Finishing Well | Reflections for Parents at the End of the School Year

If you have school-aged children, I don’t need to describe to you how the end of the school year can be particularly full, and hurried. Even as someone who attempts to banish “hurry” from her life—I’m affected too. In my hurrying from one event or activity to the next, I cut-corners on the one person who won’t complain out loud about it: myself. I shortchange myself of the time I need to pause and reflect, and as I do, I feel my peace slipping away, replaced with shallow breathing and an accelerated heart-rate.

If you’re in the same boat, I have a tool for you today that will support you in intentionally slowing down and finding your bearings as we transition from the drum-beat of the school year, to the wide-open summer.

Why reflect?

Whether we’re looking back on a specific event, a single conversation, or a season of life, personal reflection is valuable tool for learning, growth, and maturation. When I don’t make the time to pause and consider what just occurred, I curtail my own potential, and rob those experiences of their teaching value. Those experiences become nothing more than grains of sand passing through the hourglass of my life, when in fact each one is like a little pearl of undiscovered wisdom—if I’d only make the time to look closer at it.

And consider this: have you ever bungled a conversation—maybe an important meeting or a job interview—and replayed it in your head over and over again for hours on end? Our minds need no prompting to reflect on what we immediately recognize was uncomfortable, or embarrassing, but our minds tend to skip over the conversations that go well. How would our outlook about ourselves improve if we trained our minds to reflect on the good, as well as the bad? (I’m looking at you, Philippians 4:8)

Saying a peaceful goodbye, and moving on

So lately, in an effort to build a more consistent and edifying reflective practice, I’ve taken to asking myself a series of questions whenever I finish a project or a season of life (and when I transition into a new project or a new season, but I’ll talk more about that another day). This type of reflection makes the space for us to evaluate what worked (and what didn’t work), and gives us a satisfying bookend to the season, as we transition into whatever is coming next.

We can peacefully put the 2017-2018 school year to rest, knowing that we’ve captured the best and worst of it, and will have it to look back on when the next school year begins.

Below, I’ve included the guiding questions I ask myself at the end of a project or season. If you like to write things down by hand (which I do), there’s also a printable for you to enjoy. You can print these guiding questions out and tuck them in your journal to refer to, or you can print as many sheets as you need if you’d like to do this activity with a group.

Guiding reflection for finishing well



Click here to download the Guided Reflection for Finishing Well


Sometimes it’s helpful to have an example, so I’ll include my recent reflection on our 2017-2018 school year, since that’s fresh for me. (For context, we do a homeschool/at-school hybrid.)

  • Looking back on this experience, what gave me life?
    Moments where I really heard Ellie synthesize what we had been studying—her randomly translating latin phrases at the grocery store, or drawing parallels to classic myths in in contemporary stories. Long slow breakfasts and lunches all together.
  • What drained my energy?
    Repeating myself dozens of times a day on our home days, calling Ellie’s attention out of daydreams and back into our work.
  • In what circumstance(s) did I struggle/where was I challenged?
    Getting into math games was tough for me, with Graham running around. The only time we could really play was when Graham was down for his nap. Not sure how we’ll handle that when he’s no longer napping.
  • In what circumstance(s) did I experience fluency and ease?
    Literature and history—helping Ellie clarify her thoughts for history narration.
  • What did I learn about myself?
    I’m an energetic and curious home-teacher! I can lovingly homeschool Ellie while caring for a 12-24 month old baby.
  • What did I learn about others? Ellie still has a near photographic memory. When she is intrinsically interested in something, she can lose herself in it for hours.
  • What were my expectations? How were they met, or not?
    I expected our home days to be more difficult, with the baby running around, and I was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t (generally) the case. I expected support from Mrs. P., but I was not prepared for what an excellent communicator she is, and how connected I felt to her classroom, and the work they did in it.
  • What were my hopes? How were they met, or not?
    I hoped that Ellie would transition back to our hybrid school easily, and she totally did. I hoped for a better social experience for Ellie with the girls at our hybrid school than she had had in her year of public school, and I’m blown away at the contrast. These girls are kind, and loving, and have such sensitive hearts to each other. They communicate well, and are always mindful of keeping others included. My heart is so happy to see their friendships thrive.
  • Were my gifts and abilities used well? How so?
    Yes! It turns out that I’m find some ease in home-teaching. I deeply enjoy literature and history, and coming alongside Ellie in this history cycle has allowed me to share that with her, and see her own curiosity come alive in it.
  • If I could do it over again, I’d ________.
    Spend more time outdoors in the morning, while it’s still sunny and there’s no wind. We could do more of our reading and narration outside on the warm mornings. Also, I would be more firm about making time for German and cursive on our home days.
  • I didn’t expect this, but I’m grateful that it occurred:
    The King Tut exhibit coming to LA! What amazing timing! After studying Egypt for so long, and King Tut specifically, what a treat it was to go down to the California Science Center and experience the exhibit in person.

