Setting a Happy Thanksgiving Table

It is Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and that means table setting. This is my process, developed after many years of happy Thanksgiving meals at my house:

November boy

  1. Set down the table protector. It is important to protect the table.
  2. On top of the table protector goes a plain white damask tablecloth.
  3. On top of the plain white damask tablecloth, layer (after ironing) four tablecloths of various autumn patterns. This is important because you will want to remove the top tablecloth after the meal, possibly the top two. The remaining ones are already in place for the rest of the week.
  4. If you don’t have four tablecloths, layer as many as you have that are appropriate for the season. While you are doing this, congratulate yourself for not being obsessive about Thanksgiving tablecloths like some people.
  5. Choose a runner. The one from your mother with the (hardly visible) cranberry stains? The one from your mother-in-law with the very visible burns from the Year of Too Many Mimosas? The one you inherited from your great-aunt which is not stained or burned, but ask me again after Thursday? Stains and burns can be hidden, or not. They are battle scars, reminders of Thanksgivings past—there, but you don’t have to talk about how they got there, unless it’s an amusing anecdote.
  6. Select napkins. If you do not have multiple sets of cloth holiday napkins, see #4. If you do not own any cloth napkins, buy some. Paper napkins are not an option for a holiday meal.
  7. Double check your stash of paper napkins, and plates, that you will use for leftovers. Not for the meal.
  8. Decorate the runner with your collection of glass turkeys, pumpkin items, acorns, vintage Pilgrims and/or Pilgrim hats, and at least one turkey candle. If you don’t have these, at least invest in a paper fold-out turkey from a dollar store.
  9. Place the paper turkey far away from the turkey candle. (See #5.)
  10. Going by your seating chart—which you prepared in advance, right?—place name cards. Seat small children next to grandparents so parents can have a break and grandparents can find out that, no, they actually can’t coerce a three-year-old to taste the jellied cranberries.
  11. Seat young parents near someone they can talk to, but the subject isn’t children. Don’t seat anyone who would have voted for Franklin Roosevelt next to someone who would have voted for Ronald Reagan.
  12. Stack your clean holiday dinnerware. Note the word “clean.” If it’s been sitting in the basement or a cupboard since last year, wash them, please. Marshmallows from the yams are a dust magnet. If you are using everyday dinnerware, that should be clean, too. If you are using paper ware, why are you reading this? (But see #20.)
  13. Count out flatware for place settings. Stack the forks, knives, spoons in a pile and, when your mother-in-law arrives, ask her to place the flatware. This is to make her feel needed and part of the decorating process, not because you never can remember if the knives face in or out or where the dessert spoon should go.
  14. Place a wine glass or a water glass, or both, at each setting. It is acceptable for children to pretend they are drinking wine though it’s really sparkling apple cider, just like it’s acceptable for you to pretend that overindulgent adults and children hyped up on sugar are not identically obnoxious.
  15. Plan a place for serving dishes. Will the turkey platter fit on the table? Will you use a sideboard? Serve plates in the kitchen? Pass dishes around the table? Will someone come around the table to serve, a la Downton Abbey? If so, is that person steady of hand, strong of arm, and sober?
  16. Choose serving flatware. Keep the carving knife away from children and anyone with a grudge.
  17. If you have more than six people at your table, use two butter dishes and two gravy boats. Trust me on this.
  18. Perform a safety check. You don’t want people bending over lit candles to pass the dinner rolls. You don’t want a toddler within reach of the turkey fork, carving knife, or an antique dinner bell that will cause a tantrum when you try to take it away after it has been rung, and rung, and rung. Most of all, you don’t want the paper turkey next to the turkey candle.
  19. thanksgiving-paper-plates.jpgCircle the table no fewer than three times to make sure everyone has a place; everyone will feel comfortable in that place; that place is appealing; and everyone knows their place—which is, welcomed at your table.
  20. If  you ignore all of this and use paper plates and napkins, have a great holiday. But no matter what, don’t place the paper turkey next to the turkey candle!

Happy Thanksgiving from my table to yours!

My Love Affair with Sad Stories

I have always loved tragedies. In school, when my fellow students bellyached about A Separate Peace and Of Mice and Men, I was in my happy place sucking in the human drama and pathos. I come from a culture where joie de vivre is both a catch phrase and a lifestyle, but Anna Karenina, Ethan Frome, and Madame Bovary are my people, too.

