Hospital UX

It was discovered about six weeks ago that I needed a minor operation. I’d be gloriously under general anesthesia during the procedure — the initial test that found the abnormality had been extraordinarily painful, so it was a welcome relief that I’d be asleep for the actual surgery. The only other surgery I’ve had was for removal of my wisdom teeth.

Previous Surgery
They put me in a chair, put a gas mask on me, and asked me to count backward from ten. I believe I made it to six. Later, I woke up for a second when I was placed in a wheelchair. I had no bodily control, so I collapsed forward. I passed out again as they caught me. Then I woke up two hours later in the car. Blood had filled my stomach. My dad had to practically carry me up our steps — three hours after we left the surgery. I spent the rest of the day groggy and nauseous.

Clothing
This time, I was whisked into a pre-op room. The nurse and every person I interacted with repeatedly asked me what procedure I was having. They had me verify my info multiple times. Then I was left with a purple gown, a stripped robe, socks, a heated blanket, two bags for my belongings, and a bright green eyeglasses case. It took some work to get dressed by myself, but I managed to do it. I felt a bit like a Japanese warlord with the big robe loosely wrapped around me! I realized that my gown had a weird outlet in it. This was so that a hot air hose could be connected to it to blow warm air directly against my skin if needed.

IV
When the nurse came back, she inserted the IV while I looked steadfastly in the opposite direction. My spouse was then brought in. The IV was just water and electrolytes, but as I sat there, pressure began to build up in my head and then ran past my ears to my cheeks. I couldn’t hear and my head began to bob. I thought I was going to vomit. The nurse scrambled to recline my chair, offered me a wet towel, and helped loosen the robe and gown so I wouldn’t overheat. After a few minutes, the pressure went away. I looked up to find my spouse pushed back in a corner watching me wide-eyed and a little pale himself. The nurse remarked that the color had come back into my lips. I still felt a little funny, but I could hold my head up again.

Waiting
After that, I was too nervous to really talk. I handed the nurse my notarized living will to add to my digital records. Then while we sat and waited, I played Pokemon Go and Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone. The anesthesiologist then came in. She told me that I’d be intubated too, so I needed to sign off on that. Fortunately, I had done some last minute blog readings the night before, so I had read what to expect. I put my phone away then and just stared at my spouse in terror.

Time to Go
Two nurses came to walk me to surgery. I took a pit stop and awkwardly hung my IV on a wall hook. A nurse had to take back over holding the IV bag while we finished the walk to surgery. Once there, the doctor and a nurse worked together to remove the striped gown. I tried to hold the purple gown shut while stepping up onto the stool to get onto the bed. They had me put my arms out on these small sliding tables on either side. My head was secured in a…pillow-cup thing. It was comfy. A blood pressure cuff was put on my left arm. At my feet, it felt like more blood pressure cuffs were added to my ankles. The doctor, while holding my hand, told me that it was a like a foot massage. A blanket was put over me. Then a nurse opened up a binder and began to read aloud what I was there for. I looked down towards my feet again.

Groggy

Afterwards
I woke from a heavy dream which disappeared as soon as I opened my eyes. My head lulled on my left shoulder. Across the hallway, a clock read 9:12 a.m. Now that I think about it, did they put my glasses back on me? I’m near-sighted so I can’t see that far on my own. A nurse was sitting next to me. After a few minutes, she noticed I was moving my head around. She asked me some questions about my well-being. My throat was sore and dry, so this was a little difficult. They then called my spouse by his cellphone. When he arrived, he took the nurse’s seat. She then went and brought me a delicious buttered English muffin and water. I was starving, so I gulped it down.

They wouldn’t release me till my blood pressure came back up. It was low. She adjusted my IV, made me drink some more water, and wait a bit longer. Slowly it came back up. She then took my IV out. When she left, my spouse carefully helped me change back into my clothes. I wasn’t in much pain. A lady then pushed me down in a wheelchair while my spouse got the car.

Overall
What stands out to me is that everyone was so nice and considerate. My prior experience as illustrated at the beginning was that the orthodontist’s office didn’t even care that I hadn’t woken up. I’m going to attribute how sick I got last time to potentially having had too big of a dose of anesthesia and swallowing a belly full of blood. Today I’m feeling a little disorientated if I walk around too much. Sitting up and writing this has been a little hard as my head keeps wanting to lean sideways. But now I have this written up for you!

New Zealand: The Stars are So Bright

Milford Sound -- 360. Click through to experience it.

Milford Sound — 360. Click through to experience it.

The above 360 degree sphere isn’t perfect. I’m guessing somewhere between Samsung and Google Photos, they didn’t line up the images correctly. You’ll get a taste of what it was like to be there. Just watch out for the sun — it is so bright. And the wind will occasionally blow so hard that you stumble a little in staying fully upright. The dreaded sandflies that everyone talks about? Mysteriously, they were almost non-existent. I got bit on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere instead of this legendary biting grounds. The tour guide sounded baffled as to why they and the endangered kea birds were missing. A drought was going on as the winter snow has been slight.

The foothills reminded me of Iceland.

The foothills reminded me of Iceland.

I posted some of my favorite daily shots over on my private Instagram account, so I’ll try to avoid posting them again here. In the above photo, you’ll note that the caption mentions Iceland. If you check out the image from that post, you’ll hopefully see the resemblance as well.

What can I say about New Zealand? My colleagues cheerfully asked me about my trip when I returned last week. It’s hard to say. Yes, it was beautiful. The biomes are so drastically different. One hour you’re driving through a temperate rainforest, then it shifts to glaciers, then you’re driving along an impossibly blue-green Tasman Sea, and before you get to that night’s lodgings, you are back in scrub and pasture land. It’s all so different. But I liked Iceland better.

Click through to see the photosphere. Mountains and ocean at once!

Click through to see the photosphere. Mountains and ocean at once!

My favorite parts? Kaikoura is a couple hours north of Christchurch. I don’t know who tossed it onto our list of destinations, but I’m thankful they did. It was possibly my absolute favorite place. The photosphere above shows you how wonderful this place is. On a clear day, you can see the North Island. Out beyond that ocean is Antarctica.

We parked the car mere feet above the water line. When you stood in front of our car and walked two steps, you could then hop straight down into the ocean. It was choppy and I was disappointed that it never sprayed the car. There was lots of great information about the Maori who built defenses on those terraced hills. Seals were resting on the rocks below. We kept trying to see a whale, but none showed up. We then spent the night in an authentic yurt on a farm. It was awesome.

