Friday, July 29, 2011

Iceland Inspired: The one thing I did not like

I decided you might think I was completely in love and that might make you think I was wearing rose colored glasses, if I only talked about how wonderful Iceland was, so I will get out of the way the one thing I did not like and actually, I feel this way about so many places I go.


I try to shop locally when in my hometown, this desire does not go on hiatus when I travel. I can get cheap Chinese manufactured crap here at home. When I travel and want a souvenir, I want it to not just say the name of a particular place, I actually prefer it to be made there. I do not want a magnet made by Chinese children in a sweat shop embossed with the gold shiny words "Iceland." I understand that some people collect this sort of refrigerator liter, I am not one of them.

L and E do not really enjoy this about me, as they are attracted to the glitter snow globes with the lopsided gold words Iceland and they are mad about stuffed animals, but I feel strongly it is my job to raise discerning consumers and one cannot start this too early. While they protested a bit, I do think they are much happier now with their locally manufactured choices than yet another stuffed animal with the tag - "made in China" attached.

Sadly the bulk of what we saw in the tourist shops and the quasi-touristy shops fell into this category. Even the famous Icelandic woolens, if one is not careful are actually made in Nepal. One has to be very discerning. Ask questions too. I found that the sales people and shop keepers were willing to be honest about the place origin for the goods they were selling and buyer beware, much of the merchandise did not have a "made in ..." label, so you have to ask, if you want to know. It further seems to me and I am not certain this is the case, the shops which seem to be full of the tourist trap made elsewhere goods are also the shops which offer an automatic tax rebate, which is significant given the VAT is rather staggering verses American sales tax. I think this is probably based on volume, but the reality is government tax practices and tariffs or incentives encourages or discourages the type of behavior government wants to see and if you want to support local crafts people, stop offering the rebate on imported items. It really is that easy. (Just my free advise -  oh Icelandic Parliament.)

I am pleased to report that at the weekend flee market, Kolaportið Flea Market, in downtown Reykjavík, does have some booths, which feature local Icelandic crafts people. L got a wonderful glass wall hanging which has actual soot and ash from the volcano inside. It is very cool.

I got a very nice pair of artisan made earrings, with polished lava stones.

The flea market had some vendors selling cheap plastic trinkets imported from everyone's favorite sweatshop and certainly some booths resembles someone yard sale. If you are willing to shop, you might be able to score a great Iceland woolen sweater or other hand knit item at a really reasonable price. As always, it is buyer beware.

Also check out one of the Red Cross shops or the Salvation Army resale shop. One can find a nice Iceland knit item there from time to time, we were told. There is also a children's charity woolen shop, which seemed to be closed more often than not and therefore we could not check it out, but our free tour guide suggested it.

As I took a walk one evening, I lucked out and found the nice little shop - Níu heimar / Nine Worlds. This shop features hand made items by local artists. Many of the items are tied to Norse mythology and Iceland's pagan past and present. I bought a few small items here. It is a joy to support local crafts people. Their hours are sporadic, so shop early and often, is my advice. I found them open on Saturday afternoon, which was our last day in Iceland. It was fortuitous indeed.

There were other little shops, off the main drag which we checked out and might have browsed a bit more, but this trip was not about shopping. I am mentioning this, so if you do fall in love Iceland as you read my series, and decide to pay  Iceland a visit, you too can shop locally. I really think it is worth the extra money, if you choose to shop, to buy local. Supporting the local crafts people and artisans is invaluable.

Next week - My thoughts on traveling with older children and finding a place to stay.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Series: Iceland Inspired

I took so many pictures in Iceland. I was well and truly inspired. On so many levels. To do the trip justice, I am not going to be able to just write one quick post, the experience was more complex than that. The country, the scenery, the experience more complex than that.

I am not an inexperienced traveler, I have been all over German speaking Europe. I have been to the Caribbean. I have been to another volcanic island, Hawaii. I have been up and down the East coast of the US, all around Florida and many other interesting and beautiful places. Napa Valley, SanFran, NYC, Sleepy Bear Dunes in MI.