Cemetery St. FrancisIn my writing, I am drawn to sadness. Not horror or misery or lack of hope—quite the opposite. No matter the theme or plot, there’s always a thread of hope in what I write, but there’s also a thread of darkness.

Some people write about sunshine. Some people write about Icarus. I’m the latter. What happens when you get too close to the sun? You burn up. I find that fascinating and endlessly explorable.

My most recently published story came from a real visit to a cemetery. In my family, Cemetery angelwhen you say you are going to visit a relative, that person might be in a house or they might be in a grave. The only real difference is whether or not you’ll get served coffee.

Last December, my husband and I visited my grandparents. The church cemetery is old, and while we were there to put fresh flowers in the urn and a Christmas angel on the tomb, we wandered around the old part that is not aging so well. My husband took these photos, and I let my imagination skip and jump around the tombs—and the acorns.

PS_Summer_2019_Cover-200x268Philadelphia Stories is a non-profit organization that highlights the works of artists from the Delaware Valley and works to foster a lively literary community in the Greater Philadelphia Area. I am pleased that my short story “Acorns” appears in the Summer 2019 issue, both in print and online. I hope you will read it. If you suspect it might be sad…you’ve been warned.


Worksheets DIY Workbook

As promised!

The 40+ Days of Worksheets DIY Workbook is now available. If you did not follow the 40 Days of Worksheets blog project, here is an index of the worksheets posted then, plus a dozen new worksheets for crime and mystery authors.

As you can see, this is a true DIY project, from my document files to yours, nothing sparkly, fancy, or difficult about it. The only skills required are how to open a document and print it. If you are ambitious, you can punch holes in the pages and put them into a binder. If you are an orderly person like me, you can add blank paper after each worksheet so you can keep your worksheets and work in one place.

The printed workbook is 62 pages long, with 52 worksheets that cover writing inspiration, self-editing, goal setting, plotting, building characters, creating conflict, and other writerly topics. The cost is $10. When you purchase via the Buy Now with PayPal button below, I will email you the Workbook document as a Word doc and in Rich Text. You can then print the Workbook from your home computer.

Buy now

Any questions? Email me at

Into the Woods – Happy Anniversary!

A year ago today, the charity anthology Into the Woods was published. It was my great pleasure to edit and contribute a story to this collection of short stories, essays, a walking meditation, and original music from writers who attend the Mindful Writers Retreat each fall and spring. My header photo is from the retreat center in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

There are many reasons to write stories and create art. The purpose of this collection was to raise money for the Children’s Heart Foundation. In addition to contributing to a good cause, the Mindful Writers tightened the bond we’d formed while spending a week surrounded by woods and positive energy. A sunrise walk, a bagpipe concert, a group meditation, evenings by the fire–these are the fun parts of a working retreat, but work is the goal. For days in a row, twenty+ writers sat in silence in the great room of the lodge, typing away, lost in our own fictional worlds. Outside were natural wonders, in the kitchen were coffee and treats, but we all managed to stay in our heads when seated in a writing chair.

The anthology is the result of that experience: work plus contemplation plus peace. I am proud of this collection and to be part of such a special group. Love you, Mindful Writers!

40 Days of Worksheets – Day 40

ramonagravitarWorksheet#40 – Wrap up

Evaluate the work you’ve done over the past 40 days of worksheets. Continue reading “40 Days of Worksheets – Day 40”

40 Days of Worksheets – Day 39

ramonagravitarWorksheet #39 – Your Artist Story

In 2015, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the National Endowment for the Arts began gathering artist stories. The NEA selected testimonials from writers, visual artists, musicians, performing artists, etc. from each state and put together a United States of Arts map. I was happy to represent Delaware with my artist story. Continue reading “40 Days of Worksheets – Day 39”

40 Days of Worksheets – Day 38

ramonagravitarWorksheet #38 – Skill Set Checklist

Professional writers never stop trying to learn and improve. Natural talent is a boon, but developing a strong skill set requires work.

Below is a list of skills useful for a fiction writer. How would you rate yourself for each–mastered, good, developing, or weak? Continue reading “40 Days of Worksheets – Day 38”