Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: Isaac Newton by Mitch Stokes (part of the Christian Encounters series)

Its been a long time since I weighed in with a book review from Thomas Nelson. Partly this is because I was overwhelmed with course work last year and so reading non-fiction was much more difficult than reading fiction (ala the Bethany House books I reviewed a couple months ago). The other reason was that I was underwhelmed with the book that I was reading.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

"Christian Encounters" is a series of biographies of notable individuals from throughout history. Ostensibly, these books are written not just to biography the lives and histories of some of the world's great Christians, but also provide some insight into how their faith impacted their work. There are a number of books in the series, covering individuals such as: Jane Austen, Johan Sebastian Bach, Winston Churchhill and Isaac Newton, among others.

I had the option of choosing Jane, but decided to stretch myself and choose Isaac Newton, since in the summer I knew I would be traveling to Cambridge University where Isaac Newton was a pupil and scholar.

From a biographical perspective, "Isaac Newton" is well-written. It documents interesting parts of Newton's history and includes facts from a variety of sources.I definitely finished the book knowing more about Newton than I did when I started. From a "Christian" perspective, I felt like the hype was overblown. Though apparently Newton wrote more about Theology than Science in his life, I did not feel like I finished the book knowing any more about his Christianity nor my own. I did not feel inspired or encouraged that his Christianity was an integral part of his life. In fact, I left feeling that while Newton was a genius and was blessed to come up with some really great scientific insights and inventions, he was also sort of a big baby and cranky and prideful.

I think in hindsight, I would have rather read about Jane. I don't know that my dislike of this book is enough to cancel any affection I may have had for the "Christian Encounters" series - especially as they are all written by different authors and so the style may differ from book to book, but I certainly will not be seeking out these books to read again very often if at all. In all, 2 mathematical bridges out of 5.

As a side note, I was provided this book free of charge by Thomas Nelson Publishers, as a part of their "Book Sneeze" program. In being provided with the book, I am asked to simply read and review it - without any pressure to either praise or pan the reading. My opinion, therefore is my own and free from coercion. Nonetheless, I'm super glad to have access to free books. If you think you'd like to be a part of this program, see the link in the sidebar!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Epic UK Road Trip: Volume 7 (part 2)

The last post had so many photos that I wanted to share with you, but I didn't want to lose your attention about this next part, because it is one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I only have one picture to share with you from this part, so here it is:

Above you'll see the Ballyeamon Camping Barn (Bally means "town" in Gaelic, so there are a lot of locations that start with "bally" in Ireland - Ballycastle, Ballymena, Ballymoney, etc). Anyway, we stayed at the Ballyeamon Camping Barn on our second night in Northern Ireland.

We thought the Camping Barn was going to be more like our first barn than like a hostel. But perhaps the note online that said there was wireless internet should have been our clue. (Incidentally, this was a mis-statement - the wireless was not working but Collin did some good work on the computers there anyway).

When we arrived, a number of people greeted us but the most suprising greeting came from a group of teensy, tiny, virtually invisible and yet completely not invisible bugs called Midges. These Midges announced their presence to us by swarming all over us and then biting us mercilessly. This was the first night (aside from our Barn stay) that we weren't out on the coast, instead, we were inland near the forest. Unfortunately, just like how mosquitos are more likely in the redwood forest than on venice beach, the midges were thick in those parts.

Later, after picking up the laundry, the boys returned to our gigantic four-person apartment (seriously) and in the brief moment the door was open, the apartment was infested. They spent the next 10 minutes swatting at midges in every room. Hilarious.

We were going to cook on the BBQ there at the hostel, but we didn't have a firepit, nor did we have charcoal to really get the BBQ going - so we ended up using the oven in the hostel to make our "hobo stew" (which is basically really a lot of vegetables with some ground meat and spices thrown in). We chatted with the volunteers running the hostel (an American gal, a Welsh guy, and an Irish (I think) guy) and learned about a variety of things - most of which I couldn't understand (when coming from the Irish guy). Collin says that the further north you go the harder the accents are to understand and this guy was a good indication of that. He gave us some suggestions of things to see in Belfast, and then gave us DIRECTIONS to those places, as though expecting us to remember it verbatim. It was hilarious. But as you will see in volume 8, it turned out well.

Well, midges and random conversations not withstanding, our stay at the Ballyeamon Camping Barn was one of the highlights for me, because of the owner, Liz Weir. Liz is a storyteller by trade, who also happens to run the camping barn. She had greeted us when we arrived, and then handed us off into the capable hands of the volunteers and disappeared. She reappeared just as we sat down to eat our dinner.

