By Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach
No, I'm not talking about the football game, I'm talking about everyone's coming to your house this year for Thanksgiving and you're getting the pregame jitters.
When it's all rumbling around in your head and you can't take action, you can get a case of the nerves. What to do? Let's apply some EQ (emotional intelligence)!
Sort through the emotions to get them organized and under management. Knowledge is power!
Figure out the different things you're feeling, label them, and identify their source. Then take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle.
On one side write "I can do something about this" and on the other write, "I can't do anything about this." Proceed to make a list under each column. Then you know the drill: Do what you can about those you can address, and modify your response to those you can't.
Here are three examples:
1. You're nervous about doing a great Thanksgiving celebration. This is normal. Getting "up" for things gives us the extra energy to carry them off. It's just you don't want it to get out-of-hand. If you assume there's something wrong with feeling this way because cool people don't, number one, you're wrong, and number two, you're giving it too much power. Get it in perspective and on a leash because after a certain point it isn't helpful.
2. You're nervous Aunt Betty will pick a fight with your sister again. There's nothing you can do about that except manage your response. It isn't something you're responsible for, which everyone knows, and you needn't let it ruin the occasion for you. If it helps, consider some ways of dealing with it. Here are three: ignoring it and directing conversation elsewhere; distracting one of them (ask them a question) or both of them (drop a platter loudly in the kitchen); or asking them to take it outside so the rest of you can enjoy the day.
3. You're nervous you'll burn the turkey. To solve this, get information. Read a cookbook, call your mom, get on the Internet and research. Make sure you have a good timer, which could actually be your partner!
Monitor your self-talk by reminding yourself how generally competent you are. Then start making lists and getting organized. Worrying doesn't help. Information and taking action do.
NEXT STEP - ORGANIZE
Get those random thoughts on paper. Make a list with the following headings:
Invitations and RSVPs
Guests' Special Needs
Cleaning the house
It's time to firm up who's coming so you'll have a count for seating, food, etc. As you confirm their attendance, ask about special needs.
Under each category write down what needs to be done. Then move what you can do NOW to another list and get started. No need to wait!
Here are some examples to jog your thinking.
Now's the time to decorate, clean oven and refrigerator, polish silver, wash windows and table linens, and prepare the appearance of the guest bath. You want to save only the touch-up for the last minute - redoing the floors, a quick vacuum, and a little dusting.
If you're planning to have a cleaning service come, book them immediately. They get busy.
Plan your menu now and be smart about it. Plan foods of 3 different types: ones you can do ahead and freeze or store, ones you can do the day before, and ones that are last minute. Keep last-minute items to a minimum. In group 1, a pumpkin pie freezes well and homemade cranberry relish actually tastes better if made ahead of time. In group 2, stuffing and green bean casserole you can make the day before. (Buy canned turkey broth if necessary.) In group 3, mashed potatoes are best done just before serving.
If you're planning to order anything from a caterer, do it now. If you need to special-order anything (wine, favors), do it now.
One thing I do is to plan one thing that's really smashing in presentation (flaming crepes, a decorated pie crust, something insane with the turkey platter). This gets their attention and the other things can be plain jane.
Shop now for staples - flour, sugar, butter, canned goods, anything that will keep especially if there might be a run on it, like canned pumpkin pie or stuffing mix. You'll probably need a last-minute run (like for fresh lettuce), but if you can limit the time that will take, you'll be glad.
A few of the things that get hard to find where I live are whipping cream, fresh cranberries, turkeys of the size you want, and frozen pie shells. Each of these things keeps well and can be bought right now. If you can't recall what your stores run out of, pay attention this year so you'll be prepared for next year. That's the EQ way.
Think ahead about counter, refrigerator and prep space. If you use a frozen turkey, clear out freezer space. Pare down the refrigerator to make space for the turkey as it thaws and other dishes, and later, the leftovers.
Make counter space by moving toaster and canisters to the pantry temporarily. Set up a card table in the corner of the kitchen. Or get the laundry done, clear off top of dryer and washer (or cover with board) and use that space.
If you live in a cold climate, you have the option of storing things judiciously, and for a short while, on a back porch. Only if it's cold enough!
Make a list, work through it, then make the next list. The shopping list will change for instance.
I always post a copy of the menu on my refrigerator because I blush to tell you that one year I forgot one of the side dishes that was buried in the refrigerator.
This is because I serve many different things, but you don't need to. The easiest way to get through this, if you're stressed, inexperienced or having to work late Wednesday, is to keep it simple and ask others to bring dishes.
LET OTHERS HELP
You don't have to do this all by yourself and you don't have to pay money for the help either. Of course you could call a rental place and a caterer, but Thanksgiving is a time of, well, GIVING, and people like to. As someone who has been a guest for Thanksgiving a lot in recent years, I can tell you how much I like to be ALLOWED to bring something.
Ask people to bring side dishes or desserts. Assign cleaning chores to different members of your household. Ask your mother-in-law, the Craft Diva, to make the centerpiece. Ask your spouse to take the kids out for dinner the night before so you can work undistracted. Get your brother-in-law to be responsible for chairs.
Most people love to help. Give them a chance to do this as part of your Thanksgiving gift to them.
When it's over, make notes about what went well, what didn't and why. Then you'll be ahead of the game next year.
Making lists, thinking things through ahead of time, remembering what you learned last year, and using your EQ are all ways to add to a Happy Thanksgiving.
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