Category Archives: Writings

I hope to start formulating structured pieces of writing–fiction and non-fiction–on which to get feedback from you!

Breaks are Good

I really needed a break from blogging when we left Iceland, it felt like I just needed to let that time rest and in some ways continue at the same time by leaving my last post up for a good long while.  I still have things  to catch up on, perhaps in a designated time each week to stretch out the remembering as long and sweetly as possible.  We miss our life there, but returning to St. Louis has also been joyful, and we have packed in the craziness (as we do so well!) since coming back to the States.  The weather here is starting to feel a bit like Iceland. . .well, Iceland in July. . .and we’re putting our sweaters and hats back on after a month or so of shorts and t-shirts–just the right amount of time for me, I think.

I look forward to sharing more about St. Louis life, but first, Art House America has kindly published another essay of mine, this time about Iceland (here’s mine from last summer, about Dutch L’Abri).  While you’re over on that blog, check out some of the other articles there, there’s something for everyone and they’re always worth the time.  Here’s the link to my essay.

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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Travel, Writings


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Bless Bless

Dear Iceland,

You have been close to our hearts for a long time now, as the first time Eric came here, for 9 whole months just after we started dating, served as a crucially formative period in our relationship.  I visited you then, in the dark, windy 1st week of December 2005.  We came again in 2009, a remarkably gorgeous summer, just a year before we had our first child.  We saw some amazing bits of your countryside on two road trips, and I soaked up every inch of Reykjavik that I could.  Once more, last spring, with our boy just 7 months old, you greeted us with snow on the 1st of May.  We stayed in the city then, laying low as Everett battled a fever.

And then this year, deep in the middle of February, we returned, in the dark, in the snow.  Everett now 16 months, and a baby girl growing within me.  We settled in, we hibernated as our active toddler would allow.  Eric set to work on some of your manuscripts, working on a writing project and exploring the history of your fascinating people.  I set to work exploring the walkable radius of our apartment in the snow, meeting other mothers and knitters, and growing this baby.

Then she came.  Helped along, no doubt, by the many kilometers I must have walked through your streets as she grew, she made her entrance swiftly.  Aided and welcomed by two of your own daughters who comforted and encouraged me through the labor; your naturally heated spring water as the first element to touch her fresh new skin, she arrived.  Bryndís Ann, bearing a name that is part of your beautiful language, and who I hope will always be proud to claim you as the land of her birth.  You are now an indelible part of our family.

We say farewell, or “Bless bless,” to you now, but it is not forever.  We will be back, it feels inevitable, even necessary.

With Love,
Eric, Emily, Everett, and Bryndís

This chapter in the Bryan Family Adventure was made possible by: Icelandair, The Missouri Research Board, the American Scandinavian Foundation, The Arni Magnusson Institute, and the Missouri University of Science and Technology.  We would also like to thank Jóhanna Bogdottir, Hanna og Elvar Ingolfer for their lovely apartments; Magnea and Helga at Hallgrimskirkja, Bergdís Rosantsdottir and Hrafnhildur at the Red Cross; Jenny, Torril, Kassia, Renee, Jana, Colleen, Amanda, Sonja, Johanna, Sandra, Anna, Dawn, Angela, and all the other wonderful mothers I had the pleasure of sharing playtime with (no doubt I’m leaving someone important out); Hrafnhildur at Bjorkin Midwives, and Soffía of Hönd í Hönd for making Bryndís’ birth possible at home, and a peaceful, joyful experience; Kara Payne for coming to take care of us for awhile; Diane, Mike, Kaitlin, and Freya  Wilson, for being the difference between surviving and enjoying this visit; and of course our families, for showering us with love and encouragement, spending a fortune to send us the things we couldn’t buy here, and another fortune on coming to visit, serving as glorified babysitters and taking us out to dinner.  We couldn’t do it without you, and we appreciate you letting us take your grandchildren so far away for awhile.


Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Travel, Writings


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Dear Tourist. . .

I’m very glad to see you here, enjoying and discovering a country I love dearly, and patronizing all the businesses in this city.  I’m barely more than a tourist myself; I don’t speak the language and I don’t pay taxes, but I feel like the amount I’ve spent here in groceries alone counts for something.  And as a resident, even if temporary, I do feel the need to express a few thought to you, the even more temporary visitor:

