My Ultimate Bucket List – What’s on yours?

Bucket List item:  Get My Picture in the Newspaper 

My Ultimate Bucket List is a book I picked up and added to my list of places to see and things to do. Not only does the book have blank pages for my own list, but it is filled with lots of fun things to accomplish.  The items I’ve been writing about are mostly from the resulting list of completed adventures.

These aren’t in any particular order, but simply in whatever way that I can make them work.  Some are quick & easy; others, not so much –like Start a Blog and Keep it Going for at Least a Year.  Most are related to travel in some way, with a few exceptions 🙂
This is one of those exceptions: Get My Picture in the Newspaper 

Bucket List item:  Get my picture in the paper
Bucket List item: Get my picture in the paper
 Do you have a list of places to see or things you hope to do one day?  Writing it down is often a good first step toward completing something. And know that every good adventure starts with a first step.  #goals 
Here’s hoping you’ll get through your List ✨❤️

Pack the right bag(s)

Longchamp of Paris bags in deep orange and black
Longchamp of Paris bags in deep orange and black
Long ago and far away, I discovered Longchamp bags.  To say that I can’t survive without them is probably an understatement. 

They come in all colors, sizes, and shapes, and are sturdy enough to survive life with me — both for travel and for day-to-day stuff.  When empty, they fold up into a very compact, packable size, so there is always room for that extra bag you may need if you end up doing a little too much shopping. 

I keep a deep orange colored one packed with my dance clothes & shoes (Tango, Salsa, jazz, and ballet–a lot of shoes :), and a freshen-up kit (in a small Longchamp toiletry bag), and a black one holds my MacBook, charger, passport backup drive, iPad, and in-transit reading materials. 

Longchamp bag packed and ready to fly
Longchamp bag packed and ready to fly
Hint:  Although I normally use them for carry-on items, they are handy if you need to check one in an emergency  (like overweight suitcase spillover to avoid fees; etc.).  Just make sure to keep an address tag both inside and out, and don’t check fragile items or valuables. 

So, give one a try. You will never want to travel without it. 

Here’s wishing you safe & happy travels ❤️✨ and the perfect bags for your travels. 💫

Castles, Châteaux, and Palaces, oh my!

Château du Gué-Péan - Loire Valley
Château du Gué-Péan – Loire Valley
Bucket List item:  Spend the Night in a real Castle 

We were modern day intruders, I decided, as we passed through a thicket of trees on our drive to le Château du Gué-Péan.  Fog was beginning to circle the château, consuming the light cloak of misty drizzle.  The birds sang louder, determined to be heard as the rain began to pour.  Singing in the rain–an opera for our arrival, no less.  I wondered if the songs had been passed down from their ancestors.  Cars and motors were out of place here. Instead, horses, shining armor, and a sword for my husband would have been more appropriate.  For me?  Well, a proper lady should be riding sidesaddle, dressed in a ruffled blouse, with corset and petticoats, of course.  Les vêtements appropriés du jour.  But alas, we were a few centuries too late.  Really, flowery writing is appropriate for this place.  I started thinking in sonnets as we pulled in. 

Located in Montrichard, in Loire-et-Cher, the fortified castle stood just as it was in 1600, except for the dry moat.  It’s stuck in time.   

Built on the site of a Roman camp, Le Château du Gué-Péan is not nearly as well known as some of its neighbors.  Tucked away like a secret, the château served as the private residence of Monsieur le Marquis de Keguelin, or Raymond, until his death.  It was rumored to have been the private meeting place of King Francoise I and Mary Queen of Scots.  Presently, the château is open only for guided tours.  

“Ah, oui. The turret room will be yours for your stay at the chateau.  You will dine with Monsieur le Marquis tonight, oui?  There will be drinks before we dine.”  This is one time I was thankful to have overpacked– the extra dress I stuffed in my bag at the last minute just happened to be perfect for drinks and dinner with le Marquis.  

Unlike the exterior of the château, our grand round room had been updated– up to late 50s-early 60s style–just a few decades short of present day.  But what the room lacked in modern style was more than made up for in comfort and overall hospitality. 

