Thursday, December 29, 2016

La La Land

La La Land is a delightful song and dance film starring Ryan Gosling as a struggling jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a wannabe actress. Both are trying to make their way through the dog-eat-dog world of present day Los Angeles. Though beaten down almost every single day they continue to encourage each other to follow their dreams.

I've never been much of a musical type of guy, but I really enjoyed this movie. What can I say about Ryan Gosling? Is there anything more sexy than a guy who can both tickle the ivories and is light on his feet? And Emma Stone - she's wholly unremarkable, but those vulnerable eyes and girlish charms just draw you in.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for these kinds of romantic love stories. So, two big thumbs up for me. Loved this movie.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Season

It's been a busy Christmas season for me. Mostly with work and related activities. Traffic has been slowed with an early season snowfall a couple of weeks ago and the Christmas shoppers driving from mall to mall. It's made long days even longer. Thankfully I'll have a few days off work to rest up and relax.

We had our family Christmas dinner at my parents' place early this year. Bern took the kids down to Florida to see his sister and parents (who had gone down earlier). It was a surprise visit that they were very happy about.

For me Christmas was also about hellos and, this year, some good-byes. At our annual Christmas Eve dinner and service at church I had a chance to meet with some former CPCers who were back in town for the holidays. That's always cool. A chance to see familiar faces from the past.

As for the good-byes, Rachel is leaving for home after completing her studies here. She'll be traveling to Yellowknife and the Rockies before that. And Tom is taking a much deserved 5-month sabbatical after around 30 years of preaching without a break. We'll be in good hands with Hilkka who is taking over for him in the interim.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Gift for Me

After church on Sunday I walked over to Henry's on Church Street and bought a lens. My friends and I are thinking about visiting the Faroe Islands next summer and I figured I'd need a lens to shoot birds there. The westernmost island, Mykines, has puffins and other seabirds nesting there.

I settled on the Canon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 IS USM mostly because it was the right price. Canon had it's annual Best in Glass Sale and it was reduced $250 to $399.99.

Of course there are higher quality lenses, but I didn't feel like breaking the bank for a lens that I wouldn't be using an awful lot (my primary lens being my 10-22 mm f/3.5-4.5 USM). It had reasonable reviews which was good enough for me.

I only took a few shots in the store. I'll practice with it sometime when the weather is nicer outside. I'm sure it'll suit me fine.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Market at the Distillery District

After my boarding home visit last Sunday I thought I'd head over to the Christmas Market at the Distillery District. I found some free parking on Villiers Street off Cherry Street around a kilometre away.

I've been to the Christmas Market once or twice in the past, but not in a little while. Due to the increase in popularity they've introduced a $6.00 fee on weekends and Fridays after 5:00 p.m.. The proceeds go to charity, so it's fine.

I arrived at around 4:30 p.m.. There was still a little daylight in the afternoon sky. That gave me an opportunity to handhold some of my shots for the first half an hour or so. A little more flexibility with the opportunity to move around for better angles.

After that I brought out my tripod. I only started using it more often since I bought a half-decent, used one off Markus. It's easier to manipulate than my older one. Still, I never liked lugging one around. But, for low light situations, it does make a difference.

There were a number of things to take pictures of. Where I entered there was a large heart that people could stand underneath and take pictures with. Right behind it was a small forest of pink Christmas trees that you could walk through. Then there were the various carts selling food and goods and the huge Christmas tree and stage for performances and ferris wheel and merry-go-round.

A good way to spend a few hours on the weekend with your friends, family or, even, by yourself.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Search for Christmas... Lights

On Sunday after church and lunch I went on a search for Christmas lights. The night before they had the opening for Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Philips Square. I was actually down in the area, but skipped it because it was drizzly.

After seeing my friend Gabe's shots I got the idea of going to Brookfield Place to take photos as well as at Nathan Philips Square and the Eaton Centre.

Brookfield Place had a snowflake theme going on. There was one large snowflake on the floor in the middle of the atrium as well smaller different coloured ones hanging from the ceiling in the surrounding buildings. In front of Marché they had this large, white tree sculpture hanging from the roof.

Next I went to the Eaton Centre. I was saving Nathan Philips Square for last because when I walked through earlier they were still dismantling the Cavalcade of Lights stage and things from the night before.

Except for the Christmas tree at the north end, the decorations at the Eaton Centre don't change much. I guess it's expensive to make new ones all the time. For the past few years they've had these large metallic deer set up around the mall.

This year the Christmas tree was an enormous one that sat on the lowest level (in the basement) and rose almost all the way up to the very top of the glass ceiling. You could barely see the green through the red and white lights that covered almost every single inch of it.

I walked the top level of the mall taking shots as well as some of the catwalks above and up the stairs to the parking garage in the middle of the mall. That gave me a few unusual vantage points to shoot from.

Lastly I went to Nathan Philips Square. For the opening of the Cavalcade of Lights they opened the skating rink at City Hall too. Unfortunately the upper level surrounding the square was blocked off. They offer you the best view of the whole square for shots. That was really annoying. I had to make do walking around at ground level.

I think I managed to get some okay shots there with the skaters and Christmas lights and Christmas tree. If I had a tripod it would have been better though.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dinner with a Friend

One of my friends from Carter Manor hasn't been feeling well lately. Over our past few visits to the boarding home he hasn't been there. It was a bit concerning for me because I considered him one of the more well adjusted guys there. Now he's receiving treatment at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on Queen Street.

When he was staying at the boarding home I would sometimes communicate with him by e-mail. But I heard he wrecked his computer and I didn't know if he had access to one where he was staying. Still I dropped him a line saying to call me if he received my message and hoped for the best. A week or two later I got a reply.

He mentioned that he's been hearing voices in his head for many years and that they've made his life a constant struggle. He's hurting and is scared and is worried it will never end. This concerned me, so I thought I'd see if he wanted to meet up for dinner.

We arranged to meet up on Saturday. He picked a small burger joint across the street from the hospital. When I met him at 5:00 he mentioned the staff told him he only had half an hour. He told me that when he asked them before, they said he could have an hour. We took an hour.

It was good seeing him again. Our topic of conversation varied from what was bothering him and what he had been up to to what I'd been up to recently. To tell you the truth even having an hour to eat felt rushed. We couldn't really relax and chill out very easily. It was a struggle to stuff my burger and poutine down before he had to go back.

Anyway, next time I'd like to try and spend a little more time out. I know he enjoyed the time we spent together. So that was good to see.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Seaton Hiking Trail

My  friend Justin and I went for a short hike on Friday. As usual I had the day off and was perusing Facebook when he PM'd me. So I drove over to his place and we hopped into his convertible and headed to the Seaton Hiking Trail in Pickering.

The Seaton Hiking Trail runs 13 kilometres from Rossland Road in the south to Highway 7 in the north. Justin discovered it while driving out there one day.

It was 1:20 in the afternoon when we got there. Instead of starting at one end of the trail or the other, we started at Whitevale Park a bit north of the middle. There's a small parking lot there off Whitevale Road, east of the Scarborough-Pickering Townline.

From the parking lot we crossed the bridge over the West Duffins Creek and headed north. The trail is quite well marked making it hard to get lost. There were a number of side trails you could take. But, as long as you made your way back to the main trail, you'd be fine.

In total we were out for two hours. We didn't actually go that far turning around at Highway 407, about 2.5 kilometres from our starting point. Of course we brought our cameras, so that slowed our pace somewhat.

Even though the trees were bare of leaves it still was good to get out for one last walk before the weather turned blustery. That day we were blessed with blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures of 15C+. So nice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Remembrance Day, 2016

Remembrance Day fell on a Friday this year. Since I have Fridays off I decided to go downtown to see the Remembrance Day ceremony.

In the past I had attended both the one at Queen's Park and the one at Old City Hall. This year I thought I'd go back there. But, due to time constraints (the fact that I left home late), I  ended up back at Queen's Park (which is a little closer).

It was pretty busy when I arrived. There was a sizeable crowd gathered on the front lawn where the ceremony is normally held. As you can see from the photo, it was a sunny day with white clouds dotting the bright, blue sky.

The emcee was a Francophone military woman. There were a number of dignitaries there including Premier Wynne who had just come from an earlier engagement at Sunnybrook Hospital speaking to the veterans there.

