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One holiday down, a few to go

Thanksgiving was a holiday dry run at our house.

Ten minutes before our dinner guest arrived, I decided it would be nice to put a pillar candle in a hurricane shade on the table.

What happened next has probably happened to you.

Thing One: Where are those pillar candles? Do I have a white one? I recalled throwing away a stub of a candle not long ago, but surely there were others. A check of the candle shelf revealed no whites, only a yellow. It'd do, but note to self: Buy white pillar candles. (Done, Saturday, at Target.)

Thing Two: Where's the hurricane shade? I know exactly where it is: It's on the shelf in the garage right next to the flower vases. Except when it's not. Long pause. Okay, it's on the top shelf in the wine cellar, out of harm's way. (And it was.)

I managed to get the candle on the table and even had time to wipe the dust off the shade before the doorbell rang. It was a good test run, though: Where are all the items we use infrequently? Think about the things you'll be using in the next few weeks (the ladle for the punch bowl? the big platter for the roast? those cute cheese spreaders you bought last Christmas?) and locate them now.

Earlier I had checked the stock of cocktail napkins. (They live in the cabinet above the refrigerator, neatly zipped into plastic bags. Skip the red-and-white checks from the Fourth of July brunch, go with the brown-and-gold - didn't we use these last Thanksgiving?) The champagne flutes were in their usual spot (top shelf of the cabinet to the left of the sink). They get more frequent use than the hurricane shade, so they didn't need dusting.

My other big accomplishment of Thanksgiving Day: I got out the piece of green plastic lattice I use to display Christmas cards. This hangs on the door of my hall closet every December and I attach cards with clip clothespins.

Every year I tell myself I'm going to spray-paint some clothespins gold or silver, and every year I never get around to it. Christmas seems to get here anyway. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, though, I came upon a can of gold spray paint in the garage and thought, "Oh, why not?" In 10 minutes I had 18 gold clothespins, and I have to say, they look great. Why didn't I do this years ago?

No dust collectors

Don't tell my mother-in-law in Buffalo, but here's what she's getting for Christmas: a gift card to Red Lobster.

Mom just moved from her 10-room house into an apartment at an assisted-living community. That meant getting rid of years' worth of stuff, so we're not about to give her new stuff, for which she now has even less room.

But we know that Mom's favorite thing to do is to go to Red Lobster and enjoy their king crab legs. Since we can't be there to take her out to dinner, at least a lot of meals can be on us.

Maybe this idea will inspire your own gift-giving when love and attentiveness are long-distance.

It feels good to give

Between the pillar candles and the gift cards, two seasonal suggestions:

- Don't pass a bell-ringer at a red kettle without dropping something in. It can be a dime. It can be a dollar. Your own cranky day will get a whole lot brighter.

- Buy a box of mini candy canes and hand them out all month long: to the checkout clerk and bagger at the grocery, the deli guy, the retail clerk in the post office, the tolltaker, the bellringer (see above). This year I've also discovered Andes Peppermint Crunch Indulgence, bags of individually wrapped pink-and-white soft mints (a variation on the Andes green-and-chocolate mints). These may be easier for a busy worker to handle than a candy cane, which requires an investment of time to eat. This is a nice thing to do for them. It is even nicer to do for you. Try it.

Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or