last five years. Happily we’d worked out our little summer issue before she passed away, and she knew I loved her.

I’ve been trying to think of a nice way to honor her memory on her special day and have come across some lovely suggestions…like releasing biodegradable paper lanterns into the air while singing happy birthday. Visiting her grave (not really an option). Watching her favorite movie while drinking copious amounts of wine…I might’ve added that last part.

She also loved cats. We’ve had at least one cat in the house since I was in third grade. And I’m a big fan of the Battersea Dogs and Cats home in London. Not only do they take care of over 8,000 dogs and cats every year, but they were also where Shackleton housed 100 of his sled dogs while preparing for his second trip to the Antarctic. Sadly, none of the dogs made it home. But there are plenty that need love right now!

Battersea Dogs Home started in 1860. Cats joined in 1883 (photo from their website).

The Dogs Home started in 1860. Cats joined in 1883 (photo from their website).

Shackleton dogs on board the Endurance (internet photo).

Shackleton dogs on board the Endurance (internet photo).

And they have several ways you can donate…either small monthly or one-time amounts. They’re currently trying to raise money to build a new hospital and always need support for general overhead. But I found one area I particularly loved.

You can sponsor a kennel or a “Kitty Kabin.” Their website says that “your sponsorship will help provide every cat who stays in your kabin with the shelter, warmth and comfort they need. It will ensure they have all the blankets, treats and toy mice they need to keep them happy and healthy while they wait for their new family to take them home.”

And they’ll send you a personal scrapbook from a cat to let you know who the latest resident is in your kabin. I love it!! There’s even an option on the drop down menu for donating on behalf of a loved one or in lieu of flowers.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I’ll let you know how your kitties are doing.

Mom the first Christmas we had Sasha, December 2009.

Mom with Sasha after we adopted her from the Longmont Humane Society in Colorado, December 2009.

We made it out to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon last week, which is about a 4.5-hour drive from Reykjavik. Thursday was a holiday, and we took Friday off to make a long weekend of it as it was also our eighth wedding anniversary.

We spent two nights at the Fosshotel Nupar, which is about an hour west of the glacier lagoon and an hour east of the village of Vik. The hotel was clean and strategically located, but I wouldn’t recommend its isolation unless you’re trying to get away from it all and content to sit in your room and read when you’re not on the road site seeing.

Unfortunately, we were all sick and tired and cranky, so I’ll spare you the details of the actual trip and simply fill this page with photos of the awesomeness that is the Icelandic countryside.:)

Stop #1: Seljalandsfoss walk-behind waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss walk-behind waterfall.

Lunch stop: Hotel Anna, 10 mins east of the waterfall.

Lunch at Hotel Anna, 10 mins east of the waterfall.

Stop 3: Reynisfara black sand beach with basalt columns.

Reynisfara black sand beach with basalt columns.

Overnight at Fosshotel Nupar, which reminded me of an Antarctic research station in the middle of a lava field.

Two nights at Fosshotel Nupar, which reminded me of an Antarctic research station in the middle of a lava field.

View from Fosshotel Nupar.

View from Fosshotel Nupar.

Daddy & A at the lagoon.

Daddy & A at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

A checking out the bits of ice berg.

A checking out the bits of ice berg.

Gorgeous natural ice sculpture.

Gorgeous natural ice sculpture.

Close up clear blue ice.

Close up of clear blue ice.

The ice berg beach on the other side of the road from the lagoon.

The ice berg beach on the other side of the road from the lagoon.

A visit to the swimming pool in Hofn after the glacier lagoon.

A visit to the swimming pool in Höfn after the glacier lagoon (internet photo).

Random lovely waterfall on the side of the road.

Random lovely waterfall on the side of the road.

The Eldhraun lava field, created by a massive eruption in 1783.

The Eldhraun lava field, created by a massive eruption in 1783.

Lava ridge covered with stone cairns built by passersby looking for good luck on their travels.

Lava ridge covered with stone cairns built by passersby looking for good luck on their travels.

 

We’ve never been very good at listening to kids’ music. I’ve been singing the same half dozen lullabies to my son since he was born. If he’s learned “Old McDonald” or “This Old Man,” it was probably at nursery school. So it comes as no surprise that his musical preferences are a bit on the grown-up side. And he has pretty good taste for a five-year-old!

You can tell which ones are his favorites because he will request them over and over in the car or in the living room so he can dance to them. I recently decided to put a list together and make him a little album. So we sat on the couch, and he flipped through his iPad to remind me of a few. A lot of them are from movie soundtracks, which I’m also a big fan of, and there’s even an Icelandic band in there. So it’s nice he’s getting a little culture.:)

Without further ado, here is A’s favorite playlist:

Owl City – Shine Your Way (The Croods)
Pharrell Williams – Happy
Lego Movie – Everything Is Awesome
Fall Out Boy – Immortals (Big Hero Six)
Fall Out Boy – The Phoenix
Skrillex – Recess
Idina Menzel – Let It Go (Frozen)
Robin Schulz – Waves
Jackson 5 – I Want You Back (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Redbone – Come and Get Your Love (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Raspberries – Go All the Way (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Savage Garden – Break Me Shake Me
Kaleo – Rock ‘n’ Roller
Sum 41 – Noots
Simon Curtis – Superhero
Elton John – Crocodile Rock
Katy Perry – California Girls
PSY – Gangnam Style

Downtown Akureyri.

