Lessons Learned: Iceland

Iceland is the type of place that reminds you of certain truths about life.  Constant change, stark beauty despite (or because of) crippling natural phenomena, unpredictability–it’s all here.  It’s the type of place that could probably teach you patience and contentment if you’d let it.

Be ready, but don’t worry

We were lucky enough to be led by the same fabulous tour guide, Sif, for two days.  She told us Icelanders are pretty optimistic people who tend not to worry about the probability of sooner-rather-than-later life-altering seismic and volcanic activity.  In telling us about the stunningly beautiful coastal village of Vìk, Sif said nearby Katla was the volcano that most worried seismologists.  The volcano has a history of exploding twice a century; however, the last eruption was in 1918.  The town has beautiful black sand beaches with millions of pebbles and stones smoothed by the crazed, dangerous surf.  But that surf is causing the beach to suffer terrible erosion.  Even though Katla will cause substantial damage when it erupts, its eruption would bring much-needed silt to fill in the beach.  The town practices evacuation drills twice a year.  In a way, the biggest worry is flooding; a glacier sits on top of the volcano, and the torrential meltwater flooding would require the town to find higher ground.

Maybe Icelanders are so optimistic because they know that good can come from destruction.  Sif told us that for three years after the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the farmers didn’t have to fertilize because the soil was so mineral-rich.  The crops grew so fast, they couldn’t all be harvested.  Nature continued to give even after it had taken away.

Sif also mentioned that even though the news coverage of the volcano didn’t talk about how the locals were affected, because Iceland dominated the news, people became curious to visit.  Tourism has increased tenfold in recent years, bringing much-needed money to a country whose currency was basically worthless ten years ago.  A few years ago, only about 300,000 people would visit; this year, they expect 3.3 million tourists, ten times more people than live in the country.  (It’s worth noting that English is very widely spoken; Julia, a wonderful woman who worked at the front desk at our hotel, had come from Ukraine to Iceland to learn English and managed to pick up Icelandic as well.)  There were cranes and construction all over downtown Reykjavik, especially near the gorgeous Harpa concert hall on the waterfront, where a Marriott is being built next door (Sif was concerned that it would take away from the hall’s beauty).  A cab driver complained that there were too few hotel rooms, creating a huge market for AirBNB.  Both he and Sif noted that finding a place to live in the city was difficult and pricey in a country already known for being one of the world’s most expensive places.

Be patient and go with the flow

Icelandic has 1800 words just to describe the country’s volatile weather.  Sif told us that the weather forecasts are unreliable more than an hour in advance.  As our tour van traveled along on Friday, we saw heavy rain turn to heavy snow, which gave way to sun–all in the span of maybe an hour.  Later that day at Þingvellir National Park, where you can see the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and explore the meeting place of the world’s longest-running Parliament dating back to 930 AD, we saw it snow while the sun was out.  On Saturday, we were caught in an unexpected snowstorm as we visited the famous waterfall Skogafoss.  By the time we traveled to Vìk, the sun was out, and we managed to dodge another bullet as a large, ominous cloud ahead dissipated.  With the snow on the black beach, there could not have been a better time to appreciate the scenery.

The weather and ever-present threat of danger and change to the landscape contribute to the character of Iceland and the resilience of its people.  It’s a fascinating, beautiful country that I plan to explore more of someday.

Let us eat cake

Between my birthday (today), Australia Day (tomorrow), and National Chocolate Cake Day (the day after tomorrow), I thought I would leave this recipe for Lamingtons here to commemorate all three.  I haven’t used this recipe, but I can verify that Lamingtons are delicious.  Maybe as a variation, make the cake chocolate instead of vanilla dipped in chocolate so you can use it to celebrate Chocolate Cake Day!

For those who are unaware, this fabulous cake-based dessert came from Australia.  Read more here:  Lamingtons (Wikipedia).  Fun fact:  Proper Pie Co. in Richmond serves them because the owners are Kiwis and a variation of the dessert is popular in New Zealand as well.

Apparently I registered this blog on WordPress five years ago to this day, so I’ll celebrate that with cake too.

Until next time…  Aussie Aussie Aussie!  Oi Oi Oi!

Make Your Own Adventure

I hope the holidays found you well–hard to believe Christmas is over! As we get ready to bring in 2018 (!), I thought I would share this short post I wrote over the summer but never shared. Merry belated Christmas and let’s all have an awesome new year!

