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Holidays Made Easier and Better

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    1: Get gifts at the grocery store

    Get gifts at the grocery store When you need a token gift for someone, head to the grocery store for the kind of gift that, instead of adding to someone's clutter, will be consumed and enjoyed. You can put together "a weekend breakfast" — a bag of ground coffee along with some muffin mix and a jug of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Or consider a Friday night treat — a six-pack of good beer and a bag of high-end potato chips. Whether or not you accompany that with a Netflix certificate is your call.

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    2: Find a culinary school nearby

    Find a culinary school nearbyIf you're hosting a special holiday meal — or bringing a dish to someone — and you have two left hands in the kitchen, now's not the time to crack open a Julia Child cookbook for the first time. If your supermarket doesn't offer ready entrees, and the cost or concept of catering is impractical, see if there's a culinary or vocational school in your area. The prices of student creations are unbeatably low. And since these schools often have restaurants on the premises, you can sample potential dishes in advance.

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    3: Purge toys

    Purge toysIt feels especially good to do it at the start of the holiday season because you can donate your children's toys to one of the collections that spring up at this time of year. Google a charity or ask around your local places of worship, which sometimes organize toy collections. It's a win-win. You create space for gifts coming in, and other families get toys which still have lots of playing potential.

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    4: Make decorating kid-friendly

    Make decorating kid-friendlyOn a stretch of blank wall, extend a string or piece of yarn between two nails. Set it at a height that your children can reach. Once you fasten lots of paperclips (or clothespins) to the string, you are ready to hang the many cards landing in your mailbox. Since you've hung the string within reach of your child, displaying cards could be her job now (one she might delight in).

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    5: Keep slippers near the door

    Keep slippers near the doorHave an even number of slippers or slipper socks near your front door and offer them to visitors when they walk in. This is a dual-purpose move: It gives them the hint to remove their shoes or boots and also ensures they will have warm, cozy feet during their visit. To facilitate the process, set out a chair, which the older folks will appreciate since they may need to sit while removing boots.

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    6: Add glove bins to your entryway

    Add glove bins in your entrywayMake space in your entryway for bins or baskets, which can hold guests' gloves, hats and scarves. This way, your company won't have to leave their stuff lying around everywhere; their things will not become commingled with yours (and potentially forgotten at the end of the visit); and you'll help avoid the scenario in which everyone waits in the car, bundled up, as Gramps searches your closet for Granny's brown leather glove.

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    7: Put a puzzle out on a table

    Put a puzzle out on a tableHave a giant jigsaw puzzle on hand during the holidays, when family members are hanging around the house together for long stretches. The puzzle should be set up on a table that needn't be disturbed, since work on it will be intermittent. It's nice having a shared activity (other than watching TV), and a puzzle is accessible to anyone.

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    8: Add personal touches around the house

    Add personal touches around the houseMake your overnight guests feel welcome with some simple touches like adding chocolates to their pillows. If you can't make space in drawers, provide a chair on which they could place their luggage so they need not bend down, especially if you have older relatives. Set out a spare toothbrush and mini-size hand lotions and have the kids make a welcome sign to tape to the guest-room door.

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    9: Keep stocking stuffers simple

    Keep stocking stuffers simpleTo minimize clutter, and because my children receive enough gifts from both Santa and family, I like to keep stocking stuffers mostly practical: bags of nuts or fun snacks, chocolates, mini cereal boxes, fridge magnets, hair accessories, colorful socks, or individual popcorn packets — gifts which everyone can share on family movie nights.

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    10: Pack your bags strategically

    Pack your bags strategicallyBesides the usual items for a road trip, (snacks, toys, books, barf bag, trash bag, a movie if you have a portable DVD player), pack a sun shade for the young travelers. Also, Magna-doodle pads are invaluable on long trips. Depending on your children's ages, you can write letters and numbers for them to identify or write words for them to try to read. With time and no distractions now, you can also bring along anything you have intended to use (or read), but never had the chance.

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    11: Turn the car into a playhouse

    Turn the car into a playhouseTie a string from one handle bar to the other in the back seat, and your kids now have a zip line for Polly Pockets, plastic monkeys, etc. To help attach things to the line, pack plastic baby links, pipe cleaners and twist ties. If they're old enough, suggest they make and hang ornaments. To this end, pack construction paper, ribbon, kid scissors, and the like, along with some Christmas tree hooks.

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    12: Make time for your true love

    Make time for your true loveIf the cost of a date night out is prohibitive, or going out seems like work, make it a date night in. Pick up an assortment of cheese and fruit plus crackers or a fresh baguette. Pour a couple drinks, pipe in some music and turn down the volume of the jingle bells. The gift of attention you give each other is probably better than anything you could buy at a store and place under the tree.

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