There was something very exotic  and very exciting about Iceland. There was something magical about this being the first family vacation, where the kids really could experience it and could do more. No strollers and no naps to think about.

The experience has taken some processing, me thinking about how best to share it, how best to talk about the experience in a detached travel blogger sort of way and then how to explain and share how the experience touched me, changed me, inspired me. I feel energized as a writer after Iceland (maybe it was the act of taking a vacation, I don't know, I can't say.)

So I am going to do a multi-part series. I will tag it Iceland for ease of searching in the future.  Please ask questions, understanding that I am writing this series as I go, based on an outline and will likely write some of it on the fly as the mood strikes me.

For now - look at one of my favorite pictures. I think it answers the question - Why Iceland?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Music Monday: The Ting Tings That's Not My Name

The Ting Ting's That's Not My Name

As a matter of full disclosure, I have not and likely am not going to be checking out Google+ anytime soon. I am social media saturated and I tend to let others feel these new things out, before I invest too much time in these beta testing matters. If anyone has a compelling reason why I must hurry up and jump on the Google+ wagon, please do leave me a comment.

I absolutely love A V Flox's writing. She is a wonderfully insightful blogger on all sorts of topics. Put simply she could write about sock lint and I would eagerly read it many times over because she is a good writer. I also follow her on Twitter. This weekend she put a post up about Google+ suspending her account because it is not her real name. Shockingly she, like so many other writers, artists and performers uses a pseudonym. She is such a trend setter. Mark Twain was Samuel Clemons people. O'Henry was not his real name. Many of our favorite movie stars and television personalities are not using the name on their birth certificate. I don't use my real name on many of the things I have written and published elsewhere. Much of my very best work, is published under the name I picked for myself. I self published my poems under that name.

Here is the deal many writers and artists pick a name that reflects the person they feel they are when writing. They also do it to protect themselves, their families and that fragile creative kernel, from a variety of people. As A V Flox says, she started writing using another name to protect herself from her family's scorn. I renamed myself early in my writing career to keep things separate, to protect my kids, to separate out my writing into categories, which various people close to me might want to be reading. Not all of my writing is political, about my yarden or women in business topics. My poetry can get edgy. My writing can get dark or steamy or ranty. I am a multi-faceted diamond and my various personas separate the art, the creative work product accordingly.

I have written about this before but I think it bears repeating. Writing is incredibly intimate sometimes. Being an artist, a writer can be very tricky. I have had instances where "fans" or "followers" or "creepy stalker types" think they know the totality of me based solely on a piece of writing I have done or a small segment of my writing. They don't. You see what I am willing to share, in some respects it is highly, highly edited. BY ME. I decide what I am willing to share.

For me writing is mental exhibitionism. I actually do enjoy sharing with my readers what I am thinking and sometimes what I am feeling. I enjoy pushing certain buttons in my readers. I enjoy the feedback, I like that I can make you think, squirm, make you smile. Make no mistake, a good writer, someone devoted to their craft wants to form a relationship with their readers, but in the narrowly defined space of the written word.  At the end of the day, however, I control what part or parts of me you get to see. Just because I am willing to write a post about same sex marriage or my yarden for that matter, does not mean you, my reader have the right to trample my privacy. My writing something you enjoy is simply that, an exchange, I enjoy sharing, you enjoy receiving and we go on about our day. Just because I write a poem, which is about romantic love, sex or something very titillating and moving, does not mean I am inviting you over. Even if you are an intimate or close friend, that poem may or may no be about you. It is a work of fiction, it is a creation, it is something I have done, either for the sheer desire to create, in reaction to some stimulus. It might well be a combination of many, many things, some past and some present.

For me, picking a pen name, was my way of controlling the levels of personal intimacy. This is very important to me. I have been, in my online creative world, more than once a bit scared and totally relieved that the creepy admirer knew only my writing persona.

So while on one hand I can see why Google+ would want people to use their "real names." The problem is 15 plus years into the Internet age, is my writing persona any different than the "real me" many of you know? Is Fern Micheal's any less a real writer, a real person, because the name on her birth certificate is different than one who has sold hundreds of thousands if not millions of beach reading paper backs.

