Thanksgiving is coming, and after that, December and all of its various holidays. For many of us, this means lots of cooking and traveling and family gatherings, with all that entails. And this year, conversations around the dinner table may be even more fraught than usual.
So we asked the staff of The Verge what tools — hardware, software, physical, or mental — they use to get through the holidays. How do they deal with the demands of the kitchen or the demands of the kids? What gadgets and games make things happier and more interesting?
Here are some of their answers.
Go for a walk
Jay Peters, news editor
I generally love the holiday season; I’m very fortunate to have family that I can happily hang out with for days at a time. Every once in a while, though, I need just a little space, and the best way for me to get that is to go for a walk. Sometimes, I’ll walk on my own — sometimes with my wife or another family member or two. But the combination of being out of the house, being somewhat active, and getting some fresh air really relaxes me if I get antsy or overwhelmed by holiday obligations. Plus, walks are free — and when I’m back, I feel less guilty about eating another holiday cookie.
Figure out how to store food
Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor
It’s not the holidays that make me anxious — it’s when to buy the food, when to cook it, and what to do with the leftovers. How long will it take that turkey to defrost in the fridge, and how long can I store it before it needs to be cooked? And what about the leftover turkey — how long can I hold onto that? What should I do with that fruit salad that I spent an hour assembling and nobody touched?
There are a variety of websites out there that can help answer those questions — including the official US government site FoodSafety.gov — but the one that my partner and I have used for several years now is StillTasty, which describes itself as “your ultimate shelf life guide.” This isn’t the place to go for recipes or for videos of righteous foodies explaining the only right way to make a cup of coffee. It’s where I can go to find out whether it’s safe to eat that hard-boiled egg that’s been sitting in the fridge for a month. (The answer? Nope.) My favorite section is “Keep It or Toss It?” which lets you type in the food you’re curious about and gives you the answer depending on whether it’s raw or cooked, how it was cooked, and how it was stored. (Note: the site has become somewhat ad-heavy, but the information is still there.)
As someone who tends to forget about various foods that have been shoved to the back of the fridge, I’m sure this site has saved me from a number of nasty stomach ills.
Avoid forgotten grocery items
Mia Sato, reporter
We’ve all done it — we went to pick up the groceries before a big meal and somehow forgot the vanilla extract or the second can of tomatoes. Now the cooking is at a standstill and somebody’s mad and the holiday is like, completely ruined because we are missing some random ingredient that we don’t have on hand. It’s starting to feel like that wild Christmas episode from season 2 of The Bear.
It took a while for me to come around, but after so much wasted time running back to the store a second time, I’m a grocery list app convert. AnyList is what I use day to day now. I like the simple, straightforward interface and the ability to save a list of ingredients under one recipe so the next time you’re making that dish, you can add everything with one click. You can have shared collaborative lists, too. As you put things in your cart, click it to take it off the list. I used to be a pen and paper list maker — until I finally learned my lesson.
Baby containment unit
Nathan Edwards, senior reviews editor
Holidays for us are almost always spent visiting extended family. For a long time, my wife and I were the only ones who didn’t live within driving distance of everyone else and the only ones who had young children, which meant we had to bring a lot of stuff with us every time. Not many people keep a crib around if they don’t have babies — or high chairs or babyproofing gear or car seats, etc.
We bought the BabyBjörn travel crib eight years ago right before our first kid’s first plane ride. It folds into a two-foot square travel bag and unfolds into a cozy, breathable floor-level crib with mesh walls, about two feet by four feet. The mattress it comes with is pretty thin, but all three of my kids slept soundly in it from as young as two months until they were tall enough and coordinated enough to climb out. Sequentially, I mean, not at the same time. We’ve used it dozens of times in the past eight years.
Since the last time we used it this summer, my youngest has graduated to uncontainable status. But we’re still bringing it with us to Thanksgiving. My cousin is bringing his six-month-old, and little dude needs somewhere to sleep. He can keep it.
BabyBjörn Travel Crib Light
Lightweight travel crib for babies on the go.
