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Updated: Feb 6

The Aurora Borealis has long fascinated me. I love "otherworldly" landscapes and this one in the sky was something I wanted to see. But unlike, say, the red rock formations of the Southwest or tropical beaches in the Pacific, the Northern Lights may or may not be there when you go looking.


But you have to search anyway, right? I'd read that Scandinavia above the Arctic Circle has the lowest incidence of cloud cover and thus superior odds - you need clear skies to see the Aurora. Since that part of the world is much closer to England than to the US, I suggested to Robin that we include this quest as part of our sabbatical year, and he gladly agreed. We planned the trip for early February (during winter, when the night is long in the Arctic) to coincide with my 62nd birthday (Feb. 4th).


We left the arrangements to the travel agency. By the time I called in early December, they informed us "the solar storm activity is high this year so the Aurora is active and trips are popular. We are almost sold out." Nevertheless they offered us the last available 4-night excursion to Levi, Finland, at a resort specializing in Aurora-watching called Northern Lights Village. We booked it and flew on January 30th to Helsinki, then a connecting flight to Kittilä and a 30-minute van ride to Levi.


The Northern half of Finland is called "Lapland"

This place was wonderful. Their appeal is glass-roofed "igloo" cabins where you can watch for the Aurora all night long, even from your bed. To help keep you busy during the (short) days, they offer excursions by snowmobile, dog sled, and reindeer sleigh! We had fun with all these activities (outfitted in the snowsuits provided); especially the dog sledding where Robin got to "mush!" (But all those dogs want to do is RUN, so "driving" mostly means braking when necessary!) We also enjoyed learning about Lapland culture; plus the fireplace, comfortable lounge chairs, and excellent meals in the main lodge.




Disappointingly, the weather was overcast and snowy during our first 3 nights in Levi. An ill-conceived "heated sleigh" aurora-hunting excursion on Night #3 was futile. The forecast for our final night was "mostly cloudy." The clock turned past midnight on Sunday, Feb. 4th and we were in bed, resigned to the idea that "seeing the Northern Lights is going to take more than one attempt." Then, we started to see stars appear in our sky windows. Quite a few stars! Awake with hope, we continued to watch.


As the sky began to glimmer with sheets of light, we realized we had gotten lucky after all. We joined the other guests coming out of their cabins to gaze upward and enjoy the show. I loved standing there and taking it in. I had decided not to attempt photography of the lights (best done with a "real" camera and tripod) but just to enjoy the views.

Fortunately, a fellow guest shared his photos with us, and there were some nice ones!



I will tell you that the Aurora looks quite different to the naked eye than it does in pictures. In real life, I didn't perceive those bright colors. To my eyes, the lights appeared mostly white, with the faintest tinge of green at the edges. Harder to capture in photos is the movement - those lights do shimmer and dance! I could not have been happier or filled with greater wonder observing them.


So yes - bucket list item checked off and THANK YOU Mother Nature for the most awesome of birthday gifts! But is it over, or will I find an opportunity to see the Aurora again, perhaps for a more prolonged and colorful display? The journey continues.....


PS -- Happy Birthday to our niece Mia and grandson Sam, with whom I share the same birth date, 40 and 60 years apart 🎂.

Northern Lights (excerpt)

BY J. WEAVER JR.


The moon has gone to her bed tonight,

And all over the sky

She has hung out her garments of light

To dry.

And now each shimmering veil--

Sea-greens and sapphires

Jeweled with orange fires--

Floats from the star she has pinned it to...





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Dearest Readers,


Belated Happy New Year's wishes to you! I hope your year is off to a better start than mine, although in the grand scheme I can't complain too much. So what if a case of Covid derailed my January bridge trip to beautiful Northern California? I didn't cry TOO much over missing the tournament with a favorite partner and teammates. I watched 7 Hugh Grant movies in my English living room to make up for it, didn't I?


Ah well, these things happen. I blame the French, as I like to do. Our son CJ came to England for Christmas, but he doesn't stay in one place for long! He wanted to see Paris, so we took the train from London for a 48-hour visit. We were blessed with a gorgeous central apartment loaned to us by friends, and a whirlwind tour of the City's most famous sites. I had forgotten how charming and beautiful Paris is. Since we've been there in years past, Paris has not been at the top our travel list for our sabbatical, but now we are thinking we should return for a more leisurely visit (though well before the Summer Olympics get underway!)




