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Over the course of my life, I have spent a lot of money at JV Supermarket. I bought my lunch there nearly every day when I was in high school. (A hot calabrese salami sandwich with havarti or a schnitzel on a bun with sauteed mushrooms on top, plus a diet Nestea.)

When I was a little girl, I won an Easter colouring contest at the store and was presented with an oversize sweatshirt that read "John Vince Foods: the best nuts in town!"

See, at the time, JV was known as John Vince Foods. It was a bulk health food and deli, much like it is now. Though the original owners have gone and new ones have come in (hence the name change), and though it's not effused with the Italian vibe of yore, it's much the same.

What I like about JV: it carries a huge selection of bulk products and baking materials at decent prices. And the deli side is stocked with some lovely offerings like special olives and fresh ricotta. The store also stocks stuff like Patak's hot Indian pickles in different flavours, which are less easy to find than they once were.

What I don't like about JV: I'm not sure how well they're doing, and as a result, some of their stock gets old. Sometimes products on the shelves are very close to, if not past their expiration dates.

Keep in mind: the place is a local joint. It's not clean and polished like a Loblaws. So if you're prissy, you might not like it. But the little old European ladies from the neighbourhood shop there and so do I. Make of it what you will.

JV Supermarket
912 St Clair Ave. W
Toronto, ON M6C 1C6

* Partial bulk food image by L. Emerson from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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When I first moved out of the Annex and up to the Hillcrest/Cedarvale area, I lamented one loss more than any other -- the loss of my local video haunt (Queen Video). It was just down the street from my apartment. It had EVERYTHING. Unlike Blockbuster, it wasn't sterile and annoying. The staffers were nice, cute hipster boys. (One of them even found my wallet on the street once and returned it to me, intact and full of the cash I'd had.)

I was worried there'd be nothing to compare in my new 'hood.

Not so! Recently explorations led me to a good Queen Video substitute. It's called Q2 and it's perfect. In fact, it's almost exactly like Queen Video (in terms of selection), but it's cleaner and less packed with hipsters. Like QV, Q2 also had a few locations (one on Queen, one on Bloor, and one on St. Clair at Oakwood -- that's the one I go to).

Q2 Video supposedly specialized in new releases, Criterion, foreign films, docs, Canadiana, TV series and indie flicks, but that basically covers the spectrum, doesn't it? So far, with the exception of some really cheesy 90s movies I had a hankering for (like With Honours starring Brendan Fraser... for shame!) they've had everything I've ever wanted.

If you've wanted to sucker punch the khaki-clad clerk at your local Blockbuster, you should definitely check this place out. Q2 will restore your faith in film-watching humanity.

Oh, and they even have an online database, so you can search their holdings without leaving the house. Sweet.

Q2 Video
938 St. Clair Ave. W
Toronto, ON M6C 1C8
(416) 410-9342


 
 
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Unless you've been living under a rock  (as they say), or, say, in somewhere where charity organizations aren't necessary (like a perfect society - haha) you know all about Goodwill.
I'm not here to review Goodwill. That would be silly. What I'm here to do is to tell you about the AWESOME book selection available at my local branch.

Seriously. The book selection at the St. Clair West Goodwill location is out of control fabulous. Unlike at the Salvation Army down the street, the selection at Goodwill doesn't seem to be censored. It's heavy on literary fiction (which is to say, actual books). Know what I mean? Good books. Award winning literary books. Books by famous, impressive, pretentious authors like Margaret Atwood (who I don't like, but can't deny is kind of a big deal). And speaking of things that are kind of a big deal, consider the most major second hand stores carry only pulp fiction and old copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Goodwill is special.

While each Goodwill tome will run you $2.99 or even $3.99 (a far cry from the $0.25 days of old), I find it's worth it. The St. Clair store is absolutely bursting with beautiful hardbacks, coveted trade paperbacks and plenty of light genre fiction as well. And staffers rotate the entire collection on Sundays, so if you go in and don't see anything you want, try again in a week. The shelves will be full of new stuff.

