Time Out: Iceland (Roving Around Edition)

SAM_3061Iceland is not a huge country, though it feels vast. Part of that is the volcanic mountains everywhere. Part of it is that there aren’t that many people—we’re talking over 300,000 but not much more. And the ones who are there mostly live in cities in towns, not strewn all over the country.

Of those roughly 300,000 people (I was assured that sheep outnumbered people to the tune of 500,000 more woolly animals), it’s really hard to tell who’s related. That’s because surnames there don’t go by family names the way they do in a lot of other countries. Here my last is Platt. In Iceland, it would be my dad’s first name plus the suffix dottir. My brother, on the hand, would have my dad’s first name but son. So siblings don’t have the same last name, let alone cousins and more distant relatives. Sound confusing? Try dating in Iceland.

As with all things, there’s an app for it. I honestly didn’t believe it when and Icelander informed me that folks at the University of Iceland had created an app—using the Islendingabok, a comprehensive tracking of the lineage of almost everyone who’s lived in Iceland since 873—where you can bump phones with someone you’re interested in romantically to make sure you’re not closely related, but lo and behold—there is, in fact, an app for this.

So, if you’re one of the nearly 94% of the Icelandic population who lives in urban areas like Reykjavik, you can easily find out if you’re about to hook up with a cousin. If you’re not, you can still use the app, of course. But you also get to feast your eyes on this on a daily basis.

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Recently melted snow cascades in a lovely trickle down a lava hill.

Or, you know, this.

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And over these lava hills in a slightly more powerful way.

We were only in Iceland for ten days, but it was long enough to make lava fields seem almost normal.

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Just outside the Blue Lagoon, you get all of the beauty and none of the nearly naked people caked in silica mud.

Occasionally, it didn’t even look like we were on this planet anymore, and we were smilingly informed that astronauts have trained in Iceland for extra-planetary missions for this very reason. And Hollywood has been known to use Iceland as a backdrop for movies set somewhere other than Earth.

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Take away the snow, and you’ve a pretty otherworldly landscape. Heck, even with the snow you do.

There were even occasions when the landscape defied anything that could be described as Martian.

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Sadly, we weren’t really on Mars. But sometimes it felt like the Curiosity rover could motor its way around any corner.

And on those occasions, you could find both a bad smell—my kiddo insisted the sulfur stayed in her nose long after we visited these places—and boiling mud. And let me just tell you: boiling mud is awesome in every sense of the word.

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No one in my family was as excited about the mud pits as I was.

Mud pits aside (if you can put something like that aside), almost the moment you leave the city, you realize that Iceland is one of the single most beautiful places in the world. Whether you’re horseback riding down a fjord, hiking up lava, or exploring one of the seemingly endless waterfalls, the land is changing and vibrant and stunning.

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The view across the fjord during our exhausting trek on horses.

Plus, boiling mud.

 

Time Out: Iceland (Hanging in Reykjavik Edition)

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Leif Eriksson, looking like his bad self, towering over the city.

If you go to Reykjavik expecting to find one of the grand cities of Europe, you’re going to be disappointed. If you go expecting a city that’s young, fun, vibrant, and utterly welcoming…well, you’d be pretty much spot on.

One of the first things you notice in Reykjavik is that nothing is built from wood. This is unsurprising, really, since there aren’t a whole lot of trees in Iceland. But as New Englander, being surrounded by a sea of corrugated tin, plaster, and stucco was odd. Not bad, of course. Just odd.

Then you start to look closer. It turns out that plaster and stucco can provide a perfect canvas and the good folks of Reykjavik are clearly not ones to pass up a good canvas. So there’s art—lots of lots of it—all around the downtown area. Some of the art is the type commissioned by the city itself—statues in all shapes and forms dot the streets and parks.

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A solemn cello player outside of the prism-like Harpa concert hall with a gorgeous vista behind him.

A lot of it, though, is painted directly on the buildings or created using the fences, fountains, and other pieces of the city.

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Just a random house. A random, awesome house.
SIngle gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.
Single gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.

Did I mention that this place is a lot of fun?

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Jaunty mustache. Jaunty ties.

In the summer time, it’s also a lot of light. Like a lot of it. The sun “sets” after midnight and “rises” again at around 2:30 a.m. So while people are always saying that New York is the city that never sleeps, I’d argue that Reykjavik in summer the summer more literally is. The sun is up, people are out—eating, drinking, and generally having a really good time.

