Tuesday: The final countdown
Today—through a series of exercises in shopping and cleaning—you’re going to liberate your inner hausfrau. (And yes, men, you have one of those too.) It’s the last day you have to get the house ready before the hordes descend. So find the frilliest apron in the house, do some quick stretches, and let’s get to it!
Begin the day with a cup of strong coffee and a stack of cookbooks. Your first task is to make the mother of all grocery lists—and not just for Thanksgiving dinner itself, mind you. No, this list needs to cover all the meals for the entire weekend. Think bagels, spaghetti and two-for-one pizza coupons. And while the store probably won’t run out of potatoes, be prepared to encounter shortages of certain other key ingredients.
Must-have ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner
• Pumpkin pie filling*
• Evaporated milk for pumpkin pie*
• Sweet potatoes*
• Green beans
• 8 lbs. of butter (really!)
• Flour for pie crust and gravy
• Celery for the stuffing
• Thyme and rosemary for miscellaneous sides
• Oh, yeah: a turkey*
*You should have bought this a week ago. If you didn’t, leave extra time for frantic searching in store after store.
Now it’s time to do some cleaning. Put on some music with energy: the Supremes if you like to clean, Black Flag if you don’t. Think triage, cleaning only those surfaces you know your guests will touch or gaze at directly—meaning, in most families, the toilet and the mirrors. Push clutter under your bed, and give the bathroom sink a quick wipedown.
Excellent work. But don’t rip off those latex gloves just yet; there are still a couple of special holiday cleaning tasks. Number one is to clear out your fridge. This afternoon you’ll be coming home with an absolutely mind-boggling quantity of food, and that pasta salad left over from your Labor Day picnic will definitely need to forfeit its spot on the rear bottom shelf. Number two is to iron the linens for your Thanksgiving table. (Did someone say plastic tablecloth?)
And now, brave soul, you must venture into public, life savings in hand, and fill your cart to the brim with the makings of Thursday’s feast plus all those other meals we warned you about. It is prudent to set your oven on “clean” before you leave the house, since the fumes from oven cleaners could kill a horse. It is also prudent to don a disguise so as to minimize social interactions at the store. After all, every other host and hostess in town will be there too. (“Oh, hello, Betty! How much butter are you buying?”) Remember: There’s no shame in running from human connection, especially during the holidays.
How big a bird will you need, anyway?
• Allow one pound of turkey per person.
• Subtract a pound if any of these persons are babies, or act like babies.
• Add a bit if you want leftovers, which you do—remember all those other meals?
• Subtract a pound for your vegetarian cousin.
• Add that pound back in for her brother with the NRA bumper sticker.
While you’re out, be sure to fill up your gas tank. (Trust us on this one.)
After you get home and cram the day’s haul into the fridge and cabinets, have a glass of wine or four and savor your last evening of normalcy for many, many days. Perhaps forever.
Wednesday: The hordes descend
Realize, upon awakening, that tonight is the night your guests actually arrive. Utter the appropriate curse word, then leap out of bed. Today it’s all about getting things done that, once your family and all their distractions are here, will become painful and/or impossible.
For instance, baking. You don’t want to be measuring half-teaspoons of vanilla while some elderly relative describes in detail her adventures with bunions and several youthful relatives run laps around your kitchen. So get that flour sifted and those crusts rolled out now. You can also chop ingredients like celery, carrots, beets and nuts today. (Apples, onions and herbs will lose their flavor and/or turn unappetizing colors if you chop them too far ahead, so hold off on those. They’ll make a good diversion for one of your guests tomorrow, anyway.) And if you’re one of those who believes in brining the turkey, you should do that today too.
Consider the comfort of your guests. They would appreciate crisp, clean sheets on their beds and confusion-free access to your toilet paper supply—which, prudently, you restocked during yesterday’s visit to the grocery store. They would probably be delighted if you put mints on their pillows, but you know better than we do whether they actually deserve it.
