I tried to cancel Thanksgiving dinner this year.

The memory of last year’s failed turkey spatchcocking experiment remains vivid in my mind. Although I’ve flipped the calendar page twelve times, it’s hardly enough to forget that big bird, which remained uncooked when our guests arrived, and that leaky pan, which dribbled into the bottom of the oven.

A cloud of smoke filled the air as the juices burned off and the smoke detectors blared until we unplugged them.

By the time that stubborn turkey cooked, everything else was cold. My new dressing recipe contained bacon, but three of our guests were eating Kosher. Mark me 0 for 2 on crucial elements of the traditional holiday feast.

Bee on Sunflower

It’s hard to redeem Thanksgiving dinner when you’ve ruined the turkey and dressing.

If I had to use one word to describe Thanksgiving 2014 in my kitchen, it would be #FAIL. Make that #EPICFAIL.

So maybe it’s no surprise I tried to book a friend’s mountain cabin for Thanksgiving weekend this year. I thought a change of scenery would charm my kids and keep them from noticing the absence of turkey and dressing (which they don’t like much anyway) and the rest of the family would understand why I ran away after last year’s fiasco.

Budding Flowers

I once heard an episode of a radio program called the Dream Doctor where a caller asked the host to analyze that dreadful dream where you walk into a classroom only to discover it’s exam day and you haven’t studied.

(Have you had it too?)

I almost pulled off the road rather than risk driving out of the station’s range during the commercial break. Both my mother and I were occasionally plagued by this frustrating dream — sometimes the student; sometimes the teacher; always unprepared — even though we’d been out of school for years.

The host returned with a logical explanation, one I’d never considered: those dreams, he said, have nothing to do with school, but everything to do with the feeling of being tested. Something in your life feels like a test and you feel unprepared, afraid of failing.

The next time I dreamed that dream was just before the first time we hosted our family’s Thanksgiving meal. It made sense — my fear of bungling the turkey and dressing was like walking into a classroom unprepared to take my finals.

Unfortunately, my plan to escape to the mountains for Thanksgiving didn’t work; someone booked the cabin before me.

Monarch on a Sunflower

Since I’ll have to face both the music and the turkey, I’m thinking of ways to experience more thankfulness and less stress. If you’re an anxious holiday host, I hope these thoughts help you too:

  • Don’t experiment with new cooking methods or recipes on crucial dishes unless you have a backup plan.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate: ask other guests to bring bread, sides, or desserts.
  • More Mary, less Martha: spend more time enjoying your guests and less time cleaning; use paper plates!
  • Let your guests help you set the table and get the food ready to serve; they’re thankful you’ve opened your home and want to assist you.
  • Enjoy the people you’re with; you probably don’t see enough of them.
  • Thanksgiving is about being thankful; make it the focus of your holiday.

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.” {Psalm 100:4}

by Dawn Camp @ My Home Sweet Home, who will enjoy her family this Thanksgiving, no matter what happens in her kitchen
  • Jas

    Happy thanksgiving to you and your family! We don’t celebrate it here in NZ but I can relate 100% about having mishaps in the kitchen when feeling under pressure like tonight I made some white chocolate chip biscuits my fail proof go to biscuit. You see my husband is having a birthday morning tea tomorrow at work where he’s to bring in food to feed the office and I thought I would try using chocolate chunks (a block cut up instead of chips as suggested by the recipe) and it was an epic fail!! I made some cinnamon scrolls too which turned out well thank goodness but it was the “oh no comments” and comparisons to the other wife’s of what they had provided for their husbands or their own morning teas that makes me feel pressure and less than. You can only do what you can do – why do we worry about such things and fall into the trap of comparison?? Thank you for the reminder to enjoy the company we have and to be thankful .

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Oh, yes—comparison! My brother-in-law runs a restaurant and is a great cook, so that made last year’s disaster even more painful: a witness who would have done it so much better!

      I hope your husband’s birthday tea is a huge success. I’m sure he’s thankful to have you in his corner and his kitchen!

