Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Reading List

Another year has finished and so it is time to post my annual reading list, which I have done for several years after being inspired by Nancy Kelly at Sage Parnassus.

But before I do that, I want to say that I haven't blogged much this year for (what should be) obvious reasons, and honestly my reading was spotty as well, but after spending the majority of this year absolutely consumed by my husband's cancer, we got the great news on December 27th that his PET scan is clear and that there's no detectable cancer in his body!  Hallelujah.  Amen.  Although we're not nearly out of the woods yet--he has to return every 2 months to Chapel Hill, get regular chest CT scans, etc. until he's in full remission, particularly since his cancer was an aggressive, recurring one--this is a huge first hurdle.  In fact, today is his first day back at work in 6 months.  Thank you for praying for him--I know several people have mentioned that they have.  What a year it has been.

As for books, I read my Bible and my favorite devotional (Streams in the Desert) more than ever this year, and spent a lot of time journaling during our months living in North Carolina.  I also read Susan's website a lot--something about her writing is quite comforting to me, as I think we're kindred spirits, and I copied down entire passages in my journals some nights. I'd stay up late, sitting on the floor near the bed where my daughter slept, alternating praying and thinking and reading and writing.  It's just one of those things that pulled me through the hard, hard times. 

The books that are italicized in the list below are books I haven't yet finished, but plan to finish this year.  The books with an asterisk are the ones I recommend.  I also have read parts of many, many more books than this--as usual.  

I also kept my reading very, very light this year, as you can see: no heavy lifting here!  I attribute this to our unusual, difficult season of life, when I needed to be able to dip in and out of books very easily.  But I really liked some of the books I read!

Same Kind of Different as Me (Ron Hall and Denver Moore)


Okay, I loved this one.  I read it very early in the year and just devoured the unusual friendship that developed between the author, his wife, and Denver.  Some of the stories of Denver's early life were so wrenching that they made me feel physical pain.  I loved Debbie's spirit and her vision for serving others and serving God. The entire story was touching, unlikely, and engaging. I will definitely re-read this book!

Free to Learn (Peter Gray) 


I was intrigued by this book, which examines how children naturally learn and encourages parents to let children learn at their own pace and by their own direction.  Peter Gray and I do not share the same opinions or worldview, and I have to confess that I could never send one of my children to the school he loves (Sudbury Valley), but his argument is compelling. I agree with his assertion that adults in our culture tend to not trust children to learn on their own, and so we set up elaborate systems of "education" while ignoring their basic needs to play and explore the world.  And I'm not just talking about preschoolers!  Older children need this freedom, too.  There were several sections where I stopped reading and immediately read a passage to my husband, marveling at how true and ironic it was (such as the anecdote of the teacher who, seeing a group of students in science experimenting with the materials she gave them for completing a project, told them that it was time for science right now and they could play later...clearly missing the point that scientific discovery is, at its root, about play and experimentation.....sigh).  




A book on diet and exercise makes my top recommendations?  Well, yes. This book deserves its own post later this year--I'll likely do that.  But for now I will say that it was life-changing.  Fitness and nutrition are little pet hobbies of mine that I've had for years, but this book put it all together for me and sort of handed me the golden key, and I've lost nearly 30 pounds this year as a result. (And within just a few weeks of starting the exercises, my chronic, life-long back pain due to severe scoliosis was gone...even before I lost weight!). Louise is wonderfully witty and full of common sense. Ironically most people think I lost all this weight due to stress because of my husband's illness.  NOT SO. I lost weight because I read this book in February and took it to heart, and worked hard to change my habits.  And I was able to maintain my habits through the hardest year of my life, so I know it is effective and sustainable.




I can't remember how I learned about this book, but I highly recommend it to any homeschooling mother. It's an older book, but contains lots of wisdom on keeping schooling simple and relaxed, yet pleasant, effective, and joyful. She discusses schooling little kids on up through high schoolers, and reading the book during a hard time (when my "homeschooling" was extraordinarily streamlined out of sheer necessity) helped me feel calm and relaxed throughout the fall this year.  



Well, our Christmas was *not* a hundred-dollar holiday, but I enjoyed reading this short book during Advent, and thinking about how I can change things in the future.  For the past few years I've found myself feeling stressed over Christmas, even though I get most of my shopping and decorating done before Advent even begins, and even though I try to be really organized. I haven't figured out why it is so stressful for me and what I can do about it, but reading this book was part of pursuing the mystery. I definitely believe that less stuff and more time together is a worthy goal, and I plan to re-read this book earlier in the year in 2019 to think more deeply about how I can make our Christmas more joyful and less stressful.  (Anyone with tips on that--please share them!) 

