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The Kettle Is On

Musings of a tea enthusiast

Image by Lydia Holt

My thoughts have been all over the place lately and this piece is more emotional vomit than anything else. If you are looking for a succinct and thorough run down of how the US of A got into its current state, Michael Harriot of The Root, created this amazing timeline of events. If you care to read my thoughts, disjointed as they are, keep reading.

I’m a black American woman and a history buff. I saw this coming and so did most black Americans. You can’t have the kind of history that America has, put a horrid imbecile of a human, dead set on returning America to its pre-Civil War era status, at the helm and not expect this result.

Ever since the 45th president of the USA began his campaign for his current position I have had the opening lines from the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film playing in my head, fluttering in and out so that sometimes it’s louder than others but never completely goes away.

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it.

Galadriel (Spoken by Treebeard to Galadriel in the book)

But it’s not so much that the world is changed as that people have forgotten how horrible the world can be when we let assholes run shit. What’s even more painful is to realize that many of your fellow Americans are more than happy to see the country go to hell in a hand basket just as long as they get to sit in the upper most part of the basket. This is what’s on my mind as Icelandic summer rolls around, with its 24-hour sunlight and almost COVID-19 free, and American cities rise up in protest against anti-black racism and police brutality.

I say, “we all saw this coming” but from what I’ve seen on social media, a LOT of white folks are surprised by both the rampant racism in America and America being completely unprepared for a pandemic. But NONE of this is surprising. Not one bit of it.

As much as I was reluctant to leave NYC three years ago, I am so glad we did. My family and I were very fortunate to have the option to move out of the US and to a country that doesn’t have a military or armed police and is small enough to quickly contain and handle a pandemic. Most Americans don’t have that option and are, as I write this, fighting for the most basic of human rights, the right to live. And I don’t just mean black Americans, I’m talking about the 99%. It is absolutely ridiculous that Americans have to choose whether they will pay for food, their rent/mortgage, healthcare or education. People who can afford three out of four of these things consider themselves lucky #blessed and it shouldn’t be so.

The everyday stress of stretching paychecks as far as they can possibly go and still not being able to afford necessities such as healthcare, is significantly compounded if you are not a well-educated, white, typically abled, cis-het, property owning man. And it has been this way for centuries. For hundreds of years, this has been the reality. Back in 1776, America’s founding fathers––well-educated, landowning and in many cases, enslavers and human traffickers––dangled the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness before the eyes of white men, the soon-to-be Americans, entreating them to rise up against the tyranny of the British Empire, ignoring the tyranny they themselves were already wielding against the landless and enslaved.

This magical idea of all* men having inalienable rights was irresistible, even to the black men who didn’t see the teeny-tiny asterisk above all denoting that it only applied to white men. When they said all, they really meant only some. I think some white folks think there’s an asterisk type situation going on with #blacklivesmatter and that’s why they don’t get that it does not mean only black lives matter just that black lives matter too.

Sure, there were debates about the hypocrisy of founding a country on notions of freedom while enslaving thousands but for wealthy, landowning white men, the benefits of “free” labor far out-weighed the horror of it all.

Change has rippled through America at a glacial pace since the British were defeated in 1781. Slavery was eventually abolished and women got the right to vote but the seeds of inequality planted then are still bearing strange, mangled fruit today. No matter how many times the people, the masses, the ones who make America, America, try to erase that damned asterisk, it just won’t go away, not completely. It feels like we take two steps forward and then are dragged 150 years backward. Hundreds of thousands of people shouldn’t be dead from this pandemic and state sponsored murder and yet, here we are. The very foundations of America haven’t changed, they remain as bloody and rotten as ever.

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Or your gig, or your bag or whatever it is the kids are saying these days. Iceland is not for everyone and that is OK. Not all people, places and things are for all people. I get into the reasons Iceland may not be for you Late Night with David Letterman-style down below.

10. You’re a big fan of carrying a personal firearm. Iceland just doesn’t get down like that. Nobody carries guns, not even beat cops.

9. You like your day/sunlight and night/darkness in moderation. You’d be fine in the spring or autumn but the 24hrs of daylight in mid-summer is not everyone’s cup of tea. Similarly, the deep, dark, dank winter months are ROUGH.

8. You like warmth. Iceland NEVER gets hot. NEVER. Not even at the height of summer. You might get a warm day or hour here or there but walking around all day in shorts, skirts, summer dresses, tank tops and sleeveless shirt is not a thing here. Layer up children.

7. You hate nature. One of the best things about Iceland is that draw dropping, stunning, gorgeous natural beauty is all over and easy to get to. If hiking up a mountain at midnight in summer and driving out into the middle of nowhere in the cold-ass winter to look at the northern lights sound like torture, yeah, Iceland is not for you.

6. You love the noise and hustle and bustle of big cities. Iceland is fresh outta big cities. Reykjavík is a small city with a tiny bit of hustle and not a bit of bustle to be found. It’s so quiet, I couldn’t sleep through the night for a few weeks after moving, and I live in “noisy” downtown.

