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TAMPA – A tiny turkey and pumpkin perch in the wreath on Sandy Murman’s front door, hinting at the holiday spirit inside.

“A wreath on the door sets the mood,” says Murman. “It welcomes your guests – that’s so important.”

County Commissioner Murman and her husband, Jim, moved into their Davis Island home in 1996. They’ve been hosting family and friends for Thanksgiving ever since.

“I am a big cook,” Murman admits. “I make everything from scratch and my menu doesn’t vary from year to year. That’s the secret. That’s why people want to keep coming back.”

    She keeps stacks of old family recipes in a box that looks like a book, titled “The Perfect Pumpkin.” It rests on a console in her spacious kitchen, surrounded by family photographs and items from her collection of ceramic and straw turkeys.

     Murman, who admits she is “pretty particular” about the turkeys she collects, scatters them liberally throughout her home: Glittering versions guard linen hand towels in the powder room, while turkey plates and candles are propped amid acorns and squirrels on the dining room buffet.  A Thanksgiving turkey sign hangs above her desk, near glass vases filled with colorful gourds, holiday cookbooks and a rooster lamp -which looks somewhat like a turkey.

     She usually spends two days decorating and has learned to choose pieces that stay timely through the holidays – or that can be updated in a snap – to save space and money. Pinecones, dried berries, and twigs stay up-to-date through the winter. After Thanksgiving, swap pumpkins and acorns for faux-snow and ornaments to give the same decor a new Christmas presence.

     Small but unexpected details go a long way at the dinner table: Murman ties napkins with plaid ribbon and tucks in pieces of dried wheat to continue the harvest theme. Inexpensive antique postcards (“May the one who guarded your life throughout the year increase his blessings on this Thanksgiving Day”) are placed among the gourds and antique Wild Turkey whiskey decanters in the center of the table – lovingly loaned by her friend, Julie Whitney.

     Pilgrim place cards purchased at a local stationary store add a touch of  whimsy while controlling the seating arrangement.

     “Place cards on a dining table are very traditional but I also feel they’re very welcoming,” Murman says. “It lets your guests know that you were expecting them.”

    Though she prepares as much as she can on Wednesday (cranberry relish, corn pudding, sweet potato casserole), Murman is in the kitchen by 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, making pies while watching the Macy’s parade.

When finished, she squeezes in a two-mile run “to build up my energy.”  Guests arrive in the afternoon to watch football and enjoy a glass of wine.

    Dinner is served at 4 but no matter how many actually sit at her table, Murman cooks enough to feed 16 people. “That way we have leftovers to last the entire weekend,“ she says with a grin.

     It appears not much has changed since the original Thanksgiving in 1620 when American natives and pilgrims celebrated a three-day feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

     Since the essence of the celebration is to show gratitude, the Murmans ask family and friends if there are any blessings or prayers they want to add before the meal.

     To make Thanksgiving especially memorable, Murman gives chocolate turkeys as parting gifts but sharing her recipes also would be wonderful. Retailer Pottery Barn suggests collecting recipes before the feast, and making a ribbon–tied booklet for each guest to cherish for years to come. For another great memento, consider printing a menu listing all of the dishes you and your guests have prepared.

     Family reunions are the charm of Thanksgiving and the Murman family loves to share stories at their table.

“We’re passing the tradition on to the next generation,” Murman says. “It’s the glue that holds families together.”

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