A little bit of work in the beginning of the season can make it go much more smoothly. Three simple shopping trips can leave you well prepared for the round of parties and entertaining. And I promise you won't have to set foot in a mall.
1. Wine store - pick up a case of decent wine and a few bottles of champagne. Sparkling cider is a good bet as well. When you're running out to door to a party or dinner, you can grab a bottle to take with you.
2. Thrift store - look for vases. Pretty much every thrift store has a decent collection of simple vases. I keep about five at all times. If you want to bring the host flowers, having those thrift store vases on hand makes a difference. Bringing flowers is great, but bringing flowers already arranged in a vase (that doesn't have to be returned) is thoughtful, and it won't send your host scurrying to the kitchen to try to scrounge up something that will hold flowers.
3. Office supply store - get some little hanging tags (usually called merchandise tags) and some twine or string. The tags are great for everything, because they can make simple, unwrapped items feel like gifts. Think about it - handing over a pound of coffee is nice, but if you've tied a bit of twine around it and added a gift tag with a note, it looks about a million times more personal.
Non-shopping related prep - I make a huge batch of this cookie dough to store in the freezer. It means I can have cookies ready in under 15 minutes, for impromptu occasions.
Any of you clever readers have holiday prep tips to share? I'm always looking for simple things I can do ahead of time.