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Holiday Method Part 1

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Happy November Everyone!  I’m ‘back in the office’ today after expelling a nasty bug from my system that took me down for the bulk of last week. Thank goodness it wasn’t COVID and I had my Flu shot the week before so it shouldn’t have been that either; whatever it was it ripped from me my energy and productivity, two things whose consistency I rely on. UGH.

Thank Heavens I’m now back in the saddle and the first thing on my new list was to re-calibrate the old list. Check.  The next thing was to look ahead at the next few weeks (Holy C*** it’s November!) and plot everything out so that order could be restored in the Universe.  As I was plotting I came up pretty quickly on Thanksgiving.  That’s right, it is only 3 ½ weeks away…

So first of all this is exciting news!  Why?  Because I LOVE Thanksgiving!  Also because last year Thanksgiving sucked! Thirdly because my 2 college kiddos will be coming home! And also because I am hosting a big holiday this year, complete with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. With houseguests and pies and loud conversation. With the Sound of Music and a beautiful tablescape. With a well-behaved dog and helpful offspring. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because to have all of this AND retain the good cheer and gratitude of all involved (including me!) means seriously planning ahead. So that’s what I’m covering today – a Holiday Season Checklist that ensures you will have as much fun as your guests during the busiest and pressurized season of the year.

One of the reasons I like planning far ahead is because then I’m only plunking one or two things from the big list down on each week and it doesn’t feel overwhelming. This is another iteration of the ‘break-it-into-small-chunks’ strategy that works for everything every time. There are only 5 things on my checklist – that’s less than 2 checklist items per week to get you ready. For ease of digestion I have breaking down the 5 items between 2 posts – today I will cover Organize Linens, Guest Room Prep and Meal Prep. Later in the week I’ll get to Servingware Prep and Tablescaping. You can do it. You will nail it. You will make it look so easy. You will be Thanksgiving Royalty…

Organize Linens

This may seem counter-intuitive but the weeks prior to the Holiday Season (i.e. House Guest season) are an excellent time to organize your linens. If your linens are already organized, congratulations! If not – here are some handy tips to tackle that project.

  1. Decide what you are keeping in the ‘communal’ linen closet vs in the closets of the individual bedrooms. After our last remodel (which involved bedrooms and bathrooms) I migrated a lot of what was in the communal linen closet to the closet/storage spaces in the individual bedrooms/bathrooms. I highly recommend this approach if your space allows. The system is more manageable and easily sustainable going forward. You can deal with each room as needed and then everything you need to ‘service’ that room is readily available. My communal closet now houses bath linens for our Hall bath (that does not have storage space for them,) beach towels, extra down comforters/white sheet sets/pillows and the overflow of table linens (of which I have a large collection.) All bed linens and bath linens (with exception of afore-mentioned Hall Bath) are housed in the individual rooms.

  2. Use Bins to organize. In my opinion the bins are more important for the bed linens vs bath – I find bath towels easy to fold and keep neat in the closet so mine are not in bins. Bed linens do not look as neat folded due to the fitted sheet. I am way to lazy to Marie Kondo Fold my sheets so bins work GREAT. You can label them if you like – I like to label mine for the benefit of those other than me (such as my husband, for instance) who I would like to maintain the system that I have designed. Slapping a label on something makes it harder for others to undo your hard work. I have my seasonal linens for the master bedroom labeled appropriately (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) so whoever is changing the sheets is clear about which ones should be used when. Pro Tip: I like flannel bins for bed linens as they are soft and many models, like the GoHome basket I’ve linked are collapsible and don’t take up extra space when not in use. I need a larger-size basket as my bedlinen sets include a duvet cover (I’m a huge fan of duvets as you will see)

  3. Check your backfills. I keep back fills of white sheet sets, a couple of comforters and pillows. Pillows especially seem to somehow go missing as the months fly by so it always a good idea to take stock now and fill in any gaps in your back stock. I keep the backstock in the communal closet for ease. Have at least one backup white sheet set for each size bed you have (white goes with everything.) We are now at almost all Queens so that makes it pretty easy at the Powell house.

