Tag Archives: gifts

From fashion to film, gift-worthy coffee table books abound

Come holiday time, there’s never a shortage of splashy coffee table books to please just about any aficionado.

Some suggestions:

FASHION & STYLE

“Fashion Made Fair,” by Magdalena Schaffrin and Ellen Kohrer, Prestel, $49.95. Know someone deeply committed to sustainability in fashion? Taking a truly world view, this book dives deeply into companies that do it well. In Zurich, for instance, look to the brothers Freitag, Daniel and Markus. They’re bag makers who launched F-abric, a line of compostable workwear.

“Reigning Men, Fashion in Menswear, 1715-2015,” by Sharon Sadako Takeda, Kaye Durland Spilker and Clarissa M. Esguerra, DelMonico Books, $55. Going back to the 18th century, this tome celebrates all aspects of men’s dressing, from the French court to Speedo. Among contemporary high points: An intricately bleached denim suit by Vivienne Westwood and a futuristic ruffle suit by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons.

“Francois Nars,” by Francois Nars, Rizzoli International, $85. With some of the most famous faces in fashion represented, the visionary behind NARS Cosmetics tells his story in beautiful close-up color, with snippets of remembrances and inspirations. He includes the communion looks of both his parents and makes it clear beauty begins with beautiful skin.

 

THE MUSIC LIFE

“The Lyrics: 1961-2012,” by Bob Dylan, Simon & Schuster, $60. The Nobel Prize-winning man of the hour, and of oh-so-many hours, has released 36 studio albums that have sold more than 120 million copies. This book includes lyrics from his first album to “Tempest,” released in 2012. Dylan has edited dozens of songs for the book, to reflect the words he uses as he performs them now.

“The Rolling Stones: All the Songs, the Story Behind Every Track,” by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon, Black Dog & Leventhal, $50. The book covers 50 years and 340 songs, beginning with the band’s 1963 debut album. More than 500 photos are included, along with details like what instruments were used in the studio.

“David Bowie Play Book,” by Matteo Guarnaccia and Giulia Pivetta, ACC Art Books, $29.95. What better way to honor the icon who died in January than with a color, cut and play set. Includes paper dolls and his favorite footwear spanning his ever-changing look and a coloring page of the people who inspired him, from Dylan to Marlene Dietrich.

 

THE BIG SCREEN

“Hollywood Icons,” by Robert Dance, ACC Editions, $65. Stunning studio portraits of film icons from the 1930s through the ‘60s from the collection of the John Kobal Foundation. Kobal was a film journalist and historian who amassed a huge collection of Hollywood portraits and set images. Look for Bette Davis, shot by George Hurrell for Warner Bros. in 1939.

“My Elizabeth,” by Firooz Zahedi, Glitterati, $75. Friend and acclaimed photographer Zahedi offers a private peek into Taylor’s life from 44 into her 70s. Includes the Washington, D.C., years, jaunts in Montauk, New York with Halston and Andy Warhol and intimate photos of her children and stepchildren. There’s Taylor making fried chicken, on a boat in Venice, on a trip to Iran.

“The Malkovich Sessions,” by Sandro Miller, Glitterati, $95. “Being John Malkovich” is so 1999. In this book, rather than on film, John Malkovich gets to be himself, in all his goofy, creepy glory. And he gets to recreate some of the world’s most iconic portraits, with the help of photographer Miller, in a book that offers both pathos and whimsy.

 

WILDLY MISCELLANEOUS

“Young Frankenstein, The Story of the Making of the Film,” by Mel Brooks, Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99. Whether you’re a first-generation “Young Frankenstein” fan or trying to nudge along the next, nobody does this 1974 classic better than Brooks himself. With a foreword by Judd Apatow (“Even Gene Hackman is funny in it”) and behind-the-scenes photos, a great to hear the now 90-year-old Brooks in his own voice.

“Shop Cats of New York,” by Tamar Arslanian, photos by Andrew Marttila, Harper Design, $21.99. To heck with that Yelp reviewer who dissed the bodega cat. This book shows that shop life can work for felines, with a warning that not all may be treated like kings and queens. Dwelling in wine shops, bookstores, dry cleaners and yes, The Algonquin Hotel, think “Humans of New York,” only cats.

“Dream a World Anew: The African American Experience and the Shaping of America,” by National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Books, $40. As much a primer on the slave trade and racial discrimination as a celebration of early black entrepreneurs, musicians, writers, activists and athletes in a nuanced, global context. Marks the opening of the new museum in Washington, D.C., great for tweens and teens.

 

Kelly: Trump coverage was like ‘television crack cocaine’

Megyn Kelly says Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to give her gifts, including a free stay at one of his hotels, as part of what she called his pattern of trying to influence news coverage of his presidential campaign.

