Are you contributing what you should to your 401K? Are you a good candidate for investing in a mutual fund, or should you have a Roth IRA? What goals do you have in terms of retirement income? All of these questions can be mind-boggling. Hell, on what we make, they may not even make sense, but James Lehman can help put it all into perspective. One meeting with the man (you'll be coached on what info to bring beforehand, fret not) puts your mind at ease when it comes to planning for that small business, college fund for the kids, a home in the country or whatever you have your heart set on years, or even decades, down the road. Lehman is a master at explaining in layman's terms what a few dollars squirreled away now can do for you later. This guy is money, man.
West Elm
If chintz makes you cringe and fringe makes you break out in a sweat, the clean lines of affordable furniture at West Elm will make you jump with joy. The first West Elm in the Dallas area—and only the second in Texas—the airy Mockingbird Station store makes furniture shops offering the overstuffed and multipillowed sofas that are so popular in Dallas seem fusty and old-fashioned. West Elm's upholstered furniture comes in leather and solid fabrics to provide a backdrop for sculptural tables, bookshelves and storage pieces in wood, steel and laminate. The look is mid-century modern meets second-millennium luxury. Sofas and modular seating range from $749 to $2,000. West Elm also specializes in practical but cool home office furniture—never easy to find. Then there's that behind-the-scene stuff: closet organization, office storage and "spa storage" in solid teak. Spa storage...who knew that was a category of case goods? The translation: "a place to keep your towels and soap in the bathroom." All that simplicity can get a tad boring, so West Elm also has a spattering of what might be called '50s Follies, such as cascading capiz shell lamps, sunburst wall mirrors and clocks, and hanging squares of stainless steel which can be linked as a room divider. Even though she might have looked prim and proper, June Cleaver wasn't boring.
Wild Birds Unlimited
We're complete birding novices, but on a recent splurge we bought a couple of feeders, hoping to attract the little dinosaurs (read your science books, kids) to liven up the backyard. At Wild Birds Unlimited, they'll sell you bird-friendly feeders on poles that don't lean and hummingbird feeders that don't also summon every ant, bee and wasp in the county. The staff here doesn't just wing it—they know their merchandise and have tons of useful information about the feathered friends that live in our backyards. Got a pesky squirrel problem? Tired of invasive house sparrows taking over all your birdhouses? Bluejays not digging your nuts? You'll find your solutions here. Happy birding.
Lula B's Antique Mall
It's the store where Lucy Ricardo's furniture went for recycling. The 1950s and '60s couches, chairs and dinettes are just the beginning of the retro-coolness at this Lower Greenville shop. Lula B's also stocks antique and vintage dishes, knickknacks, toys, purses, paintings and costume jewelry. That big round blue velvet bed has David Lynch flair (with a dash of Hef). The bone-shaped coffee tables and oversized plastic sunglasses are way groovy in an Austin Powers-y way. Old high school jackets, funky uniforms and way-gone LPs can play to the kinkiest fantasy. Think you look cute in those white vinyl go-go boots? Live the dream, kitten.
Say you find a dentist that you really dig (see above). Then said dentist says, "I'm going to refer you to an oral surgeon to have that removed." Panic attack? Not if the surgeon is Dr. Craig Williams. The docile gent carries on a family practice that's been around since 1897...and that's not a misprint. This family believes in teeth. Williams is swift, calming and, dare we say, paternal. He'll chat you up about Sorta's latest (giving full disclosure that his son's in the band) or he'll just ask about the book you have in your lap while he readies his saws and pliers (or something...we couldn't look). Pain management is a high priority to Williams and his staff. Since mouth surgery is a pain to start with, any additional anesthetics are welcomed.
George L. Allen, Sr. Courts Building
Dallas District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons runs three passport offices, but we like the one downtown. If you have to run the gantlet of passport-getting, you get to see the rebuilt George L. Allen Courts Building, which is pretty nice for a gummint building. And this downtown office is staffed by senior employees who know what they're doing and are pleasant to deal with. We suspect that might be true at the other locations too; in East Dallas at 3443 St. Francis Ave. (214-321-3183) and in North Dallas at 10056 Marsh Lane, Suite 137 (214-904-3030). But downtown, Fitzsimmons tends to run a smart shop. And given the boondoggles travelers are having with securing passports right now (don't plan that honeymoon abroad till you have the blue booklet in hand, my friends), dealing with nice, smart people paid by our tax dollars is somehow reassuring.
After a bad auto accident, the last thing anyone wants is to worry about the insurance hounds, the medical records and anything else but healing. That's where personal injury law guru Joe Smith comes in. The jovial family man has a naturally comforting nature that instantly eases in stressful times. And here's something that proves he's a trustworthy soul: He'll tell you honestly if you don't need his services. Hand over your worries and concentrate on getting over that whiplash while Smith and his team tackle the bureaucracies and get you the settlement to pay the bills.
Afterimage Gallery
In its 36th year, Afterimage is one of the oldest art galleries anywhere devoted exclusively to photography. Yep, in our backyard. You can find prints of classic black-and-white pictures by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams and colorful surreal photographs by William Lesch. Jazz greats, documentary work, nudes, landscapes and aerial photographs that look like abstract paintings—the subject matter is endless and the powerful images can be showstoppers in the right room. Afterimage also offers collectible pieces such as the black-and-white print by Imogen Cunningham called "The Unmade Bed," listed for $28,000. If that's out of reach, use the photos here as artistic inspiration. Now where's that camera?
Queen of Hearts Costume Shop
Don't be that guy at Halloween parties who staples condoms to his T-shirt and calls himself a condom tree. Get a real costume this year, and there's no better place to buy or rent your getup than Queen of Hearts in downtown Plano. The shop's been around since 1982, and it's still the best spot in town to find unique, high-quality costumes, as well as all the accessories you'll need to complete your look. Already got your Halloween costume this year? Queen of Hearts has you covered for the rest of the year, too, with Santa and Easter bunny suits, Mardi Gras gear and the perfect duds for the Renaissance Festival, if that's your thing. They also have a complete magic shop and offer lessons for all ages with their staff of professional magicians. But please, for everyone's sake, keep your new "vanishing lit torch" trick away from the office break room.
The first things you see when you walk in Napa Home are Napoleon and Little Bean, two white French bulldogs whose sweet faces and ovoid bodies at complete and utter rest fit with the "simple pleasures for the home and palate" theme of the shop. Napa Home specializes in home accents of natural objects like seashells, fossils, strange pods, odd pinecones and vessels made of turned wood or tortoise-colored glass. The sensual shapes make you want to run your hands over everything. The look is comfortable but also very modern and sleek. It's a great place to shop for gifts for newlyweds who appreciate the out-of-the-ordinary salad bowls, salt and pepper shakers and servers such as Bandeja Laurel trays, shaped like palm leaves and made of shiny alpaca metal and cow horn (naturally shed, of course). Napa Home is also a great place for inspiration. You start to see possibilities in your own backyard. Those giant green bois d'arc "horse apples" (artificial ones are sold at Napa Home) would look good in a large Chinese bowl. The river rocks down by the creek could fill a glass cylinder. Line up a simple display of pomegranates on a fireplace mantel. It's nice to be reminded that some of the most beautiful things in the world don't cost more than $1.98 a pound.

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