Oh! There was also a big classic car show going on, the Kaikoura Hop, so the streets were packed with awesome cars. Every sidewalk, hotel, and house on the main strip was lined with people watching the cars go by. On our way up, we couldn’t decide if Kiwi were just obsessed with old cars or not. It was thanks to this event going on that we got forced to stay in the more expensive yurt.

Cool tunnel-cave.

Cool tunnel-cave.

Near the Franz Josef glacier, we tramped through a rainforest to get to a cool tunnel-cave. It was so hot walking up there. My NZ uniform consisted of a tank top, a t-shirt, a hoodie, a thin snowboarding coat, pants, and a ridiculous red hat which I bought for Pokemon Go-ing. I left the coat behind and traded it for a big poncho which I had purchased from Ikea. Across my back, under the poncho, was a camouflage tripod tube. Inside it I had shoved my bottle of water and red hat when it was time to go into the tunnel-cave.

The walk through the cave was boss. My new (and expensive) waterproof boots did a fantastic job. Well, until I was trying to be cute and avoid stepping in the three inches of water by going up onto stones. My ankle twisted too far to the left and water hit my sock as my foot slid. Otherwise, my socks were dry. My spouse on the other hand had the exact opposite experience. At the end of the walk, I gave him my thick hiking socks and wore just my liners back.

What can I say about going through the cave-tunnel? It was damp. My spouse had brought only one flashlight and carried it up front. My best friend walked behind and I brought up the rear. I was trying to document the trip on my phone, but I needed the light more. I aimed it at my best friend’s feet so I could follow where she stepped. My other hand kept touching the wall for balance. Since I don’t care to touch odd things, this was a little distressing. But when we got to the middle and could no longer see either end of the 300m tunnel, we turned out all the lights. Then we saw the glow worms.

They’re hard to see. They’re a beautiful light blue color and as a light, they’re not really distinct. You can’t trace the edges of them. If you look too hard, they go very fuzzy just like attempts to look at meteors straight on. Later that night, we came back to the same rainforest trail to see the glow worms that lived under the leaves. The sky was so bright with stars and the Milky Way, that my best friend commented that she thought she was seeing the stars still when she looked at the forest. Interestingly, the glow worms were only on the right side of the path, not the left (aside from a sole straggler).

The stars were so bright that I could read my spouse’s hoodie. Our faces were hard to view, but we could see the chalkiness of them. So picture this: a bright, starry sky with a wave of the galaxy running through, a forest black, a rocky path under your feet which you can almost see well-enough to walk on without a flashlight, and blue twinkling lights under the leaves. This was the best night.

There’s more to write about this trip like how we saw a whole palette of water colors as we circled the South Island. This post will be your teaser for now.

Weird fruit sculpture outside a farm/store.

Weird fruit sculpture outside a farm/store.

What is this?

Introducing the Publicity Manager

Hello.

Hello.

I’ve hung up my hat as the library’s User Experience Librarian. I am now the Publicity Manager. This is not the end of UX at my library nor the death of the UX librarian. Instead, my focus has changed. Broaden. Instead of looking at the miniscule so much, I will be in charge of overseeing how publicity moves through the Library itself. Since this change just took effect on Friday, August 19th, there will still be some echoes of my UX librarian self in the weeks ahead. That and I’m going to New Zealand for half of September. It’ll take me a bit to get up to speed.

Since this is something new, I’ll try to blog about my work more as I learn through this new journey. My first big project was started months ago and will premiere on September 7th: the Staff Art Show. On Wednesday, I’ll attend a Facebook Analytics workshop. What awaits me on this new arc of my career?

Photo in the Newspaper

Photo by Amy Laughlin

Photo by Amy Laughlin

Not my best work ever made in the hectic weeks ahead of the website launch, but the photo plus the photo manip is my handiwork. :-)

Other potential backgrounds was various racetracks, the Sochi Olympics, and other temples. The image I used is by Sam Valadi under CC BY 2.0 with the main change being mirroring it and using just the top portion.

Courtesy of Darien Library

Courtesy of Darien Library

New Library Website: Staff Photos Finished

I wrote earlier about learning how to set up lighting for our staff photos. After about 30 hours of work in taking the photos, sending them to staff to select their best shot, retake some photos, process the photos, and finally upload them to our staging server. Here is the fruit of that work. You’ll be able to see it in full size very soon.

The stated objectives of this project was to take photos which share a common background to look more uniform on the site. I decided that people should be more or less in the same pose.

Courtesy of Darien Library

Courtesy of Darien Library

Lessons Learned
I set up the photo studio alone, so the lighting is best for my own skin tone. This didn’t always work so well on others. Some photos turned out orange. I’d drag the main light back and forth to try and lessen the effect. After I attached the laptop to the camera so my colleague could see the photos as they actually are, I was able to straighten this out a bit. However, I still had to do some color balancing to fix orange casts on some photos.

At my current age, I’m still wrinkle-free so the lighting fell smoothly across my cheek. For some colleagues, the lighting spilled across their face to highlight their smile lines in an unflattering fashion. Perhaps I shouldn’t confess to this mistake of mine, but it was a serious issue that had to be lessened in Photoshop afterwards. I have a strong belief in treating others’ photos the same way I’d want my own to be handled: if it’s unflattering, don’t post it.

The same pose does not work for all people. I had people lined up so their toes pointed in one direction, rotate their heads to another, and then move their eyes to the camera. This pose did not always show people to their full advantage. I won’t correct this now, but there are a few people whose photos I’ll retake post-launch in order to do better by them.

I was hoping for a tool that would make it easy to batch resize and crop the final photos for the web. No such thing exists it seems. So I took several crops of my boss’ photo and sent it to him to choose the one he liked best. Then I set up guidelines in Photoshop (top of head, chin, left edge of face) from that. When I pasted in a new person’s photo, I’d freehand resize it till it fit those dimensions. This worked in most cases, but the tilt of some people’s heads or their fluffier hair may have thrown this off-kilt. In those instances, I tried my best to accommodate and make the photo work for them.

Finally, I could not tell the final results of the photos until I saw them all together today. Then I reopened some files and made final adjustments: contrast, vibrance, color correction, curves, and levels in order to create a pleasing equilibrium across the photos. Some people’s photos look wonderful on their own, but when paired with others, they needed a little more oomph in some way.

