Monday, March 30, 2015

Icelandic Adventure Day #2

Our second day in Iceland was likely my favourite. We "started" the day at 2:00 a.m. and got lucky to see northern lights.  They weren't the green and blue variety - we missed those, unfortunately - but definite disappearing and re-appearing white and yellowish clouds in the sky.  We stood their, glued to our cold window, for what seemed like an hour.

We then woke around eightish to catch the solar eclipse.  The guest house we had stayed at, though a bit on the dank side, just happened to also be housing two astronomers from France there to see the solar eclipse with their truck load of gear, plus all of their random couchsurfing friends from Malaysia, Australia, Detroit, and Devon.  They graciously invited us to join them and use all of their gear to watch this extraordinary event from the place on Iceland that proved the best spot to watch.  We were told that Iceland TV was among those gathered at our random guest house.

The Frenchies were Skyping with three different classrooms in France.

It is very faint here, but Astro Charlie had punched his name into a computer case.  The eclipse was noticeable in that the shadow-holes looked like moons rather than full circles.

Again, not the best picture, but the eclipse showed up in these shadows as well.

Astro Charlie himself.  He's headed to the US/Canadian border in 2017 to see that eclipse, too.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate with him then as it did on Iceland.

 On our way east, we stopped by this farm, which lays directly beneath Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, which erupted in 2010 and grounded all trans Atlantic air travel, and put Iceland on the map as a tourist destination.  This picture was taken during the explosion.  You can see how the mountains have been changed since the eruption. 

In my top five things we did in Iceland was this mountain hot pool off of highway 242, Seljavellir.  We found it on this blog, although the instructions for how to get there ("keep walking towards the mountain"?  There are mountains on three sides - it should be to "keep walking towards the canyon, mostly along the hot water pipes") were less than clear.  The views were breathtaking - I think we counted something like 18 waterfalls.  The water wasn't quite as hot as I would have preferred thanks to the cold air temperature, so we hugged the two places it emerged.  My only regret was that we didn't bring a towel.  Made getting out in the blustery March weather a rather chilling experience.

We hiked a bit further and found steaming, black waterfalls. 

And this impenetrable canyon.

Next up for the day was Seljalandsfoss - much more intimate and less crowded than Gulfoss.  Can you see the rainbow?

We hiked to the top.

After the viewing platform, we discovered a hike that continued on - more later.

Again, see the rainbow?

Sod homes in Skogar - more on this later.

We then headed to Vik, the lowest point on the Island, and town of the black sand beaches.  Before getting to Vik, I had Lance follow my hunch and turn down a smaller road towards Gardar.  Turns out it went to a much more secluded black sand beach with basalt pillars, caves, massive waves, and a black sand restaurant that sells really good soup and steak sandwiches.

These waves were maybe 10 ft high

Lance tried maybe 5 times to get this picture right.

His final and best attempt got photo bombed.  This beachside cave, which can't quite be captured here, was unbelievably cool.

You can kind of get a feel for the cave in this pic
Gate to nowhere - Lance again behind the camera!
We then set off for our most easterly goal on the island, the Iceberg Lagoon, Jokulsarlon.  To get there, we had to cross about three hours of lava fields and glacier fields.  It was breathtaking.

The most southern tip of Skeidararjokull glacier

the Iceburg Lagoon, formed by an glacier, Breidanerkurjokull, touching a bay that spills into the sea.  It was frozen over when we reached it at dusk, but in the summer, bits of the glacier break into the bay and head out to sea.

We were lucky to find a place to sleep close at hand, in Reynivellir, so that we could eat their over-priced but welcomed food and rest our weary bones.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Icelandic Adventure Day 1

For Christmas, I gave Lance a trip to Iceland, a place we have both wanted to visit for a while.  The idea for when to go - for the lunar eclipse and northern lights - was provided by my step brother, Danny.  It turned out to be a wonderful trip, just the two of us, in the beautiful desolation of this haunted land.

They say that Iceland is a land of fire and ice.  We experienced both (although I still want to see molten lava in a live volcano!) in the form of geysers, hot springs, and lots of snow and ice.

On Day 1 (we flew in late the night before) we started in Reykjavik, awaking to enjoy the rooftop hot tub heated with geothermal water (in my top three experiences in Iceland).  We then headed downtown for a business breakfast I had set up (Iceland recently wrote a constitution that was politically stillborn, and I was meeting with a drafter and activist about a few things).

After breakfast, we high-taled it to the "Golden Circle."  Although we had read that most of Iceland's real wonders lay further afield, we both wanted to see Gulfoss waterfalls, and I the initial Geysir after which all geysers are named.

Inland lake, near where the ancient Althingi met, the world's first proto parliament

Mud pots near Geysir

This isn't Geysir, but a geyser close by that more regularly erupts - I didn't actually catch the spray, but the plume of smoke!