In her memoir Settle for More, to be released today, Kelly says Trump may have gotten a pre-debate tip about her first question, in which she confronted him with his critical comments about women.

Her book also details the insults and threats she received after Trump’s tirades objecting to her reporting.

The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the book over the weekend.

Kelly, host of Fox News Channel’s The Kelly Report, said Trump routinely attempted to gain favorable treatment from other journalists and commentators.

“This is actually one of the untold stories of the 2016 campaign: I was not the only journalist to whom Trump offered gifts clearly meant to shape coverage,” Kelly said. He also attempted to woo them with praise, she said, adding, “This is smart, because the media is full of people whose egos need stroking.”

“Trump tried to work the refs, and some of the refs responded,” she said.

When it became obvious that some reporters were “in the tank” for Trump, she alleges in one chapter, “certain TV hosts” would work with the candidate in advance on occasional Trump criticism so they would appear unbiased. She didn’t identify them by name or media outlet.

Resisting Trump’s attempts to buy her goodwill with an offer to comp her “girls’ weekend” stay at his downtown New York City hotel or fly her and her husband to visit his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was an easy ethical decision, Kelly wrote.

More difficult was rejecting the ratings bonanza the colorful GOP contender could deliver with his “unscripted, unguarded” approach that made for great TV but was the equivalent of “television crack cocaine,” Kelly wrote.

She and her producer agreed they had to provide balance and be judicious in their coverage, asserting this was not a “directive to cover Trump negatively or to ignore him.”

It was at the first GOP primary debate last August that Kelly questioned Trump about derogatory comments he’d made about women. The day before, Trump had called Fox News executive Bill Sammon to say he had heard that Kelly’s first question would be a pointed one aimed at him, she wrote.

““How could he know that?’ I wondered,” Kelly said, not answering the question but clearing her Fox colleagues on the debate team of any suspicion of leaking it to him. Trump was agitated out of proportion in the phone call, she wrote, calling it “bizarre behavior, especially for a man who wanted the nuclear codes.”

Kelly was cast by Trump as his nemesis after the first GOP debate in which she asked him about labeling women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, Trump called her questions ridiculous, adding, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”

Before another Fox debate, Kelly recalled being backstage with her family and getting an unsettling insight on how her children were being affected by the harsh rhetoric.

“I’m afraid of Donald Trump. He wants to hurt me,” she quoted her 5-year-old daughter, Yardley, as saying. When Kelly told her that wasn’t so, the child replied, “Well, he wants to hurt you, so he wants to hurt me too.”

Need a stocking stuffer? Try a bottle of wine

Few gifts are more perfectly crafted to be holiday stocking-stuffers than bottles of wine. Whether red or white, a good wine that’s a well-considered match for its recipient makes the perfect gift. Here are few wines that will bring a smile to the face of your favorite oenophile.

Riesling fans will take a shine to Biohof Pratsch 2014 Grüner Veltlinger ($13), made from what may be considered the famous German wine grape’s Austrian equivalent. The wine pours light yellow with greenish hues, delivering a blend of tangy fruits and refined spices for refreshed, satisfied palate.

Two wines from Oregon’s King Estates “Backbone” series are worthy of note. The 2014 Backbone Pinot Gris ($26) arrives with a bright melon-citrus nose followed by flavors of lime, pineapple and honey with just a touch of minerality for character.

The Backbone Pinot Noir ($53) offers even more to like. The nose of black cherries, currants, mushroom and even cigar box give way to rich flavors of plum, dark chocolate, strawberries and the ubiquitous “forest floor” about which some wines like to brag. This is a fine example of all of the above.

November is Beaujolais season, and the 2012 Stephane Aviron Morgon Cote du Py ($23) lifts the French region’s wines well above the “nouveau” stage. The 100 percent Gamay wine is vibrant and ripe, with fine depth and an approachable flavor of fruit and terroir that helps it stand beside any other Burgundy.

Similar in approach, but significantly more accomplished, is the 2011 Hecht & Bannier Bandol ($40). The primarily mouvèdre (80 percent) blend offers flavors of ripe black fruits, black pepper and leather and earth nuances that ride on a medium-weight palate to a savory finish.

Follow the “earthy” character of wine further down the trail with the 2011 Castelo Monaci Artas Primitivo Salento IGT ($42). Produced from 100 percent primitivo grapes — a forerunner and cousin to zinfandel — the ruby red wine arrives with a blend of wild berries, herbs, walnuts and hint of toasted coffee beans for a rich, complex finish.

The ‘art’ of shopping creatively for the holidays

The holiday season arrives with a multitude of traditions, memories and decisions concerned with the search for perfect, festive gifts. If you are interested in finding things a little out of the ordinary and made with artistic flair, there are a few exhibitions that have made this year’s recommended list. 