Portrait Lighting AKA What Color is My Hair?

For the new website, my boss has assigned me to take everyone’s headshot. Sure, I’ve taken people’s photos before for various little things in the Library. The photos are okay for being taken in the Digital Media Lab with “good enough” lighting. However, my boss said that people will be welcome to take these new photos and use them for professional headshots. Uh oh. What am I doing.

I took some photos yesterday in our videographer’s studio using a “hey, this looks okay to my naked eye” approach with a colleague’s help. The digital camera lets you preview the photos, but not zoom in so we couldn’t tell what we were doing. Today I opened those photos and saw the problem right away: overexposed. I sat in my chair, having a slight panic attack. Photographing some resistant people is bad enough, but trying to figure out how to fix the lighting by yourself when you have zero experience in complex light setups is another thing entirely.

After I managed to stop panicking at my desk, I grabbed my phone and the SD card. I wished fervently for someone to help me in my endeavour as the model. Even went upstairs to the Children’s Library and made some lame duck excuse after chickening out of asking. Then I decided that the only way forward was to do this entirely on my own. First task was to figure out how to set the camera to take delayed shots. Four hours and 185 minuscule changes later, I found the best lighting setup.

Things I tested:

  • Body pose
  • Head pose
  • Lighting on hair
  • Shoulder angle
  • Glare removal on glasses
  • Portrait mode (softer)
  • No flash (automatic settings — winner)
  • High stool
  • Low stool (winner)
  • Backlighting
  • Fill lighting

My spouse has seen the full set of photos. He said that the first shots look like I’m “so done” with this project. The final ones show a smile as I zero in on the lighting. In reality, I wanted a neutral expression so I wouldn’t focus on my face in particular when reviewing the photos later. The final photos include half-hearted smiles as I wanted to check the shadows that would result from that change.

Overall, I’m thrilled with the final results. My elation is tempered by “does photographing the setup and marking the floor with tape mean I’ll be able to reproduce this setup in the future?” I found a giant sheet of paper and wrote a note pleading with people to not touch the space. Then I clipped it to a chair. I couldn’t remove the glare without messing up the key light, so I’ll have people take two shots of themselves with and without glasses to Photoshop the non-glared eyes into the frames. It’s a compromise.

A Journey Around Iceland: Day Three

We awoke to an empty house. This was fine by us as we slowly dragged ourselves together. I decided that it was too weird to shower in someone else’s house so I skipped bathing. Before we left, my BFF drew a detailed horse in the guestbook. I took a photo of it but it isn’t appearing on Google Plus at the moment. I’ll try to remember to add it in later.

GPS coordinates: 65.516, -19.301

GPS coordinates: 65.516, -19.301

The road leaving here was not terribly interesting. We were in the low point of a valley with the mountains about 1/2 to 3/4 miles away from us. A slim but fast river twisted back and forth across the valley floor. Crop fields spread out on either side while small houses dot the landscape. In the backseat, my BFF continues to play her bookworm game on her iPad while I attempt conversation while filming the landscape.

We then remember that we have the GoPro that I borrowed from work. I attempt to attach it to the window phone holder I had brought along. It kept popping off — threatening my face. Finally, my BFF offers me three brightly colored hairbands that she’s been wearing on her wrist: purple, blue, and green. She wears hot colors of red, orange, and yellow on the other wrist. It takes a few tries and seemingly losing one of the bands before I get the GoPro onto the holder. We are now climbing through the mountains. The snow is smooth with this strange glistening quality that Thomas finds quite pleasing.

GPS coordinates: 65.464, -18.873

GPS coordinates: 65.464, -18.873

The snow through here is much deeper than it was down below. However, the roads are well-cleared off and we drive along with maybe only a couple other cars passing in the opposite direction for company. The snow is packed a couple feet on top of the guardrails on the right.

Snow piled so high!

Snow piled so high!

We then come across perhaps the coolest mountain bit. It’s on the left and jagged in an unusual fashion. Everywhere else throughout here is pretty smooth, but these broken pieces splinter the sky. Thomas finds a little dirt side road to the left to pull off on. He can’t pass up this rocky outcropping. He and my BFF hop out of the car for photos. It’s cold out, so I want to stay in. However, watching them buzz around excitedly finally convinces me to get out. I spend most of my time taking selfies with the rock and then convincing Thomas to come over to take a photo together. It takes a few tries but we finally get the rock into the picture. The hilarious thing I’m discovering now from Google Maps is that it looks like everyone is obsessed with the “tooth” as Thomas just called it over my shoulder.

GPS coordinates: 65.585, -18.534

GPS coordinates: 65.585, -18.534

As we come back out of the mountains, we are approaching Akureyri, the northern capital. Akureyri is the only other city in the country — aside from Reykjavik. Akureyri is located along this gorgeous waterway which leads out to the Norwegian Sea. The land along the right side of the water (traveling east) is relatively flat along the water while there is no flat edge on the other side of the inlet. That side is just all rising mountains. We stop for gas and then keep going. Today we are headed to Myvatn lake which is east of the city. The next day will be a long drive, so we’re squeezing in the lake — one of my BFF’s requested locations we visit. As we head out of town, we see this massive snowman on the outside edge of town. I just learned that it’s the world’s largest snowman.

GPS coordinates: 65.678, -18.088

GPS coordinates: 65.678, -18.088

To cross over to the other side of the inlet, you do not drive all the way down and then around. Instead, just about 3/4 of a mile south is a raised piece of land that cuts across the water. The video below will do a way better justification of the crossing than my words could describe for you.

Once on the other side, the land swiftly raises to the north till you’re climbing over a beautiful overlook to the inlet below. The water is so blue and the snow so white that the photo below will look doctored. It wasn’t — it really is that incredibly blue and bright there.

So blue!

So blue!

Along the way, we visit the waterfall of the gods — Goðafoss — so named because this guy made the decision for the entire island population that they’d convert to Christianity. He then returned home and threw his idols into this waterfall. Now, the waterfall is hard to see as you head east. You’re surfing along the high tops of the mountains when you go around a curve which slopes downwards. You see a bridge to the right with a gas station and a few other buildings. However, according to the directions I’m looking at, there’s a waterfall in front of this gas station. You see nothing. However, we slow down and see a sign and drive over the 100 yards or so to the waterfall’s edge. That’s right — you can literally walk right up to the edge of the foss!