5. You hate to drive. Reykjavík has a serious car addiction. If you live anywhere but downtown Reykjavík and the immediate neighborhoods you have to drive to get just about anywhere. The city buses in Reykjavík aren’t too bad but they ain’t cheap. 

4. You really like keeping to a schedule and for everything to be orderly and organized. Yeah, that’s not gonna happen or it might…there’s a possibility but I wouldn’t count on anyone knowing anything about whatever may or may not be going on at any given time. Good luck with that. Þetta reddast.

3. You believe variety is the spice of life. Not much in the way of variety in Iceland…except maybe the various kinds of crap weather. Iceland really knows how to diversify in that sector. Everything else, you’re gonna have maybe two choices and it’s gonna be expensive.

2. You love a bargain. Kiss your coins goodbye cause just about everything on this island has to be imported and it costs a pretty penny to get it here. Get ready to shell out more money than you ever imagined you would for produce, books, electronics, video games–you name it, you’re gonna pay for it. The good thing about this is that you end up getting your priorities straight on what you’re willing to spend your hard earned cash on.

1. You’re a horrible person who hates sheep. I mean really, how can you hate sheep? It’s not their fault people brought them here and they aided in the deforestation of Iceland. Damn, can’t sheep get a break?! 

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Icelanders LOVE their coffee so you can get a great cup just about anywhere. But my Icelandic peeps aren’t too hip to the tea jive, which makes it difficult for a tea drinker like myself to find a cafe that serves a good cup of tea. In two years of living in Reykjavík I’ve managed to find a few places that know how to (to misquote Missy Elliot) put the kettle on, steep it and (re)serve it…with cake, yummy, yummy cake.

Kaffi Laugarlækur

Laugarnesvegur 74a, 105 Reykjavík

This place is kind of a hidden gem. It’s not in downtown Reykjavík but in a neighboring emerging hipster (not the kind you want to trip because they’re so freakin’ pretentious but maybe just poke really hard because they’re on the verge) neighborhood. They serve a lovely pot of tea and have great vegan and vegetarian options on the menu. Two pinky fingers holding a fancy tea cup up from me.

Kaffi Brennslan

Laugavegur 21, 101 Reykjavík

Kaffi Brennslan is smack dab in the middle of Laugavegur, has a small yet carefully selected variety of loose leaf and bagged teas and has yummy cakes. All of these elements combined make it the bees knees in my book. Did I mention they also have waffles? Served with chocolate and whipped cream? Yeah. Tasty.


Mýrargata 2, 101 Reykjavík

Amid the mid-century chic with a sprinkling of industrial decor, Slippbarinn serves a pretty decent little pot of tea (and a yummy slice of carrot cake) with a view of the old harbor. One of the things I love about it is that you can sit at the bar, at one of the nearby tables, or take your pot o’ tea to a little nook surrounded by shelves decorated with all manner of interesting knick-knacks. 

Te & Kaffi

Laugavegur 27, 101 Reykjavík

There’s nothing spectacular about the tea here and some locations serve the tea after it’s been steeped so you can’t be sure of the strength. Stay with me here. The thing I like about Te & Kaffi is that they sell loose leaf tea. I can get my Earl Grey at a fairly reasonable price and brew it to my liking, in my kitchen and then watch a Korean drama or work on my novel manuscript which I am sure I will finish in the next few years or so.

How I brew it up in my kitchen.

Súfistinn Kaffihús

Strandgata 9, Hafnarfjörður

Shhh, don’t tell anyone but this cafe is actually in downtown Hafnafjörður. The cafe itself is cozy with two creaky floors of old, small town charm. I will say that they were a little heavy handed with the tea leaves but I prefer my too strong than too weak. Added bonus, you can sit upstairs by one of their old school wood frame windows and watch the denizens of Hafnafjörður go about their…Hafnafjörðuring.

Honorable Mentions:

Stofan Kaffihús

Aðalstræti, 101 Reykjavík

You’ll get your classic eclectic coffee house vibe here but what you won’t get is freshly boiled hot water hitting your tea leaves. After I ordered my tea I was given a tea cup, tea bag and pointed in the direction of a hot water dispenser. Not ideal but not bad. And since is right downtown, if you hang out long enough (and by that I mean a few seconds) you’re bound to run into someone you know and possibly even like.

Cafe Haiti

Geirsgata 5C, 101 Reykjavík

This is another case of nice vibe and OK tea. Cafe Haiti is right by the old harbor and has a whimsical ocean theme going on and the chocolate cake is tasty. That said, my tea was served as hot water in a tea cup, with a tea bag on the side. It’s a common tea-serving/making problem in cafes in Iceland but, as I said about Stofan, the atmosphere and location make up for the lack of exceptional tea.

There you have it folks, the tea hot spots of Reykjavík (*whispers* and Hafnafjörður). Check them out if you’re in town. Tell them Lydia sent you. They’ll have no idea who I am but it will make you seem quirky and memorable and possibly get you an even better cup of tea…and a bigger slice of cake.