Downtown Akureyri.

A large pile of snow in the middle of town set up for snowboarders.

A large pile of snow in the middle of town set up for snowboarders.

Let me first start off by saying this was one of the best family vacations we’ve had. And I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we didn’t accomplish half the things we wanted to and spent most of our time relaxing. I will have to remember that the next time I schedule one of our mad holiday outings.

Akureyri is a little town on the north coast of Iceland and the country’s second largest city outside the Reykjavik metro area…with a population of 18,000.:) It has a surprisingly warm climate thanks to the Gulf Stream, and I once visited their flourishing outdoor botanic garden in September, even though it is only 62 miles south of the Arctic Circle. However it still gets more snow than Reykjavik in winter and spring. It snowed six inches when we were there.

So it is also home to the Hlíðarfjall ski resort. We actually didn’t have too much on our list other than to do some spring skiing and check out a couple restaurants. Sadly, the skiing attempt failed miserably. It had been 10 years since I skied, and my hubby and son never had. I figured we would just spend some quality family time on the bunny slopes.

Instead we spent an incredibly frustrating 30 minutes trying to get our skiis on our feet, which kept getting jammed with snow, then taking them off again to help A who eventually just lay in a heap in the snow crying. My hubby was getting increasingly frustrated. My feet and legs were already killing me, we hadn’t even made it to the first lift, and the fun had pretty much been leeched out of the day already.

So rather than ruin the little one for the slopes forever, I called it quits. We lost the $90 worth of gear rental, but they were kind enough to return the two days’ worth of lift passes. Next time we will put A in the kids’ ski school and crash around on the hills for a while on our own before we try it as a family.

After that we went back to our vacation rental, I took a nap, and N took A to the local heated pool. Our rental also included a private hot tub on a balcony overlooking the fjord, and I have to say, that was pretty much the highlight of our trip. We got in that thing at least twice a day. And it was so wonderfully relaxing. Plus there’s something so fun about sitting in a hot tub while it’s snowing.

On Easter we hid a dozen eggs around the rental and watched A search for them, then gorge himself on chocolate.

The view of the fjord from the rental.

The view of the fjord from the rental.

Hot tub covered in snow.

Hot tub covered in snow.

We also tried to drive over to the Myvatn Nature Baths an hour or so away but were thwarted by weather. I’m a fairly calm driver, but after pulling over multiple times because you couldn’t see 10 feet through the blowing horizontal snow in front of you, we again made an executive decision to turn back. Besides, I can’t imagine the conditions would’ve been that great for outdoor swimming. So back to the hot tub we went!

When we weren’t in the hot tub, we tried a few places to eat recommended by friends: Greifinn was super yummy, had a large and varied menu, including one for kids with booklet of mazes and pictures for coloring, and tasty Icelandic beer on tap. The sushi at Rub 23 had also been a must-try, but A was too tired to go out for dinner. So my hubby picked up a 48-piece sushi-to-go and brought it back to the rental. And it was fantastic! Also tried the local ice cream shop, but so far I’m not a huge fan of Icelandic ice cream, not sure why.

The rest of the time we just walked around town, did a bit of window shopping and even went bowling! Another first for our little one, and he seemed to really enjoy it. The balls were a lot heavier than I remember them being…too much time on the Wii apparently. But we ended up playing next to a group of guys from Los Angeles that turned out to be part of the crew that was in country filming the latest segment of the Fast and Furious franchise…I believe they’re up to number eight. They were really nice and even cheered A on when he got his first strike.:)

Keilan bowling alley.

Keilan bowling alley (internet photo).

Bowling next to the crew from Fast and Furious 8.

Bowling next to the crew from Fast and Furious 8.

Another one of the cutest things about the trip was that our little family all slept in the same room in the rental since it was a kind of studio apartment. Normally that’s not a selling point as we’ve kept each other up in the past snoring and whining. But A has been quite lonely in his own room at home and often laments the fact that no one’s sleeping with him. So I very much enjoyed seeing his little face beaming at me at the end of the day from the bed across the room. He even managed to go to the bathroom by himself in the middle of the night without needing to wake anyone up…the first night anyway.

Fact: There are no mosquitoes in Iceland.

I found this hard to believe as we found several in our house last fall. Today I found another one and decided to take a closer look at it. Sure enough, it had no proboscis. What I thought was a mosquito was actually a midge.

Fact: There are two types of midges: ones that bite and ones that don’t.

I knew there were midges in Iceland because 20 years ago, when I came here for the first time, our tour guide pointed out the fact that local Lake Myvatn was Icelandic for Midge Lake. Happily the midges in our house don’t bite…but they do have both kinds in Iceland.

Fact: Mosquito Hawks (or Crane Flies) don’t actually eat mosquitoes.

We also had a giant Mosquito Hawk in the house, which, for forty years, I assumed would eat any pesky mosquitoes. But apparently they are anatomically incapable of killing and eating other insects. Their larvae eat algae and plant matter, but adult Mosquito Hawks only live for 10-15 days and don’t eat much at all.

Who knew?

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