Some parents regard their children as an extension of themselves, so show all your friends you're better than they are by improving your kids. How? Expand their minds. Take the time to read to them. And if you want to really blow the Joneses out of the water, find unique children's reading at Blue Willow Books. For six years they've been offering a variety of children's books organized according to age and special interests of the child. They can help you find a book about the ocean that's written exclusively for your three-year-old. So now she'll know more about the underwater world than SpongeBob SquarePants. Do the Jones kids know what a sea anemone is?
Ever toyed with the idea of seeking career counseling from a psychic or an astrologer but been put off by the garishly muu-muu'ed, incense-burning, turban-coiffed mystic promising to solve your love woes as you choke on perfumed smoke? Well, if you want career guidance from someone who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk as a professional herself, just call metaphysician Jennifer Bobbitt. She guides CEOs and mailroom clerks to their dream jobs and is more confidential than a headhunter, priest or therapist, while combining the motivational skills of all three. She also teaches astrology classes for beginners -- nights and weekends only, so she can give her all to her day job: accountant.
Stepping into this little orange-and-brown shop in the Rice Village is like stepping back into 1954. Makes sense. That's when G&G moved into its current location. The cozy, jam-packed store has an endearing, musty quality to it. But the selection is second to none. Anything you ever wanted in model trains, boats or cars is here, displayed on shelves or housed behind glass (check out the Johnny Cash railroad car!). There's also a fine collection of magazines and journals for the model enthusiast, not to mention the huge supply of craft supplies: paint, glue, wood, etc. Not into trains or cars? Never fear. You can always purchase the Giant Volcano. The packaging promises you can "build and erupt your own volcano in 20 minutes." Now, who doesn't want to try that?

Call up this jewelry store and ask, "Where are you located?" and don't be surprised if the person on the other end answers, "Houston, just between New Orleans and Austin." Fly High Little Bunny is a goofy place, and not just because of its good-natured staff. There's the bizarre but memorable name, the whimsical ads and the sadistic-looking bunny logo looming tall above Shepherd Drive (are those his teeth sticking out or what?). Weirdness is nice, but it's the terrific collection of mostly silver jewelry that makes this almost five-year-old Montrose store our pick. The wide selection of earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets (many dotted with bits of amber, turquoise and other colorful stones) will please the tastes of Heights hippies and River Oaks matrons alike. Prices range from affordable under-$15 earrings to more jaw-dropping sales tags. But when a jewelry store is this laid-back and lovely, any amount seems worth paying.
Sure, it's the largest retailer of crunchy stuff, but there's more to Whole Foods than bulk granola and Gardenburgers. For example, it's also the best place to snag a live lobster, a tuna steak or wild salmon. The tattooed guys behind the counter are friendly and knowledgeable. They know their orange roughy from their whitefish. Yes, some markets have a bigger selection, but the clincher here is the service. Whole Foods will always steam your lobster or shell and devein your shrimp, no matter how busy they are.
Don't let yourself be overly distracted by the incredibly good selection of produce, vinegars and bulk beans. The real bargains are way in the back, where the growers have the discount stuff fresh off the trucks. Get red peppers for a buck a pound, jalapeos for pennies, and some really tasty tomatoes without that nasty waxy stuff you get in the grocery store. Inside, among myriad other items, you'll find excellent eggs. Any chef will tell you that the henfruit at this market contains less water than what you find at the supermarket. You like eggs Benedict? An egg from the farmers market is a lot easier to poach than a store-bought one. Your scrambled eggs will be runny no more. Hooray! Stop on your way out for a pound of the cheapest and best cashews in the city. The tamales they sell at front stand are delicious, too.
A visit to the Houston Camera Exchange is kind of like those commercials for Circuit City, where the technophile runs through the store in ecstasy. On a recent visit to the place, we intended to duck in quickly and check out the selection of books on black-and-white photography. But plans for a short trip were soon derailed, as we were twice engaged in conversation by elderly gentlemen who preached the joys of developing your own photos and proffered business cards advertising photography lessons. Even if you don't spend 30 minutes chatting with other customers, the store's great selection of new and used equipment will make it difficult to escape quickly.
Sufferers of long-term neck and back pain will try anything to find relief, even if it's just temporary. At Relax The Back, you'll find all the equipment and reference materials you need to provide relief from pain and to help keep you in good shape. The furniture offerings include ergonomic office and leisure chairs, leather shiatsu massage chairs, mattresses and adjustable beds, massage tables and inversion tables. Cushions and pillows come in various shapes, sizes and densities. Support belts (an absolute must to protect the back) can be found in various strengths, and exercise balls in various diameters. Take a look at the heating pads and deep muscle massagers, including the Thumper, which looks like it could do more harm than good. But the most important thing at Relax The Back is not something they sell but something they give away: advice. For someone suffering with neck or back pain, a sympathetic ear can go a long way.

It's hard to figure out why the cars are crawling to a stop and little old ladies are fighting for parking along Dunlavy. With no obvious signs to flag you down, you could drive right by the Guild Shop without even noticing. Variety and good deals are the key to this thrift store's success. Items are marked according to how long they've been on the shelf, so the longer an item is there, the cheaper the price. This keeps the store packed with furniture, clothes, dishes, lamps, glassware, crystal, silver, artwork and a plethora of knickknacks. It's clean and well organized; you may have to scour through 50 crystal bowls to find the one you want, but they're all located in one section. There's no need to do the hard legwork of riding from one store to the next getting tired, dirty and disappointed. All you have to do is fight a few folks for a parking space in the Montrose.

It may be in the heart of River Oaks, but women from all over town know this is the place to buy those Sex in the City, midlife crisis, hot-date-tonight shoes. Divine Donald Pliners, gorgeous Goffredo Fantinis, majestic Mezlans and charming Charles Jordans, all to die for. Towering stilettos and stacked wedgies await. In this tiny shop the shoes never stop, with more and hipper designs every time you stop by. And the best part is there's always a sale in progress. They have clothing, too, but don't let that distract you. We know people who have left with five pairs of shoes. You can get $600 worth of footwear for only $200. And don't forget, fall is coming, even to Houston. Carrie Bradshaw would kill for some of the boots on display.

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