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Plan out turkey day -- you'll be thankful later

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THANKSGIVING – the very name sounds peaceful and warm. And why should it be anything but? Don’t let Thanksgiving become stressful. With some planning, your day can be organized for maximum blessings.

The meal
Choices abound. The first is to go out to dinner. This might be the answer if your feet won’t hit the ground until Thanksgiving Day. The second, a variation on the first, is to order a cooked Thanksgiving dinner from a deli, grocery store or specialty market to eat at home. Either way, be sure to call ahead to reserve a spot.

The third choice is to cook dinner the old-fashioned way. The best foundation for a pleasant dinner is to have a plan — from appetizers to dessert. Just don’t etch your plan in stone. Be willing to accommodate the unexpected. Remember the simple Pilgrim menu, and you’ll be fine.

A variation on the home-cooked version (for families and friends living near each other) is to have dinner at one place, and then move to another for dessert and coffee. My family has done this often; the change in scenery livens the crowd and splits up the hosting duties.

Don’t think you have to do it all
When I was growing up, my dad was a grocer, and did the shopping. Provide a detailed shopping list to whoever does the shopping. Avoid crowds and shop early morning or late evening several days before the holiday.

Ask family or other guests to make their specialty to bring. Perhaps one of the guests likes to bake and could make pies. But allow for shortcuts: Store-bought pies are an easy alternative. Be sure to have light snacks on hand if people are hanging around.

Set the table in advance
This is a good job for someone who doesn’t like to cook, and perfect for kids. A preset table also puts your guests’ minds at ease and adds a festive atmosphere. Prepare any dishes that you can ahead of time so you won’t be stuck in the kitchen all day.

Let others help with cleanup
Coming from the predishwasher days, I can attest that drying dishes while my sister or dad washed wasn’t so bad. This gives everyone a chance to chip in with some conversation between towel snaps.

Don’t guess who’s coming to dinner
Check your supplies. Do you have enough chairs, dishes, glasses, pots, pans, serving pieces? Will you need extra tables? Will you want candles and/or a centerpiece? Will you use place cards? These may sound fussy, but they eliminate awkward moments of where to sit, and kids like to write the names. Arrange to buy, borrow or rent the things you need. Buffet style works well if you have a big crowd and limited table space.

The Murray family Thanksgiving
Sixteen years ago, my brother-in-law announced: “I’ve rented a house on the coast and you’re welcome to join us.” He didn’t have to twist our arms. The tradition of having Thanksgiving in this location continues. Here are our keys to a happy day:

No one person works too hard. My sister-in-law likes baking and usually bakes pies. We let her off the year she was 9 months pregnant and bought pies. My brother-in-law likes to cook the turkey, and I become chef’s assistant, whipping up the dressing, potatoes and gravy. Somehow a salad and fresh vegetable get prepared. Most of the group likes the canned cranberry sauce, so we take the shortcut. My husband is the bartender and appetizer man. Cleanup is handled by anyone who can still move after dinner. We eat an afternoon dinner so we can take a walk on the beach before dark.