The Turret - Le Château du Gué-Péan - Loire Valley
The Turret – Le Château du Gué-Péan
Both evenings we met le Marquis in the study for drinks. He had been a member of La Résistance and was kind enough to share with us some of his amazing stories and memorabilia, including letters from Sir Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.  We also got a glimpse of a letter by Marie Antoinette written from prison to her children shortly before her death.  Dinner followed in the grand dining room–truly a setting fit for a king.

The food was outstanding, and the conversation delightful.  Monsieur le Marquis’s thickly accented English was difficult for us to understand at times, but our meals with him were the most exciting events of our trip.

We spent the next two days roaming the place, inside and out. I could feel the ghosts of past inhabitants.  From WWI graffiti left by soldiers in the turret, to the paintings hanging throughout, history could be found in nearly every nook and cranny. We were even joined by a friendly, unseen presence that insisted on persistently tilting our bedside lampshade.  With a history as long and storied as that of le château, there’s no telling who — or what — else was hanging out with us.  🙂

Château du Gué-Péan ghost of tilted lampshade :)
Château du Gué-Péan – On the lookout for lampshade tilting presence
We booked the château knowing that it was off the beaten path, and it took quite a bit of difficulty to arrange (understatement).  But both my husband and I just had this feeling about the place and decided to put forth the effort in spite of the obstacles. It paid off. Experiences like this are why we travel. Let’s face it, travel is hard work and can be a lot of trouble, especially in the planning stages.  Our stay could just as easily have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. That’s just the chance one takes when hitting the road. 

My tip?  Follow your instincts and don’t give up if you encounter obstacles. Too many people look at obstacles as a sign that it’s time to give up, but often the most difficult experiences are among the most satisfying. You may even get a tip of the hat–or lampshade–for your trouble.

To locate a Château, Castle, or Palace, research online or contact your travel agent.  

Here’s wishing you safe and happy travels ❤️✨ and an obstacle worth surmounting 💫

Stables on the grounds of Château du Gué-Péan
Stables on the grounds of Château du Gué-Péan

Copyright © 2017.  All rights reserved. Reusing content from this website, for any purpose, is prohibited without express permission from the author.

Don’t pack trouble into your travel

Packing for everything
Packing for April in Paris

Bucket List item:  Buy an Entire New Travel Wardrobe so I won’t end up in the following predicament ever again 🙂  Two birds w/one stone:  Climb to the Top of the Eiffel Tower 

Few things fill me with ambivalence the way packing does. It’s important to have wardrobe choices, especially when travelling, but over-packing can ruin a trip—and make a travel partner not so happy.  :-//
A light packer until I got married, the realization hit me that I could finally pack like a Boy Scout. My new packing motto became “Be Prepared” since I had my new knight-in-shining-armor to bear the burden of the extra stuff it took for me to be prepared.

For the first couple of years my husband dutifully went along, but eventually he decided he’d had enough. I should have seen it coming. We were leaving for France, and there was an unusual twinkle in his eye as he packed my two suitcases into the trunk.

“Remember,” he said, “I have my bag and my carry-on to keep up with.” It was then he turned and looked me square in the eye and asked, “Are you really sure you want to take all of this? You also have your carry-on and we will be moving around a lot.”  He had never questioned me before about my bags, but I did have one bag more than usual.

To be fair, we were going to be in France for over three weeks.  Our itinerary included everything from hiking along the Normandy coast to dining with a Marquis in his Loire Valley chateau. And then there was Paris. So of course all of my wardrobe bases had to be covered. Also, it was April.

“The weather is sooo unpredictable in April—you said so yourself,” I told him as he loaded the luggage into the car. One bag was quite large, the other fairly small—carry-on size, and then there was my actual carry-on.  It’s important to note that this was back when the wheels on bags seemed to be merely an afterthought to luggage makers. The large bag had these tiny little wheels and the rubber had already worn almost completely off, but hey, it had wheels so I really didn’t see that it would be too much trouble. Hah! Was I wrong.

I discovered this by the middle of our trip. The remaining rubber on one wheel had finally worn down to metal making the bag lopsided. We were leaving Paris and my husband decided we should take the Métro across Paris to get to the outskirts of the city where we were to pick up our car.