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The view from our hotel room on the gloriously hip Laugavegur at 1:30 a.m. It got darker during a midday rainstorm than it did in the middle of the night.

And you know what? We had a really good time, too. I loved walking through the streets and finding little creative surprises in nooks and crannies. I loved to see the water and the mountains at the end of a street—a glimpse of the natural world (and the volcanoes) that surround and indeed created the land we were standing on. I loved that everyone we met—tourists and Icelanders alike—were warm and friendly. I loved that waffles are a thing and that rhubarb jam is ubiquitous.

Really, I just loved Reykjavik. Sometimes trees and wood are grossly overrated.

Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Yeah, it's a smiley face for me.
Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Heck, yeah, it’s a smiley face for me.

Have a Magical Day!

Sure, Cinderella's castle isn't really covered in glowing icicles. But it sure does look pretty.
Sure, Cinderella’s castle isn’t really covered in glowing icicles. But it sure does look pretty.

Disney World is one of those places that you either love or hate. I definitely fall into the love category. Having just returned from a trip there—with hours upon hours spent on rides, watching shows, meeting characters (Chip and Dale rock), and generally having a wonderful time with my extended family, I have some insight into the Disney experience. I also gained some unexpected insight—and perspective—on my own writing. Specifically:

Sometimes it’s good to turn the laptop off and leave it at home. Rid yourself of any possibility of writing or revising and let your brain just rest. I am not good at this. As a slightly compulsive person who’s also a working mother, finding time to write isn’t always easy. So I force myself to work after work and on weekends. I make myself sit at the computer and put words onto the page. This can be a good thing. It can also be damaging when it leads to no rest and no playtime. A gal needs a break every now and then.

There’s no such thing as “real” magic. I know this as a sophisticated adult-type person who’s view of the world is firmly grounded in reality. But magic is so much fun, even if it isn’t real. The magic at Disney World is so seamlessly created that it almost feels real at times. And even when it doesn’t—even when you know the snow on Main Street USA isn’t the real thing because chance snow squalls don’t happen in Orlando—it’s still pretty darn awesome. The careful orchestration doesn’t lessen the greatness. Instead, it adds to my marveling at it. Someone (or more likely a large team of someones) crafted every last moment of the Disney World experience. It’s world-building of the highest order. Magic isn’t real—it’s created. Writers create magic in the same way, and it’s nice to be reminded of that now and again.

Embracing one’s lack of cynicism is a good and healthy thing. I am not a cynical person. I hope never to be one. Sitting on a Disney shuttle bus surrounded by happily chatting families from all around the country—whose kids are sporting Elsa dresses and whose dads are wearing mouse ears—it’s like a breath of fresh air wafted through. And on a crowded shuttle bus, that’s saying something.

The world needs more fireworks. And song and dance routines just for the sake of having song and dance routines. And dance parties in which people wearing large, furry character costumes bust a move with you. And folks who without a shred of irony wish you a magical day. Because who doesn’t want to have a magical day?

So, I thank my lucky stars that there is such a place as Walt Disney World and people who have job titles like imagineer and kindly folks who are happy to chat with you about how awesome their vacations are—and how much they hope yours is as well.

Now I’m back to work and life and even some writing and revising. But if you wish me a magical day, I’ll be happy to wish one right back at you.

Time Out: Acadia National Park (The Best Place to Have One)

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The view from Sand Beach at Acadia National Park, where the water was a whopping 40 degrees and the fog rollled in fast and furious.

L.M. Montgomery wrote about kindred spirits—the people who’s souls speak to yours in some deep and important way and who become the best of friends and comrades. I think there’s such a thing as kindred places, too. And Acadia National Park is just such a one for me.

Thankfully, last week I got to spend several days there with the two most kindred of spirits, my husband and my kiddo. Usually, we go to Acadia in the summer—swimming in Echo Lake, climbing every mountain we can get our hands on, and generally enduring the enormous crowds on every one of them.

In April, the park is very different. Most of the time we were there, the normal greens and blues were replaced by varying tones of gray. This was no less beautiful, but very different from what we experience when we go in August.

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I like to call this one “Glacial Erratic in the Fog.”

The sun was out on only a single day we were there—the rest of the time, the weather ranged from cool and misty to very cold indeed with a driving rain. We found this did not hold us back.

Indeed, there was much to see in the gray of April that you miss entirely in the summertime. The views from the mountaintops were different without those pesky deciduous tree leaves to block them out. Of course, there was fog to block out the view, but that’s another story.

