Thursday, March 10, 2011

Iceland's Geography

Iceland is a relatively new land mass, created by volcanic activity at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating (here is an actual crack of separation).
The effects of this volcanic activity is one of the reasons Iceland is so oddly beautiful and incredibly picturesque.

The entire island is made of recent lava so nearly all rock is black (some are red from mineral deposits).
This means (almost) all the beaches have black sand, the country side is vast stretches of broken up black lava chunks, and even the urban sidewalks are black (well, grey) because they were made from ground up black lava. Many coastal areas are cliffs of hexagonal basalt columns formed by fissures when lava was rapidly cooled as it hit ocean water.
Here are some pictures near Snaefellsjökull peninsula (W. Iceland)
Me standing on a bridge created by water eroding some of the basalt columns.

Basalt fissures on the beach in a curved pattern.
As lava floes cooled over rivers and air vents, horizontal caves were formed
and subsequently Iceland has many spelunking tours.

Not much grows right off lava.
Primary organisms like lichens and moss must first grow, decompose, collect in the cracks and crevices, break up the rock and eventually make soil for larger plants to grow in. There is a lot of green in Iceland, and it's mainly from moss and lichen.
The time is takes for soil to build and trees to grow is part of the reason (combined with grazing sheep, wind and weather patterns) there are few forested areas.
One old forested area called Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk) in S. Iceland is situated in a warm, protected canyon and has small conifer and birch trees, ferns, and hundreds of mushrooms (at least on the day I was there). It has somehow avoided being covered in lava at different times and was thought to be a sacred place (deserving to be named after Þór/Thór).
(house/garage on Vestmannaeyjar/The Westman Islands off SW coast of Iceland destroyed by lava)
There is still considerable volcanic activity causing numerous (small) earthquakes on a daily basis not to mention the smoke plumes and threats of eruption by various volcanoes - remember Eyjafjallajökull (sounds like "A-yah-fyat-la-yuh-kult") last year whose smoke plumes closed European travel for a few weeks?
The geologic activity of the North American and European plates manifests itself in many ways beside volcanoes; thermal pools and geysers dot the island. The first geyser recorded is the one pictured below: Geysir or The Great Geysir, named after Geysir, a prominent Goði in early Iceland.
In Iceland, hot water from thermal water vents is collected and pumped into towns for domestic use. From the smallest villages to the largest city, Reykjavik, all hot water coming from the tap is untreated, straight out of the ground and smells like sulfur (something you get used and come to love to when taking a shower). All cold water coming from the tap is also straight out of the ground, but from a non-heated, non-sulfury source. If you want to make tea, for example, you let the cold water run for minute then fill the kettle to boil the cold water - if you use warm or hot water it will taste bad.
(Hot water pumping plant. The pipeline on the right goes directly to Reykjavik)
All the houses and building in Iceland are heated with hot water radiators powered by the naturally boiling-hot water pumped from the ground. I loved this (no hot, dry air blowing through your house) and it also makes heating a house nearly year-round quite inexpensive since all you pay is the cost of transporting the water.
Another use for the abundant hot water is as public pools; every town has a public bath, and large towns have several. Here, the natural, untreated hot springs water is cycled through tile or cement pools so the water never cools too much or becomes dirty because there is a constant flow of fresh water in and used water out. What is so awesome about this is you never have to think of wasting water - not to mention wasting hot water - because there is an endless source down the street
(The Blue Lagoon, not a typical bath house, but a fancy touristy one near the airport)
Laugardagur is the Icelandic word for Saturday, but it comes from "laugar" meaning to wash. Laugavegur is a street in downtown Reykjavik that used to be the women's trail to laugardalur (washing dale/valley) where they took their laundry to wash in the local hot springs.
As I mentioned above, there is also an abundance of cold fresh water for drinking and some of it is naturally carbonated, such as this Perrier/club soda spring:

This is my favorite picture of the Icelandic landscape because it captures all the aspects that were unique to me (coming from S California) and the "essence" of Iceland in my mind: dark sky from northern latitude, flat lava floes, small hills/mountains, green moss and lichen, and light dusting of snow.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Icelandic Literature