Final thought

The idea of a reflective practice is common, so I don’t want to give the impression that I invented it. I’ve cobbled together elements from a lot of different sources into a practice that works for me. You’ll have your own preferences so I expect that you’ll make alterations that will afford you some ease in adopting this new practice.

Let me know what you think! You can comment below, send me an email, or PM me on Instagram. And stay tuned for another tool specifically for transitioning into NEW seasons (i.e. Summer) and projects.

Thriving on purpose: managing energy, not just time

As an Ennegram Type 1, I’m preternaturally interested in doing everything the best, most correct way. I love processes and systems, and am always searching for how to refine and improve how I do anything/everything. Because of this, I’m an encyclopedia for time-management strategies and tactics (and obviously SO MUCH FUN at parties), but no matter how many best-practices I adopt, I’ve come to believe that there is no replacement for energy management.

You can Pomodoro and GTD all day long (both are extremely helpful!), but if you’re not managing your energy well, you’re not really optimizing your performance (vocationally, relationally, physically—none of it). Below, I lay out the three basic layers of energy management, and at the bottom I’ve included a few guiding questions and exercise to help set you on a path to thriving in your full energy.

So what do I mean by “managing energy?”

First, I mean energy awareness. Each of us fluctuates throughout the day between degrees/stages of energy. Consider your own body and mind. Do you tend to feel a little sleepy or lethargic after lunch? Is there a point in the afternoon where you mind says “enough!” and you find cognitive work to be more of a struggle? Do you find it easy to read long passages of text first thing in the morning? These are all different stages of energy, and when we’re aware of our natural energy patterns (and how different lifestyle choices and circumstances affect those patterns), we can begin to manage our energy.

Second, I mean energy alignment. Consider the various “work” you do throughout the day. It’s likely you have some combination of the following:

  • light housework and errands (laundry, running to the post office, doing the grocery shopping, etc.)
  • basic communication (texts, phone calls, emails, etc.)
  • heavier communication (writing detailed reports or analysis, etc.)
  • relational communication (in-person engagement with loved ones, friends, co-workers)
  • simple and complex problem solving (planning meals for the week, all the way up to determining how to fill a gap in anticipated revenue)
  • creative ideation and execution (from handcrafts and art, to development of revenue generating products and services)

Consider the many draws on your energy, and your awareness of your own typical energy patterns; can you rearrange your tasks to more closely align with your energy patterns? For example, if you tend to be most creative in the 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM hours, and have a real energy slump around 7:00 PM, it would make sense to do your creative “heavy-lifting” from 10-12, and save simple communication and light housework for the evening hours. When we begin to view our energy as a finite resource, and understand that all of our tasks draw from that finite resource, we can begin to better manage our energy.

