UPDATE: This post was written immediately after the experience described. Since then, I've spoke to the owner of the spa as well as the manager. Both tried to offer me additional services with a different esthetician, but I said no. And they refunded my money with no fuss at all. So ... ultimately the higher-ups at Senses Spa did the right thing. As for Katie (not Katy), may we never meet again. 
Okay, perhaps that is an exaggeration. Senses Spa might not be the worst in Toronto, but it certainly employs the worst esthetician/person I've ever had the misfortune of meeting. Her name is Katy, and I will tell you all about our encounter, blow by terrible blow.
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I booked a 30 minute massage and a brow shaping (threading) for today at noon. I cheaped out on the short massage, rather than going for a full hour, and thank goodness I did. (More on that later.) I arrived and the (very nice) receptionist (named Rachel) set me up with Katy (Katie? I don't know. She was awful, that's the most important thing.) 

Now, in case you've never seen me before, or have only seem me with makeup on, I should tell you: I have bad skin. It's my fault. My anxiety makes me pick at it, compulsively, and I often have broken areas and areas of hyperpigmentation as a result. This is nothing new. I've been fucking up my skin since I was 13 years old, so I'm used to people commenting on it. I'm even used to the comments from estheticians, which are inevitably the worst. (I believe many spa workers are trained to insult clients in the hope of shaming us into purchasing more of their products and services.) 

So, yeah. I was ready for the usual treatment, and was not surprised when the first thing Katy said to me was, "You have many problems with your skin. It is very bad skin. Terrible. Yes?"

This is my favourite part -- the part where the esthetician tries to get me to agree with her insults. Nonetheless, I decided to go along with it this time, tiresome as that may seem.

(I should say here that Katy spoke a sort of broken English, and rather than reproduce it exactly, I've cleaned it up a bit for the purposes of this post and because I don't want the focus to be on her accent or race.)

Yes, I admitted. My skin isn't great. In the hope of curbing her enthusiasm for insulting me, I decided to explain. "It's my own fault," I said. "I pick it. I have a compulsive disorder. Treatments won't help, but luckily I am not here for a facial, just the brow shaping."

You'd think that would have shut her up, but no. For the next 10 minutes, I had to listen to her try to sell me some sort of mystery service that would definitely "help" my hideous skin. "Your skin is very bad," she kept saying. "You must fix it. It is very important."

At first I simply smiled blankly, hoping she would exhaust herself, but eventually I had to ask, "Why is it important?" Why, exactly, is it important for me to improve my skin, Oh Katy, expert that you are? Please tell me. 

She answered, "So you can find a boyfriend, yes?"

Sigh. Well, since I'm married, I'm not really interested in getting a boyfriend, but okay, Katy. Whatever you say.
Now on to my eyebrow threading. She began working on my face with no consultation. This worried me, so I said, "Not too much, please. Not too thin." She answered, "No, no, it will be beautiful." 

This is the moment when I should have walked out. I could tell she wasn't getting it, and I should have done something, but like most women, I'm polite and I don't like to cause a fuss. So I just lay there and let her pluck my eyebrows into painful oblivion. And even better, I let her talk the whole fucking time. Guess what she talked about? My skin. My ugly, ugly skin. "You must fix it, Jennifer. It is very important!" And when I ignored her, she finally moved on to questions. "Why do you have so much stress? Why? Are you worried about your body?"

This question was another opportunity -- a way for me to show her that she was doing the wrong thing. I decided to tell the truth. "Well," I said, "I am recovering from an eating disorder and that is pretty stressful."

Any. Normal. Person. Would. Shut. Up. Now. Usually, this revelation stops people in their tracks, embarrassing them enough to keep them from saying more. BUT NOT KATY. 

"Ahhh, she said. You cannot stop eating. You cannot control it, so you gain weight. I can help you with that," she said. 

I decided to try again.

"No, actually. It's the opposite," I explain, "I don't eat enough, most of the time, and yes, I did gain weight when I started to get better, because I was actually eating, but that's a good thing. And lately, I've been losing weight, so that's bad. I'm not supposed to diet or try to lose weight."

Katy was not listening. She proceeded to go on and on about how she could help me lose weight. "Guarantee, you will lose 10 pounds!" she cried. "You cannot eat the french fries anymore," she said. "You must stop with sugar, stop with spicy food. For you, spinach, salad  and water are okay. Yes? And you must exercise at least 30 minutes a day and then your body will not be so bad."