We lingered for a long time here. I have a few dozen photos and several videos of Thomas, my BFF, and of the foss. It’s really compelling to walk right up to the edge of the river to get a better shot. However the thick snow is deceiving even as it sucks down your shoes. You get to the water’s edge above the falls and you can almost reach out and touch that icy gray water. But then good sense kicks in and you step backwards to avoid walking out onto literal thin ice. You can see in the video below how close you can get. This was as close as I dared and it was a stupid thing to do. We finally managed to drag ourselves away though it was difficult to do.

From there, you continue driving up and away from the dip where the foss was and then out to very flat land. This part of the drive was dull. We perked up when we started to see the remnants of exploded shield volcanoes. Go ahead and click on the photo below. You’re looking for that gray “hill” in the center of the photo. It looks small here, but it was … a mountain in person. Very wide and even so destroyed taller than most buildings (which are not skyscrapers). You may also notice that the land becomes more bumpy on either side. This alternates with wide flat areas. Eventually we realized that we had made it to the lake.

GPS coordinates: 65.572, -17.066

GPS coordinates: 65.572, -17.066

In the summer, Myvatn lake, according to the guidebooks, is one of the most popular tourist attractions. The itty bitty town swells with all the visitors. The lake is the home of a huge population of waterfowl as well as black flies. The guidebook recommended buying netting to wear over your head. Otherwise, you’ll just be inhaling bugs your whole visit to the lake.

We could not find the lake. We followed the curving black road south and still saw nothing. Then we came across some open water — surrounded by thousands or millions of rocks. The guidebook told us that these rocks had been shot here by the volcanoes in the distant past. This was a lava field. In the video below, you can hear my elegant description of “piles of poo.” The snow isn’t as thick here as you can see the rocks and yellow grass in open patches. We lingered at the water’s edge for awhile. My BFF decided to go take some close up shots of birds on the water. She had to descend down a narrow trail to the shore. Thomas walked around taking his own super high quality photos. I wanted a change of clothes, so I climbed back in the car — after getting the keys from Thomas. Then I got out and took a photo sphere.

After that, an American couple pull up next to me and ask where the bird museum/visiting center is. I have no idea. Then I remember that I can look at Maps on my phone to see an approximate indicator of our current location. I show them what the phone is telling me and we compare it to their paper map. It turned out that they still had a ways to go. The lake, while mostly unseen in winter, is huge. It has no round edge but curves all over the place. Those flat areas we noted earlier WAS the lake. Once we regroup, we head back towards Akureyri. The photo below is a closer shot of one of the volcanoes.

GPS coordinates: 65.612, -16.916

GPS coordinates: 65.612, -16.916

Side note: the ground is HOT around the lake as you head further east. In places, vents open up and steam pours out of the ground. We’ll explore that area the next day. We did go up one of the low hills which was steaming a lot to get a look around. We quickly came back down after coming upon a famous hot spring bathing house. We weren’t interested, so down we came. It was here that I found another one of my loves — the icy blue heated pond.

Other interesting things were trucks sitting on a lake while people….ice-fished? We weren’t sure. My BFF reminded me that Icelandic horses are sometimes raced across the frozen lakes. We pulled into the gas station we saw earlier at the foss. Unfortunately, it had closed half an hour before. My poor bladder! Thomas pulled around back of the gas station. I got out, dropping down into wet, sloppy snow, and slogged my way to the back tailgate. I pulled a nutrition bar out for me and almonds for Thomas. This was our lunch.

The water of the inlet as we approached the northern capital was very pretty. But we were tired and ready to go find our hotel. We had only a little trouble finding Hotel Nordurland. There was plenty of parking around on this little back street, but we weren’t sure where to park. Round blue signs with red circles with lines across them dotted the streets. So we drove on past the hotel and across the road into a parking lot thick with ice. Thomas and I scooted our feet across the parking lot and back to the hotel.

The hotel turned out to be wonderful. It had been only $60, but we got a steal. The guy at the front desk spoke English very well. He didn’t even ask for ID, just took my name and then handed me the key. I asked about parking. He told us that business hours were only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., so we could park immediately in front of the hotel’s one way road. So we did. The car was literally like 15 feet from the hotel’s entrance. I was very nervous about bringing along a third for the room since the reservation was only for two. The guy at the counter didn’t even blink. We entered the lobby, made an immediate left, and stepped up to go down the hall to our room. We had the very last room on the right which turned out to be a sweet suite.

I loved the room. Behind the door to the right was a tiny kitchen. My BFF and Thomas immediately seized the electric kettle to make tea and coffee respectively. The bed was to the left with very narrow walking areas on either side. Then there was the extension of the room of yet a smaller room which hosted a cot and a desk. A door was at the head of the cot which opened onto a very tiny piece of grass and patio at the very corner of the hotel. The street was just a few feet away. On the wall in here was mounted a TV — pretty far away from the main bed. A tall storage closet was to the right of the TV. On that same wall was the bathroom entrance. The bathroom was…interesting. Very fancy, huge, and modern. What was odd was that there was only a shower head, a curtain in the corner, and the drain was waaaay over towards the center of the room. The drain was not under the shower head’s area. This would prove to be trouble in the morning.

After we had greedily lapped up our online networks for awhile, I finally made the hard line decision that it was here we would pay for a meal. They were taking forever to get ready so I walked back out to the counter and talked to the clerk. Most of the places nearby were closed since practically everything closes at 6 p.m. He kindly circled several areas. My BFF had thought that the place across the street had dinner food, but nope. It was an ice cream cake store. It was closed. So then I went back to the group, we had a short discussion, but no decision. So I decided to lead us to the location the clerk had pointed to from the hotel’s doorway of being a few feet away.

It was cold. The wind was powerful and demanded that you stop or be pushed down. So we slid along icy walkways and around buildings towards dinner. There was no such place. I had led us to a wrong turn. Our teeth were chattering and we were thinking about giving up when we saw a promising street to our left as we headed back to the hotel. Here was a little circular area of shops and buildings pointing in towards the circle. We walked past a couple open bars, a movie theater, and several closed restaurants. Then I spotted a chicken place. Okay, we had not travel thousands of miles to eat chicken. But the only other promising restaurant was further down the road. Thomas finally gave in and we ran across the street.

