Just because you have four chairs, six plates, and three cups is no reason why you can't invite twelve to dinner. ~Alice May Brock
About a month ahead of my holiday celebration, I write a list of everything on my menu including snacks and appetizers. I prepare what I can in advance. I take my list every time I go to the store so I can buy a little at a time.
Next I survey the furniture situation such as chairs for seating. I just bought a couple of charming, smallish, sturdy chairs from an antique shop for $10 each! That was for less than the nearby "thrift" shop was selling miscellaneous chairs. They are perfect for a tight fit in my small dining room, and I have future plans to use one in a corner of a daughter's room and the other to hold a stack of pretty towels in my bathroom--so they serve double duty. (Coming from a large extended family, I also learned that it is okay to use the piano bench and dressing table stools for seating as well--just tuck them on the side of the table that won't show up in photographs). I have an enclosed front porch that will serve as overflow for my living room. Investing in a nice patio set pays off during times like these. I'll throw a few extra cushions and pillows as well as warm throws. If it's chilly, I can heat up the porch with a small space heater I use for camping.
I've also been doing major house cleaning which I usually do every spring and fall. This helps me get ready for the holidays. Not only did I find a ton of stuff inside to take to the Jimmy Hale Mission thrift store, but outside as well! I did part of my holiday baking all day Saturday, had a daughter make a huge pot of chili, and kept the menfolk well-fed as they cleaned up the clutter in the shed and around the house removing a boat, a 24-ft. above-ground pool, and leftover construction materials!
This is a good time to have a honey-do list prepared so my honey knows exactly what needs doing. Some repairs require professionals like the Whirlpool repairman I've got to call tomorrow to fix the weird sound in the dishwasher and the ice maker in the fridge that's gone kaput. If your husband isn't so handy around the house, ask friends if they know someone who is, that does this professionally.
I want to enjoy my Thanksgiving and I'm not real fond of turkey (I'm a chicken gal), so I plan on ordering a turkey. Bojangles does a fried turkey, and the local BBQ joint has smoked turkeys. The deli my eldest works at makes huge pans of dressing with chicken meat. Turkey and dressing are the two things I really stress over. Mrs. Smith's will take care of desserts, served with Cool Whip. I love Knorr turkey or chicken gravy. I have a recipe that adds herbs to this packet and it is the best, easiest, no-fail gravy!
"Tastes Like Boston Market" Gravy
1 (1.2-oz.) pkg. Knorr Roasted Turkey Gravy Mix
1/2 t. chopped fresh sage
1/2 t. chopped fresh thyme
1/4 t. pepper
Prepare gravy mix according to pkg. directions, stirring in 1/2 t. chopped fresh sage, 1/2 t. chopped fresh thyme, and 1/4 t. pepper before bringing to a boil. Proceed as directed on the package. Yield: 1-1/4 cups.
I've recently discovered Stone Mountain canned vegetables, and the peas are way better than Le Seur and way cheaper too! A tradition from my own growing up is the brown and serve rolls and plenty of jellied cranberry sauce--what could be easier? And if I'm feeling up to it, I'll make some candied yams and a vinegar slaw that's to-die-for. Mashed potatoes and green casseroles are stand bys as well.
For a small gathering, I plan on using real dishes so I've had to made sure I have enough silverware, cups, plates, etc. The day before is a good time to plan on doing some light cleaning and dusting in places where guests gather and in the bathroom. I recently spruced up the bathroom with new rugs, a shower curtain, and pretty towels.
For entertaining, we'll have the video game system ready in one of the bedrooms, and fun DVDs to watch. I also like to keep some autumn inspired magazines and small books around. My favorite autumn book is by the artist Susan Branch.
Festive background music, scented candles, something cool to drink (or cocoa in a crock pot if it's really cold), and a few light snacks such as homemade Snack Mix are perfect for guests as they filter in.