They had some musical performances and speeches were given by indigenous leaders and military personnel. They gave the audience insight into the sacrifices that were made both in the past and in current times.

It was a good time to reflect on what they've done to protect our freedoms as well as show our appreciation.

Afterwards I stopped by the Manulife Building on Bloor across from St. Paul's church to see their display of over 11,800 flags on their front lawn. The employees there put them up in honour of the military personnel killed in both wartime and peacekeeping missions. Each flag represents 10 fallen soldiers.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Gee... thanks, America.

Thanks, America. You're absolutely wonderful. In your great wisdom you just elected a racist, misogynist, xenophobe as your next leader. This con man hasn't paid taxes in years, lost nearly a billion dollars in business dealings in the past and refuses to pay people who've done an honest day's work for him.

The Great Orange One makes up his own words, doesn't believe in climate change (even though the vast majority of scientists say so) and mocks the parents of dead American soldiers, the disabled and anyone else who doesn't share his point of view.

This reflects poorly on you not only because of your total lack of better judgement, but also because this man most likely mirrors your own belief systems. And that, sadly, is even worse (if anything could be worse).

Now we (the rest world) have to deal with the fallout. Because whenever your big ass moves it causes ripples that can be felt continents away. Not only are you setting yourselves back decades, the rest of us are caught in your wake.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Shooting Range

My  friend sent out a message on WhatsApp on Saturday afternoon asking if anyone was interested in going to the gun range to shoot handguns. His club had an open house and members were allowed to bring guests.

Now I have to say, I'm quite the anti-gun person, but I'm also kind of curious about new things. So, even though I was a bit hesitant, I thought I'd go see what it was all about.

When I went over to his house he gave me a some pointers, few of which I remember. All I know is when you're holding the gun don't put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot; and when you're not using your gun set it on the table with the magazine out, and point it down range. Always point the gun down range.

The shooting range was outdoors. When he messaged about it I had assumed it was indoors. So that was kind of different. It's located way up in East Gwillimbury, off the 404, north of Green Lane on Kennedy Road.

It's pretty basic, there are no facilities there. If you have to go pee there's either a porta-potty or an outhouse. Not sure which since I didn't have to go.

There's a shed for storage and a covered area where you shoot from. As well there are some picnic tables for people to chill out on in between shooting sessions. On this day, the open house, they were adorned with doughnuts and coffee for the guests. Mmm.

The place was busy since it was open house. The grassy area they used for parking was pretty much full. There were quite a few young people there too. I was a little surprised at that, but they were well supervised.

It was a little surreal walking up and hearing gunfire and seeing people shooting (this being Canada where there are relatively few guns). I wasn't used to that.

People had a variety of guns. The younger people (teenage and younger) were using smaller calibre guns (I'm assuming). So they weren't as loud as the other ones.

My friend had his own ear protection and safety glasses. I borrowed a pair from the club out of the shed. Even though the ear muffs squeezed my head like a vice, they worked well dampening the sound.

When our turn came up we were assigned a lane (number 6 out of 10 or so) by the range officer. He oversees all the people shooting to make sure they do things safely.

Upon his command everyone went down the range (25 metres away) and stapled up their targets. Then they returned to the shooting area and prepared to shoot.

Since it was my first time holding a gun and shooting my friend borrowed a .22 calibre pistol from the club. His .22 was at the gunsmith's and his other handgun, a .45, was too powerful.

He gave me a short tutorial about the gun and how to put the magazine into the gun and pull the slide back to get it ready to fire. I let him load the magazine with bullets though. We were supposed to put only 5 bullets each into two magazines.

I shot two sessions. The gun had been used the whole day and was a bit dirty, so it jammed a number of times. No big deal. I had to manually push the slide closed a few times so it would fire.

It was harder to hold my hands steady when firing than I imagined. Still, I did quite well according to my friend, hitting the target close to the centre many times.

The gun wasn't too hard to use since it was small calibre. The recoil was quite manageable and it wasn't too loud. So that was nice.

When my friend took his turn his .45 really kicked. And it was loud! Loud! Too loud as far as I was concerned. I don't think I would have liked using it. I did shoot one bullet just to see what it was like, but I can't say I was a big fan.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. The people were nice and the doughnuts were tasty. It was interesting giving shooting a try. I don't know if I'd go regularly. Once in awhile might be okay though.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Badminton and Dinner

On  Saturday Daphne, Gabe and I played badminton together. Daphne rented a court at the club she's with for an hour. It was mostly Gabe and I who played though. Daphne only joined us for 15-20 minutes. The rest of the time Gabe and I punished each other by making one another run back and forth endlessly across the court chasing birds.

Afterwards we grabbed dinner at the nearby Kung-fu Chop Chop. We ordered from their Chef's Special Dishes menu - 3 dishes for $26.95 with steamed rice and soup. The dishes we had were the Eggplant with garlic sauce and minced pork, Cantonese-style pork chop and Spicy pepper Chicken. My favourites were the eggplant and pork chop.

And, as if that wasn't enough, we headed down to Times Square afterwards for dessert. I don't remember what the others had, but I had a sweet Walnut soup. It's something I've had before in the past. It's tasty.

After all that exercise we packed the calories back in with dinner and dessert. Oh well.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Humber Arboretum Autumn Walk

I drove to the Humber Arboretum on Saturday for a fall walk. I found out about it on the BlogTO site. They were talking about five fall hikes they liked in the GTA and this was one of them.

Located at the Humber College North Campus west off Highway 427 south of Finch, it's not too far from my place. On the weekends you can park there for free at Parking Lot 1 (near the student residences). Technically you're supposed to get a permit from the lot attendant, but no one was there when I went.

I'd say there are three main areas at the Arboretum. There's a manicured upper section where the Centre for Urban Ecology is. In that building are the public washrooms. There's lower grassland section bordered by trees on the east side. And there's a small forested section to the south. As well, there is a trail that follows the Humber River (called the West Humber Trail).

It was partially overcast when I went. I had to wait for overhead clouds to pass so the sun could shine through so the colours would pop when I took my shots. Luckily I went on my own. Others might not have been so patient.

I snapped some photos in the manicured upper section first. They have some pond features and small bridges and wooden structures that look nice.

On my way down to the lower grassland section I saw some cute chickadees. I had seen some the weekend before at Hilton Falls. People were feeding them birdseed out of their hands, so I thought I would try. All I had was a few crumbs from the bag I had my peanut butter sandwich in. One tiny fellow sat on my finger for a second or two. The rest were too shy.

The lower grassland sections have wide, mowed pathways you can walk along. It's pretty nice. The forested areas are well maintained too. When I was there the ground was carpeted with yellow leaves. It looked quite pretty.

I took a short walk along the West Humber Trail too. It's paved. It goes from Highway 27 on the east to Finch Avenue on the north. Overall it's quite a good place to visit.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gas Station Adventures

Gas station adventures, you're asking yourself. Really? What sort of adventure could you have at a gas station?

It all started on a foggy Monday morning. My delivery route had taken me from Brampton to Georgetown to Barrie. It was a slow, nervous drive due to the fact you could barely see 10 metres ahead of you. And this lasted pretty much the whole day.

By 4:00 p.m. I was nearing the north end of my route in Barrie. Suddenly the skies started to darken. And I mean, really darken. Day turned to night as a huge, menacing cloud enveloped the city. Then, boom, the heavens opened up.

Rain poured down and thunder and lighting came crashing from above. It was pretty intense by the time I got off the 400 at Mapleview Drive. By this time I was low on gas and dreaded having to stop. Even though most gas stations are covered, I was sure I was going to get soaked by the rain that was pretty much going sideways.

On the offramp there were four or five vehicles ahead of me turning east onto Mapleview. The weather was so bad we had to wait for the light to change before making the turn.

Two traffic lights to go before the Esso station.

Now on Mapleview I hit another red light. Then the lightning hit. And the traffic lights went out. It was actually our (the east-west traffic) turn to go. But, like good drivers, we sort of treated it like a 4-way stop.

The next set of traffic lights were out when we got to them too. We waited a few seconds and, presto, they came on again. Same with the power at the nearby Esso station on the corner. Hallelujah! We have gasoline!