“Why can’t we take a taxi?” I asked.

“We have plenty of time and we’ll save a lot of money,” he said.

It was early morning rush hour at the station and mobs of people were making their way in and out of the Métro. My husband, with his bags and his map, was clearing the way for me and my bags. Up until that point I had been trying to make a game out of my fight to keep the large bag from toppling over. Down the first flight of steps and toward the underground, and down the next step when suddenly everything started to go wrong.

The large bag fell over and began tumbling down the second flight of steps, with me trying desperately to hang on to it. My struggle had gone unnoticed until this moment, and I remember looks of horror on the faces of the people who turned to see the ruckus going on behind them. Depending on where they were, people either rushed to clear the way or stopped to stare. I said a little prayer that no one would get hurt. Lucky for me, no one got hit or knocked over.  When it was all over I sat down on my bags in the middle of the station and cried. The tears started flowing and would not stop.  “You weren’t helping,” was all I could manage to get out between sobs.  

My husband suddenly felt very bad.  He grabbed my hand.   “I’ll take the big one.  Forgive me?” He asked as he gave me his small bag. “I’m so sorry. I should have called a taxi.”  

But it was I who owed him the apology.

And that wasn’t quite the end of it either. We made it down into the train, then out and up all the steps, out of the station, and to the car.  But the car was too small for all of our stuff.  I don’t know how he did it, but my husband finally managed to make everything fit.  He turned out to be the knight-in-shining-armor after all.

France - Packing it all in
France – Packing it all in
I wasn’t completely reformed, but I was determined to build a travel wardrobe that would give me choices and also fit in one small bag. I still over-pack occasionally, but never do I pack with the expectation that someone else will make my load easier. I only pack what I can reasonably expect to carry myself.

Besides that, here are some of my tips for packing:

1. Make a list & stick to it
2. Work around one central color theme—preferably a dark color such as black
3. Make sure everything goes with everything else
4. Pack fabrics that dry quickly so they can be washed out and hung to dry overnight
5. Take scarves–they can change up an outfit and keep tops looking fresh
6. Take only items that can be layered or do double duty
7. Carry a thin cashmere shawl that can be used as a light blanket

These must haves are packed according to destination (and space available 🙂):

-Black dress – long or short

-Black leggings

-Cashmere pullover

-Rain jacket with hood

-Lycra top and yoga pants

-Swimsuit with a sarong or cover-up

-T-shirts in black & white

-Wrinkle free button down shirt

-Black jeans and/or white jeans

-Leather jacket

-Black ballet slippers for wearing on the plane & in hotel room

-Flip flops for the shower

-Hiking boots or walking shoes

-Oh, and always pack a sparkly top ✨

The most important thing is to have a plan and stick to it.  After a trip, keep notes on what worked and what didn’t for the next trip.

Below are photos of some of my must haves–and they all fit in my carry-on.

Here’s wishing you safe & happy travels ❤️✨ and that you can get everything you need in one small, easy to manage bag 😊

Sparkles leather and jeans
Sparkles, leather, and stretchy (comfy) jeans
Pack scarves
Scarves add color and protect tops
Pack jackets and sweaters
Jackets, and sweaters, and cover-ups, oh my!
Pack lightweight tops that go with everything
Pack lightweight tops that go with all colors
Pack a little black dress
Pack a little black dress
Pack everything in one bag
Make sure you can pack everything in one bag
Kodiak makes hiking boots for all weather
Kodiak makes hiking boots for all weather and conditions (I just bought my 2nd pair 🙂
© 2017 jsf

On travel and money

Getting stuck at King Ludwig's castle with no money
Mad King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein

Bucket List item:  Tour the Mad King Ludwig’s Castle that inspired Walt Disney. 

I only had to pack my clothes for our honeymoon to the German Alps—and I packed way too much.  But this post is about how to prepare to pay for things once you get where you’re going-not packing. 


