There's nothing quite like helping to clear out someone's house after their death to bring it to your attention that you likely have too much stuff. I'd actually started this project of going through my clothes and then blah blah cancer blah blah blah. When I was finally healed up from the last of my surgeries, I did a pretty big purge of clothes that no longer worked with my rebuilt self. I got as far as Marie Kondo-ing my dresser drawers, and ran out of steam.
But my Mother-in Law's house was so filled with stuff, much of it randomly distributed, that it renewed my energy. I came home and piled everything in my closet onto my bed and dresser and started sorting. Summery clothes got packed away to be dealt with next spring. I will never do the capsule wardrobe thing because I don't see the point in getting rid of clothes I like and wear and then having to buy new ones. My hope is that I don't have to buy any new work clothes before I retire, and then I can get rid of most of them at that point and a year-round wardrobe will fit easily in the closet.
Everything else was organized and hanging clothes all put on hangers facing the wrong way. As I've been wearing them, they go back in with the hanger facing the right way. At the end of winter, anything still on a backwards hangers goes into the donation bag.
Sweaters on the little shelves, with a bit of masking tape on each, which gets pulled off as I wear them. I have to force myself not to just jam sweaters back in there and instead fold them into little bundles. That's right, I'm a jammer by nature.
Jeans on the other side on a little wire shelf, also taped. I just didn't feel like trying them on to see which ones I might wear, so same rule as with the hangers - anything with tape still on it come spring, goes. I didn't bother putting a piece of tape on my gardening jeans, since I wear them all the time.
And there you have it - everything neatly organized and easy to get to. I'd rather be working in the yard, but it wasn't a bad use of a rainy weekend day.
Pink is everywhere right now. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and that means a lot of corporations profiting off this disease. Pink ribbons on cosmetics, on yogurt, on spatulas, on every sort of merchandise imaginable. Company after company promising money to raise awareness and find a cure. And yet, a tiny fraction of that promised money (and sometimes, none of it at all), actually goes toward research aimed at making treatment more effective and, most importantly, finding a cure. Don't even get me started on the Susan G. Komen foundation which manages to pay big fat salaries but gives only 20% of donated money to research. Breast Cancer Awareness month feels like such a sham that I avoid most things associated with it. So I was torn when I got this invitation.
Ultimately, I decided it would be a nice way to spend time with a friend who is a fellow breast cancer survivor. Although, I hate that word, too. At any rate, a mutual friend got us together when I had to make a decision about chemo. She met with me for lunch to answer the questions that the first oncologist had little patience for, and then was there for me as a support. She even took me to get my port implanted, bringing me a box of tegaderm and telling me how to use it with EMLA cream to make accessing my port more tolerable. She waited for me through my surgery, dressed me when I woke up from the anesthesia, and sat with me at home for a while. She and the mutual friend also visited me at the infusion center when I was getting my first round of chemo. I invited her to join me for the event.
We were given bags with some goodies. Inside was a silly gift (a radiology department coozie) and a nice gift (a leather folding binder with a notepad inside). There was pretty good food but a sad lack of wine, and activities. I actually picked up an offered craft kit, remembered later that I just don't do crafts, and now it's in the Goodwill pile. As we were eating, I saw my breast surgeon and she came over to give me a hug. I adore that woman. But it was a little surreal being at a festive event in a setting rife with traumatic memories. We ate in the waiting room of the cancer center while a remarkably old woman played jazzy tunes on the piano. There were beauty school students giving manicures at the booths where you check in for procedures. They handed out moisturizer samples and offered chair massages in the halls of the place where I had mammograms and my biopsies. Incidentally, there were three massage chairs and the third woman getting a massage while we were there responded to her massage therapist's compliment on her hair by saying, "That's one reason I was thankful not to have to do chemo! I told my daughter we could go to Party City and buy some fun, colorful wigs and she was actually disappointed when I didn't have to have chemo! Ha ha ha!" Yeah, ha ha ha. I bit my lip to keep from saying, "There's nothing fucking fun about chemo or losing your hair."