  • I completely understand that you wanted to pack light so one pair of comfortable shoes and an all-weather jacket of some kind were necessary, but it’s REALLY obvious that you’re not from here when you walk through the middle of town on a sunny 60 degree day in your North Face parka and bulky hiking boots. (Also, I know it’s a sauna in the U.S. right now, but it’s not THAT cold here)
  • Now, the MATCHING North Face parkas and hats are just plain hilarious
  • It’s weird when you take pictures of the front of my house, even if the view in this part of town is spectacular.
  • It’s even weirder when you take pictures of my KID, especially without asking.  He’s cute, I know, but first of all, he’s not Icelandic, despite his blond hair and blue eyes.  Second of all, if I find those pictures anywhere on the internet besides MY BLOG, you’re in for a world of pain.
  • When walking down the street, keep in mind that some of us are walking because we need to get somewhere, and you’re slow.
  • On a similar note, when meeting with a group of other waterproof jacket, sunhat, hiking boot, and daypack-clad folk in order to enjoy a walking tour or catch a bus (undoubtedly to the Blue Lagoon or Golden Circle), please don’t spread across the entire width of the sidewalk.  Again, some of us walking actually are trying to get somewhere (like home, before children start screaming).
  • I apologize if I end up in your picture, immortalized in your scrapbook forever, making some awful face or picking my nose or something.  But it’s just impossible to avoid all your lenses, they’re everywhere.
  • Americans, I am one of you so I can say this: you’re loud, louder than the French, louder than the Germans.  Just thought you should know.  Also, there are no McDonalds or Starbucks located in this whole country, so enjoy that while you can.
  • You should absolutely buy an Icelandic sweater, because it’s really cool that although a great souvenir, locals wear them too, so you won’t look ridiculous.
  • Do not, however, buy a Viking helmet, or anything with the Icelandic flag on it, and wear it around.  Dead giveaway (especially since real Viking helmets did not have horns. . .I think we have Wagner to thank for that little embellishment, though someone correct me if I’m wrong).
  • Don’t worry about not knowing the language; it’s a tough one and only 320,000 people in the whole world speak it so no one blames you (especially not me), but learning a few pronunciation points will help you ask for directions. . .I won’t attempt to explain, just google it:)

Enjoy your stay!  It makes me feel extra special when one of you asks me directions and I can actually help, so if you see me (I will have one adorable blondheaded kid in a stroller and one screaming baby in a pack on my chest. . .hard to miss), feel free to ask!  (however, I’m moving away on Tuesday, SAD!)

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Posted by on July 29, 2012 in My Fair City, Travel, Writings


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Belongings: Indulge in the Simplicity

Last year, I attempted to start a series about the things I’ve learned through all this moving about, things that make family life easier–or possible–despite changing surroundings, as well as tips and tricks to keep logistical nightmares to a minimum.  I think I wrote a grand total of ONE entry in this series, which I’m still calling “Belongings” and picking up again now:)

When we returned home to our house in St. Louis last fall, after 8 months abroad, I really tried to be glad to be back, but I wasn’t.  The succeeding autumn consisted of a myriad of fantastic developments–namely, a lot of significant growth in several friendships–but also an onslaught of negative emotions that I couldn’t comprehend or really begin to deal with. One underlying factor that I have been able to identify was that for some reason, our house, small as it is, felt completely and totally overwhelming when it came to cleaning and organizing.  This was, of course, related to the fact that I was in the midst of first trimester ickiness and attempting to manage a very active toddler, and had many days without a car to get out and go somewhere (anywhere!) else.  I was frustrated by this–why is this so hard? I thought.  This house just isn’t that big, I should be able to keep it plenty clean and tidy and manage to get some kind of dinner on the table without it feeling like the biggest, most difficult task anyone has ever done.  But that’s how it did feel, and I blamed all sorts of factors and made lots of excuses, and ultimately avoided the work as much as possible, which only made me more unhappy about where I lived because it was chaos, and gross, and disorderly.  You can see where this is going: the cliche downward spiral.

I have a pretty strong feeling that most of you out there who have any sort of home for which you are responsible have felt many of the things I was feeling, so I won’t go into much more detail.  Except to say that I responded with a pretty much overall BAD attitude, coming to resent the house for being so burdensome, and even my husband and son for actually needing things from me (never mind how much I needed them too, wasn’t this all about me?)

“helping” me pack back in January

When we found out we’d be coming to Iceland, I was immediately excited about the possibility of living in a tiny apartment with only the stuff we could bring in our suitcases, much like last year in London.  I knew this would mean a return to a level of simplicity that is almost impossible to achieve except in these circumstances, and I couldn’t wait!  And I was right, because as soon as we got here, I felt like I could breathe a little more easily, despite all of my sadness for leaving home yet again.

There’s something just so beautiful and refreshing about a small space and limited stuff.  The way we live here and lived in London last year was not really sustainable in a normal, permanent dwelling.  So my advice to anyone who gets the chance to live abroad temporarily (or hey, even just house sit for awhile), is to soak up the simplicity.  Rather than bemoan not having a proper pie plate, find out if a springform pan will work; get creative with your accessorizing so that a bunch of cardigans, scarves, and camisoles stay interesting for 6 months; rejoice in the minimal clutter and the ease of having everything all on one floor; and finally, brainstorm on how to recreate as much of this simplicity at home while accepting the necessary level of chaos that comes with being planted somewhere for (more or less) good.

Living room (before we moved furniture to block breakable things that belong to the owners)

P.S. Can you tell I’m trying to self-help with this post?  t-minus 3 weeks before we fly back to the U.S.!