The full list is as follows:

1. Pride and Prejudice--Jane Austen
2. Addicted to Mediocrity--Franky Schaeffer
3. Getting Involved with God--Ellen Davis
4. Same Kind of Different as Me--Ron Hall and Denver Moore*
5. According to the Pattern--Grace Livingston Hill
6.  The Blue Zones--Dan Buettner*(really recommend this! a fun and interesting look at the cultures where people live the longest, and great analysis of what common traits these longevity-studded cultures share)
7. Home Wisdom-Jon Vara
8. What Falls from the Sky-Esther Emery
9. Homeschooling for Excellence--David & Micki Colfax (a quick re-read one night)
10. A Return to Modesty-Wendy Shallit (a book I read as a college student and am re-reading now)
11. Out of a Far Country--Christopher and Angela Yuan*
12.  Lean for Life--Louise Parker*
13.  Managers of their Schools--Teri Maxwell
14. The Irrational Season--Madeleine L'Engle
15. Ourselves--Charlotte Mason
16. Free to Learn—Peter Gray*
17. The War of Art--Steven Pressfield (re-read)
18. The Joyful Homeschooler--Mary Hood*
19. The Relaxed Home School--Mary Hood*
20.  Educating Children at Home--Alan Thomas* (another interesting book about how children learn naturally!)
21.  Clean and Lean Diet--James Duigan (not recommended, because he calls certain foods "bad" and advocates "cheat meals"--setting up an unhealthy relationship with food, in my opinion!)
22. The Abs Diet- David Zinczenko
23. What is Unschooling?--Pam Laricchia
24. Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas--Bill McKibben*
25. Christmas at Fairacre--Miss Read (I began reading this during Advent and got so distracted and busy that I failed to finish it. I think this says something about what needs to change in my life! I will finish it this year.)

My past lists are here: 


And see what Nancy has on her list this year here!

Happy New Year, and happy reading! I've already started my list for 2019.....


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Giving Thanks

My husband had a very difficult week before Thanksgiving, but things have stabilized now.  I was the woman peeling into Urgent Care at 7:57pm the night before Thanksgiving, when the clinic closes at 8pm.....sigh.  In any event, he's alright and although he had to spend most of the holiday in bed, he rallied over the following weekend and is now better. 

In the midst of it, we are joyful and happy. This post sums it up for me. 

A smattering of our days, these days:

*Reading, always reading: books for me, books for the children, re-reads.  So much reading.

*Decorating the porch.  My father-in-law helped me get a Christmas tree (my husband wasn't up for it) and I asked him to get the clippings, too--and I had a *ton!* I made two wreaths and filled two containers with greenery. I'll have to take a photo! My porch looks so simple and beautiful now!

*Children doing ballet and piano.  Children spreading a Lego city all over the living room coffee table, and it has stayed for days.  Children looking through books and putting on plays and watching Shakespeare and always, always chattering. I love my children!

*Hot epsom salt baths, as many nights of the week as I can manage it.

*Finishing up the Christmas shopping! I hope to finish up with Finn on Friday (we have an appointment, then lunch together, then shopping!) and finish wrapping all the gifts on Saturday.  And then it will be time for cookie baking!

*Praying every day for a clean PET scan on December 27. 

*Learning more than I ever thought I'd know about lymphedema, physical therapy for jaw opening and lymphatic drainage, feeding tube sites, and so on.  

*Ignoring little messes.

*Exercising: lots of elliptical trainer work, walking, jumping rope, resistance training.  All of it at home or on the hills outside.  An hour or more a day.  It keeps me sane and balanced and feeling really, really good. 

*New math curriculum for Annie, plugging along with the old with Finn. 

*Hearing lots of piano music as Finn plays and practices in preparation for recital and, in the more distant future, for a spring festival competition. 

*Preparing for our Christmas play this year. My husband writes the script and directs the play at church every year, catering it to the kids we have (there are four children in our church).  Our son has a comedic role this year, which he'll pull off well....he's a funny guy. 

And lots of gratitude.  Because although he was sick, my husband was still vertical for part of the day on Thanksgiving.  


And we love each other!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Peace in the Home: Five Tips for Managing Housework

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a bit about how meal planning helps foster peace in our home (and in my mind, honestly!).  Around that time a good friend of mine had asked me how I manage life, in terms of managing housework, and I wrote her a lengthy email, but I think I can condense it into five basic tips. 

