Everyone wants to be the model host, a vision of perfectly put-together serenity, apron ironed, and not a hair out of place — whoa, whoa, whoa where are we, Stepford??!! Joking aside, we all (women and men, first-timers and veterans) do absolutely want to be the kind of relaxed hosts who can actually enjoy their gatherings. Happy and calm trumps "perfect" any day. With a week until the big day, there's still plenty of time to think and do ahead so that when turkey day arrives, we can focus on what really matters.
About a week before:
Grocery shop. By this point in the game, you should know what you're making and who else is bringing what. If not, send a few texts, and get it sorted. Then, make your list and hit the stores before everyone else does. By squirreling away the ingredients you'll need for your portion of the cooking, you have the potential to start prepping instead of enduring the mad scramble at the store.
Plan your decorations and table settings. If you're using linens that need to be washed and/or ironed, plan on starting this week so this task isn't hanging over you. Gather everything you'll need to decorate and set aside some time to get that done before all the cooking starts. Check out these ideas for Easy Thanksgiving Decorations to Make from Things Around the House. Make sure you have all the dishes, glasses, cutlery, and serving dishes you need; if not, put out the call to borrow them or add them to the list.
Don't forget the turkey! If your turkey is frozen, don't forget to start thawing it several days beforehand. If you're brining it, you want to factor in enough time for that as well. Count backwards from the big day and mark your calendar.
Get guest rooms ready to go so you can focus your efforts on your Thanksgiving gathering. Also make sure you have the other meals planned and include this food in your shopping list. Plan to Eat makes this a cinch.
Three to four days before:
Clean the house. If you haven't done a deeper cleaning, just let the thought of doing so go at this point. No one will notice. But do make sure your regular cleaning is done well: dusting, vacuuming carpets, bathrooms, floors, etc. The last thing you want to be doing is cooking and cleaning at the same time. Again, the idea is to put all the chores you can behind you so you can cook and host with pleasure and grace. If it's not done already, do make sure your fridge is cleaned out to make space for all the extra feast food.
Make your own detailed timeline. With decorations, guest rooms, and cleaning finished, you can devote your attention to the Thanksgiving gathering itself. Plan out what you will make when. This can get tricky with pie crusts that need to chill and par-bake and then pies that need to chill (can you tell I'm dessert lady at our Thanksgivings?) and other things that need to bake in the oven and refrigerator space and then a free oven for several hours for the turkey itself ... yikes. Take the time with pen and paper to plan it out. This is more than half the battle.
The day before:
Bake and cook everything but the turkey. By the end of this day, your goal is to have all your cooking responsibilities finished so you can focus on finishing touches tomorrow. Remember to clean as you go and follow your well-thought-out timeline. And don't forget to enjoy the very real privilege of cooking a special meal for people you love. Include them as much as you can in the prep work. These are the days and the memory-making moments.
Do a quick cleaning touch-up. Make sure your kitchen is cleaned up from all the cooking so it's in tip-top shape for the next day. Run a vacuum over the floors again and double-check the bathrooms.
Set the table. Do this after the cooking and cleaning are done. A table set with love (not to be confused with fancy decorations) is among the most cherishing sights. And spending some quiet time on this task will get you in just the right frame of mind to lovingly welcome your guests.
Set out all your serving platters and utensils so you aren't having to divert attention to those decisions (and to finding and digging them out) later on.
The day of:
Double-check your oven schedule. Plan not only for the turkey but for food that will need to get warmed up before it's served.
Set up your drink station so guests can help themselves. Designate someone to refill as necessary.
Plate your appetizers. Get the appetizers ready to pull out of the fridge or stick in the oven or whatever is required.
Get yourself ready. If feeling personally put-together helps you feel relaxed, don't forget to build in some time to spend on yourself. A nice, hot shower and ample time to get yourself (and your little ones, as the case may be) dressed and ready.
Light candles to set the warm, cozy, festive mood shortly before everyone is due to arrive.