Not that it matters, but I actually DO exercise. Probably a lot more than Katy. And I don't stuff my face with fucking French fries. I almost never eat French fries! But whatever. Let's move on.
My 30 minute massage at the hands of Katy was pure torture. Her method was painful and shitty and I tried to get her to ease up by explaining that she was hurting me. No dice. Physically speaking, the massage was literally the worst of my life, and even if Katy had kept her stupid mouth shut, I still would have spent the entire 30 minutes counting the seconds, but the physical awfulness was actually nothing compared to the psychological experience of a massage with Katy, the Jesus-loving motor-mouth. 

She talked. And talked. And talked. At first, just about my body and how she could help me "fix" it, which was bad enough, but then, she started praying. And she continued to pray for the next 10 to 15 minutes. 

"You have nice hair, you know. Maybe nobody has ever told you that. We must thank God for these blessings. You believe. You must believe. Ask him to fix weight, ask him to fix skin. God is great," she said, and then proceeded to whisper, "Love God. God is more powerful than father, than mother, than boyfriend. Ask God. Love God. God forgive your sins. God will make a miracle. We ask Jesus, we ask God.  He will make you happy, fix your skin, help you lose weight. Believe and love God and he helps. God forgives you. You have nice hair. Maybe no one told you, but your hair is beautiful. God can make your body beautiful too. God can fix you, forgive you, help you to not be sad. Ask Jesus. Ask in his holy name, to fix you. You will feel better if you love Jesus. We love Jesus. We ask. Thank you Jesus. Help Jennifer. We love you. We believe. Thank you Jesus, for helping to make Jennifer healthy. She is not alone. She has nice hair. Jesus help to make her better, help to fix, make her beautiful, make her happy. Please, we love you." 

Add about 100 repetitions, and you get the gist. It seemed to go on forever. All I could think was, "Does she do this with Jewish clients, too? Muslims?" It was literally the strangest, most offensive thing I've ever experienced.  
The moment my 30 minutes in hell were up, I hurried to the front desk and asked to speak to a manager. Rachel, the receptionist, looked concerned, and said there was no manager on site, but she could get someone to call me later. Fine. I paid the bill, because like I said, I'm polite and I hate to cause a fuss, but I did tell Rachel, in brief, what I was unhappy with. I didn't say much, because frankly, I was traumatized, and in that moment, I couldn't talk about it without crying. I left the desk in tears.

So far, no manager from Senses Spa has called me, but it's only been a couple of hours. Regardless, this "rejuvenation" session was a joke. I have tried to lighten up the tale with the amusing gifs and whatnot, but there was actually nothing funny about it. Fuck you, Katy. Senses Spa is the worst.

P.S. Here is one more gif.
 
 
Hair Play is a basic salon in my neighbourhood (St. Clair W.) that I've been to a few times now. The place is fairly reasonable, price-wise (sadly, reasonable for a women's haircut these days is about $50) and while it offers services a-plenty, the space itself feels slightly bare bones. They only ever seem to have or two staff members working at any given time, so when a friend of mine called recently in the hopes of having us get side-by-side manicures, Hair Play couldn't accommodate us.
But so what? The shop is small and they don't have many people on staff. It's not a big deal. I'm not high maintenance about such things. Besides, I have straight, easy-to-style hair. All I really want out of a salon is a decent stylist who listens and doesn't accidentally cut one side of my hair and inch shorter than the other side. (It's happened.) Hair Play has that. I have no problem at all with the cut I just got, even though I ended up paying $65 (including tax and tip) for something that wasn't exactly special. I am fine with that. Hair cuts are expensive. That's life in the big city.

Here's the thing that DID bother me, though. I had a gift certificate from a friend - a birthday present. Sadly, said gift certificate had expired. I suppose it's my fault for not visiting the salon sooner, but I feel that gift certificates SHOULDN'T expire, and before today, I'd though that in Canada it was ILLEGAL for them to expire.

I was wrong. 

Hair Play refused to honour my expired gift certificate and it turns out, by law, they're allowed to do so. MOST gift certificates that have a set dollar value can't expire, as long as the business that issues them is still operational, but salon services are exempt from this law. Certificates for specific services and lessons are allowed to expire. I have no idea why.