A perennial favorite is Art Bar’s Mini exhibition, which features the tag line “tiny art at tiny prices.” Both of these descriptors hold true as the dozens of works on view are less than 4-inches square and cost less than $100, with many options only a fraction of that. 

Acrylic, oil and other varieties of paintings are always plentiful in this exhibition, with everything from abstract works to figurative pieces, landscapes and still lifes available. Some of the boldest works are prints by Daniel Stauff, with figures in black on red backgrounds that take on the character of James Bond movie posters in miniature. Also hunt for Stauff’s oil paintings, where his talents as a portraitist come through in the vibrant light and color he captures in the faces of people on the street or musical icons. 

The Mini installation is changed up a bit this year as more three-dimensional pieces are included, such as pottery mugs by Andrew Linderman and vases by Ken Willert. Laura Rehorst shows jewelry with pendants that are actually tiny drawings. Sculptural earrings are creatively made by Charles Stevens, with elongated pieces that work as wall decorations or embellishments for the ears. Less utilitarian are Leann Wooten’s delightful assemblages, which come together like diminutive dioramas. 

If you find that three-dimensional art is what you seek, the new exhibition I made this for you: Small Gestures in Clay at Portrait Society Gallery should be high on your list of venues to visit. This is the first exhibition of its kind done by the gallery, and as director Debra Brehmer notes, many of the artists involved took this as an opportunity to work in ceramics, although that may not be the medium they are most known for. A sense of inventiveness and the singular beauty of imperfection is what is most sought to bring out a distinctly individual sense of character in each piece.

About a dozen artists are included, including Rory Burke, Adolph Rosenblatt, Colin Matthes and Harvey Opgenorth. The pieces shown span a wide range of styles, from Burke’s mysterious busts and skulls that are caught between beauty and decay, to Opgenorth’s finely tuned, smooth black vessels. Matthes’ work combines his illustrations in richly textured mugs and dishes, while Rosenblatt’s sculpture is definitively figurative, reflecting his work, which is done on-site in front of the people in his art. His figures lounge on beach chairs, recline while reading a book, or are somewhat harried at their desk, as seen in his representation of the former art dealer Michael Lord. 

Darlene Wesenberg, Debbie Kupinsky, Craig Clifford, Gerit Grimm, and Meghan Sullivan are other artists showing original work as well. Gary John Gresl takes a curatorial approach to his installation, which reflects one hundred years of home ceramics, from late nineteenth-century knickknacks to smooth Atomic Age dishware. Noted Wisconsin artist Rudy Rotter is also featured with an installation that introduces his ceramic pieces, a medium that expands on his wooden sculptures of entwined figures. He envisioned them in clay, with smooth, sparkling glazes that retain a sense of optimism and humanity in their naked forms. 

Additionally, Portrait Society is showing Wisconsin Supper Club, a series of works by 20 artists who painted handmade plates thrown by Scott Dercks. Their decorations honor various Wisconsin artists, contemporary and past, and is a compendium of artistic accomplishments. 

Also of interest as a gallery and a commercial space is the Pfister Holiday Marketplace, which is set up in the former Roger Stevens menswear boutique. More than 80 local artists have their work on display, which ranges from handmade cards and prints, to jewelry, scarves and other decorative items. 

Nina Bednarski presents enamel paintings on glass from her Bird Hero series, with various avian species depicted by brilliant colors and noble gazes. The proceeds from her work go in part to nonprofit organizations devoted to wild bird protection and preservation. Dan Kirchen operates on a similar theme with charming birdhouses made in the form of Airstream trailers, a perfect seasonal home. 

In addition to the art objects, a selection of Milwaukee music is available for sale, including CDs by bands such as the Fatty Acids, Nineteen Thirteen, Painted Caves, and De La Buena. As a bonus, selected releases are available on vinyl and cassette. 

The holiday season is one in which goodwill and generosity should flow bountifully. In the spirit of gift-giving, these exhibitions and events are a way of sharing the abundant creative talent in the Milwaukee art community. 

MORE VENUES AND EVENTS 

Pfister Holiday Marketplace

424 E. Wisconsin Ave.

Dec. 3: The always entertaining and engaging writer Ànjà Notànjà will offer advice on holiday letter writing. 

Dec. 6 and 20: Paper snowflake cutting will be the activity of the day. Visitors can create their own to hang in the shop or take home. 

Dec. 11: Artist and event curator Renée Bebeau will demonstrate techniques for creating original etchings on mirrored coasters. 

Student/Alumni Art & Design Sale

273 E. Erie St. 

Dec. 3–5: Current and former students of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design offer an array of unique holiday and art items for collectors and gift givers. Entry on Dec. 3, 6-9 p.m., is $20, admission Dec. 4 (5-9 p.m.) and Dec. 5 (12-5 p.m.) is free.

