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.

Apple Store

Good design is the cultural imperative of the day. It rules prime time on TV shows like Queer Eye and Trading Spaces. It rules middle-American staples like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. These days, even vacuum cleaners and toilet brushes come with their own unique aesthetic, and the fact that we can use "aesthetic" so casually is proof of all of this (and also, that we're pretentious). But no one knows good design like the folks behind Apple products. Their breathtaking iPod is, so far, the design of the century, much like their iMac was the design of the '90s. Stepping into the Knox Street store is like entering the future of a very, very rich person. Which is awesome. Maybe the 21st century won't have flying cars or personal robots, but we will have Apple. Which means if we have to sit in traffic and make our own stupid dinner, at least our gadgets look cool.

Every woman deserves to have cute shoes. And as far as addictions go, shoe-dependency is one of the few that can improve your appearance. Unfortunately, though, like any good addiction, shoes can be a real drain on the bank account. Which is why DSW is where we go when we need a fix. The smell of leather and the sight of row upon row of discounted designer labels give us such a rush that it's almost overwhelming. And when we try on that first pair of summer sandals or fall boots, we often have to take a deep breath, pause and let the ecstasy wash over us. It's such a good high, we want to shout it to the world, but this has to be our little secret. We can't have all those other shoe junkies hanging around, grabbing up all the good stuff. Some people have no shame.

Readers' Pick

DSW Shoe Warehouse

Krimson & Klover

Once upon a time, we wore teeny-weeny clothes. (Back then, we ate teeny-weeny food and drank teeny-weeny beers.) We loved parading around the latest fashions--the midriff-baring tees, the low-cut V-necks, the tight mini. And there was no better place to find such fashion fabulosity than Krimson and Klover, Kathryn and Kristin Anderson's darling boutique for the pint-sized fashionista. We don't mean clothes for children; we mean clothes for skinny women, those blessed lovelies who scour the size-6-and-under racks ("What? No size 0?") while the rest of us dribble queso on our shirts and shop at Dress Barn. Oh, life is cruel. And yet, we still have a soft spot for K&K, housed in that cool yellow Victorian house on Cole Avenue. Not only because it reminds us of roller rinks and a killer Joan-Jett-by-way-of-Tommy-James-and-the-Shondells song, but also because the clothes are so snappy, so sophisticated yet playful, so blasted cute that we want to at least pretend we can one day fit into their pants again. And if all else fails, there's always the shoes.

The only place cigarettes and flowers really go together is, perhaps, in the lyrics of a country and western song. So how these two establishments came to share a building, we're not sure. One smells of stale tobacco, and the other has what you might call a garden-fresh scent. Unlikely neighbors, maybe, but if you ever find yourself in the market for a bouquet of roses and a carton of Camels, you'll be thanking your lucky stars that Greenville Ave. Tobacco Co. and Flowerama share a space. And for Bank of America customers, there's an added bonus: a drive-thru ATM. In somebody's world, this has to be the perfect combination.

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