I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS. My husband used to call me the original Christmas elf. At one point, we had 21 Christmas trees in our home. Yes, you heard that right, 21. They ranged in size, theme, and complexity. I had an ornate wire tree with curled ends where I would hang candy, there were several permanently decorated tabletop trees, 3-4 foot trees for bedrooms, and in one house we had a 12 foot Christmas tree. There were menus, activities, parties, and plans with family and friends. We established new traditions and kept old ones.
Time marched on and the kids grew older, and Santa stopped being a thing. We minimized a lot of the decorating and the number of trees as we began to travel between Christmas and New Year’s. We simplified the Holidays so that we could enjoy them. Now that I am a widow, have grown children, and have new commitments with friends and my guy, the Holidays have changed, again.
One of the Holidays that has changed the most is Thanksgiving. Upon moving to the Philly area, we continued cooking our traditional feast. We cooked and prepared for two days and would eat a fraction of the meal. It was not the way we wanted to spend time together. We began to attend Longwood Gardens’ buffet in the greenhouse music room and loved it. They had turkey, ham, and salmon, soups including Kennett Square mushroom soup, side dishes, desserts, and cocktails. We would have a sumptuous and varied meal that left everyone satisfied and then we would walk the gardens and admire the Christmas decorations. Later, Alex would play videos games and Amanda and I would go see a movie. Unfortunately, Longwood eliminated their buffet. Now, there is a prix fixe dinner at 1906, which is sold out for this year. The Cafe has a Thanksgiving bounty station, which requires no reservations.
This brings me to 2021. Alex is finishing college, Amanda is married and living in Virginia, and I am happily coupled and living outside of Philadelphia. My parents and in-laws are gone as well as my favorite cousin. Bob lives in Knoxville, working, and in a relationship. I have friends and family in different states and most of my village (my besties) are here in the Philadelphia area. Holidays are hard work and there is a certain amount of planning and commitment to making them happen. Here are few ideas to keep everything moving in the right direction.
I can’t stress this enough. It’s a matter of where you want to be, who you want to be with, and what you want to do. Having a timeline, a thought about what you may want to see along the way, with food stops you may having wanting to try is the best, especially of the trip is only for a few days.
Be aware of travel dates. According to flight booking search engines, there will be half the Thanksgiving travelers this year. Kayak saw a 60% drop in Thanksgiving flight searches. Also, travelers seem to be avoiding the major travel days. This year, the most searched dates are the Wednesday (Nov. 25) before the holiday and the following Sunday (Nov. 29) with Kayak and Hopper saying that they busiest day for their search was Saturday (Nov. 28). Travelers are booking fewer flights for the Monday (Nov. 23) and Tuesday (Nov. 24) before Thanksgiving. Hopper saw half as many flights booked on Sunday (Nov. 22) as compared to Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov 28). If you still have a flexible or remote work schedule this might work for you.
Make reservations as early as possible. I noticed on Resy and Open Table that some restaurants are only taking reservations 2 weeks ahead of your chosen date. There are restrictions in some places for how long you can sit at your table, vaccines requirements, mask mandates. Buy tickets as soon as possible and make you read the cancellation and return policy first.
There are still covid restrictions for restaurants and traveling. Look into the restrictions for where you are going and if are going international, look into the requirements for coming back.
Here are the guidelines for international: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/international-travel/index.html.
Here are guidelines of domestic travel: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html
United Airlines: https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/what-to-expect.html
American Airlines: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/coronavirus-updates.jsp
Southwest Airlines: https://www.southwest.com/coronavirus/
Something else to think about are fees for checking bags, cancellation policies, carry on restrictions, and document guidelines. Also, keep track of flight schedules. With fewer travelers booking flights, your flight could be canceled and consolidated into another making for a fuller flight. This is a real possibility since November and December 2020 bookings are down as much as 84 percent on American Airlines, 94 percent on Delta Air Lines and 81 percent on United Airlines as compared to last year. If you are flying to a smaller town, your flight may have an increased chance of cancellation. The more you know the better.
Keep It Light
Remember that you must wait for checked luggage, lug carry-ons, and juggle wallets, phones, kids, pets, and luggage. I was looking for a roomy “suitcase” that would allow me to use it as a backpack and I found it with the Mother Lode Travel Backpack. I made sure that the size fits for carry-on I used this for a week in Ireland without issue. I will be talking more about this piece later on.
I usually carry two 8×10 flat pack makeup bags. One is for toiletries such as toothbrush, hair and body care, and prescriptions. Then other is for skin care and makeup. These bags pack fairly flat. The other bag I pack is 4×6 cord bag which carries charging cables, batteries, international charger, camera battery backup and buds. I find that the more I organized and can just throw into a bag, the easier it is for me to pack and unpack, as needed. I am also a fan of travel size tools like my hair dryer and curling iron which fit into my flat packs.
