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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Hospitality

Transforming Loneliness into Hospitality and Community (Guest Post by Ed Cyzewski)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 48 W. California Ave. Columbus, OH

They say that the home where you raise your kids is the hardest one to leave. Our former home in Columbus was excruciating to leave, but the pain of leaving wasn’t just because our kids were born there.

Our moving day was a complete disaster. The movers never showed up. When we found a different company to load our truck, they didn’t have enough time to get everything out of the house. A few friends showed up to help us finish loading and cleaning, but by the time we were ready to hit the road, it was past 10 pm, our young children had spent the better part of three hours literally crying for attention.

After a final check upstairs, I walked down the steps to find our older son sitting on the bare wood in the empty living room where the couch used to be. This was his favorite spot, a cushy corner in the room where he could see out the large front windows or turn to see our dining room table where my wife so often worked on her dissertation with piles of books lining her towering bookshelves.

On our moving day, he sat on the rough, old wooden floor with its narrow, weathered boards. In his own quiet way, he was reaching for something familiar and grounding as everything was thrown into upheaval around him. Most striking to me in that moment, he was coping with the disruption to his life and facing it all alone as we rushed around to finalize our move. That devastating loneliness swept over me too as I looked on from the landing into our empty house.

How did we reach that point where we struggled so mightily to find enough help on one of the most challenging days our family had faced? Our life season didn’t make it easy to invest in friendships with my wife in graduate school, my own freelancing work, and the challenges of raising small children. As we drove off into the night, willing ourselves to keep awake, I thought of how I never wanted to experience that crush of loneliness again.

Our new home in our new town isn’t much, especially compared to the one we left. The floors are a cheap laminate. The walls in most of the living spaces are a rough textured off-white affair that we wouldn’t dare to paint. The best part of the house may be the patio and large back yard, namely, the things that aren’t the actual house itself.

Regardless of how unspectacular our home is, I’ve made a point of routinely inviting people over. We started with inviting other new families over for dinner, then colleagues who dropped by for drinks after our kids went to bed, and then I started inviting families over on Thursdays for an informal playgroup.

My one guideline for inviting people over is this: I looked for people who appear to need community as much as I do. I could come up with plenty of reasons why my home isn’t the best place to host this group or why I’m not the best person to have a house full of kids, but the reality is that my past loneliness makes me especially qualified to see the urgency for showing hospitality.

As I faced my own loneliness and isolation, I found that there was a path forward through my pain. When we read in the scripture that we are supposed to cast all of our cares on God, that’s really only half of the story. The other half is that God takes our pain and isolation, and then offers a path toward transformation and healing. Today, I have found tremendous fulfillment in offering hospitality to others. The cement patio in our back yard that is littered with balls, sand, and bubbles is holy ground as more families join our little impromptu gatherings.

When the playgroup is over and the last kid has been hauled out of our home, our oldest son settles into his favorite spot on our new couch. In this moment, he is alone, but this loneliness is the good kind. After a morning spent building with legos, kicking soccer balls, and serving meals to his stuffed sea turtle alongside his friends, he recharges in contented silence, knowing he’s not alone.


Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com and is on Twitter and Instagram as @edcyzewski.

 

 

 


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because later this year, I’m publishing a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in the months ahead in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Placemakers (Guest Post by Christie Purifoy)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Maplehurst 101 River Road Little Grove, Pennsylvania

My husband and I have always been placemakers, though it is only since moving to Maplehurst that we have settled on a name for this thing we do. Maplehurst is as imperfect as any place we have ever called home, but it is also the fulfillment of the hope we invested in every one of our many homes.

In our first apartment, we covered the brilliant 70s orange of our laminate countertops with wood-patterned contact paper. We only lived there four months, and we made terrible food in that tiny kitchen, yet I still remember the culinary achievement of the spring salad dotted with strawberries I served to a friend. The table I laid with such care was so rickety it didn’t survive our next move.

