Friday, January 7, 2011

Buying woollen things

I said I would write more about Iceland and then I forgot. Whoops! Here goes, then - I did a bunch of shopping when I was in Iceland. I am not much of a shopper when I'm at home, but I do like visiting shops in unfamiliar places, that carry unfamiliar goods. I don't always buy much, but it's fun to look.

Iceland has a reputation for being very expensive, and this is true to some extent; food and alcohol are especially high-priced (with the exception of fish, lamb, and brennivin), and a lot of the items in shops would be much cheaper anywhere other than in Iceland. Check out these Silly Bandz knockoffs selling for almost $3 a dozen!


I don't shop for Silly Bandz regularly but I hope that's not how much they cost in the US, because if so all those poor kids are getting shafted.

But there are bargains to be had in Iceland, especially on wool. Did you know that in Icelandic the word for "money" and the word for "sheep" is the same word? That's what a shopkeeper told me, and this online English-Icelandic dictionary backs me up.

One nice thing about buying wool products in Iceland is that if you export them you can get all your VAT (something like 15%) back, no matter how much wool you buy. These yarns cost about half as much in Iceland as they do in the US, so there are great bargains to be had for knitters. They also have wool for felting at what appeared to be an excellent price, though I am not a felter so I don't know how it compares. I bought a lot of yarn at the Handknitting Association of Iceland shop, enough to fill my small suitcase (fortunately, I had brought an extra suitcase in anticipation of this event). Most of it was for me, but some was for a friend. I swear! I wish I'd bought more.


The Handknitting Association also sells great handmade Lopi sweaters, which are very, very popular in Iceland, though I think most of the ones you see Icelanders wearing are not just handmade but homemade - all Icelanders learn to knit in primary school, and Lopi sweaters are not difficult to knit, so pretty much any grandma or aunt (or uncle or whatever!) has the know-how to make one of these. Non-knitters can skip the rest of this paragraph, but knitting nerds may be interested to know that Lopi sweaters are knitted from the bottom up, in the round, from bulky weight Icelandic wool, and they feature a stranded colorworked yoke, often featuring 3-4 shades of the same color (grays, browns, or blues, for example). Pullovers, buttoned cardigans, and zip cardigans are all pretty popular.

As a knitter, I chose to buy the yarn and knit my own, but if you don't knit but want a great souvenir of Iceland, I think a Lopi sweater is a great choice - they're very attractive, unmistakeably Icelandic, and super-useful (I use mine in place of a jacket in fall and early winter). They're scratchy, but they're also nearly waterproof, and pretty durable. If you can't afford the prices in the tourist shops, check out the Icelandic Red Cross thrift store on Laugavegur in Reykjavik - you might luck out and find a used one you like there.

In addition to the yarn, I bought two scarves, one fancy and one functional, both of Icelandic wool. I spent way too much on the fancy scarf but I love it. It's by a small Icelandic brand called Kurlproject (WARNING: site plays music automatically, ugh). It seems like everyone in Iceland is either a clothing designer or a musician. Or both.

I also bought an adorable felt Christmas ornament:


The brand on this one is Kata Handverk, and the crafter had loads of different types of ornaments and figurines, all the same basic shape. I wish I'd gotten her little nativity/creche! It was so cute. On the other hand, I don't really have any spare surfaces in my apartment that I want to turn over to a nativity scene and I'm not really religious. So, maybe I was right. I like buying souvenir Christmas ornaments, because you don't get used to them - you get to rediscover and remember them every year when you trim the tree.

I bought some other stuff but it was mostly junk. The main exports of Iceland are fish, fishing-related equipment, aluminum, software, and woolen goods. I don't really need any aluminum or fishing-related equipment, software I can buy pretty easily from home, and I can't legally import fish into the US. So woolens it is! Oh, and some cute little hand-carved wooden sheep for a toddler cousin.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I think a lot of people have the experience where they're dreaming but they're frozen - unable to move to run away from something or towards something or whatever. This makes a lot of sense, since when you're in dream-stage sleep all your muscle movements are frozen, and just like a light or noise from outside of your brain can sneak into your dream (I once had a dream that a friend was excitedly telling me about the Red Sox home opener, which turned out to be my clock radio telling me the same information), the feeling of paralysis can sneak into your dream as well (I think! Any stray sleep scientists stumbling across this blog, please correct me as necessary!).

I had a weird variation on this experience the other night. I dreamt that I was on a subway with some (ill-defined) friends, and someone started singing the Hallelujah Chorus (sort of like one of those Hallelujah Chorus flashmobs you see on YouTube). I tried to join in on the soprano part (because no one else was singing it), but I could only make choking, squawking noises. I strongly suspect that if anyone had been in the room with me, they would have complained to me in the morning about how I had been waking them up with my weird chokey squawky noises. I think my sleep-paralyzed vocal chords weren't responding to my brain's message ("Sing 'King of Kings!', dammit!") and I worked that "my voice doesn't work" feeling into the dream. I can't think of another time when I've dreamed about singing; I wonder if this always happens?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday! Celebrate! Waffles!

I had a very low-key holiday season this year, with one exception - I was supposed to go to New Orleans but was prevented by a blizzard. That was frustrating, and required me to spend a lot of time on the phone trying to contact airlines and travel agents, but what can you do? I'll make it to New Orleans someday, and in the meantime my airfare's being refunded.

And the blizzard also meant I got a great chance to try out my new snowshoes (a Christmas present) on the rail trail behind my dad's house, which was a lot of fun. Sadly, the blizzard was a coastal storm so by the time I got back home to the Valley there wasn't any snow to speak of, but I'm sure it will come soon enough. Hopefully I'll be able to procure some gaiters and trekking poles by the time it shows up. I also got a lot done around the house while I was not in New Orleans (including a redo of my bedroom, pics to follow).

I got a NordicWare Belgian Waffler for Christmas. This is a stove-top waffle maker (not electric), and it's how we made waffles in my house growing up (and by "we," I mean "my dad"). I wanted one of these because, dammit, sometimes you want waffles, and pancakes won't do! But I didn't want a big counter-top appliance that I would have to store someplace. The Belgian Waffler fits in my cabinet with the cookie sheets and the muffin pans. It's a bit harder to master than an electric waffle maker, but I was able to make recognizable (and delicious) waffles on my first try.

I made Overnight Waffles from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. (Actually this was either from the original, yellow cover copy of HTCE or HTCE Vegetarian but the same recipe is in all three books.)

The great thing about this yeast-risen waffle recipe is that (as the name suggests) you mix it up the night before so, #1, you hardly have to do any work in the morning to actually prepare the waffles and, #2, you get to go to sleep dreaming of waffles. I was slightly uncomfortable about leaving dairy-containing batter out overnight, but I put my trust in Bittman and sure enough, my fears were unfounded. If you don't feel like whipping egg whites in the morning, don't worry about it, just throw the eggs in. I whipped the whites because I had just rescued my old hand mixer from my dad's attic, where it had been since sometime in 2002.

I put the extra waffles in the freezer and I heated one up for breakfast this morning - ace! I will be making some whole-grain waffles for the freezer soon, since I generally try to make my weekday breakfasts healthier than white-flour waffles. For the past couple of months I have been eating like some kind of feral animal that lives behind a candy factory, so although I'm not making a formal New Year's resolution, I am going to try to eat healthier in the coming months.