Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in Iceland

Merry Christmas to everyone from beautiful Iceland. First of all we have no snow and the temperatures have been just 2 to 6 degrees below freezing so it has been very nice.

We started our Christmas with Eileen opening her present from me via the internet. I asked Amanda to buy the present and take pictures and send via email. Then we opened packages from Lisa´s family. Next we invited the Elders to share our traditional Christmas breakfast of Eggs Benedict. Kristi sent us Hollandaise sauce packets last year and again this year for us to enjoy our tradition. We added Dutch Babies this year as it was closer to brunch than breakfast. Next Eileen made a couple of apple pies and I made sweet potato casserole to take to dinner with a great family here in the Selfoss Branch. Bettina is German and Ronald is half German/half Icelandic. They prepared a wonderful Christmas dinner so much like our Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners with turkey and all the trimmings. They have two boys and 3 girls and it was fun to share Christmas with them. Icelanders love candles - over 40 were lit in this house. After dinner Bettina asked Elder Walsh to play some Christmas songs on the clarinet. He wasn't too excited to do it as he has not played in over a year but he did fine. We also talked about our own Christmas traditions. It was a fun evening and a great way to spend Christmas.

Christmas Eve Ugandan Style in Iceland

Christmas Eve started with a District Meeting from 4 to 5:30PM. Then all 10 of us went to Courtney and Betty Ward´s for Christmas Eve which starts the Icelandic Christmas at 6 PM. Betty is from Uganda and Courtney is from Pennsylvania. They met in Iceland while he was in the service and she had just joined the Church. He left on a mission to Korea and a month after he completed his mission they were married in the Washington DC Temple. Betty has two girls from a previous marriage and they have two of their own. They are a very special family with a love of the Gospel and they are full of charity. When she set out all the food I thought she had prepared for 50 people but she said no Ugandan men eat lots and so she was prepared for the 8 Elders to eat lots. Well I tried but the young Elders did a good job trying to eat it all. We had flavored rice, meatballs, Icelandic potatoes in a white sauce, turkey Ugandan style, deep fried chicken, deep fried potatoes and lamb Uganda style. Sister Bremner brought fruit jello and apple pie and Sister Koyle brought rolls, banana bars and homemade root-beer. There was also a pasta dish with hot dogs that never made it to the table. It was a fun Christmas Eve. The Elders wanted to hear her conversion story. We then shared the story of Christmas from the scriptures. Betty then wanted to share how happy our coming had made her because she could see her Dad sitting there so happy that she had shared this wonderful meal. She was 5 years old when he was assassinated in Uganda and 15 when her mother was assassinated. She said he looked just like she remember and he was so happy and it made her feel so happy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Very Cold Christmas Caroling

December 23 is a big day in Iceland - it 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 (known as Skata) and buying the last Christmas presents. For more details you can read our 2008 December post.

So the place to be and be seen is downtown Reykjavík. So the missionaries, the YSA's and the Branch President and his wife braved the cold to sing Christmas carols and hand out materials about Christ and His Church. The baby buggy in the pictures was loaded with packages to hand out and all the missionaries had bags full of the packages. The video is at our second stop and the other pictures were taken at our 5th and final spot where we had the most attention. Lots of people stopped to listen and all the materials were given out. The man with the beard in the inside picture was baptized a year ago and is a fantastic member missionary and Young Men´s President. He spearheaded getting the packages together which included the Restoration pamphlet, a picture of Jesus Christ, several scriptures and other items. We also handed out copies of the Liahona which featured Jesus Christ and copies of The Book of Mormon to those who showed an interest. It was a cold night but fun for everyone and afterwards we had hot chocolate and treats.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Caroling

Again this year we are doing our traditional Christmas caroling. Saturday we went to Reykjavík and started caroling with all the Icelandic missionaries (10) at 2:30 PM and continued until about 9 PM. We were all tired and cold by that time but we had sung to lots of people and driven many miles. One gentleman was just getting over an illness and he said we made him feel so good he could "feel the love" we brought with us. Then Sunday I went with our two Elders in Selfoss for about 3 hours and we sang to all their previous contacts handing out lots of goodies Eileen made. It was so fun to see all the smiles and thank yous. The Elders said many times that is the happiest I have ever seen that person. Then Monday we drove to Reykjavík and picked up the two Elders responsible for Keflavík at 2:30 PM (it is good to get an early start since it turns dark so early here) and we went to sing to several families and contacts. The picture is one couple that we had an appointment with and after we sang Anna said we were the highlite of her Christmas so far. Then the two of them sang for us which was fun. They also had treats for us. We had another long day returning to Reykjavík at 7:30 PM and home after 243 kilometers of travel. It may be long and tiring but it is fun to see the happy faces. Tonight we are going to Hveragerði with our two Selfoss Elders to sing there and then Wednesday night we are going back to Reykjavík to sing downtown with the Young Single Adults and other members of the two branches and hand out Church materials, pictures and DVD´s. December 23 in downtown Reykjavík is supposed to be the place to be with all the shops staying open until midnight and traditional Skata (rotten Skate) is served.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Drinking - I DON'T THINK SO!