  • hippie4ever

    I’m praying for a less anxious, more restful Thanksgiving for you :) My family members, who don’t like turkey either, are coming up with a different menu this year: tamales is one item on the menu. Because it isn’t about the food – it’s about family and being thankful :) You could always order everything and just heat it up too. ;D

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Years ago we scrapped turkey and dressing on Christmas in favor of chili, our new traditional meal. Maybe Thanksgiving could use a menu adjustment too. ;)

  • Leigh

    Thank you for your genuine honest words. I think I need a sign in my kitchen that says “More Mary, Less Martha” I have such a tendency towards wanting perfection that my focus on wanting to create the perfect hallmark (you could fill the blank with any holiday I host) that I end up stressed, yelling at someone, ruining my “perfect picture” and ultimately not pleasing God. Which then sends me into a whole new tailspin. I too have hosted a disaster (mine included a child who got the flu, dad ended up in ER from dehydration, rain coming through the dinning room window while eating Christmas dinner) and have tried to book vacations with no success. This year due to insanely expensive airfare, my family flew in yesterday for an early Thanksgiving. We had our big meal last night. I thought it would be different and it was – just not the different I expected. My moto for the remainder of my family’s visit will be “More Mary, Less Martha” because if I can let go of perfection, I can make room for what God intended.
    Thank you for your timely post, it’s as though God is speaking directly to me through your words!

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Leigh, I love the idea of a More Mary, Less Martha sign in the kitchen. It’s an excuse, an apology, and a mission statement all in one! :)
      Your horrible, horrible Thanksgiving story reminds me how unexpectedly things can change: 3 or 4 years ago we hosted a *successful* Thanksgiving meal, followed by a drive 30 minutes north to a quaint mountain town where we walked through the beautifully lit square and admired a truck parked there overnight, en route to deliver the White House Christmas tree. We could touch the branches peeking out around the edges.

      We returned home to find our house filled with gas. An open window had extinguished two burners on our stove, which had been left on low. I’m not sure which was worse: leaving two burners on or having them blow out and fill the house with gas. Thankfully it was an unseasonably warm night. We opened all the windows, turned on the fans, and sat on our back deck and watched old Inspector Gadget cartoons on a laptop until we could go inside.

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Oh Dawn, that would be my nightmare too. I usually host our extended family for one of the big holidays. It can be nerve-wracking. And I’ve had those dreams. I’ve never considered that they show a fear not being ready for a test. I hope your Thanksgiving meal this year goes well! I’m not hosting, but I’m making pies. Sometimes that is my personal nemesis. :)
    In our family, we divide up the labor so that everybody gets to contribute, and so the hostess isn’t pulling her hair out. :)
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Dawn, I hope to read your original post sometime, because this one made me smile. :-) So sorry that your fiasco was my delight today. You gotta keep laughing….and thanking, right? Who of us hasn’t done something like that, but in retrospect, it’s not so bad, and we get through it–and can even smile about it. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had that “You didn’t study for the test” dream. Yes, I think it really is a subliminal fear of failure clawing to the surface, trying to get my attention. And I love how you will prepare this year: simply. There is a lesson here for a type-A perfectionist like me. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Lynn, now the trick is to follow my own advice: simplify! :)

  • Melissa S.

    An excellent reminder for me as Thanksgiving nears. I’ll be honest: I LOVE Christmas, but Thanksgiving is quickly becoming my favorite holiday. All the food, fellowship, conversation, and togetherness but with none of the stress of presents or presentation or anything of the like. Our family can just eat, talk, enjoy each other’s company, and then sack out on the couches to start off our Christmas Season as we always do: with “White Christmas” and maybe a fast-becoming new tradition, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. I just love the being with family and I want to be more Mary and less Martha this year, definitely, so I do not forget the sweetness of just sitting at His feet and being thankful.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Ooooh, I just love movie traditions. That’s great that you’ve added one to Thanksgiving! I need to remember what you’ve said here: there are many stresses that are absent on Thanksgiving.

      • Melissa S.

        I married into the “White Christmas” tradition and have grown to love it. One year, we also showed the newest Star Trek film because my mother-in-law liked the old ones and it’s starting to become an after-“White Christmas” staple.

  • Veronica

    Hi Dawn. Yup, the first year I cooked a turkey I left the giblets inside and only noticed them halfway through the cook time. Most times, the turkey has been cooked by others. My mother-in-law made the most deliciously, moist turkey ever! Last year, we visited my in-laws and gathered around a small table at the nursing home. It was festive with ribbons and colorful streamers, and we shared a turkey meal with some “fixings”. It wasn’t the most elaborate meal our family ever shared, but it was the most memorable. As he lifted each forkful (not easy for him) he said “this is good.” And as we watched him eat, we were thankful that we could gather together. Thankful for another year to share a meal as a family. Have a blessed Thanksgiving Dawn.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Veronica, you’ve brought tears to my eyes. This is what Thanksgiving is all about. The rest is just stuff.