In twenty years, we have moved and moved and moved. And though it has never made financial sense, or any kind of sense at all, we have left each house or yard a little more beautiful and a little more loved. Yet always we longed for one special place. Our own promised land. Our own little Zion. A place to cultivate and share with faithfulness, with no plans for moving on. Four years ago, we found it.

I first saw the house on a day of record-breaking heat. I suppose we never choose the day when our dream will come true. Just as we do not choose the precise place our dream will carry us. This Victorian, red-brick farmhouse did not look like the home of my dreams. That first, terribly hot day, it did not feel like it, either. But my dreams began rearranging themselves almost the moment I stepped across the smooth, worn stone of Maplehurst’s threshold.

Back then I didn’t know a thing about keeping an old house cool in the summer. What I knew was the artificial hum of the central air-conditioning in our Florida split-level and the surprisingly detailed dream that began to visit us in that lonely place. We called it the farmhouse dream, but it was always about so much more than a house. It was a vision of growing roots, cultivating beauty, and opening the doors to neighbors, wanderers, and pilgrims – near and far. It was a vision of home.

Built in 1880, Maplehurst is a square, red-brick farmhouse wrapped in a white-spindled porch. It sits at the top of a Pennsylvania hill surrounded by a small island of land. Once long ago, the wavy glass of the home’s old windows framed a view of fields. Today, where crops once spread in cultivated rows, we see only builders’ homes and polished sidewalks. A long, looping, split-rail fence separates what is left of the farm from our neighbors’ newly seeded lawns.

On that first day, I felt my dream of home become reality as I touched the warm wood of the banister’s graceful curve. I stood on the stairs trying to catch my breath, the humid air too heavy for my lungs, and I should have known. I should have recognized the moment for what it was. I had arrived at both the beginning and the end of a journey.

A few weeks after moving in, one of my boys slid belt-buckle down and carved a deep scratch the entire length of that beautiful banister. Somehow I most clearly grasp the living reality of my dream come true when I touch that scratch or remember the miserable heat of that first day. We live in a good world shackled by decay. A world that always seems to fall at least a little bit short of its own promise. Yet glory dwells here too. Heaven and earth meet in scratches and scars. In broken banisters and in a Body broken for us.

What is a placemaker to do? I polish the scratched wood. Jonathan smooths the splinters in the old oak floor. I grow my own strawberries now, but I still serve that strawberry salad. And in these small and ordinary ways, we cultivate our own patch of earth that it might better reflect a heavenly reality.


Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English Literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for a farmhouse, a garden, and a blog. Her book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is available from Revell. Connect with her and discover more about life in a Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst on her blog or on Instagram.

The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality (Guest Post by Ashley Hales)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 1/5 Leith Walk BMT, Edinburgh, UK

We wore our wool coats in the middle of a southern California summer, waved goodbye to our mothers, and boarded a plane to Scotland a year after we said our “I do’s.” We touched down in northern Scotland a day later, bleary-eyed and discombobulated watching a foreign countryside fly past on the wrong side of the road.

When we made it south to Edinburgh a fortnight later, we were struck we didn’t know what “BMT” stood for — the ending to our first address as expat postgraduate students in Britain. It was the basement and when we’d creaked open that peeling paint of the blue main door and walked down the stairs, we realized why our rent was so cheap. We’d imagined all sorts of exotic sounding appellations for BMT with no idea that it meant a “basement” flat with one tiny window to let in the light.

We didn’t know enough to be sorely disappointed. We hadn’t yet puffed ourselves up with multiple children and proper jobs to feel we were entitled to a better habitation. It was sufficient. It was what we could afford. We could walk the several miles to university and back. We could make it work. There was enough love and tea to go around. And plenty of books.

That was the flat with spongy wallpaper, a textured sort of wall covering that would leave the mark of your finger’s indentation when pressed. We’d covered it in a neutral cream paint hoping to erase some of its garishness. We had to duck under the water tank to make it to the too-small toilet. Our “bedroom” was small enough that my new husband slept against the cold wall in our double bed and we both trudged along the small path between the other wall and the red carpet. Day after day.

