Second Wind: Tips for handling holiday visitors |

Second Wind: Tips for handling holiday visitors

It’s November, kickoff time for the Official Semi-Pro Entertaining Season.

This is the month harried cooks call the Butterball Hotline on Thanksgiving morning to find out how to cook the turkey they forgot to defrost.

But, as any hostess knows, there may be other defrosting jobs on Thanksgiving – maybe breaking the ice with grandchildren who barely know you, maybe getting family members to relax and enjoy each other, nursing drinks instead of grudges.

So here are a dozen tips to warm up visiting grandkids and their parents, especially when they are spending the long Thanksgiving weekend with you:

• Get off to a good start. Family members may have driven a long way to your house-over the river and through the traffic jams. When they come in the door, have refreshments at the ready. Maybe an easy mulled wine for the grown-ups-you can buy the spices already assembled. (Try Aspen Mulling Spices.) Do the same with apple cider or sparkling grape juice for the kids.

• Avoid a seasonal nervous breakdown over the Thanksgiving meal. Get help. Grandkids can stuff the celery with cream cheese. They can whip cream for the pies (and lick the beaters). If they use manual egg beaters instead of electric machines, it’s safer and keeps them busy longer. And of course, pull the adults into the action, too. Even a cooking-impaired person can drive to a bakery to pick up a pie.

• Provide nostalgia as a first course for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s one sure-fire way to get people talking and enjoying themselves. At each place, put a memento of that person’s past. Maybe their third-grade picture, a report card, a crayon drawing-anything to get the nostalgia flowing. I am wicked, but I put out the graduation certificate of my first-born son-he who graduated some 40 years ago from Little Beaver Nursery School. Digging up the past this way can make for an hilarious start to the meal.

• Relax about manners and about whether or not everyone likes your cooking. If you have a kids’ table, know that your Brussels sprouts will be offered to the dog. Hey, you did it too.

• Get out of the house. Families can get restless if confined long together. Maybe it’s the noise and the constant interaction. Anyhow, plan some expeditions for both generations. Think holiday craft fair or the special movie that opens on Thanksgiving weekend. Your grandkids will know what that special movie is, even if you don’t.

• Get active. If the weather and the yard allow, throw a football around. Kick a soccer ball. Go walk in a park. I know one family that hikes to a designated Bird Tree in the woods and there they hang up bird goodies like suet and peanut butter stuck into pine cones. Then the birds have a holiday too.

• Think games. Ask your visiting family what games they love. Cranky Pants’ family members lay out a huge puzzle that anyone can try to put together. We also do charades-pretty primitive charades so the youngest won’t feel left out. I do a pitiful imitation of Big Bird-all dignity left behind.

• Do family theater. If anyone sings, dances, plays something musical or does pig calls, ask for a demo. Ask, don’t insist. Some grandchildren have learned Thanksgiving poems or songs at school and are freshly rehearsed for your viewing pleasure.

• Be quiet on the negative front. Don’t criticize-not even the studs in the nose. It takes all kinds to make a family, and this is the only one you’ve been issued.

• Be imaginative with the grandkids. They like to play, so give Native American headdresses to young family members and they can play at being the first Indians at the first Thanksgiving. Just a feather and a ribbon will work. One year I dressed up my daughter in full costume, moccasins and all. A faux squaw-ette, she went around the neighborhood to wish them all Happy Thanksgiving. Forty years later, I still hear the stories about that Thanksgiving.

• Remember the visiting pets, the grand dogs of the family. Have a treat ready, plus water and food bowls in a corner.

• Order in pizza on Friday.


Mel Walsh is the author of Hot Granny, now in its second printing and a great girlfriend stocking stuffer for the holidays. Visit Mel at

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