My long-suffering spouse is convinced I'm slightly insane when it comes to entertaining. He's an engineer. His idea of a holiday dinner...

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My long-suffering spouse is convinced I’m slightly insane when it comes to entertaining.

He’s an engineer. His idea of a holiday dinner includes a few soft-spoken guests, a quiet meal with maybe four other people and dessert served in front of the television while he controls the remote. I’m a Leo without limits. I have launched major painting and wallpapering projects two days before big parties.

He gasped when I said we were having 36 people for Thanksgiving dinner. While he tried to logically explain why we couldn’t entertain that many people, I rolled crust for three pumpkin, two pecan and a couple apple pies. He suggested we go away for the holidays. I handed him celery to clean and chop.

It will be easy, I tell him. We just set up a buffet. He sighs. I know we can pull it off. I rely on my entertaining rules:

Rule No. 1: The first rule of entertaining a cast of thousands is to forget the fantasyland of magazine photographs. If your house is like mine, you’re lucky to find last week’s mail and a spot to set the groceries. Matched china, crystal and linens? Forget it. I just hope I can find my grandmother’s old silver plate so I have enough forks and knives. No one would confuse my tables with anything Martha Stewart had touched.

But the guests I entertain — extended family and good friends — don’t hold that against me. And that leads to …

Rule No. 2: Invite people who don’t read the glitzy magazines.

Rule No. 3: Advance planning. Keep lists. Thanksgiving has to be the easiest meal, because the menu is practically all planned — turkey and the usual side dishes. My mother brings homemade rolls. Several guests bring appetizers. One daughter gets recruited to make the green salad. We handle the big stuff — the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing (done in a separate casserole, so there’s plenty), the vegetables and gravy.

Rule No. 4: Serve buffet-style. I’ve done the pass-the-platter bit and frankly, my dear, the gravy never gets passed while it is still hot. I set up the buffet three steps from the stove, where it is easy to refill the gravy boat.

Rule No. 5: Recruit a preteen to help set the tables the day before the party with silverware, napkins, salt and pepper. (Trust me, you’ll have enough to do party day without trying to count chairs and forks.)

And here’s something the glitzy magazines don’t tell you — dishes, silverware and table linens don’t have to match or be fancy.

About five years ago, I bought several yards of harvest print material. I used pinking shears to cut out placemats and napkins. I also buy material to use as table coverings — plain black looks positively classic and doesn’t show cranberry-sauce stains.

If you hang around with a crowd that cares about properly starched tablecloths, change friends.

Just make sure you have sit-down table space for everyone. (Rent or borrow extra chairs and tables.) Mentally rehearse — pretend you’re sitting down to eat. Salt and pepper, napkins, silverware. That’s what goes on the table. Ditto the buffet lineup. That means the gravy is at the end of the line, so it can be poured over everything.

While the preteen sets the tables, my husband and I finish roasting the extra turkeys.

To feed 36 people and send leftovers home with everyone, you need extra turkeys.

Through a combination of craziness even I couldn’t imagine, we cooked five turkeys one year. People went home with a lot of leftovers.

Rule No. 6: If anyone offers to help, say yes. And give him a job. Or two.

Rule No. 7: Have fun. Enjoy yourself and your guests. So things aren’t perfect. Life isn’t. But it can be a ball to celebrate holidays in a house filled with laughter and love. You’re creating memories, not glitzy magazine photographs.

Sherry Grindeland is a Seattle Times staff columnist: 206-515-5633 or