With an hour or so to go before that fateful knock on the door, gather the needed tools for preparing tonight’s dinner—i.e., the telephone, and our brief list of…
Some local restaurants that deliver
900 Natural Resources Dr.
1511 University Ave.
1137 Emmet St.
901 E. Market St.
108 Second St. SW
2006 Holiday Dr.
104 14th St. NW
1309 W. Main St.
1330 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy.
And here’s something to be thankful for. After they’ve burst through the door and you’ve given hugs all around and they’ve told you all about which route they drove and the traffic that made them late and the fights they had over how often to make pit stops, and they’ve put their suitcases in their rooms and one of them has broken the first of many fragile items that will be destroyed this weekend, including your self-esteem, it’s perfectly acceptable to serve up dinner in the living room, along with a movie.
That’s right, a movie. Let’s face it: Not only are you exhausted from all this domestic activity, but they’re exhausted from their trip. Don’t even try to create the Thanksgiving spirit yourselves. Just let the professionals—the actors, composers and set designers—do it for you.
Thanksgiving movies for Wednesday-night viewing
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Steve Martin and John Candy try to get home for Thanksgiving, proving that there’s always someone whose holiday predicament is worse than yours.
Hannah and Her Sisters
Woody Allen does Thanksgiving by pointing his wry lens at the stories and relationships of three sisters, including one who sleeps with another one’s husband.
Home for turkey day, a teenager tries to woo his stepmother and accidentally gets with her best friend instead. The kids will love this one.
The Ice Storm
On second thought, Ang Lee’s story of suburban tragedy, though it takes place at Thanksgiving time, is probably not such a good choice. How about…
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Awwww. Much better.
Thursday: The reckoning
Get your stopwatches out, people: Today is all about timing. Dinner is, of course, the centerpiece of the day. However, it has to be scheduled with consideration for numerous other factors:
“The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”
Does anyone in the house feel a burning need to witness inflatable animals the size of the Hindenberg? If so, you’ll want to leave time to tune in to NBC from 9am to noon.
Are you or any of your guests rabid fans of a particular football team that’s playing today? Have said fans placed ill-advised bets on said team? There’s nothing more annoying to the cook than having someone glued to the TV, screaming about passing attacks, when they’re supposed to be savoring the brussels sprouts chiffonade. Avoid potential conflicts by scheduling around the game.
Miami at Detroit, 12:30pm on CBS
Tampa Bay at Dallas, 4:15pm on Fox
Denver at Kansas City, 8pm on NFL
Boston College at Miami, 7:30pm on ESPN
Finally, there may be members of your party who are valiantly trying to divide their time between sets of in-laws or estranged parents. Have some sympathy for their dilemma and try to work it so they don’t have to walk out the door right before you serve dessert.
During the morning hours, any guests who are not watching the Macy’s parade should be encouraged to leave the house and participate in the Turkey Trot, a 5Kwalk/run at the Boar’s Head Inn. Not only will this prime their appetites for this afternoon’s gluttony, it will get them out of your hair for a couple of hours, during which time you can peel potatoes, do that baking you slacked off on yesterday, and/or cry.
Once they’re back in the house, your guests may offer to “help.” Though we know as well as you that no one can match your abilities with a chef’s knife or a cheese grater, a gracious host or hostess will recognize that some guests are truly more comfortable when they’re put in charge of some kitchen project. Besides, your great-aunt’s shrill voice may be muffled somewhat if you give her a peeler and put her behind a giant mound of root vegetables.
A couple of hours before the meal, you may notice a certain crisis developing. Things are happening fast in the kitchen, and non-football-watching guests have plowed through the cheese ball you put out earlier and are hovering near the fridge with nothing to do. Solution? Enlist your teenagers, who are growing even more sullen than usual due to the well-meaning but idiotic videogame ban you’ve imposed, as tour guides.
Local landmarks your guests can appreciate even when they’re closed
• The Rivanna Trail, which encircles the city.
• The Saunders Trail, which climbs the mountain to Monticello.
• UVA’s Rotunda and Lawn, which
will introduce guests to the local term “academical.”
