A Seat At The Table: A guide to the perfect holiday spread

Photography by Kimberly Schuldt Photography, staged table design by Pretty Little Vinatage Co.

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A Farm-to-Table Thanksgiving

Photo by Sydney Schaefer

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Have a plan, take a breath and don’t overdo it this season


It starts with Halloween. After that, the race is on for two solid months. Along with all our other chores and obligations there’s decorating (inside, outside and sometimes for more than one household), shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, traveling, hosting and general celebrating, sometimes well into early January.

Throw in sibling squabbles, unmet expectations, missing or seriously ill loved ones and a little too much alcohol and you have the makings of a stressful, exhausting, potentially depressing time of year. What can you do about it? We asked several experts for their advice. Here’s what they had to say about how to handle some of the most common holiday stressors.

Shopping and gift-giving

Gift shopping can be stressful for all sorts of reasons. Among them is trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Elaine Rodino, a Pennsylvania psychologist, said you know it’s a problem if you’re taking too much time to choose each gift. “You feel like the gift, and often the wrapping, is a major reflection on you.”

Leslie Connor, a psychologist in Delaware, agrees. “By trying to find the ultimate gift we put unnecessary pressure on ourselves, which can be overwhelming.” That can lead to overspending, especially if your gift list is long. Instead, focus on simply getting something the recipient will enjoy and not what the gift says about you personally.

If you didn’t begin your holiday shopping in July, it’s time to get busy or you’ll be stuck at the mall with all the other procrastinators. Be prepared to be patient. Plan to arrive early, when stores and businesses open, or shop during the dinner hour, when crowds often thin out. Better yet, shop online but allow plenty of time for possible shipping delays.

Too many tasks on the to-do list

Make a list of everything you would like to do, delegate what you can and take on only those things you can comfortably accomplish. Then cross off the rest. “Ask yourself: ‘What do I find meaningful and what can I let go of?’” Connor said.

Here’s another way to think of it: “Accept that you can’t do all the work yourself,” said New York psychologist Carol Goldberg. She advises you to ask for and accept all offers of help. “You don’t have to show off your cooking and decorating skills. Give everyone a job.” And be realistic about your budget, time and energy. Here are some areas where you might cut back:

Decorating: Limit yourself to one area that’s most important to you or your family, say the front yard or the living room, and skip the rest. Or, scale back. “Be satisfied to be the house that’s next door to the one that makes the news every year,” advises Rodino. “Don’t even try to compete.”

n Gift-wrapping: Use gift bags, tissue paper and premade bows. Take advantage of charitable gift-wrapping fundraisers.

n Sending holiday cards: Just stop. Send holiday greetings via email or social media, advises Dr. Nick Dewan, a BayCare psychiatrist and medical director of Behavioral Health Services. Whittle down your list to only those you know will truly miss them. And, if the deadline is a problem, it’s OK to send New Year’s cards, Dewan adds.

n Baking: Take shortcuts. Start with a mix or use refrigerator dough. Buy plain bakery cookies, cakes or confections and decorate them yourself. Make just one favorite recipe rather than 10.

Cooking: Buy as much as you can afford from a deli, restaurant or caterer. Have guests bring dishes or help with the cooking. And, remember this sage advice from the queen of entertaining, the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten: “People don’t have a better time because you made everything yourself.”

n Cleaning: If possible, this is the time to hire a cleaning service or your neighbor’s housekeeper. Not in your budget? Streamline cleaning to the most used areas: living room, bathroom, kitchen. When invited guests ask how they can help, ask a few to plan to stay late to assist with cleanup. Use real flatware, but disposable plates, cups and napkins.

n Hosting dinners, parties: If you’re tired of hosting, come clean and ask someone else to do it. Or, you provide the location and ask others to bring the food, drinks and handle cleanup. Try inviting people over for dessert and coffee from 2 to 4 p.m. Make or buy one special dessert, and let guests who offer bring additional treats.


Be realistic about what you can accomplish and afford. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Simplify the menu, drop dishes that are too much work, make it potluck and let everyone contribute. Dewan said we should all remember, “Most people care more about having fun and being together than having an elaborate celebration with a tired host.”

“Don’t compete with yourself,” adds Rodino. “Don’t feel that you have to outdo what you did last year. It just gets to be so much work that it’s less and less fun.”

Take stock of your family traditions and let go of the ones you no longer enjoy. Rodino said keeping holiday traditions alive and following them to a tee is a top reason for holiday stress. If attending midnight church services followed by a gift exchange is just too much for your family, find another service to attend and schedule gift-giving earlier in the day.

“All those traditions had a start somewhere, at sometime,” Rodino said. “So why not start some new ones that fit your schedule and your lifestyle better?”

And, while you’re managing expectations, don’t expect problem family members and friends to suddenly change and be the perfect guests this year. Connor said you should instead resolve not to react to or get drawn into their bad behavior. Dewan suggests you even practice in advance “positive ways to respond when they get under your skin.”

When your guests don’t get along

Be sure each knows the other one will be there or has been invited. Ask them to put aside their differences for the few hours that the family will be together.