When I got to the gas station and pulled up to the pumps they were in the process of being re-booted. The screens showed the progress as it happened. Slowly.

By this time more drivers were arriving and standing around waiting for the pumps to start working. Even though I was impatient I had to wait since I was low on gas.

After a few minutes a couple of guys nearby me had their pumps working. Then the lady's across from me started up. Finally mine came to life. I slid my Esso points card in the machine and then tapped the Esso Speedpass that I use from work.

Nothing happened.

The total ($30.??) from the person who previously filled up was still on the screen. I hit the regular fuel button again and again and again, waiting for the total to reset to $0.00 so I could start filling up, but it wouldn't go.

Finally, I pressed the intercom button and spoke to the attendant. He told me to replace the nozzle and cancel the transaction and just fill up first and then come in to pay. I didn't really want to do that because I wanted to pay at the pump and not have to run through the rain, but I did anyway.

It still took awhile before the pump reset itself to $0.00, but finally it did. I filled up to $88.14 and went inside to pay. At 95.9¢ per litre, the price here was 9¢ per litre less than in Toronto!

I guess none of the pumps allowed anyone to pay at them because the line inside was longer than normal. When I got to the cash I told the guy I was at pump 9 and said something about it being $88.

The guy gave me a confused look and said he had no record of anyone filling up for $88 at pump 9. I asked him if he was sure and he showed me all the transactions for pump 9 on his screen. The last one was for $30.?? which was the one before the power went out.

He asked me if I was sure the pump actually put gas into the van and I said, I think so. Of course I couldn't be sure because you have to put the key in the ignition and turn it for the needle to move. So he asked me to run outside and do it because he couldn't cancel the transaction if I paid for it and hadn't gotten any gas.

So I went outside again and checked. After turning the ignition the needle moved to full. So he completed the transaction and I paid with Sid's Speedpass.

Now if I really was sneaky and wanted to save Sid some money I suppose I could have said, it didn't work, but I didn't. It was just weird how the pump had no recollection of me filling up with nearly 92 litres of gasoline.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hilton Falls Hike

On  Saturday I decided to head out to Hilton Falls conservation area to try and catch the fall colours. It was a lovely day. Warm and sunny with blue skies.

As usual, the traffic was terrible. Normally I have to deal with it during the week when I make deliveries. But, on the weekend too? Even though the weather was great someone decided to get in an accident on the 401 westbound at Mavis Road closing all but one lane.

Before reaching that point I hopped on the 403 and took it west to Erin Mills. After getting off there I headed back up to the 401 and resumed my journey. Exiting the 401 at Highway 25 in Milton, I arrived at the park around 11:00 a.m.. Not too bad all things considered.

After paying my $6.75 to get in, I got a map, parked and headed out to the trails. My main objective was to get a shot of the fall colours behind the Hilton Falls Reservoir. One of my Facebook friends, Steve, had posted a picture from there and I thought it looked nice.

The reservoir was encircled by the Red Oak Trail. Easy enough, I thought, I'll just take the trail around it and get some great shots. Of course, things weren't so straightforward.

My first view of the reservoir was along one of the park roads. As I walked along it I noticed the reservoir was set deep in a pit surrounded by large rocks. As I looked around the circumference I didn't see any access points where you could go down and take a shot like the one my friend took.

I decided to take the Red Oak Trail anyway. After doubling back along the park road, I headed into the forested area. I was going to go clockwise along the trail. Part way through I noticed a side trail that went a bit closer to the reservoir, so I took it hoping it would leaded me to some sort of hidden path down.

By day's end I pretty much ended up bushwhacking my way through dense foliage and up and down steep, rocky embankments trying to get that perfect shot. It was insane. It took so much effort to get through it.

The day wasn't all crazy though. I did do a normal hike along another trail there. This one was called the Hilton Falls Trail and it took you to, of all things, Hilton Falls.

I have to say, the falls were a bit disappointing. It was probably due to the fact it was autumn and the creek leading to it was barely a trickle. So it was more like a dripping faucet than anything else.

The foliage was so-so. The leaves that had turned were mostly yellow. Not too much orange or red unfortunately. I'll probably try again next weekend. Hopefully I'll have more success then.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Musings of Life

I attended my friend Jan's father's funeral on Saturday. He passed away at age 88 after living the past few years at a seniors' residence in Scarborough. His children and grandchildren would often visit him there keeping him company.

At the funeral Jan's sister Helen spoke about her dad. What she said reminded me a bit about my own father. She said he was someone who loved his family, though he never really opened up much emotionally-speaking. They knew he cared about them through his actions rather than what he said. She mentioned they didn't know much about his past because he rarely spoke of it.

This was something I realized about my own parents too - That I didn't know much about their past. So, one day, I decided to borrow a friend's video camera and interview them.

Now, I'm not sure how good a job I did. My mom was better. She had a greater recollection of her life when she was young and growing up in China. My father didn't go into a lot of detail. Maybe because his memory is getting spotty. Not only about things from the past, but from recent events. As well, I think he was more of a loner. So there may not have been as many tales to regale. That's something that continues to this day. If it weren't for my mom, he wouldn't get out so much.

Though sometimes they quibble when she gets naggy, he depends on her for a lot of things. She gets him out of the house to meet with their seniors' group on a weekly basis. And they go swimming three or four times a week which is great for their overall health.

He brings something to the relationship too. Though she's the cook in the family, he does the dishes. As well, he still mows the lawn, even into his early 80s. And since she's given up driving, he's the Uber driver too. He takes her shopping and to do their weekly activities.

It seems like they're fairly content with where they are in life. He likes to chill out reading his Chinese newspapers and watching any Chinese programs he can get on local cable. She likes to tend her garden and hang out with the grandkids whenever she gets the chance.

So far, so good. Hopefully my sister and I won't have to look into long term care anytime soon. A number of their peers have moved into seniors' facilities because of mobility problems or other issues. The residences are quite nice, but they're smaller and you can't putter around outside in the garden like in a house.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

2016 Nuit Blanche

Peter and I went to Nuit Blanche this year. It's the 11th year it's been held in Toronto and the 11th time I've gone. This was Peter's first time though. Normally he's in Hong Kong by this time. But, this year, he's staying a little longer.

This is the first year that Scotiabank hasn't been a sponsor. In fact, they dropped their sponsorship of a number of events this year including the Toronto Caribbean Carnival and Buskerfest. Lean times in the banking business I guess.

The weather this year was great. Especially since they had forecast 80% chance of rain Friday through Sunday. It was pretty much dry and warm enough to walk around the whole night without a jacket if you so desired. Weather-wise, there was some fog that covered the tops of the buildings downtown, but that was about it.

I met Peter at Yonge and Eglinton and we took the subway down together. We shared a TTC Day Pass at $12. I have to say, we didn't take full advantage of it, choosing to walk almost our entire route. Besides coming and going on the subway, we only took one extra streetcar ride from Harbourfront to Union Station.

Our first stop was at City Hall. There were three exhibits there. But, one was inside and there was a long line to get in, so we skipped it. That's the thing with many of the indoor installations - there's almost always a long line to get in. With those ones I normally take a pass.

Over the past couple of years or so I used to plan my route out according to whatever I was interested in seeing. I'd go online or, in the early years, check the paper programme and map out my route that way. Now I just see where most things are clustered and work my way around the city that way.

This year there were installations around Yorkville heading west along Bloor to St. George. Also, there were some at Toronto City Hall; others up and down Bay Street; some at north and south around McCaul/John Street; and a bunch at the Harbourfront.

My original plan was to hit City Hall, then go south on Bay, hit the Harbourfront and come back up Simcoe/John/McCaul. We sort of did it backwards instead.

Over the 10+ hours we were out, we ended up walking around 25 kilometres (from 7:00 p.m. to just after 5:00 a.m.). We stopped a few times to rest, and one more time for poutine. Still, by the end, we were totally bushed.

I have to say, Nuit Blanche isn't quite as interesting and creative as it once was. Maybe the lack of funding had something to do with it. There used to be more large installations in which the audience could participate and ones with performers and such. This year there we saw quite a few video exhibitions. Not so interesting.

