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Covering the Basics

The Shepherd's guide to gift-giving in recessionary times

Dec. 3, 2008
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There are wants, and then there are needs. We’d all like to give expensive gifts to our friends and family, but across-the-board belt-tightening will force most of us to cut back on our holiday largesse. So why not give your loved ones what they truly need?

Back in 1943, an American psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow conceptualized a multilayered “hierarchy of human needs,” starting with the basic physical necessities and proceeding to the more esoteric areas of personal fulfillment. So while you might not be able to afford the pricier items on your wish lists, we offer instead an examination of Maslow’s model of needs, and how to meet them on the cheap. Grab your bus pass and let’s go shopping!


This category covers the elemental necessities. Minus these, you’d be pushing up the daisies. How better to say “you don’t totally repulse me” than by addressing the basic needs of folks on your list?

Air: Take a deep breath—the dust in your office contains mold, viruses, bug parts and co-workers’ dead skin, and the average American unwittingly ingests almost three tablespoons a day. Buy your loved ones some respite with a vehicle sticker for a year’s admission to Wisconsin’s pristine parks, forests and wildlife areas, available from the DNR office (corner of North Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive) for just $25. These are vehicle specific, so jot down the make and license number before you head over.

Food: If you forget to eat and sleep and pray, you could blame it on your youth like trumpeter Chet Baker. Then again, he got his teeth punched in, so look where that can get you. Avoiding punches and getting proper nutrition is the first step in keeping your chompers a cohesive unit. Give an ownership stake in Outpost Natural Foods for just $25, and let the lucky recipient reap the benefits at this progressive co-op.

Water: Refreshing stuff, this, but in social situations even J.C. Himself would flick his wrist and transform the flavorless liquid into a nice jug of pinot. Stop into Dee’s Wine Stop (2327 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), where owner Deanne Wecker offers a huge selection of bottles priced at $10.99. Wecker’s wine rack is indeed impressive, and the veteran sommelier will be happy to help you select the perfect vintage.

Sleep: Do the offerings at the multiplex strike you as boring, unoriginal and a ticket to snoresville? Get the film buff on your list a $30 gift pass to the Times Cinema (5906 W. Vliet St.), where they offer a variety of documentaries and other offerings not readily found elsewhere. The pass, also valid at the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse (6823 W. North Ave.), gets the recipient five admissions and three tubs of popcorn, to boot.

Sex: Well, there’s no sex here, so you can probably relate. Every kiss might begin with Kay, but you’re not going to receive anything else unless you sweeten the pot. Try for an unprecedented second date by getting her tickets to the Skylight’s performance of I Do! I Do! playing at the Broadway Theatre Center (158 N. Broadway) from Jan. 30 through Feb. 15, 2009. Gallery seats in this ornate, intimate space start at just $22.

Waste: There’s really no other word for the product on the field at Lambeau these days. For the many disgruntled fans on your list, click on www.zazzle.com and order one of the immensely popular “Fire Ted” T-shirts ($18), available in several attractive designs, to let Mr. Thompson know exactly where he stands in the historic Packer pantheon.


Now that we’ve addressed the basics, we can turn to the arena of security to protect those on your list from physical and emotional harm. Leave the nunchucks on the shelf and consider these other security options.

Of Body: Offering a full range of classes, from beginner’s levels to more advanced techniques, YamaYoga (231 E. Buffalo St.) can set your loved ones on a path to a more toned, balanced self. Serenity is now available for as little as $55 for a private, one-onone therapeutic yoga session. This is a workout that will leave people exhausted, limber and feeling very good about themselves afterward.

Of Employment: Your lady friend might have an impressive rsum, but she’s not going to get hired if she’s wearing sackcloth and sweatpants to interviews.

Luci, the swank, bargain boutique for women, has two locations (532 N. Water St. and 4405 N. Oakland Ave.) full of trendy, tasteful gal garb. Guys, be very, very careful here—unless you know her exact size, a gift certificate is the way to go.

Of Morality: For a feel-good gift, duck into Four Corners of the World Fair Trade Store (5401 W. Vliet St.). The not-for-profit boutique offers handmade toys, instruments, pottery, artwork and kids’ winter hats and mittens, with little or no markup, made by indigenous peoples from around the globe. And the money is returned directly to the artists.

Of Family: Nothing beats quality time with the family unit. Get your clan a membership at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum (929 E. Wisconsin Ave.), which has interactive and educational activities for even the smallest kids. The initial $65 price, divided over multiple visits in a year’s time, works out in your financial favor, and the continual rotation of exhibits offers something new with each trip.

Of Health: Last year, my sensei gave me a copy of Lisa Delaney’s Secrets of a Former Fat Girl: How to Drop Two, Four (or More!) Dress Sizes—and Find Yourself Along the Way. Nobody likes a gift with a message, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. For the chain-smoker on your list, stop into any area drugstore and pick up a box of Nicorette stop-smoking gum. The larger quantity goes for about $50, but it’s significantly cheaper than chemotherapy.

