Extending Our Family Food Challenge: Six Weeks with Extending the Table

Special Mennobyte series: Six Weeks with Extending the Table by Ben and Heather Kulp

Extending the TableFor those familiar with us, Ben and Heather Kulp, you know that we have been seeking to make more intentional choices about our lifestyles, especially as we spend time getting to know our son, who was born in February. After hearing about a fellow church family’s own transformative experiences around food choices, we were inspired to take on a food consumption experiment. During Lent, we spent 40 days cooking exclusively from More with Less. We learned about food-as-comfort, hospitality, even how to bake with soy flour. But what ultimately came out of our 40 days (other than some wonderful meals and some money saved) was a sense that we want to simplify many other areas of our life as well.

pizzaPizza from refrigerator leftovers from Forty Days of More with Less

So, we’ve begun exploring other ways of getting rid of stuff in our lives—possessions, tasks, relationships—that consume too much time and energy. We’ve discovered Be More with Less, a blog with regular “homework” to help us simplify. Heather has dedicated herself to trying Project 333 starting in July, after she hosts a clothes swap to share the fun with friends. And we’re going through our many years of photos (both print and digital) to focus on the few treasured pictures we’d like to keep.

When we share our simplicity challenges with others, we’ve found a few common trends. There’s the “Oh, I should really do that, too,” conversation, where we’re able to share tips we learned from our More with Less journey. There’s the “Why would you want to get rid of all your stuff?” surprise. But the most striking comments are those from folks who have traveled and/or lived abroad for periods of time who say, “Well, we lived that way for years when I lived in Kenya [insert Guatemala, Thailand, etc.]. . .”

This global perspective on our desire for simplicity made us think about how we could capture some of those lessons while living here in the States. Whenever we asked to hear more about people’s international experiences, we repeatedly heard stories about a common aspect of community life abroad: food.

So, what better way to learn more about simplicity abroad than to share in the mission of another Mennonite World Community Cookbook, Extending the Table? The introduction to the 2014 edition shares that the intention of the book is “to take us to the tables of people for whom food is the staff of life.” So, for the next six weeks, you can follow us as we eat exclusively from the tables of people from countries around the world. We’ll share stories from our adventure as well as brilliantly colored photos from the new edition.

Our first story actually begins with a recipe that is in our dog-eared 2003 edition of the cookbook. Before taking our 40 day Lenten journey using More with Less exclusively, we flipped through all the Mennonite Community Cookbooks to see if there were recipes particular to celebrating a newborn. In Extending the Table, an accompanying note to the Spicy Cinnamon Cup recipe states that Arab families used the beverage to welcome guests who came to visit a new baby. We made this recipe multiple times during parental leave. Unfortunately, this recipe is not included in the new version. (Pictured below is a spiced tea which is included in the new book.)

02_SpicedTea_ExtendTable-4231Spiced Tea in new Extending the Table cookbook

However, we were struck by another story about an infant, this one in the 2014 edition on page 120. Linda Nafziger-Meiser narrates a visit from Zambian friends when her baby was only three months old. She was struck by the simple gift that her friends gave her baby: a cup and plate that her friends had received from the airline along with their in-flight meal. Linda reflects that we often have so many plates that we never use them all; we buy separate plates for our salads, desserts, main dishes, tea cups, even bread rolls. Yet, her friends saw usefulness—even specialness—in the utensils that we would throw away.

We look forward to this journey opening our eyes to the many extraneous “plates” we, as middle-class Americans, hold onto. Our sisters and brothers around the world have much to teach us about seeing the beauty—and simplicity—of what’s right in front of us. We look forward to learning alongside them.

To buy Extending the Table on special sale, click here. Ends May 8, 2014.


Ben Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Wednesday thru June 11, under the special series category, Six Weeks with Extending the Table. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.


I get paid to read! (And how you’ll grow from these stories too)

CarolDuerskenTreePurposeEven as an adult, Carol loves reading in a tree.

By Carol Duerksen, Editor of Purpose magazine for MennoMedia

As I child, I loved to read. I read everywhere. At the supper table, until my parents told me to “put the book away”. In the car. In a tree, sitting on a board, leaning against a strong branch. I loved to read, but I never dreamed that someday I might get paid to read. That I might actually have a career … reading!

But I do! And I have a Purpose in life that is so rewarding, inspirational, and spiritually uplifting.

For example, this year, as part of my life’s Purpose and just in time for New Year’s resolutions, I read an article by 89-year-old author Katie Funk Wiebe on what she would have done differently in her life journey. As someone who is celebrating 60 years of life this year, I just wanted to soak up Katie’s wisdom and carry it with me.

