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Relax, You got this

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Oh sure, Christmas is at the top – music, decorations, presents, the joy of being with family and seeing little ones open gifts – plus hearing the miracle story of Christmas.  The only way it can get better is if there’s a chance of a white Christmas – just a light dusting of snow!  But in my seasonal calendar, Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, and it’s a time for peace and quiet, a time to slow-down, rest, relax, recover and begin to reflect on the past year and enjoy the next few weeks before a new year begins.

welcome door
thanksgiving meal table

If you are hosting (or even traveling out of town to visit family and friends), resting, relaxing, and recovering may not be part of your vocabulary.  I’d like to help you out so it can be!  I’ll share how you can easily handle food, family and fun to create lasting memories together.


Create a Game Plan

food list

Whenever our extended family decides to get together, I always start with creating a menu plan for every meal within the timeline.  It’s important not to assume or skip meals; otherwise, later on you’ll need to do last minute planning or scrambling or takeout.  The plan can be a sophisticated, online document (this is helpful if you want to share and get input) or as simple as a 8.5” x 11” notebook paper. 

Either way, having a plan can make the difference between calm and chaos.  I like to start with a high-level outline and then move and swap meals based on the other planned activities (shopping, hiking, etc.) for the day.  See below for a list of suggested outings; but it’s nice to get out of the house – at least once a day. 

After the high-level outline is created, I’ll dig deeper into the complete menu for each meal, researching specific recipes and documenting ingredients for a grocery list.

Probably the most overwhelming day is the Thanksgiving Day meal, but you can make it as complicated or as simple as you’d like.  Here’s our traditional Thanksgiving Menu:

Thanksgiving Menu

To make it more complicated, you can add more sides such as Sweet Potato Casserole and Creamed Corn.  Instead of a basic lettuce salad, you could make a broccoli salad.  And you can always make more pies such as Sour Cream Raisin, Key Lime or Apple Pie. 

Or you can make it even easier by removing some of the sides and rolls – there’s usually so much food; we never eat the rolls!

Just remember if you don’t eat all the food you make for the Thanksgiving Day meal, it’s convenient to reheat for future meals.  We plan for at least 1 additional meal of leftovers – plus we’ll make a either cheesy, turkey casserole and/or turkey soup for another meal.


If you are fortunate to live near your family, this day may be similar to any other family get together that you’ve had all year long.  But for many of us, we do not get to spend much time with family.  Sometimes this can be difficult – being around people that you may not be as comfortable or familiar with.

My recommendation is to engage with them and ask questions.  Of course you can buy conversation starters or Table Topics to help with awkward family gatherings and get the discussion going.  Another way is to ask them questions about themselves – what vacations did they take this year, hobbies or interests, what are their favorite meals, books, movies, tv shows, games, etc.

get to know you books

If you really want to get into a deeper discussion, another question is to ask if there is anything that you can pray for them about.  This may lead to a real (instead of surface-level) conversation on their challenges, struggles and hurts from the past year.  However, I find engaging at this level helps me overcome some of the difficulties that I’ve faced – even if the discussion doesn’t go exactly as planned or the person doesn’t offer the best advice.

Depending on your relationship with your family, there may be past hurts or difficulties based on personalities that you need to work on.  I’d recommend taking time to prepare in advance for these situations – whether that’s through prayer, meditation or introspection. 

I need a map

atlas of the heart

I recently had the opportunity to read a few chapters in Brené Brown’s new-ish book, Atlas of the Heart:  Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience.  This is a great book to read – especially if you need to better understand your emotions and how they affect your behavior.  (If you need a great summary, I’d recommend starting with the last chapter first.) 

In the book, Brené explores 87 emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human and walks through a new framework for cultivating meaningful connection that will expand your emotional vocabulary.  

Ultimately, she writes, “Well, let me go on the record right now: I no longer believe that we can recognize emotion in other people, regardless of how well we understand human emotion and experience or how much language we have.”  

This is why it is important to talk (and listen) to others and ask them about their life and experiences. 


Almost every year of our married life together, we’ve spent Thanksgiving with Kyle’s family.  While we’ve hosted a few times over the years, the majority is spent at his parents house.  In order to rest, relax, recover and reflect, we do not try to cram too many events into the time together, but I do try to get out of the house – even if it’s by myself with just a short walk around the neighborhood.  It’s great to get some fresh air and time alone.

Otherwise, we’ll go for a short hike on a nearby trail, spend a morning or afternoon going shopping (not too early on Black Friday), and we’ll visit local Christmas light displays nearby.  On Thanksgiving Day, we do watch a lot of TV starting with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade followed by the 3 NFL football games.

Games, Games and More Games


Every evening we’ll play games together – our favorite is Carcassonne and a close second is Trekking The National Parks.  There is usually a new winner every time we play – this is the main reason we enjoy the games.  If we play Tracktic, Blokus or Q-Bitz, Kyle will win every single time!

