Documentary: The Last Train Home

On Friday night, Wisconsin Public Television broadcast this documentary on their POV program.  I did not intend to watch it; it happened to follow another show I was watching, but I’m really glad I caught it.  You can watch full episodes on your computer for free at the link below.

It is about a family in China in 2008.  The mother and father left their two children in their village with one of their parents and moved to one of the large cities to work in a textile factory.  The story picks up after they have been living away from their children for 16 years – only visiting once or twice a year.  The movie gives you a look into their lives and what they have to do to make money and take care of their family.  But it comes at a price. 

It is very thought provoking.  I cried, of course.  It gave me a whole new perspective on my work and family life.  And it helped me identify with the Chinese people.

http://video.pbs.org/program/1154485580/

 

Farm Guesthouses in Iceland

Pet calf greeting us at our first guesthouse

Outside of Reykjavik, the country is made up of mostly rural homesteads and a few very sparse, very small towns. During our first three days on the tour, we drove across the south of the country and would drive for hours before reaching a “town” and what we found was comprised of a gas station, grocery and liquor store, from what I could tell. I can’t believe how isolated I would feel living like that. I guess that is why they are said to be such avid readers.

This would make it difficult for tourists to visit the country outside of the capital if it weren’t for the fairly recent creation of the Association of Farm Guesthouses. It sounds like it started in the past 15 years or so. The farms who want to offer accommodation and breakfast can join and as a group they pay for marketing. It has really worked out well since there is so much to see outside Reykjavik.

We stayed at Vatnsholt first. From the outside, it looked like a collection of farm sheds and barns – none matching. There were quite a few horses that we could see, and a few goats. When the bus parked in front of the main building, we were greeted by three large dogs and a large brown calf. Yes, that’s right, a baby cow that was not really a baby anymore. I think she thought she was a dog. And the border collie definitely thought he had the upper hand on that calf. He bossed her around, nipping at her ears if we pet her and trying to edge in so we would pet him instead. The other two dogs were black labs, very docile.

Separate from the main building was a long structure, looking a little like it might be for storing hay our feed. But when we were brought inside, it was the sleeping quarters and was very modern and nice. There was one long hallway with rooms on each side, kind of like a college dorm. Anne and I had a room with three beds and two were bunks. Each room had its own bathroom, and towels and soap were provided. Breakfast was served in the main building in what turned out to be a restaurant. We ate dinner there as well. Overall, I was very impressed with the guesthouse and would definitely stay there again.

View of Hali main buildings from our sleeping house

The second farm guesthouse we stayed at was called Hali. It was larger than the first and felt less like a farm. They had several separate buildings for guests and a common living and kitchen area in one building which we used for our knitting workshops while we stayed there. The room we had at Hali was very large and had a nice bathroom. It appeared to be brand new.

The main building had a wonderful restaurant and a great dinner buffet. Buffets aren’t my favorite here in the states but they are really a great choice when you are abroad because it lets you taste so many of the local dishes.

View of ocean from our sleeping house at Hali

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glacier seen from Hali

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hali was situated right on the ocean with a large cliff across the road from it. We could also see a glacier from the parking lot.

Everywhere we slept in Iceland and the Faroes was decorated in all white, with light wood; lots of IKEA of course. It was pretty sparse actually, but that made it easier to keep track of all of our things and made it feel clean and new.

I would recommend a farm guesthouse to anyone who travels here. They were much better than hotels because you also got to see a bit of the daily life of the locals.

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Our room at Vatnsholt

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View from our Vatnsholt room

Day 2 – Sightseeing Whirlwind

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It has been busier than I expected – difficult to get free time and wifi access at same time.

Last night we stayed in a hotel in downtown Reykjavik named Hotel Liefer Ericksson. Breakfast was included in the room rate and was made up of various breads, meats, cheeses, skyr (an Icelandic favorite – a thinner, less sweet yogurt with more protein and less fat), waffles, corn flakes and muesli. Breakfast is a large meal here, it appears.

Anne and I met the rest of the group for the first time at breakfast. All but four of us have separate rooms. Those with single rooms were at Hotel Sunna next door to our hotel.