I still enjoy walking around the city all night looking at things. So I'll keep coming back. It's sort of a tradition for me now.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Yes, it's true... We bought a Canoe

I don't know how it happened, but Peter and I bought a canoe. We were discussing it on WhatsApp on Thursday night/Friday morning. By late Saturday morning we had one in our possession.

It was a whirlwind affair. We had gone canoe-camping twice this summer and enjoyed it. Late Thursday night we mused about buying a used one. Peter looked on-line and found we had missed our chance with many of the outfitters who sold their rental stock at the end of the season.

1:03 a.m. Peter sends me a link on how to buy a canoe (the different kinds for running rivers or paddling lakes or whatever; and the different materials like fibreglass or Kevlar etc.).

1:21 a.m. Now he sends a link about how to care for/store your canoe. It's best to store it indoors out of the sun (to prevent UV damage) and preferably off the ground. Though, both of us live in condominiums, so that might be a problem.

1:43 a.m. he sends a link about the Souris River Canoes - Quetico 17 canoe. It's a lightweight Kevlar canoe that Killarney Outfitters sell refurbished for $2,585, plus tax (new is $3,680). Again, they are sold out. Boooo.

1:54 a.m. he finds the same model for sale by owner in St. Catharines for $2,400. What a deal!

1:54 a.m. to 2:18 a.m. We discuss the pros and cons of buying a canoe. Peter sends the owner a e-mail asking him if we could go by on Saturday to see it.

Friday evening. The Foodie Group meets at Peter's place for dinner. They make fun of us for wanting to buy a canoe without even knowing where we're going to store it. It know... it does sound kind of silly.

My sister and parents both have houses, but no garages, only carports. I have some friends in Richmond Hill that have houses with garages. I'm assuming one of them will have space. That's my big plan.

Wally, the owner of the canoe agrees to meet us at his house in St. Catharines at 10:00 a.m.

I meet Peter at his condo at around 8:30 a.m. He stops at two bank machines on our way to the highway to get cash. We arrive at Wally's house at around 10:30.

The canoe is in reasonable shape. He's had it for a number of years and there are superficial scratches on the bottom. Wally is an experienced canoeist. The Quetico 17 is his third canoe. Unfortunately he's feeling his age and has decided to give up the sport. That's why he's selling.

After a brief discussion Peter and I look at each other and ask, should we do it? Of course we should.

Peter offers Wally $2,200 and he accepts. Now that he realizes this part of his life is over he's teary-eyed. He's been canoeing for many years.

We exchange the money and shake hands. After we mount the canoe on Peter's car Wally asks if he can take one last photo. Then we're off. Proud new owners of a fantastic used canoe.

Now we have to find a place to store it.

Thankfully, Emily's mom has agreed to let us store it in her garage temporarily. In the summer she parks her car on the driveway. But, when winter comes, she's going to park it inside.

We meet Emily at her mum's place and bring the canoe into the garage. It's huge (17-feet long and 3-feet wide). It pretty much takes up the whole space of the little one-car garage. I'm concerned the garage door doesn't lock. Anyone can flip the door up and walkout with our super-light (44-lb) canoe.

I make alternate arrangements later that day.

Even though Jan and Amy have a 3-car garage, they don't have space at their place. Their two vehicles take up two spaces and they have other stuff stored in the third space. Thankfully, Daphne, comes to the rescue.

After having dinner with Jan and Amy and Vince and Linda for their (Vince and Linda's) birthdays. I meet up with Daphne at her house. I thought she had a one-car garage, but was happy to discover it was a 2-car one.

As well, it has a large, raised shelf at the back. So, even with two vehicles parked inside, there's room enough for a long canoe. And the garage doors lock. Even better.

We haven't brought it over yet. Probably later in the week. Now to buy paddles. And, for myself, a PFD.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Sound of Death

I was nearing the end of my route on last Wednesday when I encountered a detour on my way to Dr. Shaughnessy's dental office. I had come across Rebecca Street and up Fourth Line when traffic began to slow. There were a number of police officers along the way directing traffic at the intersections south of Speers Road.

When I arrive at Speers I normally turn left and drive about 300 metres west to Dr. Shaughnessy's office. But an officer with his patrol car was blocking the way. Vehicles could only go southbound or eastbound.

So I had a choice... either skip the delivery because my access was blocked or park at the mall on the southeast corner and walk the 300 metres to his office. Now, if my delivery was heavy, I probably would have skipped it. But I only had to bring them 25 large hand towels. Not too bad. So I parked and began walking.

Actually, I had some idea of what was going on beforehand. I had been listening to the radio in the van while driving and there was some news, but it was kind of sketchy. CBC reported that a vehicle had hit someone and they had died. I heard other reports that it was a dump truck that hit an elderly lady who died.

Other than nearly a dozen police vehicles parked in front of Dr. Shaughnessy's office building, there was hardly any traffic around. At 4:00 in the afternoon Speers Road is normally buzzing. Other than idle chatter from a few onlookers and squawking from the police radios, it was eerily quiet.

When I got to Dr. Shaughnessy's office there was one or two patients there. But the office was mostly empty save the staff members looking out the second storey window onto the scene. I told them I didn't think any of the remaining afternoon patients would be coming. I said that I had parked down the street and walked in. I mentioned people could probably leave the building in their vehicles, but not come in.

One of the hygienists commented that there was a bus stop in front of the office building and sometimes people would run across the street to catch the bus. We suspect that's what may have happened.

On my way back I saw the truck. It wasn't a dump truck per se, but on of those disposal trucks with a large bin on the back. I also believe I saw the driver. He didn't look too old. A slightly heavyset fellow, maybe in his 30's. He was sitting by a large for lease sign on the front lawn of the building. Another man was consoling him.

As I neared my truck at the intersection of Speers and Fourth Line the quietness was soon overtaken by the noisiness of the backed up traffic. Life was returning to normal, only it wasn't quite so.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Massasauga Provincial Park - Day 4

Peter, Cynara and I woke relatively early on Monday morning. At about 6:30 we took to the canoes and paddled out onto Captain Allan Strait and headed eastward into the mist.

As well as getting some good shots of the sun rising over the water, we got a number of decent shots of Cynara paddling around too. Peter said there was less mist compared to the day before. Still it was fine.

When everyone else woke up we made breakfast and finished up most of the rest of the food. Mostly eggs and bacon again. Yummy. Then we put our bathing suits on and jumped in the water by our campsite.

Being a Monday it was much quieter. A lot of the other campers had left so the motorboat traffic in front of our site was greatly reduced. Our site was actually situated on one of the busier points in the park. Captain Allan Strait leads out to the open waters of Georgian Bay.

The water seemed a little chillier in front of our site than other places we had swum at. I put my PFD on and floated around a bit. Then I took it off and sat on the rocks in the water by the shore. The water covered my shoulders. I only kept my head out.

After sitting for awhile I felt a gentle poking around my back. Peter was sitting in the water behind me, so I thought it was him. In fact a small fish was sampling me it seems. I had sat still enough that it didn't feel threatened in approaching me. Another one swam between my outstretched legs in the water too. They couldn't have been more than 2-4 inches in length.

On our way back to the city after dropping off the rental canoes we stopped in Barrie for ice cream at Kawartha Dairy. Instead of the usual cone, Peter and I decided to split a prepackaged 1.5 litre tub of Black Cherry ice cream. A regular cone is nearly $5, while the tub was $6.30 after tax. Less expensive and you get more. The tub was too large even for the both of us, so we shared it with the others.

After that we went to Chaopaya Thai Restaurant on Dunlop Street for dinner. Peter and I split some chicken fried rice with basil, and beef with red curry. A bit on the spicy side for me, but very tasty indeed.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Massasauga Provincial Park - Day 3

Peter awoke early on the third morning. He went out to take sunrise shots with the mist on the water. Cynara suggested going out the night before, but slept in. Oh well.

Today we planned on hiking the nearby Moon Island Trail. It's right across the strait from our campsite (though the trailhead is on the opposite side of the island). A 20 minute paddle perhaps. We had to wait for Eric's group to arrive though because we thought they wanted to do the hike too.

After breakfast Peter and I went out for a short paddle. I don't remember exactly where we went. Maybe up and down Captain Allan Strait in front of our campsite. After awhile we came back and relaxed.

