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When A Plan Comes Together...A Professional Organizer’s Thanksgiving Story

Well, the Thanksgiving holiday week has officially ended and I for one am filled with a tremendous amount of love...and a big chunk of laughter not to mention a ridiculously full belly from eating waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much...after spending several days with most of my immediate family in California.

And I did not take one minute...or morsel of food...for granted!

Sometimes I forget to really slow down and enjoy every moment when we are together. In part, it's because it is, well, family and it can be stressful with even the thought of bringing together a bunch of very independent and strong-willed humans. I also am just someone who really does like to get up and go somewhere...anywhere...every day.

With that said, there’s something about being at my brother’s beach house a block from the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County that does seem to have a very calming effect on me.

I mean I’m sure if you were to ask my family they would never define me as “calm” but I don’t think I necessarily created any chaos for anyone except maybe myself when I spent 20 minutes looking for my earbuds Thanksgiving morning before going for a walk on the beach while everyone else was sleeping.

They were, of course, right where I intentionally left them the night before so I wouldn’t have to search for them in the room I was sharing with my daughter and potentially wake her in the process.

I just didn’t intentionally remember where I intentionally put them.

In my defense, the Santa Anna winds kicked into high gear the day before Thanksgiving and blew in a 24-hour migraine cycle so my brain was still dealing with post-migraine fog. And just in case you don’t think wind can cause a nasty headache then I’m guessing you also don’t believe in things like, you know, science.

But let’s not go there today.

I’m riding my post-family vacation high and no amount of political, social or any other nonsense swirling around us these days is going to ruin it.

So what does any of this have to do with being a professional organizer?

Well, it does appear wherever I go my skills definitely do travel with me. I mean, would you expect a doctor to ignore the fact that he’s a doctor if he/she saw someone needing medical assistance while on vacation? So it should come as no surprise that I spent about 15 minutes decluttering and reorganizing the pantry at the beach house the first morning there while technically on vacation…

One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing stuff in boxes and packaging that ultimately make any pantry look messy and cluttered. It's not a criticism and I am not judging anyone for doing it...I just know that is will always make things much more manageable if you intentionally take things out of boxes and packaging as soon as you bring them home.

Meanwhile, before I had even left Colorado, text messages and emails were going back and forth about all kinds of plans including getting from the airport, where everyone was sleeping, grocery shopping for the week and Thanksgiving dinner prep assignments. Typical stuff we all deal with right?

Also typical stuff we may deal with whether planning a family gathering or just on any typical day?

Snarky adult children!

This was part of the text chain between me, my brother and my kids after my flight landed at LAX from CO and my daughter was waiting for me after her flight landed just minutes before from NY so we could connect to take the Flyaway bus closer to my brother’s house and not subject anyone to SoCal afternoon rush hour traffic.

Suffice it to say, the struggle was and remains real being a parent.

Now raise your hand if you have always traveled with a bag of disposable gloves…

even before COVID?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I have traveled with them since Thanksgiving 1984 when I was in culinary school in NY and went home to MI for the holiday. Clearly, I wanted to show off all of my new cooking and knife skills for my family which meant I also traveled with my new and very much coveted set of Wusthof knives that the flight attendant had to keep locked up somewhere on the plane after they were discovered in my carry on going through security.

Back then it never dawned on me that my bag would be flagged. I understand knives can hurt/kill people but it was truly an innocent mistake. Now that I think about it, though, they weren’t that concerned about what I might do with them in the airport once they were returned to me upon deplaning but I guess that wouldn’t have been the airline's problem so they felt they did their due diligence???

All these years later I still keep a bag of gloves with my other travel stuff that I have in one place for easy access to grab any time I am going anywhere even for one night. I don’t always prepare meals on vacation or a quick overnight but you never know so I like to be prepared. I wear gloves whenever I cook...even at home...not only for sanitary reasons but also to protect my hands from any acids and constant hand washing that can cause rashes or dryness. Oh and most importantly, protect my manicures. Hey, they are an investment worth my opinion.

But I have digressed…

I came to California last week prepared for lots of cooking and, yes, wardrobe changes. Various members of my family complained about how heavy my suitcase was for a 5 day trip but I had the last laugh when my sister-in-law announced that the washing machine at the beach house wasn’t working and I wasn’t going to be able to do laundry and, therefore, wear something more than once. I wore everything except one pair of pants and a sweater because we didn’t end up going out for dinner as many nights as anticipated and, therefore, I feel vindicated.

Sadly, I also went there knowing that my sister-in-law’s father had been in the ICU for a few weeks and we were all preparing ourselves for the possibility that she along with my brother might not have been very present while we were visiting. This news came on the heels of a close family member passing away the day after my father arrived, a week before the rest of us. He was devastated that he was missing the funeral of one of his closest friends but flying back didn’t make any sense. Besides, it was the first time he would be seeing 4 out of 5 of his grandchildren since May 2019 and at 85 we never want to take for granted when he might see any of us again.

