My Top 5 Mountain Hikes of 2015

Although I didn’t get nearly as many mountains hiked as I had hoped this year, I crossed another seven 4,000 footers off my list and saw many amazing, memorable views. As the year draws to a close, I’ve looked back and determined my top 5 mountain hikes of the year.

1  Mount Pierce/Mount Eisenhower Loop – This was one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes I did this year. Mount Pierce and Mount Eisenhower are both 4000 footers that are part of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. Both have great views, but the vista from the summit of Eisenhower was incredible. Definitely worth the 10 mile, 6-7 hour hike.

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2   Black Cap Mountain – One of my first hikes after the thaw this year, we hiked several miles up a closed road before reaching the mountain trail, and this was still an easy hike (in comparison to most mountains). Though this mountain is small (2,369 feet), the view is mighty! Black Cap Mountain offers a spectacular view and is a great hike.

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3   Mount Chocorua – I hiked up Mount Chocorua via the Champney Falls Trail, which is a gorgeous hike along waterfalls until you reach the switchbacks leading to the top of the mountain. The easternmost peak of the Sandwich Range, the views from Chocorua’s 3,490 foot summit spread far and wide, allowing for a gorgeous look of the surrounding landscape.

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garfield4   Mount Garfield – I’d be lying if I said this was one of my favorite hikes, but it was one of my favorite views, which made the monotonous, grueling hike worth the effort. At 4,500 feet, Mount Garfield is the 17th highest of the New Hampshire 4000 footers. This was the first time I hiked a snow covered mountain, which I didn’t love, but the view at the top was so incredibly gorgeous that I completely forgot the horrors of the trail (until I was back on it on the way down). I was momentarily transported to an almost magical winter wonderland. Then I was back on the trail. The beauty was short lived, but it’s definitely a memory I’ll cherish forever.

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5     Mount Field – I peak bagged Mount Field along with Mount Willey, and was supposed to head over to Mount Tom, too, (all 4000 footers in the Crawford Notch region) but the weather turned and that didn’t happen. Usually I have a vendetta against a mountain anytime the hike doesn’t go as planned, but this time I didn’t. Perhaps that’s why I liked this hike – because it was a lesson where I grew and gained maturity. Maybe, but it’s more likely that the memory of the creepy birds landing on my hands with their taloned death grip grew on me (it did). I’d like to go back and have another chance with those birds. This time I’d try harder to put my whole birds are dinosaurs that sometimes peck your eyes out thing out of mind and instead try to enjoy becoming intimately acquainted with my new feathered friends as they land on me like I’m in a Disney movie.

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Frog Legs – The Other (Other) White Meat

frog5In the spirit of adventure, I like to seize every opportunity available to me to try new things. New places, new experiences, new foods . . . which has occasionally resulted in me putting some strange things in my mouth. I really like snails. Crickets are there for a second, then they’re gone. There are far more normal, mainstream things I’d rather avoid eating, like mayonnaise (strange aversion to it) and Shepard’s pie.

frog4So while at a store in Portsmouth called McKinnon’s, a store that considers itself to be the premiere butcher shop in all of New Hampshire, imagine my reaction when I saw frog legs in their frozen food aisle. I had to try them. I just couldn’t help myself. I put them in the cart (along with a few other ‘delicacies’), paid, and brought them home.

frog3Now, I’ve never cooked something like frog legs before. I actually prefer my exotic foods to be prepared for me. And if you look, there really aren’t that many recipes for frog legs on the internet. So I read the few recipes I did find, came up with a plan, and thawed the legs out. I then soaked the legs in beer for an hour. Why? Soaking can both tenderize and flavor meat. I always give duck an ice-water bath before I cook it to lessen the gaminess.

frog2I seasoned some flour, dredged the legs in it, and sauteed them in a cast iron skillet using a mix of olive oil and butter until they were lightly browned. I removed them from the pan, added garlic, shallots, mushrooms and some white frog1wine, and sauteed until the shallots were cooked. Then I returned the frog legs to the pan, covered it with tinfoil and placed it in the over for twenty minutes at 300 degrees.
frogThe verdict? Not bad. My husband said he liked it, but I thought that they didn’t really taste like anything at all. The meat fell off the bones, which was a bonus, because who wants to be able to say that they stuck a frog’s foot in their mouth and sucked on it’s toes? (Okay, I may or may not have done that very thing just to be able to say it – you’ll never know for sure.) The good news is that I’ve added another food source to my list of low demand food items that I can eat to survive on in case of an emergency (the economy totally collapses leaving the country in a state of dire famine, rampant diseases necessitating an avoidance of public places, terrorism, zombie apocalypse – I won’t starve.)