You had to step upwards to get into the restaurant. The order location was a counter to the left while photos of food lined the wall facing the street. The girl at the register took pity on us and gave us a menu in English. It was weird and left me with an uneasy feeling. In the United States we usually don’t have menus in multiple languages. Thomas ended up ordering for all three of us. Then we turned around and walked past the wall of food photos into a small sitting area. It wasn’t fancy. The yellow walls enclosed a rectangular room which had a row of tables on either wall. We took the first one near the front of the restaurant. Two women sat in the back corner from us. The food was….okay. There was a strange sauce which was okay. But my main memory is of the plain bun falling apart in my hands. I ate my fries and gave up on trying to eat like a civilized person.

On the way back, I was amused by a poster of Meryl Streep as the Witch from “Into the Woods.” The poster was outside of a movie theater. Someone had pulled an Anne Wheaton on it and put huge googly eyes on her face.

That night, we continued to relax and read on our own. My BFF was watching a TV show from her cot. They eventually convinced me to try the hot chocolate which was available. It was way too dark for me, so I poured in an entire coffee creamer and then these two tiny sugar tablets. That helped some. In the morning, I packed the remaining cocoa, creamer, and sugar into my bag.

A Journey Around Iceland: Day Two

The view from my bedroom window at the cabin.

The view from my bedroom window at the cabin.

During the trip, I made myself the “mom” and woke up before everyone else at 8:30 a.m. I’d then shower, wake T up, then finally my BFF. On the first morning I woke up in Iceland, I was met with a challenge of how to control the water temperature in the shower. The system was T-shaped with smooth surface ends that twisted with a dial indicator pointed at the center of the T-bar. Then the flexible shower head rose from there and hung on a holder above your head. I did not know it then, but the left one controlled the heat while the right controlled the pressure. So that first shower was cold. The hot tub outside had tempted T the night before, but the problem of getting out of the tub and then running all the way back around into the living room proved to be insurmountable.

The extremely narrow bed in the cabin.

The extremely narrow bed in the cabin.

We had no Internet at this location, so we were forced to either look at the views (me), play on a Nintendo 3DS (my BFF), or sip coffee (T). We discussed our plans for the day which was to drive north along Route 1/The Ring Road. When the owner of the cabin appeared the night before for a moment, she told us she wasn’t sure we would be able to drive the main road due to the snow. So T planned out alternative routes. I checked the guidebooks on what possible things we might see including Snæfellsjökull, a volcano that sits on the end of a peninsula surrounded by a national park. However, with the uncertain road conditions, we decided to press north towards our next destination, a horse farm.

Around 11 a.m., we packed up and carried our stuff out through the new fallen snow to the SUV. T drove slowly back between what must be crop fields towards the owner’s cabin. We were so close when the SUV stopped. We climbed out to discover that we had hit a snow drift that was impassable for the car. When we got on our knees and looked under, the snow was over a foot deep and had stopped us cold. T pulled out the window scraper from the back to start digging. My BFF and I kicked and pawed at the snow around the front tires. When T would try to move backwards, the driver’s front and the passenger back tires were not even spinning. We kept digging. When I took a break, I saw a yellow backhoe by the owners’ house being driven around. I was not sure where they were going until he started down the road towards us. His friendly dog ran ahead, eager for ear rubs.

It took several minutes to figure out the best way to connect the backhoe to the car. The driver did not speak English, but T and him worked out through gestures what they were doing. We girls then stood aside as the SUV was pulled backwards out of the snow. The driver then drove around us then straight through the 15 foot stretch which had stopped us. With the way flattened, we climbed back in the car and followed him up the road.

Our drive from there was uneventful. The snowy landscape stretched on and on. When we got close to the Westfjords, we saw the ocean again. The Westfjords are very remote and massive with few settlements. So we drove onwards passed them. For miles we could see the coat stretching onwards to the west as we followed the curve of The Ring Road east. In the very far distance, we saw something unusual in the mist. We argued back and forth until it was proven to be high cliffs of the Westfjords that we were seeing.

Lenticular  Clouds

Lenticular Clouds

The further north we went the less snow we saw. In fact, there were acres of lands where you could see the yellow grass. Tiny herds of Icelandic horses gathered around their bales of hay. In the far north, the horses milled around more. Everywhere else, they clung to a small perimeter of the hay. The landscape changed back and forth between flat landscapes of grass to flat landscapes of snow covered lakes to mountains to hills then back to curving along the oceanfront. We came to a tiny industrial town while driving along the interior line of a bay. We drove around it and then outwards back north to travel along one of the many finger peninsulas that make up this part of the island.

The directions to all our lodgings were vague. I had carefully copied the instructions from the Airbnb emails to the Tripit app. We would have to follow directions like, “Make a right on route 3 then drive for 20 minutes or so. Look for a red house on the left and come up by it. We are then the second house.” As we approached the horse farm, we noticed that small but wide signs was placed alongside the driveways of the farms. We could not make decide if the government paid for the signs (must be the name of the farms) or if the farmers did. It made sense that the signs were there though since otherwise, how would a postman would find the address. Speaking of which, I do not recall seeing a single mailbox.

Welcome to the horse farm.

Welcome to the horse farm.

We arrived to the bright yellow farm house with no one else home. The vague instructions told us to go in the front door. However, there were two front doors. We gingerly walked around looking for signs of anyone else. Giving in, we tried the doors and found the left one to be unlocked. Let me tell you, this was a REAL farm. The mud room reeked of sheep. We held our breaths and hurried past it. Now we had to figure out the situation here. There were two floors, but I knew from the listing that we were on the first floor. Quickly we found the bathroom to the left, a small bedroom next to that, and a kitchen to the right. Okay, this was bad. I had clearly stated that there were three of us. We looked at the long piece of board that covered one wall. T finally took the initiative and tried to push it to the left — it worked. Ah, we had found the rest of our lodgings.

The living/bedroom.

The living/bedroom.

We stood in a living room which had chairs, a couch, a table, and a queen sized bed in one corner. Awkwardly I offered the bed to my BFF — not wanting to deny her the use of a bigger bed. She brushed off the offer. “Two people get the big bed, I’ll take the single bed.” I protested that it wasn’t fair, but eventually by day 4, stopped offering.

The farm’s orange tom cat had followed us into the house. He leaped onto the bathroom counter and asked that I turn the water on for him. He drank heartily. When he was done, he followed me to the big bed and curled up next to me. I let him stay until I began to itch. I feared he had fleas and at that point I sadly led him back out of the room. He was upset, but then went up the stairs to the second level.

