Urban Tails Pet Resort
It doesn't matter if your dog is a mutt or a pedigreed champion, Urban Tails Pet Resort is the perfect place for your canine friend. Your pooch will have a choice of luxury loft lodging (with lots of perks) or cage-free sleepovers, so Fido can snuggle up with his friends on a large bed. There's also day care, a low-chlorine indoor swimming pool, gentle, low-stress bathing, grooming, nail clipping and dental hygiene services, all with your dog's complete comfort in mind.
One thing that sets Family Thrift's 12 area locations apart from the competition are the hours. Unlike so many local thrift stores, they are open late — until nine p.m. on weeknights. That gives the working stiffs who need the cheap clothes a chance to get there. We also love their rewards program, whereby every dollar you spend is a point toward a discount if you come back in on the Sunday of the same week. (In other words, if you spend 50 bucks on Wednesday, Sunday's purchase will be half-price.) And we also love their outlet stores — one on Little York and the other on Red Bluff in Pasadena — where unwanted clothing from the other locations winds up eventually. Those stores get new merchandise every Thursday; every item is on sale for $1.75 for the rest of the day, and it gets cheaper each day until it reaches a quarter on the following Wednesday. That's right — a quarter. Cheap at twice the price, even if it is ugly as sin.
If it can be transmitted during sex, Nike Lukan is on it to end it. As the Director of Prevention Services at AIDS Foundation Houston, she raises awareness about the problem of HIV and AIDS in Houston. Lukan helps organize Hip Hop for HIV, a project that provides a free hip-hop concert with just one catch: You have to get tested for and educated about HIV and STIs. This year, Lukan was instrumental in bringing the female condom — the only female-initiated way to prevent HIV and other STIs, as well as pregnancy — to Houston. Lukan's sexpertise helps Houston youth live longer, smarter and healthier.
Wondering why your dog is incessantly barking when you're away from home? Curious to know what your departed cat is up to in the afterlife? Sonya Fitzpatrick, the world-famous pet psychic, can tell you. For $300 for a half-hour phone session, the English-born animal communicator will tune in to the magnetic fields in which nonhumans project their thoughts and feelings and telepathically uncover why your pet may be peeing on the bed or scratching the furniture. While there are other self-taught pet psychics in the Houston area, including Myra Logan and Griffin Kanter, none can boast Fitzpatrick's star-studded clientele that includes Rosie O'Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres.
Squint your eyes at Enchanted Forest's lush landscape and pretend it's the backyard of your dreams as you put your feet up and lounge on the patio furniture with the resident animals. Newbie or seasoned gardener, you're in excellent hands here, whether you're seeking out a desert willow tree, drift roses or mallow hibiscus with bright, sturdy blossoms as big as dinner plates. Want to go organic? Enchanted Forests's veggie and herb specialist will mentor you through the process. Want a custom greenery design, with not only unique foliage but also a funky container? They'll whip one up for you, or you can design and plant one yourself in their potting shed. Got a yen for classes on fairy gardens, landscape design, planting to attract hummingbirds and/or the care and feeding of bulbs? Check out their Saturday-morning offerings, year-round. They offer irrigation systems, too.
Kitchen Incubator
You might make the world's best apple marshmallow salad, but if you sell it out of your kitchen, you'll be shut down before you can even start up your start-up. Luckily for you, there's Kitchen Incubator. It's the first licensed commercial kitchen for rent in Houston, meaning you can reserve a kitchen, cook up a storm and (legally) sell your food. Kitchen Inc. is the perfect place to launch a local business; clients include chefs of small companies that specialize in everything from fudge to kombucha. The folks at Kitchen Inc. will even help you get certified. With three kitchens and every kind of oven imaginable, they'll rent you a space for as little as $10 an hour. To reward yourself after a long day (or hour) cooking, check out the cafe, where soon you'll be able to sell your own delicious wares.
We discovered Java Pura Coffee Roasters at a tasting at Central Market and now go out of our way to get to their offices in the industrial district in Bellaire just to stock the office. (Though not really geared for walk-in traffic, the offices are quite nice, and they sponsor tastings.) Java Pura's master roaster, from Portland, Oregon (where else?), is training others in his skills, which include knowing just when enough flavor has been released. (Hint: Listen for the cracking sound.)
The Pooch Pad
Fido may be a big boy who gets along better with small dogs, and Muffy might prefer to be in the yard all afternoon instead of in her crate. No matter how special your pet's needs are, The Pooch Pad will try to meet them. Located in an old house in Midtown, just minutes from downtown, the place feels more like a friend's home than a kennel. The house's large front yard is divided into two runs — one for big dogs and one for small dogs — and each room inside is dedicated to a different group of canines. It's not unusual to see puppies there who are too young to be left home alone. The Pooch Pad takes overnight stays and offers grooming, making it the perfect place for a daytime visit while the humans are at work.
We like a cigar store that's downtown. We like a cigar store that's family-owned. And we like a cigar store that carries more than 100 premium brands at decent prices. We don't like snooty and snobby, and we're not huge fans of any cigar shop that attracts overgrown frat boys who want to be seen smoking the most expensive stogie while talking about their portfolios, or whatever it is such wankers talk about. We like a place with a neighborhood vibe, a friendly, quality establishment that's going to welcome both greenhorns and veteran cigar aficionados. What we're trying to say is that we like McCoy's. And we're pretty sure you're going to as well.
Penzey's Spices
Although you can certainly find any spice your heart desires here, it's the spice blends (the Pasta Sprinkle is simply indispensable) and smartly boxed spice sets (the assortment of baking spices makes a great gift) that are the main draw here at Penzeys. Well, that and the ability to open and smell any spice jar until you find exactly the right one you need.

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