Alex Cranz, managing editor
I love my family, and over the holidays is the rare time we’re all together. This is wonderful! Until my sister is hogging my mom’s TV to watch HGTV or my brother is taking over the whole kitchen to cook and forbidding anyone else from helping. Which is why I spent a good chunk of the holidays in 2022 playing Vampire Survivors and The Last of Us Part 3 on my Steam Deck. I loved that I could have a robust cloud gaming-capable handheld console with me. I played it in bed after my godson gave me a cold. And on my mom’s couch after she gave me a cold. And in the hotel on my drives to and from my own house. It kept me busy, it worked wonderfully, and the family was all suitably impressed when I showed it off. The only thing I’ll change this year is bringing additional masks so hopefully I can avoid all those colds again.
The Steam Deck is a portable handheld console you can use to play PC games.
Identify what animal is digging holes in your yard
Andrew Marino, senior audio producer, Vergecast
Chores are always a way to make the day go by fast, but most chores can be boring or strenuous in a hectic house during the holidays. Perhaps you can try a more outdoorsy, investigative task, like figuring out what animal is digging holes in your yard. This is great if you want a valid excuse to be away from your family for a few hours but still need to keep your brain occupied.
I won’t get too in-depth here because it’s more about the journey than the destination, but typically, if you see cone-shaped holes approximately three or four inches in diameter, it may be from raccoons or skunks looking for food. Groundhog holes are a lot bigger, like almost a foot wide. That might cause some structural damage. Snake holes are a little harder to identify since they don’t really dig them themselves, but they can fit in two-inch-wide mole holes. You’re most likely dealing with moles, but if you’re lucky, snakes using mole holes.
At the end of your investigation, you should figure out the humane way to stop these creatures from digging holes in your yard, like using funky smells, so that could get you another few hours if you need more time away.
Jon Porter, senior news reporter
Even among the nicest of families, I find that a holiday’s worth of socializing can get pretty exhausting. Disappearing off to play video games is unfortunately a no-no with my folks, but a board game is the next best thing. Not something loud and performative like Pictionary or Articulate, mind you. I’m talking about the quiet serenity of Eurogames, aka German-style board games, aka “Jesus Christ, Jon, what’s wrong with just playing Monopoly?”
The genre is broad, and I won’t claim to be an expert. But a couple of mainstream favorites of mine are Carcassonne and Wingspan. The former worked great with my extended family because of the way its rules can be stripped back for first-time players; you can omit more complicated ways to score points in favor of helping people wrap their heads around the game’s core concepts.
Wingspan has a higher barrier to entry, and I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to get everyone in my family on board (be prepared to spend at least 15 minutes explaining its rules). But it’s fantastically designed both artistically and mechanically, and it’s easy to lose an entire holiday afternoon quietly building out your aviary. I’ll take that any day over miming out The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in charades.
Classic tile-laying Eurogame set as a medieval adventure.
Be the helper
Victoria Song, senior reviewer
You know how I avoid awkward, stressful moments at holidays? I volunteer to do stuff no one wants to do. Is the chef out of a random ingredient? No problem. I will go to the store and spend maybe an extra five minutes lingering in an aisle as a breather. Does the antsy dog need walking? I’m your gal. I’ll take the fluff out in the freezing cold because animals do not generally have inflammatory comments on the state of the world. Dishes need doing? Sorry, I can’t hear you yelling over the water. Garbage need taking out? Well, that’s my ticket out of listening to that one uncle who likes to stir the pot.
You don’t have to do everything. Just being observant and latching onto a subtle yet helpful social parachute can give you enough breathing room. The plus side of having so many escape routes (because holiday chores are endless) is you are genuinely helping the host be less stressed, too.
Just stay home
Andrew J. Hawkins, transportation editor
Holiday travel, amirite? We’ve all been in it. We all hate it. The chaos at the airport. Inflated ticket prices. Traffic jams on the highways. Everything designed to make your blood pressure go through the roof. Of course, there is an easy solution: stay home. Just be where you’re at. Let your family come to you. Or, if they don’t want to, try to figure out an alternate off-peak time to visit. Maybe a couple weeks before or after the holidays. Tickets will be cheaper, traffic less intense, and everyone will feel more relaxed. I get it: the social pressure to travel on the holidays is very intense. But every journey begins with a single step. Or in this case, no step at all.
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