(A great compilation of translated Icelandic Sagas)
Iceland has an incredible literary history.
The consensus is that most of the history of events, genealogy, stories (sagas), and legends from about 900 -1000 AD were orally recorded and passed down before they were physically written in the 13th Century.
Record keeping and genealogy was an important aspect of the Norse - and consequentially Icelandic - society as evidenced by it's strong presence in the manuscripts available today. Early Icelandic writings are a variety of both poem and prose.
Songs/poems/chants were composed for celebrations or to commemorate events and those who were skillful at recording events in beautiful verse were highly respected. The collection of poems we have called The Eddas are the main source for our knowledge of Norse Mythology (since paganism was driven from mainland Scandinavia by force and the manuscripts there were destroyed. There will be more about this in the "Religion" post coming soon).
Sagas are prose stories interspersed with poetic verse typically about the family affairs of farmers and their occasional family feuds.
The Icelandic Sagas, or Íslendinga sögur, are acclaimed for their realistic portrayal of human frailties and their glimpses into Icelandic life of the time period. They are about 3rd and 4th generation Icelandic settlers living in goðorð. Usually, the sagas are about the goði or someone in their household. Often someone is insulted and a domino effect of honor retaliation brings clans into feuds. Women have a large presence in Icelandic Sagas; they have strong, confident characteristics and run the domestic affairs of the household. They play political roles by convincing the men into pursuing retaliation or offering forgiveness for insults depending on the character of the woman - or by starting feuds outright themselves.

Unfortunately, it's been a while since I've read through some sagas - and my book is out on loan - so I can't remember any to summarize here. Dramatic events like someone stealing cheese and then giving it out as gifts to visitors who happen to mention to each other that they all got the same kind of cheese that was reported missing and they realized their host is the thief. OR, someone being strung up by their Achilles tendons after instigating a feud and they survive the ordeal. Njall's Saga is one of the most famous sagas; it is pretty long, about the length of a medium sized novel. One of the main characters, Njall, is a good, honest man but is insulted for his inability to grow facial hair. A family feud ensues and he is eventually burned in his house.

On another note, Icelandic Sagas are full of kennings - short, descriptive phrases for objects used to add detail to stories. I'm sure you've heard of these...things like "man-slayer" (for a sword) or "sea-steed" (for a ship), etc. These were used not for lack of vocabulary, but for love of descriptive language.

Due to the nature of Old Norse (and modern Icelandic) word order is less important in sentences because each word is conjugated and declined (more to come in a post on the Icelandic language) giving contextual information to each word and more freedom for rhyme and artistic expression.

Fast forward to the modern era and Iceland is one of the most literate countries with the highest number of authors per capita. The most well known Icelandic author is Halldor Laxness; he won the Nobel Prize in Literature (1955). One of his books I have read is Paradísarheimt, or Paradise Reclaimed; it's about a family in Iceland in the mid-1800's who converts to Mormonism and moves to Utah to live with Brigham Young. I'm serious. (More in a future post on Religion in Iceland).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Icelandic Settlement

