Thursday, December 26, 2019

100 Books

   At the beginning of 2019 I seemed to be reading a lot and by the end of January I realized that I had read 10 books! It got me thinking - it seems that it would be possible to read 100 books in the year -  so I set myself that goal and the adventure began.
   In the end I'd have to say that this was not a chore at all, and was even enjoyable, and that while it took a solid commitment, it was very rarely onerous. I think I read at the rate of about 50 pages an hour so my reading averaged out to about 1 hr. 40 min. per day. So I still had lots of time to do other stuff! We painted 3 rooms in our house this year, plus helped with painting at some of our children's houses too. We don't watch a lot of TV but I have been following the Leafs this year and we did binge watch Jane the Virgin this summer (highly recommended).
   I track my reading on an app/website called GoodReads which I find very useful. At the end of the year it gave me some interesting statistics, but I've kept a few of my own as well (some shown in the photo at the bottom of this post). 70 books were paper versions, 19 were ebooks (read on my iPad), and 11 were audiobooks. 66 were from the library but 34 were books that I actually own. Most of the books were newer, with over half of the books (51%) having been published since 2017, and 30 of these were brand new in 2019.
   In the last number of years I've noticed that my tendency is to read mainly non-fiction books. While I enjoy good fiction, it seems my reading is more about lifelong learning (as we used to say in the teaching biz) and inspiring life stories.  So only 2 of the books from this year are fiction and about 40 of the authors would identify as Christian, with most of them writing about spiritual topics. While some people talk about 'getting ready for heaven' as they age, I think I read to try to live the best (read 'abundant') life here on earth with the time I have left. There's a lot of wisdom out there and I want to understand things the best I can (got a long way to go though).
   GoodReads has a star rating system that I find helpful for evaluating the books I read. It also is good for deciding if I think a book is worth reading, as thousands of people also give their opinion about many of them. I'm kind of astounded by how many of the books I read this year I rated as great books (66%) or good (28%). Of the 21 five star books from this year I'm going to try to narrow them down to a top ten, beginning with what I think would be the best 3 books I read this year.

Finding Meaning by David Kessler - the subtitle is The 6th Stage of Grief, and Kessler worked closely years ago with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who came up with the famous 5 stages of grief. David Kessler has experienced his own loss as well, and he writes with great empathy and wisdom about working through grief by trying to find meaningful ways to remember the loss of a loved one.

Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright. This was one of the longer books I read this year but it also was one of the most informative and inspiring. N.T. Wright certainly helped to bring the Bible to life by writing a very scholarly but also highly readable story about the world-changing ideas and life of the apostle Paul.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. Apparently this has the highest GoodReads rating of any of the books I read this year (though based on 576 ratings as compared to almost a million for Ellie Wiesel's Night). Comer is a pastor in Portland (who apparently reads 125 books every year - my kinda guy!) and this book comes across as an awesome extended sermon on what is most important in life and how to develop habits and practices that can enhance your spiritual life.

   The next 3 books on my top ten are all about spirituality: Peter Enns' How the Bible Actually Works, Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmat's Romans Disarmed (who I got to hear speak locally this year), and Brad Jersak's A More Christlike God.
   And the next 3 are not about the Bible at all but are amazing books: How to Raise Successful People by Esther Wojcicki, The Reality Bubble by Ziya Tong, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
   And to round out the top ten I'd add in The Originals by Adam Grant.

   Soooo, having accomplished this goal for this year (with 5 days still to go in the year I guess I could read another book, but that seems like a bit much) I don't see myself ever trying to do it again. Next year I'll go back to my more reasonable pace of 50 books. But I've decided that after reading so many newer books that my rule for 2020 will be to only reread great books that I have read before.

(click photo to enlarge - even though you still might not be able to make out enough detail)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas Music I Love

Beth and I just got back from driving back and forth to Florida so we spent about 45 hours in the car - and we listened to Christmas music pretty much the whole way! We recently had friends over who I was shocked to learn only owned about 6 Christmas albums - I said I have over 100! (118 to be exact), and I sent them home with 2 cds to add to their collection. And while Beth & I weren't able to listen to all of my Christmas albums on our trip, we did make a pretty good dent - maybe I'll try to listen through them all this year.

