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Your First Thanksgiving

plate of food

Blaine Moats

Endure 14 hours of labor? Check. Nurse throughout the night, forgoing months of sleep? Check, check. Serve a Thanksgiving meal for your family -- with everything just the way everyone loves it? Help!

Let's face it: This task can be daunting, even after you've mastered motherhood, the toughest job around. After all, how do you get the bird on the table, juicy and piping hot, before the candied yams and green bean casserole go stone cold? Rest easy. We talked to moms to find out how they worked though the hiccups of hosting their first Thanksgiving to help yours go smoothly.

Sure, hosting means you don't have to travel, but it also means you'll probably have some houseguests. That can be great (think extra sets of hands to hold the baby), but it also means getting your house ready. One month before Thanksgiving, LaShaune Stitt-Clemons, of the Bronx, New York, begins tackling tasks: "I start working on a color scheme for the table, the guest list, and the number of courses I'll serve." You might need to dig out a good tablecloth from storage. As the mother of four kids (Darren Jr., 16, Alexis, 5, Taryn, 21 months, and Tariq, 3 months), this mom has learned that hosting overnight guests properly requires advance thought. "Start working on sleeping arrangements no less than three weeks before the big event," Stitt-Clemons says. "This helps you figure out what you don't have enough of -- such as towels, linens, and extra toothbrushes -- and you can determine if you have enough dishes, glasses, and serving trays."

"You're a new mom with lots to do, so this is not the time to prove that you're Betty Crocker," says Sandy Jones, coauthor of Great Expectations: Baby's First Year (Sterling), who is also a grandmother. "Make it as easy as you can." That's why Camille Bodnar, of Pittsburgh, hosts a potluck. "I do the turkey and stuffing with my mother's help, and I ask my guests to bring something specific," says the mom to Dominic, 1. "We also use Crock-Pots for items like the green bean casserole so we can free up some room in the oven. So far, each year has been a huge success!"

Many people shuttle between both sides of their family at the holidays, which can be a drag. The year her first son was born, Lisa Shenton, of Farmington Hills, Michigan, put an end to that exhausting tradition: "We were really tired of eating two turkey dinners, so we invited both sides of the family and planned a dinner for 20!" says the mother to Cole, 3, and Luke, 1. To make it work despite having only one oven, Shenton and her husband invested in a turkey fryer: "We fry one turkey and bake the other." Since she asks each person to bring something, "we never feel overwhelmed, and we don't have to worry about everything coming out of the oven at the same time or about overcrowding the oven. It makes the day a treat for everyone!"

For Fern Lehmann, of Richmond, a play-by-play plan is key to taking stress out of the holiday. What works for this mother of four boys -- Brad, 24, Andrew, 19, Eric, 17, and Benjamin, 11 months -- is to "sit down and write a menu of everything I plan to serve." Next to each item, Lehmann notes who will prepare it. Then she makes her grocery list according to the menu. "Write on your calendar which days you are going to do each task," she says. For example, if she's serving dishes that can be prepared in advance, she notes when she'll make them. "You can also jot down when you plan to clean, shop, and decorate your home," she says. "Writing it down helps you visualize your schedule and plan for anything you might have otherwise forgotten."

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the November 2007 issue of American Baby magazine.