By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
I am single and unencumbered. No children (that I know of). I considered getting myself a dog -- something cute and cuddly and useful at street festivals for luring women into range of my masculine charm -- but then I realized that a dog needs to be fed and walked and … well, it just seemed like a lot of effort. Easier just to work on increasing the range of the masculine charm.
So as a petless, childless man, I am confronted every year at this time with the challenge of buying gifts for those with whom I have no first-hand experience. My brother has a 5-year-old child, and my sister, bless her heart, has a houseful of cats that she treats like children. I know the 5-year-old would love a dime bag of catnip, but that seems so trite. A loving uncle would do better.
This year I've done my homework. I humbly submit for your perusal the following gift suggestions for anyone on your list who has paws, claws, or a pediatrician.
Tadpoles is my new favorite store (3211 Knox St., 214-522-5867). Part of Froggie's 5&10, Tadpoles is one of those stores that you go into to buy a gift for your nephew, and you wind up walking with several more toys just for you. Tadpoles carries everything from stim toys for tots to complicated freestanding dinosaur puzzles, like the one on this page. B.C. Bones wooden 3-D skeleton puzzles $22-$80 (veloceraptor, pictured, $50).
Santa suit from Dallas Costume Shoppe (3905 Main St., 214-428-4613). If you're going to give a dog a gift, you may as well go all out and dress up as Santa (kids appreciate the extra effort, too). The Costume Shoppe happens to stock the largest selection of Santas in the entire Southwest. $85 rental.
Yamaha 80-cc motorcycle from Richardson Motorsports (408 S. Central Expwy., 972-231-4833). One of the great things about being an uncle is giving your nephew gifts that drive his parents nuts, and this one is perfect for kids ages 6-10. The clutchless three-speed is easy to ride, and right now you'll get $200 in free accessories, so you can give the tyke a helmet and goggles, too. $1,400.
Dinner and jousting at Medieval Times (2021 N. Stemmons Fwy., 214-761-1801). Forget Chuck E. Cheese. The "E" stands for evil. If you want to score cool points with your nephew, take him to Medieval Times for dinner (where they do serve alcoholic refreshments, by the by). Eat with your hands. Make bawdy small talk with your server wench. Cheer louder than you should at the jousting. $42 adult admission covers dinner and entertainment (but not the hooch); $29 for kids 12 and under.
Soda Pop Making Kit from Homebrew Headquarters (300 N. Coit Rd., Ste. 134, Richardson, 972-234-4411 or 800-966-4144). Think of it as a science experiment you can drink. Making your own soda pop is simple and fun. And since yeast is used to carbonate the soda, you can wow the tyke with your knowledge of the "wee beasties" (to borrow a term from Antony van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microbiology). 6.8 gallon bottling bucket, siphon hose, Black Beauty capper, 50 crown caps, and your choice of one soda extract with instructions: $30.
Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle Lego set from Lone Star Comics (eight Metroplex locations, see www.lonestarcomics.com). Besides comics and collectibles, Lone Star carries the entire line of Harry Potter Lego paraphernalia. The Castle, as the kids say, is "da bomb." $130.
Monkey stuff from Cotton Island (6601 Hillcrest, 214-373-1085). If you're like me, you've seen this monkey stuff all the kids are crazy about, but you don't know what exactly it is or where to buy it. Well, Paul Frank is the designer. His monkey is known as Julius. And Cotton Island carries more monkey stuff than you can swing a dead cat at. A leather monkey CD holder will run you $36.
Pet set from The Tiecoon (4015 Villanova, 214-369-8437). The tiger canvas carrier will go perfectly with her Kate Spade bag for taking Fluffy to the vet. $195. Machine washable faux mink throw lets Fluffy lounge in style. $75. And the ceramic bowls keep her well fed. Bone shaped two-piece, $50; bitten bowl, $20.
Imagine sticking your wife's schnauzer in Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. The folks at Art Paw (6110 E. Mockingbird Ln., Ste. 102-275, 214-826-0270) can do it for you. Or maybe your wife is more Seurat and a Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte sort of gal. The folks at Art Paw will put your pet in the watercolor of your choosing. $45-$355, depending on canvas size.
Plaster paw print kit from The Nest (3007 Henderson Ave., 214-827-5300). Unless you own a tortoise, pets don't live as long as people. It's true. When that special furry someone goes to the great pound in the sky, a paw print will make a touching keepsake. $30. The Nest also has a fancy, whimsical dog bowl made from recycled metal for $125.
Barker's Grub cookbook from Whole Earth Provision Company (5400 E. Mockingbird Ln., 214-824-7444). Yes, it's a cookbook for your dog -- and a healthy cookbook at that. Each recipe uses ingredients people can eat, too. The "Arthritis Be Gone" dish, for instance, is made from ground turkey, olive oil, yucca root, and yellow squash. $12.