Posted by on July 10, 2012 in At Home, Travel, Writings


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Heima, Part 2

The kitchen here is tiny (though not as tiny as the Teensy Weensy Cafe).  A blessing and a curse, to be sure, but mostly a blessing.  It means that when stuff drops on the floor, I don’t stress because sweeping the whole kitchen only takes about 30 seconds.  And amazingly, it stays pretty clean, b/c again, it just doesn’t take that long to tidy up.  But one thing I love about this kitchen is the table where we eat all our meals together.  It’s cozy and small, but it looks so peaceful at night and first thing in the morning, when it’s been wiped clean of all the day’s gunk, and set right, with that cheery table cloth, and one light on in case one of us gets up for water or a snack.

I love that this table greets me in the morning when I bring Everett in, plop him in his booster seat where he will often play or snack happily while I make coffee and breakfast, because he loves sharing that table with us, so much more than he liked a high chair.  I also love the bright orange walls and the art by the woman who owns this flat, full of images from other parts of the world and lots of color to brighten the oft-grey and white world of concrete apartment buildings and Iceland’s winter sky.


Posted by on March 12, 2012 in At Home, Writings


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Transient once again. . .or still

Yep, as many of you know already, because you know me, we have left St. Louis once again and are living in Iceland for the next 5 1/2 months.  We only just found out we’d be coming a week before Christmas, so in the scramble to get everything sorted out we actually left our house several weeks ago so a renter could move in and have spent the time in between at a weekly rental with Eric’s parents, a friends’ house, and my parents house.  We finally flew out of Nashville on Tuesday and arrived in Reykjavik on Thursday morning, local time.  But in truth, our state of transience never really seemed to go away, even after we returned to the U.S. back in August.   So much has been in flux or in a less-than-certain mode that truly settling in never happened.  You see, the possibility that we might get to come to Iceland this semester always existed, and as a result (this just dawned on us the other day), Eric and I both felt frustrated and overwhelmed by the present and completely unable to settle into anything–not our house, not a routine, not any kind of contentment–throughout the fall.  For me this took the form of hating my house, which seemed to never ever get clean or organized; going mad with the sense that my very active and mobile child was stealing all of my identity by monopolizing my time and energy (and messing up the house), and the inability to commit to certain activities in case I had to leave them.  I also found out in September that I’m expecting again, so first-trimester discomfort and lack of energy, combined with several bouts of illness in the house, turned me into a whimpering little girl on several occasions.

And yet, it finally crystalized in my heart as the plane took off the other day, that all of this fostered in me a dependence on others like I have never ever experienced in my life (or at least as an adult).  Up to this point, even after Everett was born, I had a fierce sense of independence and self-reliance; a determination to make it on my own and basically, to do whatever I wanted.  Marriage changed this a little bit, but having a toddler (as opposed to a complacent, portable baby) changed it completely!  With Eric using our only car 2-3 days out of the week, being alone with this adorable, crazy, into-everything little boy was breaking me down.  Community, human contact, and conversation went from being things I loved and enjoyed to things I could not live without.  And I had to surrender my notions of being a perfect, “got-it-all-together” kind of mom and do things like drop my kid off with friends at the last minute b/c I forgot about an appointment, let a friend come over and help me clean up because the task felt insurmountable, invite myself and my toddler over for a play date and gladly accept if a dinner invitation happened to follow.  So even though I never really felt like I settled back in at our home in St. Louis, it was extra hard to leave this time around.  It felt like much more than leaving a place and rather like leaving a version of myself in which I had grown comfortably reliant on others to remind me of who I am and where my limitations lie.

Watching the snow fall, which it did on and off all day yesterday, from the giant picture window in our current living room

So now a task is before us–find community in this strange place.  I’m already intimidated by the language barrier and the fact that our apartment is located in a part of town which which I am unfamiliar.  But I am still relying on my husband and everyone at home to stay in touch, pray for us, and let me be sad and lonely sometimes.


Posted by on February 17, 2012 in At Home, Travel, Writings


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Art House America Blog

Hey faithful readers!  So I haven’t posted in awhile. . .but I have been writing and I’m thrilled to share it with you!  Jenni Simmons, editor of the Art House America Blog, kindly invited me to write an essay having something to do with our time at L’Abri.  I was so honored–I have been enjoying this beautiful collection of short and sweet reflective essays for several months now.  It took three drafts and some serious tough love editing from Eric to get something I felt I could send to Jenni, but it’s up today, horray!  Click on the Art House logo below and my essay, Daily Bread, is fourth from the top.  But don’t miss all the other amazing writers–I never fail to find something inspiring when I visit.  Thanks, Jenni!

The other fun activity I’ve been occupied with lately is an art show opening up at the new Kingsbury Gallery at Grace & Peace Fellowship in the Skinker-DeBalivier neighborhood here in St. Louis.  So if you’re a local and you love good art, Various and Sundry: A Ted Smith Retrospective opens this Saturday, the 17th, with a reception from 7-9pm in the gallery.  Ted is a founding member of Grace & Peace and has worked as an artist and graphic designer for over 40 years.  This exhibition, organized to complement the celebration of Grace & Peace’s 42nd anniversary, showcases a variety of Ted’s work including a series of charcoal portraits, small graphic work, larg-scale paintings and banners, and drawings.  We will also have giclee prints of one of Ted’s original drawings available for sale to benefit the Kingsbury Gallery programs.

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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in At Home, My Projects, Travel, Writings


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