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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 56.0° F  Overcast
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The greatest gifts
Lovely, local, and a little bit loco

Each year, your gift-giving mantra differs slightly ' from the charitable, "I'm making a donation in each person's name to the _______ Foundation," to the thoughtless, "Every one's getting a gift card!" to the Scrooge-ish, "No gifts, period!" As you embark upon your annual gift-giving brainstorming session for 2006, make a pact with your pocketbook to keep things local. With all the superb, independently operated retail choices in the area, why not take advantage?

For Her

I have not yet met the woman who asserts, "Any purse will do." It's such a personal thing. Should it be big and bulky? Small and dainty? Leather? Vegan? Able to house a laptop? Or a small dog? If she likes industrial-strength and sporty style, opt for the Timbuk2 Metro Bag. It has lots of extras like a key ring tether and exterior cell phone pocket, and the coral color is just darn cute. ($50, Fontana Sports, 251 State St., 257-5043 or 7948 Tree Lane, 833-9191,

On the other end of the spectrum is the sweet, red-carpet-worthy "Eve" clutch from Lauren Merkin. Great for party outfits, the bag is made of buttery soft lambskin in marine blue. ($173, JC Madison, 1650 Deming Way in Middleton, 824-9735,

Jewelry is that much more a gift when it has ties to fair trade. This striking Bohemian Shell Necklace from local online merchant Fair Indigo (check out their new storefront at Hilldale Shopping Center) is crafted by artisans in Bali. Fair Indigo works with artisans to help them create sustainable incomes and keep traditional crafts and skills alive. ($39,

When is a scarf not just a scarf? When it's a shawl, specifically a gorgeous, hand-knit shawl from area artist Susan H. Vandewalle of Lakeside Fibers. This one-of-a-kind piece is knit of chenille and rayon ribbon in a rich, red palette that evokes the splendor of the season. Custom weaving is also available from Vandewalle. ($175, Lakeside Fibers, 402 W. Lakeside St., 257-2999,

Give the gift of the Big Ten ' toes, that is. Perfectly polished toes are like little jewels on the feet, and no one does a pedicure better than Joette Pederson of Spa Del Sol on East Washington. At her laid-back spa, a pedicure from Ms. Pederson gets you an hour ("or longer if you have a good story") of soaking, buffing, trimming and a foot massage, topped off with a choice of OPI nail polish. And every service ends with a hug. "But only if you want one, and there's no extra charge," says Pederson. ($37, Spa Del Sol, 2104 E. Washington Ave., 231-6160.)

For Him

Give your significant other a great reason to say "Cheese!" with a photo session from Pop Studio. F-stop aficionados Kim Keyes and Kirsten Earley offer classic and contemporary portraiture that's high on the WOW scale. (Sessions from $100, Pop Studio, 100 St. Baldwin St., Suite 305, 347-9342 or 658-4368,

She digs music. She likes to drag her iPod everywhere. But sometimes you want to get in on the sounds of the Raconteurs, too, and not just watch her be-bop all around the living room. Invest in the Sonic Impact portable iFusion speaker system with rechargeable battery and up to 20 hours of play time, and you'll both be jamming. ($150, The Pod Shop, 6035 Odana Rd., 270-4444,

He has the sweetest, newest MP3 player with tons of memory and flash. But those earbuds? Can anyone say "factory standard"? Save him from being a laughingstock with Skullcandy Lowrider headphones. In glittery candy-apple red, these are funkier than any headphones have a right to be, but with 40mm drivers they sound great too. ($30, The Pod Shop.)

If you're choosing to up the ante in your guy's wardrobe selection this holiday season, trust the pros at Context to find a gift that's GQ-worthy. One casual winter's-day look: a hefty knit Filippa K hoodie sweater with toggle detail ($299) paired with their best-selling Nudie "Regular Ralph" boot-cut jeans ($265) made of raw Japanese selvage denim. (Context, 113 King St., 250-0113,

Opt for a gentle push, not a shove, when you give the gift of better grooming. And what could inspire more frequent shaving than a retro shave kit from Community Pharmacy? Start with a badger- bristle shave brush by Omega ($20), add a shaving cup ($16) with Col. Conk Almond Shave Soap ($5) and throw in the Merkur stainless safety razor ($30). Top it off with Herban Cowboy aftershave balm, and you've got one smooth operator. (Community Pharmacy, 341 State St., 251-4454,

With all the glitz and glow the holiday season provides, the only thing missing is a little...sole. Give someone a pair of fabulous feet with ornament-print Chuck Taylor high-tops from Jack's Shoes. But please, encourage year-round wearing, as these are just too cool to hide in the closet all but two weeks out of the year. ($50, Jack's Shoes, 204 State St. 257-9766,

The Petzl "Tikka Plus" headlamp provides hands-free lighting anywhere, anytime. With an LED light that boasts a 150-hour battery life, three settings plus a strobe function, this is one gift that would make any cyclist, spelunker, nighttime jogger or average wee-hour-wanderer happy. ($33, Fontana Sports.)