For those of you who carry cross body purses or messenger bags, I highly encourage this because you can use it with a backpack. I have one with a front pocket that I use for my passport wallet. I also keep my glasses and anything that I will need immediately in that front pocket. It’s all about accessibility and simplicity.
All major airlines have apps. Some have a preflight checklist that you need to complete before receiving a boarding pass. These apps also allow you to check in electronically, keep up to date with your flight and keep you on time. The airlines also send push notifications for updates and reminders.
There are a lot of trip planning apps. There go from Waze, to Google maps, Gas Buddy and iExit Interstate Map to help plan road travel. I especially enjoy knowing where the traffic backups are so I can get off the road for a layover. While you are on the road, try Roadtrippers, TV Food Maps, and Roadside America. These apps will help you plan places to eat, stops along the way and attractions. If you are traveling with kids, these breaks may be what you need to keep from breaking. Do a little research and find what right for you. There so many interesting and awe-inspiring sites on the road. Personally, I stopped to see a paint can and a chicken…no regrets.
A Little Organization Goes a Long Way
I am all for being organized and I’m sometimes teased about it. Oh, well. One of the organizational ideas that I have used over the years is to take the Christmas presents with me. First, this forces me to get my shopping done early and to wrap it at my leisure. When we used to drive from Chicago to Cleveland to visit the family for Thanksgiving, I would take the presents and leave them with the family. This was just in case we ended up with bad weather or if we were traveling. Sometimes, we would stop for a Christmas visit on our way out of town for a vacation and this would allow me not to have to think about forgetting anyone or anything as far as presents.
Another organizational tip is to keep all your documents in one place. I am still a proponent of that and have a passport wallet that has spots for my credit cards, my health insurance card, and any paper documents that I might need. It works and fits into just about any spot that I may need to place it into. I also keep pdf scans and receipts and emails in a folder so that I can access it from any computer in case of a lost phone or misplaced documents. I keep a scan of my drivers license, passport, health insurance in that folder, too.
Make sure to arrive early for any transportation you may be taking. This could be the bus, the train, a plane, or a ship. There could be issues with traffic, documentation, or in the case of our Ireland trip a wheelchair. Never take it for granted that you’ve given yourself enough time. There are always lounges, restaurants, or other places to hang out while you wait.
I make a list and check it twice. I find that I function better when I have an area where I stage my trip. This may sound a little excessive, but it works for me. I put my suitcase there, my passport wallet, any necessary documents and the bags that I need to pack for toiletries and electronics. I also keep a paper list of what I have to take, I just hate forgetting anything.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Now is not the time to try out complicated recipes, decorations, or elaborate ideas. For me, Thanksgiving is about being with the people I love and being thankful that they are in my life.
I have gone by way of asking for help when I need it and not turning people down when they make an offer. I will be spending Thanksgiving with my friend Susan, her family, my bestie, and my guy. I offered to take a dessert and some wine. The bestie will be taking an appetizer. This is just a nice way of thanking her for hosting this huge meal and by taking some of the load off her. I used to say no to people when they offered, now, I am far more mature and understand that it is a help and appreciation and not a sign of weakness.
I have also been known to go by way of premade especially with desserts. There is a lovely little bakery in Malvern, Pennsylvania called Strawberry Bakery. Jean Paul is a French train pastry chef and makes the most divine desserts. I have picked up two or three of his desserts and his fresh baked rolls instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. He does a much better job than I ever could (He has classes available, and they are worth taking!!). Also, Wegmans, one of our local grocery stores, has a good bakery which I have used. Wegman’s also has charcuterie boards and platters available during the holiday season.
I have minimized the decorations over the years. Let’s face it, it is about food, family, friends, football, and fun. I invested in all white place settings and service ware years ago and then use a beautiful table cloth, white cloth napkins, and silver wire napkin rings. I either make or buy a low and wide centerpiece and place votives on the table. Included is a beautiful wreath on the door, a seasonal welcome mat, some pumpkins, and corn stalks. They go up on October 1st and come down at the end of November. I use the Thanksgiving/Fall decor for 2 months and have enough out that it takes less than 1/2 hour to put away.
One of the fun activities, I use to do with the kids was decorate the tree that weekend. I have a couple of themes for trees and keep them in separate containers and yes, they are labeled. It keeps me from having to hunt for items. The tree is prelit and there are more decorations including the wire tree with candy hanging off it and some permanently decorated trees for around the house. The front door has a wreath, some lights, and a seasonal mat. If we are traveling, then it is the main tree, and the front door.
I have come to enjoy the simplicity and the time I have gained. I appreciate the memories, old and new. I answer questions and provide recipes. I look forward to watching my kids create their own traditions and relish the time I spend with them helping create or watching them enjoy what they have created. I’m in a good place to be and I enjoy it.
Whatever you do for the upcoming Holiday season. Be safe. Have fun. Enjoy family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving.