QC Blog: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Iceland, Part Five

The next day dawned with blue skies and the sun shining. Not a hint of rain. We can see that it snowed more on the mountains last night. Our AAA tour guide, Barry, was handing us off to the Super Jeep driver named Hlynur, who started off the tour taking us through what he called the "Wall Street" area near the Harbor. He kept making jokes about how he owned the banks now that Iceland is bankrupt. We started our 90 minute drive up Highway 1(it seems like there is only one big highway there) and midway made a bathroom stop at Thingvellir, and then continued on to the Langjokull glacier, which is the second largest glacier in Iceland.

In a Super Jeep, the seat backs are pretty high, so you can't see out the front window, unless you're up front. Patty and Chrissie were in front of me in the first seat and I was in the second seat by myself. I could only listen to Hlynur's spiel as he talked about the scenery and the people. Someone asked if there were Polar Bears in Iceland. He said there had been two, but they shot them. It seems they swam over from Greenland. The first one terrorized a family and was finally shot, and then he said people were saying "oh, the poor Polar bear...blah, blah, blah" (Literally, he said blah, blah, blah). Then when the 2nd Polar Bear came over, people just didn't say anything and they shot him. He mentioned the 101's who were all upset over the poor bear. 101's, he explained, were the young people who hang out in coffee bars, talking art and smoking, and are in Reykjavik. They are called 101's because that's the zip code in Reykjavik. Patty explained to him that an American term for what he was saying might be "tree-huggers." He loved that, and continued to use it the rest of the trip.

Then someone asked him about the shirts we had seen in a store about Killer Sheep. Were they real? Of course, he says. Patty and Chrissie are enthralled with this story he's telling. Now I, who can't see him, can hear in his voice that he's putting us on. I happen to have a husband who does that a lot, and Hlynur sounded just like him. But up front, they're buying this story, hook, line and sinker. Finally after about 5 minutes, Patty says, you're putting us on aren't you? And he laughs and laughs and they realize the joke has been on them. But in an utterly charming way.

So as we're talking, we're driving up a mountain. The higher we go, the roads get a little snowier. We reach a point where those up front (my sisters) are a little nervous. He tells them that the road we just passed on our right is an easier route, but it's the chicken route. And he doesn't take the chicken route. He tells us how he's done these tours for over 20 years, first working in Greenland and now Iceland for years. He tells us he's also part of the search and rescue team here in Iceland, so if we get lost, he can find us. He tells us a story of how a friend and his family went through the ice in a jeep, and then tried to call for help, but also lost his phone in the water. He was in freezing water (standing height) for about 15 hours, and Hlynur told how he and his friends all rescued him, and in the end they even found his phone (a Nokia) and it still worked.

So it's snowy and bumpy, climbing this mountain. Wearing your seat belt was a must or you'd be thrown all over the jeep. This is where the camera excelled. First, I took most of the pictures on this day through the window of the Jeep, which sometimes had moisture, or snow on it. Second, my hand was moving up and down with the movement of the Jeep - at least 6 inches up in the air and then 6 inches down with each rut we hit in the road. That's where the Vibration Reduction lens came in set to Normal. Third, the Jeep itself was moving forward so blur would've been an issue, except that the Vibration Reduction set to Active is just for that purpose. The only other issue was the reflection on the window, which sometimes you can see, and if I was really good, you can't.

On some hills, Hlynur is struggling to get up the hill, while he tells us his life rescue stories. Our Patriots fan, Joe, is sitting next to him and told me later he was putting us on about that too. No way he was having any trouble getting up the hill. But, that didn't change the nervousness of some of our "front seat" passengers. I figured he does this all the time, he must know what he's doing, so I really wasn't worried.