Not yet privy to a travel quote by Susan Heller,  I would later read and appreciate her prudent advice in the NY Times : “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”


Before we were married I didn’t have a credit card to my name–I used my father’s when I travelled, but otherwise I didn’t need one.  My husband added me to his account and we planned to use that card during our honeymoon. He paid for the hotel rooms in advance so we only needed to charge meals, shopping, and the final rental car bill at the end of our trip. We had some cash for incidentals and emergencies.


It wasn’t until a couple of days after we arrived in the city of Garmisch that we had a  problem with our credit card. A dinner charge was declined.  We didn’t worry too much about it at the time. “Probably just a mistake.  I’ll call about it when we get back to the hotel,” my husband said as he pulled out some cash to pay for our meal. This was before the days of computers and cellphones.  Charges took several days to process, and there were always glitches when traveling abroad.


“No, nothing has changed with your account. There is not a problem, and yes, we know you are in Germany,” the credit card representative told him. The next day the card was declined everywhere we went and we were burning through our emergency cash.  No more spending until we figured out what was going wrong.


After two days of failed charge attempts and getting nowhere with the credit card company, my husband finally had to call his mother (imagine having to call mother for money on your honeymoon 🙂).  But we were extremely lucky to have her.  She wired us money and helped us get to the bottom of our credit card problem.


It turned out that the travel agent who booked our honeymoon had declined the collision damage waiver on our rental car agreement, so the rental company put an authorizational hold on the card for an amount high enough to buy a new car—which maxed out our limit, of course.   Since all of the paperwork had been handled ahead of time there was nothing else left to do when we arrived in Germany except pick up the keys, find the car, and go.   


Umm…and nobody mentioned the credit card hold to us.  It wasn’t in the contract either we later learned so we couldn’t have known about it.  Besides being nearly broke by the time we got to the bottom of it all, even worse was the amount of time it took away from the fun of our honeymoon. Extremely frustrating, to say the least.


Sometimes, in spite of the best planning, stuff happens and you learn from it. Bank networks fail, machines break, cards are declined—and it can cost. A crisis like this can take hours–days even–of precious holiday time to sort things out.  Knowledge and planning are still the best measures to avoid major problems, and help you get out of the ones that happen in spite of all planning.


Here are a few tips that may help you avoid some of the mishaps I’ve had to plod through:


Tip #1: Read Susan Heller’s travel advice, then memorize it and take it to heart.


Tip #2: Have an emergency stash of US dollars—(mostly $20 bills, but have some smaller bills on hand for tips).  Use a hidden money pouch and make sure each traveller has some cash.


Tip #3: Wait until you get to your destination to exchange money, and don’t change too much at once.  Try to use your credit card (responsibly 🙂 for most purchases.  Credit cards have protections that cash doesn’t–and you may need your cash for an emergency.


Tip #4: Travel with at least two (2) credit cards. Make sure at least one is a MasterCard or Visa. Many places, especially outside of the US, do not accept American Express.


Tip #5: If your ATM card isn’t part of a global network, get one that is. This will make accessing cash easier and help you save $$$ in fees.


Tip #6: Notify your credit card companies and banks of travel plans or you may find your cards blocked when the banks notice charges from outside your home state. The contact numbers for card issuers can usually be found on the back of the card or online.


Tip #7: Store the 24-hour emergency phone numbers and email addresses of all credit card issuers and banks in your contact list.  I also make copies of the front and back of all bankcards and passport information. If you take a snapshot with your phone instead, make sure the photos and information are not backed up into the cloud unless you know the data is encrypted and secure.


An additional tip I think worth mentioning is one of my pre-travel planning steps.  I do this before each trip to help me keep up with my cash and credit cards and ensure I have only the basic necessities in my purse or pack.  So here is my final tip:

Tip #8: Make a checklist of everything you need to carry in your purse or pack during the trip and lay all of those things out on a dinner-sized tray. Then pack only those items. If there are too many things, decide what can be left behind.  Your purse/pack will be lighter, you will have a proper accounting of all the items in there, and there will likely be more room to add a water bottle or a few small souvenirs.  Make sure you have an envelope or pouch for keeping all travel receipts together.

Hmmm… we needed money to get down from Zugspitz
Remember, you can follow all good advice and still have problems, but it is not as likely with good planning.

