Sunday, December 28, 2008

We Have Not See Much of the Sun

This picture was taken in Reykjavik on December 26 at 2:15 in the afternoon - notice how low the sun is over the horizon. We haven't seen much of the sun as is has been very cloudy plus this is as high as it gets so it often can't be seen above the buildings. The weather has been very hard to follow too. We went from shoveling snow several times a day for a week to no snow in two days of constant rain. Then when it came time to drive our 65 km trip into Reykjavik to serve a Christmas brunch to members and non-members without family (the missionaries asked us to provide a Christmas meal for them) we had a bigger surprise. Eileen cooked up a great brunch the night before and we headed off not looking at the road conditions or weather as it had been so nice. Just outside of Selfoss we hit a blizzard but it only lasted 5 minutes or so and then we could see our mountain drive ahead and it looked clear so we kept going. We made it to the top of the mountain without any trouble when the next blizzard hit. It was total white out and I was creeping along watching for the poles on the side of the highway and making sure the cars coming at us were in their lane. We came to a place where 5 cars were pulled off to the side headed toward Selfoss. Since we at times could not see the front of the car Eileen suggested maybe we should turn around. Just then I looked in the rear view mirror and could see the cars turning around to head back to Reykjavik and decided they must figure it is better the way we were going so we kept on. It was along time before we got out of the blizzard and then the road was a mess but we made it in time for our brunch. Afterward it was time to head back to Selfoss with the missionaries for a Christmas dinner we were all invited to. I check the forecast and road conditions and decided we would have to take a much longer route back which even looked chancy but turned out to be quite easy compared to the trip in. We had a great traditional Icelandic Christmas dinner with a great family that decided since the real tradition is smoked lamb but we would probably like regular lamb better had both. Since we had the traditional Icelandic Christmas dinner with another family Christmas Eve with the smoked lamb we knew she made the correct choice. On the 26th we had to take the missionaries back to Reykjavik so that is how we got to see the sun. I am also taking care of the work the couple that had to leave unexpectedly normally does, so I got caught up and sent off the weekly financial reports to the mission office before we came home Saturday. Saturday evening Eileen remembered the Branch President had called Monday and asked us to speak in Sacrament Meeting. So we spent the evening preparing talks but had to do them in English with so little time to prepare. One member translated for Eileen and another for me and all went well. We then got invited to another members home for dinner today. They have a young family so it was fun to be at their home and enjoy an all vegetable dinner that was very good. Tomorrow we are back with the missionaries to teach Auður who has January 17 baptism date and Gyða who postponed her baptism and the date needs to be reset.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rotten Skate or how could anyone eat the stuff

“Rotten” Skate and Shopping Fury
Today is the last day before Christmas, known as Thorláksmessa (“The Mass of St. Thorlákur,” Iceland’s patron saint). The day is celebrated by eating putrefied skate and buying the last Christmas presents.
Thorláksmessa is celebrated in the memory of Thorlákur “the Holy” Thórhallsson, who was Bishop at Skálholt in Iceland in the 12th century. He died December 23, 1193, which became a holiday in 1199. In 1985 Pope John Paul II appointed Thorlákur “the Holy” as the patron saint of Iceland.
The Catholic Church in Iceland is the third largest religious community in Iceland and nine Catholic churches offer services in various parts of the country.
The tradition of eating putrefied skate originates in the West Fjords, but is now common in all parts of the country. The fish delicacy is usually served boiled with potatoes, turnips and hamsatólg, melted sheep fat.
People who want to avoid bringing the stench of skate to their homes—it smells strongly of ammonia—order the fish at restaurants instead. (avoid all restaurants this time of year or you won't be able to eat anyway)
Strange-Smelling Delicacy
Putrefied skata, or “skate,” a fish related to sharks, has a strange smell. That I have to admit, but nevertheless I love the taste of it and have eaten it since I was a small boy in the West Fjords. Many young Icelanders have failed to test this delicacy since the strong odor discourages them from trying it.
But skata is just like any strong smelling cheese or even some fruit, like Durian which is considered a delicacy in Thailand. Skata has a wonderful, sweet taste and those Icelanders who still eat it will stuff themselves on Thorláksmessa (Mass of St. Thorlák, patron saint of Iceland, celebrated on December 23) because most feast on it only once a year.
In the West Fjords people like to have their skata very strong. It is so putrefied that when you take the first bite it will numb your nose and throat – so strong is the smell. The habitual way of cooking it is to boil it for about ten minutes. Then the fish is taken from the bones, some lamb fat mör is added, and then this sort of stew is served with boiled potatoes and brown rye bread. When the skötustappa or “skate stew” has cooled down it becomes hard and can be sliced like paté and is usually eaten with butter and dark rye bread. It is a heavenly meal. But the smell is terrible and clothes reek of what they have been downing. The smell is persistent and the only way to get it out of the clothes is to wash them.
The strange smell of skata is everywhere in the air and some can’t stand it. Some try to lessen the odor in their houses by cooking their skata outside on the barbecue. Those well schooled in the tradition simply cook their Christmas smoked lamb hangikjöt after the skate and the odor disappears entirely as the wonderful aroma of the smoked lamb fills the apartment.
My father-in-law is as avid lover of putrefied skata. He is a former fisherman and processed his own skata for many years. In the South the skate is processed in a somewhat milder manner than in the West Fjords and salted. This is fantastic food, a wonderful gourmet meal for those who acquire the taste..........