The scenery is changing before our eyes. We went from a green plush landscape with snowcapped mountains in the background to being in the mountains and surrounded by the snow. It was similar to seeing clouds when you look out of a plane window. Suddenly, you're "in them," and it's just so cool. Gradually, we're getting closer to the Glacier. All of a sudden the snow with rocks in it turns to pure white. This is the Glacier. We drive up onto it very, very slowly, and when we get out Hlynur tells us not to stray too far, because there are crevices very near (he's not kidding about this one). It was 24 degrees here on the glacier. And the wind was cold. But, having purchased a nice coat with liner before I left home, I was toasty warm. The beauty was astounding. It was pristine, as though we were looking at freshly fallen snow. I felt overwhelmed by the beauty I was seeing. We took photos of one another and with our Terrible Towels. Then we had to get back in the Jeep. I didn't want to. I could've stayed there indefinitely.

As we drove down the alternate route, or "the chicken's path" to our next stop, the scenery continued to change. We stopped for lunch at another place that had delicious lamb stew, with turnips and carrots in it. They had a tiny supermarket, where I bet you recognize this product, even written in Icelandic. We then moved onto see a different waterfall, that Hlynur told us is cut in the hillside from lava flow. Incredible.

We stopped again to see another hot springs where the temperature was 100 degrees C. Then as we drove on, the Atlantic ocean pops up on the scenery on the right hand side of the bus. By this point, although I took one or two photos out the opposite window, my arm was so tired, I could hardly hold the camera anymore. I had camera elbow. So I contented myself with saying I can't take a photo, it's on the other side of the bus. We drove back into Reykjavik, still with a clear blue sky, and Hlynur said if any night was perfect, this would be the kind of night we could see the Aurora Borealis -sometime between 10pm and 12:00am.

We went to dinner and got back, exhausted, but felt obligated to stay dressed to see if we could see anything. Even though we went down to the Harbor at 10pm and stayed until 11pm, we couldn't spot anything in the sky. I hear it's very fleeting at this time of year. So we went back to our room. Chrissie and I knew we weren't going whale watching the next day, so we could sleep in a little. Patty did go, and we shopped.

Tomorrow: Our little village

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Iceland Part Four

The Golden Circle
I hope you don't mind that I'm continuing my Iceland story as though nothing else is going on here in the States. I know it's the week before election, and trust me, I'm better off talking about Iceland.

The day before, the weather was a typical cloudy day, but on Friday, the weather turned much colder, rainier, and unpredictable. When we started out it was cloudy, but cold. At different points in the trip, mostly when we were on the bus, the sun would peak through the clouds. We drove to Thingvellir, the location of the First Law speaker and First Government. The TH in that word is actually a symbol that looks like a P. Complicated language. We walked through a place where the Teutonic plates in the earth still separate by 1 cm each year. They were high and rocky and beautiful. There was a waterfall here where they executed women and drowned people who committed crimes. Luckily at this point, no rain.

We moved on to Geysir, where all Geysirs get their name, and saw several steaming hot springs in the earth, where one was erupting every 3 minutes or so. At this point, it's freezing rain. I'm trying to get a picture of water spouting in the air at an unpredictable time, through steam that lasts about a second, through a plastic bag surrounding my camera so it won't get wet. Needless to say, after 5 minutes of getting soaked, all I got was a photo of lots of steam, and I bought myself a postcard of the Geysir. We took our Terrible Towels to Geysir and one of our tourmates took our photo there. First we used Patty's camera, then I gave him mine. When he was taking one of the photos, he kept saying that was a really good one, really good. Later, I realized that on Patty's camera, I was holding the towel upside down. And the guy that took our photo was from Boston!! (Patriots fan). He swears he didn't notice, but.......I think he knew.

We drove on, with my jeans soaked all the way up to my thighs, and stopped at Gulfoss for lunch (where they had great lamb stew) to see a huge waterfall there. They told us when the sun is shining, you can see a rainbow across the falls. There were 100 steps to get down to the viewing platform, and those who were truly brave walked all the way down to the rock next to the falls. What you see here is not steam, but spray because I slowed down the speed on the camera. See that rock off to the left? Lots of spray down there. I wasn't up to getting my camera quite that wet, so observed from afar. The wind was cold, and so strong at this point, it dried most of the water from my jeans.

