East Fjords Iceland

East Fjords Iceland

Saturday, June 10, 2017

So You’re Going to Iceland!

I’ve wanted to visit Iceland since was in high school and read a fictional book about it. The countryside, the Alþingi, all that history. I wanted to drive the ring road. And this spring I did it, with the help of my son (who did all the driving) and my grandson (who added his love and laughter).
Based on our experiences I have a lot of suggestions and advice.

The high season is considered to be June through the end of August, but parts of the country (e.g. the south) were very busy even the last half of May. I speculate that the same might apply into mid-September. So unless you are gung ho for the summer festivals, I’d suggest going in May or September. Some facilities, including some camp grounds may be closed. I’ve heard that a winter holiday (excepting Christmas which is also very busy) are also great.
Iceland is horrendously expensive. We took some dried food, bought food in grocery stores, and camped for a good portion of our trip. We splurged on one dinner and a breakfast, and also had one fairly reasonable lunch.  My son and grandson bought street fare – Icelandic hot dogs 3 times.

Camp grounds ranged from approximately $25 to $44 per night, not bad.
After a while I just quit converting to Canadian dollars. One other monetary issue: in northern Iceland the machines (grocery stores, gas stations, etc.) declined my credit union master card, though the ATMs took both it and my bank Interac card. On my return I called the credit card company and found out that in the north there were “encryption errors.” For some reason the machines didn’t work properly for my card. Initially, though, when it happened, I visualized us in Iceland with no money! Good deals are to be had, however – more on that later.

Try to arrive in Iceland late in the afternoon (most hotels and similar facilities check in is around 2 pm, though you can often get in earlier). We arrived at the airport just after 7:30 am and if you’re like me you don’t sleep on airplanes. This means a looong day before bedtime and we didn’t want to waste the day sleeping anyway.

At the airport usually one takes a ‘flybus’ to the BSI bus station (unless you are booked for a car or camper van right from the airport – they will usually arrange transportation to their facilities if they aren’t at the airport). This is not a city bus station, but the station where a lot of different tour buses congregate. From here you can walk, take a cab or get a shuttle to your hotel. Depending on where you are staying, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend renting a car right away. Parts of Reykjavik (if that’s where you are staying all your trip or only for a few days) have very narrow, congested and one-way streets that may also become pedestrian only during the weekend. If you do rent a van or car, do a walk around check of tires, hub caps etc. every day to make sure all is OK. Ideally, take pictures with date stamps. We lost a hub cap, no idea were, and it cost us extra.
We drove the ring road, with a couple of diversions in 9 days, eight nights. I’d recommend taking at least 14 days, or even 3 weeks if you want to see a lot and have the money. Another option is to stay in Reykjavik and either rent a car for day trips out or book  one or more bus tours.

A pretty good deal is the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ red bus tours of Reykjavik. The ticket (approx. $50 per adult is a 24 hour one and you can pack in a lot of the sights – start at the Harpa (concert hall and convention centre on the harbour, buy your ticket  from the driver), continue on to a square  near the downtown centre, city hall, a whale watching sight (separate boat tours - we didn’t book this), the Maritime Museum, the National Museum, Hallgrimskirkja, Perlan (a great observation point), Kringlan Shopping Centre (just like most other malls in the world), Laugardalur thermal pools and spa (well worth a stop for a swim. Great for kids with a water slide; soak in the hot pools) etc. If you’re 67 or over you get a discount at many Reykjavik facilities, children are free at some or get a discount. The bus departs every half hour from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, the last one arriving back at about 7:30 pm. When you hop off, just make a note of the time and get back out to that stop ½ to 1 hour from that time. The bus includes earphones (take them with you each time) with multilingual channels for commentary.
If you get accommodation in the central area of Reykjavik, anywhere from near the Hallgrimskirkja to the harbour, you’ll be able to walk to many places as well. There’s a variety of hotels and hostels (the latter would be cheapest especially if you don’t mind dorm rooms). We had a very nice hotel suite for our first few days with kitchen facilities to make our own meals and breakfast provided along with the fee.