This afternoon I had to drive across the bridge into Selfoss. Half way across the bridge the traffic came to a stop. This happens when the traffic is heavy as there is a traffic circle at the end of the bridge and you have to merge with other traffic in the circle. But today the traffic just was not moving and I kept thinking there must be a lot of foreigners that don´t know how to enter the circle (being such a pro at such things with my Icelandic drivers license!!). Just before getting to the circle I could see a policeman, so I got out my drivers license. When I got up to him I tried to show him my license but he shoved this device in my face. I had heard they do breathalyzer tests here so I breathed on it not knowing what to do. The policeman didn't say anything so I asked 'what do you want me to do?' He said 'blow in it!' So I did and it beeped and he said go ahead. My first ever breathalyzer test and probably only, since in the US they have to have cause to do testing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Iceland's Jólasveinar or Yule Lads

One of Iceland's Christmas folklore tales is that of the Jólasveinar. As with most folklore, there are many variations but the one that stands out today is that of 13 Christmas men or Yule Lads. Beginning 13 days before Christmas, one of the Yule Lads visits every house on their appointed day. On Wednesday we went to the National Museum to see Pottasleikeir or the Pot Licker as he is know in English. He came to visit with the children and tell his story. One author says it is a good thing these lads arrive at daily intervals, otherwise there would be a calamitous free-for-all, as they each head straight for the kitchens. The Pottasleikeir's preference is for licking the leftovers off the sides and bottoms of pans, and especially for nibbling at the crunchy hardened bits that collect around the rim.

The three characters we collected are Giljagaur who would hide in the animal quarters and wait until the milkmaid´s attention was elsewhere and then steal the creamy froth from the milk pail; Hurðaskellir who loves to disturb everyone's sleep by slamming doors; and Skyrgámur who steals from the Skyr barrels.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let us not forget why we celebrate Christmas

Amazing the beautiful videos you can find on youtube. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Nation Under God

You may have already seen this youtube video on facebook and/or other sites. I just wanted to share it again with those who read my blog. If you click on the title of the post it will take you to the artist's site and the actual picture. As you move your mouse around on the picture you will see on the side details with descriptions of the detail. The artist explains much of the symbolism in the painting and he also has options below the painting for you to request more information about the painting. The artist said be believes the Constitution was inspired of God and I believe it was too. As an inspired document we need to do all we can to keep our great nation free and to maintain the freedoms given to us by the Constitution.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Christmas Tradition

Last Christmas we were introduced to an Icelandic Christmas tradition in several homes we visited. It consisted of a wreath with four candles on it. Beginning the forth Sunday before Christmas the first candle is lit and each Sunday an additional candle is lit and then on Christmas Day all four candles are lit again. We discovered the tradition varied from family to family depending on where their ancestors came from (not all Icelanders are descended from Vikings). The symbolism of the wreath and candles we most often heard was the first candle is called the prophet's candle and is meant to signify the hope of Jesus' coming. The second is called the Bethlehem candle in honor of the city of Christ's birth. The third candle is the shepherds' candle. The final candle is the angels' candle, symbolising the angelic proclamation of joy at Christ's birth. The accumulation of light each Sunday as an additional candle is lit is an expression of the growing anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. The circular wreath represents God's eternity and unity. Evergreens are a symbol of enduring life.

The Nativity is the continuation of our tradition of putting up a Nativity every year since our first Christmas in Okinawa in 1968.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

We are OH so happy it is in the 50´s in Iceland

We have been hearing lots of complaints about the cold back home so we thought we would let you all know it is 51 degrees today and has been in the upper 40´s for several days. Of course with those temperatures it has been raining most of the time and our river that was shrinking day by day (the dark part of the river shows the rocks just below the surface we normally do not see) is back up to full flow again. We hate to think how much snow we would have if the weather was cold so of course we are indeed very grateful for global warming (if that is truly what it is since many of the Icelanders tell us of a time when there was no ice on Iceland - must have been warm then).