Plopped into a different country, into a world of postgraduate studies where our American dollar didn’t stretch far and everything from our clothes to our voices showed we were foreigners, we kept our heads down and did what we came for. We studied. We had made friends, we were a part of a church, but these were ancillary to our primary purpose. That first autumn we traded a life for books. We left Leith Walk early with scarves and umbrellas up over our necks, our thoughts to ourselves, our lives on a mission that curved from university to work to home. There were moments, of course, when my thoughts and visions strayed — to what I was reading, to the way the waning light hit Arthur’s Seat, to how Edinburgh Castle stood sentinel to a city steeped in history, to how all the philosophers I read about walked about in this same northwesterly wind as I did. How we were all kin.

But on the whole, my husband and I were there to be present for degrees, for knowledge, for all that scholarships and living overseas provided two, young expats.  So when my husband’s sister-in-law asked about what fun we’d had, we looked confused.

The cinderblock walls were chilled. The move to northern climes meant the world grew dark during mid-afternoon tea time. After that first semester, with our minds enriched, but our bodies and souls frail and flailing, we vowed a different life.  We’d had no fun. A too-small, too-cold place would turn into a home.

We’d paint those spongy walls. We’d burn candles over good conversation. We’d buy cheap wine and whisky and invite new Scottish friends over for a homemade meal even if their knees bumped against ours under the table. All it took was an open door, a willingness to be present and offer what little we had. We practiced cooking in a kitchen where each limb could touch a cabinet, fridge, sink, washer (yes, in the kitchen), or oven. We burned tapers down. We laughed. We feasted on leftovers from the French cafe I worked in, we tried our hand at cooking Indian curries, we shared our half bottles of wine, and cupped mugs of milky Scottish Blend tea in chilled fingertips.

When we moved out of that first flat two years later, our Canadian friends commented they hadn’t imagined we’d stay that long in that little basement flat — the one with spongy wallpaper and the dank mustiness and darkness of a basement. It was true, it was cramped and cold; it felt inadequate, especially in light of the new flat we were moving into courtesy of my husband’s seminary. Yet it was there in those cramped quarters where we learned not only to be a married couple, but how hospitality blossoms like the gospel. We had nothing to give each other, or new friends that could bridge the distance of cultural difference. Yet, when we place what little we have on a small table with our knees bumping, and give it as a gift, it grows. The place itself is no longer the center. In hindsight the spongy wallpaper became dear, not because of its quaintness to reimagine like a romantic artifact, but because it is ugly and small. Just the same, it’s offered as a gift of welcome. It beckons: come and see, come and see.


ashley-hales-profile-pictureAshley Hales is a writer, mama to 4, and a wife to a church planter. She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, much of which was completed living in the spongy-wallpered flat. She lives in southern California and is now writing a book on the suburbs with InterVarsity Press. 

When Martha Stewart Came for Christmas (Guest Post by Margaret Philbrick)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for When Martha Stewart Came for Christmas

Margaret Philbrick

You might remember it, the Martha Stewart “Living” craze. Decking the halls with handmade boxwood garlands grown in your backyard while the family gathers around the kitchen table, toddlers cutting wire and weaving a holly laced masterpiece for your banister. Or, perhaps you bought a few chickens and built a coop only to be told by police that suburban farming is forbidden on plots of land under an acre. I fell in love with Martha Stewart’s perfect image of home in 1996 and I paid the price one Christmas.

After studying my reservoir of “Living” magazines during the fall prior to my in-laws coming, I knew this would be our most beautiful Christmas ever. My mind was swimming in gourmet menus, elaborate decorations and enriching holiday activities suggested for family fun.  I knew I couldn’t execute this grand vision alone so I enlisted my husband to “help” in the evenings for two full weeks leading up to their arrival. They were his parents after all. We forced ourselves to stop at 1:00am each night/morning after drinking pots of echinacea tea, praying that Martha’s vision of beauty would keep us healthy until Christmas morning.