And third, I mean energy maintenance, and creation. Again, consider your own body and mind. What (non-chemical stimulant) gives you an energy boost? What feels like it drains the life out of you? Here’s a quick list of some of the most common energy-boosters, and energy-drainers:

Common Energy Boosters:

  • Exercise (which includes brisk walking!)
  • Consistently getting a full night’s sleep (7-9 hours for most people)
  • Consistently staying hydrated (approximately half your body-weight in ounces of water—not coffee, or energy drinks, or soda)
  • Healthful nutrition (eating only when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, sticking mostly to veggies, lean proteins and some fruit)
  • Meaningful connection with a friend or loved one; feeling seen and understood (even 10 short minutes is beneficial for your body and mind)
  • 20 minute “power naps”
  • Acts of service and encouragement
  • Reading/listening to edifying books, podcasts, articles, lectures, sermons, music etc.

Common Energy Drainers:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Shortchanging yourself on sleep (getting fewer than 7 hours, for most people)
  • Chemical stimulants (excess coffee, energy drinks, soda, juice, etc.)
  • Lack of hydration (water!)
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Innutritious eating habits (heavy in refined carbohydrates, fatty proteins, processed and added sugars; eating for “entertainment,” overeating, skipping meals)
  • Unhealthy connection with others (lack of meaningful in-person connection, fruitless arguing/debating on the internet, not feeling seen or understood)
  • Reading/listening to divisive/ugly/generally unhelpful books, podcasts, articles, lectures, music etc.

If we want to flourish in all of our facets (vocationally, relationally, physically, spiritually, etc.), then it’s not enough to be a good time manager, though that’s helpful. As a process-oriented person, it’s easy for me to forget the very human element of energy when I plan my days; I’m absolutely kidding myself if I think I’m going to get heavy cognitive work done after 7:00 PM! But when I remember to account for my energy, align my tasks to it, and live in a way that sustains and promotes energy growth, I can really flourish. And that’s what I hope for you, too.

Here are some beginning questions to ask yourself, and quick exercises to begin the habit of improved energy management:

  1. Energy Awareness. Considering both my body and mind, how does my energy tend to fluctuate throughout the day? When do I feel sleepy or lethargic? When does cognitive work become exponentially more difficult? When do I naturally “lose myself” in a creative project? Draw a little timeline on a slip of paper, starting from the time you wake up, to the time you should go to sleep, and mark your “low,” “medium” or “high” energy times.
  2. Energy Alignment. Considering the tasks of each day, and my awareness of my typical energy patterns, how can I rearrange my tasks to more closely align with my energy patterns? Make a list of your typical tasks, and mark them as “low,” “medium” or “high” energy, and then plot those tasks onto your timeline. Try following this improved workflow, making adjustments as needed.
  3. Energy maintenance, and creation. Make a two-column list: “things the boost my energy,” and “things that drain my energy.” Quickly jot down as many items as you can think of. Then, ask yourself “are my lifestyle choices supporting energy maintenance and creation, or are they draining my energy, and preventing me from flourishing?” Challenge: for the next 40 days, pick at least one item from the “boosting” column to add to your days, and one item from the “draining” column to drop from your days.

There’s so much more to this topic that I want to share, but before I do, I want to hear from any of you who try these three simple steps. What gives you energy? What drains your energy? Does anything about this process cause you concern, or fear? Please take a moment to let me know, either in the comments below, or email me privately at melissajenna (at) gmail (dot) com.

Peace (and improved energy) to you!

What worked for me in February


I’ve started a new habit of doing a monthly review of what worked and what didn’t, and rather than keep these learnings to myself, I’ve decided to share them with y’all. There have been so many times that I’ve personally benefitted from this kind of post in the past, and I hope you get something out of mine as well. At the very least, I hope you’re encouraged to continue (or start!) taking stock of which habits, perceptions and beliefs are helpful to you, and which are hindering you. Let’s cast off the stuff that’s dragging us down, and pick up only that which equips us and enables us to do the good work that’s in front of us.