I'm sorry, but I think this is totally sketchy and unethical. My friend gave the company money for a service they never rendered. She paid them for nothing. Hair Play is a small place, I'm sure they could have chosen to honour the certificate, expired or not, but they didn't. In addition, I realized that the date of expiration was less than a month after my friend bought the certificate to begin with. That's a really short period. I've never used a gift certificate immediately after receiving it. Never. 

So both my previous haircuts were fine, as was the manicure I got about a year ago. The place is close by, so I was intending to become a regular, long-time customer, but after this gift certificate thing, I don't think I'll be going back. You'd think a small business would give a shit about this, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Sigh.

Hair Play Salon & Spa
638 St.Clair Avenue W.
Toronto, ON M6C 1A9
(416) 656-6600
 
 
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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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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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Spadina Flowers doesn't have everything. It's a little place, with decent floral-fridges and plenty of staples (roses, mixed bouquets, potted orchids, and nice hydrangeas and plants, but not too much else). My experience has been that you have to keep an open mind, because stock changes a lot. It obviously depends on a lot of factors: season, etc.

My only real problem with the place is that they carry pet fish - betta splendens, otherwise known as siamese fighting fish - in small, plastic cups. This is sad. As a pet owner, I don't like to see the fish stocked in this way. It's not a nice way for them to live. Furthermore, the practice of selling bettas in floral/plant arrangements (which was a fad a few years back) is problematic. Florists will tell you that these little guys will just eat the roots and stems sitting in the plant water (and they will) and need no other care, but this is both untrue and fairly cruel. They are carnivorous fish and need protein and real attention to be healthy. That said, sometimes I want to buy a betta as a gift and it's nice to know that Spadina Flowers has them. (And it's also nice to feel like I'm making a rescue of sorts.)

But back to the flowers: as I said, they're okay, and this is one of the few places to get them in the neighbourhood. On Valentine's Day, it was funny to see every second man carrying arrangements in the same wrapping. They'll make bouquets in any style you like, and if you want foil balloons and the like to go along with your flora, they'll oblige.

My advice is this: pop in if you need a hostess gift or something, but don't hold fast to your preconceived ideas of what you want. You'll probably find something you like, but it might not be what you envisioned in the first place.

It's a good option, but not a flower-lover's dream.

Spadina Flowers
360 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M5S 1X1
(416) 929-7144

*Photo by Kay Pat from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Merkur & Sister, otherwise known as AdWEAR and PromoSTUFF is a company that I've recently come to know through my work. They're a source and branding company for promotional items and clothing. (You know, clocks with company names engraved on them, hoodies emblazoned with the names of colleges, that sort of thing.) I've used them to get gift jackets to give to staff at a party, as well as to stock my office's online store with hoodies, branded laptop cases and bags, teeshirts, pens and the like.

It's a good company to work with. My sales rep, Michele, is nothing but cool and easy. She is totally understanding, even when my bosses get mental, forcing me to ask her for unreasonable things. We ordered water bottles branded with our logo, for example, and when the bottles came with the logo slightly off (2 mm lower on one side than the other) and my boss flipped, she sent a courier to pick them up and fix them immediately (and paid, of course) no questions asked. She also turned around the aforementioned jackets (embroidered with a logo) in less than a week, and is always always pleasant to me, no matter how many times I change my mind. It's a relief and I really appreciate her for it.

The downside of Merkur is that it might not be cheap. If you only want a small number of branded items, you pay nearly retail rates to get them. If you're looking to resell and make a profit, this isn't great news. Also, they use SO many source companies and there are so many catalogs to search through, it's easy to become overwhelmed. You really need to do the legwork yourself in regards to what you want because they're not great at making suggestions. At the same time, if you need 700 branded water bottles in mere days, they can do it.

Anyway, these guys are professional, which is why I recommend them. I know branded items aren't up everyone's ally, but if you need some promo products to help market your business, or if you need to please a pushy boss who wants something NOW NOW NOW (as mine tends to) this is a good company to work with.

