Thanksgiving table stock image

This is the wellness check-in portion of the pre-Thanksgiving show. How are you all doing?

I’ll go first.

For the first time in four years, my brother Tim will be my Thanksgiving co-pilot, and I cannot wait to lay eyes on him. (He’s pretty sure he has never been to Lancaster.) Together, we’ll cook for our mom and my husband’s mom, who’s driving in from Kentucky. The last time we five were all together was my wedding day in 2007. It is a gathering long overdue.

I will teach Tim how to make pie dough, with some Philly soul keeping us company on the smart speaker. There will be Scrabble in between, and it will likely be fierce. There will be lots of strong coffee and maybe an introduction to “Ted Lasso.”

But there will be moments when even this trained cook will need a breather from all the hoopla. The excitement and anticipation of celebrating mixed with the acrobatics of preparing a multicourse meal is a potent combination. It is a good reminder to all hosts (including yours truly) to include self-care this week and throughout the holiday season. What follows are my notes, in no particular order, on putting those ideas into practice, slow and steady. Here’s to all of it, and to you.

It’s no secret that multi-dish preparation is a lot of work, but fretting will get you nowhere. If the stress is getting to you, take a break. A 20-minute walk or power nap or listening to your favorite tunes may be just enough to break up a bad mood.

Enlist a helper — or three. If you ask for help, you will likely get it. Think of the tasks you’d rather not do, whether it’s peeling potatoes, setting the table or entertaining house guests who inevitably show up early.

When you finish reading this, take inventory of the cookware (and serveware) you anticipate using. If something is missing or broken, ask around for a loaner. If shopping is an itch you must scratch, remember the local treasure troves better known as thrift shops, where you might find a gravy boat, pie plate or random serving utensils.

Not enough wine or water glasses? Improvise with eight-ounce jelly jars. Don’t even think twice.

Mismatched plates are fashionable. At least they were in my childhood home, where we gathered in a dining room with pink, yellow and neon green wallpaper. Oh, and a pink piano.

To-do lists are good only if they do not cause extra stress. But a day-of game plan scribbled with cook times and just-before-serving tasks? Now we’re talking. After all, Thanksgiving is a multi-ring circus requiring extra time management skills, even before the cast of characters shows up.

To that day-of planner, add a line that asks: “Shower yet? Drink enough water today?” A hydrated, hosed-down host is a happier one!

For those who drink alcohol, be thoughtful of those who do not. Maybe that means asking guests for beverage suggestions or curating a bar with equally festive alcohol-free options.

Know your strengths and weaknesses, and that goes for your helpers as well. If you have no idea how to carve a turkey, find out who does. If your brother loves making gravy, let him.

Perfect food is a made-up story we tell ourselves. Let the overcooked this and the crumbly that fade into the 4:42 p.m. sunset. The perfect piece is the act of gathering with the people we love.

We asked readers to share their questions and concerns about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Kelly Bess of Lititz heeded our call. Read the Q & A.

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