Yesterday we took the Elders to the port to take the ferry to the Westmann Islands. We felt bad for them for two reasons - (1) the constant rain they would be out in while in the Westmann Islands and (2) the rough trip they were going to have. As I went into the terminal to buy their tickets, I could barely stand up because of the high winds and the waves looked ferocious. The picture was taken at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the gangway. The wind was so bad that it added almost 2 hours to the normal 2 hour and 45 minute trip. They survived it though without getting sick as they were dealing with head winds rather than the normal winds from the side.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Singing for our Dinner

Last night Sister Maria Rosinkarsdóttir invited the Elders in Reykjavík to enjoy dinner with her and her grand-daughter and to then present a Christmas program using the Book of Mormon and Bible to tell the Christmas story along with Christmas carols for her daughter's family and then her son's family. We are not sure if the Elders extended the invitation to us because they needed Sister Bremner's voice (it was an absolute necessity with this group of singers) or because Sister Maria invited us for Sister Bremner's voice. Sister Maria speaks no English so we do not know the whole story. Another surprise was I was asked to say the blessing on the food and also the prayers at each of the homes (which of course had to be in English as my Icelandic prayers are very limited). Sister Maria (the only member of the Church in her family) is the sweetest lady who is trying to help her family feel the Spirit and joy she has found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The meal was a feast which the Elders thoroughly enjoyed. We did too as it was very delicious with great variety.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Would You Believe!

Here we are in Iceland not far from the North Pole. Last Sunday we went to Church in the snow and by the time it was over we had 24" of snow. I taught a lesson in our joint Priesthood/Relief Society meeting on service and it worked out great because the YM had an opportunity to serve digging around all the cars so the members could get into them. With that much snow and no snow plows out it was difficult to get home and by the time we got to our parking place the car could not push anymore snow. I had to dig out the 24" of snow in our parking place and out from under the car so I could get it parked. For the next several days it just kept blowing and twice a day I had to dig out our walk way until I had a 6' pile of snow.

Yesterday it started warming up and melted much of the snow. Today it was 42 degrees and there isn´t much more than ice left. December in Iceland - 42 degrees and no snow - who would believe!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Delicious Lunch Foiled

Today was supposed to be District Meeting here in Selfoss. Sister Bremner decided she would provide a simple lunch - hum simple? It started 3 days ago with soaking the yellow split peas for 24 hours, then boiling the salted lamb to separate from the bone and fat. After the 24 hours you add the peas to the lamb and cook for another 12 hours or so. She had earlier made Icelandic leaf bread that stores for weeks but that was not enough. She needed bran muffins and then instead of the simple brownies for dessert she decide to make two pies just before we were do to leave for Reykjavík for the evening. The berry pie was done just as we left. We got home last night at midnight and she then made the apple pie. This morning we got up to continue cooking the soup as it was still not quite ready. Then we got the call - illness struck and the meeting had to be canceled. Well the soup will do fine until Monday but the pies and muffins had to go in the freezer. Oh how I was looking forward to that delicious simple lunch especially the apple pie.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mother Died as in Motherboard or Our Computer

For over a month I have been challenged by the behavior of our computer. It kept giving up little by little until we finally took it in and found out the motherboard died. Trying to figure out what to do with the high cost of repair - almost what we paid for our computer - we decided to have an old one from home sent to us. Until it arrives we are now trying to post again with an old desk top that works most of the time.

Yesterday however we used our Preparation Day and treated our two Elders to a Christmas Concert. Here is the announcement - "One of Iceland’s most beloved tenors, Gardar Cortes, will perform in two concerts, singing international Christmas carols accompanied by Swedish pianist Robert Sund, at Reykjavík Art Museum – Kjarvalsstadir on December 2 and 3.

Cortes and Sund first performed at a Christmas concert in cooperation with the Reykjavík Art Museum last year. The concert proved so successful that it has now become an annual event.

Cortes and Sund have worked together since 1980 and have released three joint albums.

At Kjarvalsstadir they will perform their greatest hits with emphasis on Icelandic and international Christmas songs.