Here’s wishing you safe & happy travels ❤️✨   and no money or credit card snafus while travelling 💳💵💰

Louis Vuitton, Apple iPhone, Egypt coin purse, Hermes passport cover
Empty your purse & Lay out your travel items

Items in the top photo on the colorful handmade wooden tray from Namibia are listed below from top left, then clockwise:

  • Louis Vuitton wallet 
  • iPhone charger (foreign version if traveling outside the States)
  • Ferragamo pouch for smaller items (Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm in Red Dahlia, Mont Blanc pen, glow-in-the-dark flashlight for bedside, ceramic pill case from Netherlands, charger cord, iPod mini)
  • Silk handkerchief from Thailand (usually 2-3 are in my bag)
  • Change purse (from trip to Egypt) for coins and small bills
  • Louis Vuitton small change purse for memory cards, usb drives, etc.
  • Hermes leather passport holder (color is rouge grenat) to hold passport (of course) and receipts — (always keep receipts & match with bank statements in a timely manner)
  • Passport
  • iPhone in the middle with black leather case from Apple Store

© 2017 jsf.

Postcards from around the world 

Postcards world travel cartes postales
Postcards mailed from around the world
 Bucket List item:  Start a Collection of Something 
Thanks to a broken foot, I’ve had an unexpected windfall of time on my hands.😊. While going through my long-neglected photo library, I made a discovery that I would like to share.  It is this:  You will likely forget about many things in your travels that you thought you would never forget.

Surprised?  I was. Technically, I believe the memories are there, somewhere, but I wonder if I would have ever recalled those memories without looking through the pictures.  I also wonder what else I’ve forgotten. These thoughts sent me searching through our postcards.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve sent postcards home to myself whenever I’m on holiday.  I buy a postcard and a stamp at each new city, record significant info & events on the back, write in my home address, and mail.

I carried on this tradition after I married and had children. My kids aren’t too far from leaving the nest and they still mail postcards home when they travel– at least when travelling with me.💌  I think they knew their home address before they could tie their shoes!

It’s fun to watch the postcards trickle in after a vacation spent travelling through several cities. Depending on location and mode of transport, a postcard or two will sometimes beat us home, but usually not. Once they arrive home, postmarked and stamped with their exotic stamps, the postcards go into a cedar chest.  A lifetime of memories now sit at the foot of the bed.

So, here is some advice for those of you who think you will never forget a single moment of the exotic adventures you will be taking, or may even be on this very moment–You will forget a lot of the good stuff, so do something special for your future self.  Like what?   


Here are a few ideas:

  • Mail yourself postcards.  One of my favorite things to do when I’m down or otherwise need a reminder of my good fortune in life (and we all have good fortune woven through our lives whether we choose to believe it or not) is to read through a handful of these postcards.   They are always there for a quick walk down memory lane.  Some of the special ones are in a scrapbook, but most are in the cedar chest at the foot of the bed.


  • Keep a travel journal.  Studies have shown that the act of writing things down with pen onto paper helps us remember.  Not many things are as nostalgic as settling in to read through an old journal.  I’ve noticed that my handwriting changes dramatically with my mood–a discovery I wouldn’t have made typing up a Word document.

  • Start an Instagram account.  If you don’t already have one, start an Instagram account.  It will force you to curate your best images from the rest of the bunch.  And you know that saying about a picture being worth a thousand words?  Well, Instagram has a place for the words too.  Don’t forget to backup your computer regularly.  

To memories! 🍾🍸✨ Make new ones but don’t forget to take time to help yourself remember the ones you have already made.

Here’s wishing you safe and happy travels❤️✨and a life filled with precious memories, both old and new.
© 2017 jsf.

“Would you please shoot that snake?”

Bucket List item:  Go on a Safari 

A cool, dry breeze blew the sand all around as we piled into the jeep with our guide Karl.  It was the first full day of our holiday in Namibia and my husband and I were enjoying a tour of the grounds. The sunny winter day was warming up a bit more than we expected, and I was ready to get out of the sun when we stopped short of a stand of trees.