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The Raisin at the Hot Dog’s End podcast

Me, Kettle Talkers! That’s right, me and my fellow American in Iceland Jonas launched our podcast earlier this month. I broached the idea back in December or January–sometime before I started my second job at the Kindergarten and was feeling a bit bleh about everything. We were going for a walk because it was allegedly a nice day out and all the snow was melted. But when we reached our destination, a park whose name I cannot recall, we discovered that everything out in nature was still covered in snow; a thin layer of snow that hid slippery as hell ice underneath. So as we gingerly walked (engaging our cores) and then slid and slipped along, we talked about what we were going to do in Iceland. I confessed that I wanted to try my hand at a podcast and secretly harbored a desire to do voiceover work. We talked about our favorite podcasts (shout out to 2 Dope Queens and My Favorite Murder) and what we would do if we had podcasts. We left it at that. Nothing planned, nothing concrete, just thoughts blowing away in the gale force Icelandic winds.

After a pilgrimage back to the motherland for some hot sun and family time Jonas returned to Iceland rejuvenated and invigorated. “We should totally do a podcast,” he said. “Right?!” I answered. That’s basically the way the conversation went. We both have kids and Jonas’s are not yet in elementary school and by this time I had started my second job but we weren’t going to let lack of time and mental energy get us down. We had podcast meetings in the brief time between getting off work and kid pick-ups. We rambled into a borrowed microphone we barely knew how to use and I hacked and pieced our first episode together and oh the fun we had doing it! After getting our own, less high tech but more user-friendly microphone, the episodes came fast and furious cause when we get together, we go on and on. Through my cold, an impatient one-year-old, airplanes flying overhead and completely not recording one episode when we totally thought we were recording, we recorded five episodes. Woo! They are available wherever you listen to podcasts and on our podcast website.

Listen, enjoy and do me a solid, subscribe, rate us, write a review–all three would be great doing just one would be of immense help. We are @raisinandhotdog on most social media.

Takk, takk and bless, bless y’all! (Thank you and bye-bye y’all!)

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Me, our Isuzu Trooper (named Rosie, of course) and a travel mug of Earl Grey. Photo by Snorri Sturluson

I know I look all peaceful and serene in the pictures in this post and that’s because I am. Me and the family had a wonderful time frolicking around Langjökull and touring the nearby Víðgelmir cave yesterday. It was a good day but, let me tell you people of the interwebs, internets and intertubes, F*cking January, as per usual, was hard as f*ck. I have never met a January I liked in all my forty plus years and this January was true to form. The good news is the sun is making a comeback. I know, don’t call it a comeback, it’s been here for millennia but still I think this moment calls for a hallelujah. Hallelujah!

Me, with my tea, on some rocks near Langjökull.

As I suspected, the holiday lights went out after New Year’s Day and it was like the air was let out of everything. I have never stopped missing home but the missing suddenly felt so much deeper. At the same time I felt like spikes were growing underneath my skin and at any moment they would shoot out. I felt like I was going to burst out of my skin. Is that what island fever feels like? In any case, two things helped carry me through. One was talking to the husband about my feelings. He really is a gem, that one. And he encouraged me to get another job in addition to the part-time one I already have. Who has time to wallow in self pity when you have to get up and go to work everyday? I live in my head a lot which can be great for creative pursuits but can bend towards being unhealthy, especially when combined with not enough sunlight, homesickness and did I mention the horrible weather? So yeah, in the long tradition of my step-ancestors of the West Indies I have two jobs. I know they would shake their heads and suck their teeth at me having so few jobs but if you count this blog, the other blog I haven’t written anything for in months and my design website (see that travel mug, I created the design on it and I put that shit on t-shirts too) that kind of makes up another part-time job, yeah? Who am I kidding? There’s no impressing West Indian elders.


At any rate, I’m now working part-time at a preschool. Yes, you read that right, the person who doesn’t like children is working with small children. I know, it’s a shock to me too and not nearly as stressful as I thought it would be. The first two weeks were exhausting but now I’m kind of getting used to the flow, the constant chatter and their boundless energy. The kids are teaching me Icelandic and lots and lots of patience and the other teachers are teaching me how to be Icelandic. For example, if you go abroad, when you come back, everyone expects you stock up on candy at the duty free and bring it to work. I’m sure there are some other more subtle cultural shit I’m picking up but I probably won’t notice that until later. The kids have also validated a theory I have about humanity within the span of just a few weeks. My theory is that there are no good people and bad people, there are only people. It makes us feel good to other-ize murderers, thieves, rapists and assholes but the truth is that is all part of human behavior. It’s not some sort of anomaly, it’s perfectly human and we are all capable of doing horrible things. The kid that will hug a friend when they’re sad will turn around and, quite literally, kick the mess out of that same friend when they are down. I have seen it with my own two eyes. I know, you’re thinking, well, small children’s brains aren’t fully developed so yadda, yadda, yadda but you know full well that fully grown humans with fully developed brains can behave in the same way. Watching the kids play out the range of human behavior got me thinking that we, meaning humans, just can’t seem to not mess up a good thing. We will always find a way to mess it up and big time.

Island in Skógá river covered in Icelandic birch trees.