Honestly, I almost hesitate to tell you this because I don't want you to deplete the store. But that's how much I love my blog readers. I'm even willing to give you tips about the fabulous finds I would otherwise hoard to myself. It's all in the spirit of giving. In the spirit of good will, you might say.

Go. Buy. Read.

Goodwill Store
585 St. Clair Ave. W
Toronto, ON M6C 1A3
(416) 656-5550


 
 
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I love Weebly.

I LOVE WEEBLY.

I want to shout it from the rooftops. Weebly is bar none, the very very best website creation tool I've ever used. It's incredibly simple, user-friendly, intuitive and fun. The help menus and tutorials are amazing (completely clear) and it does pretty much anything a small to mid-sized website creator could want.

Is it Drupal? No. Is it Wordpress? No. Is it complicated and fancy and annoying because you have to be a web designer or a tech genius to understand it? NO! It's Weebly and it's wonderful. And for my needs, it's perfect.

I've used other systems before, so I feel like I'm not the worst possible judge of this sort of thing. Weebly's template-based web design and hosting system is robust. In fact, I frankly, I don't know how they do it for free, but I'm glad they do.

My entire website was created using Weebly. I switched over from a different host and very different design about six months ago. I couldn't be happier. Want your site to have pictures? Blogs? Twitter feeds? A different header? A different layout? It's all possible. For nothing. A little elbow grease and you're up and running. It's truly amazing. (And have I mentioned free?)

I know I sound like a lunatic over here with my WeeblyWeeblyWeebly effusiveness, but the thing is, I'm that excited about it. Using Weebly has basically been the best consumer experience I've had in years.

Anyway. The bottom line is this: Weebly is so great, I regularly consider subscribing to their pay features. (Not because I need them, but because I'd love to give the Weebly team just a little extra financial support.)
 
That's how much I love Weebly.  I'd say that's saying a lot.

www.weebly.com


 
 
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I discovered John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things by accident. I picked up a dogeared, water-bloated copy at my local Goodwill (which has a great selection of books, by the way). I didn't know what to expect. I liked the look of the red, graphic cover, adorned with a pattern of black, curling, thorns and vines. But these days, a lot of really bad books have really great covers. Still, since it was only $1.50. If I hated it, there would be no great loss.

I loved it.

Connolly's book is strikingly beautiful and completely compelling. The whole thing was a surprise. Before writing it, Connolly was a genre fiction writer - a writer of pulp mysteries. The Book of Lost Things is a complete departure from that, but it feels like something that was meant to be. Like the sort of writing the author must have been perfecting over a lifetime.

On the surface, The Book of Lost Things is genre fiction - a young adult fantasy not so very different from the Harry Potter books. But closer inspection reveals something more. For one thing, it's a book about fairy tales and about myth. It references so many other books and stories, the intertextuality might make your head spin. That alone makes it impressive.

The premise is simple. A young protagonist battles his way through a fantasy world populated by characters like Little Red Riding Hood, the Woodsman and Sleeping Beauty, and grows up and learns something along the way. But Connolly's representations of familiar characters are twisted and dark, and frankly, much more complex and memorable than you might expect. In this book, everything stands for something else, but that's one of the things that makes it challenging and hard to put down.

In the end, The Book of Lost Things is about growing up. It's about everything we leave behind, everything we forget. It's about loss in general. Loss is, after all, a constant. The older we get, the more we have, and therefore, the more we have to lose. And we'll keep losing and losing until the things we've lost outnumber the things we have, which won't mean we'll be unhappy. Quite the contrary, actually.

It's all very heavy and sad, but it's touching too. And true. And most importantly, absolutely worth reading.