Cream City Creatives Craft Fair 

1038 N. Fourth St.

Dec. 13: More than 40 artists will display their work at Turner Hall Ballroom, including art pieces and various wares such as jewelry, body products, crafts and more. Admission is $3, free for kids 12 and under.

ON DISPLAY

Mini: Tiny Art at Tiny Prices continues through December at Art Bar (722 E. Burleigh St., Milwaukee). Visit Art Bar’s Facebook page for more details.

I made this for you: Small Gestures in Clay continues through Jan. 8 at Portrait Society Gallery (207 E. Buffalo St., fifth floor, Milwaukee). Visit
portraitsocietygallery.com for more information.

The Pfister Holiday Marketplace continues through Dec. 24 off the lobby of the Pfister Hotel (424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee). Visit thepfisterhotel.com for details.

LGBT buying for ‘equality’ index delivered for Black Friday

Just in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, the Human Rights Campaign released its consumer guide to hundreds of American companies rated on their LGBT-inclusive policies and practices.

The Buying for Workplace Equality guide, first issued more than a decade ago, provides consumer information based on company scores reported in HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index, as well as HRC-researched data on additional well-known companies and their brands.

Through the CEI, the HRC Foundation proactively rates Fortune 500 companies and top law firms on LGBT-inclusive workplace policies and practices, and urges smaller companies to also participate. This year, new CEI criteria required that all participating  companies extend explicit LGBT non-discrimination protections to their employees worldwide.  

“Our annual Buying for Workplace Equality guide provides quick, user-friendly help in selecting everything from groceries to cars with LGBT equality in mind,” said Deena Fidas, director of HRC Foundation’s workplace equality program. “With the LGBT community’s buying power in the U.S. edging close to $900 billion, it just makes good business sense to embrace LGBT workplace inclusion.  Every year we hear from members of  the LGBT community and many other fair-minded consumers who want to choose brands that align with their priorities of workplace fairness. They check the buyer’s guide to ensure that their dollars go to businesses that support equality.”

The guide sorts businesses by sectors, assigning them a score ranging from zero to 100 based on LGBT workplace equality, as measured by the CEI and HRC-researched data.

The categories include:

  • Apparel & Accessories
  • Banking & Finance
  • Food & Beverage
  • Home & Garden
  • Restaurants
  • Technology

Businesses and their products are divided based on their rating into red, yellow and green categories so that consumers can easily determine which brands support LGBT workplace equality:

  • Green (80-100): Businesses/brands with the highest workplace equality scores.
  • Yellow (46-79): Businesses/brands that have taken steps toward a fair-minded workplace and receive a moderate workplace equality score.
  • Red (0-45): Businesses/brands that receive our lowest workplace equality scores

The new guide includes more than 570 companies — 449 of those are rated in the CEI and an additional 121 have been independently researched by the HRC Foundation. A total of 5,496 affiliated businesses and brands are featured in this year’s report. Companies independently researched have declined invitations to actively participate in the CEI; their scores are based on publicly-verifiable information.

WiGWAG gets ready for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday

Instant undies

OffTheWagonShop.com specializes in the unique and, well, the unwanted gift — like the gift exchange goodie for the office guy who still gets a kick out of tricking people into saying “underwear.” OffTheWagon’s “funny underwear gifts” selection includes Instant Underpants, which retails for $3.99. Compressed into a compact pellet, the underpants expand in water. Uh, oh. Emergency Underpants are packed in a little tin that fits easily in a front pocket. Allegedly great for on-the-go emergencies — or overnighters.

Stocking stuffer?

This time of year, WiG gets inundated with pitches from PR reps promoting potential gifts. This is one of the more unique appeals, made on behalf of the Fun Factory, an “innovator” in the adult toy industry: An adult toy is “the ideal self-pleasure gift that releases feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins — you know, the clear-mood, confidence-building and stress-busting feeling you get after a great workout.” Plus, it’s a tool to boost brain productivity and help with weight loss. So, a little something for those making new year’s resolutions?

Red cup collection

For that cousin or brother-in-law who religiously reads the newsletter from the anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition or the magazine from ultra-right Focus on the Family, WiGWag suggests a complete collection of Starbucks’ red “holiday” cups — preferably used. And, while you’re enjoying your pumpkin spice lattes, we suggest tweeting a selfie and “Feliz Navidad” to Donald Trump. The GOP presidential candidate with the ugly hair and uglier platform has suggested a boycott of Starbucks over the minimalist cup design and vowed, “If I become president, we’re all going to be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again. That I can tell you.” Let’s tell him.