Speaking of humans messing things up. There are a few spots in Iceland that were not completely deforested by humans and the sheep brought along for the ride. The national parks are protected and have forest areas, one of which we saw yesterday. It’s a small forest (which would look like a field of shrubs to non-Icelanders) on the way to Langjökull. There is also a small inaccessible island in the middle of the Skógá river covered in small Icelandic birch trees. In the winter, they look mostly like a reddish gray blanket on the landscape but in summer they’re like a carpet of green. So much more of Iceland used to look like this one tiny island and the national parks. Skógafoss is a waterfall in the Skógá river and it’s name means, waterfall in the forest. Yeah, the whole area around that tiny island was once covered in birch forest but, you know, humans. I understand that humans deforested Iceland to survive but isn’t that just so damned typically human to weasel our way into a place we have no business being in and then survive to the detriment of everything else around us which in the end turns out to also be a detriment to ourselves? We just can’t help cutting off our noses to spite our faces every chance we get.

I didn’t start out writing this post with the intent to go so doom and gloom but that’s kind of my style. Everything in the world is great and wonderful and simultaneously horrific and terrible. January was long and dreary but is finally over. February brought a lot more sun and enlightenment via 2 to 5 year-olds and March ain’t looking too shabby. Bring on the 24 hour sunlight! Until then, the kettle is on.

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*I’ll be adding to this post throughout the winter so bookmark this post and check back for updates.

The thoughts I have in the dark and perpetually overcast days of winter.


Not sure what this is but it’s dark.

January 10, 2018

It is January 10th and the last bits of Yuletide cheer are quickly fading into the seemingly never ending darkness. Yes, the solstice has passed but there are still only five hours of daylight and yesterday morning I was awakened well before my alarm went off by howling winds. More darkness than light and howling winds. This is it. This is Fucking January. Back in New York, I muttered Fucking January into my scarf as I trudged through snow and subzero (Fahrenheit) temperatures but here, in Iceland, it’s the darkness I curse.

If I don’t have to go into work, I wait until the sun is up to go outside. On the days I do, it is a bit unsettling. It just feels very…wrong. Once I am inside and under the fluorescent lights, the traditional sunlight of office spaces, I feel right again. It’s as if in that fifteen minute walk across the stretch of space between home and office I was briefly in a Twilight Zone of never-ending night. For native Icelanders and those that have lived here longer, I imagine this isn’t doesn’t feel strange at all but I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m going against nature by being up hours before the sun. “It ain’t natural, I tell ya,” my Texan soul whispers, afraid of being overheard by the darkness.


December 21, 2017

Origami box made with paper from one of the Yule Lads.

Sunrise at 11:22. Sunset at 3:29 or 15:29 for my 24 hr clock peeps. The shortest day of the year. With the help of vitamin D, good family, good friends, origami and many a good cup of tea, the increasingly shorter days of winter have passed without much gloom. As I have mentioned, Icelanders go hard when it comes to Christmas decorations. Not so much in the crazy light displays and lawn decorations sort of way but in the tiny Scandinavian Santas popping up everywhere and half Christmas tress attached to the fronts of buildings sort of way.

This year we’re planning an Icelandic-style Christmas. We’ll have dinner at 6 pm, the traditional Icelandic start of Christmas Day, and open presents afterward. The husband assures me he knows how to make an Icelandic Christmas dinner sans the meat– a nut loaf of some kind, glazed potatoes, pickled red cabbage and apple cake for dessert. We haven’t yet decided if we’re doing the Christmas morning Santa gifts too. We shall see.

Of course, January, or what I like to call F*cking January, is still to come but the promise of longer and longer days ahead will be my light at the end of winter’s tunnel.

Happy Solstice and Gelðileg jól!

First Year’s Snow

November 17, 2017


Here’s something about Reykjavik you may not know: some of the sidewalks are heated. Hot water is piped beneath the slabs of concrete thus preventing snow and ice from accumulating. It’s great! Here’s another fun fact: There appears to be no sidewalk shoveling policy in Reykjavik. If the sidewalks are not heated the snow accumulates, melts a little bit, freezes overnight and then tries its damnedest to trip up this small black woman, walking down the street, muttering to herself about the madness of it all. I have noticed that some people put down sand in front of their houses, which is at least something, but even businesses allow their patch of sidewalk to turn into bumpy sheets of ice. One would think they’d want their patrons not to go careening past their establishments, unable to stop or worse, fall and break something. You would think, but that’s not what’s happening here. Just the other day I saw a tourist slip, fly up into the air and land on his ass—hard. This isn’t to say they don’t shovel at all. If the snow is really deep, say a meter, then they’ll break out the shovels, or so I’ve heard. If you’re pushing a stroller, in a wheelchair, on crutches or unsteady on your feet in any way, well, you’re S-O-L.

