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We are headed full-tilt into the busiest season of the year – The Holidays.  So many of us have this mental image of how things should look, and that image is probably from some magazine’s pristine, overly decorated photo.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love to decorate for the holidays, and set my table with a bit of pizzazz.  But when looking at that photo, I can’t help but wonder a few things:  1) where do you put the food?  2)  What are my real chances of getting cranberry sauce stains out of that?  3) Even if I thought that sounded good, where on earth would I even get the ingredients to make it?  4)  It would cost HOW MUCH to do that???  Yipes!

I hate to tell y’all this.  My only nod to Thanksgiving in my table décor is Dot’s fruit dishes, and cloth napkins that are placed in some metal painted fruit napkin rings I got lucky enough to find.  This is all placed on an assortment of tables.  My farmhouse table seats six.   A card table seats four.  If necessary, I have no problem pulling up barstools to the island.  In fact, I prefer to sit there, because I am closer to the food and in the prime spot for seconds.  Plus, I can still be a part of all the conversations.

My real Thanksgiving decorations are in a different form.  The hearts of family, friends, neighbors and the invited guest that is seated around these tables, offer a stunning display of love.  The food on the table is the best incense you can find – and it can’t be bought in a bottle.  The laughter is the twinkle in the air.  The conversation is the garland stretched around the room.  Not a magazine in the world can truly photograph decorations such as these.

Are you going to be doing a lot of the baking?  With a few weeks to go before the big day, take a look at your list, and see what you might be able to make ahead of time.  Most desserts freeze well, so whip them up this weekend and remove one worry off your plate.  In our family, everyone brings a dish.  In keeping with tradition, I am usually elected to make Dot’s macaroni and cheese and hot rolls.  Both are easy to do and the mac and cheese can be partially prepared the night before and put in the refrigerator.  The rolls are done in segments, and in between I can do other things.  The turkey is usually done by Timmy, and my mouth is already salivating in anticipation of one of Rose’s desserts.   Don’t try to do all the cooking yourself.  Let others share in the work and enjoyment of bringing a meal together.

Will you have overnight guests?  Spruce that guest room up the week before.  To make it more welcoming, add a small basket in the bathroom filled with items they may have forgotten, like toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.  Go the extra mile and add in some of those handmade soaps and maybe a bottle of bubble bath.  I have a vintage plate on the bedside table that I fill with Andes Candies or other treats, along with a bottle of water and a glass.  And don’t forget to add a book or magazine that would appeal to your guest. 

Regardless of where you are, there is always plenty of clean up after the fact.  One thing you can do to make it easier is to clean as you go.  Keep a sink full of hot soapy water and wash as much as you can as you finish with it.  After the meal, grab a helper or two, and use this time as quality visitation.  Catch up with your cousin.  Find out the real story behind that pointed look at the table.  Reminisce about holidays of the past.  Even go so far as to assign someone to make up plates of leftovers.  Give them masking tape and a pen to label each plate with a guest’s name to make last minute distribution a snap.  The work will get done in less time and will be a joy rather than drudgery. 

The whole concept behind Simply Living is just that – learning to live simply.  To do that, we need to remove any opportunity for stress to move in.  Don’t worry so much about a ‘perfect’ presentation.  Take joy in preparing the meal.  Set the table with whatever you have on hand.  Bake ahead, and clean as you go.   Keep in mind all the things you have to be thankful for.  Allow yourself to just enjoy the day, and be thankful for all those wonderful people who have provided the ‘decorations’.