Mise en Place

comments: 65

Sewing3 I read this post over at Ivonne's blog, Cream Puffs in Venice, sometime this past summer. I really love Ivonne's blog — it's the first food blog I've read, and continues to be my favorite. Last spring, Ivonne began attending continuing-education classes at a local college in effort to earn her Baking Certificate. I really admire her for doing this; I don't know why there's always something so poignant about the idea of going back to school as an "adult." Ivonne's honesty and . . . earnestness . . . in this post, written after her very first class, really moves me. She talks about how she discovered she was sort of impatient, and rushing, especially through things she thought she already knew how to do. She said, "I sacrificed the quality of dough simply to appease my own sense of urgency in getting the job done. I won't make that mistake again. I am really going to work hard, both in class and at home, at taking the time to get all the steps right."

I don't know why I, too, tend to rush through things, or where that habit develops, or whether it's cultural, or contemporary, or timeless, or just plain human, and inevitable. When it comes to crafting, I assume it's further complicated because it's often, also, "working," for me. Like with any job, as fun as this one is, there are days when I just want to be done. Free to do my own thing. For which I always feel guilty. And so I rush it, looking over my shoulder, apologizing for taking the time. I think there must always be this conflict, when you turn what you love into what you "do." And when you work at home, the boundaries are further blurred, because they aren't really physical. Around here, the boundaries are pretty psychological. Lots of "work" happens on the "couch." But I feel like I rush things on both sides, the work and the play. I've talked about this before, but it's something I realize is a constant issue.

Ivonne's post moved me because I aspire to approach the things that I do with not just a certain speed (in this case, "slower,") but with the idea that there is inherent value in doing things patiently, happily, correctly — a value appreciated, most significantly, by the do-er herself. (I mean, you, as the receiver, might appreciate that it was done well, of course — but it's really the do-er that reaps the benefits that are part-and-parcel of having done it at all.) And often in order to do them right, I notice that I must slow down, have patience, attend. Prepare. Clear spaces. Get the right stuff together. My mother always used those steel straight pins that were about one inch long and had no glass heads and would send your machine into convulsions when you hit them. The feed dogs on her machine (which was ancient even then) never worked, so you had to learn to pull the fabric through yourself. For years and years and years I pulled fabric, and used the same thick pins, which it turns out, make life very difficult. But that was what we had, and what we did. I must have really loved to sew. Nevertheless, the conditions in which I first learned to do it became conditions I maintained long after circumstances had changed; I could've bought my own pins anytime in the last twenty years, I just didn't, even until recently. And there are so many other things about the way I approach the world, my work, and my spaces and stuff that I want to improve.

Sewing5 Mise en place is a French cooking term used to describe having all ingredients and materials prepared up to the point of actual cooking. This is not often how I actually live. But it is what I aspire to. I aspire to make it my habit, and automatic.

I also kind of want to go back to school. To study history. RANDOM! I do, though. Andy is probably flipping out reading this right now thinking Good grief! What is this girl gonna think of next. I know. I can't help it. It's always something.


I love the sewing stuff. Lovely pictures and thoughts.

You're right that we could be more thoughtful, in the moment, enjoying the journey. What's REALLY going on at any given moment in our day is CONSCIOUSNESS. What our attention is on, how we view our activities, how connected we feel to our spiritual source while doing them. When we don't feel connected, we're just cheating ourselves.

In the big picture, finishing the quilt isn't as important as how I feel during the making of the quilt, the vibes I'm putting into it, my thoughts about the person who will receive it, and my attention being in the present. Sometimes I'm saving my happiness for when the project is done. Oh yeah? Why not just be happy now, in the doing?

Note to Self: Life is short, enjoy all of it.

History? You might like this site.
My old high school teacher went to too many Grateful Dead concerts back in his day, and came up with this neat-o way to learn history. He's earned national teaching awards for it. Now that I'm working as an editor, I've been using my down time to go back and read flowcharts, and realizing how ingrained that type of logic-system is for me, even if I didn't remember the actual lessons!

Another lovely post. -- If you have not read any poetry by Mary Oliver - give her a look. So much of her work is about attention and taking the time to notice and appreciate. It is about now, and resisting the urge to always be looking ahead two steps. She writes mostly about the natural world and her poetry is beautiful.

lovely corners, dear.

I read this essay by a doctor who was on vacation with his family at a house on a lake. He wanted to invite another family over for the next day. The phone at the house was a rotary phone. As he explains it, with every laborous dial he had to make, his frustration and impatience mounted and mounted....especially having to wait for the dial to get back into position in order for him to do the next number. By the time he completed the phone number, he was agitated, ticked off and irritated at how "long" it took him to dial the number. After the phone call, he realized how insane his feeling were as he literally had all day to make that phone call. There was no earthly reason to need to rush through the dialing. He then made himself dial the number back and be there for each rotation.

I LOVED this essay because it showed how we unconsiously put ourselves into "hypergear" when there is no reason to do so. It becomes almost an automatic respose to "rush" through something even when there is nothing waiting at the end of that task.

It's so timely you wrote this because it's something that has been with me ever since I read that article. Thank you!!

I agree it is really hard to live in the moment, not rushing life away as the pace of life seems to be so fast it starts to be (un)natural to race through everything we do, even the things we enjoy. I have been trying recently to slow down and savour the moment.
Also well done for planning a return to learning, I had a night school course as one of my goals for this year, but haven't done anything about choosing one yet!

