The Third of July

It’s Monday, July 3rd, but I’m not busy making Fourth of July plans—pool parties, barbecues, family & friends. Instead, the day before Americans turn out en masse to celebrate the country, I spend the morning in a waiting room with new American immigrants.

It’s silent, and the chairs are hard.

We, the American citizens and permanent residents — the other halves — sit out here as one by one our loved ones are called. We’re separated by a glass door. There are teenagers, college students helping their parents fill out forms. Parents escorting their young children. Entire families applying together.

More often than not, the children are the citizens. The parents want to join them here. It’s summer. There are a lot of kids being toted along. “Yes, you can bring the child in with you.” The workers are kind. It’s a relief. We’ve all dealt with the opposite too often on this journey.

I watch one tiny girl go in, grabbing the strap of her mother’s purse for security. We’ve already been through metal detectors. This is a different kind of security. Her eyes round, she looks around, to the side of the room I can’t see for the frosted glass. What’s back there? I wonder. Whatever she sees, her eyes relax, and I feel myself relax.

Today, it’s just fingerprints and photos. One tiny step in the long, expensive process that is applying for permanent residency in the United States of America. Next time we’re in this building will be harder.

“Fingerprints or interviews?” the security guard had asked when he caught us looking at the building map in the lobby. It’s the interview I’m scared of. Speaking so openly of our life with a stranger. I’m not an outgoing person. And I already know the immense strain of handing your fate over to a bored government employee.

Some people are up there, on the third floor, doing just that as I fidget down here, waiting. They’re running fifteen minutes behind, but even that is familiar, comfortable. It doesn’t calm my nerves any, but I know our journey is easy compared to others’.

I’ll probably go to the parties today. Enjoy my family and friends. But my mind still wanders in the quiet moments. I wonder what that little girl is doing for the Fourth. Is her mom nervous about her interview?

This Fourth of July, please remember those Americans sitting in a stuffy waiting room for a loved one to get fingerprinted — and send your good vibes to all those American hopefuls.

Sincerely Annie

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What it’s like to explore the INSIDE of a glacier

While in Reykjavik recently, we had the incredible opportunity to visit Langjökull, the second-largest of Iceland’s four glaciers.

We’d passed the glacier on several other tours, and that was one of the most surreal experiences. You’re looking out the window at the mountains and the vast sky above, when something twinges in your brain and you realize that white sky you’re looking at isn’t sky at all.

Like an optical illusion, the image twists and it slowly becomes apparent that the snow-white bit behind the mountains is land.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Looking at Langjökull from afar.

As it was an unbelievably mild December—any Icelander you ask about the weather will point out the obvious: global warming—the chance of seeing a real, nature-made ice cave was small. So we opted instead for the man-made ice cave created by the tour company Into the Glacier.

While it sounded way less cool than a natural ice cave, it turned out that this man-made cave provides an unprecedented look into the life of an ice cap!

Into the Glacier

The journey from Reykjavik was long, but we started to get excited when we reached Húsafell, where we met the staff and they outfitted us with snowsuits and thick shoe coverings. (It felt like wearing two pairs of shoes.)

From there, a bus took us to the monster truck that would transport us to the glacier. It was a James Bond-like experience just to climb onto one of these things.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The monster truck then transported us up into the mountains, at which point a crow started to follow the truck. The tour guide (who told us to call her “Goody” since we couldn’t pronounce her name) explained that a pair of crows were so used to the trucks that they often followed them.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

One of the crow friends hanging at base camp.

We stopped at base camp for one last bathroom break, and Goody explained how the glacier has its own climate. I didn’t really understand what she meant until we all climbed back on the monster truck and headed on. The ground switched from dark brown to snow-white instantaneously, and within minutes, it was snowing and the monster truck was buffeted by wind.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Where mountain meets glacier.

It was slow going across the glacier, and when we finally stopped and stepped outside, I felt like we were on National Geographic.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Langjökull glacier Iceland

What planet is this?!