I have also yet to see a snow plow on the streets or in any parking lots. Yes, the snowfall hasn’t been all that significant but, again, wouldn’t it behoove the city and business owners to not have cars slippin’ and slidin’ all willy-nilly? And yes, people put snow tires on their cars but they also leave the snow tires on well into spring, because winter and spring are unpredictable, and as a result, the tires grind up the asphalt creating a foul dust that settles on everything including people’s lungs. I’m thinking plowing the roads is a better idea than asphalt dust but that’s just me. Maybe there are some other factors at play to which I, as a non-Icelander, am not privy. Whatever the reason, I’m bitter about it. But you know what? People will probably need snow tires if they’re driving outside of town and so would put on snow tires even if the city streets were plowed….

I’ve mentioned it to a few Icelanders. Some are clearly uncomfortable with me even broaching the subject while others are also miffed about the no shoveling thing. They blame it on the car culture in Iceland—the so called car-coat—no need to shovel a sidewalk if you’re always driving door-to-door. Back in the day, people would regularly die from walking one place to another. Women would take their washing to the hot spring, get caught in bad weather on the way back and freeze to death. There’s a saying in Icelandic,  að verða úti which basically means to die from exposure. It literally means “to become outside,” that is, to go from “being” to “was” outside. With this bit of history in mind, I can understand why Icelanders use their cars so much but in this particular case we’re in a city where it’s easy enough to walk from one place to another without running the risk of freezing to death…at least I think it is….

Reykjavik Weather

November 13, 2017

Last night we went to the pool. To set the scene, here’s last night weather forecast:

Sleet or rain at close to sealevel in the southwest [the southwest includes Reykjavik] but snow in the Westfjords….Temperature 0 to 5 deg. C

So yeah, I’ve become that person that I never thought I would. I am the person who walks barefoot, in a bathing suit, through snow and sleet, to sit in a hot tub. While my body is submerged in the hot water, the howling winds pelt my face with rain, sleet and snow in the gloom of night. I’m pretty sure this makes me fully qualified to work for the United States Postal Service. I also sweat it out in the steam room and then sit outside on benches covered in icy slush and then maybe hit the sauna before cooling off again in the snow and then hitting the hot tub once more. Sounds like madness but it’s really quite refreshing.

If you read my post about my first month here, you know about The Viking but, if not, I’ll recap. The Viking is the name the husband and I gave to a man we often saw at our local pool. He was tall, wiry, had a long beard, wore a man-bun and often sat stoically with his hands on his knees, in the big hot tub. The husband proposed that he was attempting to attract the attention of tourists looking for a real live Viking in Iceland. Well, since darkness has fallen, we’ve seen hide nor man-bunned hair of The Viking. We once heard him speaking Danish to someone so I suspect he goes a viking to Iceland in the summer and returns to Denmark for the winter. Perhaps we’ll see him once again when the darkness lifts.

November 8, 2017

Good morning, Kettle Talkers. It is 9:09 am and the sky is just beginning to lighten a bit. The dawn is less than half an hour away. In these dark mornings, I find myself waking up in stages. I get up to wake the boys and get them moving. I pack the youngest’s lunch, make sure they eat, brush their teeth and get dressed and in between I retreat to the soft, cozy embrace of my bed which has never before felt so fluffy and divine. I feel myself falling into the haze of half sleep but catch myself in time to get up and check on the boys’ progress and keep them on task. Once they’re out the door I retreat to be bed for a few more minutes, closing my eyes and, if I can manage it, roping the husband into a snuggle. He claims he doesn’t need the extra snuggle time but takes it all the same. Surprisingly, my boys aren’t any harder to wake up than usual in the mornings and aren’t any easier to get into bed at night. Eventually I feel the need to eat and get to work by which time the sky is lighter and it feels more like morning. I eat, I Facebook, I drink my tea and prepare for a day of writing, laundry (there is always laundry) errands interspersed with YouTube videos (mostly vlogs and drag queens).

Since Icelanders don’t have a Thanksgiving, November is pretty much the beginning of the Christmas season. Lights are going up in storefronts along with holiday displays and the grocery stores are already rolling out their “Gleðileg jól” (Merry Christmas) shopping bags. Because I am of a certain age, I find Christmas decorations going up before Thanksgiving distasteful. I’m pretty sure the shift to putting up holiday decorations just after Halloween has been a thing in the States at least since the 90s, but it had already become a habit of mine to feel annoyed by it by then. But you know what? I think I’m a changed woman. Here, in the darkness, I’m thankful for the premature fairy lights, giant glittering snowflakes and red yarn stacked up in the shape of Christmas trees. It’s difficult to work oneself into a funk in the face of sparkling things, shiny red and gold tins decorated with Christmas goats, and tiny Yule Lads with long white beards and wearing little pointy red hats. Be grateful for the light, wherever you may find it.

October 18, 2017

Njalsgata at 7:30 am.

Every morning is darker than the last and it is taking longer and longer for the sun to rise. At 7:30 there is barely a lavender haze on the horizon. Game of Thrones has made it impossible to utter the words, winter is coming, without it sounding ominous but it’s true, winter is coming and it will be dark and its winds sharp and unforgiving. With the crap weather settling in, Icelanders point outside and jokingly ask, so how do you like Iceland? I wish they wouldn’t, it makes me ill. Why does anyone live here?