On that note, here’s what really benefitted me in February:

  1. Grocery Delivery (via Instacart): I’m leading with this one, because it was the hardest for me, but has had a correspondingly significant impact on my life. One thing about me that is awesome, but also terrible, is that I get deep gratification out of doing things for myself. Part of this is fueled by innate curiosity, another part is fueled by my tendency to pinch every penny as hard as I can, and another part is my pride/ego/shamelessly high confidence in myself. This sometimes pathological inclination is how/why I learned to do everything I’m vocationally good at (yay!), but also many things that are totally outside my sphere of interest, and probably better left to professionals (see: installing hard-wired interior lighting fixtures). So, grocery delivery was a hard pill to swallow.

    Maybe you need to say this along with me: “Just because I CAN do something myself, doesn’t mean I SHOULD do it myself.” Maybe your time is better spent on the stuff you’re called to do, or the people you’re called to care for. Maybe someone else is out there hoping to pick up some extra cash, and would love to deliver groceries to a generous tipper like yourself.

    My do-it-all-ness can become an ugly source of identity and pride for me, if I’m not careful. So this is me saying it loud for the people in the back: I do NOT do it all. I don’t even try. And I’m better off for it, if you can believe it. If you have Instacart in your area, try it and get $10 off your groceries.

  2. Family Life Today (podcast): I’ve written about FL Today in the past, so I’ll keep this short. If you could use an extra boost of sound Biblical teaching that’s super-practical to your everyday life, this program could be for you. I’ve slowed down a little bit in my audiobook listening, and have swapped in FL Today. I find myself better focused and having a more healthy perspective on family stuff when I remember to keep them in mind.
  3. Bedside Humidifier: It’s been chilly in the evenings (it’s getting down to freezing some nights!), and we’ve been running the heater at night. Accordingly, the air inside the house is super dry, and I was waking up with headaches and a sore throat almost every morning. Dry air is also terrible for your skin (it’ll age you super fast), so I knew I had to to something. This little humidifier has made waking up so much more pleasant!
  4. 20-Minute Naps: I’m an evangelist of the power of a solid 20-minute nap, and last month I was intentional about making the time for them. I averaged 3 20-minute naps each week in February! I can’t prove it, but I feel like they helped me fend off a couple of colds, and definitely helped me pull through several extremely taxing days.
  5. This recipe for Sopa Fideo from my friend Sue. It’s delicious, and makes enough that you can freeze the second batch for later. I deviate from the recipe by tossing an obscene amount of vegetables in it—squash, zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach—go nuts! My children LOVE IT.

And now what didn’t work so great in February.

Leaving my iPhone outside my bedroom. In an effort to put some distance between myself and my technology, I intended to plug my iPhone in to charge out in the living area, and never bring it into my bedroom at night. I wanted to stick to reading physical books before bed, make room for more intentional conversation with my husband, and adopt a habit of reading scripture first thing in the morning. I only achieved this about half the days out of the month, which is disappointing. It would appear that I’m more addicted to my phone than I had previously thought, which, as someone who is keenly aware of the negative effects of screen-use before bed, and the addictive draw of social media, leaves me surprised.

That’s all for this roundup! I’m always interested in learning what’s working (or not) for you, so please share in the comments below, or drop me a line on social media.

What worked for me in January

When I wrote my first “what worked for me” post earlier this year, I was a little overwhelmed by the length of it, and if I was overwhelmed, that means y’all were even more so. But I am a fanatic about celebrating even the tiniest wins, and making quick corrections to what’s not working, so with that in mind, I’m going to try for a bite-sized monthly installment. So, let’s get right to it. Here’s what worked for me in January.

    1. The Full Focus Planner, by Michael Hyatt. Imagine the clouds are parting, rays of sunshine are streaming through, and the Hallelujah chorus is being sung by a great heavenly host. That’s how I feel about the Full Focus planner (and I’m only exaggerating a little bit). Y’ALL. This thing has me Living My Best Life.