    • Penny

      thank-you for sharing such a sweet memory with us.


  • Beth Williams

    May God bless you with a stress free hassle free Thanksgiving with family and friends!
    When I first married my in-laws cooked the meal and we went and ate. Then I began to ask if I could help out by making some items. I always helped her clean up and get the dishes done! In the past years we have hosted the Thanksgiving at our house as in-laws are aging. We do it the simple way, (cheaters way actually). I order a complete meal from grocery store and make a few side items. My mother-in-law also makes a few items. I try to make every day thanksgiving! We here in America have much to be thankful for! God has blessed us richly
    Blessings :)

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Beth, I think your cheaters way sounds perfectly perfect. May you be blessed!

  • Joanne Peterson

    I do things as simple as I am able. My husband has many food restrictions for pain management, and other health issues. So, to avoid these foods ingredients, I make them from scratch. But, I make sure two days ahead and counting down to make food, and reheat. I just found out mashed potatoes can be made ahead and reheated in a crock pot!
    I am at the point that even though I can do the fancy, it’s not worth it. I was tired, stressed, working instead of enjoying the company, and yes people liked the food, but I felt as though I miss out spending so much time in the kitchen. Simple sides still taste as good, it can be more like comfort food instead of gourmet.
    My mom is in assisted living, and the meeting room is already spoken for (long ago), so will need a plan b of where to meet. But, we’ll still figure out where to meet and celebrate.
    Thank you for this timely important reminder. More Mary less Martha.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Joanne, wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving. I love these words: it can be more like comfort food instead of gourmet. Amen!

  • Penny


    I really enjoyed this reminder that we as humans tend to make mistakes (I have made many). Although it can be hard moving past them we can learn and grow from them. Your suggestions are very helpful. In Canada we have celebrated our Thanksgiving, I really appreciated everyone’s help. And it was ‘we’ did it together and not ‘I’ did it all.
    One tradition we do try and keep is after we say Grace gathered at the table everyone can have a turn sharing what they are thankful for.

    I hope that you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving. Thank-you for sharing your post with us.


  • Belinda Bryan

    Thank you, Dawn. There was the Christmas when I decided to do Cornish hens for ten people, in an oven that was on its last legs. They didn’t get done, and my son and daughter were yelling, “We’ve got bleeders here! We need suction!” The story is now related with great hilarity, but it was messy at the time.

    Or then the graduation party for about twenty, same oven, with all those baking potatoes in it. This time the oven didn’t come on as programmed. We arrived home from the ceremony to hard, raw potatoes. The steaks we grilled were good, but we had soggy fries instead of the hot, buttery potatoes I”d imagined.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Belinda!!! You have just confirmed what my instincts are telling me: we should replace our decrepit oven since the Black Friday sales have already started for appliances! Too funny. ;)

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    I’m “late to the table” today…lol. I agree, stay with the tried and true…my 27 year old will not let me mess with the recipes at all…after all it’s tradition!! This is probably a blessing in disguise for me too!! I have a friend who, ever since an epic turkey fail, keeps frozen pizzas in the freezer in case it ever happens again…great idea and a good way to keep a sense of humor and the right perspective…thanks for a great post :)

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Bev, the pizza idea is BRILLIANT! I may stock my freezer to relieve some pressure. :)

  • Susan Jones Summerlin

    Well, Dawn I’m being facetious, but glad to hear you have the kind of days I do. You are always so put together. It’s hard to believe you ever make a mistake or have a hard day. But, your #1 suggestion is what I was thinking about as I read your post. I always stick to the old tride and true. I made sure I knew how to make my mom’s dressing before she passed, and stick to the turkey recipe I’ve always cooked. BTW, everyone loves my mom’s cornbread dressing! Stuffing is just not southern! But, I digress! Love you, girl!