But it got me thinking more about some of my favourite Christmas music. The 6 albums pictured in this post are ones I listened to (multiple times) every year. [I should say though that the Oh Hellos album is a new listen this year, but I love it and it belongs on this list]. The Savior album by Sovereign Grace moves me to tears with some of the beautiful music and theologically rich lyrics. Don Ross's Wintertide is acoustic guitar instrumentals at their best, and Mike Janzen's Carols has amazing jazz piano versions of favourite songs. Come Let Us Adore Him is a creative take with production and songs by Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty from the great band The Choir. The Acoustic Christmas album is a compilation I made up many years ago now, consisting of favourite carols and original seasonal songs [Beth says it's getting a bit dated but so is she and I still love her (and this album)].

If I wanted to round out this list to make it a top 10, I'd probably need to include Bruce Cockburn's Christmas, Glad's An Acapella Christmas, Riki Michele's Come Let Us Adore, and Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb. There are lots of other great albums on my list (click on the picture below if you want to see them all) - we listened to the old Michael Card album The Promise on the trip and I was reminded what beautiful songs he's written on this theme. Plus, Marc Martel released his Christmas Collection this year, which is amazing. Oh, and Apologetix's Have Yourself a Parody Little Christmas is both hilarious and profound! I also want to give a shout out to local musician Kevin Ramessar for his great Snow on Snow album. We also listen to Jacob Moon's This Christmas album, and taking in one of his awesome live shows is a recent lovely Christmas tradition.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Retail & Solar Therapy

      We were greeted with our first rainbow on Maui when we looked out our balcony window this morning. Not long after there were several sail boarders and kite surfers just off shore as well - and it seemed they stayed out pretty much all day! We used up some of our eggs & bacon for breakfast and then drove down a few minutes to the area of Kaanapali, which seems to be mainly resorts but it advertises a place called Whaler's Village and Museum, which sounded quite interesting to me. Turns out that that the museum is no more (taken over by an escape room) and the 'village' is a bunch of shops in an outdoor mall. Nice stuff though and we picked up a couple of things including T-shirts made from bamboo.
      Next we drove a little further south to look one more time through the downtown of Lahaina. We were surprised with the lack of people compared to when we've been there previously, maybe because it was only the morning. Made a few more purchases and then headed back to the condo for a late lunch. Then it was down to the pool for some sunshine on our last day here and a final dip in the water for me. I divided my time though between the pool and the hockey game. Beth talked to a couple from Minnesota who are here for a few more days and so she gave them our few leftover food items. I guess tonight we'll have to begin packing up. We need to be out of the condo by 11:00 tomorrow morning and then we'll head over to Kahului to hang out before taking back the car and heading to the airport around 3:30. Our flight leaves at 6:10 but we have a 3 hour layover in Honolulu, a 5 hour flight, a 3 hour layover in San Francisco, and a 5 hour flight into Toronto, arriving there at 3:30 on Friday. With the long layovers at least we shouldn't have to run to connecting flights.
      We've had such an incredible time on our holiday in Maui, getting to see pretty much everything we wanted to and exploring almost the entire island. It meant for some busy days but each was a wonderful experience that we so enjoyed sharing together. The weather has been warm and sunny and the scenery is amazingly beautiful. At the luau somebody asked what my favourite part of Maui was and I had a hard time answering. I ended up saying that it was pretty fantastic to see the almost continual whale activity out our window each day. Today I said I was quite thankful to have been able to wear flip flops for the last 10 days. I guess it's back to boots soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


