With Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly approaching, I thought it would be great to share some tips for helping reduce the holiday stress of hosting meals for those who love hosting but sometimes get overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done when having a large (or even small) number of guests for dinner.
I have my own tip I’ll share at the end of the list, but for help with this post I turned to the wonderful members of my Facebook group, Thrifty Tablescapers!
I asked the group members to share their top tips for managing the preparation of a multi-dish meal for a group of, say, 10 people. They did not disappoint – and their responses are useful no matter the size of the group!
Many of the tips boiled down to the central idea of advance preparation. Or to put it another way, plan and do as much in advance as possible to eliminate day-of chaos and stress!
Plan the meal ahead! Make out your menu and a grocery list, and and check the pantry for supplies for each dish. Shop for groceries as soon as possible. Set a reminder for the day that a frozen turkey needs to be moved to the fridge for thawing!
Make/bake what you can the day before to free up the oven. Desserts are a good candidate for make-ahead dishes. One member said she cleans and preps the entire turkey the day before, then refrigerates it overnight. Another member makes her cornbread ahead, and even plans a cornbread supper for a day or two before Thanksgiving so she makes a large batch covering both occasions.
Plan and set the table ahead. One member added that she sets her food on a buffet table, and she uses “sticky notes” to lay out where each dish is going to sit. She places an appropriate serving utensil on each spot as well.
You don’t have to do it all yourself! Assign dishes for guests to bring, and assign some of the pre-holiday house cleaning chores to family members.
Buy a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. Can confirm, I did this one year and it was perfect! Roasts in less time and fills the house with the same wonderful aroma. Or, as one member put it, “No waste at all and our family loves it, (including) sandwiches later!”
Make and mash the potatoes early in the day, then set aside in a crock pot to keep them warm. A group member said she was skeptical of this idea when it was suggested to her, but she said her potatoes kept perfectly.
And finally, my own best tip:
Create a “schedule” to guide you in what goes into the oven at what time. I started doing this for Christmas dinner many years ago (since I rarely hosted on Thanksgiving) and it saved me so much guesswork. I started with the time I wanted lunch to be served, and worked backwards from there, calculating the roasting/baking time for each item and assigning it a time to go into the oven. (This tip might just impress your guests! One member said she does this, and a guest once saw her list and said, “I always wondered how you did it!”)
Now it’s your turn! I would love for you to share your best “holiday chaos control” tips in the comments!
I collect a bit of art and art prints for use around my home. For many years I’ve collected primarily original amateur still-lifes and landscapes, but more recently I’ve been on the hunt for portraits. (You can chalk this up to repeated viewings of Downton Abbey, Bridgerton, and The Gilded Age.) While original painted portraits are extremely rare in thrift stores and secondhand venues in my area, there are many beautiful vintage portrait prints to be found.
Toward that end, I recently acquired an old framed print of a Victorian-era oil painting called “My First Sermon.” Completed in 1863 by Sir John Everett Millais, the painting depicts a little girl (actually his daughter Effie) sitting in a high-backed church pew, wrapped in her red velvet cloak with her hands resting inside a fur muff.
The beauty of art is that the viewer gets to bring a little of themselves to every piece they view – in this case, I couldn’t help but try to interpret her facial expression! To me she looks like she very much wants to pay attention to the gentleman speaking from the pulpit (first time in grown-up church, perhaps?), but she is suddenly realizing that the level of commitment this will require is perhaps more than she bargained for!
Whatever her internal monologue might be at this moment, it’s amusing to note that the artist actually followed up with another painting a few years later called “My Second Sermon,” in which Effie is depicted sleeping in the pew!
My trouble is, while I absolutely fell in love with this picture, I didn’t have a good place to display it. I did pop it into a different frame (I had an ornate gold-painted one already in my stash of frames), so it fits well into my evolving “What’s in the Downton Attic?” decorating style – but I just wasn’t sure where it might work in my home.
I had the bright idea to try it on the antique washstand which Greg and I re-finished as one of our first furniture projects back in 2016. This piece has always been a favorite spot to fashion a seasonal vignette.
It sits right inside the front door, and although the focal point when you walk in is the primitive hutch/step-back cabinet (hand-built by Greg!), this little piece sits right there in the line of sight so it needs to look great! I am always looking for ways to incorporate art, metal, flowers, and other elements into interesting displays.
The portrait of Effie suggests warmth and comfort at a moment when our weather is definitely starting to feel a bit Wintery – and I really like it here! One problem it actually solves is that, as you can see, the backside of my stove is visible over the half-wall leading into the kitchen and the picture partially conceals that when viewed from the living room.
What’s funny is that in photographs, the frame and print look a lot smaller than they actually are. When I tried this placement, I worried that it was too large to be a “leaner” like this. But I think it works well as a backdrop for the grouping overall.
Accompanying the painting are several other vintage and antique elements: silk flowers in a silver-plated pitcher, a collection of Edwardian novels, and a silver tray holding antique postcards and calling cards. I’ve also added a few small white gourds because after all… it is Fall!
I plan to keep this vignette in place for a while but I may update it a bit as we get further into Fall. At Christmas this has become the spot for my pink Christmas Village carousel, so I’ll move this particular vintage portrait to another area when I decorate for Christmas.
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed meeting our dear little Effie!
Even though my annual Halloween celebration is limited to carving a jack-o-lantern and enjoying my share of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins, it has nonetheless become one of my favorite tablescaping themes to play with. This year my Halloween tablescape was going to be centered around the theme of “Gothic Rose,” based on some salad plates I had found over the summer at Goodwill. But I quickly shifted gears when I found a set of beautiful teal tumblers at another Goodwill – my all-time favorite tumbler, in a gorgeous color I’d never found in the wild before!
