Sunday, June 28, 2015

Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve

My friends and I went hiking at Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve near Gravenhurst last Saturday. Three of us actually planned on camping overnight so we could take star photos.

All through the week we monitored the weather conditions to see if they would be ideal. It turned out there wouldn't be any rain, but as for clear skies... that was another story.

We took two cars up. Gabe drove Roger and Pasty and their neighbour (I can't remember his name). I drove Peter and Emily. We were the three that originally planned on staying overnight.

We met at 10:00 and headed up to Barrie for lunch. Just off the 400 at Dunlop Street there's a restaurant called Big Chris BBQ Smokehouse that Peter heard about.

We went in and the seven of us split a dinner for four. It consisted of 2-racks of ribs, a large Caesar salad, 4-corn bread muffins, 2-lbs of wings and an additional large side (we picked the poutine) for $64.95 plus tax.

After lunch we drove an hour further up Highway 11 before getting off at Highway 13 which took us to the park (you can also go up 11 to Highway 19/13 too).

I have to say this is the most basic of parks. All there is is a couple of signs telling you about the park and one lonely outhouse. There are signs indicating the trails and markers along the way. But that's pretty much it.

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car we knew this could be an unpleasant walk. That's because we were instantaneously swarmed by deer flies. I quickly put on my mesh bug jacket and hat. The others sprayed themselves with bug repellent.

We started hiking immediately. Within the first 1/2 hour we found a spot that looked decent enough to camp at. So each of us (Peter, Emily and I) set up our tents. I know it sounds odd to have one tent per person, but we all wanted to try out our tents before the big trip out west.

After setting up our tents while being assailed by deer flies we left our large backpacks inside to weigh them down. The tents were on solid rock, so we couldn't put any pegs in to hold them in place.

We hiked half the Main Trail before coming upon a fork in the trail that split to either the Barrens Extension or Pine Ridge Loop Trail. We decided to do the latter.

The scenery was decent. It's mostly granite with some grass, trees and small lakes. The blue skies with lovely white clouds were a beautiful backdrop. We even saw a baby Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (which is a threatened species). About a foot long, it was lying on a rock along the trail. After surrounding it taking photos, it because agitated and rattled its little tail.

In the end we hiked 9 kilometres. All the while being constantly harassed by deer flies and mosquitos which incessantly buzzed around our heads. For that reason we headed back to the Big Smoke. No camping or nighttime photos this time. That will have to wait until later in the season when all the "buzz" has died down.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sho Ryu Ken Hakata Tonkatsu Ramen

A few of us met up for dinner at Sho Ryu Ken Hakata Tonkatsu Ramen on Yonge, north of Empress Avenue (opposite the Owl of Minerva). It was a good-bye meal for Fiona who was leaving for two weeks in Denver for work. Also there were Roger and Patsy, Janice, Peter and Emily. Keith came a bit late.

Roger and Pasty had already eaten there. I'm not sure if anyone else had gone. It was my first time.

The broth is supposed to be very rich. Pork bones are boiled for 15 hours to make it. According to their website the broth contains a lot of collagen and is supposed to be good for your skin. For me... the only thing I was concerned about was the taste.

I was just going to order the regular Hakata Tonkotsu ramen for $9.80. But, Janice, who didn't want to be the only one to order the one with more meat, the Chashu Lover, for $13.00 persuaded me to change.

Roger ordered the Black Tonkotsu which, in addition to the regular pork bone broth, has a special sauce and black roasted garlic oil for $10.80. I believe everyone else had the regular ramen.

In addition we ordered Karaage (fried chicken) and rare beef dish (I believe). I don't remember what it's called. It's not on their online menu for some reason.

Anyway, the food was decent. The broth was a bit rich for my tastes, but that's just me. The restaurant is on the smaller size. It was a bit busy when we went on a Friday evening. There was a small line. No big deal. It's nice to try something different now and then.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Smurfs Team Dinner - Osaka Sushi

We organized another team dinner for our Cornerstone Sports Night team. Originally we had nine people who said they could come out. But, Annie and Dan had to back out because they had just returned from vacation overseas and their baby was a bit cranky.

As well, Mike, lost his wallet right before we were supposed to meet, so he had to go look for it. So it was just Lily and Lemei, Chuan and her husband, Anthony, and Derek and I.

Since I had AYCE sushi the week before I suggested either going to Amaya the Indian Room or AYCE meat at Korean Grill on Highway 7 and Leslie. Derek suggested Osaka Sushi on Highway 7 west of Markham Road. He found it on Yelp. He didn't think the girls would be interested in AYCE.

After looking through the menu at Osaka Sushi and seeing that it was a little pricey we all agreed AYCE would have actually been better. Next time.

For the six of us we ordered a large sushi/sashimi boat, plus a couple of their specialty rolls - the $16 Toronto Roll and $15 King Spider Roll.

The food was good for sure. But, we weren't quite full and didn't really want to spend much more money there. So we hit a Chinese dessert place at Midland and McNicoll afterwards.