My left eyelid has developed a twitch. It’s very subtle but it’s there, twitching. I am not sure what the twitching means or if it means anything at all. A combination of things, I imagine. I may just need to get out of the house more. I came out to a cafe today and managed to lock myself out so I have to wait here in the cafe for my oldest son to come home and let me in. I was going to say that getting out actually made the twitch go away but it returned just now to put me in my place. “You think you know me? You don’t know me.” My twitch has an attitude problem. I’ll have to make sure and hunker down somewhere else the next time I lock myself out. I just paid 8 bucks for hummus on toast but they do have free wifi….

When I first moved to New York City I lived in uptown Manhattan’s west side, on Riverside Drive, said river being the Hudson. In the winter, the Hudson Hawk is killer. It is a bitterly cold, biting wind and it nearly literally swept me off my feet on more than one occasion. I would come off the 1 or 9 train (this was back when there still was a 9 train) at 137th and Broadway, walk down to 135th street, take a deep breath and brace myself before turning right. At first, I would sigh in relief, thinking there was no wind and then halfway down the block I would be pushed back and forced to walk Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” music video style down to the corner and then pray to the baby Jesus that I wouldn’t get blown away as I fought my way to the front doors of my building. At this point, my face would be almost completely numb but I could feel hot tears streaming into my hair from the corners of my eyes. Once I got to the front door, I had to gather what little strength I had left to pull open the door and not be slammed into it as I made my way inside. So that’s the Hudson Hawk. Now, imagine the Hudson Hawk is just…everywhere and it’s always raining, not always heavily, but always—that’s Iceland.

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Origami box made with paper from one of the Yule Lads.

Sunrise at 11:22. Sunset at 3:29 or 15:29 for my 24 hr clock peeps. The shortest day of the year. With the help of vitamin D, good family, good friends, origami and many a good cup of tea, the increasingly shorter days of winter have passed without much gloom. As I have mentioned, Icelanders go hard when it comes to Christmas decorations. Not so much in the crazy light displays and lawn decorations sort of way but in the tiny Scandinavian Santas popping up everywhere and half Christmas tress attached to the fronts of buildings sort of way.

This year we’re planning an Icelandic-style Christmas. We’ll have dinner at 6 pm, the traditional Icelandic start of Christmas Day, and open presents afterward. The husband assures me he knows how to make an Icelandic Christmas dinner sans the meat– a nut loaf of some kind, glazed potatoes, pickled red cabbage and apple cake for dessert. We haven’t yet decided if we’re doing the Christmas morning Santa gifts too. We shall see.

Of course, January, or what I like to call F*cking January, is still to come but the promise of longer and longer days ahead will be my light at the end of winter’s tunnel.

Happy Solstice and Gelðileg jól!

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The Earl of Westfjords. A delicate Earl Grey with Angelica, perfect for a quiet winter’s evening.

An Earl Grey/Hamilton Inspired Micro-story

Weary of her lavish life with her boring English husband, but unwilling to break her sister’s heart by pursuing her brother-in-law Alexander, Angelica Church née Schuyler flees to Iceland. In the darkness of a winter morning, she wanders into a small cafe in Reykjavík. She warms her hands with a cup of Earl Grey and wonders what her dearest sister, Eliza, is doing at the this very moment. The winds howl outside, rattling the windows and nearly gutting the fire in the hearth. It is so loud that when a man introduces himself as, “Björn, from the Westfjords,” Angelica hears, “Earl of the Westfjords,” unaware that Iceland has no titled families. “Ah,” she muses, “An Earl. It wouldn’t be so bad to be married to an Earl in this fanciful place. It would be ever so amusing.”  She marries the “Earl” on a whim and is rather shocked to find herself spending her days wearing itchy wool sweaters, picking her namesake herb and selling it by the quarter pound while Björn is at sea. Dissatisfied (she will never be satisfied), she returns to England and opens a small tea shop—a front for a radical abolitionist/suffragette group and lives happily ever after.

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By Lydia Holt

Our living room full of boxes.

As I write this our shipping container, holding all of our worldly possessions, is down at the harbor. Having cleared customs, all that is left to do is have it delivered and begin unpacking. I can’t wait to get my hands on my lip balm—I had only just found a lip balm that comes close to the magic of Aveda Lip Saver but at a fraction of the cost when we decided to make the big move and the one tube I traveled with is almost finished. I may find the same product or something comparable, here in Reykjavík but until then, I’m happy to be getting my lip balm and all my other familiar creature comforts like our sofa, beds, pillows…clothes that aren’t the same ten things I’ve been wearing for more than a month.

I am happy to say that this first month hasn’t been all that dramatic or traumatic. This ain’t my first Icelandic rodeo so I’ve become somewhat used to no one ever saying excuse me and am moderately proud of my status as locker room ambassador to foreigners unfamiliar with the ways of the Icelandic swimming pool. I see them timidly watching me out of the corner of my eye as I approach the locker room without hesitation and they stand looking at the shoe lockers in confusion. “How do we open it? Do we get changed here? Do we really have to shower naked?” they ask with a note of panic in their voices. Poor lambs, follow me. I don’t say that part, it’s patronizing, but if I were an older British lady I totally would. There are, however, three things that have happened in this first month that stand out. One is amusing, another is surprising and the other is woefully familiar.

