Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth (The Pillars of the Earth, #1)The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a co-worker and I have to say I wasn't all that excited to read it. The premise seemed a little boring... a story about a cathedral getting built. I was skeptical at best. However, this book got my attention from the very first page and managed to keep it through 32 audio CDs (983 pages for you readers). In the car. During my commutes. That's saying something.

Now just saying this book is about a cathedral getting built doesn't quite cover what it's about. Sure, there is a lot of talk about a cathedral and the architecture of it. But, there is also a great story to go along with it. The characters all had great depth. I cared about the heroes, I hated the villains. Which may seem like an easy thing to do, but surprisingly it doesn't happen all that often.

To give a little background, Ken Follett was an established, popular writer of mystery/suspense novels. He became interested in the architecture and history of cathedrals and spent a lot of time studying them and learning about them. He decided he wanted to take that knowledge and incorporate it into a book... which is where the idea for The Pillars of the Earth came from. With good reason his publicist was a little wary of Follett deviating from his tried and true standard genre. But, Follett wrote the book anyway and it has become his best selling novel to date. And with good reason. This was a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I'll Do What I Want!

There are so many non-fun things that come with adulthood: jobs, bills, responsibilities. But lately I've been enjoying some of the little things that I love about it. When you're a kid it seems like there are so many rules to follow. Don't do this. Don't do that. Why? BECAUSE I SAID SO.

As an adult (at least outside working hours) there are no, "Do it because I said-so's." Pretty much your life is a blank sheet of paper and you can fill it with whatever you like. When I was a kid we had a lot of rules about this and that. No eating after 4:00pm or you'll ruin your dinner. You can't buy Lucky Charms or Cap'n Crunch and only 2 boxes of cereal open at once. Don't walk around outside in your socks. Turn all the lights off when you leave a room. Up by 8:00am on the weekends. Most of those rules were pretty reasonable. But these days I'm throwing caution to the wind. And it's awesome.

Cookies for breakfast? Don't mind if I do! Don't want to put my shoes on to check the mail? Fine! Leave all the lights on in the house? Why not?! Buy 15 different kinds of sugary cereal and open them all at once? Just watch me! Sleep for 12 hours straight? Hells yes! I'm living on the edge over here and loving every minute of it.

You got any rules you like to break?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book Reviews: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian and The Giver

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being somewhat familiar with Native American culture, this book was really fun for me to read. It's a great under-dog story that keeps you rooting for Jr. the entire time. While this wasn't a literary great by any means, it was an entertaining, quick read and I really enjoyed it.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First I have to say I really liked this book. Very interesting concepts. It's intriguing to think how things would be if your life was structured in the same way these people's lives are. Everything laid out for you... who your family is, who you'll marry, what your life's work will be. On one hand it would be great to have someone else do all the thinking for you. Make all the big decisions. But then, human nature lends itself to wanting things it's not supposed to have. Or things that are forbidden. Seems like those urges would be tough to control, even with medication.

Now as a side-note this is the first in a series of 3 books. I was a little confused by the fact that none of social structure or characters carried on to the other two books. So, if you go on to read either of them, keep that in mind.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Backpacking Gear Reviews

Before we embarked on our backpacking trips this year, we decided we should invest in some quality gear. Our last trip had involved a leaky tent, uncomfortable packs, and less than desirable sleeping conditions. We tried to remedy those things this time around as well as a few other minor elements. This is what we've found from our testing so far.

I love this tent. There are so many details on it that make it a great piece of equipment. It is meant to be a 3 person tent, but I thought it fit 2 people perfectly with just enough room to spare for small items (3 people would be a bit of a squeeze).  The main reason I went with the 3 person tent over the 2 person, was this one has 2 doors, one on either side. Let me tell you how awesome this was. Each person having their own door and vestibule rocked. No more climbing over people in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. No tracking dirty feet across the tent. This tent also comes with it's own footprint tarp and has a small gear loft inside (great for keeping items easily accessible). I also liked that the zippers and tie-down cords were reflective so you could see them in the dark. The tent was incredibly easy to set up and the orange color makes it highly visible when you're trying to find it in a clump of trees. Now as a disclaimer, we haven't seen any adverse weather (no strong winds or rain), but knowing Marmot, that won't be a problem.

I tried on every single women's pack at REI before I found this one. I couldn't find a pack that didn't put pressure on my hip bones or one that didn't squish my bewbs and make them look weird or rub on my neck. Or that just felt comfortable. This pack met all of those criteria and I'm happy to say it was just as comfortable on the trail. I liked that the hip belt was wider and flatter than the other packs I tried. It also has cutouts that align with your hip bones so there is no pressure on them. I was able to put 100% of the weight on my legs which meant my arms and shoulders never got sore from the weight. It does not come with its own water pack, but the 3 liter water bag from my day pack fit great into it and there were openings and straps for the hose to be easily routed to my shoulder strap. The bag had plenty of room for all my gear and an adequate amount of pockets and exterior straps for things like water bottles, jackets, and my fly rod. This was an incredibly comfortable pack and I am extremely happy with it!