So I undoubtedly got Covid in France and California didn't happen, but my illness was mild and I got some work done. Once recovered, Robin and I took a road trip to visit our sister-in-law Leni in the southeast for a long weekend. After a night of crazy winds, our final day was beautiful and we got to walk with the dogs along the beautiful ocean cliffs of Margate.


Another day brought a Sunday excursion to the Hook Norton Brewery, a 30-minute drive to the edge of the Cotswolds. The two-hour tour of the historic but still productive brewery was actually pretty interesting, and the generous tasting session afterwards revealed new favorite beers for both Robin and me. Yes, we left with a full assortment from the gift shop. At last some English beer I will enjoy! (Not warm, flat, and bitter as most of the pub beers are.) Robin loves those, but not me! 🤪 However an ice cold bottle of "Hooky Gold" really hits the spot.




As January concludes, I'm wrapping up a brief trip to the US to see my Mom in Maine. She turned 90 in December and my sisters were there to celebrate with her - they pulled out all the stops! Mom was not impressed with my belated birthday efforts, but we still had a nice visit. She's a beautiful 90-year-old, don't you agree?


In early February we embark on a quest for my top bucket list item. I will report back soon! Meanwhile I hope all my readers are enjoying a healthy and happy beginning to 2024.


🇬🇧💂‍♀️🍺

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What's this you say? You went out for breakfast and got UN-scrambled eggs, flimsy untoasted white bread with no butter, and sad lettuce and tomato, undressed? Typical British cuisine?


Well Dear Readers, you will be relieved to hear this disaster happened in ROME, not England! I can honestly tell you that if British cuisine was ever as bland as its reputation, it's come a long way! We have been eating very well this Fall, enjoying the pubs, restaurants, grocery stores, and "takeaways." The food has been a highlight of our sabbatical! (And the fruity waffle photo in the email you received for this blog post was from a very nice breakfast in London.)


There is no DoorDash nor meal delivery service available in our tiny village, conveniences we admittedly enjoyed back home during the Pandemic. Grocery delivery works great and is almost free, but I enjoy exploring the different supermarkets too. And we just discovered that every Tuesdsay at 6:45 PM, the Fish & Chip van pulls into town. They park across the street from our house and the food is fresh, hot, and crispy! This may become a Tuesday habit. Some Fortnum & Mason tartare sauce is a nice enhancement - while Robin enjoys vinegar on his fries (chips).


Did someone say "Fortnum & Mason?" I received a lovely holiday package from my favorite London department store, which was nice since I couldn't carry everything I wanted to buy when we visited. The "Hedgerow" preserve (made of damsons and blackberries) is out-of-this-world on a fresh scone, and we'll be trying the cranberry sauce and piccalilly on Christmas Day. Who was my benefactor you wonder? Well, perhaps I ordered it for myself! And maybe it also included a little box of glacé fruit as a gift to me?



Desserts and cocktails seem to be British specialties, even in the local pubs. Some are better than others, and we are keeping notes on our long list of places to try for "research." London cocktails aren't cheap, but they ARE tasty (and often pretty!). Check out a typical Mr. Fogg's drink menu! Saturday Farmers Markets are another great opportunity, which are year-round here. They have good produce as well as prepared treats, like Robin's favorite Cornish Pasties (a meat and vegetable turnover).



We love that we can sample the cuisine of so many nations in London. We've enjoyed Malaysian, Mexican, Indian, and Lebanese restaurants so far. I also love the very English Sunday roast dinners served in country pubs. You'll get melt-in-your mouth chicken, crispy roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding (think popover), 4-5 different vegetables, and a pitcher of gravy. It's like Thanksgiving once a week, and always a bargain at under £20. Also, there are always appealing vegetarian options on restaurant and pub menus. I really like seeing that.



On a related note, I fortunately have lost a few pounds in 2023. My doctor suggested I quit eating after 5 PM, and I've been able to follow that advice. Along with plenty of walking and a second-hand exercise bike, it seems to be working. I hope to return to the US a little slimmer than I was, but I will NOT be able to blame it on "unappealing food in England." In fact, it has been part of the joy to try all there is to offer. It's a wonderful life!


Our son CJ will be visiting England for Christmas, and we're going to take a quick train trip to Paris for him to see the sights along the River Seine. Then I'll be traveling back to the US in January to visit my Mom for a few days. I wish you all joyous holidays and a Happy New Year. See you in 2024!













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