• The Downtown Mall, which will introduce guests to the local term “bobo.”
In these last precious minutes before the meal is served, it’s important to suddenly recall that you have not given any thought to seating arrangements. If you’re dividing the group among a couple of tables, figure out who’s being banished from the dining room—kids, or George Allen supporters? And will you assign each guest to a chair? No, you will not. It’s far too late for that. Just let the chips fall where they may.
And now—now that the potatoes have been boiled and the gravy has thickened and the turkey has been carved—it’s time to eat!
Well, that was fast. It’s eight minutes later, and you and your guests are staring at each other over dirty plates. Even the pie has disappeared. The cat is on the counter in the deserted kitchen, licking a stray piece of dark meat.
Accept any and all offers to help with cleanup. In fact, those who fail to make such offers should be ordered to help and assigned the worst jobs, like scrubbing the roasting pan or finding matching tops for the Tupperware.
The hours after dinner, if all goes well, will probably be brief due to the soporific effect of tryptophan. If your guests remain unaccountably perky, punish them by organizing a game of charades. And if you’re trying to foment arguments, you may want to withhold…
…The official rules of charades
1. No oral utterances of any kind. That includes barking. Other bodily sounds like clapping are up to the players’ discretion.
2. No mouthing words or drawing letters in the air. Use of objects—for example, a pillow to indicate “sleep” (hint! hint!)—is allowed.
One final note: Your better families save the full-on dysfunctional fighting for Friday and Saturday, but there is nothing improper about introducing a little light drama in the final hour before bedtime. One judiciously slammed door will do.
Friday: Pushing through the pain
The alarm will go off at 4am. Why? Because you, along with every other schmoe in town, are going to the mall, and you will arrive there in time for the Black Friday sales beginning well before dawn. Thanksgiving’s over, baby; welcome to the Season of Light.
Black Friday in Charlottesville
• Fashion Square Mall opens: 5am
• Barracks Road Shopping Center holiday parade: 9:30am
Wear sensible shoes—not so much for walking around in the store, but for trudging the mile and a half from the only parking spot you’ll be able to find. Bring bottled water and a handkerchief for wiping the sweat off your forehead as you battle other shoppers for whatever sensational toy is sweeping the nation this year.
After you’ve secured gifts for a majority of the people on your list and disguised them under an old army blanket in the car (since those very people are here with you for the weekend), reward yourself in the traditional manner by seeing a movie.
Movies opening Thanksgiving weekend
Deck the Halls
Danny DeVito annoys his neighbor, Matthew Broderick, with an outsized Christmas spirit.
Action thriller starring Denzel Washington. Have we seen this before?
Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny
Jack Black and Amy Poehler star in this comedy about the greatest rock band in the world.
A man struggles for a thousand years to save his lady love. Who says chivalry’s dead?
The rest of the day can be fairly aimless. You can take a destination-less drive along scenic byways like Route 20 or the Blue Ridge Parkway; you can take glamour-conscious guests to your favorite salon for pedicures. One big meal of leftovers somewhere in the mid- to late-afternoon should cover both lunch and dinner for the day. (When in doubt, most elements of the day-old Thanksgiving meal can be combined in a large skillet with some olive oil, then served on paper plates.)
Because you woke up at 4 in the morning, you’ll likely fall asleep just before sundown. Consider that fact your first Christmas present of the season, and embrace it. But don’t forget to exercise your right, as host/hostess, to sow feelings of shame among your family members before you head off to bed.
Effective guilt trips for guests
• “I’ve been wanting to replace that carpet, anyway.”
• “I’m so glad you’re all staying until tomorrow. What’s that? You’re leaving on Sunday? Well, this is a nice long visit!”
• “Thanksgiving gets a teensy bit easier to manage every year that I host it.”
• “You must have been ravenous yesterday, with the way you put that meal away so fast. I guess I ate slower because I was tired after all that cooking.”
• “It certainly is lovely to have guests who treat your house as their own.”