      I have tried every manner of planner and process—I was a true believer in “bullet journaling” for a hot minute, but I failed at every system—including bullet journaling—for one major reason: there wasn’t enough structure to rein me in. The Full Focus planner forces me, by design, to narrow down my projects and goals, and really focus intently on just a handful of tasks at a time. And it encourages me to be strategic in my timing, only moving full-steam ahead on a small number of items each quarter. Rather than feeling discouraged every single day, because I didn’t make it very far on my list, I feel SO GOOD about what I AM able to accomplish, and how everything I’m working on is perfectly aligned to my 2018 goals. I’m more productive, and more efficient, and that right there is my love language.If this sounds like a good fit for you, click here for a 15% off code, or to learn more about the planner—what a great gift for the planner-minder person in your life!

    2. More houseplants. It’s no secret that houseplants literally make us happier. But did you know that they also improve indoor air quality? If you’re feeling a little blah, or like your decor needs a refresh, but you’re not quite sure what to change, pick yourself up a few houseplants. Long dangling ones look great atop a china cabinet, or trailing off a mantle. Tall, architectural ones (like snake plants) add life to any corner, and big statement plants (like the ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig) are like living art. Succulents have some of the most interesting other-worldly shapes, and like a lit of sun and very little water—perfect if you’re a little negligent in your care.
    3. The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds (The Gospel Coalition) Okay now, don’t get spooked by the word “catechism.” Simply put, catechisms are collections of questions and answers designed for memorization and recitation. “The New City Catechism is a modern-day resource aimed at reintroducing this ancient method of teaching to Christians today.” This little book contains 52 questions and answers related to God, human nature, sin, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc., and it’s a simple and approachable way to bring core doctrine into your home, and in front of your children. There’s also a free app, which includes sing-alongs to help children memorize. (Full disclosure: I use the kiddo songs to memorize, too. Whatever works!)
    4. I swapped political podcasts for books, and sermons. As a voracious podcast listener, I began to reconsider the focus of the content I’d been consuming, and determined that I was intaking too much political content. So since December I’ve been almost entirely skipping Ben Shapiro (and others), and have listened to several audiobooks in that time, as well as sermons I had been meaning to catch up on. Just in the time that I put Ben Shapiro on hiatus, I’ve finished:
      • “Grant”, by Ron Chernow,
      • “The Myth of Male Power” by Warren Farrell (which I recommend extremely cautiously, and with a lot of stipulations),
      • “How to Think,” by Alan Jacobs,
      • “The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery,” by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile, and
      • “Cold-Case Christianity,” by J. Warner Wallace
      • I’ve also listened to several sermons on the Old Testament that I’ve been meaning to listen to for literally two years.

Not a bad way to start the year! Have you shifted any habits, or found unexpected joy in your houseplants recently? I’d love to hear about it.

Peace to you,


What worked for me in 2017

As someone who is constantly evaluating (and re-evaluating) every practice, habit, and method in my life, a “what’s worked for me” post is something I’ve wanted to write for literally years. Every year around this time, I draft this post in my head, but it gets tossed by the wayside by the time February rolls around. But not this year!

If you’re not familiar with this format, here’s what to expect: a list, more or less, of habits/practices/techniques etc. that were new for me in 2017, and the value I got from them. I’m a fiend for this type of post, because inevitably, no matter how divergent the author’s interests are from my own, I always walk away with a recommendation, a new way of looking at something, or an honest-to-goodness endorsement of something that I’ve been mulling over, but hadn’t committed to. And that’s my hope for you: that you would glean something useful, and that your 2018 will benefit from my 2017.

And yes—if you’re wondering—I do intend to write a “what DIDN’T work for me in 2017.” (I’ll draft it today and get it up sometime in February.)

