Originally published as a TinyLetter

I can understand why some people with young children don’t go anywhere. Darren and I have to move mountains every time we leave the house with the kids, and often we’re scrambling at the last minute. Don’t forget the diaper bag. Argh, the baby’s bottles aren’t prepped. Buddy, where’s your other shoe?!

Managing this day to day is challenging enough, but traveling takes it to a whole new level. This week we are in the Nashville area on the annual Schwindaman family trip that Darren long ago dubbed “Schwindamania.” I’m realizing how many items I wish I’d brought, and how the ones I did bring are scattered willy-nilly around our vacation rental. Yesterday I spent a frenzied 30 minutes pinballing around the house, gathering supplies and toys for our excursion.

“What I need is some damn mise-en-place,” I thought.

If you watch cooking shows, you’re probably familiar with mise-en-place, the system that chefs use to prepare their utensils and ingredients for cooking. It’s pronounced meez-on-plahss and is French for “put in place.”

This NPR piece explores mise-en-place as a way of being that chefs carry with them outside of the kitchen.

“You mise-en-place your life,” said Alexandra Tibbats, a student at the Culinary Institute of America. “You set up your books for class, you set up your chef whites, your shoes are shined, you know everything that you need every step of the day.”

Another CIA student said, “It really is a way of life … it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.”

Another principle of mise-en-place is “slow down to speed up.” Telepan chef and owner Bill Telepan explains: “I always say, ‘Look, I’d rather you take an extra minute or two and slow up service to get it right.’ Because the one minute behind you are now is going to become six minutes behind because we’re going to have to redo the plate.”

I can’t stand the frenzied mental state that comes from not preparing well, at work or at home. It sets me up to get mad at myself for being late, holding other people up, and making mistakes. That’s energy I could expend in more productive ways — on playing with the kids, for example, or on creative projects.

Mise-en-place is incredibly rewarding when it works as intended. When the baby soaked through her diaper while we were out and about, I grabbed the large Ziploc bag I’d packed with supplies and quickly changed her into a fresh onesie. I didn’t need to hunt for what I needed or get upset because I didn’t have it. I could just move on and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with the family.

Setting out what you need now, with everything in its place, sets you up to calmly move through the day and spend your limited energy wisely. Mise-en-place, like I always say. :)

 what’s fueling me




  • A flight of three half-scoops from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (I could eat a whole pint of their signature Brambleberry Crisp)
  • A karaoke machine in the vacation rental (with “I Want It That Way,” “Ice Ice Baby,” and a bunch of Britney)
  • Playing guitar and singing with my brother-in-law (we killed “Down in the Valley” by the Head and the Heart)
  • A morning walk in the sunshine
  • Sitting on the porch with the family, sipping a beer and just taking a minute to breathe


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Image via Stijn Nieuwendijk

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