Now I loved this color all on its own, but as soon as I realized that it might work for a “spooky gothic” vibe alongside my black Dollar Tree dinner plates, I had another challenge: I didn’t have any dark blue salad plates to carry on this theme! Goodwill to the rescue again, because on my next visit I found these gorgeous plates that had a lot of variation in blue hues thanks to the amazing glaze.
So with salad plates (marked “Threshold – Kingfield” – originally I think from Target) to work with my glassware, I changed my Halloween tablescape theme to “Gothic Moody Blues,” and came up with this:
Understanding that my phone camera tends to over-compensate when it thinks there is a lack of daylight, the table is actually darker and moodier in person. There are a lot of individual elements to this table that all contribute to the spooky vibe. Let’s take a closer look!
I personally feel that black and silver are crucial to the “haunted house” style that I always strive for on a Halloween table. The black acrylic chargers were what I would call an essential splurge for this look – I purchased them on Amazon and of course plan to use them for other tables as well. (The link is an affiliate link, by the way – if you purchase by visiting my link, it costs you nothing extra but I earn a small commission to put toward my blog hosting fees. Thank you!)
My handed down “Chandelier” stainless flatware by Oneida takes on a very Gothic feel for this type of table as well. I recently calculated that this flatware has been in my family for at least 50 years – I’ve been using them myself daily for a little over 30 years, and before that they belonged to my great-Aunt Hazel.
Here’s the right-hand flatware. Paper napkins were from Party City.
Placecards were a fun little Halloween craft project. I bought the large fuzzy spiders in a pack at Party City, and I had the photo holders and card stock already in my stash of craft supplies. The little sunflowers came in a pack at Dollar Tree – they were bright yellow but I aged them with brown and green watercolor paint for that wilted, “sunflowers in a haunted house garden” look.
The centerpiece was a runner style, using netting and miniature skeletons from Party City, bones from Dollar Tree, and other elements from my stash.
The centerpiece also includes two simple Halloween craft projects: my “perching crows” made several years ago from thrifted and Dollar Tree elements, and a silk floral arrangement using the painted goblets I made last year for Halloween and Christmas.
Here are a few more views around the table:
And here is the put-away shot, just before everything went back into the cupboards:
Now you may be wondering about the afore-mentioned “Gothic Rose” theme – what might that have looked like? Well I switched out a few elements just to show you how a change in salad plates, glassware and centerpiece florals would change the vibe!
Do you have a favorite between the two? I love the “tangled mess” of the floral arrangement on this one – like an overgrown garden that would surely be present at a haunted gothic-style house, and I think the salad plates worked well. But I think I prefer the blue version, if only because it’s dark and different – blue isn’t a usual Halloween color, but I think it can be appropriately moody when needed!
I will be sharing this post for Tablescape Thursday at Susan’s long-running blog, Between Naps on the Porch. Be sure to click through for more tablescape inspiration! AND… a special treat! There was recently a Halloween-themed tablescaping “blog hop”! A great place to start is Rita’s blog, Panoply – you’ll see her festive Halloween table and she lists all the other blog hop participants!
Meanwhile, here’s an image to pin if you’d like to save this post for future ideas:
Yeah, this simple Halloween craft is one of those! It reminds me of that old Monty Python sketch from the 1970’s: “Hello and welcome to ‘How to Do It’ – this week we’re going to show you how to play the flute. (Picks up flute) So, you blow in here and move your fingers up and down here. Next week, Alan will be over in Moscow showing us how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese.”
Seriously, the hardest part about this project was remembering to save the “before” pictures that I took. Sadly, I did not remember to do that step so you’ll have to just look at my little print and imagine it without the ghosts. But I mean, isn’t it adorable??
I do struggle with Halloween decor… it’s not a holiday I really celebrate, and I am not a fan (at all) of blood, guts, and gore. I’m more of a haunted house person – but, a Disney’s Haunted Mansion haunted house. A “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” haunted house. I go for quothing ravens and wax-dripped candlesticks rather than chain saws and bloody knives.
So anyway, what you’re doing for this particular Halloween craft is buying an inexpensive art print from a thrift store (mine was $1.49) and painting ghosts directly on it using acrylic craft paint.
For me the secret to this was using a very small brush. The print I chose was only a finished size of 5×7 inches and depicted a stylized New Orleans French Quarter street scene, with fancy wrought iron railings on the balconies. The small brush allowed me to paint a couple of my ghosts behind the railings, even if I didn’t bother to fill many of the details back in.
I used watered down white and gray paint to create the ghosts, and a bit of watered-down black for the eyes. If you aren’t confident in your ability to paint a ghost, have fun practicing on another surface first. I literally did an outline in white, filled in with white, and then added a tiny bit of shading in gray where the “folds” would create a bit of shadow. (But I mean, now that I think about it… would ghosts really appear as translucent bed-sheets hiding in doorways and floating along the sidewalk? Probably not – I have to think they would take more of an actual translucent human form – but I think this type of ghost makes the project infinitely more do-able for a person of my limited skills and still looks appropriately haunty.)
As a finishing touch I used my tiny brush and a bit of black paint to add a couple of bats flying around. Again, virtually no detail… just the suggestion of bats. REALLY SIMPLE!
Here’s my “altered art” all framed up – I’m actually on the lookout for a frame that could be made to look appropriately spooky, but this one is suitable for now.
Please, please, PLEASE (I’m begging you) try this project! It’s super-simple, and best of all doesn’t have to be perfect to be fun!
Here’s an image to Pin if you want to save this project for future inspiration!