Don’t wear and drink

What On Earth offers dozens of T-shirt designs for the “me, me, me” character on your holiday gift list. The catalog specializes in “Your Name” gear. This year, with the craft brew revolution bubbling, the company expects to print a lot of T-shirts with customized personal beer labels and logos. Just be a pal and make sure that your beer-loving bud’s acting responsibly when advertising his or her brew.

For the 1 percent that has almost everything

The 2015 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book is out and the 89th edition does not disappoint. You probably can’t afford any of the featured oddities, but it’s worth a look just to see what the handful of people who’ve made billions off your labor and tax dollars are buying this year. For instance, there’s a journey for him and seven of his closest friends aboard a luxurious capsule attached to a balloon that rises more than 100,000 feet above Earth for 360-degree views ($90,000 per person). And the KRGT-1, the first bike produced by Arch Motorcycle Company, owned by Keanu Reeves and Gard Hollinger. Framed of steel and aircraft-grade billet aluminum with carbon fiber fenders and front cowling, the KRGT-1 has a 124-cubic-inch v-twin engine that produces 121 horsepower and matching 120 pound-feet of torque. The limited edition vehicle comes with a two-day ride experience for two along the California coast with Reeves and Hollinger. Hotel and airfare to California are included, along with a donation of $5,000 to The Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation. The Arch Motorcycle and Ride Experience can be gifted for $150,000.

REI’s Reddit adventure

Jerry Stritzke, CEO of the outdoor gear company REI, tried to capitalize on the Internet buzz about his decision to close all stores on Black Friday by appearing on reddit to participate in an “Ask Me Anything” thread. The session might have been intended to generate positive comments but it backfired when former and current employees hijacked the forum to complain about the company’s allegedly toxic employment practices — particularly the emphasis on selling REI co-op memberships above all other performance metrics, including customer service and product knowledge. After reading over the lively — and long — thread, we’re guessing Stritzke lost more customers than he gained.

ILLICIT FOAM

Smugglers hoping to give the gift of illicit Heinkens were foiled in Saudi Arabia, when customs officials intercepted 48,000 cans of beer with a wrapping that disguised them as cans of Pepsi. Drinking or possessing alcohol is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia, ruled by an ultra-conservative Sunni government.

If you ask us, the smugglers should have stuck with Diet Pepsi wrappers — any confusion over the taste could just be chalked up to the lack of aspartame in the company’s new formula.

ASK THE EXPERTS: The best gifts this holiday season

“Unwrap” gift recommendations from local experts.

WiG contacted seven local businesses and organizations, each of which offered their insight into what you should look for this holiday season.

> MUSIC

Where: The Exclusive Company, locations in West Bend, Oshkosh, Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Greenfield and Janesville

In-house expert: Milwaukee store manager Brian Kirk

Best new LP: Adele’s 25 is the record to buy this season and available at the Exclusive Company starting on Nov. 20. $22 in vinyl.

Best classic rock LP: The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, whose Andy Warhol-designed cover has become as classic as the album. A real collector’s item. $25 in vinyl.

Classic jazz: John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, which will jazz up any holiday party. $15–25 in vinyl.

Best local CD: Milwaukee band Testa Rosa’s new CD, Testa Rosa III, showcasing Betty Blexud-Strigens’ striking voice. $11.

> WINE

Where: Thief Wines

In-house expert: Owner Phil Bilodeau 

Best Chardonnay: Desparada 2013. From Edna Valley, California, this chardonnay is well balanced with lots of creamy butteriness and a nice acidity. $35.

Best Pinot Noir: Failla 2013. This classic pinot from the Sonoma Coast offers savory earthy notes and cherry/strawberry fruits. A nice wine to accompany dinner. $48.

Best Champagne: Michel Rocourt Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru. A grower Champagne (meaning they grow all their own grapes), this 100 percent chardonnay Champagne is a great value. $43.

Splurge wine: Pahlmeyer Jayson 2013. This red blend from Napa Valley is lush, hedonistic, full-bodied and offers a smooth finish. $54.

> ARTSY GIFTS

Where: Milwaukee Art Museum Store, 700 N. Art Museum Drive. 

In-house expert: Donele Pettit-Mieding, marketing and web store manager

Outstanding ornament: “Snowy Afternoon,” hand-painted by local artist Christiane Grauert, celebrates the winter season in Milwaukee at twilight and features the museum’s newly renovated lakefront galleries. Meet the artist and have her personalize your ornament on Dec. 3 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $24.

Best house guest gift: A set of Walking Milwaukee Cards, 10 mapped, self-guided walking tours of downtown Milwaukee that highlight the city’s iconic architecture. $20.

Clever colleague gift: The “Orbanizer,” a handcrafted wire ball, holds pens, utensils, craft tools and even flowers. $28.