Here’s the rundown of the group of knitters taking part in this tour:
+Anne from Minnesota – social worker and my roommate
+Dolores from Maine
+Liz from Maine
+Sherri from Britain, but Ohio originally
+Casey from Seattle
+Liz from San Francisco
+Barbara from New Hampshire
+Susan from Chicago
+Veronik from Montreal – one of the designers on the tour
+Ragga from Iceland – our guide

One is in her 20′s, three of us are in our 30′s, two are in their 40′s, and the rest are in their 50′s and 60′s (this was a hard sentence to write, so my apologies to the grammar police).

After boarding a mid-sized tour bus we all set off to our first stop – the Alafoss factory outlet. Alafoss is the most popular brand of Icelandic yarn, made from the Icelandic sheep. The wool is called Lopi and is really unique; the sheep came over with the Vikings and have not been mixed with any other sheep. The wool is very warm but very light. It is a little course but not itchy actually. Everyone in Iceland owns a sweater made of Lopi yarn called a Lopepeysa (lo-pu-paysa) and it is worn as a jacket. The tour includes the yarn to create our own. Ragga will be showing us how to knit one later in the trip.

We all picked out our yarn and the pattern we would use and got back on board the bus to start our trek to the “Golden Circle”. That is the name of the group of sites within a day trip from Reykjavik. I’ll describe them each below.

Thingvellir (not actual spelling due to my lack of an Icelandic keyboard) is the location of the original Icelandic parliament that started around the year 1000. There is an overhang above the valley and it stretches as far as the eye can see, mountains ringing a huge flat valley with several streams leading to a large inlet or harbor with several small islands in it. It was an amazing view – much larger than the photos make it appear. The original settlers chose it because it was large enough for them to camp the two weeks parliament met each year to review the shared laws and settle disputes. It is also the place where the North American and European tectonic plates meet, so there were large, deep crevices, many filled with water.

Next stop was Geysir, for which all geysers have been named. I’ve never been to the geysers in the western US, so I don’t have anything to compare them to, but I found them amazing. It is strange to see so many hot springs and geysers in on area. It seemed like you could’t walk 5 feet and not step in a hot spring. Of the geysers, only one of them was active; it erupted every 5 minutes. There were lots of tourists (maybe 50-100) at the geysers, but Raga said it is much busier in the summer.

The last stop before our hotel was the waterfall at Gullfoss, which means “good waterfall”. Gull is also the name of one of their popular beers. There was another large overlook letting us look over the water below and a path leading right to the top near the water. Gullfoss is one of those wide waterfalls with multiple steps – very powerful and loud. Many of Iceland’s waterfalls are damned now for hydro-electric power, but this was is protected. They get all of their electricity from hydro and their heat from geo-thermal.

We saw all these sites in ONE day! I have more to post about the farm guesthouse we stayed at that night, but will post that tomorrow.

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Day 1 – the 40 hour day

Yesterday I arrived at 6 am local time in Reykjavik. The fight was direct from Minneapolis, which is about as much as a person could ask living in the Midwest. No trouble due to hurricane Irene, though a few of my tour-mates were from New England and only narrowly missed the closing of their airport.

I thought I would be able to sleep on the flight over because it left at 7 pm, but I could only get about 2 hours of shut-eye. So when we landed, it was 1 am Wisconsin time but the day was just starting for me. Argh.

The good side – we went to Blue Lagoon immediately after landing. What a way to start a trip! The showers weren’t as bad as the article I posted. And we got there before it even opened so we almost had the place to ourselves.

Blue Lagoon is a geothermal pool with minerals in the water and it is a perfect 100 degrees all the time. The water is a bright sky blue but it is not clear like in the Caribbean. It is opaque and sort of milky due to the silica. It was relaxing and the best way to recuperate after the flight. I also got to know two of my tour-mates, Casey and Anne. Casey took a tour with Knitting Iceland last year and she was back again for this one.

We spread the white silica mud on our faces. It turned out to be an great exfoliant. I might pick some up before I leave.

Two things have made an impression on me so far about iceland:

1) Where are the people? It is so unpopulated compared to other counties, even compared to northern Wisconsin where I grew up. It is quite nice actually. My dad would love it. :)

2) Did everyone get the memo to visit Iceland? I can’t believe how many Tourists are everywhere we go. Ragga, our guide, said that this is actually the end of the tourist season so it is not bad, but I can’t imagine how busy it was in the summer. It is good for their economy for sure.

I am rooming with a woman named Anne. She is a social worker in Stillwater Minnesota. She works with families who adopt children and is very much in love with what she does. We are a good match so far. We both are a little pensive, not too chatty, and she had lots of interests like I do so we have lots to talk about.