First up is amusement. There’s a guy that we see regularly at one of the local pools. He has a man-bun and a long beard. The husband calls him The Viking because we’re pretty sure he goes to the pool to sit all stoic and Viking-like, with his beard and man-bun, in an attempt to attract tourists. This is probably not true but it’s one of the the stories we made up while people watching as the we soaked in the hot tub. So the other day as I’m walking to the bakery (Brauð & Co.) I see him coming out of a store. Thankfully he had passed in front of me and was well on his way before I said hello, thinking he must be a friend of my husband’s that I’d met at some point. Oh the horror I would have felt upon cheerfully saying “Hi” and feeling proud of myself for being friendly and social (which is against my very nature) only to realize, as the final sound left my throat, that I didn’t actually know this man. He would, no doubt, be looking at me in confusion or better/worse yet, a smile of glee that his man-bun and beard had finally worked their magic. It took years for this kind of thing to happen to me in Brooklyn and I’m a homebody who rarely left the neighborhood so for it to happen in the first two weeks here was unexpected.

Now the second thing is quite surprising to me and makes me feel like I owe Peggy, who works from her home office in Indiana while the kids are in school and Mandeep, who works at the call center, my sincerest apologies for not appreciating all their hard work. Even if Peggy and Mandeep don’t give a flying rat’s toenail about whether or not my wifi is working, the company they work for does and Peg and Deep know how to follow a carefully crafted script designed to help them help me and handle just about any situation that may arise during the course of our conversation which may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes. Now, when I called the phone/TV/internet company to make sure I was setting up our router correctly, I pushed 5 for English because there are enough non-Icelandic speaking folk in Iceland these days to warrant having the customer service menu in English. I thought to myself, well that’s thoughtful, and according to the menu voice over guy, the call would be recorded. He did not say why, only that the call would be recorded, that should have been my first clue that I was no longer in the land of exceptional customer service. Another voice came on and told me I was number one in the queue and then California Dreaming started to play. The Mamas & The Papas gently lulled me into a sense of familiarity and comfort. I was thinking, this is just like being on hold with Time Warner, or Spectrum as they call themselves these days. So after I finally get through we go through a bit of back and forth to figure out what needs to be connected where but finally get it sorted out. Once the connection is established and in working order I say thank you, she says okay and then CLICK. That’s it. Click. Okay, see, I was already a little miffed that we didn’t get our service on the day they said we would and that the husband had to go pick up all the equipment and I had to set it up and then old girl couldn’t even pull out some rudimentary customer service and ask “Is there anything else I can help you with this morning?” Say what you will about Time Warner being slow as hell about getting out to your house or Verizon having you on hold for half an hour but Peggy would not have done me like this because Peggy takes customer service seriously. Mandeep would have apologized about the service not being ready when they said it would be and given us a week of HBO for free or something. I have worked in customer service. I KNOW Peggy and Mandeep don’t care but they have been trained and work hard to make it seem like they care about you as a fellow human being and about your satisfaction as a customer. I felt like I was interrupting her day with my questions. Just thinking about it gets my blood pressure up. I don’t know why they record the calls over at the Icelandic Phone Company That Shall Not Be Named but it sure as hell ain’t for quality assurance and training purposes.

This last thing caught me off guard but my 41 years of experience in dealing with low-key and overt racism in the US helped me get through it without being forced to play out the two stereotypes that I try my best not to perpetuate —the entitled, obnoxious American and the angry black woman. Last week, an Icelandic friend who lives in the states but was visiting Iceland suggested I get the boys library cards. She said they have kids’ books in English and a large comic book section and all the boys need is their kennitala (Icelandic ID number). Great! We head on over to the library and approach the small desk to ask if this is where we can get library cards. There’s an older woman behind the desk. I ask about the cards and before she can ask the question I see about to come out of her mouth I tell her they have kennitalas. “Do they have ID?” Now, it might have been my imagination but her tone was dripping with condescension and if ever there was a simpering smile she was wearing it like a badge of honor. I must have looked confused because she went on to say, “It doesn’t matter if it’s in another language we just…” and she made some half-assed gesturing motion toward my children which I took to mean, they could have stolen some “real” Icelandic children’s kennitalas to get their hands on these books. Here is where my experience kicked in. I did not kick her in the shins nor call her a racist, xenophobic cow nor storm out after swearing to never step in that gotdamn library again. Instead, I smiled broadly and said, we’ll be back and calmly walked out. I didn’t go back the same day because I couldn’t guarantee that if the same woman was there I wouldn’t grab her up by the scruff of her wattle and shake mess out of her. “Was that racist?” my oldest asked. “Maybe or somebody peed in her Cheerios this morning…or both,” I answered. The next day there was a young man at the desk and he helped us out without hesitation. The woman from the day before was there too. She had on her coat and looked like she was leaving for her lunch break as we walked up to the desk. I stared straight at her, daring her to pull the same mess in front of another employee but she did all she could to avoid making eye contact with me. When my son was ready to check out, another woman happily showed him how to use the self check out system.