Gulfoss, Europe's largest falls

Overall, I think we were glad we saw both, but we certainly didn't enjoy the crowds and the tour buses.  It seemed all professional and amateur photographers had descended on the place at once, and we certainly liked other sites more.

We then tried to find Gjain to hike around from this blog post, but the road hadn't yet opened for the Spring/summer.  We enjoyed peering into this church, however, the 5th smallest in Iceland's southwest (what that means, we'll never know).  It had a recognisable Carl Bloc painting above its altar.

We  then made our way down the 30 to the 1, the road that circumnavigates Iceland, to this converted dairy for amazing Volcano soup and burgers (the cows must have been slaughtered on that very farm that very day - never tasted anything like it).

We then stayed at the less-than-glamorous but cheap guesthouse across the way that happened to be the perfect spot for watching the solar eclipse - more to come tomorrow!

View out our window that second night.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

5 Ways to Maximize Living Space with Babies

5 days post birth with Gideon in our 1-bed flat
When I was childless in 2012, I knew a family in our Manhattan congregation with six children and one on the way who lived in a studio apartment.  I gasped when I first learned this little fact.  How was such a feat possible, and why were they excited to have one more under such circumstances?

I moved back to London heavily pregnant and we soon had Gideon in our 550 square foot, one-bed flat.  We thought we would move soon to accommodate our addition, but then the Husband got a new job and was called as bishop of our congregation in quick succession. We ended up staying till G was 14 months.

In those 14 months, I often thought back to that family of 8+ living in a similar sized space in Manhattan.  I tried to replicate what I had learned about them and incorporate a few more space-saving ideas, including the following:

1)  Buy carefully.  Advertisers can make babies into money pits, but you don't need to buy what they are selling - psychologically or otherwise.  Yes, some contraptions can make life easy-temporarily, but stuff can complicate your life and make it more expensive, as the cost of an item isn't solely its ticket price: there is the cost of maintaining it, storing it, and disposing of it.  Babies need to be fed, slept, changed, stimulated, and loved.  Very little of that requires money.  The family of 8 had one Sunday outfit for their five boys that they wore every Sunday (the girl was much more spoiled, as she should be).  I operate around the same concept - one nice outfit per season/growth phase.

This velvet Ralph Lauren footie, a gift from another NYC friend, was G's going-to-meetin outfit for three months.

2) Acquire and create dual-purpose furniture and rooms. I have loved buying furniture in our new home that serves two purposes - a Victorian high chair/potty, a bench that doubles as a clothes drawer, a chest that doubles as a coffee table, a mantle that doubles as a couch, and a chair that folds into a ladder.  Beds that are couches by day, and that fold out into larger beds.  In our old flat, our living room doubled as the nursery, the bedroom as the office (pictured above), and the bathroom as Gideon's sleeping area.

Other than our piano and table, this is the most expensive piece of furniture we own - all handmade by yours truly.  Upholstery fabric is not cheap! 

I think Lance would prefer this 100 year old chest be hurled back into the sea...

This is one of my favourite furniture purchases - an old printer's toolbox with legs added for £30 at Kempton Markets

1920s French chair...

That also becomes a ladder

Our bed is a couch by day, kingsize bed (with the hidden trundle) that fills our room by night

We painted and then shabby-chiced this victorian highchair/potty.  The hole is covered with a slate during meals.

3) Remember that babies are small.  They do not require huge nurseries, or even tiny ones.  My creative cousin, Mary Romney, slept her firstborn, Parker, in a closet in their first New York apartment.  It was his own little room, and the crib fit.  Babies need their own space for long nap and night sleep that can be blacked out and white noised as necessary, but only a little bit.  Our toddler currently sleeps in a large walk-in closet - his own little room.  Our five month old is in the large bathroom adjoining the nursery.  Both have their own private (but small) space, leaving the nursery free for their playthings and the au pair or guest bed.

4) Think vertically.  Our neighbours right now have split their two, 20 ft tall rooms into two rooms each - vertically.  She lived on a canal boat growing up, and he is handy, so they were able to be exceptionally creative with their space.  We had more vertical than horizontal space in our bathroom (also G's bedroom), so we purchased a baby hammock and screwed it into the ceiling.  We could still shower (in the dark with a candle - it was wonderful) while he was sleeping.

5) Incorporate the Outdoors. Good views with good lighting can make a small space feel big.  If the window views are incorporated into the thought-space of the room, it not only is inspiring, but it can make the smallness of the room lost in the largess of the outdoors.  If you live in the northern hemisphere, find a space that faces south so you will be blessed with maximum amounts of light that will brighten your space and make it feel bigger and happier.

The windows in our last flat were inescapable elements of our tiny flat.

Living in a small space has its advantages to be sure - it forces you to be organised and to simplify your life.  Cleaning happens quickly.  It can also bring a family together by requiring them to actually live together.  Finally, in a place like London, it has enormous cost savings.