Picture of skata courtesy of

The processing is similar. Shark, though, can be poisonous if it is cooked fresh out of the sea. It needs the processing of being kept for weeks under stones and turf and then being hung out for drying in the cold climate. Skata is similarly processed but this kind of food is by no means rotten or damaged. It is only fermented like cheese, and is very healthy. The oil from putrefied shark is considered very good for the system. Some even believe it can prevent cancer.
I also learned many things about skata which I did not know: one guy whose entry I read claims skata takes his migraine away. My grandmother, who had stomach problems, always said skata was one of the best things she could eat. It made her cramps go away just like good putrefied shark did. (It probably burned the lining out of her stomach so what's left to hurt?)
I once had the opportunity to go to the West Fjords by ship at this time of the year. There had been no flights to the West Fjords for more than a week due to constant storms and blizzards. All roads were filled with snow, so the authorities decided to assign one of the Coast Guard vessels to take some of the unfortunate people who were locked in Reykjavík home for Christmas.
The weather was extremely bad: high seas and storm. We left Reykjavík at 5.30 in the morning of 23 December. The voyage over Faxaflói bay was rough and I could see that many of the fifty passengers were getting seasick. People’s faces were white and green and there was puke everywhere. Then at 11:30 the “wonderful” aroma of skata sneaked upon the other poor passengers who were only on the brink of sea sickness. That did it, puke multiplied for most of them, not me though.
I was beginning to feel quite groggy when I snuck into the mess to have a plate of skötustappa like I had done all of my life on Thorláksmessa. It was good for me and I felt much better in my stomach afterwards. The voyage was a wonderful adventure, although quite rough.
Now for my observations: Last night we were called and invited to partake of Skata at a local restaurant and then go Christmas Caroling and also, as an aside, could we possibly drive everyone around. This was from the SYAs of the branch in Reykjavik. We refused the Skata or even going to where they were eating it so we arranged to pick them up to sing and when they opened the door the odor that came in with them was a cross between old dog pee on your shoe and opening a bottle Ammonia to clean with. It had been two hours and a shower since they had eaten the Skata but they still carried the smell. The Elders told us that in the restaurant with them were a family introducing their young children to Skata. The one little boy took a big bite, gagged, spit it back out and would not eat anymore. Their parents pointed at the Elders and said to their children, "see those are Americans and they ate all of their Skata, do you want American's to eat it and not you." No problem, I am with the little boy, no way am I eating something that smells like I should be washing it away with a hose to clean up the back yard.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oh Holy Night - Tradition Live On

