Being casual has a way of catching up with a person, and---well, sooner or later it can slide into full-out sloppy. I must plead guilty to this, as this kind of 'casualty' (pun intended) happened a few weeks ago. Our ten-year old niece was over for her monthly visit, where we create an afternoon just for her, playing board games, painting and stringing beads, and even learning how to do Tai-Chi. We also have a take-out meal of her choosing...usually Chinese. This time, like so many others, as our 'fine dining' degenerated into a litter of styrofoam containers, crumpled paper napkins and sticky puddles of sweet and sour sauce on hastily grabbed and mismatched dishes, I realized that indeed, I had sorely forgotten to practice what I preached, and well, the simple act of a shared meal had degenerated into a piggy fest. I needed to clean up my act.
The strange thing about it is that setting a nice, formal table used to be habitual for me--at a time in my life that was much more chaotic than it is now. When I was a single mom with two little boys at home, I used to get up earlier than I had to, setting the table with thrift store placemats and cloth napkins as a prelude to a hot breakfast, before we plunged full-force into the noise and stress of school and work. It made me feel like I was giving just a little bit of extra nurturing to my precious ones who I would not see again for most of the day.
When my sons were teens, one of them brought home a troubled friend who was going through a variety of family and social issues. I will never forget the look on his face when breakfast was served on yellow gingham placemats with perky yellow napkins in holders beside each plate. How heartwarming it was to see this young man, awkward and wary, look at this table and say, "Wow." He said to my son that he couldn't believe this was how we ate our meals all the time. Sadly, we could not have this boy with us for longer than a week, but I hope that during his stay he was able to feel warmly valued and included at every meal.
Things have been difficult financially for us right now. Hubby is at a place in his career where he is working out of town, and the commute is eating up a huge part of his income. This is supposed to be a temporary thing, and we are white-knuckling it with as much prayer as we can muster until it is over. I can't say how often I have been torn about returning to the outside work world, and every single time, another problem occurs that must be handled at home, and yet again, I am reminded that I would have had to take off time from the office to get this handled.
And so, as I realize yet again that God's plan really is for me to find gratitude and joy in my current homemaking circumstances, I am also realizing how crucial it is to intentionally search for the grace and loveliness in each day. To honor our dignity as human beings. To honor the dignity of our loving home. And a huge part of this is to greet my tired husband at the end of the day with a good meal set at a table that will delight the eye and refresh the soul.
Even leftovers taste special on fine china, and tea in an elegant cup with a saucer just tastes different. On my exceptionally busy homemaking days, tea-lover that I am, you will often catch me sipping my green tea from a coffee mug. A mug is utilitarian, and it is appropriate on those busy, rush-rush days. But a fine tea cup, filagreed with a touch of gold, painted with delicate flowers...now that's a whole different experience. There is something about a tea cup that whispers of the finer things in life, that time is fleeting and this moment truly matters.
I love how a carefully-set table makes us sit a little straighter and maybe speak a little more softly. It makes us mind our manners, and can make us feel pampered and luxurious, even if we are eating the simplest of fare. It gives us optimism and hope and reminds us that we are worthwhile.
And so, I informed hubby that no longer would I be falling down on this particular job...fingers crossed. I have been very conscientious about keeping bottles and packages off the table, instead placing condiments in separate simple bowls. Is a bit of extra dish-washing? Well, only a moment more, and its so much nicer than looking at a ketchup bottle or sour cream container. The meal in these pictures was simply some chili I pulled out of the freezer and re-heated, but set this way, even hubby relished every bite, and he is not a huge chili fan. A little bit of corn bread, also from the freezer, a couple of bowls of chopped green onion and cheese, and our humble meal was a treat for all the senses.
I use my grandmother's sugar bowl (in the foreground) for a butter dish. We use real butter at our house, and found that we were tired of dealing with a hard brick every time we took it out of the refrigerator. Now I leave that bowl on the counter, and the butter stays nice and perfectly soft. The placemats were a gift from a friend, but most of my collection comes from thrift stores. Often at Walmart these days, the only table linens I see are plastic, which I personally dislike, so I resort to the thrift stores, where so many table linens have been donated because people think they are a hassle to keep clean. I snap them up, often purchasing them for pennies, and have never found them any harder to keep clean than any other piece of clothing. We use napkin rings at our home for the same practical purpose as the Victorians did. Not only are they ornamental, but in middle-class homes of the time, they were meant to delegate who's napkin was who's, so they could be reused a couple of times during the day, thus also saving on laundry. Here's an interesting article about the Victorian's use of napkin rings from the Chicago Tribune.
As we enter further and further into fall, I cannot help but reflect on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. It's one of my favorites, where we decorate a fancy table and load it with elaborately prepared dishes. But we can have a touch of this every day, if we so desired, and it would not have to cost us any real money or effort.
A simple meal at a pretty table with our favorite people and a sincere prayer--is really all we need.