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READY, SET - HOLIDAYS! <br> 10 WAYS TO GET A JUMP ON THE END-OF-THE-YEAR ENTERTAINING CRUNCH

It is a cliche. We know that, but we are going to say it anyway: The holidays are right around the corner; now is the time to get a jump on the season.

Perhaps you have volunteered -- or been volunteered -- to host Thanksgiving dinner. Among the things to think about now: Do you need to borrow/rent folding chairs? Do you have the right size table cloths? A bowl big enough for the mashed potatoes?

Or maybe you moved into a new house last summer. If you plan to put up a Christmas tree, where will you put it? That will determine the size and shape you will want to look for weeks down the road -- whether you go real or faux (something else to ponder, of course.)

It's also a good time to budget your money for the coming months. Set a limit that includes not only gifts but entertaining, baking supplies, Christmas trees, wreaths, party clothes, greeting cards and stamps.

So, to get you into the holiday spirit -- even before you get out of your Halloween costumes -- here are 10 things to put on your list of things to do.

Soon.

1. Think about your table linens. This is especially true if you are hosting a holiday for the first time; feeding a big crowd; setting up a multitude of tables, or dealing with table leaves.

Now is the time to make sure you have the right size and style of table cloths (plus protective padding for under the cloths). You will want something for card tables - or long folding tables - if you plan to use them as well. Who wants the stress of running out at the last minute to buy a packaged tablecloth - and then having to deal with those stubborn creases that look so, well, permanently pressed?

Make sure you have what you need - borrowing or renting is always an option; so is using sheets - and then launder and press so you will not have to worry about it later. This also gives you time to get fancy with table runners, complementary cloth napkins (a must at holiday time), place cards, etc.

And don't forget the kids table!

2. Stock up. Similarly, once you start planning your holiday menus - the sooner the better with these as well - make a list of the serving pieces you will need for each dish. Same with coffee makers, glassware and silverware.

If your inventory has some gaps, don't feel as if you have to run out and buy everything new (you smartly made that budget, remember?) You can borrow things (that's what mothers are for). Get creative (the old Mason jars as water glasses routine). Or, of course, start acquiring the things you think are worth investing in for the future; you may even find some time in the coming weeks to check out estate sales for serving spoons, gravy boats, cranberry dishes, etc.

3. Order/pick out your holiday cards now. Start shopping for a design you like. Or order custom-printed ones. If you go the photo card route, choose the picture (or gather the kids/pets/family to take one). Get your mailing list in order and begin addressing those envelopes.

(Be sure to check out the Paint Box Project, a special 15th anniversary collection of cards from Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Click on www.paintboxproject.com or look for them at Wegmans and Tops. All proceeds benefit cancer research and patient care.)

4. Buy, cut, stack firewood. While you're at it, have your furnace/chimney professionally inspected if you have not done so already. Then promise to really enjoy your fireplace this holiday season.

Another thing: If your refrigerator, stove, washer or dryer has been acting up, call in the pros now. You don't want your oven crashing Thanksgiving morning.

5. Stock up now on gift-wrapping supplies. This includes tape, ribbons, wine bags, tags and paper. Or try something new this year - like using only recycled products or foregoing wrapping paper altogether. You can also stock up early on nonperishable items such as wine, seltzer, pop and crackers.

6. Hang your holiday lights on a warm day (but don't turn them on yet). Don't laugh - unless you like the idea of hanging them in a post-Thanksgiving blizzard.

7. Clean the coat closet. Clear the closet of flip-flops, spring rain coats, golf clubs and other seasonal items to make room for winter gear - your own plus that of any guests you are expecting. While you're at it, replace wimpy wire hangers with heavy plastic or wooden ones.

Also: if your spare bedroom has become a catchall over the summer months, clean it up now in preparation for houseguests.

8. Spiff up. Schedule a grooming appointment to get the dog in tiptop holiday shape. While you're at it, book your own hair/spa appointments for the holiday season before the salon gets booked.

Planning to travel without Kitty or Spot? Book a kennel or pet sitter now.

9. Get crafty. Encourage the kids to make their handmade holiday gifts early - for relatives, teachers, friends, etc. And you do the same. Wouldn't it be nice to have all that done by Thanksgiving?

10. And this smart reminder from Better Homes and Gardens' "Creative Home" magazine: Order any gifts you want from catalogs now so you will still have enough time to find a backup if an item is unavailable or on back order.

Oh, and have a happy Halloween.

e-mail: smartin@buffnews.com

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