If you’re always waiting for someone to travel with you, you’re never going to go anywhere.  It was true before and it still is.  I just had to remind myself.

Whether it’s a big trip for a couple of weeks or just a day trip across state lines, the sentiment rings true.

I had some pretty awesome adventures with friends this summer, including a visit to the new MGM casino in Maryland, as well as a day spent exploring breweries in DC and hiking at a park in Maryland.  But I think I became somewhat dependent on “needing” someone else to hang out and adventure with.

But time, interests, and money don’t always allow, so sometimes you have to strike out on your own, even though you might wonder how your experience would be different if you had someone with you. Don’t let that stop you–in the immortal words of Nike, JUST DO IT.

Beach Mode

I had been wanting to go to the beach for quite a while, but there weren’t any close by that interested me.  Ocean City didn’t really appeal, I didn’t want to go back to Delaware, and Virginia Beach had left a bad taste in my mouth when I was last there in high school (which wasn’t entirely its fault–the weather was bad and it was offseason).

But I was persuaded to give Virginia Beach another chance.  Doing some research, I found that there were lots of interesting things to do in and around the beach–breweries, botanical gardens, museums, a zoo.

So I made my hotel reservation just a few days before the trip, checking that the weather would be good while I was there, and officially made a plan to go.  I could not have picked a better time–the weather was perfect, and I was staying at an oceanfront hotel with a balcony.  Plus, I wanted to go to the beach before Memorial Day and school got out.  On this trip, I barely hit any traffic at all!

It was mid-afternoon when I got to the beach, so I decided to take a walk and get dinner nearby before figuring out a plan for the next day.  I picked up some touristy magazines and found out about the burgeoning local beer scene and decided my plans for the next day would include the Norfolk Botanical Garden (a place I hadn’t even known about prior) and Wasserhund Brewing.

The next day, I slathered on my sunscreen, picked up my giant sun hat, and wandered around the garden.  I was excited to find a Japanese garden with bonsai trees!  (I’ve been interested in bonsai since I first saw an exhibit of them at the North Carolina Arboretum a few years back.)  I enjoyed the rose garden and was glad to sit in a swing in the shade of a gazebo as well.  As much wandering as I did, I still managed to miss a huge part of the garden, never quite making it all the way to the other end (the garden could benefit from better signage).

I lunched at the German-inspired Wasserhund Brewing, which featured one of the better coffee beers I’ve had recently, the Haywire Husky Coffee Lager, and some fantastic pizza. They have fun events like bingo night too.

I went back to my hotel room long enough to change and apply more sunscreen before taking a long walk on the beach.  The weather was so good, I had to get out and enjoy it.

On my walk, I accidentally discovered that Home Republic Brewing was just a couple blocks from my hotel, so I decided to have dinner there.  The burger and lava cake were delicious, but I wish I had enjoyed the beer more.

I had hoped to get to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk on Thursday, but time didn’t allow since I had to be back home for a class that night.  I took one last walk on the beach before departing for Pierce’s, the storied yellow-and-orange barbecue joint visible from
I-64 near Williamsburg.  It’s a place I have visited many times, but not in about eight years.  Mom and I used to drive to Williamsburg just for Pierce’s, occasionally making a trip to the outlet malls.

It was a short but sweet trip to the beach.  Next time I’ll have to stay longer so I can do more of the things I’d hoped to.

Have any of you got plans for the summer?


It certainly has been an interesting couple of months, hasn’t it?  2017 has brought a lot of changes that perhaps many would not have predicted, and so far we’re only one very slow-moving month in.  So much is up in the air.

The past month hasn’t seen many changes in my specific purview besides another birthday come and gone.  In the wider scope of my family, there have been some interesting developments.  Mom had a milestone birthday (am I freaking out about that more than she is?  Maybe) and my grandfather spent time in the hospital and is currently in physical rehab.  He’ll be 90 in April (think about all the changes he’s seen!). There’s talk of “what’s next” for my grandparents as their capacity to do all the things they used to do has diminished.

What changes do I plan for my life this year?  There are so many things I’ve intended to do and still haven’t done (see also:  my non-existent freelance writing/editing career).  I do intend to travel more, even if it’s just micro-trips and long weekends.  I haven’t travelled out of state in almost a year.  In the next week I intend to go to a museum in DC, something I haven’t done in ages.