Eileen has sung Oh Holy Night every Christmas I can remember except our first mission. This year we had a pianist who could play for her so she was going to sing at our Christmas program tonight. When the Wohlgemuth's had to return home early we looked for ways to provide accompaniment and found a two verse mp3 version. It was not the best but it works. Then this morning we did not have any special music for Sacrament Meeting so I suggested Eileen sing between talks. She sang as beautiful as ever and had several members in tears. The speaker following thanked Systir Bremner for bringing the Spirit of Christmas into her heart. The attached video is for those of you who miss hearing Eileen sing Oh Holy Night - sorry it is no where as good as her nor is it the version she sings but the best I could find! Have a Merry Christmas and may we ever proclaim His power and glory and serve Him.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Grateful for Studded Tires

It appears every time we have to go somewhere this is what we are greeted with - actually this is lite compared to some days. I developed the way to clear the car which is with a big broom first and then the ice scraper to clear the ice. We are blessed though with studded tires or as they call them winter wheels or tires with nails. The first week we were here we didn't have them and the Elders had to push us out of a members driveway. Now we can go just about anywhere. We almost got stuck in Reykjavik yesterday leaving the apartment as the snow had built up along side the car and when I pulled over it to get out of our parking (parallel) spot we had quite a time getting over the pile but thanks to studded tires we make it. I can see they are very damaging to the roads as there are groves in the streets and highways but they sure are nice for getting around in the snow and ice which we have lots.

My Snow Shovel Grew Up

After the last posting we headed to Reykjavik to take care of the work there since the other couple had to go home suddenly. When we arrived I had more snow to shovel there and their shovel was worse than what I was using in Selfoss. We went out to buy groceries and traffic was bumper to bumper on the main highway so I decided to take the city streets (first of all I have no knowledge of the street system but it was a better idea than bumper to bumper traffic in the snow). I came to a 3 way intersection and took the middle lane which meant I had to go up a hill. Sitting at the light I said to Eileen I think this was a mistake as the road doesn't appear to go anywhere at the top of the hill. I was committed though and so we went. The road went right into the parking lot of Byko - a Home Depot type store. I decided as long as were are here let's see if they have snow shovels even though the store in Selfoss did not. Sure enough they had them ranging in price from $50 to $100. I bought the $10 variety in the US - the $50 one here and went back to the apartment and cleared the sidewalks again and several more times before we left. Now we are back in Selfoss and if it wasn't for the weather forecast which says it is going to warm up and rain next week I think I have the way to bring about a White Christmas. Every time I clear the sidewalks it starts snowing just as I am finishing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let it Snow Let it Snow - NO!

Systir Bremner said I will help with the snow removal today. Well the picture shows how far she got as she is standing inside taking the picture of me as I finished the steps and the walk to our door but decided to quit before going on to our neighbors as it is snowing again. It seems I no more than get the walks and steps cleared and it starts snowing again. Seems crazy - at home we live in a townhouse where the snow removal is contracted out and here I have more to do than if I did it at home. You can see I don't really have a snow shovel either. You would think in a country where it snows so much you could get a snow shovel but when we asked the landlord for one this is what he bought us. I have looked too and can't find one. The worst is now that we spend time in Reykjavík when we get back here the snow is packed down from all the traffic to the neighbors. OH well the life of a missionary!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sticker Shock!

Boy did I have a shock yesterday. We had a small paper back book and puppet to send home. It was very light and in an envelope. I figured it would cost a few dollars to send but not too much as the dress we sent to Heidi only cost $10 for postage and $10 for tracking. The package yesterday was lighter than the dress and we did not ask for tracking or any other services and it cost over $25. Inflation is high here but I didn't expect that at all.

