How to Have a Focused and Stress-Free Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, thoughts turn to the stress that holidays can bring … and how to avoid that stress this year! We still have time to make a plan to get focused and breeze through Turkey Day (relatively) unscathed. Here’s how!



One of the best, surest solutions for busy people on a busy week like the days before Thanksgiving is to use a timeline and/or a checklist.

So I’ve come up with the Thanksgiving Countdown to help you navigate through last-minute details and help you make sense of everything that needs to be done. And it’s free!

The Countdown includes essential tasks from shopping to homekeeping for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then a full-blown hour-by-hour schedule for Turkey Day. Plus, this year I’ve included directions on how to roast a turkey, including a roasting timetable.

My goal is to help you arrive at your own dinner table a little less stressed and filled with gratitude for the gathering of family and friends. Download your copy of the Thanksgiving Countdown here.

And don’t forget all the resources available to you in the Etsy shop, including the more expansive and comprehensive Thanksgiving Planner. I’ve included suggestions on organizing your time and resources, setting a gorgeous holiday table, and of course lots of space to write out your plans for:

  • The guest list
  • The Thanksgiving table
  • Menu planning and budget
  • Shopping list
  • Thanksgiving decorations

And lots more — like getting ready for Black Friday with a gift list planner and a holiday card organizer. It’s only available on Etsy. Click the graphic below to learn more!

Thanksgiving planner for a stress-free Thanksgiving

I’ll be giving more tips and last-minute solutions on social media over the next ten days, so be sure to follow Smart Solutions for Busy People on Facebook and Instagram.

Sending you lots of love and wishes for a peaceful, joyful and grateful Happy Thanksgiving.

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Answer to a Holiday Entertaining Question

 © John Saunders –

© John Saunders –

Just in time for holiday parties, a reader sent in a frequently asked, and sometimes tricky, question about entertaining. AM in Michigan writes:


I’m tentatively planning appetizers for an “around the world party” – how many different apps. should I have for 4 adults (and 1 child)?  One adult has a severe food allergy (no dairy, and no most kinds of meat), so I want a least a couple options for him, but I do like cheese so I want other things as well.


What a great theme!!

A great rule of thumb for a cocktail party is, “make 3, buy 3.” So 6 different apps gives a good variety while not being overwhelming for either the hostess or the guests. Plan at least 4 pieces of each app per guest – more for the options that your allergy guest can consume, since he will have fewer options.

Hope this helps!! Enjoy the party!

If you ever have a question about party planning, home decorating, gift giving or smart living, please post your questions on the Facebook page.

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Help with Halloween Planning

Maybe I’m just tired of the summer heat and can’t wait for fall weather, or maybe I’m just super-organized this year, but I’ve already started thinking about Halloween. It’s less than 100 days away … which means the holidays aren’t far behind. Eeek!

When you’re ready to start your Halloween planning, use the Halloween Planning guide to plan, organize, prioritize and schedule everything you need and want to create one spook-tacular day. It’s free and available now! Just click here or navigate to the Planning Guide page.

 Halloween guide 2013 cover

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Entertaining Outside the Home

I love to throw a good party, especially at home. But sometimes entertaining outside of the home is the best solution for a celebration. In addition to offering convenience for you (no clean up!) and your guests, it can be an economical choice, too.

My past “out of house” party venues have included a pumpkin patch, an IMAX theatre and of course, local eateries.

Recently two coworkers and I hosted a baby shower for a fellow coworker. We knew we wanted an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, so a tea party seemed ideal. We were able to find a local English gastro pub that featured daily high tea. Because high tea is a prix fixe (fixed price) menu, we were able to work out a group rate that was about what we would have paid for food and beverage anyway.

Luckily, the mother-to-be favors a pink and brown color scheme, and the restaurant had brown and white linens. Adding touches of pink was a cinch with balloon bouquets for each table, pink butter mints sprinkled on the table and pink and brown gift bags at each place setting.

Although the bags look extravagant, they were relatively inexpensive to put together. We found tea infusers online for a couple dollars each, then added a custom blended tea that we called “Lavender Lullaby” from a local tea shop. I printed bag tags with my color printer in just a few minutes. Filling individual tea bags took the most time and patience! Then it was just a matter of setting up an assembly line of bags (from and dropping in tea bags, the infuser and a brochure about tea (free from the tea store), then topping them off with some pink tissue from my local Party City store.

Because high tea is served in courses, it kept the afternoon on track and we could skip the shower games. Instead, we opted for “new mom advice cards” that every guest filled out. This also encouraged conversation at the tables. Later we organized all the cards into a photo album.

Guests stayed briefly to chat and wrap up the party after the gifts were opened. We paid the bill and were free to go. The guests appreciated the central location of the restaurant and the abundance of parking, which can sometimes be an issue at a private residence.

It was a very satisfying hostess experience!

Besides leaving the clean up for the restaurant, entertaining in a restaurant provides a certain finality to the festivities—no guests lingering on your sofa until the wee hours. And you can always leave, even when the last guest refuses to go. (Anyone who’s had the person who just won’t leave when all you can think about is going to sleep because it was a really long day/party knows what I mean.)