My kids questioned whether it made sense for us to still meet in CA so I reminded them that we can prepare all we want for anything but, despite all of our efforts, we simply don’t have control over everything and constantly need to remind ourselves to let the chips fall where they may and just embrace the moment. Lest we need any reminders, we are still very much dealing with a pandemic and as of just a few days ago a new variant has emerged. I highly recommend bracing yourselves for some holiday plans upheaval.

As we pushed forward with our planning and preparation, we collectively decided to celebrate Hanukkah, which officially starts at sundown tonight, while all together a few days early. Our family had agreed to do a grab bag/white elephant gift exchange and I made sure to ship my contribution ahead of time. My daughter, of course, didn’t plan ahead and went shopping once there. She had her own plan and as long as it didn’t affect anyone else then she’s an adult and gets to make her own choices.

And the most important thing I came prepared to do?

Make latkes, a very time-consuming and rather exhausting tradition. And I hadn’t really thought through what it would mean to make them on Thanksgiving in addition to all of the other holiday meal prep. But I couldn’t let a family gathering around Hanukkah pass by and not make them.

It’s a labor of love that my mother instilled in me. She also instilled in me that making them without at least one large electric frying pan and a food processor in the 21st century is just ridiculous. Even though I only use the two pans I own once a year for the latke-making ritual, they are mandatory for creating perfectly crispy potato pancakes.

And grating potatoes by hand not only makes the entire process that much longer and harder but you will inevitably end up scrapping at least a few knuckles along the way.

My sister-in-law had a frying pan but apparently not a food processor with a shredding disc. A quick search online, though, resolved that problem and a few days later I picked up an inexpensive but perfectly acceptable machine at the Target in Oxnard on the way to the beach house when I first arrived. Never mind it was packed at 9 pm on a Monday preparation still paid off.

Side note: I wrote a blog last year on about my family’s latke-making process and just republished it on the It’s Just Stuff blog page. I was advised, though, that I left out one rather important don’t need to peel the potatoes before shredding them. My deepest apologies to one particular man that read my blog and sent me this text…

So by the time I went to the grocery store very early on Wednesday morning to get the various ingredients I would need to make the latkes I was feeling very on top of my Thanksgiving/Hanukkah game...until I got back from the grocery store and realized I had forgotten apple sauce, sour cream and a few other things much later in the day. In other words, I broke my number one rule as not only a professional organizer but as a seemingly responsible adult...never go to the grocery store or run any errands for that matter without a list.

The thought of going back to the grocery store with a full-blown migraine at this point made my head hurt even more but fortunately, my daughter, who as previously mentioned was out shopping for her Hanukkah grab bag contribution, was assigned the task. A list was forwarded to her so I could stay curled up in a ball on the couch with the hope of the migraine dissipating by Thanksgiving morning at the latest.

I will concede that it worked out this time for her lack of planning since it meant I didn’t have to go out again. By the way...the tape? Needed it to wrap the grab bag gifts. I actually did remember to buy the wrapping paper earlier in the day but made the inaccurate assumption that every house has scotch tape, even a beach rental house. It will be moving forward since I left it behind along with the wrapping paper.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that the headache was gone when I woke up on Thanksgiving morning and after taking a short but very windy walk on the beach, I was in the kitchen by 9 am and never sat down or stopped slicing, dicing, chopping, stirring, frying, cleaning, etc. until dinner was served around 5:30 pm.

Well, that’s not entirely true it seems. As I was looking through the photos my daughter took on Thanksgiving it does seem I sat down at some point after she finished putting together this beautiful charcuterie plate...

I’m relatively certain though it was for less than 3 minutes but I was still smiling so clearly I wasn’t feeling any pain...or maybe that was because of whatever mid-afternoon cocktail I might have been enjoying??? 🤣

The only other thing I attempted to plan/organize were some family photos on the beach before sunset. Unfortunately they do not include my sister, brother-in-law or nephew since they couldn’t make the trip due to my brother-in-law’s health issues related to ongoing kidney disease. We did, though, have a Zoom call with them which may not be the same but it was still better than not “seeing” them at all.

And I definitely didn’t plan/organize for my hair to be blowing all over the place when we finally made it to the beach for the photos.

This one? It won’t be going in a frame but it still makes me smile.

Despite the missing family and any hair malfunctions, my plan did fall into place and I even got my daughter to send the photos to me before publishing this blog.

You know what else fell into place?

Michigan beating Ohio State for the first time in a decade!

While I had absolutely no control over that win, I do think I put a lot of very positive energy out there all season so you’re welcome #MGoBlue fans 😉

I really do love when a plan all comes together so here’s until the next time I can apparently annoy a family member with my making plan!

Be safe and be especially kind this holiday season as you are making your plans with your family and friends,


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