After this, we drove to a "foxie" which was a small waterfall with a salmon run (on left).

Then we drove to Eden, a place with tons of greenhouses. We drove past a church where there was an excavation site over 500 years old being worked on. As we were driving by a hillside, we stopped to take a photo of one of the little houses where the whodafolk live (elves, trolls, magical people). You have to look closely at the photo to see their little home. Then our tour driver took us to Alafoss, where they sold their wool products direct at great prices. I think they are the biggest wool manufacturer in the country.

At the end of this day, we drove to the Viking Ship near Reykjavik to have a group photo taken. The sky at this point was gorgeous and there was no rain for a few seconds. Totally beautiful.

Tomorrow: The Glacier

Monday, October 27, 2008

Iceland Part Three

The first photo I'm posting today is the 360 degree view from "The Pearl." You can see the village of Reykjavik and the mountains behind it. Keep in mind this is ONE of the shots I took here. Those of you who know me know there are quite a few more.

The next day, after a breakfast of skyr (kind of like yogurt) and muesli, we hopped on the tour bus and took off at 9:00am. We drove by the President's house - he lives at the edge of the island, right on the ocean. In front of his house is a beautiful church with stained glass windows that tell the story of the Vikings. We saw
Lake Kleifarvatn and took some photos, saw some hot spots, and

drove past some lava rocks with moss that was about 5 inches thick.

We drove on to lunch, and the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon itself is a man-made geothermal spa of warm, therapeutic water to relax in. It's runoff of some kind from a plant. It actually does have a bluish cast to the water. If you look at this photo, you can see a tiny head in the water on the left hand side of the picture. People were actually down there, you just couldn't see them because of the steam. From what I surmise, the steam was from the cold air temperature - I don't believe it always looks like this. We had a funny time getting ready for the pool - you have to shower naked before putting your suit on and going into the pool. I'm from a Catholic school that didn't even have locker rooms for girls, much less showers - so that was a hoot! Anyway, we swam in the lagoon for about 40 minutes, and the one photo we didn't take was of us in the water, with the silica cream on our faces. We think it's a trick they pull on newbies to the Lagoon. The water was amazingly warm and felt heavenly. We kept saying it was surreal. There were a lot of people in the water, but we heard in summer, people are side by side.

That evening, after a walk through town, we went to the Seafood Cellar for dinner or the Sjavarkjallarian. It's one of those places you can order an entree that serves the entire table a course from all their menu items. They had a unique presentation for the desserts. First a creme brulee came out in flames, and then they poured something onto dry ice around the other desserts to make it steam for about 5 minutes. It was a cool effect.

Tommorrow: Geysir

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Iceland Part Two

This is me, in Boston, at the Boston Commons Swan Park.

I might have mentioned this, but we had to catch our flight to Iceland in Boston, so we travelled there and spent a few days in Princeton because my sister has a friend there. We stayed there for 2 days and nights, then went into Boston and did some sightseeing in the city for 2 days, then caught our flight to Iceland. We left on Saturday, flying to Boston, then traveled to Princeton. Along the way, the signs called out names of places we've read about in Robert Parker's Spenser novels. We saw people canoeing down the Charles River, and fall leaves slightly more vibrant than in Pittsburgh when we left. We spent a relaxing evening in front of a fireplace getting to know one another. On Sunday, Chrissie's friends drove us to Portsmouth, NH, where we shopped, and then we drove across the bridge to Kittery, Maine to sight see, where we had lunch and a New England clam chowder that was terrific, and then on to Ogunquit, Maine, before relaxing in front of the roaring fire again that evening to talk about life and enjoying an atmosphere that was quiet with no TV for a change. On Monday, we took a limo into Boston. I ended up with two suitcases and it was quite a feat to fit all 4 bags into the "limo." Our taxi driver was from Sudan and we had him talking about the state of this economy and what we should do to fix it. We enjoyed the numerous accents we heard on our trip and the variety of people that we met.

