Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Jet Planes and Tearful Farewells

I've been staring at the cursor on my computer screen for about an hour now, and still I am having difficulty beginning this post. So rather than beat around the bush, I'll cut to the chase. Today is really hard. To pack my bags last night took all my strength, and to hug my little Icelandic family goodbye was incredibly heart wrenching and there were many tears shed on my end. Helgi and Snaedis were the most gracious hosts and amazing people to work with. I cannot begin to put into words how phenomenal this experience was, but I will do my best to describe my current emotions...

To be 100% honest, I feel numb. I am ecstatic to my fiancé, family and friends, but leaving Iceland is like nothing I have ever experienced before. This place of fire and ice has become my home away from home for the last month, and will forever hold a special place in my heart and soul. The jagged mountains have provided me with comfort and shelter as the wind viciously whipped across the farm at night. The midnight sunsets gently kissed me goodnight at the end of every long day and greeted me with warmth as I woke. Lambs sang to me as I tried to fall asleep (they were really just screaming for their mothers after they got distracted by something and lost track of her, but I like to think of it in a majestic manor). I watched as the lambs grew magnificent horns in the short time they had been out on the fields. The lambs never ceased to surprise me with their quirks and playful demeanor, jumping and climbing, bouncing off their mom and each other. These creatures of the rough North have taught me to be soft and patient, understanding, forgiving (sometimes) and calm.

Now, to brighten the mood just a touch, the crew of Hestur farm has compiled a list of laws to live by during lambing season. I hope you enjoy - just remember, not all of them are super serious, because sometimes you just need to laugh.

Lambing lessons

1. Wear good socks
2. Make sure boots are waterproof….100000000% water proof
3. Shower frequently…seriously
4. Keep your mouth shut for more than one reason. No one wants birthing fluids in their mouths.
5. Sleep is irrelevant and nonexistent so just accept it
6. Don’t forget to brush your teeth
7. Sheep will ALWAYS inconvenience you
8. Deaths are inevitable, but hard to handle sometimes.
10. If you have a question, ASK IT!!!!!! There’s never a stupid question. Ever.
11. Don’t forget to say hi to your family every now and then to let them know you are still alive.
12. Ladies, don’t’ forget to brush your hair before it becomes dreadlocks
13. Drink water as frequently as possible.
14. Don’t’ forget to relieve your bladder at least once every 8 hours, before you know it you’ve gone 13 hours without peeing and that pain your feeling is your body screaming and cursing at you. 
15. Be sure to cut your fingernails often so you don’t slice the sheep’s vagina in half, cause they are already going through a lot.
16. Sweat pants are the sheep god’s gift to the dedicated farmers that serve them.
17. The necessity of quality music is a very real thing.
18. Lambs need to be snuggled and told they are cute in order to grow properly. Snuggles are at the top of their food pyramid, they thrive on this stuff!
19. Reading ear tags from a distance may seem impossible at first, but with some time, you gain super vision and can spot the numbers from a rather impressive distance.
20. Epsom salt baths are a perfect way to relax those bruised and beaten muscles from the days labor. Pun intended.
21. Advil
22. If pillows smell like milk replacer, all is good. Just remember it could be worse.
23. Koko mjolk (chocolate milk) is the best energy drink and can bring a nearly dead farmer back from the grave. I speak from experience.
24. If Helgi offers you coffee, say yes, you WILL need the caffeine boost.  
25. Swans may be majestic birds but they are assholes. You’ve been warned.
26. Nothing smells worse than digested colostrum stuck to the backside of a wooly baby with energy to spare.
27. Learning to knit may someday save you from freezing to death, and is a great way to pass the time during the midnight shift when the ewes just want to sleep and eat.
28. Wrestling the rams is a new sport I have invented. Why run with bulls when you could stare down, capture and restrain an animal with a skull like a cement wall.
29. Never be afraid to cry after a hard day, or from happiness. Emotions are beautiful. Express them.
30. Do the best that you can to provide the best life possible for the animals and no one will ask questions.
31. There will always be new challenges, so don’t be surprised when they crop up.
32. Love the life you live, live the life you love. It’s that simple.