“One thing that tends to upset people is that they imagine everyone else is with a loving, perfect family and they compare their imperfect family to that one,” Connor said. “The truth is that many people have family struggles. … Maybe you don’t stay as long as you would like, or you engage only with family members who are easier to be with.”

Problem drinkers

Stopping alcohol cold turkey can cause serious medical problems in alcoholics — do this only with medical help or supervision. Ask heavy drinkers to come over, say hello and leave before they start drinking. Don’t serve alcohol while they are there.

Dewan said it is important to set boundaries with them in advance and let them know how you expect them to behave. “Don’t bring up past bad behavior and hurts, but do stand firm on your boundaries for this year,” he said.

For those who have quit drinking, it can be hard to be around alcohol, especially in the early stages of recovery. Have plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available. Limit the amount and kind of alcohol you serve: no hard liquor or fruity cocktails that make it too easy to overindulge. Have just a couple of bottles of wine on hand, not a couple of cases.

Don’t ever push alcoholic drinks on guests and don’t let drinkers drive. Cut off alcohol at least an hour before the party ends. Have phone numbers handy for taxicab and ride-share services. Or, if you’d rather not serve alcohol in support of someone who is newly sober or struggling with alcohol, let your guests know in advance and ask them not to BYOB.

Missing a loved one

It’s OK to remember and talk about loved ones who have passed away or who can’t be at the party because of illness or inability to travel. Honor that person with activities like inviting guests to help make a memory album, or visiting a grave site or volunteering at their favorite charity. “Find a way to express your grief or sadness, rather than holding it in,” Connor said.

If a loved one is hospitalized or too ill to attend, Goldberg suggests passing around a card, having everyone sign it and adding a personal message. Or, make a video for those who would enjoy that more. It lets those who couldn’t attend know they were missed and remembered.

Local farmer, wife see his recovery from accident as miracle

The Porter family, from left, Darcy L. M., holding Harrison G., David P., holding Sloane H., Gregory G., Lisa P., Jamison C., and Casey S., stand in front of the Porterdale Farm buildings at their family home on Sulphur Springs Road.

The Porter family, from left, Darcy L. M., holding Harrison G., David P., holding Sloane H., Gregory G., Lisa P., Jamison C., and Casey S., stand in front of the Porterdale Farm buildings at their family home on Sulphur Springs Road. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

WATERTOWN — Two and a half years after her husband was severely injured in a farm accident, Lisa P. Porter still can’t believe he survived. [Read more…]

Holiday 2015: North Country Notes

Over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving memories

“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go / The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the bright and drifting snow-oh … ”

When I was growing up in the Champlain Valley, we did in fact go over the river (two, actually) and through the woods, as well as farm fields, to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, although, being an up-to-date 1950s family, we traveled by car, and snowdrifts that early in the winter were rare, at least at Thanksgiving. [Read more…]

Holiday 2015: The NNY Life

Share the holiday season like our love that connects us

Hirschey_Kathleen WEBHere come the holidays, the time of year when traditions and memories intertwine with new moments of the season. There is the blur of the Thanksgiving meal, our grateful souls devouring the company of loved ones, along with too much delicious turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Then the string of days that leads us to Christmas, when we gather again with family, catching glimpses of our younger selves as we watch the children around us, their eyes sparkling in the lights from decorated trees. [Read more…]

Original Turkey Trot runner crosses finish line at 91

More than 1,100 Watertown community members turned out Thanksgiving morning for the YMCA Turkey Trot 5k run and 2.2-mile walk, including a 91-year-old runner who helped organize the first event more than 30 years ago.

Warren R. Bonney, 91, stood out from the pack as he and his longtime running buddy, William R. Mattingly, took to the 2.2-mile course. Mr. Mattingly pushed Mr. Bonney’s wheelchair through the slush, snow and puddles.

The 2014 Turkey Trot participants started the run at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Participants did a lap around the block with an extended course for runners.

Mr. Bonney was took part in organizing the first Turkey Trot more than 30 years ago. Mr. Mattingly said he and Mr. Bonney participated in the 5k together with friends and family. Mr. Mattingly, 71, said it’s been years since he has run the half marathon, but he walks — and neither he nor Mr. Bonney are ready to slow down.

“I do more hiking, biking, walking, and canoeing now,” said Mr. Mattingly. He said he is an Adirondack 46er and stays active with his grandchildren, going on long hiking trips.

Mr. Bonney said he has participated in the Turkey Trot every year since it began, though in the last few years he has had to slow down and walk with his daughter, who had a wheelchair available in case he needed a break. Mr. Mattingly said he planned to play it by ear and see what Mr. Bonney wanted to do: walk, push himself or be pushed along the route.

The first person across the finish line was Matthew Cheney, 22, of Beaver Falls, with a time of 16:15. The first female finisher was Brittany Burns, 26, Watertown, who finished the run in 18:18.

Mr. Bonney, who decided at the last block he wanted to walk, stood behind his wheelchair as he crossed the finish line with fellow Trot participants cheering for “number 31.”