But first I must say: I don't keep a "perfect" house.  Although I love looking at photos of, say, Sophie Paterson interiors, that will never be my home for many reasons.  I love living in a house that is unique and full of books, creative activities, projects, kitchen creations, etc.  Do you know what?  Books, creative activities, projects, and kitchen creations all edge us into messiness!  So we have to develop habits to keep those messes under control, but I'm also not usually going to fret about a little mess here or there. Visual clutter drives me crazy, so I do try to keep it to a minimum.  I consider my house "clean enough"--we function very well, we are happy, and when unexpected guests drop in, I'm not dying inside at how cluttered or dirty my home is.  It's home!  And it's lovely. 

At various times in the past, I have had a "cleaning schedule" to keep (like vacuuming on Wednesdays, cleaning out the fridge on Tuesdays, etc.) but I no longer do that. It's a great idea, though, if you feel it will help you keep the house clean!  

If you are like me and have secret clean freak tendencies that are in opposition with a comfortable family life, remember Proverbs 14:4: "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox." We only have our "oxen" (children) for a limited amount of time in life.  Before you know it, they'll be grown. Children and husbands are a blessing.  I'd much rather have a home that needs constant tending and tidying than one that is perfectly clean but empty!  

And one more caveat: if you have 3 kids under the age of 5 (actually, any kids under the age of 5!!), a newborn, a chronic health issue, a husband with cancer, or other extenuating, stressful circumstances, give yourself grace. Do the best you can do every day, keep things as simple as possible (this may deserve its own post) and make peace with the fact that you have done your job to the best of your ability.  Loving your family is always more important than mopping the floors. 

So here are my five tips for managing housework (with an optional bonus tip at the end):

1. Embrace routines.  Routines bring order and predictability. The more habitual a task is, the easier it is to accomplish.  (I talked a little about this here.) A simple morning routine helps pave the way for me: making the bed, quickly cleaning the bathroom, tidying up the basement bathroom (this means cleaning out the litter box), pet chores, tossing in a load of laundry if necessary, and cleaning the kitchen after breakfast.  Sometimes I putter around tidying up too, if the house needs it.  My evening routine is more streamlined, and mainly focused on cleaning the kitchen up completely every night, looking after the animals, and finishing up the laundry.  Everyone's routines will be different, but establishing predictable routines is so helpful in managing housework. 

2. Recruit children.  I wrote about this in August, so I won't re-hash it all here, but I believe children are great helpers and can make maintaining a home much easier.  My own children are champions at tidying.  My daughter is a pro at pillow-plumping!  They take care of pets and chickens, make their own beds, tidy and wipe down their bathroom, sometimes help in the kitchen, take out the trash, etc. I don't have a set chore schedule for them right now (other than the expectation of grooming and making beds in the morning). Instead, they help out where I ask, which works for us for now. But having a routine set of morning chores is a good idea. With encouragement and kindness, children can develop into really amazing helpers!

3. Chunk housekeeping tasks together.  I do this a lot. It's very efficient! I used to try to space my housecleaning out over each day of the week, but as life has changed I've found that it's a bit easier for me to find a spare hour or two every few days to just clean whatever needs cleaning.  This could be mopping, vacuuming, washing windows.  I often clean out the fridge or freezer while I cook supper (I did this last night, in fact, and inventoried the things in our freezer, making little lists of meals we can make from food we already have over the coming weeks).  While the soup simmers, I can take a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to my kitchen cabinets.  When I feel like our dining area needs attention, I'll do a quick dust and change the tablecloth, maybe re-arrange plants.  When we got our living room ready for the Christmas tree, I vacuumed the room thoroughly (we were moving furniture anyhow!) and did some dusting.  Basically I try to look at the tasks that need to be done, and group like tasks together, to organize housework in a logical way that makes sense to my brain. 

4. Simplify and tidy as much as possible. If you can stay on top of clutter, that's really most of the battle in housework. It's so much easier to run the vacuum, dust the surfaces, and wipe down the bathroom if there's not clutter everywhere to deal with first.  Train yourself as much as you can to pick things up and put them away throughout the day. Reflexive tidying helps so much!  (But don't become compulsive or rigid about it; clutter is sometimes a normal part of life.) 