Smart thinking, Karl, I thought as he shut off the jeep’s engine just before we reached the shade of the trees ahead.  Of course you wouldn’t want to park the jeep under a community birds’ nest that is nearly as large as the tree. Bird droppings may be good luck in some cultures, but I used up the last of the morning’s hot water to shower and there wouldn’t be anymore until the evening.

Mamba gets bang before click in Namibia
Green Mamba heading into birds’ nest (see middle of photo) Namibia
The chattering nest in front of us fluttered with excited birds, as their chirping reached a fevered pitch.  The sun was beginning to burn, and I was about to ask Karl to pull the jeep to the inside edge of the shade when he turned to my husband and calmly asked, “Would you please shoot that snake?”

It took my husband and me a couple of seconds to process Karl’s request.  It was winter in Namibia and snakes, we thought, were not supposed to be part of our adventure.  Oh, and my husband really does not like snakes.

“There, right there,” Karl pointed.  “That green mamba going into the nest in the middle of the tree.  Would you please shoot it?”  Mamba was about to disappear into the giant nest.

My husband pointed his rifle, and we both squinted into the sun toward the tree.

“Wait!  Let me get a picture first!” I shouted.  But it was too late,  His gun went off.

He missed.  Yes!  Now was my chance.  I lifted the camera to shoot just as he lifted his gun to do the same.  Unfortunately for mamba –and me– the bang of the gun beat the click of the camera. I managed to get a nice shot, but not before mamba lost his head.

“Green mamba is one of the most poisonous snakes in Namibia, and kills many people each year,” Karl explained.  I figured we saved some birds too.

After the shot, mamba did the mambo. He began thrashing so wildly, that he thrashed himself right out of the nest up in tree top and onto the branches of a bush below.  My husband and Karl went toward the snake with a stick. Yes, a stick. 

Mamba fell from tree in Namibia
Mamba thrashed himself right out of the tree
Being the brave girl that I am, I screamed. Quite frightened at this point, I was reassured by both men that there was no possibility that we were in any danger from mamba without his head.  They got him in the back of the jeep where he continued his wild dance all the way back to the ranch.

Mamba rides back with us in Namibia
Mamba heading (be-heading :)) back to the ranch with us
That night at dinner we had a thick pea-green soup as an appetizer that happened to be the same color of green as Mamba.  Coincidence, I know(?!), but I simply could not eat it.🐍

Here’s wishing you safe & happy travels❤️✨  And no mambas in your shade trees 🐍 🙂

© 2017 jsf.


Did you really see the Northern Lights if there’s no picture?

Constellation Orion Fairbanks, Alaska
Orion the Mighty Hunter – Fairbanks, Alaska
Bucket List item:  Experience the Northern Lights and See a Shooting Star 

“We’ve been doing it all wrong!” said my son as he shook my husband and me awake from a deep slumber. “We need to be out there now! Right now!” he shouted. “We’ve been doing it wrong and I figured it all out. But we’ve got to go now!”


It was nearly three o’clock in the morning in Fairbanks, Alaska. My husband, the boys, and I had finally peeled off layers of Michelin man coats and itchy wool and settled in for what was left of the night. After two unsuccessful northern lights viewing attempts stretching into the wee hours of the morning, I was exactly where I wanted to be — in bed in a deep and satisfying sleep. Were our sons not exhausted too?


“No, thank you,” I said to my son. He had already gotten the same response from his older brother (like mother, like other son).  But my husband dutifully got up. The two of them once again piled on all their layers of arctic gear and headed out to brave the twelve below zero temperature. They wanted to see what we had flown all the way across the country to see.


Several hours later, they returned in a flurry of excitement and pulled out their iPhones to show us the evidence. I could see the disappointment as they flipped through the photos. “These are terrible!” they both agreed. “They didn’t look anything like this.”

“This is not what we saw.  What we saw was so much better!” said my son.  “How do they get those shots to look so good on the postcards?”

They learned the hard way that iPhones aren’t the best cameras for photographing the northern lights. Fortunately we had the rest of the week.  Now we were also privy to insider information on aurora timing since my son had learned to read the online chart.  I had my dSLR camera, a tripod, and a little bit of experience with night shots and long exposures.