My sanity in a cup.

Since I first began writing this post some tiki-torch carrying white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia to show their asses. This is nothing new but it does seemed to have spurred more conversation amongst white folks about white supremacy, how saying “not it” isn’t enough and how it’s up to white folk to dismantle white supremacy. Maybe the talk will lead to action but white supremacy is embedded in the foundation of America and rooting it out will not be a simple task. In the meantime, I’ll be over here in Iceland and praying that I won’t have to choose between Texas or New York citizenship if the Union finally falls apart.

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The teacup before the tea. Photo by Lydia Holt

It happened. It actually happened. A few months ago when the husband broached the idea of moving to Iceland I was shook, as the kids say. I felt (and will probably continue to feel off and on) scared and anxious and my muffin of a husband gave me the space to feel my feelings. I poured myself many cups of tea and called my momma, because that’s what you do when the shit hits the fan both literally and figuratively. She assured me that no matter what we decided to do– regardless of if, when or where we moved– everything would be OK. Perhaps it was her reassurance that helped nudge me in the right direction but soon after that I  felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. When had I decided that I was incapable of changing my life’s course? I had locked myself into the mentality that my life could only be lived in New York and nowhere else and when I asked myself, why? I didn’t have an answer. New York is wonderful in many ways but it was bleeding us dry. Rent, health insurance, RENT and the cost of just about everything else is sky high in New York. The cost of living is also high in Reykjavík but when healthcare is dirt cheap, activities for the kids cost almost nothing and we have family here, our quality of life improves considerably. I may be stubborn as a mule but I ain’t stupid.

With that mental hurdle behind me but still not ecstatic about the move (because I may have acquired some degree of mental flexibility but I am still a New York City girl at heart), we packed and purged and purged and packed and purged. How the hell did we accumulate so much crap in our apartment? And purged some more yet somehow still managed to have enough stuff to load up into a crate and move to Reykjavík (I like to sing that last part to the tune of The Ballad of Jed Clampett a.k.a. The Beverly Hillbillies theme song — So we loaded up the crate and we moved to Reyk-ja-vííííí´k. Iceland that is. Swimming pools, lava flows). After we said our goodbyes to our dear friends and school was out for summer we headed to the Great State of Texas for a week with my family and did absolutely nothing. The boys ran amok in the backyard with their cousins, spraying each other with the water hose, and I hung out with my family, catching up, harassing each other and breathing together. We soaked up all the Texas heat we could before heading to Iceland with a pit stop in NY and after twenty four hours arrived in Iceland. Here I am, blogging in Iceland. No, for real, I really am.

Me, walking these Reykjavík streets.
Photo by Lydia Holt

The day we arrived in Iceland was the day before a friend from college who was visiting Iceland was leaving so we met her that evening for a mini-in-real-life-not-Facebook-catch-up. How lucky is that? But listen to this, we arrived on a Saturday morning and I’m writing this on the following Monday and we’ve already checked off most of our bureaucratic to do boxes. Yup, keep reading, I’ll explain.

If anything is emblematic of how small and efficient Iceland is, it is the ease with which one can get shit done. In less than two hours we had registered the husband and kids at our new address, begun the application process for my residency, got health insurance (I won’t tell you the cost of the private health insurance we got to cover us until we are eligible for coverage by the national healthcare system, it would be too cruel to my fellow Americans) and the husband set up a bank account. Go ahead, slap the table and look all agog. I know. It’s unbelievable. I still can’t shake the feeling that the other shoe is going to drop and we’ll have to go back through the whole process again and then we’ll have to stand in line for hours before sitting in uncomfortable chairs for another couple of hours, during which time our kids, who will have to accompany us because we have to prove they 1) exist 2) haven’t been kidnapped by my husband, will begin shrieking and howling in pain and boredom and when it seems they will pass out in despair, to finally get our turn in line, fill out all the paperwork, wait for our turn again and then be told that I not only checked a wrong box but used a blue ink pen instead of a black one and don’t have the proper 13 points of identification and stool sample so I need to come back after 5 to 10 business days but only if it’s a full moon cause that’s just about what it took, sans howling children, for the husband to get his residency in the states. Knock on wood, friends. Knock on wood.

Me, standing in our empty apartment.
Photo by Lydia Holt

Our stuff won’t be here for a few weeks so we’ll be staying with family for a bit. I don’t completely feel like we’ve moved here, even with the packing, schlepping and 24 hours of travel. I think it’s most likely because we don’t have all of our stuff and aren’t in our own place so it still kind of feels like any other visit to Iceland. In a few weeks, when we’re unpacking and settling in I may have a freak out as it sets in that I really moved across the ocean to a different country and I don’t speak the language. I’m hoping not to freak out but it would probably be more entertaining to you, my Kettle Talkers, if I did. If I don’t freak out, I promise to include a sensational fictionalized account of events for your voyeuristic pleasure. Until then, the kettle is on.

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