Oh... and, Mike... he eventually found his wallet. Whew.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Rule of 72 and ETFs vs. Mutual Funds

If you want to know how many years it’ll take you to double your money, use the rule of 72.

Divide 72 by x% and you’ll have the number of years it’ll take you to double your money.

Say you have $1000. If you earn 6% annually on it, it’ll take you 72/6 = 12 years to double your money to $2000.

Now say you earn 8% annually on your money. It’ll take you 72/8 = 9 years to double your money to $2000.

So if you earn 8.5% annually on your mutual funds, but your manager takes 2.5% you actually get 6% net return. But, if you invest in ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) and get the same 8.5% return with only a 0.5% management fee you get an 8% net return. Does that 2% really make that much of a difference?

Let’s take that same $1000 and invest it over 36 years. With the mutual fund at a net 6% return you’ll double your money three times for a grand total of $8000.

With an ETF at a net 8% return you double your money four times in 36 years for a grand total of $16,000.

Now, let’s say instead of investing $1000, you invested $50,000, and nothing else, from age 25 to 61 (36 years) at 8%. You would have a grand total of $800,000 at retirement instead of a mere $400,000 at 6%. Now do you see why 2% matters?

Of course, if you factor in 2% inflation* over those 36 years (36x2=72) you’ll see the cost of living doubles. So your future $800,000 will only have $400,000 purchasing power in today’s dollars.


*Inflation in Canada has been at 2% annually since the 1990s. It was a lot higher in the 1970s and 1980s.

DEFINITION of 'Rule Of 72'
A rule stating that in order to find the number of years required to double your money at a given interest rate, you divide the compound return into 72. The result is the approximate number of years that it will take for your investment to double.

DEFINITION of 'Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF)'
An ETF, or exchange traded fund, is a marketable security that tracks an index, a commodity, bonds, or a basket of assets like an index fund. Unlike mutual funds, an ETF trades like a common stock on a stock exchange. ETFs experience price changes throughout the day as they are bought and sold. ETFs typically have higher daily liquidity and lower fees than mutual fund shares, making them an attractive alternative for individual investors.

DEFINITION of 'Mutual Fund'
An investment vehicle that is made up of a pool of funds collected from many investors for the purpose of investing in securities such as stocks, bonds, money market instruments and similar assets. Mutual funds are operated by money managers, who invest the fund's capital and attempt to produce capital gains and income for the fund's investors. A mutual fund's portfolio is structured and maintained to match the investment objectives stated in its prospectus.

DEFINITION of 'Index Fund'
A type of mutual fund with a portfolio constructed to match or track the components of a market index, such as the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500). An index mutual fund is said to provide broad market exposure, low operating expenses and low portfolio turnover.

Investing in an index fund is a form of passive investing. The primary advantage to such a strategy is the lower management expense ratio on an index fund. Also, a majority of mutual funds fail to beat broad indexes, such as the S&P 500.

Friday, June 12, 2015

I’m a Loser - The Defeatist Attitude

I was having a discussion recently with a friend of mine who’s monetarily challenged (to say the least). He’s dead broke without a steady job. Of course his outlook on life is understandably sour.

I mentioned to him I’m currently reading a financial advice book by Tony Robbins and that it has some great advice. He also knows I’ve read books by Kevin O’Leary and Preet Banerjee on personal finance.

All these books are great in their own way and are definitely helpful in attaining a goal of financial independence. I told him he should take the time to read them.

His response was either, I know everything already, or, I don’t like Kevin O’Leary, so I’m not going to take his advice. Or he’ll say things like, why bother saving money? We could be hit by a bus tomorrow, so what’s the use?

That’s absolute nonsense. He’s either too proud to take advice or too lazy to bother reading these books. All the while he watches videos on his laptop for most of the day.

Not having a long term financial plan is a serious mistake many people make. It could mean the difference between having a roof over your head when you’re 85 or living on the street not knowing where your next meal will come from. And all because you were too proud or too lazy to even try - To try to save money; to try to invest wisely.

People spend ten of thousands of dollars and years of their lives on their education so they can earn a decent wage. Why not take a few more days/weeks to read a few books that could make an even greater difference on the quality of life in your golden years? Work smart, not hard.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu

Monday, June 8, 2015

Early Dinner @ Glow

Glow restaurant at Shops at Don Mills has a low cost early dinner option Sunday through Friday from 4:30-6:00 p.m.. My friend and I decided to try it recently.

For $15 you get an appetizer (soup of the day or mixed green or Caesar salad); a choice of entrées (daily flatbread, grilled beef tenderloin, grilled pork loin chop, steamed basa or chicken milanese; and a mini dessert shot (which essentially is a tiny dessert in a glass).

We went with the mixed green salad and a soup of the day which on this day was some sort of Thai themed soup (that I can't quite remember now). Both were good. If I had to pick only one, I'd choose the soup though. It had a bit of a kick. But nothing I couldn't handle.

For our entrées we chose the basa and beef tenderloin. I have to say both were a bit of a disappointment. Of course we're only paying $15 in total, so I guess you get what you pay for.

