Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew 📚

It’s finally time to build our vegetable garden

I read Square Foot Gardening yesterday, two weeks into social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the two are only partially related.

We moved into a beautiful 100 year old farmhouse almost four years ago. The two previous owners loved to garden and created a beautiful English garden surrounding our home. Rose bushes, ornamental trees, stone lined paths, bird baths and more. It was gorgeous. And when we moved in we really wanted to dive into taking care of it. But even then, I knew that I don’t really care that much about flowers. I really wanted to plant a vegetable garden.

Fast forward four years, plus two babies we didn’t know we could even have, and our flower gardening ambitions are dead. D-E-A-D, dead. We have not been able to keep up with it. And at this point we don’t even want to. The stone lined paths now look like death traps for the two little humans we have that can barely walk. The flower beds are overgrown. It’s a mess. So during this self-imposed quarantine we are ripping them all out. We’re going back to a (hopefully) beautiful lawn, with some shrubs, and a lot fewer life-threatening rocks.

“All New Square Foot Gardening”

But we are going to put in that vegetable garden. I want to put in the effort to grow food for our family and now seems like the right time. We have the free time to start a new garden, and certainly reducing trips to the grocery store over the coming months seems like a good idea. The only question is, why would this effort be any more successful than the last four year’s failed efforts at keeping up with our degenerating English garden?

Well, Square Foot Gardening seems to be the answer. Starting with one small four foot by four foot bed, we should be able to grow enough vegetables for one salad every day of the growing and harvest seasons. Add another one or two over the course of the summer and we can produce a lot more than that. The heart of this book’s method is to create a mix of soil that is made specifically to grow vegetables, resist weeds, and retains water to an exceptional degree. It’s a method that’s been around for decades with good results. And the yields it’s delivered over time suggest that it will be worth the time and the money.

It’s the cost which also seems to be the only downside. It’s not cheap to make your own soil, especially when requirements are high and the whole method is tuned specially for it. You can’t really take shortcuts or skimp. But, given the advantages it promises (and the results that many, many people have attested too) it seems this approach will be one we can make work. Additionally, when the whole yard is lawn again, we’ll have more free time to maintain just the vegetable garden.

We are planning on building this garden in the next few weeks. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll post updates if it goes well. If it doesn’t, well, you know.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon 📚

An immensely helpful entry in Kleon’s growing practical philosophy for the working artist

“Keep Going” by Austin Kleon

My wife got used to the small creative experiments and exercises that I take up pretty early in our marriage. From fiddling with a Rubik’s cube to occasional collaging, and now to a steady flow of ideas for how to get our little ones engaged in making art, she entertains them all. And she’s even stopped asking me where they come from. Because she knows they almost always originate from the books and blog of Austin Kleon.

I’ve been a fan of Kleon’s since his first book, Steal Like an Artist was published in 2012. It came out at an interesting time for me. It was a time when I’d started writing again after several years off, and I was grappling with what that meant for my future. And it gave me a whole new view into what being a writer could—and perhaps should—be. That book profoundly shaped my creative process and the way I thought about making art. His next book was influential as well, but not to the same degree (though that’s a really high bar, to be honest). Needless to say, I’m thankful he wrote another.

Keep Going did not disappoint. I sat down yesterday and read it in two sittings. And I will start it again soon.

Kleon’s message is simple and right there in the title. For artists, the most important thing is to keep working. And after last year, that’s exactly what I needed to hear. But it’s more than just a simple piece of advice. Kleon advises his fellow artists to keep going that simple, practical, and inspirational. In the book he gives the reader 10 ways that an artist can persevere, day after day. These bits of guidance range from “Every Day is Groundhog Day” to “When in Doubt, Tidy Up.” But this book is not just full of practical advice. Kleon does something all too rare in the world of creativity, productivity, or (dare I say) self-help books, he manages to point the reader from the practicals to the bigger, philosophical issues at play. He does not start with some big, grand theory. Instead he starts with the practical, the everyday, and then leads the reader to bigger insights.

It was with this book that I realized Kleon is gradually building a fully fleshed out philosophical approach to creativity in the 21st century. Steal Like an Artist explains how artists and their voices are shaped and made. Show Your Work wrestles with the difficulties of getting art into the world, but also why the struggle is worth it. And in this installment, Kleon urges artists to persevere and he equips them with a mindset and the tools to do so. With this series of books, Kleon offers artists a very specific vision for creativity. And it’s a very good one. I for one hope he does not stop at only three books.

I am probably not an objective reviewer when it comes to this author, but I don’t really care. This book was immensely helpful and if you need a little push to keep making things, you should definitely pick it up.

New “What I’m Reading” & updated “Now” pages

Just a quick note to tell you that I’ve added a new page to the site to track what I’m reading. I try to keep up with short reviews of each book, but there’s no way I can keep up. This page will archive everything that I read going forward—good, bad, important, and not. Check it out here, or by clicking “More Topics” in the upper right of this page and going to the “Reading” page.