But you know, there's a general air of whimsy around breast cancer awareness. And a fair degree of infantilization. "Girl" is consistently used instead of "woman." At events you see lots of pink boas and tutus because woohoo breast cancer! Just a brief but still happy inconvenience that we strong warrior women laugh our way through!! Well, no. Try that approach with the families of the 42,000 woman who will die from it this year just in this country and see how receptive they are to the hilarity.
Because with any invasive breast cancer, no matter the stage, it doesn't end. Just last month, I had pain that didn't seem to be healing in my tailbone and rib cage. My oncologist ordered a nuclear medicine bone scan, which didn't show any current metastases in my bones. But there was a suspicious finding in the area of my skull behind my ear. I got a call from the oncologist's office as I was in the airport headed for Iceland to schedule a brain CT as soon as I got back. That, too, thankfully, was negative. But here's what I know: A large percentage of people with breast cancer have a recurrence at some point. And some 25-40% (depending on which study you're looking at) of women with breast cancer already have cancer cells in their bone marrow by the time they have their surgery. They just don't know it yet - cancer cells can lie dormant for years and women with my type of breast cancer can develop metasteses as late as twenty years out. And for women and men with invasive breast cancer, there is no known cure. If you become metastatic, all they can do is try different treatments until they stop working and you die. There is just nothing cute or sexy or uplifting about breast cancer. The rates are rising, it’s hitting women at an increasingly young age, and women and men are dying from it at an alarming rate. So I’m here to tell you that if anyone goes all “Save the Tatas” on me, I may well punch them in the throat.
I'm not actually bitter about my cancer as long as people aren't expecting me to be jolly about it. I'm a realist but not a pessimist, and I love my life. What that leaves me with is always reminding myself to live as fully and fiercely as possible right up until I die. That is why, in spite of my general dislike of Pinktober and all the pink ribbon bullshit, I was unable to resist this shirt. It’s a Game of Thrones reference (and I know I am one of the few people who never watched that show) where the sword teacher tells the girl, “There is only one god and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘Not today.’”
We're in the midst of a local election here, for city mayor and several city council seats. I'd gone to a house party before the primaries and stuck the candidate's sign in my yard. She seemed nice enough, but when I was getting ready to vote, I realized that I didn't want yet another privileged white person running the show. This woman doesn't even send her kid to the public schools here, so how invested is she in the community? This year there is a coalition of three young people running for three different seats - an African American man who has to be in his mid to late-twenties, an African American woman, and man of Middle Eastern content. They are running on an anti-discrimination ticket with big dreams of change. I love that. So I changed out my yard signs and cast my ballot in the primaries and was happy all three made it through. Early voting started last week and Saturday we went to vote in the general election.
We ordered our favorite from there, a chicken and rice shawarma, and took it with us to a pub a few blocks away. We grabbed two cushy armchairs and got a couple of cold IPAs to go with the shawarma.
This pub also sells beers from around the world and I was stoked to find they had a six pack of Einstök Arctic Pale Ale, my favorite Icelandic beer! I grabbed it to bring home with us. When we settled up our tab, the bartender, who was from England, had also been to Iceland and we talked about how expensive everything was there.
Now we're crossing our fingers for the results in November. I used to only vote in Presidential elections and only started voting in local elections in the past several years. Most recently, a frightening wave of conservatism has netted us an anti-public school governor, a Tea Party nutjob Senator, and a former professional wrestler county mayor. I've realized that it's not enough to worry about who is in charge of the nation (although, trust me, I worry night and day about that), I need to care more about what's happening locally. I won't miss another election.
We left Vestra-Fiflholt farm in the morning, with a goodbye from the friendly horses.
When we got into Reykjavík, we had to stop for a bit to let the marching band pass.
Then a dog parade! I was already liking this city.
I liked it even more when I found a 5000 krona note on the floor of the parking garage. That's about 40 bucks. We headed straight for Frederiksen's Ale House on Hafnarstræti for a couple of beers.
Skólavörðustígur street has been painted with a rainbow in honor of their annual Pride festival. I wish I'd gotten some photos of the many Japanese tourists pausing to vamp in front of a camera on this street.
Of course, we're no better. My obliging husband will recreate any statue I ask him to. Here he taps into his Norse heritage to be a Viking.
We saw a crowd gathering and went to investigate. It was an anti-white supremacy demonstration, and although we couldn't understand the Icelandic speech, the sign was sure universal. We stayed for a while in solidarity.
