"We eat to live; we do not live to eat," is a time-stained saying. It is almost invariably uttered complacently, and seldom in absolute sincerity. There is something wrong, physically, with the man who "does not care what he eats." There is a twist in the moral make-up of the woman who finds catering for the appetites of those she loves "a wretched bore, don't you know?"
Next in importance to the "house-place" in the estimation of the wise and tender mother of the home comes the dining-room where, three times a day, she has her brood under the wings of her comforting, provident and nourishing love. Whatever may be said as to the merits of the "food products" that fly at the masthead of the company the motto - "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are" - there is a potent grain of truth in the legend.
So much of a man's temper and morals during the day depends upon what he has had for breakfast that the mother may well give serious thought to the composition of the meal. So much depends upon where and how he eats his breakfast, that the wonder grows in the philosophic mind that the eating-room and the appurtenances thereof are a third-rate consideration with so many otherwise excellent managers.
The housemother who can let sunshine into the morning meeting-place of the family scores an important point in favor of the success of her pious scheme. Since this can not always be, her aim should be to simulate the blessed sunbeams as far as she can. Walls of pale buff, the flash of a gilt frame here, and a bit of bright drapery there; yellow silk sash curtains, and, on the sideboard, the glitter of silver and glass will go far to relieve the depressing influence of an apartment where the sun never falls.
Thanks to the ingenious florist whose name is preserved in the "Wardian case," it is quite possible to have a window-garden in the dining-room on the shady side of the house. A stanch framework of wood, filled in with glass on the sides and on the hinged top, with a zinc-lined bottom on which are spread first a layer of broken flower-pots or other crockery, mixed with charcoal, and on this a stratum, two inches deep, of garden mold, supply the foundation for the undertaking.
Stock with ferns, tradescantia, English and German ivy, fill the spaces between the roots with moss, water well, and close. Your gardening is done for the season, except that, once a day - say while you are at breakfast - the lid is raised a little way to admit a supply of air, and once in a fortnight it would be well to water the plants. Shield from the sun, which, striking through the closed glass, would scald the succulent greenery that will soon fill the case. Hang the canary's cage above it for an added touch of cheer.
Always have flowers upon the family table. A pot of ivy, a geranium, a fern borrowed from some other room at meal times, will serve the desired end if you can not afford cut flowers in winter. If you have no window plants, manage to get a vase of evergreen sprays - something to lift the gracious ceremonial of eating together above the sordid commonplace. If you "eat to live," let that living be comely and pleasant.
There is no excuse nowadays for setting a table with coarse, thick stoneware, even when there is no "company" (hateful phrase!) present. Graceful designs may be had in ware so cheap as to be within the reach of any woman who can spread a table of her own.
In the matter of napery, modern fashion comes benevolently to the help of the poor in purse. Have the top of your table polished with a mixture of raw linseed oil and turpentine - three parts of oil, one of turpentine - rubbed in long and well. Then set for breakfast and for luncheon with a linen square - embroidered or simply hemstitched - laid diagonally to the table corners, in the middle, with doilies of the same under the plates; a carving-cloth before the master of the house, and a tray-cloth before the mistress. The effect is pleasing and decorative, the more agreeable to the housewifely eye because the weekly wash is materially lessened thereby.
If your table has not a polished top, you would better have for breakfast and luncheon one of the pretty colored lunch-cloths with napkins to match, which come in divers patterns and at varying prices.
If your china-closets are insufficient to hold all your china, and especially if the walls of the room are ungracefully bare, run a shelf a foot wide near the ceiling and set in graceful array upon it some of your pretty and odd pieces. The device elevates them to the dignity of bric-a-brac, relieves the burdened closet shelves and produces a frieze-like effect that will further detract from the business-like look of the apartment.
Tax your ingenuity in every way to make the place tempting to eye and to thought, as well as to appetite. A place where one is disposed to linger over one's meals for social converse and social enjoyment, instead of bolting food in hungry silence, preparatory to bolting from the place he calls "home," through custom and courtesy, to return not until the approach of the next feeding time.