At a certain point the writing persona, the artist persona, it is as much a "brand" as it is a name. Seeing something written or produced or designed or whatever the creative output is, there is a "branding" effect. When I think of Picasso I think of cubist reality and when I think of Monet, I think of soft colors and pretty flowers.

So to answer a tweet I saw last night, "What's the big deal about Google+ insisting on real names."

Well for some of us, in certain areas of our lives - That's not my name...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Music Monday: Bjork - Army of Me

Bjork - Army of Me

It is safe to say - that many of you knew where we went on vacation. For those still in the dark (actually we went to where it is light nearly all day, everyday in the summer) Those in the know follow me on facebook and twitter. (hint, hint)

We went and stayed in Bjork's stomping grounds. Right - Iceland. Why Iceland, because I have have wanted to go there since I was about L's age and I fell in love with the pictures of Iceland in the National Geographic Our World coffee table book. They were so amazingly beautiful.

So when I learned the flight is just over 4 hours from NYC. I was sold.

As I believe in truth in writing, I am writing this post before our trip and scheduling it. Right now we are likely still in bed, as we got back very late last night. I am pre-writing. Later this week, I will upload pictures and give you all the scoop. I am hopeful that we loved the place as much as everyone says we will and that it is as beautiful as it looks online and in coffee table books. Hawaii was, when H and I went there on our honeymoon many, many moons ago. I think volcanic islands have that in common.

Stay tuned. But for now, amuse yourselves with another Bjork hit!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Yarden in July

It is the dog days of summer. Whew. Hot and humid city. The deer have mad a feast of our yarden of late. I told Snickers she is sleeping on the job, an accusation she vehemently denies. She might be right, she is more interested in the feathered friends, who visit our yarden.

Currently she has her eye on the brave little bird who has taken up residence in L's colorful tree house. H and I decided this little bird has brass ones or just likes to fly on the edge.

She has a beautiful little song, while we are happy to have her, I think next year we should add a sign that says "Nest at your own risk."

My glads are going to bloom and I bet I miss them...

I also have to say that despite the change from monsoons to hot, hot, hot, full sun for nearly 12 hours, our porch boxes look great...

We have an amazing display of cone flowers. So pretty. The bumble bees are happy too...

Speaking of bees, they really love this flower too... I got this one because the man at the garden center swore deer won't touch it and they don't. Take that deer. If Snicker's won't run you off, I just might cover the yard in foul tasting plants.

We also have an early blooming sunflower. I think this another of E's seedlings. He has a green thumb.

The day lilies are also beautiful this year. All over our community and in our yarden too. I thought this one was especially lovely.

We also have lots of volunteer squash and pumpkins. (We eat alot of squash people... and that means lots of seeds into the compose pile in the fall.)

Some blossoms but no fruit yet. Maybe in a few weeks...

The deer love sunflowers...

But seem to not like this one, so I think I am investing in some of this for around the garden for next year...

Or perhaps some of the hostas, which even though we split them last fall, have over grown again...

So there we are a lush garden and yarden this year... I cannot wait for the later summer flowers and perhaps some slightly less humid conditions...

And H could do without the abundance of this as well. His ankles and shins are covered, poor guy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Music Monday: B is for Birthdays and C is Cookie

Cookie Monster - C is for Cookie

It is my Birthday Week! Yeah Me! I love birthdays, your birthday, the kids birthdays, H's birthday (even though he refuses to celebrate) and just the idea of Birthdays! I really love my birthday...

So this week kicks off my birthday week! (Well two weeks really, as I have lots of loved ones who want to celebrate with me and I am not going to be around this year for my actual birthday... more about that in a moment.)

As a mostly gluten free vegan, who eats meat and noshes on goat and sheep's milk cheese, birthday cake is mostly, in my opinion, out of the question, as it resembles a mealy rock and it just don't taste like the cake I remember as a child.