Alright, let’s talk about some wins! I’m presenting these in categories for easy scanning/sifting. Below you’ll find what worked for me:

  • Physically
  • Mentally/Spiritually
  • At Home
  • In Business

What worked for me PHYSICALLY

  1. SKINCARE: Sometime back in July of 2017, a friend of mine added me to a private Facebook group devoted to skincare habits that are founded in science and common sense. It has literally changed my life. I struggle with hormonal acne (it starts right below my cheekbones, and continues down to just below my chin-line), but by adhering to the “7 essentials,” I’ve not only reduced the number of blemishes that pop up every month to almost zero, but the early signs of aging I was beginning to notice have diminished a great deal.I’m going to describe the 7 Essentials extremely briefly below; if you want more specifics, comment below and I’ll email you with allllll the details. Bear in mind, these are not 7 steps, but rather 7 tools you’ll use to uncover clear, glowy skin. Also, there are many “extras” you might include in your process, but I’m just focusing on the must-haves.
      1. Balm Cleanser
      2. Milk Cleanser
      3. Acid Exfoliant
      4. Vitamin C
      5. A Retinod
      6. Moisturizer
      7. SPF
  2. CONSISTENT BASIC HEALTHY HABITS: This one sounds so basic and easy, but for whatever reason, basic good habits seem to be a struggle for almost everyone. Here’s what I managed to do well (most of the time) in 2017:
    1. Drink plenty of water—for me, that means 2+ Nalgenes each day
    2. Eat unprocessed foods—I cooked the vast majority of my meals last year and, surprise! I’m in the best shape of my life, and I have more energy than I did throughout my 20s.
    3. Get regular exercise—for me, this is like 90% barre classes at my local studio, and 10% hikes outside. This year I’m changing it up a bit, but my foundation will remain barre, as it’s keeping me strong and flexible, which is all I’m really after.
    4. Getting enough sleep—while going to bed is still a struggle for me (I cherish the quiet nighttime hours with my husband, after the children fall asleep), I finally took sleep more seriously, and typically get 7-8 hours a night. Optimum for me is probably more like 8-9 hours, so that’s an area of growth for me.
  3. WEARING A DAILY “UNIFORM” this one is so simple and small, but radically changes my mornings for the better. I wear the same thing (more-or-less) every day, and I set it out the night before (including undergarments, shoes, accessories, etc.) Now, the first thing I do when I get out of bed is get dressed, and even if the morning process lags with my children, I’m basically ready to go. No more frantically running around looking for a sweater, or a missing shoe, and it is GLORIOUS.


  1. INVESTING IN COMMUNITIES: I’m someone who needs to make a concerted effort to remain socially connected with others; I live in my head a lot, and if I’m not careful, I can happily go days and days without talking to another adult aside from my husband. So one way I keep myself grounded in community is by putting some skin in the game, and committing myself as a leader, or organizer. At that point, it’s natural for me to honor my social and service relationships, and respect them by showing up prepared, with my whole mind engaged on the people in front of me. Beginning in the fall of last year, I began volunteering as a table leader for our local MOPs (Moms of Preschoolers) group, and I’m co-leading a small group at my church’s women’s Bible study.
  2. INVESTING IN MY MIND: Like I mentioned, I’m someone who tends to live in her head, so this one comes more naturally to me. Here’s what I read this year:
    1. Wild at Heart Revised and Updated: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul
    2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
    3. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
    4. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
    5. Washington: A Life – Biography by Ron Chernow
    6. Alexander Hamilton – Biography by Ron Chernow
    7. The Pursuit of Holiness – Bible study by Jerry Bridges
    8. On Living – Beautiful and haunting memoir by hospice Chaplain Kerry Egan
    9. The Armor of God – Bible study by Priscilla Shrier
  3. DETACHING FROM SOCIAL MEDIA: after reading “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” and “Deep Work,” it was easy to step back from social media, and reevaluate how much brain-space I was affording it. No matter how well someone uses social media, or how knowledgable they are about its hazards, I’m less convinced than ever that it’s measurably good for us in any way. Furthermore, after reading about a few historical biographies in a row (I’ve been on a Ron Chernow kick for about a year), it’s hard to imagine any of these giants of history getting anything of significance accomplished if they had social media in their lives.As someone who used to make her living by crafting social media strategy, and teaching its use, I want to be very clear: I don’t think any amount of preparation, caution, or understanding is enough to buffer oneself (primarily one’s mind, and one’s ability to reason) from the harmful effects of social media.
    The creators of social media platforms specifically designed them to be addictive, and if you’re telling yourself that you’re unaffected, or immune, you’re literally lying to yourself. It’s not my intention to scare anyone, or be confrontational, but no matter how innocently, or for what good purposes you use social media: it is bad for your brain. Here: do a quick search and see for yourself.