Guest room prep

With the exception of fresh flowers in their room your guest prep can all happen weeks before your guests arrive. The first thing you need to figure out is who is staying where. At our house we have one dedicated Guest Room and the other rooms that can convert if needed. I’m not going to make the beds in the converted rooms until right before the guests arrive but the guest room can be prepped well ahead with:

  1. A well-outfitted nightstand says ‘Welcome, we’re happy you’re here’ and small details are important. My guest room nightstands come with an (easy to turn on) lamp, a clock, a box of tissues, phone charger and our wi-fi password written on a place card. If your guests have everything they need close at hand they will relax. If your guest room does double duty as an office or other function then keep your nightstand items in a bin as a ‘kit’ that you pull out when it’s houseguest-season.

  2. A place for luggage. If there is a piece of furniture that works, designate it for suitcases, no one likes to unpack their suitcase on the bed. If there isn’t something appropriate then invest in a foldable luggage rack

  3. Extra Blankets. I learned this one the hard way. I run hot generally and never need extra blankets so never occurred to me to keep extras for guests. My poor mother-in-law had to go trekking down the hall to our family room to dig out a blanket which I later found folded in the guest room closet. Sigh. Pro Tip: size of blanket is important – there are many cute little throws out there but for your guest room you will want a blanket that aligns with the size of the bed!

  4. Reading Materials. Leave a curated selection of books and perhaps some magazines (the ones you never read that lay around your house for months) – it’s a thoughtful touch they’ll appreciate to have some screen-free down-time.

  5. Fresh Flowers. Seasonally appropriate flowers will really warm up the room and make it feel posh and homey at the same time.

MEAL prep

Never too early to plan your menu, especially for Thanksgiving which I find to be the most stressful of the holiday meals due to the sheer number of dishes. If you are able to delegate some dishes, do it – you will thank yourself later. Below are steps I take when I plan my meal:

  1. Pick the dishes. Everyone has their own traditions and some people like to really mix it up at Thanksgiving. I tend to stick with dishes that have been the most well-received over the years which means there is not a lot of newness happening. I sacrifice newness for quality and the known entity, not to be under-valued in a meal where so many dishes are competing for oven and stove space.

  2. Select which dishes you will make. Depending on the year and how many people are at my Thanksgiving table I tend to delegate things like rolls, cranberry relish (we usually have a couple of varieties) and a pie or two. I have a double oven and sizeable range so I can handle ‘the majors’ myself but if you are more strapped for space a good strategy may be to delegate one or two things that require the oven/range so you won’t have to worry about how to fit everything. Delegating Pro Tip: Do your planning early and give your delegates plenty of time to accept and research their dish, they will not appreciate last-minute assignments and could arrive grumpy.

  3. Plan the cooking schedule. When the day comes, you want smooth sailing and predictable steps to follow. I personally like to make sure I have time to squeeze in most of The Sound of Music, which I associate strongly with Thanksgiving because it used to come on TV every year. We spent Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s house in Marin, which was a 45 minute drive from our house on the Peninsula. The movie would come on after dinner and the kids would watch it all the way through until Maria and Captain Von Trapp got married, at which point my mom would say “Okay, it’s over – time to go home!’ and we would sleepily bundle out of the house and drive home. My whole childhood I thought the movie ended at the wedding scene….but I digress. If I want to have time to watch SoM that means I’ve got to make whatever I can on the day before – for me that is Soup, Pie and brine. That leaves Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, green beans and mac and cheese to get done on Thursday. Prep/chopping happens early in the morning, then the movie, then the intricate schedule of baking and stovetop activity. Full disclosure the planning does take time but what it saves me in stress and heartache is so worth it, plus I get to watch my movie!

  4. Make the shopping list. I am a huge proponent of grocery lists as part of meal-planning strategy and Thanksgiving is no exception. Take the time to go through your recipes, list out the ingredients (I use the One Note app on my phone,) check your pantry first to see what you already have and then keep your list on ice for a couple of weeks until you need it, adding to it as you think of extraneous items that you will need. Pro Tip: take the few extra minutes to organize your list by grocery-store section, your trip will go more quickly at a time when grocery stores are VERY busy and it is easy to get sucked into the vortex.

Okay – you’ve got a fair amount to digest before we get to Holiday Method Part 2. Hosting a holiday is a lot of work but with some organization and the right plan in place it can be really satisfying and even fun! I’ll get back to you with Servingware and Tablescaping so stay tuned and don’t worry, you’ll have a full proof Method for the Holiday Madness!

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