Haute hostess gift: Midwest artist Laurie Freivogel’s handmade glass collection — silk screened images of vintage cameras on fused glass — celebrates the museum’s new exhibition, Larry Sultan: Here and Home, which runs through Jan. 24. Coasters, cheeseboards and trays run $18–$120. 

> PERFORMING ARTS

In-house expert: Dave Fantle, chief marketing officer for United Performing Arts Fund.

Best way to give back: Talk about the gift that keeps on giving — make a tax-deductible donation of $100 or more to UPAF and get a smart card offering two-for-one value on performances for each of UPAF’s 15 member groups, as well as discounts at local restaurants. $100.

Best holiday ballet: Milwaukee Ballet’s holiday chestnut, The Nutcracker, is truly a group effort, with featured performances from the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, 150 students from the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, and of course, the Milwaukee Ballet company. Through Dec. 27 at the Uihlein Hall Marcus Center. $25–$105.

Best holiday play: This season, Milwaukee Repertory Theater celebrates 40 years of staging Charles Dickens’ beloved classic, A Christmas Carol, on Dec. 24. Wisconsin actor Jonathan Smoots will return for his second year as Scrooge, along with a cast of Carol-ers old and new. Tickets are $35–$85.

Best after-the-holidays show to look forward to: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra celebrates the work of multi-Tony Award-winning composer Jerry Herman, with a one-night-only performance featuring songs from Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles, among others. Jan. 13 at the Marcus Center. $20-$110.

> SPA TREATMENTS

Where: WELL Salon + Spa, Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house expert: Lisa Brandt, esthetician at Well Salon + Spa at the Pfister Hotel.

Best pampering package: The Pure Decadence package, featuring a hydrotherapy bath, an aroma glow body scrub and an hour-long massage or a facial, is the perfect way to eliminate holiday stress. $190.

Best pre-party prep: Airbrush makeup and a set of must-have party lashes create a flawless look for your party pics and selfies. Makeup, $85; lashes, $20.

Best me-too package: Give to you, your partner and your relationship with the You Plus Me package, which includes a luxurious couple’s massage and a couple’s hydrotherapy bath. $295.

Best treatment on the run: The Express Yourself package, featuring a 30-minute massage, an express facial and an express mani-pedi, is a welcome gift for the busy people in your life. $210.

> BOOKS

Where: Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house Experts: Book buyers Jason Kennedy and Anne Mechler-Hickson.

Best coffee table book of 2015: Milwaukee, City of Neighborhoods by local historian John Gurda and published by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. looks at 37 Milwaukee neighborhoods, from past to present. $45.

Best children’s book: With its gorgeous illustrations of homes of every kind — from an artist’s home to a bee’s home, a shoe home to a tree home, Home, by Car
son Ellis, offers insight into the meaning of “home sweet home.” $17.

Best cookbook: The Food Lab: Better Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, teaches how to make the perfect pan-fried steak, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, moist turkey and much more by using science as a guide. $50.

Best new series for teens: Set in a high-fantasy world similar to ancient Rome, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, the first in a series, tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom. $20.

> TOYS

Where: Little Monsters, 2445 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house expert: Owner Andie Zacher.

Best craft toys: Make-your-own snow globe/totebag/friendship bracelets/tiaras/swords and superhero masks are just the thing to conquer holiday break boredom. $21–$42.

Best musical toys: Encourage a love of music with a simple harmonica, an old-fashioned accordion or a microphone that comes with its own stand — not to mention background rhythms. $10–$55.

Best old school toys: All the stuff you grew up with is back, from the Simon game to Ross Across, plus record players, telephones, View-Masters, clocks from the ’60s and ’70s and all the old Fisher Price stuff. Let’s hope the kids get a chance to play too. $22–$40.

Best stocking stuffers: Sometimes the best gifts come in small sizes. Stuff their stockings with miniature toys, games, pretend play objects and a range of holiday candies. $5 and up.

Madison’s malls offer quirks and character

A community’s shopping destinations reveal a lot about a community’s character. Madison, the state’s second-largest city and the home to Wisconsin’s largest university, boasts stores that pack a lot of variety into a little bit of real estate.

Consider State Street, the mile-long pedestrian mall that connects the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to the Capitol. The many shops along State Street reflect the quirkiness of the city’s academic, political and hipster influences.

Monroe Street runs southwest from Camp Randall Stadium, threading several older west side neighborhoods. The stores and galleries offer more upscale fare, but all are colored with Madison character.

In Madison, even the shopping malls, often the bane of urban existence, put a unique spin or two on the retail experience. Several warrant a visit as you complete your holiday gift list this season.

Hilldale Shopping Center, 426 N. Midvale Blvd., on the city’s near west side, may be one of Madison’s most emblematic malls — thanks to the nature of its tenants and the history of its founding and development.