    Now, for many of us, participation in some social media is a non-negotiable, and for others of us, the only way we can effectively promote events and happenings is via Facebook. I get that. I’d encourage all of us to think of social media usage the same as smoking cigarettes: we know that they’re bad for us, and we know that they’re specifically designed to be addictive. How much risk are you willing to assume? That answer is entirely up to you.

  4. EXPERIENCING SOME GOOD ART: in 2017 I saw Hamilton, attended several classical music concerts and ballet performances, went to several museums, and enjoyed lots of beautiful architecture. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that 2017 saw in an uptick in my own creative output and ideation.

What worked for me AT HOME

  1. THIS INSTANT POT RECIPE FOR CREAMY THAI COCONUT SOUP You can also make this with a slow cooker, or on the stovetop. Either way, it’s DELICIOUS.
  2. CLOTH DIAPERING: I was too overwhelmed and intimidated to try cloth diapering my first, but we gave it a shot with our second, and it is SO MUCH SIMPLER than I was led to believe (the internet is really good at scaring us, isn’t it?). We use Grovia hybrid diaper covers, and pre-folds on the inside. They all get tossed in the wash with a scoopfull of Tide, and they come out perfectly clean. No stress. Better for the environment. Less money. All good things.
  3. THIS IKEA CART, for dragging our homeschool books, notebooks, math manipulatives, etc. around the house
  4. RESALE AND BUYING USED: in 2017 I began selling my children’s gently used clothes on Kidizen, and buying needed items on the same app. To date I’ve earned more than $250, and I keep that in Kidizen to use when I need to buy a bigger pair of rain boots, the next size up of jeans, etc. I barely buy anything new anymore, and I LOVE IT.
  5. WEEKLY MEAL PLANNING: Now, I know this is super old-hat for many of you, but halleleujah! I LOVE knowing what I’m making for dinner for the next week, and the fact that I can buy stuff in bulk, and save money. Last year I made the same 7-10 dinners each week for a season, and then I’d swap out half the recipes for the next season. If you like to make something new every night, this system might not work for you. But if you like clearing your mind of “what’s for dinner tonight?”, or you want to limit your trips to the grocery store to once a week, then try weekly meal planning!
  6. MASTER GROCERY LIST: This follows the previous item nicely. Instead of writing a new grocery list every single week, I have one “master grocery list” on my computer, and I just delete the things I don’t need. There have been so many times where we were out of something, and I would have totally forgotten to add it to my list, except that it was already ON my master grocery list. I never ran out of coffee creamer once in 2017! And that’s what matters, right?
  7. “DOUBLE THE RECIPE, FREEZE THE EXTRA:” I almost never cook a single batch of anything. If I’m going to be in the kitchen for an hour, you better believe I’m getting more than one meal out of it. Having meals on-hand has reduced the amount of times we order takeout to almost zero, which has saved us a ton of money, too.
  8. LAZY-DINNER NIGHT: One night each week I’ve cut myself slack and made something simple, like tuna sandwiches. Everyone is happy with it, and I get more time with my family. (I might increase this to twice a week!)

