Travel Magic


One of the things I love about traveling is the variety of languages you get to hear during the day.

In a five minute time span yesterday afternoon while visiting Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s iconic Lutheran church, we had a conversation in German with a couple from Koblenz, then a few words in Spanish with a fellow, followed by a conversation with another New England couple and, of course, English.

We’ve been hearing and having conversations like that all week, and it’s one of my secret payoffs of a vacation abroad.

When my dad got done with his pediatric residency, the first thing he did was to lobby his advisor for an assignment overseas. He was offered a post in Africa but turned it down because he couldn’t take my mom with him. Then he got an offer to go to Peru for a year or two to focus on infant nutrition, and, in feeding his wanderlust, he jumpstarted mine and my sister’s.

My love of travel grew to include a love languages. We picked up a fair amount of Spanish during our two stints in Peru and then later in school. Traveling to see family in Europe give us a chance to pick up German which we also took in school. I took Arabic for a brief time during the first Gulf War in conjunction with a course on Middle East history, and picked up a smattering of French, Russian, and Italian during travels in Eastern and western Europe and from my beloved Pimsleur cassettes. We got the Pimsleur CDs for Icelandic a few months ago and, over the past few days, we’ve been adding vocabulary and trying to improve pronunciation.

One of the things I’ve noticed, is that while at first a new language may seem totally different from any others, eventually recognizable patterns appear.  There are overlaps from other languages and cultures that could only result from a deep connection in our histories, whether through conquest, trade or migration. I think that’s what I love about languages.

They’re rich in their differences, but ultimately they all tell a story of how we’re all connected as one human family.

I was thinking about picking up a pendant with the ægishjálmur (the Helm of Awe) or the (Vegvísir, to help find your way through storms), but I decided to make my own. Mine is the Nomad’s Magical Stave of Connectedness.

To use it, all you have to do is wave at the person sitting in the row of seats across from you at the airport or at the bus station or at the next table.
And it’s not just for the people who hop on a plane or bus to go somewhere; it’s for all of us wander, looking for that human connection.

And I think there may be a lot of us like that these days.

Meanwhile, on the home front


imageWhile we’re away, our pets  are staying at a very nice boarding place in southwestern Vermont. Katie the Wonder Dog is always excited to go. Snoop, our fat black God a pleasure, is not such a fan of any situation that involves a cat carrier.

My Sketchy Trip – Fear Less


Helm of Awe

Not surprisingly while traveling in a Nordic country, we’ve been seeing keychains and pendants another souvenir items adorned with Runes and traditional Icelandic magical staves. The Helm of Awe’s design kept getting my attention. Depending on which pendant or keychain you pick up, the description on the back will tell you that the stave’s purpose is to induce fear or to protect against the abuse of power.

The description I’ve liked best is that the Helm of Awe is supposed to protect you from fear. I think that’s the most powerful protection since, in the absence of fear, almost anything else is possible.

It seems to be a popular symbol, and I guess it makes sense.

Icelanders live daily with the knowledge that one of their many volcanoes could erupt in a big way. They’ve adapted technology to warn and help them, but they don’t seem to spend their lives worrying about things they can’t control. If anything they’ve found ways to make the fire under the ice useful — generating power and heat — accomplishments that would be impossible if fear ruled the land.

I may pick up one of those talismans in the next few days.


Geyser in the town of Geyser


Can’t Stop


pitstop at Þingvellir National Park

About three years ago we took a trip out to Spokane, Washington to visit the Big Guy’s brother. our western family, being extraordinarily awesome hosts, and kicked off the week with a visit to Montana’s Hiawatha Trail, a mountain bike trail that runs 15 miles downhill through an old railroad bed. The trip was easy, the scenery was breathtaking, and the four of us couldn’t stop smiling for days.

We’ve been back to Spokane into the Palouse, and it has spawned some of the most creative periods in my life. I knew that intense drive what happened again, I just didn’t know how to spark it.

I don’t need an intense flame sit down and paint or draw, but wasn’t until today that I really remembered how about frenzied need to create felt.

 It happened about the time our tour bus was driving us around Þingvellir Lake as our guide pointed out the side of the world oldest parliament (now buried and then relocated to Reykjavík after an earthquake) and a great crevice that divided the north American and duration tectonic plates. Mother Nature’s massive,carved mountains surrounded us, bathed in Iceland’s early autumn sun. We segued to the largest waterfall in Europe–almost as big as Niagara Falls and unmarred by any shops — and then went on to look at a nearby geysers, surpassed in size only by Old Faithful in Yellowstone national park.

The Icelanders have built only the minimum of safety features around these powerful displays of nature, and we were separated from the danger only by a thin rope that served as a reminder not to go too far. Nowhere did the ropes prevent us from opening our souls to the spray of the falls and the bursting steam of the geysers, I’m by the days and none of us could stop smiling.

And the same awesome power of nature that has semi-permanently plastered smiles on our faces seem to have magically filled the first pages of my sketchbook. Seems like there could be a connection.



We’ve done a couple museums in Reykjavík, some silly and some serious, we’ve done some souvenir shopping, and a lot of walking around, but there was an odd feeling chasing me a good part of the day. It wasn’t until we left Iceland National Museum and walked toward the park, that I realized what it was.

About 17 years ago work moved us to a town in Germany, just in time for T1’s arrival. I had family in that town, so for us the transition was easy. The generous healthcare and maternity leave and the lifestyle in general grew on us quickly. Had it not been for my job that had me working far longer each week than originally agreed upon, we would have stayed indefinitely. 

 We love Vermont, but part of me still misses that place. 

The last couple days I have been sensing echoes of that lifestyle. We have been surrounded by a symphony of languages. Icelandic and German have mutual sources so similar patterns are becoming more obvious, but, as we found in German cities, we keep catching snippets of conversations in languages other than the local one. The Icelanders, while slightly less formal than Germans, share many customs and the cityscape shares much of the same design and pedestrian-friendly functionality of many modern European cities.  
So when we turned into this small city’s park, with its fountain and duckpond that looked almost exactly like the Stadtpark in T1’s original home town, I felt like I was coming home for more reasons than one.