Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to work and Norway

I have started going back to my day job. I have lost quite a bit of stamina during my recovery, but my mind is still functional, as much as it ever was (I know I shouldn't let my mind wander as it is too small to be out by itself. I had a thought once, but it died of loneliness, etc, etc). I didn't realize that time would go by without me getting too many things accomplished, but I should know that by now. Easing back into work is a funny feeling, but I hope to be able to be back to at least 40 hours/wk in a week or so.

Jena was not aware that I had been to Norway. The first time was back in 1966, the summer I turned fifteen, and it was for a six week vacation. Hanging out with all my teen and younger cousins was a blast and seeing my grandfather for what would probably be the last time was bittersweet. I remember him watching the World Cup and yelling at the TV when he disagreed with a referee's call. He had been born in Iceland in 1896, but had lived most of his life in Bergen (except when he would go to sea for a couple of years at a time). I got to see Trondheim and go to the movies (The Flight of the Phoenix) and, of course, Oslo. One of the neatest places I got to go was a little farm up in the mountains where my father hid from the Nazis. The old farmer and his wife and mother (in her eighties and still pitching hay) had a fjord horse and goats, etc. I didn't get to go back until the mid 1990's and again in 2007. I feel totally comfortable there which triggers the stuff of daydreams, especially if I start looking at some of the pictures I took. Here are a few.   

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Critters, National Seaman's Day

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the U.S.!
The Critter cam took some interesting photos last night. Usually I leave it in place for a few days, but I wanted to see if the corn would make much difference. It did. There were 61 pictures on the sd card, so I snagged the card out of the camera, brought it in and stuck it in the slot in the side of the TV (I love it when technology is actually good for something) and watched the slide show.
So the first picture is Bambi's aunt and her two kids and below that is  Redd Foxx. The foxes around here are kind of different. Up the street a few doors there is a place that used to farm foxes for their fur. I don't know much about it's demise, but I suspect the expense of raising foxes and killing them for their pelt is a money losing proposition. The owner of the farm had many varieties of coat color from black to white and everything in between. When he went out of business he released the foxes who then bred with the local wild population. I have seen everything from a light golden blonde color to jet black with a silver tip on the tail. I assume that the red coloration is still the dominant trait (that is at least 90% of what we normally see) and will eventually be the only color we see at some point, but it has been about 25 years since the farm and we still see some different colors. As long as they stay away from the Roomie's chickens we will all live in harmony. 

Back in 2007 my brother and I stayed on a farm in Northern Iceland. June 1st is National Seaman's Day and we went out on a boat on  Eyjafjörður toward the island of Hrisey where it seemed many fishing boats and some jet skis (Brrrr!) were out on the water waving and cheering.
Stefan, the owner of the farm where we were staying, brought the three German women that worked on the farm, my brother, and myself to his friend's boat where we had a terrific time on the water about 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Here is my brother with the women.
And here is my favorite picture from that day.

I better go now. The Cooker is making some delicious smelling food for dinner. I better see if I can stay out of the way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Salka Valka and deer

I just finished reading Salka Valka yesterday, one of Laxness' earlier novels. It is a story of so many things like poverty, politics, religion, passion, and strength of spirit. Written as two books in the early 1930's it begins with Salka, a tough, independent 11 year old girl, and her mother arriving by ship at an insignificant fishing village somewhere south from where they came. Salka finds work in the local fish processing business and her mother finds Jesus at the Salvation Army. They are dependent on each other for so much, yet very independent in their behavior in day to day living. The dire poverty that encompasses everyone's life in the village is taken as matter of fact with little prospect of improvement. Later in her life Salka does a little better from sheer determination and a bit of financial help and becomes involved in the politics of the day. This is a time when Marxisn (Karl, not Groucho) is giving some hope to the downtrodden of the world and is even making inroads in Iceland. Anything looks good to people who have nothing, but the Icelanders are a practical lot and they do what they need to in order to survive. Salka is looked up to for her determination and strength and is finally able to come to terms with her lifelong attachment to a more worldly man she has known since her arrival in the village. Their love is intense, but his weaknesses will ultimately doom the relationship. The ending is very touching and totally right for her.
This is a book I will have to read again someday to appreciate the nuances of the characters even more. The translation is old and could probably be done somewhat better as the relationships between the characters range from the simple to the very complex showing so much of what it is to be human in a harsh world. I also need to read a good biography of Laxness to better understand how the different phases of his life affected the stories he wrote. I need to thank my roomie for getting the local library to find this book and borrow it from a Big City library. It has been photocopied and rebound and I feel fortunate to have been able to read it as it is rare in the English version.