Saturday: Get out of my house this second
Welcome to the day of no-holds-barred family drama. This is your best chance all year to release those pent-up feelings of resentment and anger. Remember that tank of gas you bought on Tuesday? Today you will use it to drive off to Staunton in a huff. Aim for maximum blowout just after lunch, giving everyone time to cool off and make up before tomorrow’s goodbyes.
If, for some unaccountable reason, you are attempting to maintain peace in the household, you will need to provide numerous diversions today, for yourself as much as anyone else. It might be a good day to get outside. Throw a Frisbee in the yard, take a walk around the neighborhood, or “invite” everyone to help out with some yard work you’ve been meaning to get to since September.
Perhaps those family members who lost their ill-advised football bets on Thursday are interested in recouping their losses on some of today’s college games. For their benefit, here’s a list of…
More football games
• Boise State at Nevada, TBA, on ESPN
• Kansas at Missouri, noon on ABC
• Brigham Young at Utah, 3:30pm on CSTV
• Florida International at Florida Atlantic, 7pm on ESPN Plus
• Notre Dame at USC, 8pm on ABC
Meanwhile, perhaps other family members with grudges against football fans who lose money on ill-advised bets are interested in annoying said fans by engaging in raucous board- or card-game play, mere feet from the TV. For their benefit, here’s a list of…
Classic family board games
• Trivial Pursuit
And card games
• Crazy Eights
The rest of you can watch movies. At this point in the weekend, there’s really no need to drum up holiday spirit, and in fact you may wish to actively dampen it. So here’s a list of…
Movie classics that have nothing to do with Thanksgiving
Complete nincompoops try not to crash
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford looks sexy in a fedora.
Orson Welles’ masterpiece explains what “rosebud” means.
Father of the Bride (original version)
Elizabeth Taylor’s nuptials cause Spencer Tracy to gnash his teeth.
The Shawkshank Redemption
Tim Robbins breaks out of the slammer.
The Princess Bride
Cary Elwes gets the girl—Princess Buttercup, of course.
Last of the Mohicans
Daniel Day-Lewis makes the French and Indian War look very, very exciting.
The Wizard of Oz
Something about a twister.
Or, you can all leave the house together. One option is to find a nice, wholesome, family-friendly outing you can all enjoy. Choose from our list of…
The Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia
See how people lived in the 18th and 19th centuries and realize that, in earlier generations, a family Thanksgiving likely consisted of a chicken from the barnyard and a nice little Bible reading.
Mount Vernon by Candlelight
It’s the same tour to which you dragged these same relatives three summers ago, but with candles. Oh—and hot cider.
What could be more appropriate for the holiday season than singing rocks?
Another option for the outing is to pit family members against each other in a recreational setting. If you go for this one, you’ll need to know…
Where to bowl and play pool
Bowling: AMF Kegler’s Lanes
2000 Seminole Trail, 978-3999
Pool: Kegler’s (again)
Orbit Billiards & Café
102 14th St. NW, 984-5707
109 W. Main St., 971-8511
301 E. Main St., 293-9526
A final option for making Saturday pass pleasantly is to visit nearby friends. Enterprising hosts and hostesses may even be able to arrange family swaps, in which they exchange their whining relatives for someone else’s.
Before going to bed, set every alarm in the house for 6:30am.
Sunday: Going so soon?
Every alarm in the house goes off at 6:30am. Your guests may find this somewhat objectionable, but you will find it encouraging because it means they may actually be gone by noon. Disguise your giddiness by serving up a big ol’ breakfast. While they shower, strip their beds—to impress them with your energetic housekeeping, of course. Tell them how wonderful it was to have them, and slip some greasy turkey bones into their luggage on their way out the door.
Smoke a joint and lay on the floor for the rest of the afternoon.
Monday: Start packing
Back to work! Throw yourself into the world of spreadsheets and toner cartridges with gusto.
What’s that you say? You wish the holiday weren’t over? You wish you had more time to spend chatting with your nephew and looking at photos with your mom? You’re actually starting to feel glad that you’ll see all these people again in a month?
You should feel glad. Because this time, you’ll be the guest.