Then, quite recently, I read stories from young adults Travis Duerksen, about volunteering at a homeless shelter, and from Esther Harder, about working in a library. They confessed to not always having the heart of Christ in those settings. They realized their opportunities to see Jesus in everyone. And I gained insights for my Purpose in life.

Being an animal lover, when I read the story of Angel the beagle who “decided to take a walkabout” and was gone for 18 days, my heart ached. I cried with the family when she “climbed the creek bank and fell exhausted into my son’s arms.” And because God’s spirit spoke through the storyteller Jennifer Stultz, I learned more about my life’s Purpose.

Editing this powerful little Anabaptist magazine called Purpose has blessed me beyond measure. I get to read stories, poems, and reflections on our monthly themes. I get to laugh and cry, smile and celebrate the God-moments in people’s lives before those stories are shared with the readers of Purpose. I get to witness writers sharing faith stories that span the generations and communicate inspirational lessons to readers of all ages.

How lucky can a woman be?

No. It’s not called luck in the Kingdom of God. It’s called “Thanks be to God.”

MennoBytesBlogPostBuilding 020Thanks be to God, there are at least 5400 other people who have a Purpose in their life too. And there’s room for more. There’s room on the subscription list for more readers who want to read for the sheer joy of it, and for insights and inspiration.

There’s room for writers and stories too. If you have a story to tell, or would like a writing assignment, let’s talk.

In the meantime, it’s spring. We have a tree house for children that visit our farm, but today it’s calling my name.Time for a good read.


Let us know if you’d like a free sample of Purpose, for yourself or several to share! Several online articles available here.

Purpose is a monthly inspirational magazine with moving and informational stories, poems, regular columns and a guide to the newest resources from MennoMedia and the broader church. You can subscribe as a church, group, or individual. Check out how to do it, or call for current prices, around $23 or $25 a year depending on whether you can order bulk subscriptions of five or more.

DuerksenCarolCarol Duerksen, Editor

For a beautiful true story about an amazing donkey from Carol’s own farm read by Carol, listen to a special edition of the former Shaping Families Christmas radio program here. (You can read a transcript or listen to podcast.)

“I thought you were dead.”

Guest blog post by Glen E. Miller, MD2MillerGlenI was speaking to a group of about 120 people on the cost of healthcare. I was on the third power point slide that graphically illustrated the escalating cost of healthcare. That much I remember.

Without any warning, I suddenly fell over backwards. My wife, Marilyn, sitting nearby, later told me, “I thought you were dead.” My heart had lost its effective rhythm and was no longer pumping blood throughout my body. The heart rhythm—ventricular fibrillation—left my heart a quivering mass, useless as a pump. An EMT (emergency medical technician) fireman, Mark, was at the meeting and with others immediately started CPR. The EMT squad arrived in seven minutes and gave me an electric shock that re-established my heart rhythm.

I had had a cardiac arrest, the most common cause of sudden death. And I beat the odds.

The likelihood of surviving a cardiac arrest with complete recovery is seven percent.  After five days in the hospital, I went home to an active life as before.

But life after that could not be the same. I now lived with the awareness that I could die at any time. And in view of my previous heart troubles, I need to accept that my life will likely be shortened. I am not going to live forever after all. There will be an end. Knowing that is called mortality awareness.

2013ImportOf2011Photos 064We can become aware of our mortality after an illness, accident or the death of a friend—anything that says I am not going to live forever after all. Of course we know that but it’s so easy to ignore this fundamental truth.

I decided it was time to get serious about preparing for my own death. As a doctor, I provided medical care for people who died a good death and those who did not. I was convinced that to make a good death more likely, I needed to proactively prepare.

The awareness of my mortality and the perception of a shortened life expectancy motivated me to pursue productive ways to continue to contribute to my family and to the common good of the larger community. I discussed with my family how much and what kind of medical care I wanted at the end of my life. I decided I want to die at home if it doesn’t create an undue burden for my family and most importantly, I want to create experiences and lasting memories that would enhance the bonding and togetherness of my family. I ended up with a checklist of tasks to be completed that brings peace of mind that I have done what I can to prepare to die well. What I learned became a book Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, which has just been published by Herald Press this March, 2014. Read the news release here, or you can purchase the book here.

LivingThoughtfully2I welcome you to check it out and also invite you to dialogue with me at the blog I share with a friend and fellow traveler on this journey, Jep Hostetler, author of another Herald Press book, The Joy Factor. Together we offer perspective and ideas on how be more intentional in how we live our lives, and in how we prepare for the ending of our journey.

Here’s a short video introducing the website/blog and ourselves:


Have you had discussions with your family members about your final wishes? About what to do if you suddenly are incapacitated?

Both Glen and Jep are available and happy to address any group on how to live in such a way that dying becomes a natural part of life. Contact them through their website or through MennoMedia, 800-245-7894.