On a lighter note, I have repositioned our critter cam near our lower pond. Firearms deer season is over now and I got a nice nighttime picture of Bambi and her mother. I am also cheating by putting out a little snack of corn to see what comes by. Just does so far, but the bucks should be a bit less spooky now that no one is shooting at them. Here is a photo from last night.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Indoor plumbing

Kelli, the Cajun Dane ( recently discussed the lesser porcelain goddess, the bidet. It is fairly hilarious for so many reasons, but it got me thinking about plumbing in so many ways. As a highly privileged American, I have had the luxury of indoor plumbing for most of my life, with the exceptions of camping trips as a boy scout and young adult seeking adventures in the more remote places of the western U.S.
When the missus (I'll call her the Cooker) and I left the Big City back in the early 80's to go live in the North woods, we got to experience a more primitive style of plumbing. We moved in June to a cabin/house that was a more or less seasonal dwelling. The pump for the lake water system sat down near the shore and at the first sign of winter (late September) it froze and cracked, never to be useful again. The job of running water was now mine. I got to run down to the lake about 120 feet away with two 5-gallon buckets (balance, ya know) and run back up to the house. This wasn't so bad until about early November when the water started to get a bit firmer. I had an ice chisel and an ice auger and thought I had it figured out. Well, along comes January and the ice is getting a few feet thick as the temperatures hover between -20F and -40F for a week or two at a time. I finally figured out that if I chiseled a basin in the ice to dip the buckets, covered it with Styrofoam and covered that with snow I wouldn't have to work so hard every day for our water. We could get by on about 10 gallons a day if we were frugal. That was enough for the dogs, cats, birds, and us, and a copper kettle on the wood stove with a nice supply of hot water. We could take a sponge bath regularly (standing in a large plastic garbage can) and went out to our neighbor's island for our weekly Saturday night sauna and potluck. We could, until this point, manually flush our indoor toilet. Until the line to the septic tank froze (average frost depth at that location is about five feet). Fortunately, we did have an outhouse, a two-holer no less, that we began to utilize immediately. Going out to the little former ice fishing shack at 30 below was something you had to psych up for. You didn't usually have much time to psych up, though. The miracle of Styrofoam is under rated in such circumstances. Get a nice piece of it to insulate you from where you sit and you are living in the lap of luxury!
When the lake finally thawed out in early May I got a new pump, but the line to the septic was still toast until the ground thawed and the pipe could be fixed, but that is another story.

The Cooker has a really nice grey gelding called Mirage. He came to us from Washington state and lived about five blocks from Bill Gates. I don't think they knew each other, though. He is a terrific trail horse and a real "chick magnet", but that doesn't do my wife any good and would only get me in trouble. Here is a picture of him turning on a dime and leaving change. He was living in British Columbia at the time of this photo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What about what I want?

I have been getting all fired up to start going back to work and was, in fact, going to go in for a couple of hours today. Thought I might just do one last check with the doc so I left a message. A short time later I got a call back and was told in no uncertain terms, "Absolutely not!" Huh? I feel pretty good, mostly, but they said that is just a result of using robotics on the way in. They said they shredded me up well enough that I can consider starting back around the 28th of this month. I'm thinking they probably know more than me about this sort of thing, so I just better go along with it. Just to humor them. 

Just for something to do, now that I am off the serious pain meds, I went to town to get a few things. Nothing over 10 pounds, mind you. It is a small town and after nearly 30 years in the vicinity I know a few people. It has been at least 3 weeks since I have gone out an made social contact, live and in person, with the outside world. So a forty minute round trip to town took about 2 hours because ya know, you have to be polite and talk to people. I stopped at gossip central Buck's Hardware to get a whisk broom and the latest poop from town. One of the advantages of living ten miles out is that I am not usually part of the news, but know most of those who are. Those who know me already know I am "different". It's a Minnesota euphemism that means weird.

Now it is like I have a time limit. There are many things to read, write, play, but I have limits. I feel the need to make good use of this gift of time, but need to fight off the occasional urge to nap. This friends, is my dilemma.

Time is to slow for those who wait,
 And time is to swift for those who fear,
          Time is too long for those who grieve,
                     And time is too short for those that laugh.
-It's a Beautiful Day

Here is the front yard with some fresh frosting. See the ship heading to Duluth?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Iceland's independence and Laxness

Nina asked about my Danish cousins in the last post and the Icelandic connection to them. Most of that part of my family connection only goes back to the children of my great grandparents in Iceland, but the connection between the two countries is a long one. In a vastly oversimplified nutshell, Iceland was subject to the Norwegian king until about 1380. Then came the Kalmar Union which  united most of what is now Scandinavia, but was sort of dominated by Denmark, and by the mid 1600's Iceland lost pretty much all of its autonomy to Denmark until about 1874 when they were granted home rule. I don't believe they were a fully independent country until around the end of WW2. Lucky for them that they never had much and could never be totally exploited by dominant government. I am being a bit facetious here.

This brings me to something near and dear to my heart,  Halldór Laxness. He writes of the common people of Iceland from a historical fiction point of view. His characters remind me of the "outsider" types from when I read Hermann Hesse's novels as a young man. Professor Batty and Rose give wonderful reviews of his works and I can only nod in agreement with the things they say. Back to the Danish thing. Laxness' book, Iceland's Bell, really gives an interesting view of the Danish dominance in that mid 1600's to mid 1800's time period. Iceland's climate is marginal for subsistence living and periods of cool down are fairly devastating to what little agriculture there is. Life is always difficult in Iceland, but sometimes it is even more so when you get a mini ice age or climate shift. Laxness won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1955. I have read most of his translated works, but some are hard to come by. My roomie felt sorry for me a week or two ago and used her influence at our local library to borrow Salka Valka from one of the Twin Cities libraries. It is a photocopied edition with a new binding and is a bit rare and/or expensive to buy. I'll finish it in the next few days. What a treat!