Jonathan decided to take a canoe out on his own to go fishing. Eric had left his rod there and Jonathan thought he might try it. A short time later he came back completely soaked. The canoe had flipped and he had lost Eric's rod and reel.

It wasn't far from where our campsite was, so Peter and I donned our PFDs and swam over. Cynara and Jonathan paddled there. Jonathan and I searched the riverbed while Peter and Cynara observed.

Jonathan hadn't flipped too far from shore, so we thought we were in the right area. He carried heavy rocks (which weighed him down) and searched the bottom with his feet, while I dove down headfirst and searched with my hands.

The bottom was murkier the deeper you got. In some parts there was seaweed growing from the bottom too. So the view was obscured. We searched a fairly large area for quite a long time but never found it. Too bad.

It was around the end of our search when we saw Eric's canoe coming in. There were four of them in it - Eric, Chris, Jess and Lily. As well we saw what we thought was a dog swimming in the water around them. We thought it might have belonged to them (who we didn't recognize at first) or to a motorized boat nearby. It was only when the "dog" got out of the water and scrambled up the rocks by our campsite that we realized it was a bear cub. No one got any photos unfortunately.

After Eric's group got resettled (and we broke the bad news to him), we split up to do different activities. Jonathan and Jess took a canoe to paddle to the LCBO at Moon River Marine to get some beverages while Eric, Lily, Cynara, Peter and I took the other two to Moon Island to do the 4 kilometre hike there. Chris stayed at the campsite to rest up.

Eric, Chris and Jess had actually gone over to Moon Island to hike when they were here earlier. But somehow they got lost and ended up wandering around off trail. They never actually completed it. So it would be mostly new for him too.

After hiking we made dinner. Eric's group brought some new food like wild salmon and cheap steak. They tried cooking it over the campfire first, but it didn't turn out so well. So Peter re-cooked everything in the skillet which turned out well. No one wanted to eat the salmon still, so I finished it off.

More star shots after eating. No more Northern Lights. With the extra bodies, there wasn't enough space in the tents. So Chris and Jess slept on the rocks under the stars.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Massasauga Provincial Park - Day 2

Saturday started off at a relaxing pace. I woke up around 10:00. I think Cynara was up first. Peter and Jonathan soon followed. We had eggs and bacon for breakfast. The night before we ate sausages and ramen noodles.

In the early afternoon we paddle out to do the Baker Trail by Calhoun Lodge. It's a little northwest of Pete's Place. But, even with Peter's GPS, we still got lost again. It didn't help that he entered the wrong coordinates. Still, we were in no rush. It gave us a chance to paddle around more.

There weren't many boats at the dock by Calhoun Lodge when we arrived. I was a bit surprised at that. I thought more people might want to get out for a hike. Perhaps, at this particular park, water sports are more highly favoured. We noticed a lot of people in motorboats with their fishing gear.

The hike around the island wasn't too long. Only 5.5 kilometres. It shouldn't have taken us too long. But, of course, with Peter and I taking pictures things tend to drag a bit. We completed it in a little under 3 hours. The scenery was fine. Nothing spectacular. All of us had our bathing suits. So we jumped into the water for a quick dip.

Dinner was more of the same from last night. We added one of Eric's Kraft Dinners for variety. Afterwards Peter and I tried taking more night shots. The Northern Lights weren't so bright this evening. We all chilled around the campfire again. This time we built one out on the rocks.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Massasauga Provincial Park - Day 1

Cynara's friend, Eric, organized a camping trip to Massasauga Provincial Park over the Labour Day long weekend. Along with three of his friends - Chris, Jess and Lily; Jonathan, Peter and I went.

Eric, Chris and Jess went first on Thursday. Cynara and Jonathan and Peter and I drove up Friday. Eric and his group had to come back early on Friday evening because he forgot he had to shoot a wedding the next day (Saturday). They would all return with Lily on Sunday.

Peter and I met Cynara and Jonathan at Swift Canoe and Kayak rentals at their Georgian Bay location off Highway 400, north of Barrie Friday afternoon. Eric had arranged canoes for us up there. After affixing them to the roofs of our cars we drove an hour further north to the park.

For our particular campsite (#406) you'd normally launch your boat out of Pete's Place after registering. But they only allow parking for one car per campsite there. So the girl there told us to go down the road to one of the marinas and find private parking there. We found a place near Moon River Marine that charged $8 a day and launched our canoes from there.

Eric's group tried to wait for us before returning to Toronto, but we arrived at the campsite a little late. Even with Peter's GPS we made a few wrong turns and ended up in dead end bays at one point. Ideally we would have come counter-clockwise around Marion Island and bump into them on their way paddling out, but we came in on Captain Allan Strait from the east side.

It was around 8:00 p.m. by the time we got to the campsite. My tent (which I had lent Eric) was still there along with all their other gear. But they were long gone. Peter and I and Cynara and Jonathan set our stuff up and prepared dinner. We had bought three bags of wood from the camp store (at Pete's Place). As well, Peter brought his portable stove.

After eating we went out onto the rocks by our site (which overlooks Captain Allan Strait looking northward to Moon Island and Woods Bay) and started taking night pics. The skies were pretty dark when we began shooting. That's great for seeing the stars. I did notice what I thought was light pollution on the horizon at one point. Then Peter figured out it was the Northern Lights as it got brighter.

I was surprised to see them at this time of the year and so far south. Nevertheless we got some pretty decent shots of it as well as the Milky Way. They started to dim by 1:00 a.m. which is when we turned in for the night.

Friday, September 2, 2016

I saw Kubo and the Two Strings this past Tuesday with Peter. I'm normally only free on Tuesdays through the spring and summer because I volunteer at an Out of the Cold program the rest of the time. So I thought I'd take advantage of the lower prices while I could.

This Laika produced movie is a stop-motion, animated tale of a Japanese boy and his mother and a couple of other fantastical creatures battling other-world forces in ancient Japan. While the story itself isn't very complicated, the movie is visually stunning... just an amazing work of art. That, alone, is worth the price of admission.

After watching it I looked up some videos online on the making of the film. It's unbelievable how much work the studio put into making it. From building models, both large and small, of all the characters to constructing huge, highly detailed sets of the different scenes, it's truly mind-blowing.

Not to mention the stop-motion action of bringing the characters to life. They had to move each one millimetre by millimetre all the while keeping the clothing and hair and other things flowing and looking natural. It's a near impossible feat they pulled off with flying colours.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Annual Trip to Pomodoro in PEC

Peter, Fiona, Heidi, Janice and I made our annual pilgrimage to Pomodoro in Wellington, Prince Edward County today. I joined them after they met for breakfast at The Stockyards on St. Clair. Originally I had planned on going to the CNE with Willy. But we postponed that until Tuesday.

Like our previous trips, we encountered heavy traffic eastbound on the 401 on our way out. Another accident. Again. It never fails. We had to take the side roads from Pickering/Ajax through to Whitby. It always happens. What else would you expect?

Our first stop was for homemade doughnuts. Unfortunately I can't remember where. Peter was driving and he had gone there in the past. These were smaller than regular doughnuts and were dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Very tasty. Though a little on the pricey side at $10+ for a baker's dozen.

Next we went back to Slickers County Ice Cream in Bloomfield, PEC. Heidi, Peter and I shared a 3-scoop cup of Campfire Creme, Apple Pie and Black Cherry. The general consensus was that the Apple Pie was the best. The Campfire Creme was pretty good too. It had a burnt marshmallow taste. Not sure how they did that. The Black Cherry was the weakest. Kawartha Dairy's version is much better.

After that we headed over to Wellington County to go to Pomodoro for dinner. We were a bit early so we went to the nearby park to hang out for half an hour. It overlooks Lake Ontario, so we took off our shoes and went in up to our ankles. The water was nice. If we weren't eating and we had our swim trunks, it would have been nice to go for a swim.

I have to say, we were somewhat disappointed with Pomodoro this time. They changed their menu to what they termed "Italian Dim Sum". I think that's their way of saying we're going to give you the same Italian menu as before in smaller portions, but at the same price. So, in the end, you end up paying way more than before.

As for the food, I thought it tasted fine. The others didn't quite agree. They were disappointed with what we had. This may be our last visit here unfortunately.

