Turkey Day Solutions

Thanksgiving should be a warm, comforting occasion. It’s a time to pause with friends and family members to count our blessings. It’s a time of bountiful harvest and wonderful food.

It’s also a time when stress tends to run high. The holiday hustle and bustle and elaborate preparations could make anyone a little crazy, but these words of wisdom from hometown experts will help minimize any Turkey Day obstacles and keep the focus on love and laughter.

Let’s toast to a peaceful holiday season.

Botched Bird

You were hoping for a perfect, golden Thanksgiving bird to go with your world-famous stuffing. Instead, you opened the oven door to find your turkey is burned beyond edibility, and to top it off, the stuffing is watery and thin. Dinner is effectively ruined, and your guests have already demolished the cheese and crackers spread. What do you do?

Have no fear — your family won’t starve. So go ahead and give the stove a cathartic kick, take a deep breath, and read on for Plan B.

If you’d still like to have dinner at home — you did clean and decorate the house, after all! — make a quick run to the prepared foods section of an open grocery store. Hy-Vee and Walmart Supercenter are open 24 hours a day, even on the holiday, and Gerbes will maintain its regular hours of operation from 6 a.m. to midnight. If your crisis occurs in the morning, swing by Patricia’s Foods, which closes in the early afternoon. These grocery stores report plans to offer their usual assortment of hot entrées and side items such as rotisserie chicken, turkey, casseroles, potatoes and pasta salads. Stop by the produce section to grab a couple of bags of mixed greens and some salad toppings, and you’re back on track.

If your dinner guests don’t mind relocating, several local restaurants will be ready and waiting to feed your crew on the holiday.

“Cracker Barrel is the ideal place for families to come and have a family dinner when cooking at home is not an option. We serve turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie, pecan pie — any kind of food item you would think of when you think of Thanksgiving dinner,” Manager Matthew Kohler says. The restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

Golden Corral, Grand Cru, Boone Tavern and the Holiday Inn Executive Center all offer Thanksgiving-themed buffets to satisfy your craving for traditional comfort foods.

Golden Corral’s buffet is open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Expect to fill your bellies with turkey, baked rolls, mashed potatoes and plenty of other beloved Thanksgiving foods at the eatery.

Grand Cru Manager Dan Paulsell cites an exhaustive list of tempting foods available on the restaurant’s buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. “We do a Thanksgiving buffet that consists of turkey, prime rib, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, broccoli au gratin, house-made cranberry sauce, assorted salads, desserts, fruit, deviled eggs and much more,” he says. “Basically the full Thanksgiving spread.”

Boone Tavern’s buffet is also open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it will be equipped with “all the fixin’s!” Manager Richard Walls says. “We will be serving a traditional Thanksgiving buffet: turkey, ham, beef, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, dressing, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, green bean casserole, all of your favorites … cheese display, side salads, rolls, cranberry salad, wine, beer, full bar …” he says.

No matter how big or small your party is, the Holiday Inn Executive Center is also ready to accommodate your group. “We can seat singles to parties of 20, so if a family wants to sit together they can do so,” says Teri Weise, director of sales and marketing. If possible, it is helpful to call ahead so the staff can stagger large families. The lunch buffet is traditionally available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; call for updated times.

If all else fails, you can still get your fill at Steak ‘N Shake, International House of Pancakes or Waffle House. Steak ‘N Shake and Waffle House are open all day and night; call International House of Pancakes to verify holiday hours.

Even if your dreams of made-from-scratch Thanksgiving bliss go up in smoke, with the help of friendly local establishments there’s no reason for you and your loved ones to go hungry.


Debbie Downers And Negative Nancys

Don’t allow the Debbie Downer of your family to strike down a great Thanksgiving dinner with negativity.

“Talk to the person in advance,” says Ted Solomon, director of Outpatient Services for the Family Counseling Center, “and tell them how you’re looking forward to having them there.”