Tomorrow (Monday) we leave for the tour.

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Hygiene

On my way from the airport to my hotel, I am planning to stop at the Blue Lagoon for a dip in the geothermal pool there. One of my fellow travelers has been there before and gave me a heads-up about what to expect. Being from the US, she knew the nudity might be a little shocking. But actually, it just made me giggle a little. They don’t swim naked or anything – you’ll have to check out the link for yourself to see what I mean.

http://blog.icelandexpress.com/iceland/2006/11/24/reykjavik-swimming-pools-the-naked-truth/

Return to Youth

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I have been having a lot of dreams lately with flashbacks to college and my study abroad. I think it is because of my trip – it must be reminding my subconscious of that period of my life. The interesting part is that it has made me feel younger. I didn’t think I felt old until this dawned on me.

Maybe “young” is just a euphemism for feeling unfettered or free from normal responsibilities. Or maybe it is the feeling of a new adventure or the unknown, because when you are young, so much is unknown- everything is new and exciting.

When we are older, do we just get bored because we know what is around that next corner, so-to-speak? Or are we so focused on routine that we ignore the stuff we used to notice and wonder about?

Regardless I know that foreign travel seems to do the trick for me – removing whatever has made me feel like the adult I am. Taking the courses at UW last year had the same effect, now that I think about it. So maybe my “youth ticket” is getting out of my comfort zone and learning new things.

I’m not sure it is the same for everybody, though. If you have other ways to feel younger, share them in your comments.

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Preparation

It is exactly two weeks until I leave for Iceland.

I am spending the weekend cleaning and getting the family ready for my absence. It feels good to get everything clean and organized but the kids don’t see it that way at all. It was a huge struggle to get them to help.

Last weekend I took them shopping for school supplies. My kids love pencils, folders and all that stuff. They had a blast. I love that they don’t even expect school clothes yet. When I was a kid, that is what school shopping meant – buying fall clothes. I’ve purposely kept that from my kids so far. They will wear summer clothes for most of September anyway.

It makes me a little sad to think about missing their first week of school this year. I am very confident it will go well – Andy is more than capable – but it still makes me sad that I won’t witness it. I will have to call them on FaceTime and get all the details.

I will be taking Andy’s iPad with me on the trip so we can call each other. My phone won’t work abroad and I’d rather have a video call anyway. I am also going to us his iPad to post to this blog while I’m there. I’m actually posting from it right now for practice.

Here’s what I just made for lunch – need to test posting photos via iPad, too.

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This is “leftover magic”. If I ever have leftovers pasta, I take two eggs, 1/2 cup milk and some parmesan cheese, mix it up with the pasta and fry it on the stove in some oil. It is giada’s recipe. I love it for two reasons: it tastes different every time because the leftovers are always different, and it let’s me use up leftovers. Yum!

Banded Hat

In May when my dad was in the hospital, I got a LOT of knitting done.  One of the items I started and finished in that period was the Mulberry Hat below from Modern Top Down Knitting.  Cute huh?

Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran Mulberry Hat Kit - Hats and Gloves

Well, what I got at the end of the project looked nothing like the photo above.  I had my heart set on using a beautiful soft mohair silk blend from my generous sister-in-law (thanks Sarah!) but it was a thicker yarn than the pattern called for.  No worries, I thought.  I will just re-calculate the gauge using the measurements and the new yarn.  It seemed easy enough at the time.

Looking back, I made two big mistakes.  I knit a swatch but… 1) measured it in the dark and 2) did not wash and block the swatch.  Why in the dark?  Because Mom and I were knitting outside the Sow’s Ear for Late Night Knitting.  I was too lazy to go inside where the light was better.  Why is washing and blocking the swatch so important?  Because some fibers actually get BIGGER after they are washed.  Cottons and bamboo do for sure, but I didn’t realize mohair and silk might as well.  If I had taken the time to do that, I would have realized my math mistakes and altered the number of stitches.

Something else not working in my favor was the fact that in an item like a hat, if you are off just a half a stitch in gauge, you can add several inches to the circumference of the hat. 

This post is a warning to all of you knitters out there.  Always knit a swatch and always wash and block it.  Don’t be lazy like me.

Here’s the finished hat.  Grace agreed to model it for me.  We have the same size head surprisingly (all that hair I think).