- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Weekend guests, like fish, lose their appeal if they stay around the house too long. That riff on the old adage never seems more true than on a long holiday weekend, such as the one coming up. Fortunately, people are more hardy than fish, and infinitely more flexible. There are plenty of ways to care for long-term visitors who aren't prepared to care for themselves
Ideas can range from the practical to the purely fanciful, as "entertainment" can take many forms.
Much depends on the weather, which will determine whether outdoor activities are possible, and much depends on the hosts' home and personal schedules.
For the coming Thanksgiving weekend, a number of worthy ideas center around preparations for Thursday's feast. The suggestions offered here fall roughly under the categories of indoor, outdoor and ritual, the latter being those special traditions that provide continuity and reassurance on one of the few nonreligious holidays of the year.
Lawyer Lynn Eccleston, for instance, has "religiously" invited out-of-town guests every Thanksgiving weekend to help her plant hundreds of flower bulbs around her home in the Mount Vernon area, south of Alexandria. (She buys the bulbs from a mail-order firm that offers great reductions in price early each November.)
This year, she will be putting in bulbs for 350 tulips and 100 anemones for spring and summer blossoming on an area one-half to three-quarters of acre in size. Part of the work involves digging a long trench to ensure enough depth for the bulbs.
"It is great exercise for working off the meal," she says.
In a similar vein, public relations consultant Janet Stairhar holds a leaf-raking party in the back yard of her home in Bethesda.
"I'm careful never to rake up leaves ahead of time, and then [I] try to make it a fun thing," she says. "I invite family members to participate whether they like it or not."
She also makes sure each year to buy some guest passes to her sports club, which she passes along to family members and guests.
"A lot of us are sports-minded and are used to working out," she says. "They can work out their aggressions along with the turkey dressing. And we make sure all the soccer [balls] and footballs are inflated and that the basketball hoops have plenty of string on them. The sedentary people, we ship off to the malls."
Another custom in the Stairhar home is what she calls "a kitchen-minded thing": making and bottling different flavored vinegars out of herbs she has grown herself or purchased. The bottles make useful take-home gifts and can help fill gift baskets of food that come in handy at Christmastime.
If all else fails, she suggests taking everyone to visit a museum, especially any of the newer museums in town such as the International Spy Museum they would not have seen before.
For etiquette guru Letitia Baldrige, Thanksgiving Day begins at noon with a glass of champagne "and one or two delicious hors d'oeuvres" at the home of friends. "It's such a cheerful thing, and the cook gets away from the kitchen that way at least temporarily," she says.
Next to "taking the family to the gym to work off dinner," Ms. Baldrige recommends having a group book-reading session.
"You give everyone a copy of a great book and make them spend three hours with it," she suggests. "Then each person stands up and gives a book report. Bellies are so full of food, and the mind should be full, too."
This idea obviously is good only for those above a certain age, who have concentration enough to finish a book. But nearly everyone, Ms. Baldrige says, needs to practice their public-speaking skills, and what better way to do it than in the bosom of the family.
For B. (Barbara) Smith of restaurant, book and television fame, the weekend is a reminder that "everything old is new again." With this in mind, she plans activities that will appeal to all ages. "Like any holiday, Thanksgiving is not just about the foods that we eat. It's also about the rituals we perform," she writes in her 1999 book "B. Smith: Rituals & Celebrations."
One of them is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with her family. They watch it as it happens on Central Park West if they are in New York City, or, if not, they catch it on television. "Seeing Santa Claus in the parade is the signal when we begin to play the music we will sing throughout the holidays," she said in a recent phone interview.
To get everyone together indoors, Ms. Smith proposes card parties and even dance parties. "Dust off the old card tables or else ask guests to bring one with them. Use any kind of card game because it is communal," she says. Then, on another day, have a dessert dance party, she suggests, "because it is such a novelty, and we don't do it often enough."
If houseguests insist on sitting in front of television for the perennial football games, she advises turning the occasion into a kind of party all its own. "Make some popcorn, mulled cider and hot dogs so they can pretend they are in the stadium," she says.
A recent survey about Thanksgiving Day habits from Cooking Light magazine reports that going out to see a movie is more popular than watching the Macy's parade 32 percent to 27 percent and Christmas shopping is favored slightly more than watching or playing football 21 percent to 20 percent. Eighty-three percent of the respondents said they planned to stay indoors at home with family and friends for the meal itself.
The latter figure shows there is a captive audience for an activity suggested by Washington interior designer and special-events coordinator Aniko Gaal Schott. "There is no better time for rolling out those souvenir vacation photographs and videos," she says. "It's the perfect time for regaling friends and family with anecdotes about your travels and exchanging tips on how to plan or enjoy future trips."
Of equal merit is the idea of sitting around in a group and inventing stories or taking advantage of a reunion to interview family members to build toward a family history project.
Artistic skills can be put to good use for hands-on activities as well. Retailers will be trying to lure one and all to join in a frenzy of gift buying, of course. Possibly more satisfying is the thought of staying home and making presents or at the very least, putting one's decorative talents to work creating Christmas trimmings and decorations or preparing for the Kwanzaa celebration that begins Dec. 26.
The Thanksgiving weekend is an ideal time to make a Christmas pudding and many other seasonal treats, writes Marguerite Garr McCreight of Chester Springs, Pa., in a periodical called Country Flavor. Children can be brought into the production because it requires measuring cups of dried fruit and other ingredients, she writes.
No one is too young, either, to create tree ornaments out of such common materials as pine cones, cranberries and popcorn. Greeting cards can be made using everyday craft supplies. Cheap cookie cutters can be used to outline stars, reindeer and Santa Claus figures. Then fill in with paint and add sparkles or other accessories with glue.
"Togetherness" on such a day is a special challenge for Diane Forley and Michael Otsuka, a husband-and-wife team who are both chefs and owners of Verbena restaurant on New York's Grammercy Park. Because both usually are busy in the restaurant through the weekend, they find ways of entertaining friends by involving others in the couple's own working lifestyle.
Author of a new book from Artisan Press called "Anatomy of a Dish," a guide to the botanical aspects of culinary traditions, Ms. Forley tries to keep everybody busy in the kitchen with her.
"I'll have them making dough, which you can freeze for use later," she says. "We'll get them busy preparing some hors d'oeuvres tiny sandwiches or old-fashioned cookie rolls and have an old-fashioned tea party."


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