Solomon says there are many options for combating pessimism on your day of thanks. Share your positivity with everyone who walks in your door. An infectious smile can brighten even the darkest spirits.

Clearly state your expectations of adequate holiday manners, and let everyone know your goal for the fantastic feast — delicious food, enjoyable conversation and happy company. Solomon suggests being blunt. “Tell them things like, ‘I don’t want to see a fight’ or ‘I don’t want to make a scene,’ ” he says. By doing this, you’re giving your guests specific do’s and don’ts for this family get-together.

Inviting a first-time guest to the festivities? Inform him or her about the problem in order to avoid an awkward initial first meeting of family. Few things are as uncomfortable as going to meet your sweetheart’s family for the first time only to be greeted by the sulking silence or constant complaints of a Debbie Downer. A heads-up would probably be appreciated.

To prevent the “woe-is-me” attitude from spreading, cut it off at the source. Get the Negative Nancy involved in something constructive. Thanksgiving requires oodles and oodles of cooking. An extra hand in the kitchen always helps, especially when trying to get that person’s mind geared toward happiness.

If the Negative Nancy begins a slew of sadness, try not to take it personally. In fact, try changing the subject to something more positive. Tell your down-and-out friend or relative to spread love and thanks. Keep the compliments coming and save the complaints for another day.


The Policy Of Politics At The Table

Discussion of politics at the dinner table is traditionally taboo, but whether or not you should include caucus conversation and election interjections during Thanksgiving dinner depends on your goal. Would you like to have a good-hearted debate, or do you prefer slaving over a hot argument more than you slaved over the stove?

Choose your poison wisely. If you’re trying to avoid table talk of politics, steer clear of any mayoral, gubernatorial and congressional conversation starter. Solomon suggests speaking to your guests about expected holiday manners, especially if you’re hosting the soirée. A simple scan of your guest list and a few polite words can go a long way. If a political word-war erupts, however, Solomon recommends politely asking those feisty guests to take their argument into the other room. Keep a whistle handy — you may have to play referee to your guests’ quarrelling.

When discussing politics at the dinner table, keep in mind whether your guests’ opinions will collide with your own and how you plan on accepting those differences. An aggravated host or aggravated company isn’t ideal for a Thanksgiving gathering.

What are the consequences if children are present when a vicious conflict ensues? To avoid any drastic altercations with young eyes watching, Solomon suggests removing children from the room and keeping them occupied while tensions settle. Thanksgiving revolves around fun with family and friends, not catfights and bitter words.

The most important question to ask yourself is this: How much of your energy do you want to give this subject on a holiday? Political talk at the dinner table is perfectly acceptable, as long as you and your guests know how to handle the topic. If you get sick to your stomach upon hearing the terms “candidate” or “policy-making,” though, you may want to skip political discussion altogether.


Party-Crashing Pooches

Dogs make great companions, but they may not always be welcome among all your dinner guests. If a family member unexpectedly brings his or her pooch to your gathering and someone else is, say, afraid of or allergic to dogs, what are your options?

The consensus among dog boarders is that they are unable to accept your furry friend for the holiday on such short notice. “As far as accepting on an emergency basis on a holiday, it’s not likely because we’ve been booked up for the holidays for six to nine months already,” Bed & Biscuit owner Candy Pezold says.

In addition to increased demand over the holidays, some kennels are unable to accept dogs on an emergency basis because they prefer to prescreen dogs before boarding them. “I like to see how they do with other dogs in my setting here before I take them,” says South Paw Acres owner Faye Nowell. This is especially important at her establishment because of its open boarding style. The dogs play together and sleep together, “so it’s important that they are social,” Nowell says.

If you have family members who will need to make pet care arrangements for the holidays, encourage them to do so as far in advance as possible. Despite this nudging, you may still find yourself playing host to Fluffy.