Of Property: My mom is always mixing up the tags on gifts, which has led to a new rule at our house: If you open it, you get to keep it. So it was that my sister-in-law, who cures bacon in her garage, got the weekend in Cabo meant for me, and I got a First Alert Smoke Alarm ($22 at area Ace Hardware stores). Not the most glamorous item, perhaps, but one can’t have enough of these potentially life-saving devices in one’s domicile.


After being thrice-spooked by admonishing specters, even Ebenezer Scrooge realized that true riches lie in quality relationships. Peruse these inexpensive options to help bring a sense of togetherness to those on your list.

Friendship: Who can you trust? Most of your friends would drop a dime on you in a second if there was a buck-twoeighty in it for them. Dogs, on the other hand, are inexplicably always happy to see you, and they have the added benefit of not being able to testify against you. For the canine owner on your list, why not get a gift certificate to Trim Time (6131 N. Green Bay Ave.), where for just $40 their professional groomers can have Cujo looking and smelling like the Bestin-Show.

Family: Turn off the idiot box and introduce your young’uns to the magic of live theater. Tickets for First Stage’s The Happy Elf can be had for less than $25, but supplies are limited, so you better hurry! This children’s musical by Harry Connick Jr. runs through Dec. 24 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (929 N. Water St.).

Intimacy: Those looking to spice things up are directed to the Tool Shed’s new location (2427 N. Murray Ave.), where they offer an inexpensive selection of erotic aides so deliciously naughty that decorum prevents us from listing them here.


This category aims to tackle one’s need to feel important. You may lack the funds to start your own school in Africa, but you can still help your friends feel better about themselves with one of the following suggestions.

Self-Esteem: Tired of those looks, usually reserved for a clogged commode, aimed in your direction? Maybe it’s time to improve your appearance, staring with what adorns your head. Conveniently located Downtown at 1323 N. 12th St., City Life Boutique has scads of stylish headwear for the sophisticated man- or woman-about-town, most coming in below $25.

Confidence: Worried about that pal who’s really let himself go? Consider an introductory membership to the Brickyard Gym (2651 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), where for a paltry $30 a month for unlimited use, your amigo can retool himself into his former Adonis.

Respect: In my last job review, I was described as vacuous and superficial, as though that was to my detriment. But hey, I still like to impress, and probably so does someone you know. Consider a gift certificate to The Establishment (4503 N. Oakland Ave.), picked by our readers as the finest salon in town. They also have Aveda gift bags for sale for just $25.

Achievement: Parents seeking wholesome bonding activities with their kids are urged to check out the spectacular rock-climbing facilities located at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall (1034 N. Fourth St.). All the necessary gear and a full hour of professional instruction on top-tier equipment are yours for just $25. The cost drops even further if you have experience, bring your own gear and just want to climb on your own.


There’s nothing quite like realizing one’s full potential. You’ve taken care of the lower needs, so consider these notions to help your loved ones completely round themselves out.

Creativity: Get your kid an Xbox and all he’s going to learn is how to push buttons in rapid succession. Might as well just throw in a bong while you’re at it. How about encouraging Junior’s creative side instead? Head to Artist & Display (9015 W. Burleigh St.) and pick up the “Art Box” from Art Alternatives, which, at a mere $22.99, includes all the basics to get your little Picasso behind the easel.

Spontaneity: I think it was Camus, or maybe SpongeBob, who noted happily that “in the depths of winter, I discovered within myself an invincible summer.”

Keep your kids’ spirits sunny-side up with the purchase of a kite from Art Smart’s Dart Mart (1695 N. Humboldt Ave.). Also offering a variety of unusual toys, ASDM has scads of inexpensive kites you can enjoy flying together, even on those blustery winter weekends.

Problem-Solving: Twenty-five years later, and despite owning the Idiot’s guidebook, I still haven’t been able to solve the Rubik’s Cube. Today’s kids are a brighter bunch, so stop in to American Science & Surplus (6901 W. Oklahoma Ave.), where they have all sorts of intellectually stimulating items priced well below $20.

Lack of Prejudice: Readers keen to develop an appreciation of the larger world should visit the People’s Books Cooperative (2122 E. Locust St.), where you’ll find thought-provoking works not found elsewhere in town. I recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s The World We Have, a realistic, optimistic look at our growing population and shrinking world.

Acceptance of Facts: No matter how rough you might have it, there are plenty of people in our community who are facing more dire economic straits. If you’ve got a little left over, please help out Career Youth Development’s “Little Kids That Santa Forgot” collection drive, which is accepting donations of new toys, clothing, educational books and money to be distributed to needy children on Dec. 29. Call James Nelson at 264-6888 to make a donation, or take items directly to 2601 N. Martin Luther King Drive, Monday through Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., or Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.



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