      We had a great day going up to the top of Haleakala today (the photo on the right is of Beth at the summit, bundled up as it was chilly). We left the condo by about 8:30 and were gone for 8 hours. We had to drive to north central Maui again to catch the Haleakala Highway east of Kahului and then begin the ascent, which is apparently the steepest in the world, rising to above 10,000 feet over 38 miles. It is quite a road - well-paved but with no shoulder, and while the first part had some guardrails, once you enter the National Park you're just driving right along the edge of a sheer drop (so obviously the driver has to maintain a sharp focus). Also, you're literally driving into the clouds - we had great weather for the day, with bright sunshine as we drove up. We used the Shaka Guide app again which had great commentary and suggestions.
      Our first stop was just inside the Park gates where we hiked around Hosmer Grove, which is the remains of an experimental area where non-native trees (such as eucalyptus from Australia) were planted, to see how well they adapted to the Hawaiian environment. As we continued our drive up the mountain we were surprised to see several bikers actually riding up the road! (we had seen some groups of bikes coming down, outside of the Park, as bike tours are no longer allowed on Park grounds after a third fatal accident in 2007)
      Our second hike was at Leleiwi Overlook, which from the parking lot looks like you walk off the earth! But it leads to a stony path with a pretty good incline and ends with a spectacular view of the crater. With the thinner air at this elevation Beth did find the uphill climb to be a bit more of a challenge, stopping along the way to catch her breath. The crater of Haleakala doesn't look like what most people imagine when they think about a volcano as it's so big (apparently the island of Manhattan could sit inside of it). Still, when you look down into the crater from the height we were at, it was incredible. Since it's been dormant for over 400 years there is actually lots of green vegetation growing inside of it. It was also full of clouds and you could even see the clouds form and rise over top of the lip.
      When we got to the Visitor Center just below the summit we sat in the car to eat our sandwiches before looking around that area. We decided not to partake in any of the trails around there and made the short drive to the top of the mountain, where we took in the awesome views. There were lots of clouds below us so you couldn't see into the distance very well. The temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit with a brisk wind to make it feel even cooler.
      Then we headed back down the windy road (with lots of what they call switchbacks) and it seemed to take quite a long time to descend. We also ran into rain part way down and it continued until we were almost back to Kahului. We took a side trip into a 'cowboy' town (founded by cattle ranchers) called Makawoa but didn't get out, and ended up in a traffic jam so we just turned around. We also visited Hookipa Beach about 5 miles east of Kahului as it's renowned for its surfing, but when we got there nobody was in the water and signs on the beach indicated the surf conditions were too dangerous. However there was a crowd of people at one end of the beach and when we walked over to see why, we saw that there were about 150 huge sea turtles laying on the shore!


Monday, February 25, 2019

A Day Off

      Today it was time to just relax and hang around the condo. In the morning I worked on the blog and Beth used the coin-operated laundromat in the building (check out the view behind our fancy drying racks). This afternoon we went down to the pool for about 2 and a half hours. The sun was pretty hot again so I was in the water a lot, but the big news is that even Beth went in for a little dip. When we went back up to our room I watched the Maple Leafs win and we tried to connect with our children, and my mom as well. It was great to hear their voices and catch up a bit with what's been going on back home (apparently there's a big part of a tree in our backyard).
      Beth made a great supper and we decided to eat it out on the balcony with the beautiful sunset as our background. Later in the evening we drove south about a mile or so to a community called Honokowai, but really the road is just one continuous line of condos and resorts along the water. The one we're staying in is, of course, our favourite - our balcony is literally 8 metres from the water! We feel so fortunate to have found it on such short notice, as we only planned this trip one month ago. We picked up a few items at a grocery store in town, but we have to plan carefully as we only have a few days left to eat up all of our food. Tomorrow we hope to travel up the tallest mountain/volcano on the island but it looks like the weather may be rainy so we might have to postpone it a day.

