As "written" communication is increasingly measured in tweeted characters instead of blocky paragraphs — or, for real journalism old-timers, column inches — the printed page nevertheless holds out a couple of key advantages over its computer-screen counterpart. First of all, it's a lot less catastrophic to spill food or drink on a piece of paper than on a laptop. If you should find yourself in a hospital or doctor's-office waiting room, meanwhile, WiFi ought to be about the last thing on your mind anyway. This puts the Med Center's Newsbox Etc. in an ideal spot. The selection of newspapers and magazines may not be the city's most in-depth, but it is comparable to any airport or supermarket news rack, with a full complement of other newsstand accoutrements (cigarettes, candy, batteries, etc.) to boot. And if you don't feel like partaking of any of the many nearby eateries, peruse your periodical of choice over a hamburger or hot dog at the old-fashioned lunch counter — which is enough of a rarity itself these days.

Over 50,000 people stream each weekend through the stalls at this 35-acre bazaar that sprawls along a gritty, norteño-blasting stretch of north Houston's Airline Drive. Not only can you get traditional flea market-style items like furniture, art and religious statuary, battered toys and cartridges from long-dead video game platforms, tools and appliances, but you can also buy extremely fresh produce to take home and choose from plenty of cuisines for hot meals on-site. At the food court, you can select American, Chinese or any one of three different regional Mexican cuisines. You can even take out an insurance policy and get your shoes repaired, all while strolling around with a cold Tecate from a beer stall. Speaking of cerveza, there is also a cantina on-site and strolling musicians. The occasional ICE raid is all there is to remind you that you are not, in fact, across the river in old Mexico.

It is not easy to choose a vendor at all the local farmers' markets as the best. There are so many, doing so many cool things right now. But when it comes to longevity and consistency, Animal Farm leads the pack. One talk with Gita Van Woerden will prove to anybody that she knows what she's doing. The organic, sustainable Animal Farm brings Houston chefs and restaurants some of Texas's tastiest baby arugula, juiciest heirloom tomatoes and unbeatable seasonal beans and peppers. Try the baby eggplants, and you'll be sold. Find Animal Farm at several Houston farmers' markets, including Urban Harvest and Highland Village.

If you find navigating a cart through Central Market on a weekend to be too much of an emotional and physical workout, try Belden's in Meyerland. This refreshingly independent store is a treasure trove of surprises: hard-to-find baking supplies, steaks that eclipse anything from Outback, fresh baguettes put out warm each afternoon and a wine selection second only to that of Spec's. (Belden's has the cheapest prices in town for Shiner, too.) Normally, we steer clear of the grocery store's frozen section, but this is where we discovered Mamie's Famous Cheese Wafers, shipped in from Alabama. There's also Peet's Coffee by the bag, and the checkout line offers The Economist, not rags featuring 20 Ways to Lose That Belly Fat.

At Pearle Vision in the Galleria, optometrist Nadia Sledge and opticians Mehri and Bobbie brighten their customers' days, making it easy to do what is usually a chore. This is the place to go for stylish professional glasses that will still get compliments years later. And the level of care provided is exceptional. On a recent visit, when a customer started seeing floaters and flashers in one eye, the optician efficiently and immediately steered her to Houston Eye Associates. Pearle called the patient the next day to make sure everything was all right with the client's vision (it was). Pearle always has your back.

Brookwood is a local, nonprofit mini-chain of garden and retail shops with luscious plants that are in better shape than those at most nurseries. One season, they had a special breed of the bluebonnet, only it was maroon. (Surprise: Texas A&M cooked up that version.) Brookwood's not limited to native Texas plants only: It also offers handcrafted pottery and such made by adults with special needs and upscale garden and home accoutrements — at not so upscale prices. Someday, when we can budget time for a long, leisurely lunch, we hope to visit the store's fabled headquarters, The Brookwood Community in Brookshire.

With the economy's alleged recovery about as stable as Lindsay Lohan's psyche, it's not a shabby idea to seek outside help. No, not from a bank — they're probably why you're hurting in the first place. No, not a priest — ditto. Instead, get a life coach to help you get where you want to go. If you feel you need to recalculate your life — or your career strategy, at the very least — contact Cinda Johnson, a veteran placement counselor who's expanded her practice to teach skills that will help prevent your even needing a headhunter, not to mention unemployment benefits. Johnson counts CEOs, oil execs and other high-flying professionals among her clientele, but you'll never know who specifically, because she keeps her clients — and more important, their issues — mum. Quiet, empathic, sage, upbeat and proactive — Johnson helps her clients go far in life.

Going "green" has come to mean many things to many people, but to the folks at New Living, it is a social, environmental and economic lifestyle. The place itself, located in an old hardware store in Rice Village, specializes in building supplies, such as organic bedding, nontoxic paints and nontoxic children's furniture. Additional "green" services include chemical-free home cleaning, recycling pickup and professional consultations. Before stocking its shelves, New Living requires vendors to fill out a survey with questions about the social and environmental impact of their products, and asks about the companies' labor standards and ethics. New Living then fact-checks the answers and displays the results next to each product, so buyers can better know what they're purchasing. Local venues such as Beaver's Icehouse boast nontoxic paint from New Living, and the Moody Gallery used the store's tiles, made from 100 percent recycled glass, in its new kitchen.

Houston's Medical Center, considered the best hospital system in the world, is expected to be bigger than downtown Dallas in just a few years. Even if that doesn't happen, there's no doubt that all the aspiring doctors in Houston will need some tutors. That's where Varsity Tutors can help. Varsity has a staff of tutors with varied backgrounds, but most come from places like Rice, Harvard and Yale. Some are already practicing at Baylor College of Medicine. Varsity Tutors doesn't just cater to pre-med students — it preps high school kids, too — but it's good to know our future MDs are in good hands.

Everything about Toys to Love is a surprise. It's in the city's Galleria area, surrounded by towering new condos and upscale shops like RDG + Bar Annie and Pinto Ranch Western Wear, so you might expect to find an expensive, pretentious toy store. But you won't. Toys to Love actually seems more like a dollar store on first glance. Regardless, it's full of wonderful stuff. There's a great selection of educational toys, like "Mind Blowing Science" and "My First Weather Kit," and even the standard stock — remote-controlled cars, dolls and costumes — is different from what you'll find anywhere else. The Puparazzi pet toys also seem to be a hit. And Toys to Love is locally owned, which is always a big plus.

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