The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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December 6, 2012

5 ingredients for a smooth holiday

(Continued)

Be prepared

The holidays tend to initiate a kind of open-door policy in a neighborhood. When guests drop by unannounced, it's nice to welcome them with a small, seasonal gift — what we call a reverse hostess gift. Whether it's a loaf of homemade pound cake paired with a jar of local honey or a tin of hot chocolate and some of your favorite flower seeds, it's an easy way to show your guests you've been thinking of them (even if you weren't expecting them).

Here are a few ideas so you don't get caught empty-handed.

Eggnog carries a special sentiment because it's only served this time of year. We recommend filling six to eight glass bottles ($4-6 at the Container Store). You can buy it from the store or make your own, but the packaging is key: Trim the bottles with festive ribbons, bows and gift tags. If you go the more spirited route, warn your guests by labeling the bottles with a skull and crossbones or three X's and keep them out of little elves' reach.

If you're pressed for time, wine is almost always a crowd-pleaser. Save yourself time and money by buying a case of wine instead of individual bottles. Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Safeway offer a 10 percent discount when you buy six or more bottles of wine. Package each bottle in a festive tote — about $4.50 each at the Container Store — and toss in a few chocolates or candy canes.

If edible and potable gifts aren't your bag, consider candles or ornaments. "No matter how long you've been collecting ornaments, there are always a couple casualties along the way," said Susan Cannaday, the general manager of Bloomingdales in Chevy Chase. "Candles are fabulous because they're universal. No matter your style or decor, a candle goes with everything."

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