This list could go on and on, but for the sake of the sanity of my readers, I will spare you. But I will say that this experience has completely changed my life for the better. I have found my passion in life and I cannot wait to design my own farm with a goal of creating a comfortable and happy life for my animals and my family, which are similar to the values I observed and lived while in Iceland. I am excited to fill my brain with more knowledge and to get back to Iceland as soon as possible to expand my talents. This will definitely not be my last time toIceland. It's never goodbye, it's see you later. 

Until next time Iceland.

All my love,

Friday, June 3, 2016

Day 34!

Hello hello!! My deepest apologies for keeping everyone waiting for another update! To be honest, I'm having a hard time putting sentences together today, I simply cannot fathom the amount of work we have done and the number of sheep that I have come in contact with.  Has my time in Iceland flown by this quickly? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?? I am fairly certain a mental breakdown will occur in the near future simply because it is going to be so difficult to leave this amazing place. But, I am extremely excited to share all of my stories in person and see my family and friends!

So, here are the events that have occurred:

Yesterday we had one of the last sheep deliver her lamb, unfortunately the lamb did not survive. The little lamb decided to come out backwards, and it was quite difficult to get her out. Her face was deformed, and she was never able to take a breath although her heart was beating. Poor little ewe. But, on a brighter note, we were able to take a lamb from a ewe that had a very serious case of mastitis and give it to the ewe that lost her lamb. All are happy and doing well now!

Snaedis and I have adopted a little lamb that we so affectionately call "Tiny" since she was only 1.2 kilos when she was born. Very rarely do lambs survive when they are born below 1.5 kilos, but this little miracle is a champion. Tiny spent her first week of life under a heat lamp and had to be fed through a stomach tube since the teat was too big for her to suckle! After a few days of tubing her, she gained enough strength to suckle on the bottle, which stood taller than she was! The ewe that gave birth to her was not very intelligent, and didn't want Tiny or her twin brother, so we gave Tiny to a ewe that lost her 5.4 kilo lamb at birth (MASSIVE LAMB!) and they have been inseparable ever since. Tiny has now made her way up the social ladder and is now outside in a group pen! We are so proud of her! She is very curious and must investigate everything surrounding her, testing the materials likelihood of being edible. Tiny is also known for loving snuggles and being scratched. We would dangle our hand in the pen and she would immediately run to us! Her little tail would wag so fast it looked like her back end would lift off the ground, and she would lick her lips to show just how good it felt! Her favorite spots are just above her tail, behind the ears, between her shoulder blades, and her chest! We were quite concerned that she would loose her mother and not survive the first night outside. But Tiny proved us wrong yet again. Her mother is very tender and caring and watches Tiny's every move. The ewe has also accepted that when there is a human, Tiny will inevitably find them. She comes over and sniffs our faces to make sure we are the good ones, then walks away and leave us to babysit. Not that we mind!


Another lamb we are keeping an eye on is Sir Bran, a lamb that was born a little over a week ago with both front legs broken. The vet came and set the bones, which was quite easy to do since he was just born and the bones were still quite soft. Bran and his mother, Lady Stark, are doing so well! Lady Stark will move over to Bran and position herself so he can suckle. He is plenty capable of getting up, but getting his clunky legs under him to suckle is quite difficult. We often give him milk replacer in a bottle just to top him off so he has plenty of milk in his belly to grow nicely. And for those wondering, the names are a direct reference to Game of Thrones. We thought it was too perfect and couldn't pass up the opportunity!