For those who wonder about the picture - Eileen has been after me to take it ever since she saw it which was probably the first few days. As everyone knows all of our grandchildren are special and so she wanted to share this one.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Friday we left Reykjavík early for a 6 hour drive to Akureyri to visit the members who have been very isolated from the Church for many years. We visited with several members and had meals with a couple having traditional soups and breads. Sunday as we were getting ready to go to Church, Elder Wohlgemuth suddenly got ill. We gave him a blessing and he and Sister Wohlgemuth decided to stay at the hotel. (That is another story. We arrived Friday and the owner gave us keys, his bank account number and told us how much the bill would be and said he and all staff were leaving town until after we left so just make ourselves at home, get breakfast in the kitchen and pay our bill by bank transfer to his bank account.) We had Church with the four missionaries, 3 non members and 5 members. After Church I called the Wohlgemuth´s as we were going an hours north to visit another family. They said they would just stay in the hotel. It was dark as we headed north along the fjord on snow and ice covered roads and then a single lane tunnel that went at least a mile with pull outs so if you saw someone coming you could get out of their way. We had a great visit with Thiago and his wife who is taking the missionary lessons and their daughter Maindrah. We got back to the hotel about 9 PM to find that the Wohlgemuth´s were leaving to go home to Utah. He had called the Church doctors and his home doctor and it was decided based on his symptoms to go home to his doctor. Since they only had two months left on their mission and the condition was serious enough to warrant specialized medical care the Church felt it was best to fly them home immediately. Monday we took them to the airport and then started our drive back to Reykjavík on snow packed and icy roads that had developed even worse over the night. When we got to the Wohlgemuth´s we helped Sister Wohlgemuth pack (Elder Wohlgemuth was to do nothing) and then this morning we drove them to the airport and sent them on their way home to Utah. We will miss them very much and even more when I have to register the new missionaries arriving early in January. This was Elder Wohlgemuth´s job and he was going to train the new couple arriving mid January to take their place. So I will be busy learning the bureaucracy of Iceland as we were half asleep when we spent the day going from one location to another establishing our residency permit.

The photos are: the main highway #1 in Iceland Monday afternoon in northern Iceland, the fjord at Akureyri, the Thiago family, and those at Church in Akureyri.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Blue Lagoon and a Miracle

The Wohlgemuth's who live in Reykjavík go swimming everyday for their exercise but their pool is closed this week so they asked us if we would like to go to the Blue Lagoon today. After teaching a lesson this morning we drove to Reykjavík and picked them us. We had a nice surprise when we went to pay. The cashier asked if we live in Iceland (which he could tell as we used our Icelandic bankcard to pay). He then said it is 2 for the price of 1 today. We later learned they are sending coupons to Icelanders for the 2 for 1 price. With the current exchange rate the cost was $19 for the two of us. We spent about 3 hours soaking in a variety of temperatures of water from cool to extremely hot. I tried the sauna but it was too hot for me and I went back to the hottest water where my head was freezing. The temperature was minus 2 with winds strong enough to keep the flag flying straight out so you can imagine the need to keep dunking my head under the water. Now for the miracle. With the low air temperature and the high water temperature my glasses kept fogging and then after many times of dunking them they got a film on them that I could not see through. I ended up pushing them up over my forehead. We had moved from one area where we had been sitting with our heads just above the water to where we were walking in about 4 inches of white silica mud on the bottom and just keeping our heads just above the water. To get my head warm I was floating around on my back. I reached up on my head and my glasses were gone. Now think about this scene. We have been moving around in water up to our necks, the bottom is 4 inches deep silica mud and the water is a milky blue white and salty. You can´t go under to look and you can´t see an inch into the water. We started feeling with our feet and I thought this is a waste of time. I have no idea where they came off and look how much area we have to look blindly through with our feet. Eileen quickly came to the rescue and said let's say a pray and ask Heavenly Father to help us find the glasses. About 5 minutes later Elder Wohlgemuth pulled my glasses out of the water. I said how did you find them and he said I just felt them with my feet. A miracle - yes, I don´t believe there is any other way we could have found them.

About the pictures, if we had tried to take pictures you would just see steam blowing. You could not see more than 20 feet at the most and most of the time much less as the steam was blowing across the water blocking sight of the facility.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Great Quotes

We just got the October Ensign and I really like the quote of Elder Neal A. Maxwell page 31 "Murmuring noisy enough that it drowns out the various spiritual signals to us, signals which tell us in some cases to quit soaking ourselves indulgently in the hot tubs of self-pity! Murmuring over the weight of our crosses not only takes energy otherwise needed to carry them but might cause another to put down his cross altogether." Wow we all know murmuring is a waste of time and energy but even worse is what it might do to someone else.

Another great quote was on page 19 by a recent convert Norman Kamosi referring to an expression used in Africa. "When you see people throwing stones at the mango tree, you know they are doing so because the tree is bearing good fruit. So I said to myself, 'Since people are criticizing the Church, it must have something special, something good.' I said, 'We have to investigate the Church. Something good is in there.'"