Another option is to rent a car and take daytrips from Reykjavik:
·         the Golden Circle, which includes Þingvellir Park, Geysir hot springs, and Gullfoss (a waterfall – foss means waterfall);
·         explore the Reykjanes peninsula where Reykjavik is located;
·         explore the south coast (glaciers and coastline; Keldur which is off the beaten track has a small turf house village; see Mount Hekla; waterfalls; the town of Vik and the troll rocks). This area was very busy with people and traffic when we drove through at the very end of May.

Or go a little farther afield for 2 or 3 days and visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the northwest. Unfortunately we didn’t get there.
Another option is to base yourself in the north at Akureyri, a northern town/city. This is a quieter area and several day trips can be taken from here. https://grapevine.is/news/2015/08/31/akureyri-town-or-city/ You can fly to Akureyri from Keflavik airport, near Reykjavik (which is where international flights usually arrive).

An hour from Akureri is Mývatn Lake with bird life and lots of old caldera and lava fields. Nearby is Dimmuborgir with its castle-like outcroppings and ‘troll caves.’ Beyond that it’s not far to Dettifoss (a couple more hours or about an hour from Akureyri by a different route). Just past Mývatn watch out for a place that looks like a construction factory on the right. Stop there – it’s supposed to be a place where they bake/steam rye bread underground. Unfortunately we missed it. We didn’t miss the sulphur springs – a field of steaming and stinking mud pools, not for swimming! Very impressive. And later just off the side of the road, some outdoor hot pools filled from hot springs, and yes you can soak here.

What did I love? The East Fjords (wish we’d had more time to spend there), Reykjavik, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon on the south coast, Skaftafell National Park also in the south, and the town of Vik, the Golden Circle, Keldur turf village.
What do I regret not seeing? Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west, the West Fjords, more of Akureyri, Dettifoss, the underground bakery, going on a whale and/or puffin watching tour, exploring an ice cave. Not enough time, not enough money.
I’m glad we had a van on those rainy and windy nights. I admire the young people who bicycled and camped in tents. One night I went to the kitchen/washroom area building in our campground (it was pouring rain) and the floor was filled with sleeping bags.
I’m home now and I keep having dreams of travelling across lava fields and in small spaces. I’m working on a long poem that I started in Iceland. I also have ideas for a story related to my series ‘The Leather Book Tales’ and just a smidgeon of an idea for a young people’s story.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Remembrance of Gardens Past – Spring

When I turned 50 a friend gave me a garden journal with quotes and poetry and space to write in. I used that journal from 1998 to 2007. I wrote a lot each season in the early years and then was skimpier over time. Here follow a few of my entries from springs through the years.

March 20, 1998

I have decided to plant at least I rose this spring. Haven’t decided between a Fairy Rose in a pot or some shrub roses – David Thompson, Cuthbert Grant, Hansa, Prairie Dawn – in front of my vegetable garden. (Note: I have currently 3 rose bushes – Hansa, Henry Hudson, and Bill Reid).

May 16, 1998

Have done a little bit more at the back to begin the decline of lawn. Put in a couple of meadow sweet (tall, white) against the back corner of the west fence. I moved the peonies up so they are in front – took out grass and weeds.

April 8, 1999

Have started by raking leaves, filling up the compost. If it doesn’t snow I will rake more leaves tomorrow and maybe even cut grass. (Note: I compost leaves every year.)

May 2, 1999

I like the physical work of gardening.

April 11, 2000

Next year I start my bedding plants a month later – Feb. 1. The tomato plants are getting huge and it will be more than a month before I can plant them outside. (Note: Haven’t grown my own bedding plants for a few years.)

May 28, 2000

White anemone blooming, also a pink tulip. Had a deep purple red recently. I’ve planted annuals at the back – white alyssum near the garage and lobelia (blue) near the house. It’s been a cool spring. Soon I may be able to cook some rhubarb.

April 20, 2001

Planted sweet peas outside on the 14th. Today I planted a row each of spinach, carrots and lettuce. (Note: These were all seeds.)

May 23, 2001

Just to note, the dwarf lilac (syringa vulgaris) I planted this month is called Prairie Petite. Prune dead or broken branches in spring and other that (prune) right after blooming.

March 3, 2002

Dreamt last night that I had tomatoes and peppers really early in the season in my garden. There was a funny friendly beige and white striped (like a sweater in horizontal bands) rodent living in my garden.

May 6, 2002

Carrots, lettuce, arugula.