I wonder about mise en place as well. I wonder if it just happens after years of parents telling you to hurry, 4+ years in college of goffing off and then trying not to be late to class. It is almost like we do not enjoy our quiet time enough. If we actually scheduled that time to some degree, put off everything else, maybe we would slow down. Schedule your down time, so you keep yourself from wanting down time when you need to be doing something else. I am not sure. I also think it is a product of society and it will eventually get worse. I am not sure if you have watched the American Girl movies at all (I know you are an adult, but I think I would have watched them even without Emma), but in Samantha the "grandmother" so to speak is working away at her embroidery.. almost like "hey, it is in the afternoon, it is time for me to do nothing but sit and do embroidery.no interruptions please." What happened to those days? Oh yeah.. TV, computers and video games.. How I long for the days when towns/neighborhoods had big get togethers and everyone came because well, to be honest, what else were you going to do?

Was that long enough? I think you put it much more eloquently though.

I could not have said it better then how Lilli said it!

I'm curious what you're making Alicia! Seeing the photo made me think of the those awesome Japanese flower head pins and a quilting mishap of mine. I once stitched over the heads and didn't even know it until I went to press.

I had a colleague back in social work grad school who made a comment that has stayed with me 15 years on, now. We were anticipating a rare day off and I mentioned that I didn't have any but domestic plans. And she replied, "...so you'll just move quietly throughout your day." I am sure that I didn't, of course, being a rusher-about like the rest of us. But I've aspired to it all the thousands of days since, and sometimes achieved it. It's a worthy aspiration...mise en place.

Whoa. I was just thinking about slowing down a bit myself. Always doing, getting through, and thinking about the next thing. Never just enjoying where I'm at. Reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert right now. It speaks to this topic. You might enjoy it.

I really appreciated the thoughts about rushing and urgency. I give myself deadlines all the time for things, and act like they've been externally imposed on me. I get all crazed and hurried. Where does this come from? I have no idea. And then I lose the joy of the process.

Good stuff. And your work is always so lovely.

Me too. My first degree was in English Lit., but I love history. Instead of going back to school though, I have taken to checking out history books on tape from the Library. There are so many good ones. I like the revolutionary period and I have recently "listened" to books about John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. You are so inventive yourself you will love Benjamin Franklin, An American Life. It's just wonderful. The library is a great resource and you can listen to all these books while you sew, paint, whatever. I do this everyday while I paint and I usually get through two books a week. It has made doing what I do so much more fun. Ofcourse you can't listen while you measure, design, or plan something. But, I'm sure you do things like I have to like, put on the base coats of paint etc.
The part you wrote about things taking time. This is something that drives me crazy. Should I paint the most elaborate box I can and sell it for more, really showing off my best work. Or, is it better to make things more simple and offer them for lower prices. If you ever are sure of the answer pass along the wisdom. Love this post Alicia!

I'll tell ya, when I take the time to set up a proper mise en place when cooking or baking, the whole process is such a pleasure. It's the same with sewing. The hard part is *remembering* that the extra time spent in preparation will be worth it, because I, too, just want to be done. Why? I just do. Thank you for the reminder.

Oh, and as for going back to school? I think about it all the time. Why? I just do. :) Don't you miss the formal learning process just a little?

it's always something with me too. heheheehe

i feel like something i haven't slowed down to do lately is read this blog. one of the highlights of my day has always been reading your blog first thing in the morning. now i have a new job which doesn't allow me to do that. i'm sorry friend.

i like the idea of slowing down though when working on projects. this past weekend i broke the needle on my sewing machine doing things too quickly and not thinking.

today i'm home resting trying to fight off a cold and that has slowed me down. thankfully today i get to read your blog.

slow is good.

those blue and white checks look so dorothy in wizard of oz.

ah urgency, being a homeopath I tend to understand it as a manifestation of our inborn state or character. the technical term is miasm (in general) and a tubercular type (in specific).

Being of tubercular nature myself, I am always reminding myself to slow done and smell the roses. But on the positive side it does help a person accomplish things, even if their mise-en-place is far from perfect.

The hardest part for me (and yet, oddly, somehow the most enjoyable) is learning to be okay with the process of not being where I want to be just yet as in - it's okay that I rushed that, let that go, try again for this time. And being gentle with myself, being kind. Progress not perfection is my motto! At least I want it to be. :)

I love this post. I am impatient with nearly everything, which is no way to really live. It is so hard to retrain myself to be in the moment, to take the time needed to do things with the attention they deserve. And our fast production-oriented culture doesn't help.

I ditto the Mary Oliver suggestion.

LOL. I giggled at the end-I think my husband says that alot.

I too would like to work on being prepared ahead-to make things easier-to be more efficient.

I would love to go back for art history.

I became a yoga teacher at 34, not too unusual. My husband is an attorney who is going back to school for a Design/Build certfication in sustainable construction methods. Basically, he wants to be an environmentally friendly carpenter. We're never really done are we? Gotta give each other room to grow.

Hello! I have been hearing about your amazing blog and creative world for ages though my favorite black apple. I am also married to a Nurse Andy who is a musician... I wish I could train him to make me eggrolls! I really love your aesthetics (and your dog) and will be visiting often!

mise en place...something i should do myself. it would make me slow down and then i would relish the experience. good food for thought. thanks alicia.

yes to all of it. (go history!)

Amen to everything you said. I must learn to slow down and enjoy the process of creating. And I would love to go to back to school [again]...maybe art school?

Lovely pictures. I also just spoke about impatience. I think that the world tends to rush us. When I was little, I remember everyday seeming like an eternity, and now sometimes I look up and realize that the time in between 9 and 4 felt equivalent to an hour. Especially when it comes to creating, I find it easy to rush because the end result can be so gratifying. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to actually feel gratification with the process. Wonderful post, once again.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.