Most of the ewes and their lambs are outside now, since the weather has been so fabulous lately. The only ones left inside are the ones that are receiving antibiotics or some form of care. There are 4 ewes left to give birth. That's right, only 4!!!! So, with everyone being outside, I have been given the task of power washing the pens! I have decided that we need to get Mike Rowe out here to film an episode of Dirty Jobs, because this is one of the dirtiest jobs I have ever done! Example: whilst power washing there are many times where the water angle hits the flooring just right and sprays a large amount of dried sheep feces straight at my face. Now, I have tried goggles, but they get too foggy and I can't see, which is no good. So I have learned to squint...a lot. Another important life lesson I have learned is that no matter how good the music is that I am listening to, you should not under ANY circumstance begin to sing. Reason one: someone might hear you belting Beyonce at the top of your lungs, and reason two: poop will get in your mouth, I promise you that is not a joke. In case you need further evidence, here is a picture I took of myself yesterday after 3 hours of intense power washing of some of the dirtiest pens in the barn. (NOTE: pens are swept daily while the sheep inhabit them, but things still build up, hence the power washing requirement.)
Here I am sporting my blue coveralls, rubber overalls, earmuffs and headphones.
And poop...all over my face and hair.
Story time: A group of ladies came into the barn on one of the first days I was power washing, and they were doing a scavenger hunt for a bridal shower they were attending. They wore bright pink feathery hats and scarfs and needed to get a picture with a farmer and sheep. So naturally they asked me if they could take a photo with me. 'Sure, why not?' I said. Photo was snapped, and off they went. I resumed my power washing. Another group of ladies walks in, same quest. Except this time one of the women started speaking Icelandic to me, and when I told her I was American, they all lit up. 'We need to kiss someone who's not from Iceland, can I kiss your cheek?' I laughed and said 'Why not!' Little did I realize I had sheep dung all over my face, and I am not entirely convinced that they realized it either. They ran off after the photo was taken, and I had a lipstick mark on my cheek the rest of the day. I'm pretty sure the woman realized she had made a big mistake when she reviewed the picture, or at least I am hoping she did. So moral of the story, if you see someone in a barn power washing pens, don't kiss them on the cheek. It's just bad hygiene. 

More stories: There are Icelandic horses in the field next to our sheep, and one of them gave birth a few days ago to a beautiful little filly. Every day I make it my mission to get closer to the foal. The mare allows me to get to the fence and watch her and her baby. She is very sweet to her little one, and very protective, good momma!

Snaedis and I are going to be going horseback riding tomorrow once the feeding is done for the remaining indoor sheep, and to say I am excited is a massive understatement. It will be a miracle if I can get any sleep tonight! I promise I will take as many pictures as I can, and hopefully Snaedis can take a few as well! 

With another post down, I must say farewell for now. Time to go do evening cleaning and feeding for the hungry sheep. I will post again very soon!!

Much love, 


Monday, May 30, 2016

Day XX: Last day abroad

Hello everyone!!
     I must say this has been quite the trip. Right now I am at the airport waiting for my flight to leave. I want to thank you all for reading and supporting me and my friends on our journeys and I hope you had as much fun reading this blog as I did writing it!

     This trip was incredible, there won't be anything that will top it for a long while. I learned so much and formed lasting friendships in a short 3 weeks. Iceland is now a part of my soul and I will definitely make my way back here one day, I know the same can be said for Becca and Scott. These last couple days I have been focusing on staying in the moment just to make sure that I didn't get swept away by preparing to go back home. I only started packing at 4am last night, so I think I was successful. Leaving is very bittersweet. I have fallen in love with this isolated little country and I am sad to go, but at the same time I really miss being at home and I am also excited about this summer with our sheep at school.

      I spent my last week in Hestur with them because all the sheep had lambed out in Vatn and there was really no use for me to be there for another week. Hestur is down to 5 remaining ewes but they aren't due until June 12, so right now its spring cleaning in the barn. Becca is excited about this because that means she can get her hands on a power washer, help us all. So as you can tell there hasn't been much to write about. Becca and I are now super into knitting an Icelandic sweater. We both bought all the wool and have started knitting the bottom rib, we both have about an inch in length and I'm super proud of Becca for taking on this monumental task with her limited knitting experience, I believe she will do fine.

     I learned so much here that I'm sure I've forgotten most of it, that is until I need to use it, like for lambing next year. I now have so many plans and ideas for our own sheep that I hope to be able to work on this summer. I have also learned limits and how hard it is to put your heart and soul into an animal and have that ripped away when they inevitably pass, whether at birth, or old age. It never gets easier but I can only get stronger emotionally because of it. On a lighter note, we learned that a sheep nose is able to face-swap on SnapChat, hilarity ensues. That was very important for us because on hard days, the little things really pull us through and something as simple and silly as a face-swap with a sheep nose really helped us move on.

Tiny the lamb was one of our favorites
     I would have never traded this experience for the world and I am so thankful that I was able to go. I also would not have picked anybody else to go with, everyone worked so hard and I feel the trip could not have gone better.

Lots of love!!
For the last time

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Day 22 / Day XIII: Trip Through Fantasy

Hello hello!

