5 Things You Can Do This Week for a Happy(er) Thanksgiving Next Week + Giveaway!

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.

There are no rolls, homemade or otherwise, on our Thanksgiving table. The rest of the meal is such a starch-fest, and anyway there is no room in the oven or in my brain for last minute roll-baking. That’s part of our reality.

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.

Our menu varies little from year to year, except that whoever is joining us is always advised to “bring anything that it-just-wouldn’t-be-Thanksgiving-for-me-if-we-didn’t-have-________.” Oh, and often one of us gets in the mood to try a new dessert. This year, Mom is excited about a salted caramel tart, and hearing about it got me excited, too.

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.

Before the holiday, it looks like we’ll be having a “little dab” meal — you know, a little dab of this and a little dab of that.

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!

Need more all-purpose flour, and sugar, and…

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?

Quickie GIVEAWAY!!!!

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!
a Rafflecopter giveaway



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  1. Samantha
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    One of the blessings of being home is that there are many of us to share the load of the cooking. We’ve already divided up what needs to be made and who is making it. There are certain staples in our family that are MUST HAVES and the typical people bring them. I like taking short cuts as well by putting my mashed potatoes in my crock pot to keep them warm. It does take planning and a lot of prep, but Thanksgiving is lighter with more help. Also this year Jackson and Audrey will be helping make the mystery dish. Each holiday I make something I’ve never made before. Usually it turns out well, but there have been a few times that well… it just goes away. Some of these have become traditions for family. Also I’ve brought some of my families traditions to Stephen’s family and they have become traditions there as well. It is so much fun to share what we love with those we love. Thanks for the reminders. Have a wonderful Holiday and give them all our love.

  2. melaine
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    miss thanksgiving with the family, mmm mouth was watering just thinking about it. Luckily we do have friends/family here to celebrate with. Since I don’t host Thanksgiving here, I do a big Christmas dinner with friends, so the thoughts here really apply to that. Thanks. . .

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you get to have Tgiving in Oz anyway, Melaine, and sometimes I think I’d really enjoy NOT being the host. Well, I guess I’m not technically the host, but I fondly remember being a guest at the home of some brethren when we were newly married. It was pretty fun!
      Lori recently posted..Past Blast: Washing Machine Shopping – a field reportMy Profile

  3. Alyssa
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    Phew! For a second there I saw you had “Dumplings” scratched off, and I started to panic!

  4. Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I just wrote a bit about this on pleonast, so I’ll just copy what I wrote there:
    Reason would say that I shouldn’t keep considering Thanksgiving my favorite holiday. After all, it’s a ton of WORK. But I just love it, love the thankfulness part of it and the family togetherness part of it… I love my childhood memories of Thanksgiving and I hope that for my children, it can be a holiday that remains untainted and pure in their minds. I’m happy to let Reason lose out on this one.

    Thanks for the fun giveaway!

  5. Keri
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Thanksgiving is the big holiday at the Lewis house. It was the first time I met Mark’s dad, and ever since then Thanksgiving has been the holiday Bert & Betty spend with us. Mark and the kids are usually in the woods hunting, and I get to make the meal whatever I want it to be, which is both a pressure and a relief. Last year I brined a turkey for the first time and it was so good it’s a definite new favorite. I also made stuffing with sausage and mushrooms for the first time — another big hit. You’ve inspired me to get started on my list, and it will be sure to include the “token healthy vegetable.” Thanks for the givewaway!

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      One of my favorite Garrison Keillor monologues is about how he hosted his Danish wife’s family for Tgiving (their first) in Manhattan and made the “traditional” meal for them — penne with vodka sauce, salad, … LOL!

      I’ve been tempted to try brining, but Mom always does the turkey and I like it fine and I end up deciding I don’t need an additional assignment! 🙂
      Lori recently posted..Family Matters: Cultivating KindnessMy Profile

  6. Angela
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I have always loved Thanksgiving because it meant time together as a family. Since I have moved away from my family we have never been back for Thanksgiving. Part of it makes me sad and I always miss the special things we did together but I also love being able to create new memories with my little family.
    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  7. Suze Tolbert
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Thanksgiving is one of my most favorite holidays to spend with family and eat all those beloved Midwestern traditional foods! Now that I am gluten free it has proved challenging to eat those comfort foods and stay away from gluten. Every year we get better! Our dumplings have been g/f for about 4 years and I’m not sure the family realizes. 🙂 I have already begun preparations for next week! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      I think dietary restrictions are always the hardest to cope with during important holidays, don’t you? It can really take the pleasure out of them at first, but it sounds like you’ve been adapting well. I’m glad.
      Lori recently posted..Past Blast: Applesauce Canning DayMy Profile

  8. Laura S
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Family! Okay, and yes, the food is amazing, too. But particularly now when we’re all grown up and living far from one another, I love how Thanksgiving brings everyone together. Happiness. Because is there anything possibly better than eating yummy foods while talking (between bites, of course) with your favorite people in the world? And then playing games afterwards and wondering why you ate so much at dinner as you reach for another forkful of pie? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

  9. Cindy
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I really enjoy spending time with family. In the past couple of years, my children have been helping prepare the meal. It has been great! Last year all I did was the turkey and the gravy. This year will be slightly different because my husband’s sister has moved here, so we have more hands to help!

  10. Elyse
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I love what you mentioned about embracing your reality – necessary for us this year with a new fixer-upper house (we’re working on it bit by bit while living in it) and a new baby! We’re having several people over for Thanksgiving, and it will not be a Martha-Stewart pretty home, but that’s okay because Thanksgiving is about the people and the fellowship and the thankfulness, not the environment.

  11. Lorrene
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I love Thanksgiving when no one is stressing out about the meal! One year, we had homemade pizza on paper plates (our dishwasher was out of order that week!) It didn’t matter than we didn’t have a big traditional meal. We spent the day with friends. *like* 🙂

  12. Posted November 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that the entire holiday centers around food and family. What could be better than that?

  13. Rachel Tolbert
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    There are several things I like about Thanksgiving, but to name a couple: I really like being with family when we can and although we won’t be able to this year. However, that means I have to chance to do a “practice run” on my cooking for the time we eventually may host Thanksgiving at our house! I’ve also loved watching the parade on TV ever since I was a kid, and look forward to doing that this year. Plus, I enjoy an excuse to make a more varied, labor-intensive meal than I usually do!

  14. Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    We have a large family, so everyone brings food. It seems we all have our “wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it” dishes! So the menu can get quite extensive, but we everyone pitching in it all works for our family! Hope your family has a wonderful day of eating and being thankful!

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