A friend.

A friend.

We then settled happily to connecting to the WiFi. The owner had left a basket of oddities she had found around the farm for us to look at. We oohed appropriately and flipped through the guestbook — a common feature in these Airbnbs. T and I read our novels while my BFF played some bookworm puzzle game. She would announce her score to us throughout the trip. T and I were mildly offended that the game creator conflicted librarians and archivists with each other. T went for a walk. He saw the surrounding pastures and met their friendly dog. He did not see the animals, but barns were located in the distance.

Eventually the male owner arrived with his sons. We hid in the living room like cowards feeling odd to be staying in someone’s house. I had sought “have whole place to ourselves” when making the arrangements. I had not realized until we had arrived that this horse farm was a shared family space. Eventually we had to eat dinner and come out. I went into the kitchen and started to poke around for a pot. The owner then came in.

He was a very friendly chap. His toddler kept him busy dropping his pacifier onto the floor. After the fifth or so time, the farmer got wise and caught the pacifier in mid-air. The toddler then lost interest in that game. While we cooked our rice on the strange stove (no physical eyes but a light came on to indicate that the surface was still hot when he pulled our pot off), he talked about his work and Iceland in general. He told us that this was a horse and sheep farm. The animals were kept down the hill and across the road. His toddler was already determined to be a farmer when he grew up. As for the animals, they would be set loose in the highlands for 3.5 months each year. The biggest predator are foxes, so there is not much danger to the animals. Sometimes polar bears swim over from Greenland, but they’re immediately killed since people in Iceland would not be expecting such a big animal, he said. He reported that several polar bears had appeared in the last 15 years while they had been extremely rare when he was growing up. The farmer then gave a half smile as he told us that if the foxes get some of the sheep, well, they were helping the stock by removing the weak ones.

I was surprised that the animals were left alone for months. When asked, he then explained that at the end of the 3.5 months, he and the other local farmers would ride out to the highlands (a 5 hour trip) and then use the other horses to steer the sheep back home. This was good to know since I could not figure out why there were horses everywhere if they did not eat them (they are used to race across the ice in the winter. Iceland is also very strict about horses since they were to protect their unique stock. No horse may be imported and any horse that leaves the island can never come back). The farmers then look at the ear tags to sort their animals out. Each day for a week they would then return to the highlands to look for stragglers.

The view outside the living/bedroom.

The view outside the living/bedroom.

Once the farmer left us to eat, we sorted ourselves out and had a lingering if small dinner. Then we retreated back to our space for the night. We read and talked, but mostly just relaxed. It was nice to be on vacation. When we finally went to bed around midnight, I discovered that not all Icelandic water is delicious. I was bent over the bathroom sink lifting my toothbrush to my face when I smelled the sulfur. I tried to stick it out, but the smell was too much.

During the night, I awoke to look for the promised aurora. Unfortunately it was too faint or did not appear here so we had no sightings. Close to dawn I woke again and raised my head up. A massive moon appeared across the way just over the tops of the near mountains/hills. I should have taken a photo, but I was so tired that I went back to sleep.

A Journey Around Iceland: Day One

I’ve been paralyzed with feeling that I had to explain it all, to wrap my mind around my trip, and create my travel video before I could talk about Iceland. However, if I wait much longer, I may forget the little details. You know, the ones that showed a different world. As you may know, I left the US on Saturday, March 7th and touched down in a frosty pre-dawn world 2,500 miles away on Sunday. Why did we choose Iceland? Well, when we were purchasing tickets for our trip to Europe last year, it hit our fancy to try and land for a few days in Iceland. Unfortunately, it was far too pricey to do, so we skipped it. Then last fall, we decided “let’s go to Iceland and try to see the northern lights!” My best friend piped up that she wanted to go too. So off we went to buy plane tickets (November) and lodging (February). The total cost per person was $1100 which covered a plane ticket, gas, lodgings, and a SUV.

Food

T and I agonized over how to carry as much food as possible with us. We had been told repeatedly that food was ridiculously expensive. So the night before we left, both of us separately hit up the store. Then we were so upset to realize that we had way more food than we could carry over w/o additional taxes (6.6 lbs/person). We had bought food with my BFF in mind, but she had other ideas. I took her to Trader Joe’s before we left and she stocked up on her own treats. So what made the cut?

  • Nutrition bars (breakfast)
  • 6 Hormel dinners (kinda gross, but cheaper than buying food there)
  • A box of saltine crackers
  • Chicken bouillon cubes
  • Instant coffee
  • Movie theater boxes of candy (I ate this)
  • 1 bag of popcorn
  • Raisins (gross)
  • Almonds
  • Cans of chicken
  • Pack of tuna
  • Canned ham (nasty — fell apart)

All our worrying ended up being for naught. Customs wasn’t even open, so we skipped straight through without anyone wanting to weigh how much food we had brought. We were emotionally drained by this and frustrated. However, we only bought food four times: pastries in Reykjavik chicken sandwiches in Akureyri, hot dogs in southeastern Iceland, a box of rice, butter, and carrots. Then at the first place we stayed, we ended up driving of leaving all the cold stuff including my BFF’s India Pale Ale beer in the fridge. Only the rice made it safely out with us. My BFF brought along two types of tea and tons of mac and cheese.

Due to my over strictness that we make it to the airport in plenty of time, we got there WAY too early. It turned out that the Icelandair counter didn’t even open until like 3 hours before the flight. So we had 3 hours to wait. Fortunately, the chairs we found were awesome. T and my BFF relaxed in those while I commandeered the cool bench and power outlet.

These chairs were awesome

These chairs were awesome

Later we hung out in the terminal, guarding our power outlets while relaxing. The flight over was painful for me because I NEEDED to sleep on this red-eye. Unfortunately, I just jerked uncomfortably in my seat for 3 hours before giving up and flipping through the videos on the screen in front of me. I watched some 12 minute long video which I thought was about selki. Oh, no. I was so wrong. It was about a guy who went canoeing. He pulls up on a rocks-only island to eat lunch and then falls asleep. However, the tide is rising and his canoe disappears. There’s a moment which focuses on his face as he realizes that he’s screwed. His eyes are red rimmed and teary. His lips are parted. I know that face, those feelings. The scene shifts to a guy in a motorboat. He’s drinking a lot. It feels like a student film with all the focus on the beer can. He sees the guy on the island waving his arms as the water rises around his ankles. The captain blinks, rubs his eyes, and stares out his window. Then he tosses his beer out the window. The video ends with the camera following the descent of the bottle.

