Thanksgiving is among my favorite holidays, but the days are long gone when all it required of me was a healthy appetite and the willingness to be kissed by various relatives. Let’s face it — Thanksgiving is a project, a large one for some and a smaller one for others, but a project that requires a manager. If you are the senior female adult in your household, I’d lay odds the job falls largely on you. Such a role offers great blessing — it is an often unrecognized privilege and pleasure to spend one’s time on work that brings delight and creates memories for loved ones. But the desire to make things a little more special than the everyday can also leave us exhausted and gritting our teeth, especially if we don’t have decades of holiday preparations under our belts. Here are five things you can do this week to make next week a happier, easier time of getting ready for the big day:
1. Embrace your reality: Over the years, our family has celebrated Thanksgiving in the homes of friends, at a skilled nursing facility, in a restaurant, in our own home, and most often at my parents’ home. We have observed the day surrounded by our dearest friends and family, in the throes of fresh grief, with near-strangers who need a place at a table, during pregnancy, with infants and toddlers on the hip, with young adult offspring home from their first half-semester of college, when our wallets were lean and when they were fat, when our marriage was thriving and when it was stressed, and on and on. Surely some of that describes you, too? In smooth-sailing years, the celebration may be more elaborate. In others, necessity or desire may scale it back. Nothing wrong with either, as long as you are at peace with it. Go with where you are now, and everything becomes so much easier.
2. Think and write: Find a few minutes to sit quietly with a pad of paper and a pencil and jot down whatever comes to mind. Some people sketch, some of us make little lists, maybe at first with ridiculously unrealistic, dreamy sorts of ideas, but eventually settling down to what is feasible. Who is bringing what? (You are accepting help, aren’t you?) My to-do lists get simpler every year as I get better and better at handling the various parts of producing the holiday, but I still work backwards in time from the Tday meal to figure out what I can do when.
3. Clear the decks: I plan meals for the days leading up to Tday with a few objectives — I try to make them lighter, cheaper, and different than the turkey meal, but most of all I want to keep the fridge as empty as I can. I like to do as much ahead of time as possible, and that means we need space to keep things chilled.
4. Spread out effort and expense: I am a low energy gal, so I try to do a little each day toward a big deadline. Pulling an all-nighter before a holiday would leave me in tears, for sure, and I don’t think that’s how we were meant to celebrate. The week before the week of the holiday is when I try to buy all the staples I’ll need. They are on sale by then, and they’ll keep just fine. (During some low-income years, I spread out the expense even more by buying items bit by bit for weeks ahead as I found them for good prices.) I also get a frozen turkey this week. We always do a big one, and I find it needs to start thawing in the fridge on the Friday before the holiday. Shopping ahead not only reduces dollar stress — it makes the last minute shopping needed during the next week so much easier. Then I breeze by the poor schmucks wrangling over the last can of pumpkin with my little cart of cheap bread for stuffing and celery and cream and giggle all the way to the car.
Also, depending how busy I am, I may do things like make pie crusts and freeze the dough in disks a week or two before the day, then thaw and bake a couple of days ahead. Cranberry sauce can be made a week or even two in advance if you keep it intact and don’t spoon out of it (makes it watery.) I always make plenty of chicken stock if Mom or I don’t already have a good supply in the freezer — Mom’s dumplings require good homemade broth, and for me, it-just-wouldn’t-be-Thanksgiving-if-we-didn’t-have-dumplings!
5. Don’t forget your day job — keep up with the everyday stuff, too. Not gonna lie — some years I’ve done better with this than others, and we’re still alive. I will say, though, that all of us have enjoyed the holiday much more when we aren’t surrounded by chaos and when we all sit down to eat with clean underwear under our hopefully-stretchy pants. Look over the Cerebral Homemaking essays for the theory behind the practice, but if you are knee-deep in undone work right now, well then, just do what you can and resolve to do better in the coming months. The great thing about homemaking is that you can start building skills and habits from any starting place and at any time, or begin again, if necessary. That is comforting to me and I hope it is to you, and I am thankful for that!
What do you do for a happy(er) Thanksgiving?
Because I am so THANKFUL for my blog readers, and because I would like more of them to help build the community here, and because I love to give away things I love, I am giving away a set of three Le Creuset spatulas, which are my very favorite small kitchen tools besides knives. I always give them to couples who are “setting up housekeeping,” and some of you probably already know and love them, but you can pass along the love to someone who does understand the difference an LC spatula will make in his or her life. I’m not paid to say this — just a big fan. The giveaway ends Wednesday, Nov. 14 at midnight, so that gives you just a few short hours to accomplish a few small tasks to get your name entered as many times as possible. With a little luck, these harvest-y colored spatulas can arrive at the winner’s home just in time to help stir the Thanksgiving gravy. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on Thursday. Good luck!
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