Story: Thanksgiving 2013 with 3 dogs, 5 cats and 15 humans

Every year they come. Sometimes more, sometimes less. This year, fifteen people gathered around our Thanksgiving table and ate and laughed and ate again. Then we had dessert.

I think there were a couple of naps as well.

To host that many people requires some serious planning and organizing. I’ll admit I’m a bit over-organized. But I think it’s the only way I can stay sane through the process, as it’s not just the cleaning and the cooking, but we also have a house full of guests who spend at least one night with us.

I have a plan for what needs to be done in the five days leading up to the holiday, I have a plan for who sleeps where, and I have a plan for the actual day, in an attempt to get all food on the table at the right time–and the right temperature. Even though I have a complex Excel spreadsheet with activities noted by the hour–and by the minute in some cases–I rarely get it exactly  right, but more often than not it’s close enough for everyone to enjoy a decent meal.

All sorts of details have to be accounted for: we make sure everyone has a place to park themselves in the family room to nosh on appetizers before dinner is served. Litter boxes are moved. Dog and cat toys are picked up and stowed. The blanket throws that normally cover the couches are removed so visitors can sit without being covered in fur–though in my humble opinion, a few bits of pet hair add a sense of style to any outfit. Furniture is re-arranged to enable fifteen people to eat in my dining room; simply planning who sits where at the table can rival the intricacies and complications of  peace talks. My daughter Corinne is the master of this task, balancing personalities, left handedness and who is needed to help in the kitchen.

The day before Thanksgiving is a cooking day.  Corinne and I bake cheesecakes and fruit pies, make vegetable casseroles, cranberry relish and stuffing. (Notice I list desserts first; we know what’s important.) Brian cleans up after us, patiently washing the same measuring cups and mixing bowls seventeen times in between vacuuming and furniture rearranging.

Of course the dogs and cats help, as only they can. Supervising the cooking. Adjusting the tablecloths. Keeping watch in case guests make an early appearance.

Calvin, Chief Kitchen Supervisor

Calvin, Chief Kitchen Supervisor

Calvin comments on the menu

Calvin offers advice on the menu.

Elsa Clair and Lilah

Elsa Clair and Lilah stay out of the way, but close enough to keep tabs on the cooking–in case anything needs to be tasted.

Jasper makes himself comfortable on the couch

Jasper makes himself comfortable on the couch.

Tucker relaxing on the couch

Tucker wishes there were some way he could make Throwing the Ball for the Dog a Thanksgiving tradition.

Our Thanksgiving table. Notice the 3 cat alarms.

Our Thanksgiving table, set with fine crystal and three Stay Away cat alarms.

The animals knew something was going down; the cooking and cleaning and furniture moving were obvious clues. The dogs were on high alert, which meant they would bark at the slightest indication that a visitor was here. A jogger running past the house. The tapping of a bowl with a wooden spoon. The barking sent the cats into their safety zones, each one only reappearing when he or she felt the coast was clear.

Dogs on the lookout for visitors.

Dogs on the lookout for visitors.

On Thanksgiving day, we leave our bedroom door open and put a litter box in our bathroom, so the cats have an entire room to retire to when the house human occupancy rate has risen too high for their comfort. It’s closer quarters than most of them would like; all four of my cats need their space. However, they all manage to get along under the circumstances, particularly since the cats enjoy the rare privilege of sleeping on–or under–our bed.

Dawn spies out the window

In our bedroom, Dawn goes to her favorite spot on top of the laundry hamper. From here, she can watch birds–or spy on the neighbors.

We have a tradition in our family that anyone without a place to be at Thanksgiving is welcome in our home and at our table. I joke that we always take in  strays of any kind. Two years ago, we hosted two of Corinne’s college friends–exchange students from France. This year was just a little different; in the midst of the cooking and the preparing and the guests arriving, we were hosts to a cat named Oil Slick. His human had passed away suddenly and he needed a new home; our house became a temporary way station as he found his way to a new life with a loving family. (More about his story in my next post.)

Our cat guest, Oil Slick

Slick makes himself at home in our basement.

With Slick safely ensconced in our finished basement, guests began to arrive.

Tucker shares a moment with my cousin

Tucker shares a moment with my cousin, who not only cooks a superb turkey every year, but also–along with my daughter–helps prepare some of the other sides and fixin’s.

Dog hangs out on couch

Tucker and Corinne discuss politics.

Dogs during Thanksgiving

Best spot for dogs is on the bench. There’s a great view into the back yard for bird and squirrel watching. Yet they’re close enough to the food to snarf up anything that falls on the floor.

The dogs get their dinner

Tucker, Jasper and Lilah are served dinner–with a few pieces of turkey.

Athena begs Brian

Athena begs Brian for attention–or turkey.

Because so many of our Thanksgiving guests come from far away–California, New Mexico, New York–we all gather again the next day for an after-Thanksgiving brunch. It’s Thanksgiving, part II, with bagels and oatmeal and french toast.

Friday morning I slept in just a little, and was greeted by Athena as I came downstairs. I believe that look says, “Breakfast is late!”

Athena waiting for breakfast

Athena waiting for breakfast.

Once again, the sentries are on duty, making sure we know when people arrive.

People are coming...again!

People are coming…again!

During breakfast, the dogs scope out the best places to hide under the table; the prime spots are those near the sloppiest eaters. Afterwards, Jasper and Tucker got into an animated discussion on the ownership of a stuffed toy that ended in a draw.

Jasper and Tucker lion around

Jasper and Tucker lion around.

Eventually, the crowd thins out and people head home. The cats come out from their hidey spots to look for any food bits not snarfed up by the dogs.

The coast is clear, the guests have gon

The coast is clear, the guests have gone.

Tables and chairs are put back in their places. Bowls and platters and serving dishes are tucked back into storage. Notes are made about things that worked well–or not so well–to remember for next year. And the cats hang around our bedroom door, hoping to sneak back into the special room.

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