Originally part of the Hillfarms neighborhood development that enabled Madison to continue its 1960s-era westward expansion, Hilldale sits on land that was once part of the UW School of Agriculture. A 1961 legal tussle between shopping center developers and the UW Board of Regents reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices declined to hear the case. An agreement was reached and the shopping center finally opened on Oct. 25, 1962.

Fast forward 50-plus years to a new and vastly improved Hilldale, characterized by a bright new “street scene” shopping and dining experience to complement an adjoining enclosed mall. 

The space features cleverly designed parking structures and a row of private residence townhouses facing Midvale Boulevard, creating traffic and density issues significant enough to concern the mall’s residential neighbors.

Macy’s anchors Hilldale, occupying space formerly filled by Marshall Field’s and, originally, Gimbels. The upscale department store and its vast array of goods set the tone for the rest of the shopping community.

Sundance Cinemas 608, another anchor tenant that opened in 2007, was the first theater in Robert Redford’s Sundance Group to open in the United States. The six-screen cinema, named for the Madison area code, shows independent, foreign and first-run films with the feature of being able to reserve specific seats.

The smaller stores make Hilldale even more attractive.

Shopping for someone with a sweet tooth? Gigi’s Cupcakes offers creative and delicious baked goods. Specials through Nov. 29 include Apple Pie and Mama’s Butterscotch Bacon cupcakes.

Just down the “street,” DB Infusion Chocolates offers artisanal truffles. Our favorites include the Pomegranate-Malbec, made with pomegranate molasses, Malbec wine and rich dark chocolate. We also like Caribbean Fire, a mashup of Ecuadoran chocolate laced with chipotle peppers, nutmeg, allspice and jerk seasoning.

Upscale clothing is one of Hilldale’s hallmarks and there are few better places for men’s and women’s shoes and accessories than Cornblooms. Locally owned since the 1970s, the store offers one-stop shopping for footwear, handbags, jewelry, wallets, belts and novelty socks. Look for top brands, including Birkenstock, Frye, Dansko, Pikolinos, V Italia and Kanna.

Hilldale also is home to one of only two Anthropologie stores in Wisconsin. The company sells upscale clothing, shoes and home goods — and is a good place to start whether you’re looking for something boho-chic or suiting up for the next wedding.

If you really want to ramp things up, kate spade new york offers ultra chic clothing, shoes, handbags, housewares and gifts. One of only two kate spades in the state, the store’s motto is — “Buy what you love and you’ll never go wrong.” 

The shopping center features Madewell for great jeans — and everything that goes with them — and L’Occitane en Provence for skin and body care products.

On the far west side, commercial areas of Madison and Middleton blend seamlessly, offering a wealth of shopping options. High-end retail outlets tend to cluster at Greenway Station, an open-concept shopping mall at 1650 Deming Way in Middleton, where clothing, accessories and dining options dominate. But the shopping center is not without its economical stores, too.

Chico’s is a perennial favorite among women who want to look their best. The boutique’s artisan jackets and wrinkle-free Travellers collection have built a following.

A wide array of women’s clothing and accessories also can be found at J. Jill, Maurice’s and Soft Surroundings.

Nearby, Pendleton features enduring American style in its classic wool clothing and blankets. Featuring men’s and women’s fashions, the store offers goods woven in American mills for higher quality and that “made in America” cachet.

Athletes can get their game on at several Greenway stores. Total Hockey offers everything for the hockey and lacrosse players and fans in your life, including skate-sharpening and lacrosse stick-stringing services. 

Triathletes, runners and walkers will feel at home at Endurance House, which provides casual and serious athletes with shoes, gear and even a personalized movement profile that helps staff address a customer’s capabilities and needs.

Hunters and fly fishers can gear up at Orvis, home to the Distinctive Country Lifestyle line. Shoppers can find unique clothing and home furnishings while shopping for products for their dogs or even taking fly-fishing lessons.

Greenway Stations also offers Christopher & Banks and Marshalls for lower cost alternatives to chic designer togs and you can outfit your feet at DSW (aka Designer Shoe Warehouse) with the latest in discount fashion footwear.

Once you tire of shopping, you can top at Claddagh Irish Pub, Cold Stone Creamery or any other of Greenway Station’s many restaurants for a pick-me-up and chances to review your purchases.

Remember, if you buy what you love — even if it’s a pint of Guinness stout or two scoops of your favorite frozen confection mixed before your eyes on a frozen granite slab — you’ll never go wrong.

Give the gift that lasts forever: A great experience

Buying presents for people is hard. So stop doing it — and get them something they’ll like even better.