Once in Boston, we took a cab to the subway (scary place - that underground subway), and went into the city on a trolley tour. We went to Copley Square and saw Trinity Church, very beautiful, and walked into Boston Commons (the park) and saw swans and a guy playing a soulful sax, and then stopped for lunch/dinner at a place called Tealuxe, where we had sandwiches and a Pumpkin Spice Chai tea. (They seem to sell lots of tea in Boston). I was starting to declare my "picture for the day" that was my favorite at this point. Of all the photos that day the swans were my favorite.

The next day, we again hopped on the trolley right from our hotel. Chrissie was pretty tired because my snoring had kept her awake all night, and she hadn't been able to find her earplugs. Not a good start to our trip. Our trolley passed by Fenway Park, and then we traveled to Beacon Hill, where we walked into a small area called Lewisville where Theresa Heinz and John Kerry have a house. We walked the Freedom Trail and saw the Old Statehouse (where they were having a job convention and happened to have free samples of candy and pound cakes to hand out). We went to the Old South Meeting house, where they voted to protest the tax on Tea (of course women weren't allowed into that meeting). We ate at Boston Harbor, at a place called Joe's American Bar, where we had better clam chowder than in NH. My picture for today was at Boston Harbor of the boats. Near the end of our day, we walked through Little Italy (which I'd like to explore more) and found Paul Revere's house, (did you know he had 16 children?) before we took a taxi back to the hotel to get ready to fly to Iceland. Our flight left at about 9:30 (Iceland Air is very prompt in their departures), and we arrived in Iceland at 6:20 am their time (1:30 am our time).

After we arrived in Iceland, and made it through the passport checks, etc, our AAA tour guide, Barry met us at the airport. This is our first glimpse of Iceland from the bus. They drove us to the Hotel Plaza in Reykjavik, and told us we had about an 2 hours to freshen up, because our rooms were ready, and we'd meet at 10:00 am to take a 3 hour bus tour around the city. They try to go easy on you, because they know you're exhausted. We saw a huge Lutheran church with the Leif Ericcson statue in front of it. Then we went to the Saga Museum that has a Viking display, and to an artist's house where all these sculptures are in the yard. The most impressive thing we did was go to "The Pearl", a place that has a 360 degree view of Reykjavik. It was so breathtaking.

The mountains were topped with a tiny bit of snow, and the day was beautiful and sunny. They kept telling us this was unusual and the weather was great today, but we were too tired to appreciate that part. The village was like a Christmas globe and looked so charming and cozy. But there are no skyscrapers due regulations about earthquakes. After that, we had some time to sleep and then met for dinner with our group of 9 (10 if you include Barry) at the Restaurant Reykjavik. They served a white vegetable soup that was scrumptious. Then there was a buffet of fish, served the way Icelanders eat it - mostly cold. It's all cooked, of course, except for a few sushi dishes. They did have a few warm dishes for those of us who couldn't eat the fish cold. They also served whale, which I didn't eat, but heard from everyone who did it was terrible.

In this restaurant, they also had an Ice Bar, where people pay $15.00 to go in and sit in this room that is 6 degrees Centigrade (about 26 Farenheit), and sit on a block of ice in coats and have a drink. On this night they were filming a Bachelor type show where they were having their final date in this Ice Bar. After that we went back to the hotel to sleep so we'd be well rested for the next day.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Incredible Iceland

Well, I'm back.....And I don't think I have enough words to describe how great our trip to Iceland was. We had to write down our adjectives to keep track of the beauty we saw there.

First let me say that I was unsuccessful in finding an open Quilt store while I was in Iceland. The shops were closed when I had free time and open when I was on the tour bus. We just never seemed to be in sync. Instead, I bought t-towels with Icelandic themes on them - trolls, maps, Vikings, and killer sheep. And I bought cotton buffs (sort of like a headband and neck warmer in one) with photos of the town, the Aurora Borealis (which we didn't see) and the Icelandic flag. That was as far as my fabric buying went. But I did buy a Quilt magazine that is totally in Icelandic. I can't read a word of it, but wanted something with that flavor of the country. Having not been to the quilt stores, I can't say this with authority, but quilting is not really "the rage" over there. Knitting seems to be the craft of choice. They have wool from the sheep they raise and sell caps and sweaters and scarves and gloves, all knitted or crocheted.

The country is extremely energy conscious. The electricity for the lights is controlled by a card at the door (there are light switches as well), so you can turn off the power when you leave the room. The hair dryers have a switch that you have to hold down to operate the dryer - it doesn't stay on if you're not pressing it. The toilets flush with efficiency - there is a small and a large button on every toilet, with a one and a two, for different amounts of water. The hot springs that are all over the country are piped to the city to provide heat and power. Icelanders pay $200.00 per year for heat. There is no microwave in the breakfast room at the hotel, and very little processed food. Everything is fresh - Fish is made every way you can think of. They usually have small salads (not a lot of places to grow veggies) and fresh fruit. At breakfast there was a bottle of cod liver oil with teaspoons on the table. It's difficult to find low cal sweetener, and when they offered some, it was saccharin tablets (remember those?). They don't seem to have "diet foods." They do sell Pepsi Max and Coke Light, which both have zero calories. Cool Ranch Doritos are called "Cool American Doritoes" over there. Everyone is extremely fit and trim. They push their babies in baby buggies, not strollers, that are covered to various degrees for the wind, rain and weather. Everyone speaks English to some degree and seem puzzled by our propensity for questions. Hotel rooms don't have washcloths and they have very, very, very, very HOT water. But the cold water out of the tap is great to drink - cold and refreshing.

The views -- Breathtaking, stark, desolate, ominous, majestic, remote, vast, magnificent, incredible, amazing, unbelievable, ethereal, stimulating, gorgeousness and surreal were the words we did find to describe Iceland. My new D300 camera was awesome and performed in an unbelievable way. The Vibration Reduction on the 18-200mm lens does two things: one is keeping your handheld vibration to a minimum, and the second is to compensate for the vibration of you in a moving vehicle. I took pictures through a window that had rain and/or snow on it, while driving in a Super Jeep up a mountain, and they are clear and not blurred at all. We looked at the photos on our HD TV when I got home and they are dramatic landscapes of a country that is absolutely beautiful. The clarity of the HD photos is astounding. I used a Vosonic VP8860Media Viewer to back up my photos while on vacation and it gave me great peace of mind to know that my photos were in a second place and I could view them each day, but I didn't have to carry a computer with me.

I will try and get my act together and get some photos up tomorrow. I feel as if I've touched an untouched place and come away richer for it.

Until tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pittsburgh Turnaround

We all have things that we are really good at - some are more useful than others. In my job, I photograph houses and use map quest to find my way to lots of different locations. Most of the time, it works out OK, but I do tend to get turned around a lot. I go north when I should go south, east when I should go west, and turn left when I should go right. Since I started this job, I have become a master at the 3 point turn in my van. You may see this as a not very useful skill, but on the streets of Pittsburgh, which can be very small, or hilly or woodsie at times, making a 3 point turn in a small space is a great asset. Of course, that doesn't help my sense of direction. The other day, I was in Beaver Falls, and in my hurry to get home, ended up taking the Turnpike West instead of East. I ended up in Youngstown, wasted 1.5 hours on the road, and had to spend 1.00 to get into Ohio , and 3.00 to get back in PA. It was one of those days I was really glad I was by myself in the car as I kept calling myself all sorts of names. Then I finally decided to just laugh at myself and make a note to always visit the ladies room BEFORE I get on the road - just in case - I do this again!

I finished the quilt for my friend and quilted it with ocean waves. She was very happy with it. I have mixed feelings about machine quilting. I love my Hinterberg machine. I love that I can finish a quilt in a few hours, instead of months or years. But I'm impatient. I have trouble stitching slowly and that makes my stitches larger than I like. I miss the heirloom quality of hand quilting. I miss being able to say that I hand stitched and hand-quilted this quilt. I actually miss hand piecing. I marvel sometimes that Jinny Beyer still hand pieces all her quilts. Some of them are very intricate.

I'm looking forward to our trip to Iceland. I heard that there's a famous quilter who hand dyes her fabric over there in Iceland. I hope I get a chance to check it out. Also, when we're in Boston we may take a drive to Kittery, Maine, where Daryl Hall just happened to buy a historic home there called Bray House. I try to connect all parts of my life to Hall and Oates in some way. Why not my trip? I can't believe how hard it is to pack with all these airline restrictions. That makes me more nervous than anything else. It's my Catholic school upbringing. I'm terrified of getting in trouble at the airport. I think I have everything packed the right way. My priorities are my camera equipment and my coat!

Since we are leaving Saturday morning, this will be my last post until we get back on the 20th. I'm not taking a computer with me so can't post while we're away. I'll be celebrating my birthday in Iceland this year.

I plan on having a great time. Don't miss me too much and have a great time while I'm gone.

mjs 10.10.08 1:22 am

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I'm officially part of the BlogHer network now. It's a blogging community for women on the Internet on all different subjects. They have more than 13,000 members and over 10,000 blogs on their blog list. And now, I'm on that list (under Quilting Crusader, of course). Hopefully it will drive more traffic to the site.

We're watching the Steeler game right now - yeah! we just won!! Speaking of the black and gold, at my sister's suggestion, we're all taking our Terrible Towels to Iceland with us so we can have a photo op with a glacier in the background. Pretty cool idea.

We took a drive to IUP today to visit my son at college - he's 20 years old today. How is it possible that their lives fly by so quickly? Although I miss those childhood years, I enjoy my sons so much right now. They are such interesting individuals and such nice young men. I was reminiscing today about their childhoods, wishing I had taken the time to enjoy it more. I was so busy taking care of them and rushing here and there to games and practices, helping with homework or making dinner, and doing laundry and picking up toys, I forgot to stop to enjoy how cute they really were. Today those years seem like such a fog. Does that make me a terrible mother? Or just a typical one?

Happy Birthday Zachary.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Times Two

When I was kid, I used to think it was funny that my mom would buy two of everything when it came to her clothes and shoes. Truth be told, I thought it was a little bit nerdy. Today, I was packing for a trip I'm taking next week with my sisters and I stopped to survey the clothes I had laid out on the bed. I started to laugh -there was a dress sweater, in 4 colors; a turtleneck, in 5 colors; Bill Blass jeans in 3 colors; and a blazer in 4 different colors. Add that to my shoes in 3 different colors, and I've turned into my mother. My only spark of individuality (very small ) shows in my T-shirt selections of things near and dear to my heart - Hall and Oates, Quilting, the Pens and the Steelers, and Stone Harbor. When does that happen - that we morph into our mothers? There was a time when I dreaded the thought. Today, I welcome it. For my mom was someone I admired greatly for so many reasons. And now that she's gone, I savor anything that brings me a little bit closer to being like her.

So speaking of our trip, my sisters and I are going to Iceland. It's about 20 degrees colder there than it is here, so it's like packing for winter before it arrives. I think the photo opportunities will be gorgeous and can't wait to use my new camera there. We're going whale watching and will see geysers and swim in the Blue Lagoon. If we're lucky we may even see the Aurora Borealis in the night sky from Reykjavik. Our flight departs from Boston, so we're stopping there for 2 days and visiting a friend of my sisters.

It's been an interesting political week and I must say, the best part of it was that it deflected media coverage from the OJ trial (thank goodness!) I am glad there are only 30 days till the election. I hate the nastiness these elections get into - the outright lies drive me crazy.

I'm about to quilt a friend's quilt on my quilt machine. I set it up tonight and hopefully will get a chance to work on it tomorrow. It should only take a couple hours if all goes right. It has an ocean theme, so I'm going to quilt some ocean waves on it. It felt good to be playing with fabric again. Oh, and I did scout out where there are quilt stores in Iceland. I figured I should check them out while I'm there.

mjs 10/4/08 11:35pm

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