I had all but given up on baked goods, at least baked goods that tasted like anything, until I met Carl, the owner of Rogue Bakery. Carl bakes cookies. I can't eat most of Carl's cookies - but you can and you should, he will drop them off at your house, crazy I know, but so crazy it is perfect. There is nothing like a fresh baked, hand delivered cookie, trust me. His cookie are creative and yummy!

Carl's birthday was this past weekend. Cool people have July birthdays. (Happy Birthday Carl!!!)

So - when I first met Carl he was carrying a large tray of amazing cookies. Cookies I couldn't eat. Carl and I were sad. Very sad.

So Carl decided to perfect the perfect  me friendly chocolate cookie. It took some trial and error, but he prevailed.

Hello Chocolate Liberator!

(He also makes a spicy peanut butter cookie which is amazing. I mean super amazing.)

I can eat cookies again, really really good cookies. Gourmet, melt in your mouth, do not crumble, homemade cookies. Just like everyone else. In fact other people eat these cookies and like them and do not smile sympathetically and say things like, "well I guess it is ok, for bein gluten free..."

The Chocolate Liberator was liberating.

On Twitter I created the hashtag, #CisforCookie

And it is!

Now hold your horses, if and I am not being presumptuous, I am not asking you or even hinting that you surf on over to the website and order me birthday cookies. Although that is exactly what I did for E's friend birthday party, I ordered 3 dozen cookies, because they are way less messy than cupcakes, but that is a different matter all together. But back to me and my birthday, if you were to be so motivated, to order me some yummy, yummy Rogue Bakery cookies, I would be hard pressed to refuse them and likely would send you an electronic or hand written thank you note, but said cookies should not arrive until middle of next week. (like after the 18th...)

My birthday is always hot. Mid-July in Ohio is always warm to over warm. One year, when I was L's age my mother made me a cake and it melted, the frosting just plain melted and the top layer of the cake slide clean off the lower layer.

When I turned 17, in Germany, it was very cool. We ate cake and celebrated on my host family's terrace. It was lovely. I think I might have actually worn long pants. We ate a gooseberry and strawberry short cake. Yumm-o!

That year Germany was in the World Cup for Soccer. The final match was played around the 4th of July. I remember being in Bavaria on a trip and we were eating Chinese, in Germany, on the 4th of July and given the win, there were fireworks. It made me less homesick. My brother still has the T-shirt I got him commemorating the win.

Now why, you might be asking yourself is she talking about birthdays and cookies and then goes off on a tangent, about birthdays overseas. Has she lost her mind? (And no I am not that old yet!)

Long and short of it, the reason there will be about two weeks of my birthday this year, is I will be away, we take vacation when the airline says we can and it happens to be the week of my birthday. (Last year it was the week of L's birthday, what can I say, the airline has no regard for our birthdays.)

If you want to know where we went, check back next week for the big reveal. Until then, I highly suggest you go check out the Rogue Bakery website - because Cookie Monster is right - C is for Cookie that is good for me!!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Music Monday: Beatles - Birthday

I know - I wasn't here last week and this week is a drive by! Happy 4th of July! Stay safe while you and your neighbors try to blow each other up with explosives. I mean really roman candles are fun and all, but perhaps you should opt for the more traditional cake and candles. Beer and fire never mix, ba ba baoom...

I will spare you  the civics lesson, but I will remind everyone, as a nation, a culture we are barely hitting our teens. As with all teenagers we are prone to an inflated sense of importance and are generally self absorbed.

That said tip your hat to those men and women, who have given their lives for your freedom. They have believed enough in freedom and the American way of life, to go to war and die. They fought for our freedoms, including my right to speak my mind on this blog.

Attention elected officials - get a clue - you are in service to the people at the peoples pleasure - it is high time you remember that... because on this great day, there are a great many of you, who I do not salute, who I think need a kick in the ass and so many of you make us as Americans look bad. While I am proud to be an American, I am ashamed to have you representing me in any way.

So go out, eat, drink and be merry! A birthday is a celebration of another year coming to pass and to all the future years yet to come. Today we will hit our communities parade and go to one of our favorite parks to see the fireworks.