May 6, 2003

It looks as if my clematis vine is coming up. I was worried that it had died in that shady spot by the back fence. (Note: My clematis has been thriving in that spot for many years.)

May 29, 2003

Siberian Iris blooming. The anemone sylvestris and pulsatilla have been blooming for a while.

April 19, 2004

A beautiful warm sunny day, though windy, and cumulous clouds. Tulipa tarda coming up. (Note: This is a lovely small yellow perennial tulip that spreads and survives.)

April 20, 2005

Rhubarb just popping up. Strawberry plants, of course, as always greening early.

April 15, 2007

Little yellow crocuses coming up. Raked snow mold – lots – first I can remember here.

May 16, 2017

Through the years I’ve changed my front and back yards, taken out sod, added more perennials, tried different vegetables (I have a small herb and salad garden). Each spring I’m anxious to get out into my yard, see what’s coming up, decide what to rearrange or change. I have a small lot and a small house, but I love to create in the outdoors as much as I love to create with my writing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Running Away

On Sylvia Tyson’s 1976 album ‘Cool Wind from the North’ there’s a song called ‘River Road.’ The chorus goes:

Here I go, once again,

With my suitcase in my hand

I’m running away down river road

And I swear, once again that I’m never coming home

I’m chasing my dreams down river road.

That’s exactly how I have felt recently.
It’s a quest for freedom, for relief from stress and worry, from certain responsibilities.

I’m sixty-nine and my parents are ninety-four and ninety-one. My mother has dementia, my father has within the space of five months fractured both hips and had hip replacement. When not in hospital my parents are in good long term care two hours away from me. I try to see them once a month there. The hip replacements meant extended hospital stays in the city where I live, so I was up to visit every day. It’s hard to see anyone, much less a parent in distress because of pain, confusion and frustration. There’s really nothing to be done to ease the distress of confusion and frustration. I see the years of decline and think about my own aging.

I retired from my paying job fourteen years ago so that I would have more time to write. Since then, I’ve published four books. Writing is my passion, and I’m still learning and developing. I resent time away from it because I know that I haven’t as much time and energy as I did when I was in my twenties, thirties and even forties. I have more aches and pains now and don’t recover from injuries as quickly.

I believe in finding answers to problems and challenges, but I haven’t found the answer to my current one yet. It seems to me to have something to do with attitude. I continue to think and read about this to try to find the path forward so that I can be as healthy and happy as possible. I don’t want to be an angry, grumpy old lady. So I continue to do yoga nearly every day and go for long walks by the river, as well as to write.

At times it feels as if it’s all I can do to hang on, to go forward. I have friends, but at the worst times it seems too hard even to try to contact anyone or to have to deal with people at all. It requires too much energy. There are times when it’s vital for me to withdraw from the world and try to regain peace, hope and energy.

I still believe in the possibility of finding answers to these challenges. I haven’t ruled out running away.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Creativity’s Chimera

Apparently the ancient Greeks had no word for ‘to create’ or ‘creator’ rather they used a term meaning to make, that applied mainly to poetry. However the various Muses could provide inspiration.

In Judaeo-Christian traditions, creation was the sphere of God and humans could not do it, though they could be inspired.

The origin of the word ‘inspire’ relates to the breathing in of spirit from the divine.

A gradual shift occurred during the Renaissance and into the 1800’s, by which time creativity and imagination became more important.

William Duff (1732 – 1815), a Scottish Presbyterian minister wrote ‘An Essay on Original Genius,’ to “explain the nature of genius and to point out its essential ingredients.”

Gertrude Stein: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

Graham Wallas, in 1926 wrote ‘The Art of Thought,’ describing four stages of the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

I could go on with the process of charting various writings and theories. I’m also interested, however, in the characteristics of a creative person. I was going to call this bog, Cracking the Creativity Code, but discovered that there are various books and at least one documentary called that.

Some of the characteristics of creative people often cited include independence and autonomy, a wide range of interests, thinking and associating ideas in unusual ways, verbal fluency and an ability to express ideas, productivity, interested in philosophical issues, curiosity, adventurous, and so on.

Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

A recent issue of Scientific American had articles on topics such as ‘The Origins of Creativity’ (when our ancestors started thinking outside the box – or maybe the cave), ‘Predicting Artistic Brilliance’ (self-motivation in childhood), ‘The Unleashed Mind’ (are creative people weirder than the rest of us), and ‘Switching on Creativity’ (freeing the mind for creative problem solving).