Fortunately, there were no counter-demonstrators and this cop (the police there are called Logrelan) sat quietly watching.
Street food was sounding good to us about then but not the popular pylsa. Apparently Icelanders love hotdogs.
Instead, we went to a place called Reykjavík Street Food. It was an unexpected gem. We were just looking for a snack, and ordered a bowl of lobster soup. We asked the owner if they had any beer better than Gull and he said he'd take care of it, but not to tell anyone. He went across the street and came back with a couple of Bolli's that he'd bought! Then, the cook came out with fish and chips and set it in front of us. We told him we'd actually ordered lobster soup and he pointed toward the cook behind him, laughed and said, "This guy!" He left the fish and chips with us and also brought out our soup. Then the owner came around and pressed a couple of candy bars on us. It was all really good and just a wonderfully warm, friendly place.
After the bigger-than-expected lunch, we walked around town a little more. We went into the Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran church built in 1937 and designed to look like volcanic basalt columns. It is named for Hallgrímur Pétursson, a 17th century Icelandic poet and clergyman. In front of the church is a statue of Leifur Eríksson, the Norse explorer banished from Iceland for killing Eyiolf the Foul. This sent him westward in search of the land sighted by another Icelandic explorer. It is thought that he and his crew were the first Westerners to land in North America, a place they named Vinland.
Then we looked around inside the church where there was a modern "art" exhibit. Like these zucchuni held up against a wall with boards. They represent... oh hell, I have no idea. It was produce and wood. Made no sense to me.
Another bit of art that I COULD understand was the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the Viking who fled Norway and sailed to Iceland in the 9th century. He cast his seat pillars into the sea and they washed up on the shore in a place he named Reykjarvík, or Smoky Bay. He is believed to be the first of the permanent Norse settlers of Iceland.
We also went by Harpa, Reykjavík's opera house and concert hall. Like Hallgrímskirkja, it is meant to resemble the Icelandic basalt landscape. They started building it in 2007, but there was a long delay during the Kreppa, Iceland's financial crisis in 2008, and it wasn't finished until 2011.
Have I mentioned my husband's patience with my requests for him to imitate staues? Here he becomes a troll. This troll is Leppalúði, the husband of the wicked Gryla and father of the Yule Lads.
We wandered through the neighborhood around the town, passing this cool octopus mural, where I felt compelled to yell, "Release the Kraken!"
We had dinner that night at the Geysir Bistro on Adalstraeti. We'd had a big lunch, so we ordered small plates: scallops from Ísafjörður with apples, cashew nuts, cauliflower and noisette butter and oven-baked arctic char with romanesco, langoustine broth and pickled mustard seeds.
While we ate and drank our wine, we watched as people passed a sculpture of a man with a bent head and many stopped to interact with the art. I loved this guy's response.
Reykjavík has about 123,000 in the city, and 217,000 in the greater Reyjkjavík area, out of Iceland's 340,000 total. It's a small city, but still contains most of Iceland's population. That explains why the areas we visited were so sparsely populated. We thoroughly enjoyed our day in the city, but I'm glad we spent most of our time in less touristy areas.
We spent our last night at a weird hotel near the airport in Keflavík. You can see that the TV, which we never turned on, was right next to the bed. We stopped in their bar for a drink before bed, and then flew home the next morning. Later I was thinking that although I have no Icelandic ties, it still felt like home to me. The only other place I've felt that as strongly was Ireland. Maybe it's genetic - my surname is from a Norman family who went with William the Conquerer (originally known as William the Bastard) to Ireland. And my husband's surname is Norwegian in origin. All I know is that all in all, I found it to be an amazing trip.
After a wonderful breakfast at the Hótel Flókulunder the next morning, we finally made our way out of the Westfjords. As we headed south, we went through one of Iceland's many tunnels. The Hvalfjörður Tunnel goes under a fjord, 541 below sea level at its deepest point. It is a little over 3½ miles long and it felt like we were in it for a long time.