5. Remember the goal. What is your goal in housekeeping? Mine is to create a home that is comfortable, welcoming, orderly, cozy, and friendly;  that serves as a place to develop our own unique, God-given interests and talents; and that is beautiful in its own way.  My goal is not perfection.  If I want to see perfection, I can google it, but I want to live in a place that is more relaxed and natural. 

And finally, the bonus tip:  If you are overwhelmed and have sufficient disposable income, hiring housekeeping help can be such a boon.  I do not recommend this if your family lives paycheck-to-paycheck.  But I *do* recommend it if you have sufficient room in the budget and if you're short on time. You don't need to use an expensive, professional cleaning service, either.  I have two sweet previously-homeschooled girls who come to my house every other week and help me.  Because they live with their parents and have few expenses, they charge much less than a franchised cleaning service would (yet still over double minimum wage!). They are very fast and efficient. I hired them almost two years ago during a particularly busy time, when I realized I needed to outsource something and couldn't outsource education, childcare, cooking, life management, budgeting, or gardening. But I could outsource a little bit of cleaning!  (I struggled with this at first, but now I'm simply grateful to have their help.) During my husband's battle with cancer this year it has been especially helpful to have them coming every couple of weeks. They do not clean my whole house, but they do take care of some of the bigger jobs, and the children and I clean a lot and maintain things in between times.  It's so helpful to me during this season of life. 

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So those are my best tips on keeping house: embrace routines, recruit children (if you have some available! ;)), chunk tasks together, try to stay on top of clutter, and remember why you are doing this.  And, if it works for your situation, consider outsourcing a few jobs.  

And most of all, remember that where there are no oxen, the manger is clean. Embrace the oxen!  They make life fruitful and happy and joyful, and are infinitely more important than a perfect home. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Key to Informal Learning: Have a Mentor at Hand

Most of our learning this year so far has been of the "informal" variety, due to the unique circumstances in which we found ourselves: living hours from home for 7 weeks while dealing with daily radiation, weekly chemo, and the fallout and difficulties that those cancer treatments caused. And then we moved home, and continued the informal learning, because the post-radiation healing process does not happen overnight. 

In spite of our nontraditional approach, our children are thriving.  Annie is reading more and more, the kids are both writing a lot, Finn is working very hard at learning French via a curriculum and a tutor (his goal? fluency by age 13...we'll see how that goes!), math is getting done. We have read about pilgrims, ancient Syrians, seeds, bees, ladybugs. We've read Frances Hodgson Burnett, J.K. Rowling, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and plenty of picture books. The children spent an entire day digging an enormous hole in the garden, trying to get it large enough to fit them both (as a hiding place!) and doing the measuring and calculating required to figure that out.  Annie has learned to wash dishes and Finn is cooking. Annie opened a "Fixing Shop" where she charges money to fix broken things (so far she is pulling in a nice income taping up books that need help!).  They both spend hours playing outside at an elaborate invisible road system they created--Annie pushes a play shopping cart and Finn drives a wheelbarrow.  Annie has done a bit of sewing.  In short, learning is happening.  

For anyone else who finds themselves in similar circumstances, here are some quotes that help give guidance during times of "informal learning"....it's all about home culture and an attentive mentor!

*                     *                    * 

"The culture of the home has to be one which arouses intellectual curiosity and facilitates learning.  Children need to have learning opportunities and materials available.  Most of all they need a mentor at hand who sets the tone of activities and is there to interact and ask questions."

and 

"The parent is as indispensable for informal as for more formally organized teaching and learning.  The child has to acquire knowledge about the culture from the parent who has to play an active role in transmitting or mediating it. How do 'informal' parents do this? Partly by cottoning on to what the child is interested in and extending it, and partly by suggesting things the child might be interested in and seeing if they are taken up."

and 

"An interesting feature of informal learning is that children are not faced with having to try to digest new knowledge which does not fit into or extend what they already know or does not arouse their curiosity or motivation."

and, finally, 

"The converse of [not forcing a child to learn something before he or she is ready] is that parents can really capitalize when children do 'switch on' their attention.  They are much more likely to be in the 'zone of proximal development' and therefore profit from attending.  That is also why parents, especially those who use more informal methods, have constantly to 'keep their antennae out,' as one described it." 

--from Educating Children at Home, by Alan Thomas (emphasis added) 


Monday, November 5, 2018

Peace in the Home: Five Tips for Meal Planning

Last week in the space of less than 24 hours I had two different close friends, at two different times, express interest in how I organize my life.  The first heard me mention "menu plan" and she said--that's how you do things? you plan out what you will have for dinner?  that must help so much because then you don't have to think about it!  Yes, she's right!