This arrangement works well if the guests love the dog and the feeling is mutual. When that isn’t the case, however, Nowell recommends separating the dog from the guests. As a last resort, “I’d probably put him in the bathroom or in the backyard, wherever he could be the most comfortable without upsetting everyone,” she says. “If it seemed like it wouldn’t work at all, I’d ask the person to take the dog home if they live in town. You want to make the dog comfortable wherever you can. Give them water and food, and just be as calm about it as you can.”

Pezold suggests putting the dog in a heated garage or a large, portable kennel, cautioning that the weather outdoors may be too cold for a dog around Thanksgiving.


First Thanksgiving After Mom’s Passing

Holidays can be a particularly difficult time for those who have experienced a recent loss. Celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time without Mom or Dad or another family member who has passed can be a painful reminder of the loved one’s absence.

Before getting together with the rest of the family, it’s important to recognize that each member of the family may be grieving differently, says licensed professional counselor Jeremy Duke. “There’s no set way that people are going to react to having a holiday without their loved one, and people are going to express their grief at Thanksgiving in all sorts of ways.”

Some people may want to talk about the loss they feel or reminisce about the loved one, and others may not wish to discuss it at all. Acknowledging that there is no right or wrong way to grieve may help the family get through the holiday season. “Talking about it ahead of time is good. Knowing that it’s going to be stressful and that people are going to react differently to that stress is important,” Duke says.

Licensed professional counselor Linda Johnson emphasizes the importance of self-reflection to suss out what your expectations are for the get-together. “The more self-aware you can be of your expectations and feelings, the greater choice you have in the moment about how you’re going to negotiate the holiday,” she says. If your grieving needs and wishes differ from those of your family members, a generous dose of self-compassion is in order. In such an instance, Johnson says the bereaved often find themselves wondering, “‘How can I take care of myself in this moment and continue to take care of my family?’”

If, by chance, the whole gang seems to want to talk about the loved one, “then going through rounds and telling about what you miss about the person,” can be a healthy exercise, Johnson says.

She explains that grief is different from depression. “Grief and sadness are energy moving through our body. It can come in waves, and it opens up space for celebration,” Johnson says. “If people are able to ride that wave of grief and move with it, there’s often catharsis or celebration or a release of energy on the other end of that wave.” This “movement” is one of the major differences between grief and depression, which Johnson describes as “stagnant.”

Interestingly enough, the Rev. Kenneth Gerike of Trinity Lutheran Church also compares grief to a wave-like motion. Reflecting on his interactions with bereaved congregants and the loss of his own wife more than three years ago, Gerike says that grief is first like a tsunami and later “more like swells.” Little by little, the swells become “fewer and farther between, yet there are things like Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter where we … know there have been significant changes from the way we used to do it.” He believes that acknowledging that things are different and leaning on your physical and/or spiritual family can be helpful.

Duke says that it’s normal to feel a little sad around the holidays even years after losing a loved one. “Holidays or birthdays or anniversaries can be hard for a long time, and that’s OK, too,” he says. “People think ‘Why am I not over this yet?’ and really to some extent there’s always going to be a little sadness around their death.”


Get Hypnotized With Food, Not Television

You’ve slaved over a hot stove, basted the turkey and baked copious amounts of whole-wheat dinner rolls. “Dinner’s ready,” you call to your guests … with no response. They’ve succumbed to pixels and pigskin on TV instead of your hearty meal. Peeling your guests’ eyes from the football game on television to indulge in Thanksgiving dinner can be tricky. The solution is simple — schedule dinner around major television events.

The morning of Thanksgiving, watch Horton the Elephant and Kermit the Frog cruise through Manhattan during the 83rd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you can’t venture to Central Park or 7th Avenue for the parade, wake up early to prepare your meal and watch the telecast of the parade on NBC or the live broadcast on Telemundo.

Then get your football fix before Thanksgiving dinner. Watch CBS at 11:30 a.m. to see the New England Patriots take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. For more details on games, visit www.nfl.com.

Your die-hard football fans won’t want to miss the battle in the South as the Dallas Cowboys defend their turf against the New Orleans Saints. Game time is 3:15 p.m. on FOX.