Merkur & Sister Wholesale/Promo Stuff
801 Eglinton Ave W
Toronto, ON M5N 1E3
(416) 785-0777

*Photo by Adrian Gtz from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Okay, so there were really only two small (and silly) reasons for me to visit Dr. Lancelot Brown (Lance, as I like to think of him) in the first place. Neither of them was a dental problem. I just wanted a cleaning.

The first small reason was his name. Lancelot Brown. I mean, come ON. I got a kick out of it. The second reason was that I was in grad school at the time, and thanks to a little web research, I knew that Lance's dental office would process my school-insurance no problem. (If you're a grad student at UofT, there's no paper work at all. It's easy peasy.)

Neither of these are good reasons for choosing a health care (granted, DENTAL health care) professional. Nonetheless, they were my reasons and I stand by them.

Anyway, I was pleased. I just went in for a cleaning, but the experience was pleasant. Nice, posh, Yorkville office space. Very polite staff. Most of my time was spent with the hygienist, but Lance Romance himself (I had to say it) did make a visit. He was chatty, funny and informative. If you're not into the small talk, he might actually have seemed too friendly, but I liked him.

I've been lucky with my teeth. I've never once had a cavity. So I can't say what Doc Brown's style is for bigger or more complicated oral issues. For a regular cleaning, he was, as I've rated him, A-OK. I'd go back. (And in fact, will... eventually. My current job sucks and doesn't offer dental insurance. Oh for the fat cat days of student living! I was poor, but at least I was covered.)

Dr. Lancelot Brown
94 Cumberland Street
Toronto, ON M5R 1A3
(416) 921-9651

*Image by Jay Lopez from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Video 99 was my local rental place growing up. That is, before the Blockbuster opened it's doors in the neighbourhood. It went a little downhill since, experiencing the expected droop in traffic one expects when the big boys move in, but nonetheless, it remains a pretty good store.

And it's closing. Sigh. Yep, April 30th is the day of reckoning. DVDs and other stock are already being sold. And I'm bummed.

Fact: there's nothing sleek about Video 99. When I was a kid, the place featured free popcorn from an old fashioned machine. No more. Now, it's just about rentals. No frills. Crowded aisles. The vibe is Mom and Pop.

Selection is good. They have a nice foreign film section, good deals on tv series, and because it's not a heavily frequented location, things tend to be in when you want them. The rental system is phone-number-based, which I like, and the clerks are polite. I much prefer renting here to the more impersonal and corporate Block. (It's cheaper, too.) They also have video games, but that's not by bag so I can't speak to their quality.

In case you're wondering, yes, Video 99 does stock porno. I've seen many a shopper slouch furtively toward the restricted section in my day. Others just stroll nonchalantly. I don't judge. Some stores take a so-called "moral" stance on this issue and refuse to stock adult films, but I say, give the people what they want. And if that's what YOU want, well, you have until the end of April

Video 99
666 St. Clair W.
Toronto, ON M6C 1B1
(416) 651-0002

*Photo by Helene gp from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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A new Haartek salon opened up in the Manulife Centre last year. The company obviously took over the space from another styling hub, and on my recent visit, they were still a little behind schedule on the switcheroo. (No new pamphets yet, no services list to look over.)

My experience was decent, if not amazing. I popped in on Thursday during my lunch break to book an appointment for the next day. I knew in advance that I'd only have an hour to spare for the cut and they accommodated me, no problem. I have straight hair, and just wanted a basic cut and blow out, no colour, so I can't speak to their talents for harder jobs, but I was happy with what I got.

The whole thing cost me about $55 not including a tip and I think my stylist did a nice job. It's been a few weeks now and I'm very happy with how the cut is growing out. You know how it is: you get a cut, it looks good for ONE DAY and it's never the same again. Not so in my case. I said I was low maintenance, and they listened. The cut I got is generally stylish, even when I do nothing but comb it after showering.

I frankly didn't love the girl who actually cut my hair. We didn't have much a connection, so I generally just stared at myself in the mirror while she worked, which wasn't exactly relaxing. I was offered coffee or tea or water, though, and as I said, they got me out in good time, which is what I really wanted.

This is a solid salon. It didn't blow me away, prices are in keeping with city standards and nothing irked me about it. Make of that what you will.

Haartek Salon
55 Bloor St. W.
Toronto, ON M4W 1A5
(416) 962-3355

*Image by by Moi Cody from Stock Xchng.