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Use the Good Dishes and Set a Lovely Holiday Table

In my time at the Betty Brigade, I’ve been in many a home in which the kitchen cabinets house the chipped and cracked “everyday dishes,” while the fine china sits in dusty boxes in the attic, flawless and unused.

I’ve seen this situation enough that I’m now a “use-the-good-stuff” advocate. Why should my good china outlive me? Same goes for silverware, although that’s more likely to see the turn of the century than the good china.

Point is, these beautiful things were made to be enjoyed, and what better time to use the special dishes than the holidays?

My other concern is that no one seems to know how to set a table anymore. I know I sound old… but I must be getting old enough that I don’t care how old I sound. (Now that’s OLD.)

Even in the fanciest restaurants, the flatware often sits rolled up inside a cloth napkin, either on the plate or to one side. No wonder no one knows where the fork goes! It may seem like a mystery, but I can vouch for one thing: It’s not that hard.

With more holidays coming and special meals planned, why not make the table a little more fancy? Unpack Grandma’s china, use the real silverware and the crystal wine glasses, if you have them.

Here are a few tips for setting a table:

The fork goes to the left of the plate. The knife, then the spoon go to the right, with the knife’s sharp edge facing the plate. Memory tip: “fork” and “left” both have four letters, while “knife,” “spoon” and “right” all have five letters. Also, utensils are placed in alphabetical order, from left to right — thus, F (fork), K (knife), then S (spoon). If you want to serve salad, you’ll need a salad fork, as well. This smaller fork goes to the left of the dinner fork.

The bread and butter plate goes to the left, above the fork(s), while the water glass goes to the right, above the tip of the knife.

The centerpiece should be low enough for guests to see each other across the table. If the meal is served family style (with serving vessels on the table), keep the centerpiece small and candles close to the centerpiece to avoid accidents when passing dishes.

For a holiday meal, resist the temptation to place a plastic cover over the tablecloth. If you’re lucky enough to have a beautiful tablecloth or runner, use and enjoy it for your holiday meal. Few stains are permanent nowadays.

Nothing makes a meal more special than candlelight. When you have guests, make sure the candles are lit before they enter the dining room, and don’t blow them out until all guests have left the room.

And finally — Happy Holidays!

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer and marketing manager at The Betty Brigade, a relocation and organizing company based in Ann Arbor. Click here to sign up for their newsletter.

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How to Throw a Last-Minute Halloween Party on the Cheap!


Ruh roh… The gang is headed to your place for some post trick-or-treating refreshment! But no need to run screaming from the back door. You can do this!

Here are some tips for throwing together a spell-binding Halloween scene – on the cheap, no less!

FOOD: Make a big pot of something they can help themselves to. Chili or sloppy joes are good choices. Set up a buffet area with everything your goblins need: bowls/plates, silverware, napkins, and a basket of buns or corn bread. Have several candles on the buffet. A big bowl of popcorn – and you’re done!

DRINK: If you don’t have time to make blood red punch with dry ice “fog,” no worries! Cider is a perfect beverage for this party.

DÉCOR: Cheap and easy! Gather some colorful leaves, dry them off and flatten them for a couple hours, then scatter them on your buffet table. Have acorns in your yard? Throw them in there, too!

TABLESCAPE: If you have a tablecloth in a fall color, use it! If not, think about using a sheet. A clean flat sheet in a shade of red, orange or brown works fine. For your centerpiece, more candles and a group of small pumpkins or gourds work well. Scatter more leaves around, and voila!

MUSIC: Nothing sets the mood of your party like spooky music. If you don’t have a good CD, find a couple at the library. How about the soundtrack from Halloween? Or play a scary movie on TV during your gathering.

GAMES: They’re not just for kids! Whether your group is grown-up or not, these games are sure to delight!

  • “THE HANDS-FREE DOUGHNUT DEVOUR” Having purchased a dozen or so doughnuts, you hang one by a string just above mouth-height for each contestant. Without using their hands, they must eat the entire doughnut. Sound easy? Try it! For more giggles and shrieks, use powdered sugar doughnuts. (Have clean up supplies at the ready!) We recommend you do this in a non-carpeted area, or put down a drop cloth to catch the inevitable doughnut detritus. Depending on your space, you can have all guests do this at once, or one at a time. For extra fun, time the contestants.
  • “HALLOWEEN BOCCE BALL” Clear out an area in a room for this one. You play regular bocce ball rules, but instead of using bigger bocce balls and a small pallino, you use apples (yellow and red) and a pumpkin!
  • “WHO AM I?” On each guest’s back, place a sticker with the name of a different famous monster or scary villain from a list you’ve prepared ahead of time. The guest must ask ONLY yes-or-no questions to figure out who they are.

PRIZES AND FAVORS: The dollar store is your friend! If you’re not familiar, check it out! You’ll find everything you need for candy, decorations, silly prizes, even costume props.

CAMERA AT THE READY! Record the fun on video or snap pix throughout the party, and send them to the guests the next day – possibly with blackmail instructions.

Remember, your goal is FUN – not perfection. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Judy DiForte is marketing manager for The Betty Brigade, a concierge company specializing in relocation, organizing and event planning, based in Ann Arbor. To sign up for The Betty Brigade newsletter, click here.