Visibility was low, and I couldn’t even see the entrance to the cave. When I did see it, I started to get a bit scared.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

What have I gotten myself into?

I was about to descend beneath 20-25 meters of pure ice.

Thankfully, Goody explained that the glacier was really quite safe. For example, during an earthquake, the glacier is the safest place to be, since it actually sits on top of the land and will move with it.

And so we descended.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Christmas lights guided us down.

The first stop was to outfit our shoes-within-shoes with spikes.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Because I’m not clumsy enough as is.

Then we were off!

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Since there’s no way I can possibly explain this experience in full, I’ll go with the highlights:

1. The layers. The glacier is made up of layers upon layers of compacted snow and ice. And, like the rings of a tree, the layers are easily discernible from inside. This makes it easy to date the glacier.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Look at all those snowfalls!

On our trip, we got to see the thick line of dark gray along the cave walls that was made by a layer of ash settling on the glacier when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010. This was especially fun for me, because I was one of the thousands of people stranded in mainland Europe during the eruption in 2010! You can read about my experiences back then here and here.

Want to know the funniest part? While all air traffic of Europe came to a screeching halt, things went largely unchanged for Iceland, because Eyjafjallajökull is at the southern edge of the island, and the wind carried most of the ash to Europe.

2. Drinking from a glacier. Goody advised us to bring a water bottle, and I was one of the few who did. When we reached a small fissure in the glacier, beneath which ran a babbling stream, she took my water bottle and dipped it right in. I got to drink ice-cold water straight from a glacier! Take that, Ice Mountain!

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The freshest water I’ve ever had!

3. The echo. The deeper we got into the glacier, the louder the echo. To demonstrate the effects, Goody sang us an Icelandic lullaby. It felt like a moment straight out of Lord of the Rings.

4. The fissures. Of course, ice breaks. We’ve all seen it crack. And it’s no different for an ice cap. Within the glacier, there are giant fissures—big enough for a truck to drive through. And the ice cave give us the opportunity to walk through them.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

One of the fissures.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Another fissure

The ice cave has to be constantly maintained, because snow keeps covering the entrance. Workers continually have to dig it out, which means the entrance tunnel is far longer than it originally was.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The ever-growing entrance tunnel.

Even with maintenance, the guides say the cave will be gone within 10 years.

And the glacier itself? Global warming is taking its toll, and Langjökull is expected to be gone in about 100 years.

It’s a sad state of affairs, as smaller glaciers act as harbingers or early indicators of changes to come. If you’d like to read more about that, check out this site that explains it much better than I can.

Into the Glacier works to offset the carbon footprint of their operations by planting 5,000 trees a year. In fact, the entire country is incredibly sustainable and forward-thinking. It’s inspiring, and I hope the rest of the world will take note.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Sincerely Annie

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You won’t believe how many Santa Clauses there are in Iceland…

Going to Iceland a few weeks before Christmas is one of the most magical things I’ve ever done. (Despite the complete lack of snow. Thanks, global warming.)

It turns out Reykjavík is delightful and weird, and delightfully weird. One thing I noticed almost immediately was the presence of moving graphics projected onto the walls of buildings when it was dark outside (which, in December in Iceland, is about 20 hours a day).

When I finally asked an Icelander about them, he replied that those were the Santas.

Yes, Santas. Plural.

Iceland does, in fact, have 13 Santas. They’re trolls, actually, who come down from the mountains in December. And they all bring presents for the kids. All 13 of them!

They’re called the “Yule Lads,” but in modern times, this traditional folklore has mixed with the Christmas practice of the jolly red guy and is now commonly referred to as the “13 Santas.”


They’re pictured here with their mother, father, and the Yule Cat. Source

Before I introduce you to the lads, you need to meet their mother, Grýla, who’s favorite delicacy is children.