When we stopped at a gas station to refuel, we also picked up some coffee and a sandwich. Kjúklinger og egg (chicken and egg, a combo that doesn't bear thinking about too closely). Not only do they have great coffee, Icelandic gas stations also carry surprisingly good sandwiches. But their politely-worded customers-only bathroom sign made me laugh. The sign is only in English so it is obviously aimed at free-loading tourists.
Short a day now on our itinerary, we decided to make some stops along the way to our next lodging. We drove first to a geothermal spring, but were aghast at the number of cars and tour buses in the parking lot, and just kept driving. We'd been spoiled by the relative isolation of springs further north and were getting our first taste of how heavily touristed the south of Iceland is.
Tourists or no, however, I was determined to visit Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir is in a rift valley, where the American and Eurasion tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart. (Incidentally, I've also been to the only other place on earth where this pulling apart of two tectonic plates can be seen - the Great Rift Valley in Africa.)
But in spite of the geological significance, I was most interested in the history of Þingvellir. It's the site of the Alþingi! In 980, Vikings decided to form a centralized government and chose Þingvellir as a yearly assembly. It was Europe's first parliament. At the time it was held outdoors, during the summer.
Within the þinghelgi, or parliamentary site, anyone in attendance was immune from vengeance. The goðar, or cheiftans, came with the Vikings loyal to them, and occupied shelters or turf booths at the þinghelgi. People came to trade, tell stories, have feasts, and share the news from the different regions.
The primary purpose of the Alþingi was as a legal gathering. Each year the lawspeaker would recite, from memory, a third of the law (covering all of it over his three-year term). Anything left out, if not noticed, was excised from the law. Cases were presented and judgments passed. And, it being a Viking assembly, judgment could be harsh. The guilty might be fined or even banished from Iceland. But some were also put to death, the men generally by beheading, the women by drowning. Records show that 18 women were put to death at Drekkingarhylur, the Drowning Pool, at the right of the photo.
The first church at Þingvellir was built at the behest of Olaf, the King of Norway, when the Vikings adopted Christianity around 1000 AD. The present church, here, was built in 1859.
It was a slightly chilly and overcast day, but it was fascinating to walk though Þingvellir. (Þingvellir, as close as I can discern, is pronounced THINGvetlirsh. The rsh is a sibilant rolled r.)
We drove out along the shores of the lake Þingvallavatn and headed on south.
We stopped in at a little pub in Hveragerði for a beer. The Einstök Icelandic pale ale was my favorite of all the beers we tried. Einstök means one of a kind, or unique. We also had a Víking ale.
We don't eat mammal so we didn't have any lamb, but it does seem to me to be a vastly preferable system to get meat from free-roaming animals rather than ones who live horrific lives on big commercial feedlots.
Then on to our next place, a traditional Icelandic cottage on the Vestra-Fiflholt farm near Hvolsvöllur.
It was cute and cozy inside and had a view of the farm and the volcanoes Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull.
These Icelandic horses came up to say hello, but weren't as affectionate as the ones at Laugaból. Beautiful creatures, though.
Next to our cottage was a house with a turf roof and turf blocks insulating the sides. I'd love to have grass and mosses growing on my roof.
This was our replacement car, a Dacia Duster (thanks, Nick, for identifying it for me - Dacia is a Romanian company and not one we get in the States). I hadn't realized how rattly our little Jimny was until we drove this newer car.
We decided to drive out for dinner but ran into a little snag. The road was closed! No warnings, no signage about how to detour. Fortunately we had a good road map, but it still took some exploring to get back on our way.
Finally we made it to the Strönd Restaurant in Hella.
It's the top floor of a golf club and the walls in the stairwell are decorated with old photos of golfers, including this pipe-smoking fellow.
We had salmon carpaccio to start and then local trout and vegetables as a main course.
Then the only dessert we ordered on the whole trip, a cheesecake with a sauce made of mountain blueberries. Delicious.
Then back to Vestra-Fiflholt for the night. Eyjafjallajökull, by the way, is the volcano that errupted in 2010 and produced an ash cloud that shut down European air space. The name literally means Island Mountain Glacier. I listened and practiced and listened and practiced until I could do a pretty fair job of pronouncing Eyjafjallajökull - AYyah-FYAHTlah-YUHkutl. Except that tl is sort of spit out the side of your mouth. It's a fun word to say.