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Although Mom and I had four more days left of our trip after seeing the Northern Lights, that first full day in the Arctic Circle inevitably remained the high point.

We did have to occupy our scant daylight hours of course, when hunting the aurora is impossible. So Mom booked us a snowshoeing guided hike from our hostel that turned out to be incredible!

The guide was really informative and our international group was really fun. About half of us fell at least once, as it can be pretty tricky to walk around on a new mode of transport.

It is possible to walk on top of two feet of snow instead of sinking down into the powder with each step!

We hiked up to a great viewpoint – the sun had already set around 2pm, of course, but it was still dusk-like with plenty of light to see.

On the hike we learned that this tiny town had celebrated the return of the sun just 9 days before – around February 3rd. Meaning the sun hadn’t peaked over the mountains surrounding them for almost three solid months!

Although we wished we could’ve stayed in Abisko longer, we could only find accommodations for two nights and so we headed west to Narvik, Norway by train for two nights.

The train ride was a tourist destination in itself with dramatic views of Sweden’s rolling hills transitioning into Norway’s fjords and our first glimpse of the sea!

We also had a great view of the sea and the town shipyard from our Airbnb in a residential area of Narvik.

We attempted to see the Northern Lights from Narvik as well. Locals we met said they see them all the time, but we had little luck besides seeing a green haze in the northern sky for an hour or so.

Our last night’s stay was in the sizeable town of Kiruna, known for its iron mines, back on the Swedish side.

We loved exploring Kiruna with its traditional Swedish church and bell tower.

And! To our great surprise, we found a slide made out of ice for local kids to play on through the winter!

Next to the ice park was a snow sculpture garden to boot!

Kiruna was the site of the coldest weather we felt in Sweden. We were extremely well-prepared for the winter temperatures in the Arctic Circle, but our last fifteen minutes in Kiruna, waiting for the bus to the airport at 4:40am were some of the coldest I’ve experienced. And I lived in Russia for three winters!

Somehow we also eked out about 7 hours touring Stockholm before our return flight to NYC. We walked around the Old Town and saw the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace.

We contributed some money to the already well-supported Swedish tax infrastructure and headed back to the States!

I feel so lucky to have had this week to share with my mama in the Scandinavian arctic – seeing the awe-inspiring Northern Lights for the first (hopefully not last) time!

We had a blast 🙂


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As many of you know, my mom is not a world traveler. She has been coaxed out of the country a total of three times in the past twenty years and only because her children were living far, far away.

Several years ago though, she started mentioning the Northern Lights…and just couldn’t get it out of her head! Sometime last summer, I got excited about planning a trip to see them together in 2018, the year my mama turns 60!

 In my research I learned that planning a trip to see an unpredictable natural phenomenon can be difficult. There are many places in Canada and Alaska to see the aurora, but so many factors must be in sync. Clear, cloudless nights are key, as is positioning as far into the Arctic Circle as possible. There should be little or no light pollution from nearby towns or cities; even a full moon can disrupt visibility.

In my research, one tiny town, called Abisko, in Sweden kept popping up as the best location to see the Lights. Because of a ring of mountains surrounding the town, winter nights were almost always clear, and an upswing in aurora-seeking tourists in the past decade meant that there were accommodations available in this town with less than 100 year-round residents.

So, aided by the low-cost carrier, Norwegian Air, in mid-February on the eve of a new moon, Mom and I flew into Stockholm, Sweden, and boarded an overnight train to the far north of Lapland.

It was a magnificent way to see the countryside and to catch up on sleep in our cozy, two-berth sleeper train. Trains in foreign countries are the best!

We got into Abisko around 4pm (22 hours after having left Stockholm!), found our hostel, and visited the only store in town for groceries. Scandinavia is just as expensive as people say, and it was a PB&J-type of food week.

Our first night in Abisko, we struck out in seeing the Northern Lights – we learned that sometimes the Lights just don’t show up, even in perfect conditions.

But the next night, when we had booked a tour with a local company, we got very very lucky!

Fortunately for us, the tour we booked provided us with tripods and with a photographer-guide, who taught us the basics of photographing the aurora – not as easy as you would think!

At times the Lights appeared to be dancing, shimmering and spiraling through the sky. It really is such a powerful sight and so difficult to put into words.

