Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Navigating the Holidays

I tend to dwell on things.  I'm a dweller.  I dwell, and I endlessly plan for all potential outcomes.  It's exhausting.  Part of my getting a grip is about learning when to let the outcomes just happen.  Because that's OK, when stuff just happens.

Thanksgiving can't just happen, though. I just can't let it HAPPEN.  Even if it's not at our house (it was this year, we'll get to that in a minute) I spend way too much energy on it.  What if whatever I'm bringing is weird for some reason (because, you know, pumpkin pie can be weird...?)?  What if ... I can't even describe some of the What Ifs I've dealt with in the past.  It's too soon in my blog to let you in on my weirdness to that level.

So this year, Thanksgiving was at our house.  RED ALERT.  RED ALERT.  ALL HANDS ON DECK.  Historically, this would be reason enough for me to lose my mind.  Both sets of grandparents, plus the aunt who has hosted the past 4 years and her family AND her daughter's friend?  Oh good heavens.

I did what any person who was aware of the potential for meltdown would do:  I went into Spreadsheet Mode.  We all need our Survival Kits, right?  Mine is the spreadsheet.  I like Google Docs, because I can access them from my phone, which proved to be invaluable this year when I needed to double-check a recipe during my final pre-feast grocery trip.  A couple of months ago (because as you know by now, I'm like that...) I started setting up my spreadsheet.  The columns were for each dish I hoped to have for the meal.  You know, like "turkey".  "Stuffing".  Easy stuff like that.

The first row underneath the column header?  Who was making that dish.  Some things were easy enough to determine.  The turkey can't be transported, so it should be cooked here.  My name goes in that column.  I left things blank, or with question marks, until anything that was to be delegated (like pies...) was confirmed.

The next row was a link to the recipe.  I'm a big believer in The Interwebs, so anything I didn't know how to do off the top of my head was Googled (ahhhhh Google you make me so happy...) and linked.

Next row was titled "Prep".  When does stuff start to happen?  Some things can be built in advance (like a fantastic cheesy butternut squash casserole), and that saves a scramble on The Big Day.  Cranberry sauce (easier than you'd think to make from scratch...)?  Sunday.  Chopping vegetables for the stuffing?  Monday.  Pasta salad?  Tuesday.  You get the idea.  Doing the prep in advance (the French call it "mise en place" which I just love) meant that on Thursday, the turkey had my full attention.

Also on my spreadsheet was my shopping list.  I went through the recipes a couple weeks ahead of time, and anything that wasn't already in my kitchen went on the list.

Entertaining makes me angsty even when it's just a few friends coming over.  Thanksgiving had the potential to make me a lunatic.  Simply planning in advance made it easier.  Knowing I was organized and had a plan of attack helped me keep it together.  Instead of spending Thanksgiving day running around like a crazy person, trying to do everything all at once, I was able to talk with my family, watch some football, and enjoy the day.  Sure, there was a bit of a hubbub when it was all ready to go on the table, but since I wasn't worn out from the morning, it was all right.

What's your best method of keeping a big event organized?  Spreadsheets don't work for everyone, I know.  For some, it's a calendar that is never too far out of reach.  Others live and die by the post-it note.  Any system that works is a good system.  The important thing is to know what your system is, and to use it.

I hope your Thanksgiving was a happy one!

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