Fish Gallery

We love cichlids, those hearty freshwater fish from Africa, Central and South America and India with perch-like bodies and colors that could put Las Vegas eye shadow to shame. And people are passionate about these things. Some claim they can train them to do aquarium loops. Others say they can urge them to leap from the aquarium surface, triple Lutz and then dive down to the gravel and spit a few grains into Egyptian hieroglyphics (the Central American ones do Mayan inscriptions, while the Indian ones fashion dazzling Bollywood movie trailers). Ours bungee jump. Sure. All we know is, when we go to the Fish Gallery and gawk and pluck from their rows of crystal-clear cichlid tanks, they tell us to buy only plastic plants (they'll shred the real ones into taco filler, man) and urge us to make sure we put up the few extra dollars to get the dull female with each vibrant male (it'll keep the male's colors trippin' true, you know? Hormones man, they rule). But the best part is that some cichlids are mouth brooders, which means the females swallow the fertilized eggs and then spit out the babies awhile later, labor pains be damned.

Emeralds to Coconuts

Don't be suspicious if your wife won't stop talking about how soft Zelda is, how supple she finds Agnes, or the shapeliness of Bridget. On one hand, she might be secretly Sapphic, but on the other, she might simply be slavishly devoted to the Vintage line of Hobo International handbags. Thankfully, Emeralds to Coconuts carries many examples of the Vintage line (colorful, retro-inspired purses and clutches), along with a sampling of other Hobo lines, including sophisticated leather bags and carryalls. As our "purse closet" can attest, there's no such thing as too many handbags--and don't tell anyone, but we really think Simone is sexy.

No, not the strip club--we mean the importer and wholesaler with the "largest collection of sterling charms, findings, chains, semiprecious stones & jewelry." This shop on the Harry Hines strip is small, but so is its merchandise. We've never seen so many silver charms with so much variety in one place. On the same table with the unicorns and fairies sits a skull with a movable jaw. And on one trip, we even spied a CZ-encrusted pendant of a hand throwing a gang sign. It weighed in at 40 grams. And by "spied" we mean "bought." There's also a large selection of beads and stones for those of you who get some sort of thrill out of being "creative" and making your own jewelry. That's fine, we suppose, but let's see you craft a sterling silver wheel-spoke charm that spins when you flick it. Yeah, that's what we thought.

The architecture of Flash Mart is, to put it mildly, garish. But we like it. The sign on the front of the building juts up toward the heavens and is painted the color of a cartoon sky. A bright yellow lightning bolt adds some extra flair, and the words "Flash Mart" scream for your attention. You can't help but notice this convenience store and gas station on Abrams Road, and on second glance you'll see that the store is flanked by a taqueria and a Church's Chicken. Even better. Inside, it's your typical quick-stop shop, stocked with salty snacks and various carbonated beverages. A little disappointing, really, considering the fabulousness of the outdoor décor.

To fellow members of PJA (Product Junkies Anonymous), do not enter Avocado tree. You will immediately be enticed by the cubbies of freshly cut soaps and the baskets of "aqua seltzers," luxurious bath products in scents ranging from oatmeal cookie to wild lavender to chocolate almond. Your resolve will be weakened by the silky lotions and creams, created in small batches with fresh ingredients and minimal preservatives by co-founders Cory Clark and Jesseca Zollars, who is also an aesthetician. Do not let the smiling faces of the accommodating staff lure you into smelling the soy wax candles, because if you have a functioning nose, you will not be able to leave Avocado tree empty-handed; you will find that you've bought enough deliciously scented products to last through months and months of baths and massages. You'll forgive yourself--probably while soaking in a spicy chai-scented bath--but as long as Avocado tree's around, you know you won't be able to kick the habit.