Missing the missing ones

This will be the first Thanksgiving in a long time where Zeke isn’t with us.  It will be hard – especially since last Thanksgiving he was really beginning his downhill health journey toward the end.  Thankfully, I have a lot of memories from our past holidays together. 

zeke's last thanksgiving

I’m not exactly sure how I’ll feel, but my goal will be to try and lean into the feelings and emotions (vs. stuff or ignore them) – even though it may be hard.  And I still want to slow-down, rest, relax, recover and reflect on the past year.

Tell us what you think

What’s your secret to approaching the Thanksgiving holiday?  Do you have any must-have menu items?  We’d love to hear from you.  Please share your feedback in the comments below.

– Kara from Zeke Life

Live like Zeke
You’re such a good boy!

Thanksgiving Recipes



All of the information below on roasting a turkey is from the experts at Butterball. We did smoke a turkey – once, but I don’t think we’ll be doing that again anytime soon.

What you need:
  • 15 – 20 lb. turkey
  • Roasting foil pan
  • Reynolds Turkey Size Oven Bag
  • Onions
  • Celery
kyle carving turkey
Kyle carving turkey in 2009
smoked turkey
Smoked Turkey in 2010
  1. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed in the refrigerator, which may take 4 – 5 days.
  2. Preheat oven to 325° F. Remove packaging, reach inside to remove neck and giblets, drain juices, and pat dry with clean paper towels.
  3. Place turkey breast-side-up in a turkey sized oven bag in a roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep.
  4. Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. (Tucking the wings will help stabilize the turkey in the pan and when carving)
  5. Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance. Cut several onions into rings and dice celery. Place inside turkey for additional flavor.
  6. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh without touching the bone.
  7. Place your turkey in the oven.
  8. When the turkey is about ⅔ done (~2 – 2 ½  hours), loosely cover the breast with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.
  9. Your turkey is done when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 180° F in thigh and 170° F in breast or stuffing (~3 – 3½  hours) .
  10. Lift turkey onto platter, and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.
Estimated Time:

4 – 6 hours, including prep and cook time. Use this turkey calculator to help with planning.


We use Stove Top Stuffing, and follow the instructions on the box.

Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

I’ll be honest that I don’t follow a recipe for mashed potatoes. I just add a lot of milk and butter. And most times I will buy a jar of gravy from the store. However, this recipe sounds really interesting to try because the gravy supposedly mirrors KFC – yum!

Green Bean Casserole


taken from Campbell’s® website

What you need:
  • 1 can (10 1/2 oz.) Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup 
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 4 cups cooked cut green beans
  • 1 1/3 cups French’s® French Fried Onions
green bean casserole
  1. Heat the oven to 350°.  
  2. Stir the soup, milk, soy sauce, beans and 2/3 cup onions in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
  3. Bake for 25 minutes or until hot.  Stir the bean mixture.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2/3 cup onions.
  4. Bake for another 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.
Estimated Time:

40 minutes.

Broccoli Salad


This is a family recipe, but it seems pretty similar to other broccoli salad recipes. I do not like raisins so I always swap in craisins.

What you need:
  • 1 – 2 head of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 small purple onion, chopped
  • ½ c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 c. craisins
  • ⅓ c. precooked bacon, pieces
  • Dressing:
    • 2 tbsp vinegar
    • 1 c. miracle whip salad dressing
    • ½ c. sugar
broccoli salad
  1. Chop broccoli head into individual pieces.  Peel tender part of stem with vegetable peeler and chop.
  2. Add onions, seeds, craisins, and bacon pieces.
  3. Mix dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl.
  4. Pour over broccoli mixture.
  5. Refrigerate and stir well before serving.
Estimated Time:

1 – 2 hours, including chill time.



This is something that Kyle’s grandmother would make. It’s pronounced “Yifta”, a Swedish Cranberry Layer Salad.

What you need:
  • 1 package cranberries
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • Whipped cream / cool whip
  • Graham crackers, crushed
  1. Prepare whole cranberry sauce by mixing cranberries, sugar and water.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook until skins break.  
  3. Chill until firm.
  4. In a glass bowl, layer cranberry sauce, whipped cream, graham crackers.  
  5. Repeat layers.
Estimated Time:

2 – 3 hours, including chill time.

Pecan Pie

Print Recipe

This is my grandma’s recipe, and she would always make the best pecan pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It goes perfectly with a dollop of cool whip!

What you need:
  • 1 single pie crust
  • 3 slightly beaten eggs
  • 1 c. corn syrup
  • ⅔ c. sugar
  • ⅓ c. butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 ¼ c. pecan halves
  • Cool Whip
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Make pie crust for single crust pie (or thaw if frozen).
  3. For filling, combine eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla.
  4. Mix well, and stir in pecans.
  5. Carefully pour the filling into the pastry shell.
  6. To prevent over browning, cover edge with foil.  Bake 350° for 25 min.
  7. Remove foil, and bake for another 20 – 25 min. Or until the knife comes out clean.
  8. Cool on wire rack.  Cover and refrigerate within 2 hours.
Estimated Time:

60 – 75 minutes.

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