My own experiences lead me to believe that creativity begins at birth. By providing babies and toddlers with a variety of experiences – people, places, activities – parents can lay the groundwork for a creative child. By not insisting on one right way to do anything or to think of anything, we can encourage creative thought in our children. By reading to them, letting them listen to music, giving them opportunities to play music, to play with paints and crayons, to run and jump and use their bodies, to make things up, we can nurture continued exploration. I also think that upsetting or difficult events that take a child out of his or her normal situation may contribute to creativity – a major move for instance, death of a loved one, a difficult family situation. Sometimes a child who feels displaced will find solace in creative artistic expression, or will find creative solutions to a difficult situation.

Anatole France: “To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.”

But now that I’m getting older, I’m very much aware that creativity is needed at all ages. Is it possible to increase creativity? If you don’t consider yourself a creative person can you become more so? Perhaps it is all a chimera, an illusion. I think that creativity can be spurred by the will, by activity, by dreams, by trying new things. And that can happen at any age, nor does it necessarily diminish with age.

Creativity and innovation is not limited to visual artists, writer, musicians, dancers, actors, etc. but is also found in science and many other areas. Each of us has to be creative in some way to live, to make choices, to find joy. Some people may seem to be more creative than others, but all of us have the capacity.

Pablo Picasso: “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense,” and “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Child of Dragons (excerpt) ©Copyright Regine Haensel 2017

Chapter I

Like a long skinny insect with many legs the caravan creeps over flat, dun-coloured land. A bowl of clear blue encloses us above. We’re only about half a day out of Aquila, City of Eagles, skirting the edge of the desert. The road is packed sand and stones, a decent surface for riding and for the oxen and wagons, but there’s nothing much to look at – scattered ragged bushes and spiny plants. Dust rises and tickles my nose. Sweat gathers under my cotton tunic, and the leather of my riding breeches chaffes my legs. For the last year or so I’ve mostly been wearing skirts and loose robes. I fumble for my water skin, squeeze out a couple of mouthfuls.

By the prickling at the back of my neck I know his eyes are on me. When I glance in his direction I catch his head turning away. He’s been watching me for a while.

I saw him for the first time as Father and I made our way to the caravan meeting place just before dawn. My fourteen-year old brother Samel had refused to stir from his bed, so just the two of us walked yawning through the quiet gradually brightening streets. A few people hurried to early work or to other urgent business. Ahead of us a dark-haired man wearing a black sleeveless tunic with red thead embroidery, along with a sword and quiver of arrows, strode rapidly along.

 A young boy pulling at an obstinate donkey blocked most of the narrow street ahead. With two large baskets hitched over its back the donkey was at least three times the size of the youngster. The boy hauled at the halter rope and yelled, but the beast just leaned in the other direction.

“Rowan,” Father said, “Let’s give him a hand.”

But before we could take another step the man reached the child. “Out of my way,”he yelled. “I’m in a hurry.” And then he shoved the boy knocking him down, and marched on without a backward look.

The boy hit the cobblestones and lay there, though he didn’t let go the rope. The donkey pulled harder dragging the child over the bumpy ground. Father reached the spot in an instant. Laying down my saddlebags, Father righted the boy with one hand and with the other he grabbed the donkey’s rope.

“Are you all right?”  I asked. Blood oozed from scrapes on the boy’s arms and legs. “I have bandages.”

“Thanks,” the boy said. “Don’t need more help.” His eyes flicked here and there as if he expected someone to arrive and scold him.

Father and I watched him for a few moments. For some reason now the donkey decided to obey and ambled peacefully along beside the boy, who limped. I wanted to do more to help, but Father shrugged and picked up the saddlebags. We had little time to spare.

When we reached the caravan just outside the city gates, Father helped me get my saddlebags onto my horse and made sure everything was ship shape. Ursallia, the caravan leader, nodded her approval, then moved off to check a wagon.

“Well,” Father said, “I guess it’s time.”

“Thank you,” I said, “for everything. I mean for buying the horse and the supplies and . . .”

“Rowan,” he interrupted taking a step toward me, “you’re my daughter and . . .” He paused, grasped me by the shoulders. “You’re coming back aren’t you?”

I stood rigidly, attempted a brief laugh. It didn’t sound convincing. “What else would I do?”

“Well,” he said again, then added in a rush, “We want you back.” He gave me a brief hug. “Take care of yourself.” Then he was gone.

 Stupid me. Why couldn’t I have said the right words? My eyes started to itch. I bent to adjust my saddle. A loud voice made me turn.

“Stay away from my horse.” The man in the black tunic was young, not much older than me I thought. He confronted a burly man who stood beside two oxen hitched to a wagon.

“Keep farther away from my team, then,” the burly man growled.

“No quarrels,” Ursallia said in a flat voice. “We’re moving out.”

The book is available on Amazon and Kindle as well as from the author https://www.facebook.com/RegineHaenselwriter/

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Negative and Positive

I realized recently that for the last year, probably longer, I’ve been focusing on burdens rather than joy. I want to change that.

Before Christmas 2016 I began reading ‘The Book of Joy’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams.

John Cacioppo, Director of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, did some studies in the past in regards to negative brain bias. He’s on to other things now – studying loneliness – and I haven’t been able to find the dates of his negative brain research. However, according to a June 2003 article in Psychology Today, Cacioppo’s research at Ohio State University showed that people reacted differently to positive (e.g. pizza), negative (e.g. a dead cat) and neutral images (e.g. a plate). He found that there was more electrical activity in the brain in response to the negative images. Speculation suggests that being aware of danger (negatives) was and is a survival mechanism.

Roy Baumeister, a professor of social psychology co-wrote an article in 2001 called ‘Bad is Stronger than Good.’ It summarizes research that suggests bad events have more impact on us than good ones and that their effects wear off more slowly than good events.

A professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Teresa Amabile, found on analyzing diary entries of 238 professionals that the negative results of a setback at work was more than twice as strong as the results of a positive event.

In contrast, according to the on-line Harvard Mental Health Letter (Nov. 2011), “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” The article also suggests ways to cultivate gratitude (e.g. keeping a gratitude journal, mediating, thanking someone, etc.)..

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California has been conducting research on the science of gratitude for eight years. According to his website:

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is tough.

It is, according to Emmons, a “chosen attitude.” We must be willing to recognize and acknowledge that we are the recipients of an unearned benefit.

I’m getting older. I’ve seen a lot of life, not all of it positive. I’ve watched my parents ageing. I’ve met many challenges. I’m feeling my own aging process. At times I get very tired of it all.  It’s easy to fall into the negatives. But I want to live the best life I can.

One of the stories told in ‘The Book of Joy’ is about a black man (Anthony Ray Hinton) who spent 30 years in prison. He was innocent and when he was finally freed he said many positive things about his approach to life. Here is one:

“I don’t walk around saying, ‘Man, I ain’t got a dollar in my pocket.’ I don’t care about having a dollar in my pocket, what I care about is that I have been blessed to see the sun rise.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Letting Go of Chocolate

Dark, smooth, luscious.

Made from the roasted beans of the cacao tree which grew initially only in South and Central America.

The Mayans and Aztecs discovered and used it first, making a drink from the fermented and roasted beans. They seasoned it with chili peppers and other ingredients such a vanilla, but in general the drink was left bitter and when Europeans first tasted it, it didn’t catch on.

By now most of us have read or heard that dark chocolate is actually good for us. It can lower blood pressure, and contains antioxidants.

But have you considered that it can be addictive? Three signs of an addiction:

·         Intense craving

·         Loss of control over the craving

·         Continued use despite negative consequences

Not all experts consider that chocolate can become a true addiction.

Nevertheless, consider that chocolate is high in calories (fat and sugar) and can contribute to weight gain and all its attendant difficulties, including cardiovascular disease. The caffeine in chocolate added to other caffeine you may be consuming can make you jittery and interfere with sleep. Chocolate can also aggravate irritable bowel and other digestive disturbances. It can also increase kidney stones. For some people chocolate is a migraine headache trigger.

So if you can eat dark chocolate in moderation you are probably OK.

But if it becomes a way to consistently raise your spirits during long dark winter months or at times of stress, if you find yourself binging on it, perhaps it’s time to let go of chocolate.