Whenever the weather's lousy or we're just looking for something fun to do with Junior Boy that doesn't involve a rusty playground, we like to head over to the Learning Express toy store in Snider Plaza, where an hour can turn into an afternoon and you can escape without spending a penny if you play your cards (or trains) right. See, this toy store is staffed by people who actually love kids, which means they let the tykes run loose, play with the toys and they never, ever hover or scold the wee ones. We spent an hour not long ago playing with a device that inflates long balloons and shoots them skyward with a high-pitched whine, the very same sound our little one made every time we let a balloon loose. Fact is, the place ain't that expensive, so if you do have to walk out with something, chances are you'll escape with plenty of change left for a trip down the sidewalk to Dough Monkey, where you can watch from the outside window as they make the very cookies your kids will devour about five seconds later.
If you couldn't tell two knits from three purls, the Woolie Ewe can help school you in the way of stitch witchery. At first glance, two pointy sticks and a ball of yarn don't seem to add up to much, but learn a couple of stitches (with the help of the Ewe's classes, book selection or mother/daughter owners Sue Tuley and Jill Brown) and that skein is on its way to becoming an afghanif an afghan is what you want. If there's one thing the friendly shop doesn't hold back on, it's patterns. However, the Ewe is also notorious for an expansive yarn selection featuring hand-dyed varieties as well as yarns from all over the world. Some can get fairly pricey, so Tuley and Brown help out budget-wise needlers with a sizable area of discounted yarns. All levels of experience are welcome in this wooly world, and the store covers notions other than knitting; classes also tackle crochet and needlepoint. Knitting and other such textile arts may seem daunting, but take a seat at the table with other folks in this cozy shop and it's a cinch to "cast on." In 10 minutes, they'll have you in stitches.
The British Emporium
Anglophiles, unite! Join us for a trip just past the insipid wineries and knickknack pushers of "historic" Grapevine to discover a heaven rich with Earl Grey and black currant. Pop a Fruit-tella chew and say hello to owners Alexandra Evans and Sheela Kadam. While you're at it, thank them for a fine array of Heinz tinned baked beans and soups (better than any American versions, trust us), a freezer stocked with English butter and bangers, "proper" bacon and sinful Cadbury yummies. If you're brave, you can have a go at some Scottish haggis, spotted dick or Vegemite--they stock all three. The welcoming shop also offers a selection of gift items ranging from Pimpernel table décor, Queen Mother memorabilia, flags and stunning Richard Blenko glassware to silly little fun stuff. But Alex and Sheela don't just stop at the stock. The savvy duo also schedules classic car shows with "bonnet and boot" contests. It's a hop across the pond without that horrendous airfare.
Chocolate is damn tasty and shopping iswell, honestly, who doesn't like to splurge on themselves every now and then? That's why we love Chocolate Secrets, a fantastic little chocolate shop on the northern edge of West Village. The store specializes in delicious concoctions like traditional truffles and fudge. There are fun pieces like rock chocolate and scrumptious chocolate-covered cherries like you have never, ever had before. For great non-chocolate buys, they also carry fancy jewelry, cute little gifts and amazing beaded purses. After you've picked out your favorite bag (don't worry guys, just tell the people at the counter that it's for your sweetie), we suggest buying anything made with coconut or caramel. This place is suh-weet.
Every day we sift through the junk in our e-mail inbox: "Reduce Your Mortgage" (don't have one), "Plump Your Penis" (don't have one), "Trace Your Family Tree" (wish we didn't have one). Then we get to the sweet little morsel that is DailyCandy. This free e-mail newsletter and Web site keeps us in the know about all kinds of fun and hip things to do, see and buy in our city. From food to travel to culture, DailyCandy is on top of it. But our favorite Candies are the ones about shopping. What? Some lady makes purses out of old shoes? Ohmigod, we have to have one! Wait, they cost more than my car payment? That's OK, we'll charge it! DailyCandy's not as good as chocolate, but it's still a sweet treat, and it's just as addictive.
There's something about coffee that makes it so addictive. Oh yeah, the caffeine. And there's something about Oak Cliff that might make it seem impossible to find a decent cup of joe south of the Trinity River. Now people in the Winnetka Heights/Kessler Park/Cockrell Hill areas of the real OC don't have to look any further than the Bishop Arts District. Nodding Dog Coffee Company has been offering great cups of coffee long enough to have regulars but not so long to have entered the radar of every coffee lover. It's a cozy place with a fine selection of specialty coffees (we'd suggest the white mocha latte) and a decent line of pastries (we recommend the one that looks like a bran muffin but has raisins, carrot shavings and some other tasty goodies in it). But even though this place isn't in your typical coffee monopoly location, don't expect a major price cut. Let's just say that everything is competitively priced. But it sure is worth it.
You wanna buy a computer that looks purty and works? Go to the Apple store, you big sissy. Wanna cheap Windows PC? Go online and shop, you cubicle monkey. What we want is a machine of our very own, built by our own manly, geeky hand from the motherboard up, something that sneers at the godawful requirements of the latest video games. For that, my friend, you go to Fry's, the gigantic warehouse of all things semi-conductor. From snazzy cases to mega-sized hard drives to all manner of motherboards, video cards and processors at competitive prices, Fry's is to the amateur computer builder what a good auto parts store is to the owner of a GTO. Hoo-rah!

Readers' Pick
Fry's Electronics
Started in 1969 as a get-together for ham radio enthusiasts, the sidewalk sale has had several locations, including under the Woodall Rodgers bridge between Routh Street and Central Expressway and in a parking lot on Ross Avenue. Under a bridge and in a parking lot? That's sketchy enough right there. Nowadays a good portion of the sale takes place at night because, according to the sidewalk sale's Web site, that is when the best "deals" often take place. Let's see, computer shopping at night to get the best "deals"? This just gets better and better. What's funny though, is that these guys love what they do and, as offended as they may pretend to be, they all probably like being called computer geeks when they are trying to sell the best "deal" of the night under a bridge.

Best Way to Get Car Stuff Done Without Going Anywhere

C.A.R.S.

Every time we get our oil changed, we wait in that little dingy lobby and feel like we're sitting outside the principal's office. We deserve a lecture. We've waited long past that whole three months/3,000 miles guideline because of the simple problem of scheduling. The problem is that on the way to work, the oil change places are packed, and the same goes for lunchtimes. Good luck getting us to remember to break up the afternoon with a 50-minute jaunt only to have them try to sell us on filters. We heard about C.A.R.S. (short for Texas Corporate Auto Repair Service) and had to give props for an amazing idea. C.A.R.S. techs show up at your office in a Mobile Service Center and perform inspections, oil changes, window repair, engine diagnostics, bodywork and most everything else. C.A.R.S. even sets up agreements with office buildings so that select parking spaces are reserved for their services. C.A.R.S. is only servicing the Addison area right now. But maybe if we keep on them, they'll make their way south. C'mon, how 'bout it?
Lakewood Texaco
What makes a good gas station? Is it the functional stuff, like cleaning fluid for the squeegees outside, a well-stocked convenience store and clean restrooms inside? Lakewood Texaco has all that. So do a lot of other places. But owners Issa and Lena Boueri go the extra mile. They have an elaborate stone fountain and decorative landscaping. There's a redwood fence and a matching postage-stamp deck with a wrought-iron birdbath and furniture to lounge on as you scarf your doughnut gems or scratch off your lottery tickets. They also have a great beer selection and friendly, lovely Boueri ladies behind the counter every day. In other words, any gas station will let you pay at the pump these days, but Lakewood Texaco gives you a reason to push the "pay inside" button instead.

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