“A year ago, the doctor said I might have arthritis,” said Mr. Bonney. “It’s been a year, and I’m still going.”

Mr. Bonney said he was glad it stopped snowing on Thursday morning, but weather hasn’t stopped him before. One year they ran it in a blizzard, another year through inches of slush trying to slow the runners and walkers down.

He said he plans to participate in another run on New Years Day.

Some runners and walkers wore turkey hats and shorts. Parents toted infants in baby carriers on their chests, and some pushed children in strollers with their canine companions leashed to their sides.

All the participants had crossed the finish line by 10 a.m., giving everyone ample time to get home and put together their Thanksgiving dinners.

“Our goal was to have a good time, burn some awesome calories and eat up some more awesome calories,” said Monica R. Ward. Ms. Ward is a first-time walker who pushed her young daughter in a stroller through the course.

Nancy Catalina and her two children, Jenelle and Jacob, said the Turkey Trot has become a Thanksgiving tradition for their family.

“After the run,” Jenelle said, “we have an excuse to eat all day.”



By Katherine Clark Ross, Times Staff Writer

Veterans, military members receive a helping hand for the holiday

On Tuesday morning, just in time to thaw, season and stuff the Thanksgiving turkey, a local group provided the fixings for soldiers, veterans and their families to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.

Ashley Clifford, case manager for the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center in Watertown, said her organization had boxes packed with everything needed for a traditional Thanksgiving, including rolls, potatoes, cranberry sauce, canned vegetables, cookies, a pie, juice and more. She expects the food to serve 27 people.

“We have five turkeys for five families,” Ms. Clifford said.

Before people arrived to pick up their boxes, Ms. Clifford and volunteers assembled the boxes for those who had requested the Thanksgiving meals. She said they were arranged by recipient, and single soldiers or veterans were given boxes of turkey loaves.

The Veterans Outreach Center is staffed with professional case managers to help guide qualifying veterans and their families into a new apartment or help with eviction prevention.

Ms. Clifford said she works with the veterans and their families from beginning to end to ensure a smooth transition.

The center also offers a food pantry, clothing for veterans and their families, and other services.

“You just have to be a veteran or enlisted military,” Ms. Clifford said.

Kellie Drake, former case manager for the Watertown Outreach Center, said it served about eight people at Thanksgiving and 15 at Christmas last year.

“We had just opened our office in October, and then a month later we were helping pass out Thanksgiving meals,” Ms. Drake said. “We work closely with the local veterans center, but at first getting the organization’s name out in the community was the hardest part.”

Rachel R. Mazzole, a former Marine and a single mother of two young children, said the organization helped her provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals last year.

She said this year, her plans for a Thanksgiving meal were almost derailed.

“We were going to go out to eat, and then our dryer broke and I needed to fix it,” Ms. Mazzole said. “Up until yesterday I didn’t have any plans for a Thanksgiving meal.”

She said it made her day to get the call from Veterans Outreach.

Ms. Mazzole said the organization delivered the Thanksgiving meal last year to her home in Gouverneur because she didn’t have a car, bringing everything she needed to make dinner.

“Last year they brought us cups, plates and stuff to bake the food in. I still have it,” Ms. Mazzole said. “It was the first year I had Thanksgiving at home because they gave me everything I needed.”

Matthew R. Smart, a former Army soldier, said he and his 3-year-old son will be having Thanksgiving at home together with all the fixings and the turkey from the group.

He said he is a student at Jefferson Community College in the paramedic program.

He became involved with Veterans Outreach when it helped him and his son get into a new apartment.

But at the holidays, the center fits in the extras, too. Ms. Clifford said at Christmas, the organization also will provide gifts such as blankets, hats, mittens and shoes.

Ms. Clifford and Gregory Niles, case manager for Veterans Outreach in Oneida, Madison, Otsego and Herkimer counties, said every veteran and soldier who comes to a Veterans Outreach center has a different story and different needs.

“We’re a last-resort agency,” Ms. Clifford said. She said in most cases, the clients who come to Veterans Outreach have gone to Social Security, the Salvation Army, the Watertown Urban Mission or other agencies.

She said the center offers short-term relief to help people who for a variety of reasons need a place to live.

“People who come in needing our help are homeless or at risk of being homeless,” Ms. Clifford said. She said other organizations will provide first month’s rent, but Veterans Outreach is the only one that will provide a security deposit for a down payment.

She said once the recipients are ready to move to their next home, the security deposit is theirs to use for a deposit on that home if they wish.

Mr. Niles said he has had clients return the deposits when they move as a measure of good faith.

Patrick J. Denneny said he not only came to pick up his Thanksgiving dinner but often visits the Outreach Center to offer help where he can.

He said when he had moved back to Watertown from Buffalo at the age of 70, he went to the Veterans Outreach to help him get into an apartment.

“Being 70 at the time, it took approximately 30 days before my Social Security kicked in and everything was underway,” Mr. Denneny said. Veterans Outreach “gave me the security deposit for my apartment. They were very essential in getting me in my into my apartment.”


By Katherine Clark Ross