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Still decked out for the holiday season, Mayfair Mall was packed inside and out.
Still decked out for the holiday season, Mayfair Mall was packed inside and out.

Are you at the mall this week?

Wondering where all your neighbors, co-workers and friends have gone? If I were you, I'd check the mall.

Yesterday, venturing to Mayfair Mall for a freakishly early 10 a.m. movie, the parking lot was already packed with tweens, teens and adults off for the holiday week. When I left around 2 p.m., you couldn’t find a spot in the parking lot and store lines were billowing out the door. Again today, when I needed to run by Bayshore for a wedding gift, you could barely exit off I-43. Parking was a nightmare and pedestrians lined the sidewalks of the outdoor mall.

It’s always thought the mall craze hits with force the day after Thanksgiving and then continues through Christmas Eve. But, this season, it’s as if the manic pre-holiday rage continued post-holiday thanks to huge sales and employee vacation time. With nearly 50 or 70% off storewide, I can see the draw, but is it worth the struggle? Could you wait to make returns? Are you buying things you want or simply things on sale?

Use the Talkback feature and let us know what you're up to this week in between holidays.

Have your celebrity run-ins lived up to your expectations?
Have your celebrity run-ins lived up to your expectations?

Fantasy or reality in the celebrity world

Earlier this week, hip-hop artist and Minneapolis native Brother Ali was highlighted in an OnMilwaukee.com brief for his recent Barrymore Theatre performance followed by an appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

In 2005, I met Brother Ali at The Great Dane in Madison; he’d released two albums but was relatively unknown on the national scene and drew only a show crowd of maybe a couple hundred. He, in person, was exactly as I’d hoped and predicted—intelligent, interesting and humble.

But, obviously, that isn’t always the case.

To lots of people, the world of celebrity musicians, athletes and actors is more than a big deal; it’s a fantasy world full of expectations. It’s like knowing someone you’ve never met.

Whether you sit down for coffee with them, gawk as they pass by on the street or stare onstage through binoculars, there’s something undeniably fascinating about the celebrity run-in.

But, when reality rarely lives up to fantasy, would you rather meet your favorite celeb and risk tainting the image or continue to view from afar and maintain your ideal perception?

It’s a tough choice to make. Hypothetically that is.

I’ve met celebrities, particularly musicians, and loved some and hated others. And with those, who I saw in a completely different light than I expected or hoped, would I opt to take the introduction back? There’s no question, yes, indeed. The world of celebrity is always a world of fantasy and no doubt, I’m happy to leave it there when necessary.

Rishi's Cinnamon Plum blend is available for a limited time during the holiday.
Rishi's Cinnamon Plum blend is available for a limited time during the holiday.

A gift a day: Rishi Tea's Cinnamon Plum holiday blend

There’s no question, Rishi Tea’s new holiday Cinnamon Plum Tea tastes great. It’s deliciously sweet and spicy with an herbal scent and rich cider consistency.

But to match cultural ideals with taste buds, it’s a product that’s organic, fair trade, locally based and donates 25% of proceeds to the Clean Water Fund. This holiday season, there really is no better gift.

Local Milwaukeeans Joshua Kaiser, Aaron Kapp and Benjamin Harrison started Rishi Tea in 1997. Now, nearly 13 years later, is known as much for award winning tea as for the company’s commitment to tea education and awareness.  This year alone, Rishi took 11 first place prizes in the 2009 World Tea Championship, including a first place award for the seasonal Cinnamon Plum blend.

Rishi’s Cinnamon Plum tea is caffeine free and can be purchased in either a 3.7 oz. tin or one pound package. There is also a gift set including a glass pitcher and brew basket available. Sold at Outpost, Beans & Barley, Sendik’s, Whole Foods, Williams Sonoma and a slew of other Milwaukee retailers, you can find Rishi Tea either on the shelves or online at www.rishi-tea.com.

La Tarte Bakery and Cafe in Wauwatosa makes all your favorite cookies and cakes without charging you holiday prices.
La Tarte Bakery and Cafe in Wauwatosa makes all your favorite cookies and cakes without charging you holiday prices.

Buying or baking this holiday season?

 There’s no question, in addition to home-cooked traditional holiday meals, this time of the year is all about dessert. Whether you’re looking to give cookies, cakes and pies as gifts, need a sweet to take to a dinner party or just have an itch to dig in on some sugar filled goodness, the question of baking versus buying always arises.

There are pros and cons to both. Buying is at times more expensive but you’re guaranteed a scrumptious product and you’ll save hours of in-kitchen work time. On the other hand, if you bake, you can make your family’s traditional favorites just the way they like them, often for less cost. But, plan to devote hours to mixing, baking and frosting.

La Tarte Bakery and Café in Wauwatosa has opted to bake for the last 19 years. Storing secret apple, pecan, cranberry walnut and chocolate pie recipes, they’ll fill orders for cookies, pies and of course their signature Yule Log all holiday season. So, no matter which side of the fence you come down on, here are a few expert suggestions for baking or buying from La Tarte Owner and Baker Merry Turner.

1. If you’re going to have the calories, make sure they’re good. That means real butter and the best chocolate.

2. The holidays are a hectic time of year. Prepare by baking ahead of time and freezing cookies until the holiday.

3. Place your order for holiday pies and cookies as soon as you can.

4. Every family has their own family favorites they remember from growing up. Stick to your own tradition.

5. La Tarte sells holiday cookies in a one pound gift box. This is a good gage for knowing how much to give.