March 11, 2021

For many years as a cook, I resisted the French concept of “mise-en-place” (putting everything in place). I would watch Julia Child or another TV chef chop, dice and wash, all before beginning to put a recipe together. What a ridiculous use of time! And how boring to do that kind of prep! Why not just plunge in? thought I.

As a result, while I gradually became a better chef, the act of cooking or baking was a messy one indeed. I’d read “1 cup butter” and hastily grab two sticks from the fridge, only to read on that the butter had to be at room temperature before proceeding. I’d be mincing garlic and onion on a cutting board together, then discover that they should be added to the sauté pan separately. I’d never (ever) wash up as I went, so the after-meal kitchen resembled a culinary tornado, with the sink heaped with dirty pots, spatulas and measuring spoons.

But recently I have embraced “mise-en-place,” because it inarguably makes things better (and simpler, in the long run). No more frantically softening butter in the microwave (and watching it melt instead), or trying to pick the garlic bits out from the onion. And washing dishes gradually during the process means that the after-dinner chore (which, full disclosure, is 99% of the time accomplished by Steve) is a relative snap.

Now that my “cooking mise” is in full swing, I have turned to other, unkempt areas of my life and applied the same principle. I used to think my haphazard filing system at work, and my “home office” ritual of writing among the cereal bowls at the dining room table, were signs of eccentric creativity. It was just how I rolled.

But now I see that I can roll in a different direction. I can keep my office spaces (at church and at home) tidy, with pens and scissors and plenty of paper, with computer files that make sense and can be easily accessed.

And now I can add beauty and joy to the room. I have on my desk a bamboo plant and a little orchid and an English ivy,  a few framed photos of my family, a banker’s lamp (same color green as my little desk), and even a bit of whimsy ( a pencil holder in the shape of an old typewriter). I have a variety of scented candles to light—WITH a lighter, and a really nice water bottle to remind me to hydrate.

I joined a UK-based writing group that meets online to write from 8-9 each morning (I’m writing there now), and I marvel at how much I can accomplish in one focused hour.

Life is messy and unpredictable enough as it is, so why have I been allowing MY life to fall into the same disheveled state? There’s not much I can control, but I can do some advance planning and make my days much more successful, and peaceful too.

Mise-en-place. Vive la France!


    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter