There have been definite scares--chocolate eating, a hip out of socket, rashes, vomiting, swollen butts and open sores. Throughout our pets' varied afflictions, City Vet has offered consistent, kindly care at decent prices. Their convenient drop-off service--you can drop off your pets as early as 7 a.m. and pick them up as late as 7 p.m. --ensures that you won't have to miss a day of work to take your pup for her annual checkup. Plus, City Vet offers boarding and doggie day care at some of the best rates we've seen. And the webcam--so you can check up on your little prince or princess in day care--is an added bonus, and a great way to waste time at work.

Imagine a paradise where every woman of every size and every style can find something to wear, from a size 2 petite to a size 22 tall. From Gap spunky sweaters to Ann Taylor pleated skirts. And did we mention almost everything costs less than $20? And there are shoes and purses? If you don't believe us, just spend a few minutes perusing the neatly organized, clearly marked racks of Garland Road Thrift. We've seen Liz Claiborne jacket-and-skirt suits with the Foley's price tags still attached and this-season Lane Bryant's Venezia-label jean skirts for a third of the regular retail price. And then there are the Grace Kelly-worthy vintage wool and faux fur coats--the kind of stuff you'll never find at a department store. So stop being a snob, put on some jeans and a T-shirt and get ready to slide hundreds of metal hangers across rows upon rows of racks in search of the perfect new (to you) blouse or slacks. In no time, you'll be cursing that there are only two dressing rooms.

Readers' Pick

Banana Republic

Various locations

We like to think we know a lot about wine. The truth is, we just know how to drink a lot of wine, and a trip to the liquor store can be a comic search not for good bottles but for good labels. Smoking Loon? Sold. (Because the loon is actually smoking!) Toad Hollow? In the belly. That's why Best Cellars is so freaking fantastic. Not only are most of the bottles under $15, but they'll actually let you taste the wine before buying it, like at an ice cream store. The salespeople are sharp and not the least bit condescending. The whole place is so sparkling and lovely that it makes us want to buy tons and tons of wine, which, when we think about it, is kind of a bad thing. We don't really need encouragement.

Situations that call for formal attire: irritating high school dances, weddings, galas and, sometimes, Halloween. For guys, a tuxedo fills the bill and can be used time and again without suspicion. Just pick a new tie. For the ladies, however, each event requires a special statement, a distinct look. Almeta Gold has all those occasions mastered. A professional seamstress who works out of a studio in her home, Gold can create a design, work from a pattern, combine patterns and even assist in finding the perfect fabrics for certain styles, figures and events. She creates magic in prom, homecoming and fund-raiser formals, and yes, she has bridal gowns down as well. And don't even question her alteration skills. Gold has taken a vintage gown down six sizes for us after we found it for a steal and had to have it despite the size. She's instructed us on how to care for a 1954 silk brocade number we had to have mended. And if you bought fabric for a dress only to decide it would look better on the window, Gold can create drapes and window treatments.

By now it should be clear to us that we really don't need to go anywhere but Mark & Larry's Stuff for Christmas gifts. We trudge through stores and stores of despicable generic crap, leave with empty hands and a full list of gifts to buy. It is then we remember the little shop on Elm Street (with a sister shop now on Main Street) that has something for each person on our list. Bath stuff, coffee table books, '50s-style toys for Sis, old-world décor (think gilded frames and the like) for Mom, journals for the pensive preteen and for Dad, barware, of course. For everyone else on the "card list," the store carries great individual greeting cards and boxed sets by RockScissorPaper and other neo-midcentury (yeah, we made that up) printers. For almost 10 years, partners Mark Brian Sonna and Larry E. Groseclose have provided the best in "stuff," and at great prices. And for the "I'm already supposed to be there!" situations, they even have the wrapping covered.

Readers' Pick

Write Selection

314 Preston Royal Shopping Center

214-750-0531

Nobody, and we mean nobody, looks forward to a pelvic examination. Scheduling a Pap smear or, rather, a "well woman exam" is like slating off some time for freakish internal pain. Hence, the buildup to a gyno appointment is a nerve-wracking time. Now we're in no way saying we've had fun at such an appointment, but at Women to Women Health Associates, we felt at ease in the waiting area, in the exam room and after. This clinic is 100 percent women-run. It's not that we don't trust male doctors; we just figure a woman knows firsthand what such experiences feel like and techniques to make them less traumatic. On our visit with Dr. Melissa Crochet, the most recently acquired staffer, we even laughed. Her hilarious and refreshingly honest candor (vending-machine snacks are as good for you as sacks of turds, and a certain birth-control shot is awful, unless you're looking to gain 30 pounds) made us feel right at home--speculum notwithstanding. These docs know vaginas inside and out, and we appreciate that (and the warmed stirrups) wholeheartedly.

Best Place for Action Figures and Busts

Zeus

If a PVP Skull plush doll scrummed with a Living Dead Ragdoll, who would win? Who cares when you can pit a Barbie Princess of Ancient Mexico against a Dark Crystal Skeksil Chamberlain Bust to see who comes out on top of the anatomical correctness swimsuit competition? Virtually every fantasy has an action figure, bust or statue ready to stunt-double when push comes to mustard. And Zeus Toys and Comics has the figures with the pliable limbs and stiff expressions ready to make reality of that dream, including Matrix and Terminator busts, statues of DC and Marvel comic characters, James Bond and Dr. No power yoga dolls (force them into Toby Maguire struts and you'll see what we mean). Plus they have a life-size Darth Maul from Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace guarding the front door. Wasn't that one of Ed Wood's last movies?

Movie Trading Company

Few things in life suck more than shelling out 50 or so bucks for the hottest new video game only to find out that it stinks. OK, OK, so probably lots of things suck more than that--cancer, famine, unemployment, etc. Still, getting screwed on a video game has to be in the top 500. Movie Trading Co. has a way to avoid the grief. (In game purchases, anyway. For cancer, we suggest a hospital.) For $5.99, you can rent any one of 600 to 700 titles for five days. If you like it, you can buy the game minus the cost of your rental fee. They also buy used games and pay top dollar for new releases, so a savvy game-buyer can walk out of the joint with enough change left over for pizza to go with a long night of playing. That doesn't suck.

Readers' Pick

GameStop

Various locations

www.gamestop.com

Just like a marriage, especially one with a "can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em" ambivalence, the relationship between public relations professionals and reporters is classically flawed. Even as they appreciate their interdependence, PR people believe every reporter is "out to get them" or their organization. Every reporter believes that PR pros start each day with a solemn oath--swearing to "spin the truth, tell only the half-truths and nothing but some half-truths." Even worse, there is a new crop of young, lazy, degreed PR people who--and we're not kidding--send a news release about an event for their organization without listing the date. Would that more PR practitioners could ooze professional savvy, provide on-time and completely accurate information, offer quick access to key sources and generally make a reporter feel like helping the media is actually a top priority of the PR job. We found one in Dallas who's like that. Victoria Winkelman, public information officer for Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts. Winkelman often goes out of her way to provide additional research or suggest additional experts on background.

Our dog heartily endorses this store; that should be enough. Canine Commissary does stock supplies for cats and smaller pets, like hamsters or birds, but the real genius is the astounding variety of premium dog food--more than two dozen brands. Food from companies like Karma Organic, California Natural, Eagle Pack and Natural Balance may seem pricey compared with grocery-store brands, but once you start comparing ingredients, the price difference is explained. Canine Commissary even carries frozen raw foods like FarMore and Steve's Real Food for Pets, with quality, recognizable ingredients (FarMore's buffalo formulation, for example, contains only buffalo, zucchini, peas, green beans, apple pulp, powdered eggshell, ground bison bone, salmon oil, spinach, barley and natural vitamin E). So, whenever you think about pouring those cheap, multicolored pellets into your best friend's bowl, you don't have to wonder whether he'd rather be eating ground corn or real meat--just head to Canine Commissary.

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