The second was a text I got from another dear friend, who said I'm overwhelmed. I need your help, organizing/time management guru.  So I called her, we talked, and I sent an email as well. She was overwhelmed by trying to balance her domestic and professional responsibilities, as well as family life, and felt like she needed guidance on how to make things at home run more smoothly. She wanted to know how I ran things, so I told her.

So that got me thinking about efficiency in domestic life and how routines help make life peaceful. My house is by no means perfectly-run, perfectly-organized, or (alas!) perfectly-clean, but it's pretty efficiently managed and we're functional and I'm not overwhelmed, so I am happy with it.  Unannounced guests can drop by and I don't panic or want to crawl into a hole, so I think things are okay. However, I haven't always been like this, and I realize lots of people struggle with making meals and cleaning house.  But these things do help foster peace in the home!

So this week I am going to talk about meal planning and next week I'll talk about housework.

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Planning meals makes sense to me because we have to eat every day, multiple times a day, and although some people might be creative enough to stand at the fridge at 5pm and decide what to eat for dinner, that kind of last-minute decision-making causes me anxiety.

Here are my tips for meal planning:

1. Shop the fridge, freezer, and pantry first: to save money and reduce food waste, check what you have on hand already.  Is there a zucchini in the fridge that needs to be used?  A package of frozen beef you could defrost and work into the plan?  Half a jar of leftover pasta sauce?  A dozen extra eggs sitting around?  Take these things into account.

2. Think realistically about the week ahead.  For instance, I know that on Wednesday evenings, dinner needs to be ready when I walk in the door from taking Annie to ballet.  And on Thursdays I get home just in time to start making dinner.  So on Wednesdays I'll plan a meal for the slow cooker and on Thursdays I'll plan something quick and easy. 

3. Make things now to make your future life easier.  I love doing this!  For instance, when I make a pie crust (which I do fairly often because my children love quiche), I will quadruple the recipe, then freeze balls of dough.  When it's time to make quiche, I just defrost the pre-made dough.  This saves time on a busy night and makes quiche one of my fastest, simplest meals. Another example: if I'm making a large pot of soup and my family doesn't eat it all at dinner and lunch the next day, I'll freeze the extra soup so that I can pull it out for a quick dinner another night.  Every so often, I'll have a dedicated hour or two to do some "batch cooking" for the freezer, so I'll put together chicken curry, various soups, chicken pot pie, etc. and freeze those for easy meals later.  Anytime I make muffins or gingerbread I freeze about half the batch and can pull those out for breakfasts, snacks, or supper soup supplements.  Having meals or components of meals already stocked in the freezer saves so much time, and I think it saves money, too. 

4. Use the slow cooker.  On a day when we'll be out and about most of the afternoon, I will happily put dinner in the slow cooker earlier in the day.  I like to do this with chili, curries, and soups: perfect foods for this time of year. 

5. Write it down, but hold it loosely.  I am flexible with my plans, although I generally do stick with them once they are made. But sometimes my mother-in-law will send over a casserole or my husband will suggest pizza, and I am happy to change plans to accommodate those things!

Once I have written my menu plan down, I jot down any ingredients or staples I need to purchase at the grocery store or farmers' market, and then I look through my (simple) coupon collection to see if anything correlates.  

Knowing what's for dinner gives me mental peace. I don't like going through my day and wondering what I'll cook that night...at least I don't like that at this stage of my life, because there are too many other demands on my time and mind.  So it's well worth it for me to spend a little time on the weekend planning ahead and creating a menu. 

And those are my five basic tips for meal planning. If you have any tips to add, please do! I'm always looking for fresh perspectives. And recipes!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Resting at Cherith

I wrote this recently as part of an update on my husband's health for our friends and family, and want to re-post it here in case it speaks to anyone else who is "resting at Cherith" right now.

*               *             * 

Back in 1 Kings Elijah hides himself by the brook Cherith.  This story is in 1 Kings 17, and occurs after Elijah tells evil King Ahab that there will be a drought. God directs Elijah to go hide out by Cherith for a while, and God provides bread, meat and water.  And then, due to the drought, the brook dries up.  Elijah journeys on, at the command of God, to Zarephath.

In my devotional earlier this month I read this:

"The education of our faith is incomplete if we have not learned that there is a providence of loss, a ministry of failing and of fading things, a gift of emptiness....The dwindling stream by which Elijah sat and mused is a true picture of the life of each of us. 'It came to pass...that the brook dried up'--that is the history of our yesterday, and a prophecy of our morrows.