 
 
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I remember when the now iconic Toronto ice cream place, Dutch Dreams, opened back in the 1980s. It was an exciting day. My father walked me over, holding my hand. I was beyond excited. If I remember correctly, it was then called Dutch Boy, the place was a revelation. The scoops were HUGE, the sprinkles plentiful, and the decor dazzling (at least to my not-yet-ten-year-old eyes).

In high school, Dutch Dreams was one of my periodic hangouts. I'd head there along with the rest of the wannabes and we'd crowd into one of the small tables in the back (there are only a few) on cold fall and winter evenings. We were pretending to be urban. Imagining ourselves at Central Perk, I expect. It was the 90s. What do you want from me?

These days, Dutch Dreams ice cream remains plentiful and delicious, and the sprinkles and toppings (from fruit to caramel) are still in abundance. The problem for me these days is the line. The line that snakes out of the crowded store, onto the street and into the alley off Vaughn Rd. is, in the summer months at least, regularly obscene. No matter how good the ice cream is, I can't bring myself to stand in a line like that, especially on lower-Vaughn, which isn't pretty and offers very little shade.

Being smooshed in among the masses, sweating and pushing for a taste of icecream just isn't for me.
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Do I recommend Dutch Dreams? Yes. If we're just talking about ice cream and a bit of kooky (and very excessive) fun, then yes. It's a great place to take a visiting tourist. But if you're a local, I'm not sure it's worth it. People rave about it, but you can get great organic icecream that's just as delicious from the grocery store.

And alas, the environment and slow service has really put me off. I'd rather go for a walk with a fudgesicle.

Dutch Dreams
78 Vaughan Rd
Toronto, ON M6C 2L7
(416) 656-6959


* Creative Commons images by Sifu Renka (exterior) and Zorbs (interior cones) on Flickr.
 
 
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Does anyone besides me think that Teatro Verde is just a bit... well, blah?

Now, I know all you shelteristas may hate me for saying this, but I frankly found the store to be a letdown. After all the hype, all the hoopla, the glitterati-soaked launch party (held over a year ago), the allure of the beautiful Georgian exterior, I just expected something a little more...

Relevant? Impressive? Interesting? Unique?

I even gave the place and its team a good year to get settled. To work out the kinks.

Alas, I waited too long, or not long enough. Or maybe waiting has nothing to do with it. Having visited the store a few times now, my feeling is that Teatro Verde is just another expensive shop filled with overpriced furniture and banal bits and bobs. Is it beautiful? Yes. Is it special? Nah.

Consider the following:
Vase and silk floral bouquet: $195
Pair of green Foo dogs: $ 169.95
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I'm sorry, but $165.95 for a vase and a bunch of silk flowers you could make yourself in an hour? Go to Value Village for a similar vase and hit the Dollarama for some decent fake florals and you've got something that looks practically the same, for less than $10. Will your vase be imported from Italy or something? Probably not. Will your flowers be silk? Doubtful. Will it look just as good? In this case, I'd say yes. Ridiculous.

I'm all for quality products as opposed to cheaply made knock-offs, but come on. We've all got to draw a line.

As for the Foo dogs, while I like the acidic green, I feel like the whole idea of these Asian twists, purchased at high prices from North American importers, as opposed to from authentic first-hand sellers, is a little strange. My advice? Save your pennies, go on a trip to Asian and pick up a pair of Foo dogs as a souvenir for a fraction of the price. Spend your money on an experience, not just the LOOK of an experience.

Yes, Teatro Verde does have a few pieces I admire. Their Union Jack sofa was striking, though again, at $5995.00, I think I'd rather forgo brit pop thing in favour of a robust bank account.
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In the end, I think Teatro Verde is worth skipping. You can admire the exterior from the exterior (duh) and the yellow brick is really the best thing about the place.

Then again, if you've got money to burn and enjoy curated excess (even if it is a bit bland) Teatro Verde ma y be for you. It's just not for me.

Teatro Verde
100 Yorkville Ave
Toronto, ON M5R2C3
(416) 733-4447


* Photos from the Teatro Verde website.