It was late, having taken some time to get the dinner cooked, and she had already eaten. She sat down at the table with us and made some conversation and then said,

"Oh, ya missed a great storytelling session last night."

We inquired about the session. 'Where was it?' (in the studio, below our apartment) 'How many people come? Are they always the same?' (no, it varies, there are some regulars but not all) 'What was it like?' ("oh, there's music and poems and stories") and finally....

'Um, Liz, would you tell us a story?'

Yes. We asked, even though it was getting onto 9pm and she had already mentioned that she had had a long day and was tired.

But she's a storyteller, and lets face it, what else could we have done?

She said, "OK, D'ya know how St. Patrick ran all the snakes out of Ireland? Well, this is a story of St. Pat." and she proceeded from memory to recite the poem at this link: St. Patrick and the Snakes. You won't be able to get the full impact of how cool it was to hear her tell that story, unless you can conjur up an Irish brogue or quickly Google some Irish video so that you have it in your mind.

So there we were, in Ireland, and there was this storyteller, telling us a story. In fact, at one point someone was washing dishes and she said, "lets leave that till I'm done." - this was a lady at work. It was exactly like I imagined Ireland to be in my head for my whole life.

We were irrepressible, though and enjoyed that tale so much, we asked for another.

I secretly think she was hoping we'd ask.

She said, "well what kind of stories do you like?" and looked around at the four of us and then the rest in the room, saying "mystery? romance?" and then after taking another look at me and Candice said, "Romance then."

Two more stories were told, one was the ancient story of Finvola, an Irish woman, who fell in love with Angus, a Scottish man (a variety of last names are attributed to Angus, according to the internets) and the other was a more modern story about a soldier and his pen pal and a rose. (called "The Rose").

After the third story, Liz left to go to bed and we rued the missed opportunity to take a photo of or with her. Instead, all we had left were our memories of this random night in Antrim County, Northern Ireland, at the Balleyeamon Camping Barn and stories told to us by a pro.

The next day would be my birthday and a great time was had, but this evening at the camping barn, sitting and listening to an Irishwoman tell us stories was a really terrific start to my birthday!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Epic UK Road Trip: Volume 7 (part 1)

Thanks for being patient with me as I slooooooowly post stories and pictures from this trip. It has been hard to find the time to set aside and really reflect on the trip.

In today's installment, you will explore Northern Ireland with me and the crew (part 1), learn about Midges and hear a story (part 2).

We woke early in our hostel in Port Stewart but had a relaxing morning as we packed up our stuff and prepared to see some awesome sights. After a short visit with Rick, the owner of Rick's Causeway Coast Hostel, we headed out.

Our first stop was Dunluce Castle, which is a really well-kept ruin of a castle, with a cool video introduction by a descendant of the owner of the castle. I loved that they had signs saying which part of the castle was which and that it was so well-preserved you could really imagine what would have happened in each area.

Under the castle there was an inlet where boats used to dock - we climbed down to explore it!

I just like this one... its a archway below the castle.

Dunluce Castle.

I thought it was really neat how the flowers were growing IN the ruins and reaching up toward the sky. It reminded me of some of the little flowers from Much Afraid's journey in "Hinds Feet on High Places."

Afterward, we headed to Giant's Causeway which is this really cool area where the shoreline is made up of all these hexagonal rock columns. This place is seriously cool - you walk down a big hill toward the shore and there are the columns - just piled up and down, at different heights - but all the same shapes!

from Matt's camera - I love this pic!

Matt did a little photo shoot for me and Candice - here is one for our dance team...

A good view of how the columns range in height but are all still the same shape! So cool!

The view from Giant's Causeway!

Travelers standing where Giants trod.

Finally, after the Causeway we headed out to the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. The bridge is about 80 feet above the sea, and you cross it onto a tiny little island with beautiful views of the sea and the shore. The rope bridge turned out to not be scary at all (and in that sense was kind of disappointing) but the island was beautiful and we were all able to have some time to just sit and think and enjoy the sights.

The President is not afraid of no tall bridge!

Somewhere in there, we went into town and ate lunch at a pub that had really delicious fancy food and the cutest Irish waiters who had fair skin and red hair and said things like "I'm not sure which beer to recommend, I've been drinking cider since I was a boy" - adorable.