Best Locally Based Store That Sells Kiddie Clothes

Bebe Grand

We'll admit it: We don't really dress the kiddo in clothes from this Lakewood legend--because, well, he's a boy, and even the boys' clothes from Bebe Grand make him look, well, kinda like, uh, he's a girl. Or just, ya know, a little feminine. Hey, nothing wrong with it, especially when the clothes from Babies "R" Us make him look like a dork; better a sense of style than none at all. It's just that Bebe Grand carries fancy stuff from faraway places--like Petit Bateau from France, among others--which look awesome and last forever (oughta at those prices) but could make a linebacker look a little frilly. So why's it the best? Because no matter where else you go you will come back here for the dresses for the little girls or the jumpers for the little boys or the blankets or the baby books or the toys or the mommy accessories and everything else they sell here that turns a room into a nursery in which you'd wanna wake up on Christmas morning. In Paris, even better.

Scavenging on bulk trash days is almost second nature to us. We know that our neighborhood's old couches and bags of leaves are picked up every third week. These items hold no interest. It's the other little things--gnarled ropes of Christmas lights that someone was too frustrated to untangle, a not-quite-past-its-prime doormat--that we relish digging out of other people's junk piles. It's this give-and-take culture that's allowed Freecycle, a project that started in Tucson, to spread to more than 1,500 cities, according to www.freecycle.org. The D-FW group is one of the largest, boasting 5,490 members in its online community. It's a little like a classified ads forum, except that everything posted must be free. And nothing's too crazy--people offer everything from old lightbulbs to pianos and request anything from Girl Scout uniforms to bikes. You may not find exactly what you're looking for, but it's a lot easier and less degrading than trying to drag a discarded dresser four blocks under the pitying eyes of a city of Dallas sanitation crew.

Admit it: You've always wanted one of those giant Easter Island stone heads in your back yard, or a giant Buddha beaming beatifically from the begonias. At Big Mango Trading Co. you'll find a bonanza of backyard bounty that puts run-of-the-mill fountains and concrete fantasia to shame. Among our favorites: petrified wood garden stools and tables, Tibetan flags and cabanas made of teak and grass for lounging poolside. Inside you'll find exotic chairs and couches for use on porches and patios, including chaise longues made from bamboo. Can't afford to vacation in Southeast Asia? Buy the bamboo wind chimes, plant a concrete Lord Krishna beside the koi pond, hire a masseuse who specializes in Nuad Bo'Rarn, and say you went.

We could lament the passing of independent children's bookstore Enchanted Forest, as we did in 2002, but the homogenization of American booksellers is a tired story by now. You're gonna end up going to one of a handful of chains in Dallas, and Borders is the best pick. One thing that's extremely helpful is that they organize books by reading levels--from baby on up--instead of slamming the books on the shelf by author's name (which you hardly ever know, since most children's-book buyers are browsing). There is a good selection of foreign-language picture books; LeapPad books and cartridges (buy the LeapPad itself at Wal-Mart or Target; Borders' is too expensive); sticker books; Usborne titles (high-quality educational books favored by homeschoolers); and generally helpful staff. Also, Borders has a rewards program for kid-book buyers: Buy 10 kid items, get $5 off your next children's purchase.

Readers' Pick

Half Price Books

Various locations

If your hair is curly, what works better than cutting it is "taking the weight out of it," as our man Cruz says at Style Labb. Cruz grabs some sheers when he sees our heft approaching and goes about his work. His work is thinning the hair--keeping the length more or less as is but taking mighty swipes at the thick, gnarled curls that fester about. At one point, Cruz takes the salon equivalent of a steak knife and starts cutting away, from bald spot to bangs. At another, he grabs a fistful of curls near the back of the head, twirls them into one strand, then, like a lumberjack with a saw, slices at an upward angle into the hair. Finally, he takes the scissors, hair between his first and second fingers, and cuts down, not across. It's an interesting and artistic haircut, and when it's done, it's "pimped out," as Cruz likes to say. At Style Labb, it doesn't look like you just got a haircut. It looks like you got a great haircut a week ago.

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