I must be feeling better to write this much. Went for a walk around the farm and can't believe it is the middle of November. Here is the little trout stream that goes through the farm.

Even the view from the deck isn't bad today. I hope to turn my front yard obelisk into a Runestone someday.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Things I can get away with

I am not supposed to lift more than ten pounds for a month or two. This wouldn't be much of a deal, except that the hay bales weigh about 70. I set things up to be easy to handle without a lot of wrestling so the girls could deal with it and not get hurt. So far so good. Today, our roomie's childhood friend, I'll call her Andie, came up from the big city with her niece for a quick getaway. Now Andie is the energetic, independent, smart and good-looking type of person I adore. I already live with two, so it's just icing on the cake. She drained and cleaned the150 gallon water tank and refilled it with only the slightest coaching from me. I should have tried this sympathy ploy much earlier in life. I could have made great strides in getting everyone else to do things for me. If I had been really good at it I could have gone into politics. I could take credit for lots of things I never actually did.

For those of you in Denmark. I was having a brief memory of my cousin Solveig when I was last there. She gave us her house for a couple of days and she stayed with her daughter nearby. It was beautiful and relaxing and her yard was a garden. Here is a picture of it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aftermath (I think it was English class)

I think Shakespeare referred to it as being "ripped from nape to chaps" a long time ago. I was shaved from nipples to mid thigh which is about the same distance. Nine days later it feels like I have a porcupine in my pants.

I am finally able to walk out and greet the horses individually. They like the attention and I like the way they smell. I am allowed to carry one flake of hay at a time which adds to my walking and that is supposed to be good for me. My personal horse, Draugen, almost seemed at the edge of sweating today as it is nearly 40F. A continuing tropical heat wave in this nearly sub-arctic climate. I told him and the rest that they were a fine representation of their species and breed. Below is a picture of Draugen as he and I were getting ready to compete in the log skid event. Of course,  this was the breed show in Blue Earth, Minnesota and we were well groomed and ready to show our stuff. He is such an awesome animal.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Professor Batty

I can go no farther in this blog thing without recognizing the most esteemed Professor Batty. I had only heard of blogs and had an idea what they were until after my Scandinavia trip in 2007. After finding the The Iceland Weather Report shortly after the trip I found an interesting comment by The Professor and a link to Flippism is the Key . Here was this guy in the same state who played the same music, guitars, had some same audio components, same age, a bunch of other things in common, and keen interest in things Icelandic. How come I never ran across him when I lived in the same city? The best thing is Batty is very well read, witty, and expresses things in ways I will never be able to. He is just more cultured than me and that gave me some opportunities. He turned me on to Halldor Laxness as well as other Icelandic literature and music. Along with Rose, my personal librarian, I was challenged to read with a more discerning eye and try to fully comprehend all that is in these books. This has been a great ride for me and when I learn to link things better and get permission, I may be able to share some of the Professor's wisdom. So after reading a number of other people's writings and getting inspiration from all I decided I might want to give it a try. I can assure you that there will be no great revelations here, just sharing a few things of this fun life I have been living all these years. Just remember, I ain't dead yet!  

Here are some sheep from the farm Grytubakki near the village of Grenevik.
These noble animals have kept the Icelanders warm and fed for over a thousand years.

Friday, November 4, 2011


So, there I am, a surgical virgin unprobed my medical hands and happy to be that way. Of all the things my father left me, including a sense of personal integrity, helping others, guidance, and numerous other good qualities that I may go into sometime, he also left me a predisposition for prostate cancer. It was just a matter of time, but the time had finally come to get it and deal with it. On Monday they took me into the hospital, used a robot to drill a half dozen holes in me, and extract the nasty little bugger. So now I get to recover for a couple of weeks at home and then gradually resume my normal activities.  It was a hoot getting so much attention in the hospital, but now that I am home, the tough love girls are making me tow the line. The wife stayed in the Big City with me and made sure the daily things were being taken care of. Here on the farm, our roomie/friend, all around good egg or "other wife" as the real one refers to her, took care of the cats, dog, chickens, horses, fish, and the buildings while we were gone. I think I will need to be nice to her for quite some time.

I am doing pretty well now and even walked the hundred yard round trip to the mailbox without much difficulty. I got to do that in my slippers, as we didn't have the 7 inches of snow on the ground that we had last year. I may go visit the horses in a while, but I better stay on my side of the gate just in case they do something silly. I don't move very fast yet.
Two of my longtime favorite bloggers have given up their work this year. Alda of the Iceland Weather Report  and Maria of Iceland Eyes  have called it quits after a lot of output. Both are wonderful photographers and writers and have been an inspiration to me. At least they are still on Facebook, but I don't have a lot of time to spend there. At least I can still check on them when I need a fix.