I was so excited to get this sleeping bag. I always sleep cold when I'm camping and thought this was the solution for sure. Night time temps on the 2 trips I took this on were probably around 35-40 degrees, so not too cold... nowhere near the 0 deg. temp rating of this bag. While I did like that my sleeping pad didn't move around while I slept (or didn't sleep...), it also prevented me from closing my bag in around me, thus making the bag feel drafty and cold. Maybe this would be better if you were a little bigger and filled out the bag more. The pad seemed to let a lot of cold air up from the bottom as well, making me think that the complete lack of down on the bottom of the bag wasn't such a great idea. So, the bag was comfortable, but not warm. The pad was suitable and worked well... I liked that it was extra thick at 2.5", plus it packed down super small. Seth's pad actually leaked however... so not sure if mine will end up with the same problem. Ultimately, I had one of the worst nights out backpacking I can remember. Too bad, I really had high hopes for this combo.

I have a love/hate relationship with pants. I love wearing them, but hate shopping for them. The junk in my trunk, though quite spectacular, doesn't lend for easy fitting in the pants department. I also have this problem where the length of my legs doesn't quite conform to standard sizing. A "regular" inseam usually measures 32", a little too short. "Long" inseams are typically 34" or longer... too long (if you can actually find long pants...). So as you can imagine, shopping for pants isn't usually a fun activity for me and I usually have to try on at least 10 pair of jeans (usually double that) before I find something that fits, and even then it's not a home run. So when I went to REI to find some new convertible pants (or Adventure Pants as Seth and I call them) I wasn't surprised when after trying on about 10 pairs, I still hadn't found one I was in love with. But, somehow on my way into the dressing room, I'd found another pair of adventure pants and thrown them on top of the pile. This was the last pair I tried on. And I loved them from the moment I put them on.

These Mountain Hard Wear pants are so amazing in so many ways. First of all, they fit me. Like a glove. Ample room for my butt and thighs without being tight. No gaping at the back. And get this... their regular inseam length must be 33" because they were long enough to cover my boots without being slouchy and sloppy. WOOHOO!! They have 2 snaps and a zipper to close as well as a drawstring to give that extra tightness if needed... thus eliminating the need for a belt. The fabric is super light and stretchy so it moves really well while hiking. And as is a common problem with adventure pants, the zipper at the knee doesn't rub when I bend my leg. The pants have 2 zipped cargo pockets, easily unzipped and zipped with one hand. I would like to have had the two hand pockets at the top, but I can overlook that because of all the other amazing traits. I can't recommend these pants enough.

Several years ago Seth and I each bought his and hers Danner 453 GTX boots to wear for our more serious hiking excursions. While Seth has always really liked his, mine just never seemed to cut it. My ankle area/lower calves are not dainty like most women and my feet are really wide. While the Danners were plenty wide enough, the back of the boot was too high and always hurt the back of my leg, especially when walking downhill. The boots were also too stiff, not allowing them to conform to my foot. I could never get them tight enough and when I did, it caused the pain on the back of my leg to worsen. The last straw was when I wore these on our 10 mile backpacking trip. My feet came away sore and blistered. All I wanted to do was take the stupid things off. They made the trip miserable. So when another backpacking trip was on the horizon, I made the demand that I HAD to get new boots beforehand. That's where these Keens come in.

I did a lot of research online before purchasing these. I was pretty sure this was the boot I wanted, but went into my local REI to try them on first, just to make sure they would work. I immediately loved these boots. They were really comfortable and fit my foot really well. The back of the boot didn't put pressure on my leg and there was a ton of room in the toe box for my wide feet. They were a little stiffer than a tennis-shoe type day-hiker boot, but not near as stiff as the hard-core backpacker boots available. The perfect mix. Add all that to the cute factor, and I was sold. But the true test would be in the hiking.

I hiked about 5 miles in these boots without even thinking about them. They provided great traction and my feet felt super comfy the whole time. No hot spots. No blisters. I actually LIKED wearing these and that's saying a lot. Now I haven't tested out the waterproof-ness or durability of these yet, but if all goes well, I'll be using these babies for years to come.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Backpacking the Uintas: Ostler Fork

Seth and I spent the last couple weekends backpacking up in our local mountains: the Uintas. It had been a couple years since we'd last gone so we were excited to get out and give it another go.

On our first trip we headed for a group of lakes near Christmas Meadows. Here's the route we took:

I'm not going to lie. That was a HARD hike. It was about 5 miles to our camping spot at Ostler Lake. Five STEEP miles. My butt almost fell off. But we made it!

It was a very secluded spot and we were the only ones camping there. It was the quietest night I can ever remember with not so much as a gust of wind.Unfortunately it was a pretty rough night as far as sleeping goes. Neither Seth nor I slept much at all and we were both pretty disappointed with our new sleeping bags.

The next day we fished Ostler Lake. I caught 3 fish: 2 good sized cutthroats and a tiger trout. Somehow Seth managed to get skunked.

After fishing there for a few hours we ate lunch and napped for a little while and thought maybe we should just go back home after the horrible night we'd had. But, after packing up our gear and heading back out onto the trail, we realized we weren't ready to leave yet and made our way up to "No Name Lake"... a little lake just southeast of Ostler. No Name Lake was incredibly beautiful and our camping spot was even better than the one we had the night before.

 I managed to catch 2 cutthroats on a beetle at No Name but somehow, Seth got skunked again. The next morning we decided to hike up to Amethyst Lake before heading home. We only got to fish for about 45 minutes before a storm rolled in, but we both caught a few brookies in that amount of time. I believe I caught 3 and Seth caught 9! We wished we had more time to spend there, but we now had about 6 miles to hike to get back and figured we'd better get a move on it.

This was a pretty aggressive trip for our first time out this year, but we had a great time. It was nice to finally get in some fly fishing after going the whole spring and summer without it. Not to mention some camping too!