We were somewhat surprised that the soloist sat but what a voice and the pianist was fantastic playing most of the songs with out music or at least looking at it. He paid more attention to the soloist than his music. Gardar Cortes had his son sing one song with him which was very beautiful - the video does not do them justice. The entire concert was a very enjoyable and a great way to start our Christmas.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Computer in the Hospital

As soon as Brother Jensen returned to Germany we were back into the planning mode preparing for President and Sister Olauson to arrive Friday for a busy weekend. We started with a dinner for them with all the missionaries and his counselor and his wife. We bought the biggest leg of lamb we could find - 3.3 kg, 3 kg of small baking potatoes and 3 kg of regular potatoes for mashed potatoes. We also peeled and grated 2 kg of carrots for carrot salad. Sister Koyle did a jello/whipped cream/fruit salad, scones and cake. As I carved the leg of lamb I thought wow this is a lot of meat - there will certainly be left overs. When everyone (15) had been served, I look at the meat tray and it was empty as well as the bowls of potatoes. Sister Koyle later commented something like - the missionaries inhaled that dinner in minutes after it took us hours to put it all together. The one young man not in a suit was doing homework at the Young Single Adult Center so we invited him to enjoy dinner with us. He is a recent convert and accompanied Sister Bremner Saturday evening on the piano. The first picture is Bettina - the mission president couselors wife and also the Selfoss Branch Relief Society President.

We got home late Friday night and then it was back to Reykjavik for Zone Conference Saturday morning with our Area Seventy Elder Sterri from Norway. We had a fantastic Zone Conference. Comments on the pictures - The whole zone with President and Sister Olauson, Elder Sterri and two member missionaries. We have two sets of members (two men and two women) who go out street contacting. They are great missionaries. The little girls sang I am a Child of God during our zone conference (their parents greeting President Olauson). The young lady sitting with the Elders at the table is one of a pair of member missionaries. The individual Elder pictures were as they gave their 5, 2 and 1 minute and 30 second talks. Between us and the Koyle's, we prepared lunch and dinner for 16 because as soon as Zone Conference (which included lunch) was over we went into a leadership training meeting for the Icelandic Conference with a one hour break for dinner before the Icelandic Conference Adult evening session. Amazingly I think everyone was well fed. The closing song for the Adult session was "I walked today where Jesus walked" sung by Sister Bremner. Without any prejudiced on my part it was absolutely beautiful. Her accompanist is the 18 year old in the dinner picture. He is fantastic at both the piano and organ so it was a treat for all.

It was another late night getting home and then up and back to Reykjavik for the Icelandic Conference Sunday Session. Elder Sterri is a fantastic speaker and we had 8 non-members who were well taught by him. It was so fun seeing everyone together from both branches. The closing song was basically the Selfoss Branch choir. We were a little worried with only 2 practices before our one practice with the pianist and then only about half of us showed up for the practice with the pianist. We had lots of compliments so it must have sounded good. Elder Sterri had to return to Norway right after the meeting so the Koyles, Bremners and Olausons gathered later at the Koyles for soup, salad, rolls and apple pie. We had a nice visit with President and Sister Olauson and now we are home again to rest up.

Thankfully this post was saved before the computer again quit working. Today we went to Reykjavik and turned it in for a repair estimate. They said they might be able to look at it tomorrow or Thursday. Luckily we have a computer to use it just doesn´t have our pictures or a video camera for Skype and it crashes way too often. It is a very old computer that was going to be thrown away but it was saved and we are happy to have it.

Where Do I Start!

You may have noticed I have not posted much lately. There are two main reason - #1 we have been very busy with our assignments and #2 our computer only works when it wants to - not when we want it to. it all started about 2 months ago when the wireless quit working. We switched to wired. Then it would not turn on. I removed and replaced all cards etc and then it turned on but this proved a little tedious each time it shut down, so we decided not to turn it off. That worked well as it would hibernate and come back on when we touched it. Then the last two weeks it has decided to turn off all together when it decided. The problem now is that it has gotten even more frustrating to get it to come back on. Eileen sat here this evening trying a good 10 to 15 times before it came on. So let's see what I can get done before it dies again - where to start.

November 13 - 18 Brother Jensen our Institute and Seminary Coordinator from Germany was here for teacher training and to meet with the two Seminary classes and teachers and the two Institute classes and teachers as well as speak in the Selfoss Branch and be the guest speaker at Family Home Evening with the Young Single Adults. We also fit in a little travel time for him to see some more of Iceland. One evening we gathered together with Elder and Sister Koyle for a great dinner - it was almost like Thanksgiving except chicken as none of us can bring ourselves to pay over $100 for a turkey.

Prior to Brother Jensen arriving I also spent several days helping Elder Koyle put together the furniture for the YSA Center and hang a 40" flat screen TV. Actually I installed, hung and got the TV/DVD working by myself. My carpel tunnel is now back again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Institute in Iceland

One of our many responsibilities on this mission is to serve as the Seminary and Institute Coordinators. Tuesday evening we went to Reykjavik to audit the Book of Mormon class. We have a great teacher and she is doing a great job teaching a class that is 5 new members and 3 returned missionaries. The combination creates interesting class discussions which are helping the new members learn and grow in the Gospel.