Several years before, I had spent many long evenings photographing a comet.  I was trying to make the comet appear as if it were about to crash into our home. I never got the shot exactly as I envisioned, but the experience came in handy for this trip.

Comet crash into home
Practicing long exposures / Comet crash
So the next day we took a long nap, ate a late dinner, and got out when my son said it was time to go.  The weather was clear.  It was ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit, so I got out of the car to set up the camera, got back in, and we waited. Ah, family togetherness. We chatted about our travels, pointed out constellations, and watched for falling stars, but the northern lights weren’t cooperating.


“We’ll stay just fifteen more minutes so I can get some shots of Orion and the Big Dipper. Someone give me a warmer baklava,” I joked.

“It’s called a balaclava, mom!”

“No, it’s not. It’s a baklava I want,” I was laughing as I jumped out of the warm car to take down the camera. That’s when I saw the cloudy white rays of light, much like sun rays appearing from the horizon. It was around 2:30 am mid-winter and the sun wasn’t due up until around 10:30, so we knew they weren’t sunrays. Something unusual was happening. Everyone jumped out of the car.

White rays of the aurora
The first white rays of the Northern Lights
“Awesome!” said one son.

“I thought they had colors,” said the other.

It would be an understatement to say the cold got to us all very quickly. We were out for twenty minutes, tops. At ten below, even with the best gear, that happens to those of us not accustomed to arctic temperatures.  They piled back into the  car.  I had to get that one last shot.  That’s when I saw the green glow behind them.

northern lights family car
The Northern Lights are behind us!
“Get out! Get out! It’s glowing green…the lights are behind us and they’re green!” It wasn’t long before the white streaks and green glow exploded together into a shimmering, magnetic dance of green and shades of purple across the sky. Nature was treating us to a bucket list performance.


Of course, my photos with the dSLR didn’t turn out as I had hoped. Even under the best circumstances, they rarely do. My shutter release cable was broken, and between my shivering hands and wobbly tripod there was quite a bit of camera shake in most of them. Out of over 100 photos, about ten turned out okay.  But that’s fine with me. One decent shot makes me happy 🙂


One of the best Fairbanks northern lights pics
The Northern Lights putting on a show in Fairbanks
I have since seen and photographed the northern lights from Abisko, Sweden and Tromsø, Norway. My photography skills have improved a bit.  I’m certainly not an expert but I have learned a few things that may help you.


Tip 1—If you’re going mainly for the northern lights alone, make sure you choose a destination with a high likelihood of clear weather and many hours of darkness. Fairbanks, Alaska and Abisko, Sweden are two places that fit that bill.  And not in summer– there’s not much nighttime darkness that far north.


Tip 2—If you want to take quality photographs learn about photography; night photography and long exposures in particular. Make sure you understand your camera settings and practice, practice, practice before you leave. There is a wonderful website I wish I had discovered before my first trip to see the lights:   I don’t know him, but his photos will take your breath away. Also, it’s good to have the following camera accessories:

  • Extra batteries for your camera (the charge runs out more quickly in freezing temps)
  • Tripod
  • Shutter release cord
  • Wide angle lens


Tip 3—Dress warmly, in layers. You may spend many hours standing still in freezing temperatures so you need the proper gear. Hand and foot warmers are a lifesaver and can be found at a local camping/outdoor store.  Camera equipment can get really, really cold. 


Tip 4—The final tip is to keep an eye on the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute forecast at and learn how the map works so you will know the best time for viewing.


Here’s wishing you safe & happy travels ❤️✨and, if you’re looking for them, cooperative Northern Lights 💚💜💙💫✨

© 2017 jsf.

My luggage is where?!

Jet into the pink sunset
Delta jet landing at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport
“So glad we missed that big Delta snafu,” I told my husband and son as we walked into the airport. My son and I were headed to Sweden, where he would be in school for the next year. I had just completed a rigorous MBA program and planned to do some idle wandering myself for a couple of weeks once I got him settled in. 

The Delta meltdown initially appeared to be over. Check-in and security were a breeze, but as we approached our departure gate, it was clear the flood waters were still rising. We were in a sea of long lines and long faces of tired and angry people who could do nothing but wait. I’ll spare the details, but my son and I ended up on different flights, through different connecting cities, in different countries.  