During those two weeks we spray painted gold all our dried hydrangea and made garlands for the dining room, filled the fireplace with dozens of forced narcissus bulbs, dipped chocolate onto styrofoam cups until it formed a perfectly pure, white chocolate cup which we stuffed with mousse and garnished with a holly leaf, from our yard, of course. Take a deep breath, we were just getting started. By Christmas dinner, fresh goose with reduction sauce and phyllo dough wrapped mushroom “presents” graced each plate, my mother noticed me dozing off at the dinner table. It all looked grand, but exhaustion kicked in. Martha’s magazines never explained how to combat fatigue while executing ideas which she supported with a massive staff at her multiple homes.

After the guests packed up and headed home in a snowstorm, I knelt by the side of my bed and cried out my confession. “Lord, how did I lose you this Christmas? Please forgive me for making the external appearance of our home more important than your humble birth in Bethlehem. I ask for the strength to keep you at the center of our home celebrations, that your light and truth might shine  brighter than the lights on our Christmas tree.” What a mess I’d made of Christmas by cowering to the ways of the world and seeking Martha’s glory instead of the glory of God. I left behind the empty boxes, strands of Christmas lights strewn across the living room floor and stepped out into the crystalline beauty of fresh snow and tart winter air. With every crunch underfoot He reminded me, “Though your sins are as scarlet I’ve washed them white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18.

I’ve never invited Martha back for Christmas. Instead, willing myself to forego the temptation of creating the perfect outward Christmas appearance and allowing him to “Come and make our home with us.” John 14:23. Let the events unfold in the Holy Spirit this holiday season with a flexibility, grace and ease that only comes when Jesus keeps His place at the head of the table and in the heart of our home.


philbrick-5Margaret Philbrick is an author, gardener and teacher who desires to plant seeds in hearts. She writes novels, poetry and essays and blogs at www.margaretphilbrick.com.  Currently, Margaret is working on a video curriculum for the best selling book, Messy Grace by Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach.  

All are Welcome Here (Guest Post by Jamie Calloway-Hanauer)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for As a diehard introvert and perfectionist, sharing my daily space with someone who really, really likes to know what I’m writing, what I’m reading, where I’m going is a drag. Especially when that person is not the neatnik I hoped for. And marriage usually leads to kids, who are some of my favorite people, but more work than you’ll ever know until you have them and by then it’s too late. 

Sharing space also means sharing decisions. Decisions about daily tasks, future careers, about how that space is used, or not used, and if the latter, what space will replace it.

To wit, someday you might just give up your $250,000 law degree from one of the nation’s top law schools to stay home and clean someone else’s pee off the toilet. And on yet another day, you might move your household of six + one dog 3000 miles away, single-handedly no less, so your spouse can pursue what he or she wants to do, even though it’s pretty much dead last on your list of desires and it means you can probably never practice law again, or eat a monthly meal at your favorite restaurant, and even causes you to lose all your editing clients and go without publishing an article for five months while you recover from the agony of a solo parent move while your husband—I mean spouse—stays at a friend’s place across the country, watching late night TV and reading Grantland. You know. For example.

After two years of sharing that 3000-miles-away space, you may realize that your two years of anger and resentment have melted into the realization that the new home, the home you were forced to have, is something that you’ve come to love. Because in this home, this giant monstrosity of a home, your new community has been built.

Parties have been thrown, pizza eaten, baseball watched, cake sliced, and children loved more times than you can count.

No doubt: our homes are our own. They are our places of privacy and pajamas and make-up free days with coffee dribbled down our shirts.

Home is sanctuary.

But home is also an invitation to community. A place to which you can open the doors and say, “Come on in. I will make my safe space vulnerable for you, because you are someone I want to know, and because I love you already, even without knowing you.” It’s an invitation to have monthly dinners, at the first of which you try to channel Jesus, serving what you know is too-little soup, but just knowing God will make it stretch. But then God won’t and everyone will leave hungry, but come back the next month anyway, by which time you’ll have realized no one can channel Jesus and so you’d better plan for contingencies.

