I can still remember the pieces from my mother’s beloved China set. They were blue and white with a beautiful patterned trim around the edges. We weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but mom was savvy and knew how to finds a good deal on nice things. The China set wasn’t acquired from Macy’s or Mansour's, the big, fancy department store downtown. Instead she got the set at a local estate sale.
Many of my mother’s friends and other relatives acquired their prized China sets through similar means, and took extra precaution to protect them from the dangers of regular use. Who amongst us hasn’t cringed at the sound of a plate shattering against the tile? Who hasn’t accidentally knocked over a glass or two? So, understandably, they hid their special finds behind glass cases, waiting to pull them out only for the most special occasions. However, it seemed that no occasion was ever deemed worthy enough.
My mom made an effort to find those occasions often. She sought them out and created them herself. Her philosophy was that the most important people in your life are family, and there is no occasion more special than one spent making memories with them. So for every holiday -- and even just Sunday dinners -- she would break out that beautiful China set and watch her loved ones laugh and reminisce over a classic Southern meal.
This Thanksgiving -- as I do every Thanksgiving -- I honored my mom by doing the same. All while adding a City Girl Gardener twist!
1. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that your holiday table should be both beautiful and functional at the same time. For example, serving your yearly Thanksgiving meal on fine China elevates the decor, but having your guests wipe their crumbs on cloth napkins can make them feel more like they’re at a gala than at a warm, relaxed gathering with loved ones. So to make everyone comfortable, I used cloth napkins for display, but also placed paper napkins at each setting for people to get greasy with. I also decided to forgo chair covers for this reason.
2. Like my mom, I keep an eye out for beautiful things on a budget. I used two China sets for this year’s Thanksgiving set up, both of which were acquired from local estate sales in Houston. I find out about estate sales from one of my neighbors, but you can find estate sales in your area here.
3. I decided not to use a tablecloth on my main table this year was because I knew that I wanted to add flourishes from my garden and didn’t want to get any backyard stains on the nice linens. I have a great lemon tree growing, and decided to use its leaves as feature decorations. Using garden shears, I clipped the leaves and thin limbs from the very bottom of the tree that had no fruit growing on them. I then checked them for insects and brought them inside to line the decorative runners with.
My daughters and I completed this process shortly before dinner, which I learned from experience was the best time to do it. Not only does the immediate use increase your chances of having that fresh, natural lemon scent, it also ensures that they will be in great display condition. I cut a few of the leaves earlier that week in attempt to get some of the decorating done early, but discovered that, disconnected to their source, the leaves dry up within a day or so, and the unpredictable Houston heat can curl them up quickly.
5. But all was not lost! Instead of tossing the dried lemon tree leaves, I gathered them all together and dropped them into a vase that helped decorate my entryway. I finished the entryway table with a bowl full of fruits and vegetables in an array of fall colors.
4. I completed the main table decorations with holiday ornaments purchased at at a Christmas sale last year. I didn’t realize when I bought them, but they were all strung together in an unusual way with different shades of gold and bronze. Instead of separating them to hang on my tree, I lined them along the table runner and allowed them to lie in between the lemon tree leaves. They were perfect with the gold Flatware set that my mother-in-law gave me.
5. As The City Girl Gardener, one of my main goals is to feature as many healthy living options as possible. In addition to the usual southern Thanksgiving fare, we also had a batch of meatless collard greens, quinoa, organic lemonade and a cauliflower and cheese dish that my cousin Caroline made, which some of my guests even mistook for actual macaroni and cheese!
*Bonus: That worst fear that so many of my mom’s friends harbored about their China dishes came true! We had an accident that resulted in the breaking of one of the China plates. Accidents happen! But that’s also why you spring for a set of 16, so that if you break one or two pieces over the years, you still have enough for a 12 place setting.