It was also during our visit to this pub that I remembered how much Irish is in my (and my dad's) family line, and how much we all look like a variety of Irish "types" - either fair skinned and red hair with blue/green eyes, or fair skinned and brown hair with blue/green eyes. This must be why I like the movie "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" so much - well, that and Sean Connery and his booming baritone.

Start watching this video at 1:26 and you'll understand the magic of the latter.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Epic UK Road Trip: Volume 6

We woke up early and caught the ferry from Troon (Scotland) to Larne (Northern Ireland). Taking a ferry in another country was a cool experience. First of all, it was a morning ferry, but that did not stop the passengers from enjoying some adult beverages in the bar - which I thought was funny and terrifically European. A group of men in the bar area (where we were also seated because there was a big bench seat on which we could nap) were obviously friends and all had moustaches. It was really funny and Collin actually took a MOVIE of them as well as some photos. hilarious. (See the Collin and Candice blog for the movie....)

But wow, am I getting off track! We landed in Larne in Northern Ireland, after leaving the Firth of Colin (in Scotland) and crossing the North Channel of the Irish Sea. Side note: Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, while the Republic of Ireland is its own country. However, because the UK and the Republic of Ireland are both part of the European Union, we were free to travel across all these countries without going through a passport checkpoint.

Leaving the Firth of Colin and headed into the Irish Sea

So we landed in Ireland, on the northeastern side of the island. And it was green and beautiful. Our plan was to meander along the Northern Irish coast, along the Causeway Coastal Road, stopping at things that we were interested in (like Giant's Causeway) and eventually end up at our hostel in Port Stewart, on the northwestern side of the island. This was really a great day, because of our ability to be flexible. As we drove along the coast road, we saw a sign for Glenariff Nature Reserve. Candice read to us about it from the "Ireland" book and it sounded awesome ... so we just drove up there and took a 1 1/2 mile hike to these waterfalls. It was beautiful!
someone had written "TIFF" into the shelter on our hike, so I was excited to pose with it

Matt, the photographer, at work. I love his bandana sticking out of his pocket.

Collin and Candice posing for a outerwear catalog.

The Waterfall Walk lived up to the hype

We wanted to capture the size of the waterfall, so made the boys pose with it.

The travelers at the bottom of the hike.

Later, the coast road turned inland a bit and so we detoured onto the Torr Road, which kept us closer to the coast and provided us with some awesome views of the pastures and the sea. I don't think I can put into words how much I loved our first experiences of Ireland. It was just a beautiful day, first of all, the sun was out and the sky was blue, and there was a constant wind from the sea (just like at home at my beach in LA!). The grass was green everywhere but there was hardly any houses or towns, it was just idyllic (not like LA).

beautiful views of the Irish Sea from the Torr Road.

Collin was super excited!

We were pretty excited too - the scenery was just breathtaking (not to mention how cute we were! LOL)

We all needed to get our pics taken with these beautiful vistas of Ireland.

On the drive, we went to Torr Head, and stood a mere 12 miles from Scotland! (Torr Head is the closest part of Ireland to Scotland) We stopped at a beach and later tried to cross the Carrick a Rede rope bridge (but it was closed by the time we got there). All the while, we just kept exclaiming over the beauty that was Ireland.

The travelers at Torr Head (just 12 miles from Scotland!)

And examply of why they call it "The Emerald Isle"

We had matching baseball hats - we're like the Bobsey Twins.

And I lost my heart.

We decided we'd better get a move on in order to get to the hostel, and we figured that we would just move some of our planned stuff for the day (that we didn't get to because of our meandering) to the next day and instead just go hang at the hostel and enjoy each others company.

One the way back to the hostel, Collin screeches to a stop on the highway.... then immediately reverses. He has found our version of ice cream heaven: Morelli's Ice Cream! We of course went inside and tried a few flavors before we ordered double scoops of delicious, fresh ice cream. What a great way to finish our drive!

Thank goodness this sign said OPEN!

Sad because her ice cream is gone.

Happy because it is so delicious!

Once we arrived at our hostel, we quickly arranged for us to have a 4-person room (with a bathroom  en suite!) and got comfortable. We spent the rest of the night sitting on the rocks on the shore and laughing together and then walking around Port Stewart. Great memories had by all that evening.

beautiful view from outside our hostel on the rocks.

I heart this picture of Matt - lets vote: don't you think it should be a profile pic!?!

When Collin and I hang out, he always makes these "Hmmmmm" faces.

It was pretty cold and windy there on the north channel - I was glad we had packed our rain jackets for wind protection!

Our view from the rocks. Tremendous.