What strange foods have you tried?


Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book review

book1This was a very scary book. Written by Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, this books explores the history, and violence, of the Mormon faith. Due to the subject material, it was a little slow at times – I found my attention wandering and occasionally had to make myself reread passages.

Religion is a touchy subject, especially when you are discussing the darker aspects of faith, such as what is considered ‘God sanctioned violence’. I am aware that all religions have a history of ‘killing in the name of the Lord’. It’s just that for most (Western) religions, that history is far in the past, whereas Mormonism is relatively young, ‘American born’ faith. This is a subject that I honestly don’t want to get into, so there’s not much to say.

I read this book because it was recommended to me, and because I believe that it’s important for me to educate myself before forming opinions about matters that I know nothing about. This book has left me with some very strong opinions. One of them is that I really don’t want Mormons knocking on my door (not that I did before, but now I really don’t).

Gone for Good by Harlan Coben ~ Fiction Book Review

bookHarlan Coben is a best selling author. He is also a prolific writer. So why haven’t I read anything by him before???

The book was immediately good. It was well written, the pacing was spot on, the characters were believable, and more important, like-able. But I just couldn’t get settled in. At one point I even thought to myself, ‘This is a very guy book,’ which is absurd, because there are tons of ‘guy’ books that I love. Then I realized – there’s something about the way this book is written that is intimate. Not in a romantic sense, but in a the writer considers you a friend way, which I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before. Once I was able to put my finger on it, I settled comfortably into the story. (Apparently, my stranger danger alarm from childhood is still ridiculously high.)

I really enjoyed this book and will definitely read more by Coben. I’m not even going to touch on the plot because there were a couple of twists that I never suspected, which rarely ever happens. I love being blindsided!!! More, please. Highly recommend. 5 stars.

Cliff Walk in York, Maine

cliffwalk5It was a warm December day in New England – not many sentences are going cliffwalkto start like that. It was 50 degrees, the sun was shinning full force, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and we decided to make the most of the opportunity. We drove to the Maine coast  to walk along the shore. More specifically, we drove to Cliff Walk in York, Maine, to walk along the cliffs that border the beach.

cliffwalk7cliffwalk9On one side, you have super expensive, fancy houses. On the other side, there’s
a drop to the rocks below. Everywhere you’re surrounded by beauty. Fresh, clean air, peace and quiet, and an amazing  view – this is an experience not to be missed.

cliffwalk4The walk is not very challenging, but there is a fair amount of up and down, and soon enough, we were able to shed our sweaters and enjoy the beautiful Maine December day in our t-shirts!!! I still can’t believe it. The only things I can suggest to make Cliff Walk better is that I wish it was much longer.

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult ~ Fiction Book Review

book25Another thought provoking read by bestselling author Jodi Picoult, this book pushes the boundaries – of tolerance, of belief, and of religious exploration. In this review, I will discuss more than what you can read on the back cover, so spoiler alert.

The topic is catchy enough – a woman’s daughter is dying and needs a heart transplant; the one offered to her is that of the not-yet dead convicted murderer on death row who killed the woman’s husband and other daughter. As if that weren’t touchy enough, Picoult takes the story a step further and makes the book even more controversial by adding the element of religion. Could the murderer be the messiah? Is the killer Jesus?

As usual, Picoult presents her readers with a well researched book that explores the storyline from every angle. She fearlessly pushes buttons, and for that I have to give her credit. I enjoyed the book and would rate it 4.5 stars. I enjoy fiction that makes you think. That said, I know that there are readers who would absolutely detest this book based on subject matter alone. If that’s you, I suggest that you don’t read it.

