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This past weekend Andy and I went backpacking with his parents. It was his mom’s first two-nighter, and it was a challenging trail overall. From the very first we started adjusting our plans. The road to the parking area was gravel and not in the best shape, so we parked at a different trailhead than intended to minimizing the driving time. We had to criss-cross back and forth across a river, which took awhile each time, so we scaled back our mileage. To visit the waterfall we had intended to see would have necessitated an additional 8 river crossings, so we nixed the sightseeing in favor of getting to our campsite. It rained the second evening and the entire time hiking out. And yet. No one got grumpy. No one had a bad attitude. We weren’t snipping at each other. We had a great time, and I was very impressed at our family togetherness!

Packing the food up is my favorite part.

In case you’ve got a trek planned in the near future, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things that make even the toughest trips a bit more bearable.

This air mattress:

Nemo Astro Insulate Lite 20R Sleeping Pad

Just Say No™ to the egg crate/yoga mat sleeping pad. I used to always wake up on backpacking trips with aches and pains from sleeping on the ground that were worse than the aches and pains from hiking with a pack on my back. But no longer! This thing is amazing. I’m sure other air mattresses are good, too, but this is the one I can vouch for. Even as a side-sleeper, it holds me up off of the ground so I don’t wind up with a sore spot on my hip. It rolls up into a tiny stuff sack about the size of a Nalgene bottle (and it’s not difficult to get it back in there, either, which I had been worried about). Andy was so jealous of mine that he ordered himself one, too. The only caveat is that they are a bit loud when you move around. But it’s a small price to pay for actually sleeping well on the trail.

This shirt:

Columbia PFG Tamiama II Long Sleve Shirt

Okay, well the one I’m wearing is actually slightly different (or at least has a different name) from the linked one, but they don’t seem to make it anymore and this one has the same features and looks the same. It’s light-weight and I wasn’t too hot even on a sunny June day in Georgia (read: humid). I got soaked crossing a river and it dried really quickly. The zippered pocket on the body, rather than button pockets right on the boobs, is a nice touch. I bought it on a whim at the Columbia outlet and I’m glad I did! It comes in really nice colors, too, which sounds silly, but it’s nice to have something pretty when you’re feeling filthy.

This trail mix:

Wholesome Medley Trail Mix

I usually just buy the Kroger brand, but for some reason when I shopped last week I wasn’t feeling it. I found this one on the bottom shelf in the health foods section of the store. It was so good! Nothing overly sweet, just the cranberries and slightly tart cherries. Nicely toasted nuts, and really yummy dark chocolate chunks rather than candied milk chocolate pieces. It remined me a lot of my beloved Simply Almonds, Cashews, and Chocolate trek mix from Trader Joe’s.

This guy:

Andy and Laura Backpacking

Sorry, he’s not available for sale! But if you ever have the chance to bring him along on a backpacking trip, you should. One of the things I love about Andy is that he always has options available in his mind. He was so flexible and such a good sport on our trip this past weekend, and every time we needed to pivot he had a new route planned out on the map in no time. He takes such good care of me in the wilderness and assuages my anxiety over all the crazy things that could possibly happen. I doubt I ever even would have given backpacking a shot if it weren’t for him, but now I love it! Backpacking is one of the things we do the best together as a team, and I treasure the weekends we spend out in the woods.

Aside from Andys, what are your wilderness must-haves?

May was riddled with abandoned books, and it made me sad. However, toward the end of the month I acknolwedged my reading slump and asked for help in the good ole Twitterverse, and my fans, er, my friends came through! I read one suggestion and really enjoyed it and am in the middle of a second. So perhaps I have broken the unfortunate streak.

What I abandoned (for now, at least):

The intro was fun but then I couldn’t quite get into the writing style of the body of the book.

Maybe I should watch the movie?

(Sorry, Kimmie!)

What I read:

I liked this better than I liked Sea Swept and will probably work my way through the trilogy. Partly, I mean, who doesn’t like to imagine a life in the beautiful Irish countryside?!

At the height of my slump I re-read a favorite from my adolescent years, after whose main character my cat is named! I read the whole Giver quartet a couple of summers ago, having not previously realized there was more than the original. Messenger might be my favorite of them, but I happened to have Gathering Blue on my bookshelf. It stands up, though I think Kira in the third book is the characterization that really inspired my cat’s name.

Finally, a winner! This novel had stories within stories within stories, and overlapping characters, and a fluid timeline, and I loved it. It galloped through the last few pages tying everything up in a really interesting and satisfying way. I felt like I was racing toward a finish line, and the triumphant click of my Kindle as I snapped it shut at the end was a good finale.

Any recommendations to keep me on the upward slope of my reading slump?

April saw me plowing through a mixture of you-should-absolutely-go-read-this-right-now books and do-yourself-a-favor-and-never-bothers.

After I finished Matched, you damn well know I feverishly needed to get my hands on Crossed, the second book in the trilogy, but alas, it was not to be immediately, because I had to wait on the library e-book. (I wasn’t about to spend good money on the darn thing.) Much to my delight it appeared mere days after I finished the first one! I ranked it at a 3 out of 5, high enough that I then sought out the third and final book.

April’s book club pick, inspired by an anecdote about it in our March pick, Big Magic. This was a really enjoyably meaty novel. It had one of the more gruesome scenes I can remember reading, so you know that means the writing is pretty good. We all agreed it wasn’t perfect—some of the characters were not fully fleshed out, not all of the relationships were believable—but I think on the whole we were glad to have read it.

It’s come to this, the final installment in the Matched series. As often seems to happen with these YA series, it was not as good as the others. In fact, I almost wished I hadn’t wasted my time on it, except that it satisfied my burning need to know how it ended.

On the other end of the spectrum, this book was well worth reading. In some ways I enjoyed Americanah, by the same author, better, but I learned about a piece of modern history that I literally had never even heard of before from this book, which I think is important. Adichie deserves to be on every lists she’s made it onto, and not just ones that are designed to “diversify” your book shelf or whatever. I look forward to reading more by her. (Although I’m currently somewhere in the abandoned phase of her short book We Should All Be Feminists. More fiction, I should maybe specify.)

Do not read this book. It was utter, absolute drivel, and that is coming from a lady who loves Nicholas Sparks et al. The Devil Wears Prada was okay. I evidently (according to Goodreads) read the sequel, but it was so terribly that I’ve expunged it from my memory. So goodness knows why I gave this one a shot, but I did, and now you don’t have to.

Again on the flip side, go read this book right now. It’s a middle-grade novel, so it’s a pretty quick read. If you have ever felt that you didn’t understand what it means to be transgender, let George explain it! Gino handly a touchy subject with a deft, sensitive hand. Imagining a generation of kids reading this at age 8 gives me a little bit of hope for humanity.

I can’t remember if I finished this in April or in May, but it was close, so we’ll stick it here. Amazingly enough, this first book in a Nora Roberts trilogy didn’t leave me rushing out to get the next one! I do not have strong feelings about it one way or the other—it was simply fine.