For the Random Recipient

Put those polycarbonate- and plastic-leaching fears to rest with the ultimate in water-carrying vessels, the stainless steel Klean Canteen with plastic sport-style top ($18). For absolutely no plastic-to-water contact, add the stainless steel Loop Cap ($5), and you'll be worry-free. (Both at Fontana Sports.)

Want to give a glorious gift from Wisconsin but can't stand the thought of sending cheese curds in the mail? Before you run out and buy a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon to help spread the love, consider the Zen-like beauty of this bud vase from DHH designs. Skillfully handmade with Wisconsin hardwoods, each vase is highly polished with a natural finish and contrasts beautifully with a fresh-cut flower or two. ($20,

Chances are, you've been to the super-cool new Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and if you've visited lately, you fell in awe of minimalist and conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. Let his work be in constant view atop a good friend's coffee table with the companion exhibit catalogue "LeWitt x 2," which includes a personal essay by Martin Friedman, former director of the Walker Art Center and close friend of the artist ($35). Or, if the lifting of heavy objects is not a problem, try Sol LeWitt: A Retrospective, a striking visual survey of the artist from 1960 to the present. ($85, MMoCA Museum Store, 227 State St., 257-0158.)

It struck me only recently ' on a leisurely drive through Montello ' why one would want a book about Wisconsin trees. You see, Montello is home to Wisconsin's Largest Tree, a towering cottonwood that invites us to take pause and examine our sense of place. Discover this tree and more than 20 others in Every Root an Anchor: Wisconsin's Famous and Historic Trees by arborist R. Bruce Allison. It makes the ideal gift for a host, hostess or gift exchange. ($22, at the Wisconsin Historical Society Gift Shop, 30 N. Carroll St., 264-6428,

You're going to meet the future in-laws. And propose that weekend. The future mother-in-law is apparently a total art snob with exquisite taste. You want to impress. You may have to dig deep into your pockets, but here's your ticket: a kiln-formed glass horse by artist Newy Fagan. Each one is signed and numbered and part of Fagan's Manipulated Horse Series, which began in 1987. Now that's what I call true love. ($137, Century House, 3029 University Ave., 233-4488,

For the Kiddos

It's not a bird. It's not a plane. Well, what is it exactly? It's a woollyhoodwink, which, according to the official woollyhoodwink Web site, is "an empathetic woodland creature made lovably real in select woolen fabrics." And you just hopped on the Ugly Doll bandwagon. Shame on you. Those are so last year. ($32, Century House.)

You ask your kid what she wants in her stocking this year, and she looks you in the eye and says one thing: "Air." Prove to her that you're no ollie-impaired poser who can't distinguish a grind from a gap with a skateboard from Flying Fish. This neon pink and yellow op-art skateboard deck from Plan B will have your daughter gushing, "Man, you're tight!" Whatever that means. ($55; trucks from Independent, $16.50 each; wheels from Skate Season, $20 for four; all available at Flying Fish, 6317 Odana Rd., 278-9990.)

In a world of PVC, polyethylene, acrylic and all other things plastic, it is truly a treat to receive a gift made from what is now considered a vintage material. And the tin Sir Ian's Bluebird Land Speed Record Car by Schylling is sweeeeeeet. Wind it up and watch it go. ($17, Playthings, at Hilldale Shopping Center, 702 N. Midvale Blvd., 233-2124,

When my one-and-half-year-old son saw Crocs in a shoe department a few months ago, he pointed, put them on and refused to take them off. So I had to buy them. And I confess that they are the most adorable, functional, easy-to-get-on-and-off shoes out there for kids. You may be over the trend for adults, but on kiddies, Crocs are hot. (Lime "Beach" Crocs, $30 and purple "Mary Jane" Crocs, $25, Cornblooms, at Hilldale Shopping Center, 702 N. Midvale Blvd., 238-9282,

Blocks. Every toddler loves them, but they're just so...limiting. Enter Dado Cubes, which combine art, science and architecture, transforming the banal block of yesteryear into something much more engaging. Slits on each Kool-Aid-colored cube allow the user to stack vertically and horizontally. ($25, Century House.)

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