SAM_2415Plus, we  got the occasional glimpse of something like this tiny nest (measuring only a few inches in height) hiding in a hedge.

SAM_2402There were deer and loons and woodpeckers, and frogs to serenade us at twilight.

There were also important lessons learned.

For instance, if you give an eight-year-old a cheap one dollar notebook and tell her it’s a travel journal, she will take writing in it hyper seriously, and keep its contents strictly under wraps (journals are private, after all).

The weather can change from 35 degrees with driving rain and gale force winds to nearly 60 degrees and warm sun—and then back again—in a mind-bogglingly short period of time.

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We took advantage of the lone day of sun to climb Pemetic Mountain, the fourth largest in the park.

Then there’s the importance of watching where you walk. It turns out that if you’re paying more attention to where your kid is stepping than to where you are, you will sprain your ankle (who knew?) and then have to hike another couple of miles back down the mountain and to the car. After which, you will spend weeks to come in an air cast.

But if you can, using Elsa from Frozen as your role model, just let it go, taking the good with the bad and focusing predominantly on the former, you can enjoy every blustery and beautiful, arctic and aching moment of vacation.

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Book Spine Poetry

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This is just what I came up with after a quick perusal of our bookshelves. If I’d had time to head to the library, this could have been a true masterpiece.

Too much work? Check. Needing a little procrastination break? Check, again. Wondering what to do to celebrate the looming National Poetry Month? Well, not as much, really (you can’t win them all). But armed with two out of three,  when I saw this post on the School Library Journal website the other day, I knew my path was clear.

I could have gone an actually poetic route here. I could have gone for something more philosophical. Instead, I opted for the silly and borderline gross route. What can I say? Anything that can work Harry Allard and James Marshall’s The Stupids Die into everyday life is a good thing in my book (and if you have not read this book, please run out and do so).

Want to procrastinate and come up with your own book spine poetry to share—or just want to peruse others’ works of genius? Then pop by here!

Time Out (Miniature Edition)—For When There Is No Time Out in Sight

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted photos of any of my adventures, big or small, that qualify as time-outs from regular life (for that matter, it’s been a little while since I posted anything at all). There’s a reason for this: there have been no time-outs from regular life for me. Indeed, there simply hasn’t been time for anything.

So, while I don’t have any pictures of lovely places to share with you, I do have the recipe (literally) for a mini-break in a cup. Or as I like to call it, the “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter mug cake.”

Here’s all that you need:

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You mean you don’t have dark chocolate peanut butter and Vietnamese cinnamon in your pantry? Perhaps it’s time to seriously rethink the things you stock in your pantry.

2 tablespoons of whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ (or 2 if you’re feeling crazy) tablespoons of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter or Nutella (or almond butter, or whatever suits your fancy)
3 tablespoons of skim milk
1/8 of teaspoon of baking soda
1 tablespoon of chocolate chips or peanut butter chips (completely optional but come on—this is supposed to be a mini-break, right?)
A pinch of Truvia (or whatever sweetener floats your boat)
A pinch of cinnamon

First, procure your beverage of choice. The whole process of making the little cake takes about two minutes, so you need to plan ahead in terms of what will accompany your vacation in a cup. I prefer a glass of cold milk. Tea works nicely, too. However, if you’re looking for something stronger than that, I certainly won’t judge you.

Put everything but the chocolate chips into a teacup—and be sure to use a teacup instead of a coffee mug as this is a dainty-sized treat—and mix it all up with a fork.

It looks gross, I know. It only gets better from here.
It looks gross, I know. It only gets better from here.

Now add the chips and give it one last stir to spread the goodness around the batter.

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Ah, that’s better. Especially with the chocolate chips. Just remember: super-dark chocolate = super low in sugar.

Pop it in the microwave for 50 seconds, or more in very small time increments if it’s not cooked—but this is like a good brownie, in which gooey is better than cakey.

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The finished product: gooey goodness. And did I mention the protein? Soooo healthy.

Then sit someplace quiet and enjoy your chocolatey-peanutty cup of joy. It’s kind of healthy (protein! whole wheat! skim milk!), and small enough to not have to feel guilty about it anyway. And as my daughter frequently tells me, sometimes a girl needs a break.

Happy Tuesday!