As far as this blog goes…I’ve been doing this for ten years.  TEN.  YEARS.  (I feel really old saying that.)  I haven’t always been committed to it, but thinking back, this is almost the longest span of time I’ve committed to anything.  I started A 3×5 Life in December 2006 to more widely publish a school-sponsored online journal I’d kept during a class trip to Italy.  (Good thing, because it doesn’t seem to exist any longer on the school website.)  I like to think my writing style has been refined in that time (what kind of writer and editor would I be if it hadn’t?).  I have some ideas about refreshing this blog.  I’ve done a very rudimentary logo drawing that I think is pretty awesome but needs actual art skills applied.  I have an idea for a set color scheme too (#branding).

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some of the somewhat-preachy overarching thoughts I’ve had in light of all the goings-on in the world:

The platitude about “being the change you want to see in the world” has never been more appropriate.  Fight the good fight.  Enjoy and make the most of your life in the time that you have (because you don’t know how long that’ll be).  Seek to love and understand each other because of, and even in spite of, our differences, because life would be awfully boring if we were all the same.

Until next time, fellow travellers.

Up in the air

To be honest, the title is a little misleading because I am feeling a bit more grounded right now.  This is because I have a new place to live.  Even though it’s in an area I’m familiar with because I’ve driven through it so many times, I’m glad to have a new microsection of Fairfax County to explore–new parks, new shortcuts, all that.  But it’s not so far from where I live now that I would be shopping at a different Target.  I’m really going to miss living where I live now and the new place is a little out of the way, but there are a lot of good things about the move as well.

My new room is smaller, but somehow feels homey and roomy.  Maybe it’s the layout. (Maybe it’s because I won’t be using it as storage space for random crap like I am in my current place.)  There’s tons of shelving.  TONS.  It’s oddly exciting.  I think I’ll be able to fit all of my current furniture in the room.  The owners are offering me what feels like abnormal amounts of storage space.  Parking won’t be a problem.  I feel like this place offers a more comfortable space to have friends over.  I’m also going to get in a lot of cardio because it’s upstairs and there are no elevators.  I’ll be saving a lot of money, which was really what was driving the whole need to move.  The owners are really great and even lowered the rent and aren’t charging me for November.  It really is rather miraculous.

I can’t believe my luck, considering I forgot to send in the application for a week and they were trying to move on because they hadn’t heard from me.

In other news, I’ve had a couple of interviews for a temporary copyediting job. It’ll be a couple of weeks before I know more, but I’m hopeful.

The next 12 days involves me packing, working six straight days in the lead-up to Thanksgiving (I’m beginning to dread working at a grocery store during the holidays…), moving, and listening to relatives talk about politics at Thanksgiving.  It’s going to be an interesting and probably trying couple of weeks.

I hope you all will stay safe and have a fabulous Thanksgiving with people and food that you love.  And don’t forget to actually be thankful.

Que Sera, Sera

So up until a couple of weeks ago, I had basically resigned myself to living in Richmond again.  I had friends ask me why–clearly my life is up here; obviously I didn’t want to leave; there are more opportunities up here anyway (I’ve applied to several government jobs that I’m pretty sure I’m in no way qualified for, but hey, I’ll let the hiring teams sort that out I guess).  Some of my best friends even offered to let me live in their basement if it comes down to it.

One of the jobs I interviewed for in Richmond made me take an entire personality test. One of the statements on there was something to the effect of:  How hard do you work for something you want?

So I started looking for more reasonably-priced places to live.  A college friend put me in touch with friends of hers, and it seemed like a perfect fit–the location was decent, the people were cool, the house was great.  But it’s still too much money.  So close and yet so far.  On the other end of the spectrum, I had what I thought was a somewhat promising lead from CraigsList, only to find that the house was shared by five people.  I’m not really sure what I expected, but I do have my limits; I’m trying to avoid the “dorm full of adults” experience.

I have one day off this week and it’s almost entirely accounted for (fun things, at least: Hanging out with one of my best friends and her kids, getting a massage, seeing a concert with another friend).  I’ll only have one next week if I end up moving that weekend (we’re already talking about the end of the month here–seriously, how is this happening?), and that will be spent packing because I’ve hardly done any.  My second job at a local party and costume store will probably beg me to come in since it’s Halloween weekend.  We’ll just have to see what happens, I guess.  I’m trying not to freak out because I have no idea what’s going to happen (which is exactly my usual reason for freaking out), but since there’s only so much I can do at this point, why get worked up?  Whatever will be, will be.

Until next time…