The Road to Hana

      We actually used an alarm to wake up for the first time since being here, but we wanted to get a bit earlier start as we were going to be making the long journey to the opposite (ie. eastern) side of the island. It's a famous stretch of road called the Road to Hana but we first had to drive about an hour to get to the starting point near Kahuliu (central Maui, where the airport is located). We gassed up and began the tour by about 8:30. We used an app on Beth's phone that we had downloaded (at Josh and Jess's suggestion) called the Shaka Guide. It uses your GPS location to trigger commentary about the area you're passing through and it was a phenomenal help. Over the course of the day it came on about 150 times, sharing history, tips, don't-miss-locations, and great Hawaiian music.
      The road is well paved, but fairly narrow (no shoulders to speak of usually), extremely curvy (apparently about 620 in total!) and over 50 one-lane bridges where you have to yield the right of way if someone is coming from the opposite direction. It's a pretty busy road but most of the traffic is going pretty slowly in one direction and you are spread out over many miles so you only notice the traffic when you stop to see something. The picture above (of Queen Elizabethamahama) was taken down a side road (to Ke'anae) where you could see the large larva rocks along the shore and fields of taro patches from the road above.
       Another cool stop, this one right along the road (and with no admission price), was climbing through a lava tube. Apparently these are formed when still molten lava bores through some of the already hardened rock. This is me at the entrance and it was basically a cave that wound back about 50 metres and was often tall enough to stand up in. When it opened up, it was to a jungle at the end. We made our way back through the tube to the road. Oh yeah, I should say that we definitely were travelling through a rainforest, as the east side of the island gets a lot of more rainfall than the rest (like 300 inches/year vs. 30 inches). Wise Beth had brought along some fashionable yellow ponchos that were a big help in keeping us dry on walks/hikes we took early on. One suggested excursion took us down to the village of Nahiku which had been developed 100 years ago as a short-lived rubber production area. The bridge was out so we had to walk down to the shore. The road was lined with homes of the local people. It was interesting to see how they live - lots of vegetable gardens, fruit trees and of course flowers. The end of our walk brought us to yet another beautiful view of the ocean. On the way back out our Shaka Guide told us that back in the day George Harrison had bought property in Nahiku in the 1980's and came here to escape. Apparently he even donated a stone glass window in the small village church.
      Another nice, isolated hike we took was to a 'secret falls' recommended by our digital guide. It was definitely raining for this one but the path was wide and rocky so easy to navigate (although a bit steep at times). Further on down the road we stopped at the very busy Wai'anapanapa State Park and stood in line to use the washrooms. We had a great parking spot so went back to the car to eat sandwiches that Beth had packed and then headed down to the black (yes, black!) sand beach. It was formed long ago when the rough surf pounded on a fresh bubbling lava flow and then the waves continue to grind the rocks to a smooth sand. I felt that I should really take a swim at this unique beach so took a quick dip.
      We didn't actually stop right in Hana on the way in but did go in to the (apparently) famous Hasegawa General Store (established in 1910 with seemingly few updates in decorating since then) and bought some chocolate macadamia nuts. We drove past it for a fair distance as recommended by the audio guide, as far as Haleakala State Park. We took a hike down to the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo Gulch where there were many people bathing or swimming in the water and a couple of local surfer dudes jumped off of some cliffs.
      Then we headed back home, which felt like a pretty long drive as we didn't make stops along the way like we did on the way in. The audio guide was a good companion though as he filled us in with stories about the history of Hawaii. Beth was amazed by the bamboo growing along the roadside as well as the flowering trees and shrubs tree. One type of tall tree had bright red flowers way up in their canopies. In total we spent 10 hours going back and forth on this road - and amazingly we used a 1/4 tank of gas! When we got back to Kahuliu we drove around the town for quite a while looking for somewhere to eat (and take a leak!) and in the end had to settle for McDonalds. In reality it just felt good to get out of the car for a bit. We still had another 45 minutes or so of driving back to Kahana in the dark. What was most fascinating about that part of the trip, was the way the side of the mountains were all lit up with tiny lights, which must be from the surprising number of people who live up there.
      We got back to the condo pretty exhausted, plus I had the beginning of a sore throat and a stye in my right eye. Beth gave me a much appreciated shoulder massage, and with some Vitamin C and warm compresses to my eye, I'm feeling quite fine this morning, but we don't plan to go anywhere but down to the pool today.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Lounging & Luau

      We lathered on the sunscreen and spent a good chunk of the afternoon down at the pool. I listened to some tunes and did some puzzles but every 10 minutes or so I needed to take a dip to cool off. We went over to the beach briefly so that I could say that I swam in the ocean here. Beth just soaked up the sun (no water activity for her) and visited a bit with other people at the poolside.
      Then we got cleaned up and drove down to Lahaina to take in a traditional Luau which we had booked when we first planned our trip. It was a very impressive evening. We were greeted with leis and drinks and chatted with our server named Ridge who was local to the area. The buffet was really good with lots of selection for even this picky eater. We were at a table with a young couple from Utah (she was an obstetric nurse and 5 months pregnant) and a family of 5 from San Francisco. The dad was originally from Long Island so was a hockey fan and seemed to sincerely wish the Leafs well this season.
      After the meal they put on a phenomenal show, portraying much of the history of Hawaii using  live music, singers and many dancers. Lots of colourful costume changes, traditional songs, excellent sound and musicianship - it was quite the high quality production from beginning to end (these things are a bit pricey but it really was worth every penny - American penny obviously, as such a coin no longer exists in Canada).