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Susan, I need your cornbread dressing recipe! And yes, I have plenty of crazy days. You know my kids! ;)

  • Jodi

    I laughed out loud so loud and more than once while reading this, that my daughter was curious about what I was reading! :). She is 8. I read it out loud to Allison, and laughed out loud, again loudly :) lol!!! Needed this laughter during stressful time! God Bless you and may your Thanksgiving and mine be Blessed and filled with Praises to God! :)

  • lhamer

    I love the holidays, but they can be such pressure! I’ve even wanted to go out to eat, but the protests from my family are still echoing strong. I like the paper plate idea, but my old fashioned mother might cringe if we don’t eat on china for the special gatherings. I will grin and bear and and try to enjoy the people.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      I hear you. This sounds like one of those times you smile and chant “this isn’t about me” and try to keep people happy. It’s just one day—we can do it, right? :)

  • Micah Maddox

    I love this! “More Mary, less Martha.” How true on everyday of our lives, not just Thanksgiving. I will be dwelling on this today! Thank you so much!

  • JMK

    Hosting Holidays is Soooooo stressful. I have the most beautiful Christmas china, and enough place settings for all of my guests, but it’s too much. We switched to paper a few years ago.
    For Thanksgiving, we have started cooking the turkey the day before. It’s so much less stress and less mess, and it reheats just fine. I highly recommend it.
    There has to be a balance to all the holiday madness.
    I know I struggle with remembering to be thankful…especially when I’m so stressed out.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Cooking the turkey a day ahead sounds brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?

  • http://michelemorin.wordpress.com Michele Morin

    I’m thinking right now about Anne of Green Gables little comfort line: Every day is brand new with no mistakes in it! I’m sure that applies to Thanksgiving Day as well. Thanks for sharing your fiasco here. In our world of Pinterest perfect holidays, we put way to much pressure on ourselves to be amazing when all that is required is that we be THANKFUL!

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Thank you for sharing your recipes! Especially for the EASY pie crust. :) Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  • http://sunnyand80.org/ Meg Bucher

    Well, judging by that amazing photographs you paired with your words, you definitely have a keen eye of appreciation. I hope you have a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving. I host every year…and each year I get better at delegating, as you suggest, and preparing the day before so that I can watch the Macy’s Parade with my daughters while that bird is already cooking. I chop up all of the vegetables and seasonings and stuff that bird the day before. I pre-make any mashed potatoes or pies the day before, too, and even set the table. All of that stuff really adds up the day of, and can leave me feeling like my company is gone before I even sit down to visit. Prepare for what you know to in advance, and the sit back and receive God’s blessing. Happy Holidays to you!!!

  • Reneewo

    The wonderful thing about these types of failures is that they provide the best memories which bring the family together. No one remembers the years the turkey was perfect. But the failures bring laughter and warm memories year after year. And, I can’t do paper because the china is part of the tradition of the holiday. And last but not least, Martha gets so much harsh criticism yet I see her as a caring, loving woman who was deserted in the middle of huge mealtime preparations, and haven’t we all been there?

  • Faith

    Less Martha? Shame you have to dis on another woman to make your point perpetuating the lack of sisterhood in our patriarchal culture that likes to keep women divided and unempowered. Use paper plates? God help the environment!

  • J

    This reminds of the time we had a pipe burst in the bathroom the week before Thanksgiving and were in the middle of cleaning it up and replacing the commode…the old one sitting on the floor in the kitchen….when we found out the oven was broken and the heating elements were no longer available. We purchased a new oven and had it delivered 2 days before T/giving to find I had to call a carpenter buddy to modify the cabinets to make it fit. The carpet folks were just leaving (we had waited 3 weeks for installation) when we realized it was raining and they left the old carpet in the driveway. The Garbage Truck had just arrived at our neighbors house and we worked feverishly in the rain to get all the debris down to the street…my wife gave them a fresh baked loaf of Bread (no clue where that came from)….With the oven in place, the carpet installed, the bathroom dried out and refurbished, I was now ready to install the New Dining Room Chandelier because the wiring on the old one had shorted out. We were just putting the finishing plates on the ceiling when our guest arrived……I don’t even remember the Turkey and Dressing after that.

    • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

      Now that is a Thanksgiving adventure! It’s funny how you mentioned not remembering the turkey and dressing. This year, after last year’s memorable cooking fiasco I’ve written about here, we found out our kids don’t remember last year’s drama. I do! :)

  • Jan Kaiser

    Thank you! I am stressing. And your article was wonderful. I quoted you on my blog, “Kaiserswest, the musings of a mom” over on Word Press. And to your commenter below, my family is from New Zealand! We always had leg of lamb on Thanksgiving because turkey wasn’t normal for my mom to make. Made my first turkey as a young adult, out on my own! Anyway…thanks for sharing your stress. I loved your humor. So trying not to be Martha!!!