Also, I’ve updated my Now page with the latest updates on writing and ministry. As always, thanks for reading!

On the Anniversary of My Blog Falling Silent

What “The Year of Rebooting” really meant

It’s been exactly one year since I posted anything to this site. A few weeks before that last post, I put up a post explaining that my theme for 2019 was the “Year of Rebooting”. I expected to follow up on that often over the course of the year with my thoughts on productivity and planning while I worked out a new system. It was to be a sort of proving ground for some grand ideas. Of course, that’s not what happened.

Instead, not long after that post I realized that I was in no shape to share what I knew about planning and productivity. In fact, I could barely motivate myself to take care of the basic requirements of my work and family life. It turned out that the reboot I needed was not for my productivity system, but for my soul.

So I didn’t write for my blog. I didn’t build a new system. Instead I began to work through why, for the first time in my life, I had fallen into depression. My depression was circumstantial and lasted for a season—a long season, over a year. But in the process of healing I discovered what went wrong. With the help of my wife, a great counselor, friends, and more than anyone Jesus, I came to understand and accept the place I found myself in. It wasn’t permanent, but it was real. And admitting it allowed me to address what had gone sideways, where I failed, and how I reacted when tossed around by circumstance.1

I discovered that the word “control” explains much of my desire to be productive, useful, prolific, and respected. I want to control everything. Of course for a Christian this should be no surprise. This desire for omnipotence grows from the same root that produced rebellion in the Garden of Eden: a desire to be like God. And recent history has demonstrated that I am, in fact, not god-like at all. So for me, healing began with letting some things go. Letting go of unrealistic plans. Letting go of envy. Admitting that my desires are often—though not always—to control, to rule, and to reign.

Which brings me to the point I sat down to make. Planning and systems are good things. They help us understand how to accomplish goals and how to achieve worthy ends. Learning how to successfully plan and execute work and personal responsibilities is critical to having a meaningful and (actually) productive life. But no amount of planning can guarantee it. No system, philosophy, or technique can deliver perfection. And yet that is what I (and I’m guessing some of you) really want. We want to be in control. We want things our way. Because then—we think—it would be perfect.

But we cannot control everything. And we cannot make all things right.

So, sitting here at the end of the “Year of Rebooting” I don’t have some grand new system. I don’t have a plan that I’m confident in. And that’s actually a very good thing.

Because what lies ahead is what Jesus won for me: a clean slate.

  1. This is only my experience. Every experience of depression is unique. I cannot explain anyone else’s experience, and mine should not be used to understand or define someone else’s. I’m making no generalizations, this is just my story. 

Preaching for God’s Glory by Alistair Begg 📚

A quick and insightful introduction to expository preaching

Preaching for God’s Glory is a brief and compelling introduction to the topic of expository preaching. In this slim volume, Alistair Begg quickly covers a large swath of ground that serves as both a useful reminder for experienced preachers and an accessible starting point for novices. Begg is the Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland. While not explicitly stating a thesis, Begg’s aim is clear: to convince reader that the Word of God is the sole authority for the church, and the preacher of it is, “standing under Scripture, not over it.” He not only succeeds in this task, but he does so with an easy to read and disarming style that eschews any pomposity or formality.

The structure Begg gave his book clearly outlines his intentions. The book has six chapters, entitled, (1) “The Eclipse of Expository Preaching,” (2) “What Happened to Expository Preaching?,” (3) “The Nature of Expository Preaching,” (4) “The Benefits of Expository Preaching,” (5) “Practical Pointers,” and (6) “‘Who is Equal to Such a Task?’.’ As these chapter titles make clear, Begg sets out to diagnose the demise of expository preaching, explore and then extol its benefits, and then exhort and prepare the reader to undertake the task.

Begg’s style in Preaching for God’s Glory is deceptively simple. The reader is carried along by his easy and simple prose, only to find themselves downstream floating in a mass of new insight and practical wisdom about preaching. For a very small time investment, the reader is paid off in an abundance of wisdom. This book is an excellent introduction to the topic of expository preaching, for two reasons. First, the concision with which Begg approaches the topic allows the reader to get a quick overview of the whole task of preaching. Unlike other texts which might provide a very brief introduction and then jump right into the minutiae of the process, this book provides a useful level of information on each area it explores.

Second, the fifth chapter, “Practical Pointers,” is eminently helpful in orienting the reader directly to the task at hand. While the previous chapters set the reader up well to understand the big picture—as do other good introductions—this chapter then focuses their eyes on the work and hand, and reminds them that it is actually work. After reading this book, with it’s broad, accessible, and yet usefully brief coverage of every aspect of the craft of expository preaching, the reader is then well-positioned to examine other, more in-depth, works on the subject with a critical and somewhat educated eye.

The only fault that could be laid at the feet of this work is be the brevity of it. I can see where some readers would feel short-changed, or would want more from the author. That’s certainly understandable given how enjoyable of a read it is. But it’s clear that the author agrees with the old show business adage: “Always leave them wanting more.”