For post-dinner entertainment, watch the Cincinnati Bengals play the New York Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium. Game time is 7:20 p.m. on NFLN.

This year, don’t deprive your guests of their viewing rights. Instead of turning off the television (or flinging a plate into the screen), give your guests the best of both worlds. Scheduling Thanksgiving dinner around major football games and parades allows you not only to enjoy the company of family and friends at dinner, but also to indulge in broadcasted Thanksgiving traditions. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to sneak in a nap.


Sibling Strife

The table is set in gorgeous fall fashion. The food is a true Thanksgiving feast. All is perfect for a delightful meal shared among loved ones.

And then it starts.

A snide comment. A sarcastic response. A reference to something that happened 15 years ago. A resentful explosion that THAT is being brought up again.

Or perhaps it comes at game time. It’s just a fun time of Pictionary until all of a sudden, it’s a battle for pride, revenge and a settling of old scores.

Sibling rivalry has made a mess of many Thanksgiving dinners. As Kelly Wright, a licensed professional counselor with Coplen, Wright and Associates, Christian Counseling Center, notes, “Holiday stress often pushes unresolved issues into the forefront of family gatherings.”

When possible, deal with the simmering emotions before coming together, suggests Susan Schopflin, a spokesperson for Family Counseling Center of Missouri. The person taking preemptive action might be one of the feuding parties or just a witness. In either case, a phone call or note acknowledging past difficulties and expressing hope for a good visit might open up communication and allow for a resolution or at least a Thanksgiving truce.

“You might say, ‘In the past this has been our pattern …’ and then tell them what you hope for this year,” Schopflin says.

If comfort levels don’t allow for preemptive measures — or those measures don’t work — then at the gathering, be on the lookout for signs that emotions are heating up.

“If you see it starting to happen, see if you can pull one of the siblings out of the situation without making it obvious that that’s what you are doing,” Schopflin says. For example, ask one of them to check on the kids or stir the potatoes. The earlier the action is taken, the less obvious it will be.

If that window passes and the fight is on, Wright suggests calling a timeout.

“The family member calling the timeout may have to be very assertive,” she says. “After calling a timeout, set an alternate time and place to discuss what is really going on. Sibling rivalry stems out of lots of unresolved thoughts and feelings.”

And if it’s your own emotions that are boiling, both Schopflin and Wright say to remember, you control how you respond.

“You don’t have to engage in the argument,” Schopflin says. “It’s not easy, but you can take the high road.”

And three deep breaths will help.

“I know people kind of chuckle when therapists say it,” she says, “but taking three deep breaths works; it will help relax you.”


The Kids Are Destroying My House!

You feel a little bad about it, and would never admit it, but man, you wish you didn’t have to invite thatbunch to Thanksgiving dinner. The kids are so out of control, and the parents are maddening in their refusal to discipline.

So what do you do? Stand back and let the little monst — er, darlings — wreck your home?

Not a chance, say Schopflin and Wright.

Anytime you open your home to children, it’s a good idea to begin with a few instructions, Schopflin says.

“Set the tone for the day with a great spirit,” she says. “Tell them, ‘These are the rules at Aunt Anne’s house, and we’ll be going by Aunt Anne’s rules.’ It helps if the parents hear, too.”

Wright agrees.

“It is very appropriate to set boundaries with others, even children, when destructive behavior is occurring in your home,” Wright says. “Take the child and parent aside, and share your concern in a calm, discreet way. Focus on what is acceptable, and what is not, and offer alternative options for them. It is not helpful to tell the child that he or she is bad, but it is helpful to say that what he or she is doing is not OK in your home.”

Schopflin adds, “If you can make it about the kids’ safety — when they run through the house like that, they might slip and fall — that can help a little bit, versus telling them how to parent their children.”

Both Wright and Schopflin also note that bored children get into more trouble than occupied children.

“So having special activities for them to engage in, such as games or simple art projects, can be a proactive way to keep down the chaos,” Wright says.

Holidaysnovember 2010
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