Ode to a Peaceful #Thanksgiving Prep

As a journalist trained by daily deadlines, I am by nature a procrastinator. I do some of my best work (or at least most of my work) on deadline. But, when it comes to creative “work” — i.e. cooking or decorating or crafting — deadlines do not seem to work in my favor.

I’ve learned that I have to leave a margin for imagination, especially if I want these things to be a joy and not a burden. I learned that from a dear friend who, though she had a million talents and could have pursued any one of them full-time, worked hard to leave a margin for her imagination. I was always amazed at the energy she had for redecorating projects or for turning a garage sale find into an Etsy-worthy treasure. And I learned that it’s because she left room for these things and, therefore, found incredible joy in “the project.”

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A little prep — and a lot of pre-cooking — goes a long way for me.

I’m not very good at this. I confess to being a bit of a busy body — to doing too many things and none of them well. But I’ve learned to pull back a little. I’ve found that there is great joy and satisfaction in a project well done. Not necessarily perfect. But certainly good enough.

I’ve found that, for me, that means answering the creative call when it comes. That means that if I have on my weekend to do list (as I usually do): laundry, laundry, laundry, and instead stumble upon an irresistible antique/consignment store and spend the afternoon swimming in creative juices — that’s OK! The laundry will always be there. The creativity may not.

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My finds from the new Evolution Home store off Route 1 in Alexandria.

So that describes the past couple of weekends. Getting to projects that needed to be done before I welcome family guests for the week — but doing them as I have the creative energy to do them.

So I arranged the Thanksgiving centerpiece a week ahead. That’s when I was inspired to do it — and what if the inspiration didn’t come again? So I redecorated the guest room a bit instead of deep cleaning as per my schedule. I’m sure they’ll notice the orange tray table long before the dust bunnies (which I did eventually get to removing).

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All this is to say, I am very thankful that instead of dreading the encroaching deadlines this time — THANKSGIVING! HOUSE GUESTS! — I was able to chip away at the preparations as I had the inspiration. I can always clean at the last minute. In fact, that is one thing I do very well (and almost always) on deadline.

This means I may be, ahem, over-prepared for this Thursday. Or maybe as prepared as is necessary for me to carry out a joy-filled, anxiety-free (OK reduced-anxiety) celebration. My local Thanksgiving plans were even featured in this PBS NewsHour piece on the 100-mile challenge. (I know, now I’ve really got to do it!)

If you’re like me and not sure where to start, here are a few tips (that I’ll be preaching to myself) about how to keep it calm this coming week, complete with a few things you can do now so you don’t spend the week fretting (about guests or place cards or all that needs to be done in that fateful 30 minutes between when the turkey comes out of the oven and dinner is served)…

  • Answer the creative call when it comes. If you feel a creative urge (typically following a Pinterest binge) drop the broom and use it! Make a centerpiece, redecorate a wall or make place cards for your Thanksgiving guests. Consider tweaking long-cherished recipes or all-together new ones. This is the moment to make those decisions — not on deadline.
  • When you get stressed, clean it out. When I feel the anxiety building and not one bit of creativity flowing, it’s time to clean. Put on some soothing music or a podcast and get to scrubbing. For added inspiration, put on your heart rate monitor and start earning some extra T-day calories. Or organize. This weekend I organized dried beans and grains into mason jars (oh the glee!) and recycled dozens of long-hoarded food magazines.
  • Make a plan and stick to it, if possible. I found Real Simple’s Thanksgiving checklist (which you can download here and fill in with your own recipes) oh-so-helpful this weekend. It has helped me visualize and realize that I don’t need to pre-cut vegetables or pre-bake biscuits the night before. There should be plenty of time while the turkey is doing it’s thing to get it all, calmly, done.
  • Do ahead what can be done ahead. I always found it odd how cookbooks say dough/soup/etc. “can be done two days ahead” at the end of recipes. Who does that? Well, this week, I do. I figure my parents know I like cooking. They don’t need to see me in the kitchen every night this week as well as all day Thursday. And I had some homemade broth teetering on the edge of going bad. So I made soup. A big vat of everything-in-the-fridge soup that not only clears out space for Tday arrivals, but also saves me another night of cooking. The base for it was (as is the theme this week) bacon, half of which went toward wilted mustard green salads for dinner last night. How many birds was that with one stone?
  • I repeat, if possible. If your plan doesn’t go according to plan, no sweat. If I go to the market on Wednesday and the farmer is utterly out of the sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts and apples that are integral to my local-as-possible T-day menu — no sweat (OK, I might cry a little bit before getting over it). I can only control what I can control. And if I have to stand in line at a grocery store for one last thing, the world will not end.
  • Remember, it’s all about the people you love! I invited my folks up for Thanksgiving week this year because they need a break. They’ve been working like crazy the whole year long, and I’d love for this to be a relaxing getaway for them. Now why would I want to ruin all those good intentions by being the most stressed of the bunch? I don’t. So I pray I can carry out these little plans with grace and perspective and, above all, a joy that brings others joy.

What are your tips for preparing for the week ahead? Do you chop and prep everything the night before or plan out a minute-by-minute schedule? Or are you one of those blessed people that can just shrug and say, “It will all work out”?

May you be filled with Thanksgiving this week, whatever it has in store,
Whitney

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