And then later, maybe even while retelling the soup-shortage-story, you’ll realize that it was in the repeat customers to the monthly meal that God’s provision came. You should have known.

But let’s face it: home is nothing more than a material object. A treasure to cling to too tightly when it should be held loosely. An opportunity to show off airs, obsess over throw pillows, spend money that really should have gone to charity. But how we use our homes … that makes all the difference.

Home is a ministry.

A place for teaching babies, both yours and those of others, to grow into adults. To cry over coffee with a friend who just “stopped by,” but ended up staying for two hours when her heart broke wide over something you must have said but you can’t even imagine what. A place where material objects can be used to set a beautiful table that brings joy into guests’ heart because someone cared enough to make things special. A place where it’s okay to serve friends on paper plates and out of bags and Tupperware.

How ridiculous I was, those two long years ago, when I thought home was based on location and decoration and remodeling efforts. My broken heart and lingering resentment were nothing more than a hard but necessary lesson learned: home is not where our hearts are. Instead it is a place where the heart of community first learns to beat.


jamie-calloway-hanauer-photo Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a mother, wife, writer,  recovering attorney, and M.Div. student. You can visit her at her at her blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Eat with Joy: Book review, author interview and giveaway!

jenmichel@me.com

Eatwithjoy(Leave a comment today and enter to win a free copy of Rachel Marie Stone's Eat with Joy!) * * * * *

I’ve learned to watch for spring’s arrival in asparagus and rhubarb stalks. And it has arrived – finally! – here in Toronto. After our farmer’s market spree this past weekend, we celebrated with strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert and bacon-wrapped baked eggs and poached asparagus for Sunday breakfast. (Find the original recipe for the eggs here).

As they say, food is love.  And I say, pass the romance – it’s finally in season.

It’s probably easiest to read Rachel Marie Stone’s Eat with Joy (Intervarsity Press, 2013) in the spring, when the farmer’s market is coming alive with color and texture. Where’s the corn? Andrew asked optimistically this past Saturday as we strolled through asparagus and rhubarb, fiddleheads and pea shoots.

Not yet, I said. But July’s coming fast.

Reading Rachel Marie Stone’s wonderful book about eating that is joyful, generous, communal, restorative, sustainable, creative and redemptive is a perfect entrée into the spring and summer harvests, and I want to highly recommend it to you, whether or not you are the one who actually does the cooking in your home. In fact, I recently just told my husband that he’s going to need to read this book. It says what I feel about food, I told him.

Stone does a beautiful job of setting the table theologically for the idea that food is more than fuel. She takes her cues from the creation and salvation narratives, which portray God as the gracious host of creation. “[In the garden of Eden], we eat because God, having prepared for and welcomed us as honored guests, loves to feed us.” In the New Testament, of course, Christians have a meal, which Jesus commends as a way to remember him, and we’re looking forward to a feast, which he will prepare for us as the wedding supper of the Lamb. Everything in the book flows from this idea that God welcomes us, feeds us, hosts us, and here are several examples of how her theology implicates practice:

Hospitality. “Eating with others and inviting people over and cooking for them in your house are things worth doing, and here’s why: because we need to take turns being guest and host, like Jesus did. We need to go to awkward meals at other awkward people’s messy houses and have people over to our awkward, messy houses because that’s where grace comes to us - in the awkwardness and in the mess.”

Slow Food. “I do think that overemphasizing speed and convenience can rob us of the sense that food is important - a way in which God extends loving care to us - and an important way for us to practice God-given creativity while celebrating God’s own creation.”

Justice. “If we hold them (those who prepared our food) in our minds and bring them before God, we will not remain numb to their suffering and eat the fruits of their labor in ignorance.”

Gratitude. “Slowing down, paying attention to the food and to the people who made it and with whom we’re eating allows us to take in more deeply the pleasures of the table, made possible by the hand of the God who feeds us all.”