Both scientific studies and good old common sense are increasingly arguing that material goods aren’t as fulfilling as shared experiences. According to one study by psychologist Thomas Gilovich, while people believe buying or receiving things will bring them happiness and satisfaction, it’s actually experiences — vacations, group adventures, time spent with friends and family — that provide long-term happiness.

That’s great to know in theory. Now put it into practice. In addition to all the boxes you’re thinking of putting under the proverbial tree this holiday season, consider some of these experiential options for your gift list.

DRINK WITH PAINTER’S INK

Throughout childhood, kids are tasked with making art — finger-paintings, doodles, Play-Doh sculptures. As adults, we rarely have the luxury of artistic creation.

Perhaps that’s why the idea of painting and drinking has taken off across the country — it’s the perfect blend of juvenile and grown-up relaxation.

The concept is simple: show up, have a drink, paint something. Most of the time, you’re led by an instructor, but many groups also offer free painting days, when you can explore independently.

For a good example of what you can expect, consider Splash Studio, 184 N. Broadway, Milwaukee (splashmilwaukee.com). Co-owner Marla Poytinger and husband David opened the painting bar in 2012 as a way to blend her background in arts management and his former work in logistics for the beer industry.

Splash offers eight or nine three-hour sessions a week, each featuring a local artist, for $29 ($34 on select days). When participants arrive, Splash provides them with a canvas, easel, paint, brushes and an apron, as well as a full-service bar. The artist then walks the group through the session’s featured painting — although Marla says participants are free to paint something of their own choosing.

At the end of the session, the painters get to take the original art home, which means giving someone a Splash Studio experience is, in a way, giving a material gift too.

Splash specifically caters to an adult crowd (participants have to be 15 or older), and only has a Milwaukee location, so it may not be the perfect gift for recipients who would want to bring their kids or who live outside southeast Wisconsin. Other painting bar options to consider: Vino and Van Gogh (Madison, vinoandvangoghmadison.com), PaintBar (Delafield and Madison, paint-bar.com), A Stroke of Genius (Waukesha, paintwinestudio.com) and national franchise PaintNite, which holds its events in bars and other venues throughout southeast Wisconsin (paintnite.com).

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY

Have a friend who’d rather get out of the house than get a gift? Two smart, scrappy startups offer a solution: A modern-day twist on the coupon book that’ll feel adventurous, not cheap.

The more established of the startups is City Tins (citytins.com), started by Christin Cilento Ladky and Tara Laatsch as a fundraiser idea. The company sells tins of coasters that double as coupons for area businesses, offering gift recipients a more affordable night out and an excuse to try new things. All tins are $30.

The company offers restaurant and bar & lounge coaster sets for Milwaukee and Madison. Each tin contains more than 20 coasters offering $10 off a $25 tab. New this year in Milwaukee is a performing arts tin, with each coaster providing a buy one, get one ticket offer. And Ladky says the company hopes to launch a pet goods-focused tin in the spring to target a new niche and to give something to offer after the other tins sell out during the holiday season — as they always do.

If your gift recipient is really just a beer person, you could try this year’s PubPass (getpubpass.com). PubPass offers a passport-like booklet for $25 that entitles the holder to free beer at 25 local establishments throughout Milwaukee. Co-founder Jake Nyberg says the company pursues bars that are “places we would take our friends who were in from out of town.” Most, but not all, of the 25 bars specialize in craft beer.

GET OUT — OF A LOCKED ROOM

For many people, being trapped in a room with no easy way out would be a nightmare. For the rest, consider offering them an opportunity to jump on a new 2015 trend: escape rooms.

Already a hit abroad, escape rooms have been springing up across the United States over the past few years, as entrepreneurs hop on the bandwagon. Essentially, escape rooms are real-life versions of puzzle mysteries that are ubiquitous across other forms of media — like the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure — in which a hero or group has to decode a series of increasingly complex clues to get out of a room before time runs out. In the real-world version, the consequences of time running out are much lower, but the challenge provides a thrill that increases the excitement of solving each consecutive puzzle.

Themes of individual rooms vary, as do difficulties. Escape Chambers (escapechambers.com), a franchise with locations in Milwaukee and Madison, has rooms like “The Assignment” (group members play FBI agents trying to prove a history professor is a criminal mastermind), “The Heist” (groups are thieves hoping to rob an art gallery and get away with it) or “The Raid” (a drug raid turns bad when the group finds a time bomb instead). Because a room isn’t fun for participants after they solve it — or if they solve it — escape room companies will change rooms throughout the year.

Tickets for rooms average around $30, but vary from company to company. For other options, consider checking out: Escape Room Wisconsin (Appleton and Green Bay, escaperoomwisconsin.com), EscapeMKE (Milwaukee, escapemke.com) and Seven Keys to Escape (Racine, sevenkeystoescape.com).