"In some way or other we will have to learn the difference between trusting in the gift and trusting in the Giver. The gift may be good for a while, but the Giver is the eternal love.

"Cherith was a difficult problem to Elijah until he got to Zarephath, and then it was all as clear as daylight.  God's hard words are never his last words.  The woe and the waste and the tears of life belong to the interlude and not to the finale. 

"Had Elijah been led straight to Zarephath he would have missed something that helped to make him a wiser prophet and a better man.  He lived by faith at Cherith.  And whensoever in your life and mine some spring of earthly and outward resource has dried up, it has been that we might learn that our hope and help are in God who made heaven and earth."

--F.B. Meyer, quoted in Streams in the Desert (October 5)(emphasis mine)

I type this, even now, having read it so many times, with tears in my eyes.

I have to trust in God, not in the gifts He gives me. These gifts are lovely and can be good--material things, earthly relationships, good health, etc. but they are the gifts, and "in some way or other" I have to learn the difference between trusting in the gift and trusting in the Giver. It brings tears to my eyes because it is so true! I have to live by faith, believing that "all things work together for good to them that love God." (Romans 8:28)  I have seen this over and over again, not just this year, but over the course of four decades of life.

Right now we rest at Cherith.  We aren't relying on ravens to bring us bread and meat, like Elijah was, and we are materially bursting at the seams (as most Americans are), with more than sufficient food and shelter and clothing.  But I still feel we are living by faith right now.  There are many, many unknowns.  When will my husband be able to eat again? Speak clearly? Taste sweet things? Taste anything? Sleep more than a couple hours at a time? Run? Work? 

And then the bigger looming issue: did it work? Did the three months of surgery, radiation, and chemo do what they were supposed to do?

These are all unanswerable questions right now.  We just have to wait and see.  Like Elijah, we are biding our time here, trusting that this whole situation is unfolding as it should.  I want the gifts very badly (the ability to speak, eat, and sleep--such simple gifts; and complete healing, restoration, renewed health--the bigger gifts). But I truly want to trust the Giver in this process. 

So we rest, we wait, and we trust that God is doing a bigger work here than we can imagine right now. This is our Cherith. And our hope and help are found in God alone. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Dishes for Autumn: Royal Staffordshire "Charlotte"

Somehow I ended up with several sets of china (mostly antique) over the years.  As a result, I like to switch them out seasonally and use different dishes at different times of the year.  

In the summer we use my beloved jadeite, but when fall comes it's time to pull out the brown and cream Royal Staffordshire "Charlotte" dishes. 


The story behind these dishes is that the summer before our wedding, I was poking around the local notoriously junky junk shop and found a box of these. They were so beautiful! I fell in love with their autumnal design.  But the junk shop owner is no fool and the dishes were far too expensive for me to purchase.  I went home and told my mom about them, about how beautiful they were, and then went on with my life.

Well!  My mother quietly went to the junk shop, did some investigative research, and bought the dishes for me. What a sweet, lovely gift!  My mother probably couldn't afford them much more than I could, but she wanted to surprise me, and she had a truly a generous spirit.  I was quite touched by it then, and even more so now, as the years pass and I have my own daughter who loves beautiful things. I pull these out when the chilly weather arrives and think about the woman who raised me, who wanted to do some extravagant (to us) act of kindness for me before I became a married woman. 

She died suddenly less than two years later, so these are a little treasure. 

I love them so much I designed a whole baby shower around them back in 2009!

And yes, I do use my "best dishes" all the time.  A couple of years ago I got rid of our "everyday" dishes (Pfaltzgraff plain white) entirely.  I didn't like them all that much, and I had several sets of antique or "fine" china sitting around that I rarely used, and it just made sense to make the switch. I did the same thing with my flatware--I sold my stainless steel stuff in a yard sale and now we use the Community White Orchid silverplated flatware that we inherited from my husband's grandmother. It has such a pretty, lustrous shine.  I dream of one day using sterling silver, because I love the weight of it in my hand, but we'll see.  Our children are fairly careful with the plates, and I'd rather suffer a few breaks over the years than never use what I love. I think since we started using the best dishes all the time, we've broken one thing...and was the culprit.

I feel autumn has settled in around us now: the leaves are finally changing color, the air is crisp, my mums are fading, and the brown and cream china is on the table every day. I'm happy!