Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca, and a Printable Place Card

Is Thanksgiving your favorite? Mine too. What is that about? Is it what Christmas used to be about? You know, family, friends, congenial gatherings, gratitude? Just a thought.  It’s also one of my favorite times at our home, Rancho La Zaca. Here are a few highlights from last year and perhaps some inspiration for you this year.

Longtime readers have seen these turkeys before. I got them I know not where on the Internet, never to be heard from again. This is their fourth Thanksgiving, still standing praise be, in opposite corners of our entry hall. This is Horace.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca

 And this is Henry across the hall. Henry is His Grace’s (my husband, for new readers) middle name. It’s a strong name, Henry. You don’t meet many Henrys these days, come to think of it. This post could change all that…

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca

 Last year on the mantels I combined dark, glossy green camellia foliage with our California pepper tree, olive, seeded eucalyptus, and bay. Pumpkins and pomegranates add color.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca

 I do love how the sun comes into the room and highlights whatever’s on the mantel. The concrete artwork is by Ruben Ochoa.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – Mantel

 Across the room under Hunt Slonem’s butterflies,  persimmons have worked their way into the scheme. The large twig cornucopias came from Pottery Barn four years ago and, like the feather turkeys, haven’t been seen since in the ether of commerce. You see these things in catalogs and think they’ll be there forever, but they aren’t. So if you see something that works, go for it, because it may not be there next year.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – Mantel

 Longtime family friend Julie “Junebug” Williamson, who is also a chef, gifted us with these gorgeous flatbreads. Ohhhhhhh my and they were as good as they looked. Also a nice  way to call attention to the seating plan. I like to put it front and center so you don’t spend the entire cocktail hour unwittingly talking to your dinner partner, JIC you run out of chat. Which even yours truly does on occasion. Hard to believe, I know.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – Seating Plan and Junebug’s Famous Flatbreads

The dinner table with mis-matchy chairs but that’s okay. The centerpieces are birch bark with oak and olive foliage, roses, berries, apples, and pomegranates on a bed of moss. You can order the moss online. There are many sources. The birch bark and flowers come from a wholesaler down the road in Carpenteria (California).

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – Table Centerpiece

 Here’s a close-up. I made it up as I went along. It’s all in there higgeldy-piggeldy, which pretty much sums up my philosophy of entertaining.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – Centerpiece Detail – Roses, Berries, Apples, Pomegranates, Oak and Olive Branches, and Moss

We don’t always have a children’s table, preferring to jumble everyone together (see above: higgeldy-piggeldy), but last year it made sense. I had a larger top made for a small flea market round table, and it does the trick just fine. Now I leave it on all year and use it for a puzzle table.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – Children’s Table

 As in past years, I painted a watercolor menu/place card/souvenir. We are a shooting bunch, so last year I keyed off of that. This is ol’ Henry holding a shotgun, with a shell bag around his waist. If turkeys have waists. I don’t have much of a waist myself by the end of the day. Though I don’t have much of one to start with, to tell you the truth.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – Place Card

For your very own printable place- or menu card, click here. Drag image to your photos and print on watercolor texture paper. Boom. You can do the vertical version above or a larger, foldable horizontal below. It does dress up your table, and people feel special when they have a specially designated place, don’t you think?  Chef Stephanie Valentine’s beautiful grilled turkey, simply trimmed with rosemary. Sorry I don’t have a download-able version of a grilled turkey.

Turkey trimmed in rosemary. Thanksgiving at Rancho La Zaca.

Friend and literary agent Tricia Davey’s jewel-like cranberry tart.

Julie Davey’s Cranberry Tart – Thanksgiving at Rancho La Zaca

As we are a family of mixed faiths, and as 2013 coincided with the beginning of Hannukah, we also lit a menorah.

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca – 2013 – Lighting the Menorah

What we are especially thankful for this year is the life of Frances “Frannie” Dittmer, below at right. For new readers, Frannie was the mother of my husband’s children and a fabulous gal. “F-1” to my “F-2,” nicknames I believe we were both flattered by.  Thanksgiving 2013 was our last with Frannie, who died in a plane crash in February. She was something, and you can read about her here.  At left is darlin’ Junebug of the famous flatbreads. 

Julie ”Junebug” Williamson and Frances ”Frannie” Dittmer, Thanksgiving 2013, Rancho La Zaca

 In August, Frannie and HG’s daughter (mine too 🙂 ) and her husband adopted a baby girl. And thus grace is born again in the inscrutable circle of life. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude not just for what we have, but for whom we have–in our lives and in our hearts. Amen.

Coming up: DIY for the Birch Bark Centerpiece. It’s easy!


  1. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude not just for what we have, but for whom we have–in our lives and in our hearts. That’s a big Amen, and thanks,Fabulous Frances.

  2. The name “Henry” at least in my parts made a rebirth 19 years ago when we gave our son that name. He has had several other Henry’s come into his life throughout the years, particularly in his school class. Funny how names recycle. My mother was appalled at the choice then. Fortunately she overcame the negativity and we get to spend another Thanksgiving with her. You never know who will still be around for the next one, so we will celebrate with gusto the ones we have and love this year. Your story of F-1 is such a great reminder. Happy Thanksgiving, F-2!

  3. Frances, Your table/tables are inspiring ! Last year I used spent hydrangeas from the garden…Your watercolor is AMAZING ! Those trips to paint are sure paying off ! God Bless your family this year and I am also thankful that you are Blogging <3

  4. What would we do without you Frances and the blog. Think I may put Napoleon Ivy away til spring and pull out and dust Rambouillet. Also dust some hand shot and taxidermed birds. YES Thanksgiving is a great season and one to be thankful for the abundance we have, good health and our family and circle of friends.
    Keep us enthused in 2015…can’t wait for the next.
    with abundant thanks
    Lynn Ziglar and Dick too
    P.S. Not a huge fan of sawdusty dry turkey. Did have from new WARING rotisserie fryer a piece of turkey that changed my mind from an 18 lb. bird. Delicious and beautiful to look at in 30 min. Beats all turkey I’ve ever had. I don’t have space for gadgets but this one got added .

  5. thanks for sharing the picture of Frannie #! – bittersweet memories – but Alexis baby girl will be a blessing to you and HG this Thanksgiving. Happy Holiday Lawrie

  6. Can you come to my house and decorate? And I’m not so sure that I believe you ever run out of chat! I’m missing you and THANKFUL to have you as my friend!
    XOXO Happy Thanksgiving

  7. Found your site through friends links…am assuming this is the same Frances I knew many, many years ago. Any hoo, I believe I recognize the border on those Thanksgiving plates…Tom Turkey he is! I just got rid of an entire set…oh well (sigh) Your table is fabulous! Love your paintings too!
    signed: an ex Tarboro-ian

    1. Thank you so much, Lyla, and great to hear from you. Yes those are the good ol’ Johnson Brothers turkey plates. I still love ’em! Yours will find a good home I’m sure. Sometimes we have to move on – in life and in tableware! Best to you, Frances

  8. Thanksgiving will not be the same this year as last year was off the charts memorable!! So scrumptious and one never to forget. Frances your post touched so many hearts and I’m sure people are out there looking for their turkey “Henry”. Flat bread is a gift yet nothing the way you made us all feel so special last year. Truly a gift to have us all together as a modern family. Enjoy this Thanksgiving and know we are sad not to be with you all, yet I probably would have sat at the table in tears. Thank you for just being you F-2!! Dear Santa All I want for x-mas is a tin of Caviar to share with loved ones. Love JuneBug

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