And, as usual, we tried to catch the sunset. Instead of rushing 23 kilometres to Sandbanks Provincial Park as we did in the past, Peter found a closer park - North Beach PP. At 18 kilometres from Pomodoro, it's six minutes closer. And, as per usual, we missed the sunset like we always do. Though this time it was obscured by cloud cover. So, even if we did make it on time, we may not have gotten to see it anyway. Some things never change.

After a rather unsatisfying dinner we decided to grab Korean food at Oh Geul Boh Geul on Yonge south of Finch before calling it a night.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Last Saturday's Eating Adventure

Peter's friend, Rizvan, visited from the United Arab Emirates last week. On Saturday Peter posted in our WhatsApp group seeing who was interested in grabbing a Donair for lunch. For those of you who don't know, I supposed they can be best described as an East Coast variation of a Greek Gyros.

Even though there are restaurants that have them here in Toronto, Peter, wanted to try a place called Halifax Donair. One of his co-workers from the Maritimes said they're the best there. When we checked on-line we found they had two locations - one in Burlington and one in Milton. Neither of them close. To make matters worse, Environment Canada had issued a tornado warning for the GTA. So it would be an effort to get out there to say the least.

We decided on going to the Burlington location. Just because we thought it would be less boring than going to Milton (sorry, Milton). According to Waze it was supposed to take about an hour. From Peter's place we took the 401 to the 427 to the QEW. Along the way we did encounter bouts of heavy rain which slowed things down.

As we neared our destination Waze suggested getting off the highway which was clogged up. We took a few local streets and arrived at the restaurant a bit before 2:30. Unfortunately when we pulled up in front we discovered they were closed for three weeks for summer vacation. Really?

There wasn't much we could do except check Peter's smart phone for an alternative. Eventually we ended up just down the street at a local fish and chips shop named, Thistle Fish & Chips. We each had halibut and chips at $15.25. Peter also ordered a small bowl of mushy peas for $2.75.

After that we had a hankering for sweets. So we headed back east into Oakville to the Danish Pastry House. Peter had gone there before. We shared three pastries and ordered three coffees to wash it down.

Now what? After having lunch and dessert, what to do? How about dinner? This was actually pre-planned. Earlier Peter had arranged to meet Roger and Patsy and Paul for Malaysian food at Restoran Malaysia at Major Mackenzie and Bayview in Richmond Hill. So we headed up there.

Dinner was good. We ordered quite a bit of food. From sea bass and lamb skewers to mango salad and friend rice. It was pretty filling. But not filling enough I guess. Because we decided to go to Maxims just down the street for more dessert. Coffee and cake for everyone. Enough already!

Monday, August 15, 2016

DMCI High School Reunion

My friends and I graduated high school 30 years ago this summer. I thought it would be a nice time to gather everyone together for dinner. Actually, I first had the idea of doing it five years ago for our 25th, but never got around to it. So I figured, I'd better not miss the chance this time.

I don't see many of my friends from Don Mills Collegiate Institute very often (at least in person). A good many of them are on Facebook and we sort of keep in touch that way, but that's about it.

I did see a number of them back in 2009 when our school had its 50th Anniversary gathering. But, for a few of the others, the last time I saw them was when we graduated.

I first reached out at the end of March, floating the idea in an e-mail. I put out and Doodle poll trying to see which date was best. Most people agreed on Friday, August 5th (at 6:30 p.m.), so three weeks beforehand I called the Jack Astor's at Shops at Don Mills to make a reservation.

Unfortunately I was told they couldn't take a group that large (around 20-25) at that time on either a Friday or Saturday. I could either book for 5:00 p.m. or for after 10:00 p.m. Not very good options. They also said, I could try Thursday, August 4th at 6:30 p.m.. So I had to reach out to everyone again to see which day/time they preferred. Argh!

Eventually we settled on Thursday at 6:30. We may have lost a few people because of the date change, but some of the folks who couldn't make it Friday were able to come, so we may have gained one or two there.

Vince Lo, Brian Berry and Peter Lipson arrived first. I was next, having walked from my parents' place (where I parked). Slowly the others filtered in - Livia Wong, Karl Konze, Andrew Hunter and Brent McDermott. Next Sabrina Arvanitis and Marcia Jones came in followed by Dan Eugen, Scott Gilland, Jay Lin, Alice Zee and Dave Thompson and Ewan Geddes. Manuel Lapus rounded out the group. Unfortunately Carolyn Burias had to work late and couldn't make it. That was too bad.

We ended up staying at least four hours. I think we were there around an hour before we even placed our dinner orders. And after eating we stayed another couple of hours just making the rounds from seat to seat trying to catch up with as many people as possible.

I didn't get the chance to talk with everyone. Maybe, in depth, with half the group. It was still great to reconnect. I know everyone really enjoyed it. A lot has gone on over the past thirty years.

Afterwards we decided we should try to meet up regularly. Our excuse for next year? - Most of us will be turning the big 5-0. That's as good a reason as any!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Canoeing at Killarney - Day 3

Day three started off nicely. But, unlike the day before, it stayed nice. Brian and Emily #2 were up first. We heard them in the water swimming and Peter and I decided to join in. Since Emily #1 couldn't swim she stayed by the shore.

Like I mentioned before, the water was relatively warm. And, since there were only four campsites on Grey Lake, it was even more quiet and peaceful than Bell Lake. While in the water Peter and I even saw a loon swim unhurriedly by.

It was magical swimming/floating on our backs looking up at the pine trees and sky above. Just so relaxing. A brief while later I got the idea of wearing our life jackets in the water and floating around. This would allow Emily to join us (which she did). We bobbed up and down in the water for a good part of the morning. It was wonderful.

We packed and headed back to the parking lot shortly after 1:00 p.m. It didn't take us too long to get there. We did our last portage and were attacked by mosquitoes once again.

After returning their canoe to the outfitters, Emily #2 and Brian hit the road. We had to lash ours to the top of Peter's M3 before heading off.

We stopped at Burger Priest in Barrie for dinner. Before that we grabbed milkshakes at Kawartha Dairy to drink. Yummy, yummy.

The traffic was still pretty bad going south on the 400. Even at that time in the evening. I don't believe we got home until after 11:00 p.m. after dropping the canoe off at Peter's friend's place in Etobicoke.

The trips had its ups and downs. It was mostly the mosquitoes that annoyed us. So many bites. The canoeing was amazing. Just being on, or even in, the water was great. I'd surely do it again. Especially in a place like Killarney. So pleasant, so serene.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Canoeing at Killarney - Day 2

Our second day at Killarney started off well. The sun was shining and the skies clear. We took our time with breakfast and just hanging out before heading over to our next campsite at nearby Grey Lake. It was a short paddle to the 530-540 metre portage point from our first site.

At the beginning of the portage I thought I'd try carrying our canoe solo. It was Kevlar after all, so it's not as heavy as the ones from the olden days. Still, two-thirds the way through, I was dying. Dyyyying.

The paddle to our campsite on Grey Lake was pretty easy. It's no more than a kilometre and a half long. After passing on the first site we saw, we found a decent one around a kilometre from the end of the portage. We set up our tents and headed back out for a hike. We were going to Silver Peak.

It was a long day. Unfortunately we had to do the portage again since the beginning of the Silver Peak hike was at the far west end of Bell Lake. In total I believe we paddle around 10 kilometres (5 each way) and hiked about 8 kilometres (4 each way up and down the hill).

By the time we started the hike the skies had clouded over. When we reached the peak we could see rain in the distance. It caught up with us maybe an hour or so before we got back to the canoes. We pretty much paddled most of the way back to our Grey Lake campsite in the rain. Yuck.

The views from Silver Peak were decent. Besides the rain, the hike wasn't too bad either. Especially after doing Alberta last summer. Nothing here can compete with the steepness or the rocky terrain there. The third time doing the portage was pretty tiring. The mosquitoes along the way were relentless. As well, back at the campsite, they were ready to feast. It was miserable.

Brian and Emily #2 prepared Shepherd's Pie using mashed potato mix from Bulk Barn. We were pretty much famished from our daily activities that we happily wolfed it down. Afterwards Peter, Emily and I went for a quick paddle to catch the fleeting sunset before bedding down. This time we put the tent flies on turning them into sweaty saunas. So uncomfortable.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Canoeing at Killarney - Day 1

Peter, Emily, her friend, Emily, (yeah, I know...) and her husband, Brian, and I went up to Killarney Provincial Park to go camping and canoeing over the Civic Day long weekend.

