The arrival of November always makes me feel like a rocket about to be launched into the path of a Cat 5 tornado. The count-down to the holidays has begun, and I break out in hives just thinking about it.
Getting the house “company-ready” plus planning, shopping for and cooking Thanksgiving dinner are daunting tasks which threaten to steal the joy out of the holiday. Last year, I collapsed into my dining room chair on Thanksgiving day with gravy stains on my new sweater, burns on both wrists, and shoes that didn’t match.
This year I’m determined to do things differently and waltz blithely into the dining room to join my family in a meal that would make the cooking channel’s Sandra Lee green with envy.
The project typically requires reams of paper for daily to-do lists. I’ve become so obsessed with my to-do lists that I frequently write the list AFTER completing the task just so I can scratch it off.
This year, it’s going to be different. Instead of dutifully crafting the daily to-do list, I’m doing a to-don’t list. It goes like this:
*Don’t go overboard on holiday cooking. Is it really necessary to prepare 10 casseroles, 11 desserts and five appetizers – none of which are all that good? Why not focus on the five food groups and do one wonderful dish for each?
*Don’t turn down offers of help. Each year, my family members ask “What can I bring?” “Oh nothing, just yourselves,” I always respond, Why? Am I a masochist, or am I secretly afraid someone else will steal a piece of the glory? This year I’m making assignments and taking names.
*Don’t stress over the minutia. Instead of carefully washing the crystal, I’m using plastic. Instead of cooking a turkey which frequently turns out like something Clark Griswold would cut into in “Christmas Vacation”, I’m buying the bird and asking my son to smoke it for me.
*Don’t try to be fancy and clever. Last year’s pumpkin grits sounded interesting but no one seemed to want orange grits. Ditto for the cauliflower cupcakes.
*Don’t forget to clean the oven before Thanksgiving Day. Last year, the baked-on grease triggered the smoke alarms and the house smelled like burned chicken feathers.
*Don’t argue politics or religion! I got into what I thought was a tantalizing exchange of ideas with a cousin one year, and every year hereafter my family has to retell the story about how I beat up on one of my guests.
*Don’t forget to wear my reading glasses while cooking. My friends will never let me live down that time I made a lasagna with pre-sliced cheese that had thin pieces of paper between each slice. It was delicious once you pulled the paper off the mozzarella.
*Above all, don’t buy into the whole Black Friday thing the day after Thanksgiving – where people stand in line for hours trying to pay for something they could have picked up a week ago without waiting and driving around for hours looking for a parking space.
My days of stressing over the holidays are over. Now I get to enjoy the holiday as well. And don’t forget, if your plans get derailed, it’ll give the relatives something to talk about next year.
Emily Jones is a retired journalist who edits a website for bouncing baby boomers facing retirement. She welcomes comments sat www.deludeddiva.com.