Here are some tips for entertaining in a restaurant:

  • Pick a theme and a color scheme; it simplifies decisions about decorations.
  • Coordinate with the venue’s colors where possible.
  • Keep the favors simple and easy to transport.
  • Use ice breakers or other devices to encourage table conversation.
  • Keep the menu simple; work with the venue for a prix fixe menu.
  • Split the cost and the responsibilities with other hostesses.
  • Confirm what time you may arrive to decorate and set up, and see if restaurant staff is available to assist.
  • Confirm the number of tables you will need, including a gift table, and any special requests.
  • Many restaurants have private dining rooms for parties at no extra cost.

The next time you’d love to have a get together or a celebration, consider saving yourself a lot of time and effort and look to entertain outside the home.

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Entertaining Essential: The Bar

Of all the dictionary definitions of “essential,” the one I like the best is “indispensable.” For home entertainers, there are a number essential items — those indispensable items that every hostess should have in her collection to make entertaining effortless. The great thing is, essentials can be collected over time; these aren’t things you have to dash out and get before your next party!

In this series of posts, I’ll break down the world of entertaining into its components: the bar, the pantry, utensils, tableware and glassware, serveware, the powder room and the guest room.

First up: the bar.

All parties need liquid refreshments. Whether your party includes spirituous liquor is up to you, but the essentials of setting up a good beverage station equally apply to all kinds of parties, from a baby shower punch to pre-theatre martinis.

First decide what type of beverages you will serve. Will it be a full bar? Will you feature one or two cocktails or punch? How about a wine tasting featuring one or two whites and reds? The trend in home entertaining is to plan one or two beverages—such as themed cocktails to set the mood for the party or a nice wine—plus water and a couple of soft drink choices. Limiting the beverage choices reduces the variety of glassware and bar equipment required. Punch is a perennial favorite for easily and continuously serving large groups of people for similar reasons. As a bonus, the grown-ups may add a shot of rum or brandy to a non-alcoholic punch if desired. Simply place a bottle of the liquor along with a shot glass on a pretty tray next to the punch bowl.

Next, decide how much fluid refreshments you’ll need. For pre-dinner cocktails, plan on one to two drinks per person. For a full-on party, figure three to four drinks per person.

Basic bar equipment

  • Ice bucket and tongs
  • Small cutting board and paring knife
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Bottle opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Shot glass (jigger)
  • Long handled mixing spoon
  • Absorbent towel (I swear by Williams-Sonoma’s bar mops)
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Glassware appropriate for planned beverages

Basic liquor supplies

For a full bar offering, start with these basics:

  • 1 bottle dark rum
  • 1 bottle whiskey
  • 1 bottle gin
  • 1 bottle vodka
  • Club soda
  • Tonic water
  • Soft drink mixers
  • Cranberry juice
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Olives

Setting up a beverage station

One great piece of advice from my mom is to make sure the bar is set up before guests arrive; even if you’re running behind on dinner, guests will enjoy a drink and a nibble while you get caught up. Set up the beverage station as far away from the food preparation and service area as possible to avoid traffic jams and guests getting underfoot in the kitchen.

Set up the bar like you would a buffet: in logical order. Place the glasses on one end, followed by the beverages or liquor bottles and mixing equipment, then garnishes such as a small bowl of lemons and limes, and finally napkins and a couple bowls of nuts and party mix or a relish tray. I like to place the glasses on a serving tray to keep them corralled on the bar top. I place individual bottles of water  in a cooler or party tub filled with ice, either on the floor under the bar area or on the bar itself if space allows.

Serving drinks

Typically, the host or hostess mixes and serves drinks, or you may appoint a friend to tend to the beverages. After greeting a guest, the host or hostess should offer the guest a drink. In small or informal gatherings, the guests should serve themselves to subsequent beverages. For large parties, it is helpful to have someone making the drinks; your liquor will go further!

So, whether your celebration, dinner or party is for four or 40, assess the essentials you have on hand and plan your beverage choices in advance to get a jump start on your planning.

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Halloween Cocktails Made Easy

If you’re having a Halloween bash this year, streamline your beverage menu to one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic option. For example, you could mix up an easy punch with equal parts pineapple juice and sparkling apple cider with a splash of a flavored syrup. Raspberry syrup would impart a nice blood-red quality! I used to be a fan of punch bowls (I own 3!), but I now prefer beverage dispensers with easy-pour spouts. They are so inexpensive and widely available – and less messy than ladling out of a punch bowl.

For the alcoholic beverage, look a pre-mixed mimosa. I found the Mionetto Il Spritz at World Market (about $14). It’s a semi-sparkling white wine with natural citrus flavors. Other brands have their own varieties; have fun taste testing before your party and pick the winner for you and your family and friends.

Once you’ve picked your poison, serve it chilled in custom stemless glasses. (Glasses, $1.99 each at World Market; decals $10 for 12 at

Another tricked I’ve picked up over the years is to line the serving trays with a bar towel or napkins to avoid stains or chemical reactions with the tray. For Halloween, simply line your trays with black cardstock. Write the name of the drink directly on the cardstock with a white pencil. This idea would also work with appetizers!

Happy Halloween!

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