Don't go to party empty-handed

You've been invited to a merry holiday party. The hosts are good friends. There'll be delicious food. It'll be a great time. Only problem -- what to bring? No, not another bottle of wine. Definitely not more chocolate. Then what, you ponder? You don't want to spend a mint, but don't want to appear too chintzy.

American Signature Home in White Marsh has several gift suggestions for you, all under $50. Perfect for the host or hostess, gifts include a sleek six-bottle wine rack with nickel finish (above, $19.99) or a star-shaped candy dish (below, $19.99), a retro six-piece martini set (right, $29.99), a reindeer candleholder with eight votive cups ($29.99), a holiday votive tree candleholder with 12 cups ($29.99) or brass and glass candle hurricanes ($29.99). And for just under $50, you'll find a decorative spiral metal wall candle wreath ($49.99) or a forged-metal tree centerpiece with jewel-toned cups ($49.99).

American Signature Home is located at 5240 Campbell Blvd., White Marsh. Call 410-931-4100 or visit www.ashome.com.

Book is one crafty gift

Stumped about a gift for that crafty person in your life? Consider the new book Gifts for the Family (Reader's Digest, $26.95), by the editors of Reader's Digest, and available at Amazon.com and area bookstores. With more than 120 project ideas for your crafty friend or relative, the book offers simple instructions on creating unique gifts within 30 minutes.

How-to projects include making decorative carved candles, holiday lamp shades, nature-stamped gift boxes, homemade soaps, stenciled gift bags, wedding portrait displays, no-sew wrapped pillows and more. Each project (such as the Carved Candles, below) lists materials needed, step-by-step instructions with color pictures and a listing of alternative crafts for each project.

Setting a wow table

Company's coming, and you want to impress. You want to dazzle your guests with festive tableware, linens and finishing touches. But Martha Stewart you're not. Then read on. Tabletop designer Michael Wainwright offers several tips on entertaining with style and wowing your holiday crowd:

Set out gold-rimmed dinner plates (above) and gold napkin rings on white linens. Decorate the table with white flowers. Then gather your gold Christmas ornaments and place in a glass bowl.

Cover your table with red or bold orange linens. For the centerpiece, decorate a topiary with white lights. And at each place setting, put a hollowed-out pumpkin or gourd with a single white candle.

Place twinkling luminaries along your front walkway. Then inside, display white pillar candles in front of a decorative mirror.

Set out square plates with square napkin rings, and find linen napkins with a square motif. Fill a square basket with flowers for the centerpiece. And if possible, seat guests at several small square tables.

Visit www.michaelwainwright.com for more tips.


Visit the exhibit "Home for the Holidays: A Sentimental Journey," through Jan. 9 at the U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington. See 1940s ornaments and decorations, vintage toys and a model-train display built from all-natural plant materials by landscape architect Paul Busse. Free. Call 202-225-8333.

Make bird ornaments, snow globes, mitten magnets and more at the program "Holiday Nature Crafts and Gift-Making," 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday at Irvine Nature Center, 8400 Greenspring Ave., Stevenson. $15. Call 410-484-2413 by tomorrow to register.

Home Front welcomes interesting home and garden news. Please send suggestions to Lori Sears, Home Front, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278, or fax to 410-783-2519. Information must be received at least four weeks in advance to be considered.

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