My son’s flight departed without a hitch. Mine, not quite. After a delay of nearly two hours, reportedly due to weather conditions, I saw a crew depart with their bags. I realized then that we were not going anywhere any time soon and if I continued to wait, I would not make the connecting flight to Stockholm. It could be a day or two before I arrived. 

I had no way to contact my son at this point, and he had no idea where our hotel was. Uh oh. Forgot to give him a copy of the itinerary. We were so busy that little detail had slipped our minds. 

Upset, I had to do something. There was no gate agent, so I left the boarding area and queued up behind passengers patiently exchanging airport adventure stories. We noted which agents seemed helpful and which ones took too long. 

After over half an hour, I was thankful to have gotten “the pleasant guy.” Cheerful, and sympathetic to my ordeal, he was just as we had deduced. The Delta agent kindly booked me on a KLM flight that would get me to Stockholm 20 minutes after my son. Yes! Go Delta. 

“There is probably time to pull your bags off the flight so they can arrive with you,” he told me. 

“Yay,” I said. If I’m lucky, I thought.

But the bags did not make it onto the plane with me. And unfortunately, those were the bags filled with all of my son’s worldly winter possessions– coats, boots, sweaters– all the things he would need for the freezing Swedish winter ahead. Plus, my things were in there too. The agent had checked both bags under my ticket, neither under his. How did I miss that?  

I really wasn’t concerned at all, though. In over 20+ years of flying all over the world, none of us has ever had a bag go missing permanently. Misdirected bags have always been located and delivered within 2-3 days. So, I filled out the claim form (This is very important! If your bag does not show up, do NOT leave the airport without filling out a claim form) and we were on our way. 

I checked in with both KLM and Delta every day. “One is at Charles de Gaulle and on its way!” and “One never left JFK. It will go out tonight!” I was told. If only those bags could phone home. By the fourth day when we were leaving Stockholm for Jönköping, and still no bags, I worried.  

Stockholm, Sweden our luggage never made it
It was finally time to leave Stockholm – and still no bags

Finally, one bag was delivered to our hotel in Jönköping seven days later, but the other bag, the most important one with the winter gear was never located. Fortunately, I had a list of items packed and a photo of our suitcase, which made filling out the claim form much easier. Below are tips I have learned over the years and from this experience:

Before travelling:

  • Give everyone travelling a copy of the itinerary – and leave a copy with someone at home
  • Make a list of everything you pack
  • Photograph your bag
  • Tag all bags both inside & out with your name & number
  • Pack 2-3 days of clothing in a carry-on
  • Keep all necessities such as medicine in your carry-on
  • Do not check anything valuable such as camera equipment or jewelry. 

If your bag doesn’t show up:

  • File a claim form before leaving the airport
  • Leave a detailed itinerary with the airline
  • Read & carefully follow all filing instructions
  • Watch out for deadlines
  • Keep copies of all related forms and receipts
  • Don’t cash a check if the amount is in dispute

Some things are not covered under airline rules. Read the rules before booking your ticket and pack accordingly. If the amount of your claim is in dispute and the airline sends you a check, you are most likely settling your claim for that amount if you cash it. But that is a legal question and I am not an attorney.  

Sweden was lovely, and we both learned a few lessons. Delta reimbursed us, but I would love to know where that bag finally ended up. If only bags could talk 🙂

Here’s wishing you safe & happy travels– and that your bags make it ❤️✨

© 2017 jsf.

Decorate your tree with travels

Decorate your tree with travels
Decorate your tree with travels
Bucket List item:  Start a New Tradition 

Don’t forget to think about Christmas when you travel…for at least long enough to grab a special ornament while you’re on holiday. 🌲 

And if you’re travelling with the kids, let each of them choose one of their own.  When Christmas rolls around, put on some music, make some hot chocolate, and settle in to reminisce about past trips as you decorate the tree. 🌲🐪🎁🎲🚂⭐️

These treasures will have extra special memories attached when they’re passed on to the kids one day. 

Here’s wishing you safe and happy travels ❤️✨