Time Out: Acadia National Park

IMG_0107The moment I’d been waiting for all summer has now come and gone, leaving lovely memories in its wake: our family trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. Acadia is by far one of my favorite places in the whole world, and over the last couple of years, it’s been a real joy introducing my kiddo to the park.

Every day, rain or shine, we hiked. One day we had torrential downpours, so we did some very modest hiking. IMG_0127

The rest of the time, we hit a different mountain every morning. We swam in the afternoons.

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We took the challenge route up Gorham Mountain so we could explore caves with whole worlds of tiny organisms living in them.SAM_0733

We had lunch at Jordan Pond House (lobster stew and popovers…bliss) while we gazed at this view.SAM_0686

Afterward, we visited one of my favorite spots in the whole park… SAM_0688

which I love all the more because I’m not the only one who loves it.

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When you sit on the bench, this is what you see. We sat there for quite some time.

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We ate ice cream at a different place every day and danced in the streets of Bar Harbor to Petula Clark.

On our last night there, we drove up Cadillac Mountain to watch the meteor shower and gaze at the stars.

And we relaxed in a way that we cannot ever seem to do at home. No email, very little cell phone reception, all work left behind. Honestly, I didn’t write a word the entire time I was there, and by the time we finished each day’s activities I was even too tired to read. It was that wonderful a vacation.

Of course, now it’s back to the grind of regular life, in which there are deadlines to meet and far too much work to be done in order to meet them. But we had a wonderful trip, and one that (I hope) has left us all recharged and ready to tackle regular life again!

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Gone About as Fer as I Can Go

This has been a very, very long week. Between work, family, and getting ready for my upcoming MFA residency, there hasn’t been much time to blog. Or to do much of anything else.

But now it’s Thursday night. Residency starts tomorrow. And tonight my brain takes a break from everything. I might watch a movie. I might sit on our porch and listen to the birds sing themselves to sleep. I might read, but only for fun. I’ve turned off for the night.

Because sometimes you can push yourself, and push yourself…and push yourself. Then, like Kansas City, you’ve simply “gone about as fer as you can go.”

Tomorrow, I dig back into residency preparations, and then get to see my friends and fellow students on campus and beyond. And I’m looking forward to that more than I can. But now, I’m on the couch, surrounded by pillows and my loves, taking it real easy!

Time Out: Backyard Springtime Edition

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The view from under our birch tree, which makes lying in the new grass an even more appealing option than ever before.

I’ve been busy. Work’s been crazy, the semester is just winding down for my MFA program, we seem to be attending the birthday parties of seemingly every child in our town this month. It’s just been plain, old busy.

So, we haven’t had any time to take off to someplace fun and do anything terribly new or different of late, and if it were any other time of year, this would start to get to me. It’s not that I’m restless. It’s that I need a break. But when the break isn’t forthcoming, making the best of what you have makes all the difference. When you have a dear little yellow house surrounded by a sweet yard where everything is suddenly bursting back to life, it’s that much easier to make due with it all.

So, we pick flowers for our first bouquet of the season.

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We wait for birds to move into our birdhouse (even though we know that with all the noise we make, they’re not actually going to come).

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As my husband recently pointed out, at least it’s pretty to look at!

And we revel in the wall of forsythia that grows each spring beside our house.

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We take a break in our own backyard. Lying under our old birch tree, I find, gets me more relaxed than almost anything else does at this point. Which leaves me feeling less stressed, less harried…and more ready to keep writing.

Happy spring!

Time Out: The Boston Flower Show

Being a deadline driven MFA student-type means that I’m usually hitting the books, the revisions, and the writing pretty hard. But, since all work and no play makes the entire world incredibly drab—and since we’re in the midst of the second snowstorm in two weeks—the Boston Flower Show came at the perfect time.

Our whole little family went, and my trusty sidekick took pictures along with me to help me “make my blog more awesome.”

The gardens there were amazing. One took you from winter to spring in just a few feet. I look at this picture, think about my own crocuses, now under many inches of snow, and sigh just a little.

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Another made you feel like you were gazing right into the midst of the “wild” yet wonderfully manicured edge of the forest.

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And then there were some geek girl pieces of heaven. A life-sized Hobbit hole…

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Complete with stone owl garden deities which I freely admit that I covet.

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And a miniature Hobbit hole (all tiny mosses and plants), complete with Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins.

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In the end, it was just plain lovely to get a bit of spring in the midst of a seemingly endless winter.

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And then it was back to the books, the revisions, and the writing!