Yes, you read that right. At the heart of Iceland’s jolliest season of the year is a troll woman who gathers disobedient children and cooks them in a stew.

Photo by Annie Cosby

As one shop owner explained to us, “Well, she used to eat children, but then we got psychology, and we had to stop saying that. Now she just puts them in her bag and takes them away.”


Oh, that’s soooo much better.

To make matters worse, Grýla has a pet cat (called Jólaköttur) who eats children who don’t receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas.


Yes, this cat eats kids for reasons completely beyond their control. Source

Do you see a theme here? Icelanders are frighteningly fixated on eating children.

But I digress.

If you think all of the above is weird, wait til you get a load of the Yule Lads’ names: (my favorites appear in red)

  1. Sheep Worrier (Stekkjastaur) harasses the sheep but finds it hard to walk due to his two peg legs. (Which begs the unanswered question: How did he get down from the mountains?!)

  2. Gully Gawk (Giljagaur) hides in gullies to wait til the barn clears out so he can steal milk.

  3. Stubby (Stúfur) is just short. Kinda boring.

  4. Spoon Licker (Þvörusleikir) is one of my favorites. He steals spoons to lick.

  5. Pot Licker (Pottaskefill) steals your leftovers from pots.

  6. Bowl Licker (Askasleikir) … I think you see where this is going.

  7. Door Slammer (Hurðaskellir) slams doors in the night “to give you a fright,” according to that same garrulous shopkeep I talked to.

  8. Skyr Skimmer (Skyrgámur) loves skyr, which is an Icelandic dairy product like yogurt.

  9. Sausage Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir) hides in the rafters and steals your sausages.

  10. Window Peeper (Gluggagægir) is another favorite of mine, because how creepy is this?! He looks through your window to find things (or food) to steal.

  11. Door Sniffer (Gáttaþefur) is a class act, too. With his abnormally large nose, he sniffs at your door to find out when you’re cooking.

  12. Meat Hook (Ketkrókur) uses a hook to steal meat.

  13. Candle Stealer (Kertasníkir) follows kids to steal their candles (which were edible back in the old days).

The awesome images above come from an awesome book about the legend written and illustrated by Brian Pilkington.

So how does it work with so many Santas? The first Yule Lad comes on Dec. 12, and one follows each day thereafter, until Dec. 24. Children leave their shoes on their windowsill each night, and a small present is left in them—if the child is good.

If an Icelandic child misbehaves, he or she doesn’t receive coal, but instead … a potato!

The Yule Lads

I don’t see that as a punishment, but as my favorite shopkeep told me, “As a result, many Icelandic children do not like the potato.”

Potato or not, each Yule Lad stays exactly 13 days. The first leaves on Christmas Day, and the exodus continues each day after. It really prolongs the holiday season!

So, what do you guys think of this Christmas tradition? I think, had 10-year-old me been raised in Iceland, she would have been terrified of Christmas! (And cats.)

Sincerely Annie

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The HEARTS OUT OF WATER series is complete!

As you already know if you’re signed up to my email list (it’s not too late to do it!)Learning to Love, the last book in the Hearts Out of Water series, is now available!

In other words: the series is complete!

Hearts Out of Water by Annie Cosby

You can snag it at any of these online retailers:

AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

I also wanted to let you know that there are some seriously cool extras on my website for you to learn more about the Irish legend that spawned the story, and explore the photos and playlists that inspired it.

Hearts Out of Water series by Annie Cosby

Check it out at AnnieCosby.com/HooW-series!

Thanks so much for reading, and never hesitate to contact me to talk about, well, anything!

Sincerely Annie

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YA Summer Prize Pack Giveaway for Annie’s Readers Club

It’s official, I’m the worst! I have to push back the release date for LEARNING TO LOVE. 🙁 So, to suck up to you lovely readers, I’m having a YA summer fun giveaway!

FullSizeRender (1)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sincerely Annie

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