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 ✨❤️

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

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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.