As a teenager, when we wanted to decorate our room with skulls, skeletons and other death images, our parents thought we were overly morbid and took away our black eyeliner. As an adult, we learned it's OK to decorate with symbols of mortality as long as they're peppy and colorful like those at Casa Mexicana. The modern mourner can find all her Dia de los Muertos (which we celebrate year-round) supplies at Casa Mexicana--sugar skulls, skeleton jewelry, La Catrina-themed items and many other whimsical reminders of death.

Finding a good bra is harder than it seems. It's more than going to Target and buying a $10 cotton contraption. The hunt amounts to far more than flipping through the Victoria's Secret catalog and finding a sexy tit-sling to show off. Generally, the best support, the most comfort and the right look are achieved when someone else is involved. Sounds shady, but we're serious. The experience may seem disconcerting at first, but the outcome is worth it. The women at the Maddox Shop take their task seriously, measuring and assessing a woman's needs before returning seconds later with the perfect bra. The ladies of the Maddox Shop instruct a girl on how to "place herself" correctly in the cups, and they are incapable of being embarrassed by errant nipples or flashing, so even the most modest person is suddenly at ease with a stranger in her dressing room. As for post-mastectomy bras, the shop has an amazing selection, and the saleswomen have the know-how to make a woman look as natural and feel as comfortable as possible after a traumatic loss. They don't gawk or judge, and they can fit difficult sizes as well as perform in-house alterations. It's all about feeling good, feeling attractive. And ladies know a good bra can unleash amazing confidence.

Who needs kids clothing that lasts forever? Want a snazzy toddler shirt you can get on sale for $4 and never worry that it doesn't quite look the same after you wash it? That's why we go for the inexpensive, sufficiently hip kids clothes at Old Navy. They always have sales, and they stock enough of each item to have your kid's size (important when you have a 31-pound 5-year-old). We got the cute camouflage pajamas; the orange Old Navy embroidered sweatshirt; the striped cotton sweater that looks a lot more expensive than it was; the fleece pullover available in a half-dozen or more cool colors. Boxer shorts for a 6-year-old? They have 'em. And unlike some stores that stock kids clothes, there are just as many selections for boys.

Aficionados--aka people who make a living playing guitar--may scoff. Surely, Charley's Guitar Shop on Royal Avenue is the place to buy a guitar in Dallas. Maybe so, but we don't have a grand or two lying about for a custom-made, and booking agents aren't lining up to offer us paying gigs for an off-key, painfully slow version of "Amazing Grace." So we're happy to shop at Guitar Center, the Wal-Mart of music stores, with its collection of about 8 zillion guitars, from $99 entry-level axes to vintage Gibsons and pricey Paul Reed Smiths. Here's why: bought a new Telecaster there (we rock on "Amazing Grace"). Guitar had problems. Took it back, without the receipt. No problem. When the store didn't have the same model to swap, the clerk, a very cool guy named Jacob, offered up a different model that cost $150 more and let us have it in exchange without paying a dime extra. "We want you to come back," he said. In fairy tales, retail and massages, a happy ending keeps you coming back for more.

If you were paying attention, you'd realize that Rajan Patel and Jeffrey Lee had to come out from under the stairs at Stanley Korshak sometime, if only to feel the sunshine on their faces or the wind in their hair. After running Korshak's tiny flower business together for four years, Patel and Lee have opened their own new shop, "with our same fresh take on flowers," Patel says. After only a few months, Grange Hall/Urban Flower was contracted to provide floral decorations for the Dallas Contemporary Art Center's annual "Legends" award party. The architectural minimalist arrangements Patel and Lee made were blessed by Contemporary director Joan Davidow. "Visiting Grange Hall/Urban Flower is like stepping into a surreal fantasy forest, bedecked with paper animal sculptures, mystical scents and primitive bowls," Davidow says. "We both have studied fashion," Patel says, "so that's always part of our sensibilities. In the new space, we have gift items, art pieces and home décor."

Joel Hinojosa started picking up pocket money by giving his classmates at Adamson High School haircuts in his house 35 years ago. Many of those same customers still come to his four-chair shop at the back of Preston Tower (big high-rise across Northwest Highway from Park Cities Baptist). These days he barbers an impressive lineup of major sports and business figures in the city. For the average guy, $18 buys a very polished haircut and a whole lot of old-fashioned barbershop gossip. And you never know whom you're going to see in there. Could be somebody famous. Could be you in the mirror, hard to recognize because you look so much better.

Readers' Pick

Sports Clips

8300 Gaylord Parkway

972-668-5324

When you and your significant other start arguing about who's more "granola"--as in crunchy, earth-loving, all-is-one non-consumerists--just head to Green Living. There you can bicker over who knows more about ecologically friendly dish soap or who loves hemp bath towels the most. The friendly staff will help solve your disputes over recycled glass decorations vs. soy candles. There's no arguing, though, that Green Living can outfit your home from sustainable flooring to mattresses to reel mowers to organic cotton baby clothes to coffee and back again. But if the choice comes down to your preference for sandalwood or his longing for patchouli, you're on your own.

Operation Kindness

If a specific breed is what you want, go to an appropriate rescue group (Dallas has hundreds). But if you're looking to help a sweet friend and find a furry companion that needs love, Operation Kindness is the place. They may get the occasional pure breed, but most often they get abandoned animals that don't have AKC papers, just a lot of affection to give instead. The no-kill shelter aids more than 200 animals per day and adopts out an average of 2,300 per year. Funds are raised at various adoption events throughout the year and through private donations, and the money benefits the organization in medically treating all four-legged friends waiting for their "forever home." OK also has a helpful Web site (www.operationkindness.org), with tips for pet owners, links to pet-related shopping sites and medical info. They're knowledgeable, friendly and responsible. And they make sure every prospective owner is, too.

Readers' Pick

SPCA Dallas

362 S. Industrial Blvd.

214-651-9611

Tradition says that an engagement ring should cost about two months of one's salary. So shouldn't that piece of jewelry and symbol of unfaltering commitment be exactly what a fiancee wants? Scott Patterson at the Lower Greenville Jewelry Workshop either has that perfect ring or he can create it. Clear, gleaming diamonds (and other stones) in settings of various metals shine in the cases of the small shop. And even more designs live in Patterson's head. The jeweler extraordinaire is also sensitive to budget-restricted lovers. Trade in scrap gold to create a more affordable, but incredibly beautiful, treasure. Engagement rings aren't all the shop specializes in. Original designs in pendant form, rings and earrings are also available, and if a watch needs mending, the shop has you covered. Janet Patterson, operations manager, offers a warm smile and sincere interest in her counter service. Between the two Pattersons, no other jewelry shop has made an inexperienced jewelry shopper feel more welcome.

In our perfect world, furniture filling a living room wouldn't be "vintage-inspired" or "1950s replica." Couches, tables and other accessories would all be true midcentury pieces in excellent original condition or refinished/reupholstered in decade-appropriate fashion. Century Modern doesn't mess around with the small stuff. Their seating options (think iconic low settees with conical wooden legs or a Mies van der Rohe couch) are the real deal from the '50s through the '70s and sit in the company of collectible tables (from Eames to the more affordable Lane). The price of some pieces may seem high, but the quality is worth the dough. Re-covered chairs are pristinely upholstered, and the items have obviously been handled with kid gloves. Even the occasional shag rug looks fresh and new, and as we all know, the only thing fresh about the ones we grew up on was the latest spill. As with all vintage buys, the time to purchase is when you see it. These gems don't wait around.

Readers' Pick

Weirs Furniture Village

3219 Knox St.

214-528-0321

5801 Preston Road, Plano

972-403-7878

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