What.

It was extremely bizarre and set the mood that Icelanders must be a very tough, no-frills demeanor.

Day One

When we landed, the plane did not come up to the gate, so we were unceremoniously dumped out into the cold. I was unprepared for that and hustled inside the…what is this? An Ikea showroom? of an airport lobby. The airport was interesting in how many turning twists we had to make to get out. The Wow airline posters were unsettling with their brightness in the hallways. All the models in all the advertising were blonde, blue-eyed, and pale skinned. It was odd seeing as how natural blondes are not particularly common on the East Coast of the U.S. This set the tone for the rest of our trip with the only non-white people I spied were a couple Asian female tourists at Geysir (the home of the original geysir from which all geysirs are named after).

We were loaded up into a huge work van by a boy that looked like a high school sophomore. He drove us within sight of the airport to the car rental company. What I found surprising is that he left the van running while we went inside. The snow was a thick powder around our shoes. T signed papers while I looked at the huge map of Iceland. As far as I can tell, Icelanders just refer to their country as Island. I asked the guy if he was the unlucky one who had to be here at 6 a.m. He smiled and said no, he was here every day this early. As he led us to our SUV, I asked if there was anywhere we could get some breakfast. He said we might find a bakery further north at the capitol. We then got in the car and drove the long drive north.

The video above does not paint a complete picture. It was a little snowy while we were driving. Then out of nowhere, the car sounded like it had been hit with a wave of bullets — and unending wave of bullets. I became paranoid that our rental insurance would not cover whatever damage this ice was inflicting. Pro-tip: buy the gravel insurance. All roads are also marked with tall, yellow bars on both sides. This way you can try to avoid running off the roads. Most roads are built-up above their surroundings. We were grateful that these yellow bars were there within minutes when we realized we could not see the road.

The next thing we discovered about driving in Iceland is that road signs are useless. Most of them were completely covered in snow. I quickly became disgruntled that T had insisted we just use some paper maps. I have not had to rely on a paper map in years NOR could I understand Icelandic, so driving around without a GPS was very difficult anywhere near Reykjavik. Later when you’re outside the city, there are very few roads, so you can’t make too many mistakes.

So there I was, trying to read the paper map in the weak light of dawn. As you’ll see in the photo below, dawn was strange. The sun appeared to rise some distance above the horizon. Where it had been dark, suddenly a bright spot appeared higher in the sky. Anyways, we drove past the one bakery that was open. We ended up near the ocean at a gas station. It had appeared open with the lights on, but nope. T crossed the street to a hotel to purchase maps. I took the opportunity to climb over the seats to the back so I could pull out my thermals and snow boots. Thus began the first of three times of changing in the car in broad daylight. Don’t worry — no one was around. Pro-tip: it’s very difficult to pull up thermal pants while sitting down.

Why are you so high up?

Why are you so high up?

Once T had returned, I tried to navigate us towards the highway leading to Þingvellir while hoping we’d find food on the way. We got lost, immediately. Then we drove up and down the road, trying to get re-oriented. Only by sheer chance did we run into that bakery I had seen earlier. I got some pastry that was the size of my face with some kind of hazelnut icing on top. Then off we went to find a gas station. I won’t bore you with how many more times we got lost, turned around, etc. But suffice to say, we realized that T’s credit card would not be accepted at the gas stations. He ended up spending a great deal of our in-hand cash to buy a gas card. The gas station attendant was uncertain that T really meant to put that much cash on it. He insisted. We were then free to travel onwards.

Check out the way the clouds sit on top of the mountains north of Reykjavik.

Check out the way the clouds sit on top of the mountains north of Reykjavik.

Note: I’ve discovered that while in European countries, I slip in the local vernacular of saying water closets instead of bathrooms. On one of the long stretches between destinations, T and I had a discussion if there was a better word for the toilet room other than bathroom, restroom, or water closet. We accepted that water closet is probably the best term.

It was with a bit of luck that we took the right road to Þingvellir. While the Golden Circle is probably the most popular thing to tour in Iceland, the road outside of Reykjavik is barely marked. We were unsure we were going the right way for awhile. Then after awhile, we saw a sign that was not snow-covered so we could see we were enroute.

The first bit of land through the northern section of the Golden Circle is smooth snow over soft rolling hills. Other times the land flattens out with distant tall hills. There are great expanses of snow which are unmarred by footprints or car tracks of mankind. Since there are few trees in Iceland, you feel like you are on top of the world. There is nothing beyond the great white snow and the sky. When the snow would blow around, you could not tell the difference between the ground and sky.

More flat land on the Golden Circle.

More flat land on the Golden Circle.

We then found Þingvellir as a mysterious side road that led to the left. What is Þingvellir you ask? It’s where Iceland’s political matters were traditionally settled for over a thousand years. The Þ is pronounced as “th” so I believe you say it as “Thing-veil-air.” I’m awful at pronunciations though, so don’t trust me on that. The other notable thing here that drew me like a bee to nectar is the rift valley. Iceland exists at a location where the European and North American plates are pulling apart. If it was the right time of year, you can visit Lake Silfra which has some of the clearest water in the world. At one point, you can touch both continental plates at once. Alas, we didn’t see that. We had a long way to travel, but we took dozens of photos and videos. I did my second change of clothes as I shrugged into another top before we got out.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir

It was cold here, no lie. Snow covered everything. We walked on this wooden walkway between two high walls and looked down. We realized that we couldn’t see how far down it was under the bridge. Just rocks jutting out as far down as you could see. The path here through this “canyon” was fairly narrow. We then walked on down and came across more places to view the largest natural lake in Iceland. T and my BFF found a narrow zig-zag staircase leading up. The steps were pure ice. I followed after them as I watched in fascination as they clung to the rail like hiking a vertical wall. It was a good thing I had on my ridiculous hunting gloves to give me a better grip. I didn’t see it, but T reported that he got to the top, took a few steps and hit the ground thanks to the ice. We then walked around, enjoying The snow began fall in earnest. We headed back after deciding we were too cold to walk towards the church in the valley below.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir

Ah, European bathrooms — you had to pay to go in. We had no coins, so I had to solider it on.