I didn’t realize that I would be so moved and in awe of this display of nature.

Seeing the aurora left me with a feeling I get really clearly sometimes, only in nature, that there is something so much bigger than myself and everything really is fine after all.

Eventually the Lights petered out, leaving Mom and me with so many different feelings!

Structuring a trip abroad around something you might not see in the end was challenging, but the whole trip was made worth it a thousand times over by the end of our second day in Sweden. There are other pictures from the rest of our trip, but I’ll save that for another post.

The highlight was the day after my birthday, February 12th, 2018, when we saw the Northern Lights!


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It’s been an eventful past month in my world!

On Memorial Day weekend, I trekked to Knoxville to attend my dad’s wedding at a Unitarian church in Oak Ridge.

Dad’s new wife, Cindy, is from Maryville and it was nice to meet her children and share time with them on their happy day.

Even my uncle Hamilton and his wife Julia came up from Atlanta!

Hanging out with them is always a fun time!

Just two days later though, my dear Aunt Liz died.

I shared both a first and last name with her and we had a very special bond and a lot of mutual respect for one another.

Almost all of our extended family attended her funeral on June 2nd. She had lived to be 103 and one week, which was definitely long enough.

I read a eulogy that I wrote the night before during the funeral service at Washington Presbyterian Church. Writing it and sharing it during the service felt very fluid, and I knew that Liz would approve and admire whatever I said. The eulogy is here if you’d like to read.

After the burial, Aus and I stayed a few days with Grandaddy at his house.

Aus made a nice rabbit friend.

And we caught some good rain showers and great sunsets.

Liz will always be my favorite and I will miss her for years to come.

Finishing up the events, my cousin Anna got married on June 15th.

She and her husband, Doug, chose to have a small ceremony on the top of Max Patch, right over the border into North Carolina. The meet-up was planned for 6pm and that’s just when the torrential thunderstorm that we’d been driving through for an hour finally started to recede!

The wedding party and guests made our way to the top of the grassy bald and gathered around Anna and Doug, with their kids in either side.

There were tears and laughing and hugs and some really touching vows – 15 minutes later they were hitched!

It was a really magical evening with the clouds overhead and a happily blended new family coming together.

Mama, Aus and I were all so happy to have made the trip over from Knoxville!

Family can be the greatest, can’t they?!

Happy summer solstice everyone!

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Outdoors Lizzy!

In a pretty unsurprising turn for a newly-single woman, I decided to take myself solo camping this past week.

In driving up to the mountains in the last year, I several times passed a campground that seemed idyllic. Thirty or so sites situated near Crabtree Falls along the Blue Ridge Parkway – on the weeknight I was there, only a handful of them were occupied.

I did without a campfire, but I did bring lots of books to read (including a new one by my favorite Japanese author!) and did some nice journaling.

Waking up the next morning to the sound of rushing water is my ideal camping experience.

I fit in two hikes during my one-night trip. The first was Crabtree Falls itself, which is an amazing waterfall – 70ft of cascades! But above is a picture from my second hike – up to Humpback Rocks.

I did a four-mile loop trail up to the rocks and ran into quite a few Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. A lot of them are passing through Virginia right now on their way to Maine and I got to give one a ride into town after hiking together for a few miles!

Rayann from Florida left Springer Mtn, Georgia on March 26th!

Another recent outdoors adventure was a flatwater kayaking trip on a local reservoir this past weekend.

A group of 15 set out under cool, gray skies to explore the area and learn about local water systems of central Virginia.

A few rumbles of thunder almost cut our trip short, but the storm passed around us and we got two solid hours of paddling in.

Wild Virginia and the Rivanna River Co teamed up to offer the trip, providing us with boats and gear. I’m very much looking forward to spending more time outdoors in Virginia in the fall!

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I’ve been spending a lot of time outside this spring, and with my brother’s newfound interest in photography, I have evidence of some of our outings.

On Easter Sunday, Aus and I took Ellie to Big Ridge State Park near Knoxville to do a six-mile loop.

Now it’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, there were bare trees to be found anywhere.

Ellie had a great time and Aus and I found a big patch of ramps, some of which we harvested and cooked up over the next few days!