Stone’s book is more than theoretical, however. It is filled with beautiful stories (my particular favorite is how Rachel took steak to 91-year-old Jack every Saturday night in the nursing home!) and practical advice for how to get started in the practice of joyful eating. There are prayers at the end of every chapter (I’ve included my favorite below) as well as delicious recipes (I tried the black bean and corn quinoa – yum!).

And for those of us generally overwhelmed with the thought of one more responsibility, Stone’s book is more delight than duty. You won’t find the book heavy on condemnation for eating food that is processed or trucked in from Argentina. In fact, the spirit of the project and the tone of the book is gracious; I find Stone willingly grants a lot of room for our humanity. We don’t get things all right all the time, nor is any of us really capable of overhauling all of our habits today.

“Don’t despise the small but significant act,” says Stone, quoting from N.T. Wright, and that’s just the kind of invitation I think galvanizes courage for change.

In the final chapter, Stone addresses the “less than perfect” food situations in which she and her family sometimes find themselves. Though she obviously holds strongly to ideas about food and table, she doesn’t wish for those ideas to become a club of judgment wielded against those who do not.

“I’m a Christian first; and as strongly as I feel about food as a conduit of God’s love and as a site for loving God and neighbor, choosing the ‘right’ kind of food (whatever that is) is much less important to me than giving thanks to God and being kind to my neighbor.”

You’ll find reason for guiltlessly feasting – on grace AND on pie – when you read Rachel Marie Stone’s Eat With Joy.

And I hope you will.

* * * * *

“God of the just weight,

and the fair measure,

let me remember the hands,

that harvested my food, my drink,

not only in my prayers,

but in the marketplace.

Let me not seek a bargain

That leaves another hungry.”

* * * * *

Here are some questions I asked Rachel, who is a fellow contributor at Christianity Today’s blog for women.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for American families wanting to "eat with joy?"

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles for many families is the sense many of us have that meals must either be gourmet, Pinterest-worthy affairs or else that cooking and eating meals together is a waste of time. In other words, I think many families feel pressure on the one hand to make every meal an ‘event,’ and on the other, that meals aren’t worth the time it takes to make and eat them together. Many families are really busy, and feel they don’t have the time to sit down and eat together. This often leads to eating fast food a bit too often and to a sense that meals are less important than whatever we’re rushing through them to get to: soccer practice, music lessons, church events.

What are your particular challenges to eating with joy in Malawi? (Rachel lives in Africa with her family.)

It is sobering to realize how many people in the world still really struggle with food security; how many children experience stunted growth and intellectual limitation simply from not getting enough to eat, or enough fat and protein. At the same time, encountering these hard truths on a regular basis reminds me of the importance of gratitude for what we have, the need for wise stewardship of what resources we’re blessed with.

You offer so many points of action in your book (which are WONDERFUL). But if I'm in a family who eats processed food or dines out (and NEVER cooks), what first small step do I take toward implementing "joyful eating?"

I’d suggest trying a new ‘from-scratch’ recipe or two each week. And start with something simple…like pancakes from scratch. Many, many things that we’ve grown accustomed to buying prepared or in a mix are actually startlingly easy to make yourself. It can be really satisfying, for example, to make a cake or muffins NOT from a boxed mix. It’s so much easier than many people realize.

Do you have any particular cookbooks you like recommending?

I certainly do! I love the Mennonite Central Committee cookbooks—More With Less, Extending the Table, and Simply in Season—the recipes are simple, healthy, and frugal, and the goal of each of the cookbooks is to get people cooking and eating with greater mindfulness toward issues of hunger in the world while encouraging them to enjoy new foods. They influenced my thinking about food tremendously. In a totally different vein, I love the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, especially the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. These recipes come out perfectly every time (if you follow them exactly!) because they’ve been tested extensively, and they have great explanations of the science behind certain results—why, for example, cookie recipes tell you to add eggs “one at a time, beating after each addition.”

In the process of writing the book, did you ever feel you were too busy to cook in the ways that you wanted to and that you were commending to readers? Were you able to continue your ministry of hospitality?