Candice made me take this picture about 80 times to get the splash right so it deserves a spot in the blog.

Good friends.

Right here I think Collin looks like he's from 1978.

Another good one of Matt. This was probably right before he started laughing at me and Candice.

Not my fave picture, but one of my fave people.


Be careful what you do/say; its very likely Collin is filming it.

Walking around Port Stewart.

My walking buddy.

Sunset at Port Stewart.
We slept in the next day and then proceeded to adventurize Northern Ireland. Stories to come, and I do mean stories.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Epic UK Road Trip: Volume 5

We awoke early-ish, planning to spend the entire day in Edinburgh. We had tickets for the 10:30am shuttle into town and our last possible shuttle back to the hostel was 10pm that night. Our plan was to attack Edinburgh full-force - and boy did we ever!

Collin is particularly good at looking at a map and understanding where we are on it. He doesn't even have to stand in it, like Joey does. (from Friends - "London, baby!")  So he led us on our adventure around Edinburgh.

On the way, my friends - who are awesome and know that I love old cemeteries - saw one and suggested we check it out. It turned out to be a really cool cemetery that housed the Scottish-American memorial and the tomb of philosopher David Hume.It was a really neat old cemetery and I loved it.

Scottish-American Veteran Memorial

Next stop, we walked up to the top of a hill and found the National Monument, which was erected to celebrate Scotland getting representation in the British Parliament. From that point we could see into the harbor and most of the city. It was a nice start to the day.

Holyrood Park (including the Palace of Holyrood, Holyrood Abbey, and Holyrood Park)

Near the National Monument - there is a ball at the top of this building that drops every day when the castle fires the "One O'clock Gun" as a visual sign of the time.

The National Monument

We walked down to the Palace of Holyrood (former home of Mary, Queen of Scots; and now where the Queen of England stays when she visits Scotland). We elected not to tour the palace (though it looked neato) because it was like 20 dollars to do so, and we knew we wanted to tour the castle, which also cost money (about 15 dollars for a student). We were bummed to miss the palace, but glad to have something to look forward to on future visits.

The Palace of Holyrood

We wanted to get to the castle in time to hear the "One O'Clock Gun" get fired, but alas, our spontaneous little adventures kept us from that event. Instead, we were walking toward the castle and hungry, so decided to stop at a cute little cafe for lunch. While at the Cafe, Candice noticed that she had a missed call and a voice message on her phone....which turned out to be from American Airlines! They had found Matt's bag!! We were (of course) super excited! Its hard to say who was more excited, Matt or Collin - since Collin had a new camera in Matt's bag and the backpack also included all of Matt's hiking/camping equipment. We spent the rest of the trip saying "Matt! They found your bag!" at random moments.

Our happy faces when we found out that Matt's bag had been located!

After lunch we headed up toward Edinburgh Castle and toured the heck out of that place. It was really interesting to see the city and learn about the history of Scotland. They have done a really good job with the exhibits at the castle! One of the highlights for me was seeing the crown jewels and learning about how they were passed down and then hidden and then rediscovered.


John Knox's house in Edinburgh. Outside, it said, "Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself."

St. Giles Cathedral (we have no pics from inside this beautiful church because you had to pay $$ to take photos and we are cheap except when it comes to buying beer)
Here is a small slideshow from the castle:

As we walked through Edinburgh, one thing that we had wanted to do - but saved till the end of the day - was climb up to "Arthur's Seat." "Arthur's Seat" is the peak of a group of hills that sit behind Holyrood Palace. We knew that from the top we would have a 360 degree of the city, and we had been talking about doing the walk. Ultimately, we decided to do it, so we hiked back down to that side of the city and began our walk up. I thought we could take a little bit longer path that was a little less steep - because one of us had a backpack full of wine bottles and all of us were kind of tired - but it turned out that the path I chose was way long. Way longer than the more direct/steep route, and that because we had not taken the normal route we ended up having to go up a huge flight of stairs cut into the side of the hill.

Despite that, it turned out to be a really great hike. Candice and I kept each other company and had some good conversation while the guys kept up with each other. At the top, the view was beautiful. Though it was about 7-something pm, the sun was still up - though headed toward the horizon and so the lighting was amazing. It was really a great end to our day.

Some of the pictures from atop Arthur's Seat:

After taking in the view, we headed down and to a pub where we squished into a corner and had some great food while watching England play in the World Cup. Later, we headed back to the hostel to get ready for our ferry ride to Ireland the next morning.