Last weekend Mom, Aus and I spent two quite chilly nights at New River Trail State Park in southwestern Virginia.

This was our second time at the Millrace campground and so we knew exactly which campsite to choose – the one closest to the river, which was swollen from so much rain recently.

We fell asleep to the sound of the rushing water each night, woke up to watch baby ducklings swimming down the river with their parents, and cooked up some great meals over the fire.

The state park is on a main route for cross-country bike riders and Aus met a man named Patrick who was heading to Washington state by bike!

We didn’t bring our bikes, but we did take many long walks on the riverside trails.

The weather was windy, but everything was so green and the birds were so chatty, we didn’t mind bundling up.

No camping trip is complete without a trusty teddy bear of course!

Aus took some great pictures and then headed off on another adventure – to hike Linville Gorge in western North Carolina.

I headed back to Charlottesville on Monday, where I was met by the thriving vegetable garden I’ve planted next to my apartment!

I’ve been eating salad greens for days now!

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Ending a long-term relationship in a foreign country was not a goal of mine for this trip. In retrospect though, it wasn’t the worst way to say goodbye to one another.

Kelley and I had five more days of our trip planned after Patagonia and one amazing Chilean city left to visit.

Valparaiso is Chile’s second largest city, situated right on the Pacific Ocean! Only a few hours from the capital by bus, this city was drastically different from Santiago and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.

The city is known for its ubiquitous street art – every wall of every building is covered in different murals.

Literally every wall.

We had three full days to wander the very hilly streets of Valpo, and by the end it felt like we had walked up and down every hill at least twice.

This city felt very special to me –

–  very authentic and gritty, but also full of friendliness and warmth.

It was the first time that locals had warned me about walking through a dangerous part of town. Two different people told us to hide Kelley’s camera and make our way back to the touristy areas!

I never felt unsafe though.

The weather was beautiful and the ocean was always just a glance away.

I had found a fantastic Airbnb at the top of a 20-story building not far from the center of town.

The sunrise and sunset were incredible from up there, and after two weeks of travel, it was so nice to sleep in one place for three nights in a row.

Of course, it was also difficult to be traveling in the midst of a relationship ending, but that too had its high and low points. Somehow we found ways to still be in the other’s company and respect what we’ve meant to each other.

Our last day in Chile we spent going to Isla Negra where the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda kept a house that is open for tourists to visit. I’ve since fallen in love with some of his poetry and have ambitions of reading it in Spanish one day!

On our last night in Chile, we found a restaurant with a gorgeous view of the city and the ocean.

Kelley painted as we played Scrabble and ate a great meal of salad and fish.

We had three hours in a bus and twelve hours in planes ahead of us, but that night will always be a special memory for me.

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I’ve never gone through a breakup with someone I truly loved before, this is my first, and everyone says it doesn’t get worse than the first, which is hopefully true.

This post of our last day in Patagonia is tinged with sadness for me because it’s the day that our relationship ended, right after this horseback riding trip.

The afternoon ride itself was fantastic though.

Kelley’s mom, Laura, had given him some money for Christmas to be used on something special during our Chile trip and after a lot of indecision, we chose to take a relaxed last day with horses in Patagonia before heading back up to Santiago.

I really couldn’t remember riding a horse since I was ten or eleven years old, back when Grandaddy used to keep horses on his farm in Georgia.

Our guide, Catalina, seemed prepared to lead people with no experience on horses on a three-hour ride however. She even had me cantering by the middle of the ride!

Catalina works for Pingo Salvaje, which is actually a massive ranch of thousands of cattle in the hills north of Puerto Natales. It seems like they run these tours as an additional means of income. There are dozens of horses there, most of which are used for rounding up cattle also!

The ranch is located right along a body of water called Laguna Sofia. First we led our horses up to a gorgeous viewpoint to see the lake.

Then we rode along a ridge higher than the lake and circled back around to ride on the shores of the water, making for a very magical three hours.

All along the way, we talked to Catalina and found out a lot more about Patagonia and the people who live there.

It’s been almost a month now since Kelley and I broke up, and though there doesn’t yet seem to be any end to the sadness of it, I’ve been assured by countless people that this too shall pass. Hopefully at some point in the future I’ll be able to remember our last days together fondly –

this was a truly special last adventure in our relationship.

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