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Book Basics: How to Pack Your Volumes Safely

If you thought all those hours of Tetris were a waste of time, think about packing a box of books. You’re highly trained!

Before the launch of the school year, lots of folks are moving or shipping books. It may sound like a no-brainer, but there are dos and don’ts when it comes to packing them safely.

If you’re moving out of state, cull your books before packing, as you’ll be paying by weight. Ask yourself, am I likely to read this again, and if so, could I easily get it from a library? Even paperbacks are heavy and can contribute considerably.

Once you’ve scaled your library down, it’s time to pack.

  • Use small boxes, as medium or large will be too heavy and more apt to be dropped, damaging toes or the books inside, or landing on other boxes.
  • Always start by lining the box with plain newsprint paper.
  • Group the books by size.
  • If you’re packing books out of a bookcase, pack from the bottom shelf up and have your boxes nearby. After you fill the first box, place the second box on top of the first. That way you are working from bottom to top from your bookcase into the boxes.

Books can be packed any of these three ways:

  • Flat on their backs
  • Standing upright
  • Sideways, with their spines downward and pages facing up

You’ll probably find using a mix of these methods works best, to fill in odd pockets of space. This is where your Tetris skills come in! And the best part: the books don’t have to speed up as they go in the box!

There will invariably be some leftover space in each box. Use crumpled packing paper, peanuts or bubble wrap to snugly fill the gaps.

Never pack books with pages facing down, as this stresses the spines and can bend the covers and pages.

Magazines are best stacked flat.

There is some disagreement about whether, when books are standing upright, their spines or their open edges should be touching the side of the box. The Betty Brigade believes it’s safest to touch the open edge of the book to the side of the box, and then pack another section of books “spine-to-spine” against the first section.

Pages should never be touching pages, whether the books are hardback or paperback. If you start another row next to an outward facing row of books, place paper between the rows, and turn the books sideways to the open-faced books.

When pages must face pages, separate them with packing paper.

Don’t pack books too tightly together, or you may damage them when unpacking later. For fragile books, photo albums or first editions, line the box with bubble wrap first. Wrap these volumes in craft or packing paper (not newspaper) and separate them with cardboard to keep them from damaging each other.

Before sealing a box, always cover the top layer with a sheet or two of packing paper.

If you’ll be storing the books for awhile, try to get a climate-controlled storage unit, so the books aren’t subject to high heat or moisture. Also if you have precious books in storage, wrap them with acid-free paper, which won’t rot or discolor over time.

Okay, now we just have to figure out how to use of your World of Warcraft skills…

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer for The Betty Brigade, an Ann Arbor-based concierge company specializing in move coordination, organizing, event planning and pet care. Leave a comment below or email her at judy@bettybrigade.com.

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9 Tips for Packing Up A Household

You’ve sold your home and found a new one! The hard part is over!

Or is it?

There’s still the matter of getting a houseful of stuff from point A to point B. It’s enough to interfere with your Zzzzz’s…
But the truth is, with some planning, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming – even if you’re packing your own possessions.

Here are some tips to make the process a little easier:

    • If possible, allow six weeks for packing up the average household.


    • Get all your supplies together. You’ll need sturdy boxes, packing paper, bubble wrap, a good tape gun, labels, markers and a notebook. You’ll also need some basic tools for taking items apart and a tape measure for planning furniture placement in your new place.


    • Enlist some help. This makes packing go faster and can even become a pleasurable activity as you chat about the items you’re packing and talk about your plans.


    • Label each box and give it a number, as you pack. In your notebook, by the number, list what’s in the box. On the label, say which room it’s going to at the other end. This takes seconds per box but can save hours and headaches at the other end.


    • When packing the contents of a storage cabinet that you’ll be moving, create a diagram of the cabinet and give each drawer and cubby a letter. As you pack each space, put that letter on the box containing the contents. Tape the diagram inside the cabinet so it’s handy when you unpack.


    • Use clothing, towels, pillows and blankets to cushion extra fragile items.


    • Pad each box of breakables with 2” of padding material on all six sides. Pack items snugly, so that after you’ve sealed the box, you can press your hand against any side, and it will “push back.” You should be able to gently shake the box and not hear anything moving. If packed well, a box of fragile items could be dropped from 4 or 5 feet without breakage.


    • Contrary to popular belief, plates, mirrors, picture frames are safest when packed on their edges – not flat in a box. They can absorb any impact much more safely this way, reducing chances of breakage.


    • To prevent injury when lifting, don’t make boxes too heavy. Maximum weight should be 50 lbs., with 40 lbs. or less being ideal. Clearly mark any extra heavy boxes to warn movers and to make sure those aren’t stacked on top of lighter boxes.


Before you know it, you will be in your new home surrounded by all the boxes you just packed. The good news? Unpacking goes much faster than packing! Good luck in your new home!

About the Author: Judy DiForte is a professional organizer for The Betty Brigade, an Ann Arbor-based concierge company specializing in move coordination, organizing and event planning. Email her at Judy@BettyBrigade.com, or leave a comment here.

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