We had an incredible weekend in Akureyri with Þuriður. We started the weekend with some absolutely phenomenal whale watching, and we ended the weekend with more fantastic adventures in Lake Mývatn! Þuriður grew up in this small village, which was originally only three houses and grew to a two hundred person community, so she knows all of the best sights! We began our day with a breathtaking view of Goðafoss, a waterfall not far from Akureyri. At the start of Christianity in the year 1,000 the local chieftain decided Christianity would be a better suited religion for the people of Iceland, and threw the pagan god statues into the waterfall to symbolize the end of the religion.

After becoming fully awake from the mist of the waterfall, we went on a nice easy hike to see the volcanic pillars in the water, which we have started calling Pirates Hideaway. The pillars were jagged and uninviting, but powerful and strong in essence. We loved seeing the variations of the structures, which have stood for many, many years.

We found the ever elusive Scott!

From there we drove through the gorgeous country side into Lake Mývatn, where we stopped to visit some of Þuriður's relatives. They had a small farm with sheep and Icelandic horses. The horses are much smaller than the horses in the US, but they are very cute and very affectionate. We loved being able to see what set ups other farmers had and to see the variation in management techniques.

Next on the itinerary was Dimmuborgir, a lava field with vast peaks and hidden caves at every glance. These were formed by a massive eruption over 2,000 years ago, and from its rugged appearance we decided to call it the Dragons Lair. The winding pathways left us with a haunting vision of trapped knights traveling to slay the mighty dragon, but were never successful in their quest. The views were spectacular, especially when we climbed the steep steps to the well known circle where many people pose for photos.

Next up, the natural baths. These underground caves are naturally heated by the earth and are used by the inhabitants of the area as a natural bathing pool. This was very popular before 1975-84, during which time a massive eruption heated the pools to over 60 degrees Celsius, making it far too hot for even the toughest Viking to endure. Tourists are forbidden from bathing in the caves, but are allowed to take pictures and admire the beauty, as long as they respect the individuals bathing in the caves at the time. Since we were with Thurithu, we had a bit more privilege than most visiting the area, since she was part landowner of this magical place. We called this sanctuary the Mermaid Cave. The bath was warmer than a hot tub, but it was absolutely marvelous. Our skin soaked in the bountiful richness of the minerals in the water, and our tense muscles finally relaxed from the heat. We were left in a state of pure bliss and tranquility, a feeling that was hard to shake the rest of the day.

After our relaxing time at the cave, we ventured to the boiling earth mud pots. Here the earth opened up in a cloud of steam and sulfur, threatening to scald your skin with every burst steam from the mud. The mountain was stained light tan and yellow from the buildup of sulfur over the years. The earth was cracked around the marked areas, showing us what the land was capable of. The steam vents were very entertaining. When standing in the midst of the steam, it was like being suffocated with hard boiled eggs in vapor form. We named this area The Fields of Punishment. It was fascinating to see evidence of how thin the earth’s crust is, and how malleable and susceptible the earth is to its inner beast.

After some excitement, we decided to take a break and visit with some more family. Þuriður's mother and sister graciously welcomed us into their home, where we enjoyed a lovely and much needed cup of coffee and water. Þuriður's sister owns a unique restaurant where you can dine and enjoy watching the small dairy herd during milking times in the well kept parlor. The cows were very nicely groomed and were very loving. All of the food on the menu is local or produced on site. She also has a small flock of 150 sheep! The lambs raised on the farm are used for meat at the restaurant, which we really enjoyed! We shared a “farmers special”, which was a plate of samples of each starter dish. There was a selection of smoked char, smoked raw lamb, and dill cured char. We also enjoyed caprese salad, which was fresh tomato slices with house made mozzarella cheese with milk from the dairy. We were able to also sample some fresh milk, straight from the cow! Each cow has a distinct taste to her milk, some are sweet while others are very rich and creamy. The cow that provided us with her milk had a very creamy taste, and her name was also Snaedis!

As you can clearly see, we switched from sheep to cows for the day!

From there we traveled back to Akureyri where we enjoyed some ice cream and watched the horror unfold before us as the latest episode of Game of Thrones came to a close. I promise no spoilers, but for those who have not seen it yet, brace yourselves, it’s a doozy on the emotions.

Until next time!

Anastasia, Scott and Becca