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Gentle Reminders: December 2004

Martha Stewart Living, December 2004

Collecting for Charity
This is the season for giving. And since it's cold outside, why not host your own drive for coats, sweaters, and other warm clothes? Set out a labeled collection basket and ask friends and relatives to bring an item to donate when they visit. Check that the clothes are clean and in good condition, then give them to a shelter or other charity.

In Season
These crimson, American berries continue to be at their peak this month. Their tart, lively flavor is delicious in pies and muffins, spicy relishes, and, of course, traditional cranberry sauce. Buy firm, plump, fresh berries; they will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month, or for several months in the freezer.

These root vegetables resemble carrots but have a creamy white color. Early winter is the best time to find them -- after at least one hard frost, since the cold helps convert the starch to sugar. Commonly served boiled and mashed, they are even sweeter and more flavorful when roasted or sauteed in butter. Buy small or medium parsnips that are blemish-free; refrigerate in the vegetable drawer or a plastic bag for up to two weeks.

Start your holiday baking a few weeks ahead of time. This can be important for fruitcakes, which often need time to rest and ripen. (Be sure to use only the best-quality fruits and nuts for gift-worthy results.) For slice-and-bake cookies as you need them, make an icebox cookie dough, shape it into logs, and freeze it.

Write cards early in the month, and mail them before the last-minute rush. Do the same for packages, if possible.

Check that you have enough candles for your holiday table, and restock if necessary. Trim the wicks of new candles to 1/4 inch to prevent smoking. For even burning, be sure the wicks stay centered: After extinguishing, gently push each one into place with the handle of a spoon.

Keep a healthy Christmas tree. A live tree should be fragrant and sticky, not dry and brittle. When you get yours home, make a new cut in the trunk several inches from the bottom, then immediately place it in water. Check the tree's water level daily, replenishing when it gets low.

Wrap boxwoods and other shrubs in burlap to protect them from the elements. Burlap is also a good barricade for plants nibbled on by deer and other hungry creatures during the winter months. The animals can't see through the cloth, so they will likely go elsewhere in search of a meal.

Stock your car's trunk for winter-weather emergencies. Include a compact shovel, ice scraper, flashlight, sand or cat litter, flares, a heavy blanket, and warm clothing.

Create light displays that are beautiful and safe. Use lights that are made specifically for outdoor use. Replace burned-out bulbs with new ones that are compatible with the wattage rating on the existing strand, and plug in the lights with heavy-duty, exterior-use extension cords. If possible, connect the lights to a dedicated circuit with its own fuse or circuit breaker.

Get in the Habit
Wrap gifts as you bring them home. If you have the space, create a wrapping station stocked with paper, ribbons, tags, tape, and other supplies, and leave it in place throughout the shopping season. Each time you buy a gift, take it to the station and wrap and label it right away so it's ready to go under the tree or to bring to a holiday party.

Have You Done It Lately?
Stock your stain-fighting kit. This time of year is particularly perilous for tablecloths and other household fabrics; saving them from spilled hot chocolate, wine, gravy, and candle wax, to name a few, is a matter of having the right solvent, detergent, or other product on hand. For a printable chart of common stains and what you need to remove them, see our Stain Guide.

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