The basa isn't particularly tasty to start with. It's sort of a bland, inexpensive fish. The piece of beef was quite thin. Probably less than a centimetre thick. If you were the least bit on the hungry side you'd probably need to grab a pizza afterwards.

The desserts were cute. And small... served in something about the size of a shot glass. They tasted fine. But you could finish them in a couple of bites if you wanted.

The restaurant, itself, looks pretty nice. And the staff were super attentive. So those are big plusses. Would I try the $15 menu again? Sure, probably. Just to see what the other entrées are like.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Letchworth State Park pt. 3

We didn't really spend too much time in the park on our last day. After waking we took our time with breakfast and lit our last campfire (to use up our remaining wood). Then we packed our gear and took down our tents and headed off.

Our first idea was to go to Mount Morris Dam just outside the park. But after getting gas and realizing it was kind of hot outside, we passed. We were still recovering from the 22 kilometre hike the day before and it was running late.

Next we thought we'd visit the nearby town of Perry 13 kilometres away. We had seen some Perry's Ice Cream advertisements on the walls of the convenience stores in the park and thought we'd try some.

The town was easy to find. It's pretty small though. We drove around looking for the ice cream factory and couldn't find it. We didn't even see any advertising in any of the town shop windows. We thought it was strange. After driving around for a little while we gave up and headed out to look for a place for lunch.

There was a steak restaurant somewhere that Peter had heard about and wanted to try. Though he couldn't remember the name (or exactly where it was located). It could have been in Buffalo or in Niagara Falls, New York. We wanted find a spot with Wi-Fi and do a search for it.

I thought we should drive an hour towards Niagara Falls/Buffalo to look for it, but the guys were too hungry. We searched for nearby restaurants on the GPS in Peter's car and headed off.

I can't remember which restaurant in which small town we went to, but it didn't look very good so we hopped back in the car and  hit up the GPS again to look for another place. This time it took us to Nino's Pizzeria in Attica.

When we arrive we found it too was a pretty rundown establishment. No luck again. We drove around Attica a bit and noticed a Burger King. Since Peter and Gabe wanted to eat soon we decided we'd go there if we couldn't find anything else. Though we really didn't want to because we wanted to try something new.

Across the street we saw this small restaurant called The Prospector. We thought we'd give it a try. It was run by a nice middle-aged lady and served things like burgers and fries etc. As well, I saw a sign for Perry's Ice Cream on the outside wall of the building.

Peter and I both ordered a burger with fries. Gabe had the meatloaf sandwich. They had Pepsis with their lunch. I thought I'd be a good boy and ordered a glass of milk.

We all topped it off with a Perry's soft serve cone. Gabe and I had the vanilla/chocolate twist, while Peter had vanilla. They were much better than the soft serve cones you get here (at McDonalds or from the ice cream truck). These ones were much creamier. Very good.

We also found out from the patrons there (most of whom were middle age to elderly) that the Perry ice cream plant isn't located in Perry, but in Akron, New York. They were a chatty bunch. I'm sure we were the first foreigners to poke our heads into their semi-out of the way restaurant in a long time.

Another neat thing about the restaurant is that they had these really cool tables from the 50's, 60's and 70's. I think the owner and other patrons were amused at my fascination with them. I took photos of quite a few of them.

The owner asked if we wanted to take any home with us because they were moving locations and she wasn't bringing them along. If I had the means I would have taken some for sure. They looked so cool.

Once again we hit the Rainbow Bridge on our way back over the border. The wait was a very respectable 1/2 hour.

We didn't do anything upon our arrival home. We just parted ways to meet again another day.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Letchworth State Park pt. 2

Our second day at Letchworth State Park started with boiled eggs and sausages for breakfast with coffee for the other two.

We then went to look for some more ice to keep our fruits and veggies and beer cold. It was around this time we discovered our remaining Vietnamese sandwiches were half soaked by the melted ice in the cooler. So, as well as the ice, we had to buy three half subs at the Lower Falls Restaurant for about $20! Expensive.

After we bought our supplies we started our one long hike of the trip - the 7 mile/11 kilometre (each way) Gorge Trail #1. It starts by the railway overpass at the south end of the park right by the Upper Falls.

The Gorge Trail follows the Genesee River north alongside the park road. Along the way you pass the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. As well you go by Big Bend, the Tea Table/Wolf Creek, all the way to the end of the trail at St. Helena picnic area.

The park actually goes a lot further north than the end of the Gorge Trail. But, that was plenty far enough for us.

The hike out took us 6 hours along the path. Of course we stopped to eat and to take a lot of photos. But, we were pretty drained by the time we hit St. Helena.

Instead of taking the path we hit the road for the 7 mile/11 kilometre walk back. It was much smoother with less severe ups and downs. It only took us 2-1/2 hours on our return trip. We didn't stop for pictures and walked a lot faster than on the way out.

For dinner we tried the freeze-dried camping food that Peter bought. I can't remember the flavours now, but they were either pasta or rice based with some sort of meat like chicken or beef (most likely). I thought they were fine. But, they're rather expensive at between $7-$8.00 each.

Once again I tried some star shots after a shower and before bed. But the clouds moved in again to ruin things.