The River King by Alice Hoffman ~ Fiction Book Review

book22This was a book I stumbled on completely by chance. The title didn’t speak to me, the cover didn’t call me, and I’d never read the author before, yet is somehow practically into my hands, and I was compelled to bring it home with me. I launched into the book and found myself immersed in a lengthy stretch of storytelling with no dialogue in sight. Although it wasn’t stream of consciousness, it reminded me very much of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and I felt a moment of worry. A very looong moment of worry.

But then it made sense. The characters did things, they spoke, they interacted, and it was all colored by the shades the author used to create the setting. This initial stretch of writing did something that I rarely encounter – it created a very vivid, almost palpable atmosphere. Not the dark, stormy night kind, but a well thought, well executed foray into world building.

I wasn’t in love with the plot, although I did like the characters. They felt familiar, like I knew them and could understand the motivation behind their actions. I have a feeling that these characters will linger much longer in my memory than most. It wasn’t the most wonderful book I’ve ever read, but it was uniquely written and I feel like I gained a lot as a writer from reading it, and for that I give it 5 stars.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson ~ Nonfiction Book Review

book21.jpgI picked up this book as a means of research because I wanted to learn more about hiking the Appalachian Trail . I’ve been mulling over the same book idea for over a year, but just couldn’t seem to put it to paper. I’ve hiked parts of the AT, but only those found in the northeast. How could I possibly write about a 2100+ mile trail that begins in Georgia and ends in Maine without seeming like a total fraud? Or worse, an inexperienced idiot? I set out to solve this problem the same way I always do – by reading.

I picked up this book by Bill Bryson before I knew that it was being made into a movie. It seemed like an ideal starting point to learn more about hiking the AT without losing myself in a dry, technical trail guide. My hope was that this firsthand account would provide me with with both information and color – and it did!

This book mixes Bryon’s account of hiking the trail with the history of the AT, the surrounding wilderness, and anything else Bryson thought would be useful (or fill pages). The end result is an awesome educational tool (for me) that is surprisingly funny! I enjoyed this book much more than I anticipated I would enjoy reading about two middleaged men walking in the woods. It was, in my opinion, a delightful surprise that held my attention and made me itching to lace up my hiking boots and hit the trail. Five stars.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book Review

book24This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I’ve read Jon Krakauer before and knew he had an easy, enjoyable style of writing. I expected this to be a gripping story, but I had no idea exactly how enthralling it would be.

Let me start by saying that I also had no idea how dangerous it is to climb Mount Everest. Difficult, yes, but when actually presented with the statistics (and these are out of date – they don’t include several subsequent tragedies) I was absolutely shocked. That tourists, as in, not professional mountain climbers, would continue to pay upwards of $65,000 apiece to be led into such a deadly situation leaves me speechless. Not speechless enough to not find the words to tell my husband that I am no longer okay with him climbing Everest, but I had few words beyond that.

The book explores Krakauer’s firsthand account of a climb during the deadly 1996 season, during which several of his fellow climbers and guides, among others, lost their lives. After reading his story it is clear how easily (and how often) tragedy strikes on this mountain. There are no rescue missions to the top of Mount Everest. You are literally hiking at the altitude that jets fly, under what are severe conditions at best.

I can’t remember ever reading a nonfiction book that kept me in such a state of suspense before. It almost reads like fiction, and like a horror story, it’s scary. I could not put it down. Five stars.

Faithless by Karin Slaughter ~ Fiction Book Review

book20.jpgKarin Slaughter is a #1 internationally bestselling author of mystery and crime with over twenty novels under her belt – and yet, surprisingly,  I’ve never read anything she’s written until now. I jumped right in with #5 in the “Grant County” series, and quickly fell into stride – she includes enough of the backstory from past books in the series that I never felt lost or struggling to catch up.

I enjoyed the plot more than the characters, but this may be due to picking up a book in the middle of a series – I didn’t ‘grow’ with them from the start. The writing is fast paced, easy, and enjoyable. The subject matter is hard, not as brutal as Mo Hayder, but definitely violent. The book left me feeling satisfied. Should I stumble upon another book by this author in my travels, I won’t hesitate to read it. Five stars.