This is where community life is fantastic. My mom and dad were around to help out with practical things, and my husband was able to give me extra time to work on the book. So I did, for the most part, continue with our regular sorts of meals. Cooking is such a different activity from writing that it was actually great to step away from the computer and do something that engaged more of my senses. However, there were a few times during the writing of this book—when I’d be out for the day writing in libraries and coffee shops—when I’d be so engaged that I’d forget to eat. How’s that for irony!?

(More about book writing) What is the biggest lesson about writing that you learned in the process of writing your first book? What worked? What didn't? And what will your second book be about?

The biggest lesson about the process is that it is just that: a process. Six years ago I wrote out almost a full manuscript of a book very like the one I just published, and eventually scrapped it. That’s right—scrapped it, and started over. It didn’t have the focus I wanted, but it helped me find the heart of what I really wanted to say. And when I found that, creating a new outline and writing new chapters flowed pretty organically.

I also learned that there is no formula, no single right way to write any single chapter or any book for that matter. I used to think that I ‘had’ to structure things a certain way, and I learned that this isn’t true!

As for the second book, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with the folks at Olive Branch Books/Peace Hill Press on their series of religious education curricula for children. God’s Upside Down Kingdom, a book about Jesus, will be out later this year.

 

 

 

A View from the Kitchen: Why your pile of pots and pans matters this Christmas

jenmichel@me.com

"It must be nice to be a man," I told Ryan in the aftermath of our family Christmas. We'd shared our traditional dinner and unwrapped gifts with the children before leaving Toronto for the holidays. All the responsibilities for cooking and shopping, cleaning and wrapping had, like most years, fallen almost entirely on my shoulders. And goodness, can I really complain about that? I mean, if Ryan works hard enough to bring home the bacon, can't I at least cook it?

But to what degree I cook it with a charitable spirit is always up for grabs.Though Christmas should traditionally be a season of joy, in truth, I can battle with resentment about the extra domestic work it requires of me.

And this is why I wrote my most recent post at her.meneutics. If you've been reading here for any length of time, you know well enough that I don't often write about the areas of my life over which I feel mastery or control. (And by the way, I'm not even sure what those areas are.) Instead, I write in order to preach the sermons I most need to hear. I write as a way of living into what I know to be true but have a harder time absorbing.

This is true of my most recent post, which I hope you'll read and find as a source of encouragement for your kitchen work this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Setting the Thanksgiving Table (cheap and crafty!)

jenmichel@me.com

The girls and I had fun this weekend, shopping at Michael's and doing an easy craft for our place cards. We also made some very inexpensive candle centerpieces. I found tons of ideas at pinterest. (Do you know about pinterest yet? You can collect all kinds of pictures and ideas for everything from fashion to crafts to recipes to decorating, and then you design your own virtual bulletin boards. First, you have to request an invite from the site. Or, because I'm a member, I can invite you, so let me know in the comment box if you want me to help.) So, for the placecards. Time consuming, yes, but if you have children that like to use scissors (and can do so safely!), this is a great way to spend some time together. (No, Andrew and Colin were not invited to participate in this activity!)

I am not much of an artist at all, but this is pretty easy to draw. The body, the feathers - I did it freehand. We also bought metallic spray paint for the clothespins, but I have a feeling that we were feeling overly ambitious at that point. We'll be skipping that step (and saving ourselves $10 once I return the paint to Michael's).

These turkeys will be our table place cards, and each person will write on each individual feather something she's thankful for. I might have some groaning about this from some of the boys around the table, but I'm making the turkey, so I figure I'm calling the shots! Here is our cheap and easy candle centerpiece. I made three of these and will use them along with pumpkins for setting the table. We layered popcorn and different colored beans. I bought the candles ($1.50) and the jars ($2.00) at the dollar store. And if I'm feeling ambitious, I'll have the kids sort the beans after the holidays and I'll bag them to re-use next year.

Happy Thanksgiving!