In brief:
Iceland was settled by rough, independent personalities primarily from Norway/Sweden, but there are records of people from other parts of Scandinavia, the British Isles, Faroe Islands, and Russia. They left their home country to settle Iceland from 874 AD - 930 AD for a variety of reasons:
1. Arable land was becoming scarce. Traditionally, the oldest son inherited part of the parents' farm and the other sons had to move away and buy their own land or become a professional blacksmith, cobbler, clergyman, etc. If that didn't suit them, I guess some moved to Iceland. After a few generations, the farm portions weren't large enough to sustain the oldest son's family and some of them moved to Iceland.
2. Outlaw types and people who were banished from their hometowns as punishment went to Iceland to escape ridicule and find a fresh start.
3. Escape the current king, Harald Fair-hair.
These Norsemen were excellent boat builders and sea farers. Families moving to Iceland forged across raging oceans in small, shallow boats with their tools, provisions, and domestic animals.
(a replica of a very nice, large, Norse ship)
If they made it, they then set about exploring, claiming land, building homes, sowing seed and raising livestock. There were no large native land animals to hunt, but there was an abundance of fish and migrating fowl to catch and preserve for the winter. Though the northern side of the island is within the arctic circle, the southern side of the island has areas of fertile farm land and is relatively warm and mild due to the Gulf current bringing warm air and water north from the Caribbean area.
(an example of some early settlers)
An amazing aspect about the new colony on Iceland was that despite the inhabitants' varied backgrounds, they created their own democratic parliament and maintained an orderly, non-centralized society. Within about 50 years from the first record of voyages to Iceland, the Icelandic Parliament (Alþingi, or Althingi) was established (in year 930 AD). It is claimed to be the longest standing democratic parliament - from 930 AD to present day - because even after Iceland accepted Norwegian rule in 1262 and Danish rule from 1814-1944, their geographic distance allowed the Althingi to more or less continue.
The island was divided into 4 regional quarters (eventually a 5th was added to make 5 "quarters") made of clans called goðorð (sounds like"go-thorth"). The clan leaders were called goði (sounds like "go-thee") and they provided protection and appointed judges to settle disputes within the goðorð.
There was a single, elected lawspeaker, or lögsögumaður, who memorized the lawbook and would recite it orally once a year to the gathered goði at the Alþingi. Occasionally, a conflict would arise crossing regional borders, and the representatives would seek the lawspeaker's advice. The current lawspeaker is Ásta Ragnheiður Jóhannesdóttir.
The Alþingi/Althing met near present day Reykjavik at Þingvellir, or the Parliamentary plains (sounds like "thing-vet-leer"), an area large and flat enough (see photo above) to make camping and tending animals convenient for the attending goði and their household for the duration of the Alþingi session (up to a few weeks).
The lawspeaker stood on a large rocky area called the Lögberg, or Law Rock, in front of a natural amphitheater created by the separating North American and European tectonic plates.
The Alþingi moved from Þingvellir to Reykjavik in 1844.
(below photo from Wikipedia)
Here are some poor quality photos I took of the building:

Denmark officially owned Iceland from 1814-1944. However, in 1940, when Denmark was occupied by Germany, Iceland became unofficially an independent state. In 1944, the Republic of Iceland was officially formed. The President of Iceland is the head of state and appoints the Prime Minister of Iceland, who is the head of government. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the 4th President of Iceland (from 1980-1996) was the World's first democratically elected female head of state. The current president is Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (photo below in Springville, UT, 2005)
and the current Prime Minister is Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir

Monday, March 7, 2011

Iceland Revival

I got my suitcase filled with Iceland memorabilia down from the attic and I'm having an Iceland revival. Since I didn't have this blog when I went to Iceland in 2005, I think I'll share a few posts now on it's history and things to see, do and learn about in Iceland.
This revival was initiated by an announcement in church that our Kirkland Stake would be having a Family Heritage night in 2 weeks. Anyone with genealogical ties to another country was invited to host a booth displaying photographs, cultural and historical artifacts, the flag, traditional music, food samples, etc. to teach others about their family heritage.
I signed up right away for a booth on Iceland because even though my family moved from there 4 generations back and no one speaks Icelandic anymore, I've had the unique opportunity to study the language, travel to Iceland, research and visit areas where my ancestors lived, and immerse myself in Icelandic culture and history - especially with regards to traditional handicrafts.

Here are some topics I'm going to share:
Literature/the Sagas

Sunday, March 6, 2011

bathing suit bottoms

Before I went to California last week, I made some bathing suit bottoms. I didn't end up needing them, but you never know....
I used a free underwear pattern I found on uploaded by "emilykate."
I like the pattern a lot. The bottoms are cut as one piece with a single seam in the back. An (in my opinion) optional waistband can be made from a second piece. I used some bathing suit lining fabric from a previous project, but you could also line with the same or another bathing suit material to make them reversible.
The pattern came in only one size, so I added in about 2 inches (to each side) since I have a big bootie and I'm pregnant. I plan to make these again soon and add another inch or 3/4 inch. The pattern was also intended to be "cheeky" underwear, but the rear could be easily adapted to your desired degree of coverage. Here, I extended the coverage about 1/2 inch on each side.

I bought my fabric at the Patagonia Outlet in Salt Lake City. They were selling some kind of bag with a tie (above) as a way to use up their bathing suit fabric scraps (I guess) but at $3 each they are a steal for the home sewer. I loved the elephant print and it went well with plain brown.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cloth diaper trial pattern #1

One of my pregnant friends notified me of a free cloth diaper pattern available online from Finnish sewing magazine Ottobre. Here's the link to the pattern.
It sewed up pretty easily and I like the design.
I used white flannel inherited from my mother-in-law's fabric collection. There are about 7 yards, so I should have plenty to make a sizable diaper inventory. I even used the flannel for all the layers of the soaker pad - but next time I'll mix in some old towels and old t-shirts for a few of the layers to recycle our rags and extend the flannel. Anything absorbent will work.
Here is a cool feature - pockets to fold over the loop side of the velcro to prevent snags while washing.

I didn't follow the directions, so my diapers are a little different than the pattern intended. The main difference is I sewed the outer and inner sides of the body of the diaper together and then turned it right-side-out so the seams were hidden inside instead of serging the outer edges. Serging would have been faster, but I don't have my machine up and running.
I also made a casing for the elastic instead of zig-zag sewing it directly onto the inner side of the diaper.
Another difference is that I made the soaker pad independent of the diaper and tacked only the top and bottom edges to the diaper body to facilitate drying. It would be ideal to make the soaker pad completely removable (with snaps or a pocket, etc) but I'll try that out on future versions.

I'm pretty happy with how these first versions turned out. I think they are definitely worth it to make myself. Unfortunately, I haven't tried it out on a real baby yet - hopefully it works well.

Friday, March 4, 2011

black and white quilt

I've been planning how to best use my new black and white quilt squares I bought at an antique store in Orange, Ca.

Here is my plan:
Using the 8 antique squares and 4 new squares I will make, I'm going to make a queen size quilt for our bed.
There will be 12 b&w quilt squares with a 3" white border between each square, 12" white overhanging panels on all 4 sides, and white backing.
Here are the additional black prints I found at I'll use for the 4 new squares. It's going to be hard to find the right white fabric since the antique one is aged and tinted.
I'm going to use a bright yellow binding to add some pop to this almost Amish looking black and white quilt. I might use the yellow flower print (below).
These three prints I fell in love with while looking for the right black prints. The green one in the middle was on sale (yay!) and I think it would make a beautiful blouse or dress for me...or a cute baby bib and baby pants for Pea!
Well, I guess I have another quilt project to keep me busy...

California Visit

I just got back from a quick visit to my family in Southern California. It was wonderful; the weather was nice and sunny, we went walking everyday, and we did some garden and attic organizing projects.
Here are some photos:
sunny weather
going for walks by the beach
Tess and Briana
my mom

A wonderful, all produce grocery store called Growers Direct!
Me and my Dad filling up the IKEA bag with fruits and veggies :)

My mom, Briana, and I went exploring in the old town area of Orange. We oohed and ahhed over items in antique stores and ate Belgian waffle sandwiches at Bruxie's (but ate them before we could take a photo).
If I lived nearer, I would have wanted to buy this dresser chest. It was beautiful and in excellent condition, and way less expensive than I've seen in other stores. It would have been perfect for clothes, diapers, and blankies in a baby room :)
pretty idea for folk painting
pretty idea for old-timey lettering
An old dye cabinet!
with packets of dye still inside!
And a list of recipes to obtain various colors:

My purchases: set of 8 black and white quilt squares, two bobbins of handspun wool (I've started a collection), cute apron.
At the outdoor Bruxie's Belgian Waffle joint:

Then we made some fruit crepes at home (bad photo, but delicious!)

Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of Thom! He came down with the flu the day I arrived; so sad. He has grown up to be very tall and handsome and will be the best uncle!
I miss everyone alredy! It was wonderful to be with family for no specific reason - no holiday or family event, just regular everyday life.