I slept at Peter's place Friday night and he drove Emily and I. We met Emily #2 and Brian at the Barrie ONroute at around 9:30 Saturday morning and we continued together. Without traffic the drive is just over 4 hours. Being the long weekend, it was busier than normal though. We arrived at the park a bit past 2:30.

Peter had borrowed a canoe from his co-worker, while Emily #2 and Brian rented one from Killarney Kanoes (at the park). After doing the administrative work at the park office/store we headed out onto the lake.

Since it was a long weekend, the park was fully booked. We were unable to get one campsite for the two nights. Instead our first site would be on Bell Lake (where Killarney Kanoes is located). The second would be a 540 metre portage east on Grey Lake.

Each lake has a certain number of campsites. They're first come, first served. Though they only book enough reservations per lake to fill all the spots, no more. So you don't have to worry about not getting a site, just which one.

I think Bell Lake had at total eight campsites while Grey Lake had four. We paddled about 2 kilometres to find one we liked on Bell Lake. On Grey Lake we found a suitable one just over 1 kilometre from the end of the portage.

The Bell Lake campsite was really nice. At the tip of a short peninsula/island it had a nearly 180º view of the surroundings. There was a nice clearing amongst the tall pines where we set up our tents and where the fire pit was located.

After setting up camp, Emily #2 and Brian went in the water for a dip. At this time of the year the lake was pretty warm.

As for Peter, Emily and I... we took our canoe out for a short spin. Since I was the most experienced canoeist of the three, I took the rear seat and guided us to our site. But now that we weren't in any hurry to get anywhere, Emily took a turn at the back. She did pretty well overall. Peter was content to sit in the middle.

I have to say, the first day was beautiful. The sun was shining, the skies were blue. It wasn't overly hot and the lake was calm. Since there weren't many campsites on the lake it was peaceful and quiet too. Amazing time to be in or on the water.

We paddled for nearly an hour before coming back for dinner. Brian and Emily #2 made some sausages and veggies. There were also vegetarian hot dogs for Emily #2. They looked like regular ones, so I ate one. Eh... not so good.

After eating, Peter and I went back out onto the water to catch the sunset. There were some wispy clouds in the sky and the reds and oranges that bounced off them were stunning.

We came back to shore and sat around the campfire until the stars came out and then photographed them too. There were a number of great vantages points because, as I mentioned before, we were on the tip of a peninsula.

Bedtime was at 11:00. It was warm out, so we all slept without our tent flies.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mom and Dad's 50th

I took my mom and dad out to dinner for their 50th wedding anniversary last Tuesday. My sister had bought some gift cards from The Keg. She and her kids couldn't go because they were in France visiting our aunt and uncle on vacation.

We went to the location on Leslie, just south of the 401. It's the one closest to where my parents live. We went there once before for a birthday celebration in the fall.

This location always seems to be packed. It doesn't help that their parking lot seems to be small. Upon arrival I dropped them off at the door and drove a minute or two away to a small lot for other businesses that were closed for the day.

Dinner was good. The food there is always tasty. My mom had the same thing as last time, the Black Cod. I had the Filet Mignon, medium-rare. That's what my nephew, Avery, had before. My dad had the Prime Rib (what I had last time). Of course we all shared. It's what we Asians do.

At the end the waitress brought us a piece of ice cream cake on the house. As a gift for their anniversary. That was nice.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Corning and Rochester - Day 2

Our second day started with breakfast at a local family restaurant in town after we checked out. They served typical breakfast fare of eggs and bacon and such. Peter and I shared blueberry pancakes and a plate of eggs, toast, hash browns and sausage while Gabe and Justin had their own selections.

After eating we headed over to the George Eastman Museum. He's the founder of Eastman Kodak. Here's a short excerpt from their website:

The George Eastman Museum is located in Rochester, New York, on the estate of George Eastman (1854-1932), the pioneer of popular photography and motion picture film. Founded in 1947 as an independent nonprofit institution, it is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the oldest film archives. The museum holds unparalleled collections—encompassing several million objects—in the fields of photography, cinema, and photographic and cinematographic technology, and photographically illustrated books. The institution is also a longtime leader in film preservation and photographic conservation.

Upon arrival we joined a tour of the grounds around the museum. It was led by a well informed elderly gentleman whose name I did not catch. We all enjoyed his stories very much. Very educational that's for sure.

After that we rushed to a second tour that took us through the various galleries around the museum. The lady that led that one went quite fast. She wanted to give us an overview of the whole place and we could return later to the rooms we were most interested in.

We decided to join another tour right after that. This one was led by another gentleman and his son. They were giving a tour of the Eastman residence. But, after around 20 minutes, we had had enough of tours and walked around on our own. The fact that the last tour had a large contingent following the man and his son around meant the rooms they weren't in were empty. Perfect for shooting.

I have to say, the home and grounds were really cool. I also liked the old cameras and equipment they had on display. As well, there were galleries with different photographic themes. One of the temporary ones they had was of American National Parks. It was pretty big.

We left the museum at half past 3:00 and headed out to do some shopping. We found a Walmart where I bought some socks and a set of dry bags to put my camera equipment in if we ever happened to be out on the water again (like we were when we went kayaking on the St. Lawrence back in 2014).

After a stop at another mall closer to the border we stopped for dinner at a place called the Riverstone Grill on Grand Island (just west of Buffalo, New York). Peter found out about it when it was featured on the TV show Man vs. Food. There the host, Adam Richman, attempted to down their 68 oz "Bone in the Stone" steak @ $52 (or something like that).

While Gabe order the salmon and Justin had a 30 oz steak Peter and I decided to share the Bone in the Stone (for an extra $5 surcharge). The huge steak comes with two ribs sitting on a couple of pounds of fries (regular and sweet potato fries). It's probably 2"-3" thick. Since Peter likes his steak rare and I'm more of a medium guy, we compromised and had it done medium-rare.

When our order came (some 30-40 minutes later) Peter tried to carve it in half through the two bones. This proved to be futile since they were joined at one point. So he just sliced a bit off for each of us. Unfortunately our particular piece of beef had quite a bit of fat and, even worse, a lot of gristle. We could hardly cut through it, let alone chew it. We ended up eating only about half of it, the rest being inedible. A huge disappointment.

We finished eating at 8:30. When Justin checked the border crossing times and found out that the lines were massive we decided to stay on the American side to watch the fireworks at Niagara Falls.

We arrived at the Falls around quarter after 9:00 and staked out spots along the railing by the American Falls. From our spot we could see the Skylon Tower and casinos on the Canadian side. A nice backdrop to the fireworks we hoped.

Unfortunately I didn't know about potentially seeing fireworks beforehand and hadn't brung my tripod. It may have been useless anyway given the size of the crowds. So I just set my exposure anywhere from 1/8th and 1/10th of a second and hoped for the best. I was pleasantly surprised some of my shots were all right.

After the fireworks ended we attempted crossing the border again. Since it was right there, we decided to cross at the Rainbow Bridge. Big mistake. The line was incredibly long. And so, so slow. There was no way we'd be crossing there anytime soon.

Instead we hopped out of line and drove 10 kilometres north to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and crossed there. The line up was less than 5-minutes. I'm guessing we saved at least an hour of waiting. After dropping the guys off, I got home after 2:00 in the morning.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Corning and Rochester - Day 1

My friends and I drove down to Corning and Rochester last weekend. We wanted to see the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning and the George Eastman Museum in Rochester.

It was my turn to drive this trip. To save some time I slept over at Peter's condo on Friday and we picked Justin and Gabe up Saturday morning. Originally we were aiming for 8:00 a.m., but were a little late.

We took the 401 west to the 427 and connected with the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) to Niagara Falls. The quickest way over at that time was at the Rainbow Bridge. We got through the border quickly which was nice.

Our first stop over the border was to a mail depot in Niagara Falls. Justin and Peter mail ordered some items there. So we went to pick them up. After that we headed towards Corning.