Just past Þingvellir, the road wound through scrub bushes. At this point, I passed out despite protests from T that I should stay awake. He had slept on the plane, but I had not. When I woke again, we had arrived at Geysir. We thought we had missed it, but when T turned the SUV around, we saw steam rising from the ground. We parked and I declined to go with them. I was too exhausted to keep my eyes open. I did wander inside the visitor center/store to the restroom. The leather bags, sweaters, and other goods were almost too irresistible. Fortunately, I had no cash, so I couldn’t spend a dime (side note: I felt so safe in Iceland with it’s extremely low crime rate that I left my purse in the car everywhere we went. I did take it inside our lodgings at night tho). Once outside, I decided to walk up to the first geysir. It was disappointing.

I then found a large crow/raven walking around in the parking lot. I tried to film it, but some other tourists interrupted. So I went back to the car and read the guidebook when T and my BFF returned. They had gone further and saw a mini eruption. According to the guidebook, the famous geysir used to go off all the time. However, it stopped in the 1960s for unknown reasons. So for special guests, they’ll dump soap powder in it to trigger an eruption.

Onwards we headed towards Gullfoss — the destination my BFF had asked in particular about visiting. The road to Gullfoss rises up on a semi-steep hill. I spent long moments throughout the trip worried that we’d slide off the road to our deaths. However, we made it safely up the hill. In the near distance a canyon spread the ground to our right. I rightly guessed that it was the river that made up Gullfoss. It was bitterly cold. When I think back on the trip, this was the part where I was coldest. The icy snow whipped our faces and our two layers of pants made no difference. But as we descended the long staircase downwards, I looked to the left halfway down. “Wow,” I breathed aloud. The view was unbelievable.

The legend behind this place is true. A woman at the turn of the 20th century walked from here all the way to the Reykjavik to protest turning the waterfalls to a dam. She lost her court case, but public opinion was with her, so the waterfall was protected. The woman is a hero and one to look to for inspiration in protecting our natural wonders.

As gorgeous as Gullfoss was, it was too cold to stay. We made it back to our SUV and discovered a joy: heated seats. We abused this privilege for the rest of the trip. We shivered in the car while we figured out our route to Borgarnes, our destination for the night. Around this point, I found out something cool. While our phones data was turned off for obvious international travel reasons, our GPS still worked in Google Maps. We could get an approximate idea of where we were by looking at Maps. We used this over and over as I was the official navigator for the trip.

T planning our route.

T planning our route.

The trip from the Golden Circle was scary. This was probably the second most unnerving part of our trip. The snowstorm that had began at Þingvellir was in full-swing as we headed west back into it. At times we could not see the road at all and visibility dropped to just feet in front of us. If it wasn’t for those yellow markers on the side of the road, it’d been too easy for us to have been lost somewhere on these high plains. Our fellow drivers? They drove wildly through the snow, trusting in their super sized tires.

We eventually stumbled free back to Reykjavik and then headed north. This was our second view of the ocean. Earlier we had spotted the white waves crashing in the darkness as we drove from the airport. But now we could see the deep blue of the water as it crashed along the bay. Ice pelleted the car. The views were spectacular as you may expect. I was surprised when we went through a long under the bay tunnel. It was unsettling because of how wet it was. Every few hundred yards would be a pull-off with fire extinguishers. At the end, we had to pay a $10 toll to continue on. We thought we were out of the worst of the storm, but we ran into some more white outs as we curved around a mountain. Next, we stopped at the weird, but “cheap” grocery store, Bonus. T believes this is basically Iceland’s version of Aldi’s. That is, reasonably cheap but the kinds of food you have there will never be stable. They purchase whatever they can to resale to you.

We then had a fun time figuring out which was butter and what was cheese. The freezer section was a semi-enclosed back corner of the store. You walked in and circled the area looking at food stuff. There was lots of fish as to be expected. The assortment of available products was odd, but I think that goes with the Aldi’s like aspect. We eventually settled on purchasing some single bags of rice and butter. The cashier stumbled through English with T. We then went out into the middle of nowhere. Then we made a right turn on route 50 and went even further to nowhere. We eventually came to our Airbnb host’s house. She was not home, but her father/father-in-law greeted us. He spoke no English and we no Icelandic. But he then drove ahead of us to our cabin for the night. That’s right, drove even further away.

The first cabin

The first cabin

When we came to the cabin, we realized it was a fishing lodge that they let out the rest of the year. But it was wonderfully warm. We brought in our stuff, careful to remove our shoes. There was a loft above the bathroom, entrance, and bedrooms, but we did not visit it. I ended up collapsing on my bed and sleeping. My BFF and T protested, but I closed them out and slept on the narrow bed. T came and got me for dinner. Turns out that canned ham is disgusting. But I ate my rice, nodding all the way. Then I retreated to bed again. At some point, I woke up, looked out the window and realized we were not as far away from other people as we thought. In the distance I could see some house lights. This pattern repeated throughout our trip. I then tried to snuggle with T, but the narrowness of the bed sent me back to my own.

Little Details

Iceland water is either the best water you’ve ever tasted in your life or sulfur. Fortunately, it was overwhelming delicious, but I can’t get over the smell of the sulfurous water when I raised my toothbrush to my mouth at the horse farm.

All the furniture, showers, kitchenware, bunk beds, and maybe even the towels were from Ikea. I thought it was a quirk at first, but after seeing the familiar logo at our various Airbnb locations, I realized that Ikea was everywhere. A quick search revealed there is only one Ikea in the country. Yet we found their merchandise everywhere we went.

Stop signs appear to only exist in Reykjavik and Akureyri. Okay, all the one bridges in the east also warn you to watch out for oncoming traffic. It was very odd to be able to zoom around wherever we liked w/o traffic signs.

We could not tell the difference between butter and cheese at the pervy pig logo store, Bonus.

I spotted one cop car the whole time. There were also three emergency vehicles. No ambulances or firetrucks, just some huge tired SUVs which had “EMERGENCY” on them.

Every single place, including the hotel, had an electric kettle. This is awesome.

Darien Library Does Frozen

The fantastic ladies of the Children’s Library dressed up as Frozen characters for the December 30th Sing Along. They dressed up, took the photos, and sent me the link. I then selected these 5 photos out of 456 shots and created these images from them. Elsa took the longest to create. I believe the total time was probably around 5 hours.

These photos are the property of Darien Library. Frozen belongs to Disney.