We made it about 100 kilometres past the border before we got hungry. By this time it was shortly after 1:00 in the afternoon. We had made it to Warsaw, New York. Time to eat.

We parked on Highway 20A (Buffalo Street) and walked over to Main Street where we found a BBQ restaurant called the Rock and Roll Bar BBQ. It looked all right, so we walked in.

For lunch we ordered the full rack of ribs for $23.99 as well as an order of their beef brisket for $15.99 to share. Each order came with with two sides. We had the coleslaw, corn bread, mac and cheese and fries. I have to say we thought the portions were a bit small for what we paid. But it was enough to satisfy our hunger for the time.

We hit the road again by 2:30. An hour and 45 minutes later we were in Corning. We walked around downtown briefly before heading over to the museum. Peter had bought advanced tickets that were good from 4:00 p.m. onwards. We got there shortly before 5:00.

Here's a description from their website:

Founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) as a gift to the nation for the company’s 100th anniversary, The Corning Museum of Glass is a not-for-profit museum dedicated to telling the story of a single material: glass.

The Corning Museum of Glass cares for and displays the world’s best collection of art and historical glass. When you visit, you’ll see more than 3,500 years of history displayed in the Glass Collection Galleries, from the glass portrait of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh to contemporary sculpture made in glass.You can learn about the science and technology behind innovations in glass through hands-on exhibits in our Innovation Center. There, you can explore the concepts behind optics, vessels, and windows, and meet the innovators who have changed our world using glass.

Glass is brought to life through live, narrated glassmaking demonstrations, offered all day, every day. If you can’t make it to Corning, watch our live Hot Glass Shows on three Celebrity Cruise ships, or on the road with our traveling hotshop. We also offer a traveling design program, GlassLab, aimed at helping designers explore glass as a material for their work.

It's a pretty cool place - both the building and the demonstrations and exhibits inside. I think we all really enjoyed the visit. Though, Justin did get a bit bored near the end when Peter and I ran around trying to take more photos. That's the problem when traveling with us. We can't put down our cameras.

We left around 7:30 and headed back up to Rochester where Peter had booked us rooms at the local Motel 6. After checking in we headed back out to grab a late bite. The girl at the front desk had directed us to a nearby Appleby's. That would suit us fine. We all ordered the 8 oz. steak. Not very original, but what can you do?

We got back to the motel by 11:30. Justin and I shared a room on the second floor, while Gabe and Peter took the one on first floor. They had noisy neighbours and Gabe found a bedbug on his bed. Needless to say, they weren't happy campers.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tom's Tree

Last Thursday (July 7th) was Tom's birthday. He would have been 51. But he passed away earlier this year after a trip to Jamaica. His partner, Florianne, gathered a group of us together to celebrate his life. We met at Brass Taps, a bar on the Danforth just east of Logan.

I got there at about 10:00. Most people had arrived by then. I think there were 20-25 of us scattered around the back section of the place. After greeting Florianne, I sat with Carrol, Cynthia and her partner, Jeff. I also saw Larry and Maria and Tom's brother, William, among others.

Florianne made the rounds showing us some videos people had taken of Tom over the years. He was always cheerful and clowning around. We watched one where he was singing Meatloaf while dressed in a funny wig at a Halloween party. It was a good time to reminisce.

At midnight those of us who were still left made their way to Riverdale Park. Since I took the subway down, Larry gave me a lift. Some of them had a plan which neither of us knew about beforehand.

When we arrived we walked down the slope to a tree part way down the hill. William, with shovel in hand, dug a hole. There was a police officer at the top of the hill (along Broadview Avenue), but he was occupied with some others. Still, I was feeling a bit nervous, all of us huddle around that tree in the dark.

After digging a sufficiently deep hole we got a bag out and poured some of its contents in. Tom would give this tree life and forever look out over the city he so dearly loved.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park - Day 2

After staying up late the first night of our trip we slept in the next day. Besides Cynara, no one else woke up until around 11:00 a.m. It was closer to noon by the time we started "breakfast". And we didn't start our hike until 1:30 in the afternoon.

There were a few options for hiking. We picked the Etienne Trail System which had four choices. Out of the four we opted for the Nature Loop at 8.5 kilometres. Though we tacked on an extra 2.5 kilometres each way because we had to walk to the trailhead from our campsite because of the limited parking space there.

The day was nice for the most part. It wasn't too hot which was good. At the beginning it was mostly sunny with a few clouds. Though as the hike progressed we did get a bit of rain. Not enough to soak us, but enough to make the ground slipperier.

The rain affected Jonathan the most. Or more precisely, his pants. He said it made them too tight and hard to walk in. So he and Cynara took the short cut (Geology-Loop Yellow Trail) back. We continued on the Blue/Green Trail before deciding on the slightly shorter Green Trail Nature-Loop at the final split.

We arrived back at our campsite by around 7:00 p.m. Much earlier than the day before. We had plenty of time to cook dinner. This time in daylight.

I have to say, the firewood here was amazing the first two days. It lit so easily, it was magical. It was such a big difference from the damp wood up at Awenda on our previous trip. We had so much trouble lighting it there.

Dinner tonight would be similar to the previous day - pork shoulder and pork belly with sweet potatoes and veggies. We used the fire to cook all our food. No camp stove for this meal.

After we ate a few of us decided to go on the guided night hike. Along with a pretty large group of people, we met a couple of park staff at the visitor centre by the park entrance. They gave us an introduction of what we might see or hear and we set off in the dark.

We weren't supposed to use flashlights instead relying on our night vision and our hearing to detect certain creatures. Still, one of the small children on the tour kept turning her light on and chattering all night long disturbing everyone. I'm not sure why her parents brought her out.

We did see fireflies and heard some frogs croaking. No bats or owls to be seen. And no wolves were heard in the area (though we tried howling to see if they would respond). I don't think Emily or Ken missed much by not tagging along.

On the way back Peter and I dragged Cynara and Jonathan out to a different campsite to go to their beach to take night shots. We wanted a different vantage point to shoot the stars and Milky Way. We also did some night writing with our flashlights spelling out the name of the park. Sort of a tradition for us now.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park - Day 1

Peter, Emily and Ken, Cynara and Jonathan and I went camping again over the Canada Day long weekend. This time we were at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. Just north of Algonquin Provincial Park, it's about a four hour drive from Toronto.

On Thursday night I met Peter and a bunch of the others for wings at Wild Wing across the street from his condo. While there I dropped off my pack and camp chair for him to take in his roof carrier.

The following morning I picked up Jonathan and Cynara at her place while Peter drove Emily and Ken from his place. We met at Yorkdale Mall and headed north together.

Traffic was slow going up the 400. Even though quite a few people left town for cottage country the day before, there still was a lot of traffic.

Our first stop of the day was at Big Chris BBQ Smokehouse for lunch in Barrie. We shared the sampler meal between the six of us. It was more than enough this early in the day.

We arrived at our campsite at around 6:00 p.m. All the sites in this particular park were small and jam packed together. There was barely enough room to turn around without bumping into your neighbour. A stark contrast from our previous camping trip at Awenda Provincial Park. At least the comfort station was relatively close by.

After quickly setting up in the rain we debated heading over to nearby North Bay to catch the Canada Day fireworks. Thankfully the rain stopped shortly after which made our decision easier.

Taking Highway 17 50-kilometres west, we got to North Bay shortly after 8:00. The fireworks weren't slated to start until 10:00 so we walked around taking photos on the beach and pier along the waterfront.

The fireworks started pretty much on time. Unfortunately we set up a bit far from the launch site, so my shots weren't that great. Peter's zoom compensated for that, but I only had my wide angle. As well, I mistakenly set my ISO too low which made my shots somewhat on the dark side. A big disappointment.

We returned to our campsite at around midnight. By then most of the other campers had called it a night. Not us... we started our campfire and cooked dinner.

The wood supplied by the park was great. The birch bark was dry and started with little kindling needed. It was amazing. We barbecued sausages, veggies and pork shoulder and belly. Slightly cooled beer helped wash it all down.

The skies had all but cleared by the time we finished eating. Time to find a spot by the lake to take star shots. Peter and I set up by a nearby boat launch and got some excellent shots of the Milky Way. After that we bundled up and headed for bed. By this time it was almost 2:00.