What worked for me in BUSINESS

  1. FINALLY TAKING AN AMY PORTERFIELD COURSE: after many years of “I should really do that!” I finally took an Amy Porterfield course, and I am SO GLAD I did. The course I took is called “List Builder’s Lab,” and it guided me through the process of building a self-sustaining email-list-building strategy that is adding new people into our “sales funnel” on a daily basis. The fact that the whole thing (including the nurture sequence) is automated has lifted a HUGE burden off my shoulders. If you are involved in any business or nonprofit, your organization needs to do this. Do it this year!
  2. KEEPING MY HEAD DOWN + TAKING ONE SMALL STEP AT A TIME: I’m a dreamer, and an idealist. I have this massive vision for what’s possible, but when I lift my eyes to the summit ahead of me, I get incredibly discouraged by the distance I’ll have to travel to get there, and I never get moving.Last year I committed to breaking projects down into smaller pieces, and then breaking those pieces down into discrete steps. After I write the big fat vision down, and break it down into pieces, and break the pieces down into steps, I almost never dare to look at the big fat vision again, preferring to keep my eyes down on the next step I have in front of me. As a result, I made more progress on our business than I had in the past two years combined. This year I’m applying the same tactic to my personal projects, and it’s already helping. (Here I am, with two blog posts in January!)I hope you glean at least one useful tidbit from all of this! Any suggestions for me? What should I consider next? Did you write a “what worked for me” post? If so, please link to it in the comments to so I can read along!I’ll be back with a “What DIDN’T Work For Me in 2017” post sometime in February.

Peace to you!

The Mentoring We Need + The Mentor We Need to Be

Practical, encouraging, and full of grace, Sue Donaldson’s Table Mentoring is the nudge I needed to more fully comprehend and embrace my role as a mentor to others, and take more seriously the influence of mentors in my own life. Reading table mentoring is like sitting at Sue’s own table—receiving her wisdom, but also her sense of lightness, and humor. If you’re feeling like you could use practical guidance on the subject (as either a mentor or mentee—but most likely both), this book is the perfect companion to begin equipping yourself, and aligning your heart for the roles you’re stepping into. Also, it’s brief! There’s no wasted pages here. As a mom of two littles (and a tendency to feel overwhelmed), this was just the right length!

I’ve excerpted a bit of it below (with Sue’s permission, of course), to offer you a taste. Click through to pick it up for the cost of a fancy coffee and a croissant, but without the sugar or refined carbs. 

Who should mentor? You?
Who should be mentored? You?

Yes and yes.

Why the first “yes?” You are uniquely qualified to mentor another because your life experience, lessons, growth, family and education are uniquely yours.

One of life’s basic needs is “significance” and God made it so from the very beginning. Here’s why we are significant:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13,14

Others may know more than I do on a given subject, but only I know what I know. And God may want me to give that slice of knowledge to someone in need. Granted, it may only be a slice, but He brings fruit from the smaller endeavor, and I’m grateful.

Only this morning I read an excellent article on hospitality. I might know a bit about that topic, but I’m not the only one who does! (Just ask Martha Stewart!) I could say, “I’m not the expert, so I can’t teach someone else what I know.” Comparisons trap us inside our insecurities and keep us from mentoring when we get the opportunity.

So besides your uniqueness among millions, your confidence in God, and your humility before God, what does it take to be a great mentor?

A growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s it. That’s the main thing.

I didn’t say a perfect relationship or sinless existence. Perfection and sinlessness is for later on when none of us will need to mentor or be mentored.

But qualified mentoring does take a pressing on mentality. Pressing on to know and love Christ better and deeper. As Paul, again the model mentor, cried out passionately to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Philippians 3:f1f2-16 ESV

Paul put himself in the mature camp, but he knew he needed to keep pressing. And he did. “I press on to make it my own.” To mentor well means we keep on pressing to make it our own. We share our own stories, our own walk with Christ, our own victories and losses and pressings to know and love Him more. That’s all. A going-on-with God til He comes or we go.

Yesterday a conference director called about the possibility of my speaking and she asked me: “Tell me when you first fell in love with Jesus. When did He grip your heart?” She went on: “Tell me how He is entering your world right now and making a difference in your life?”

Both great questions and I loved answering them. I know I love Jesus more today than fifty years ago, but that’s when it started. I can tell you right now how He’s leading and training and teaching and loving me. Today. Right now. He keeps after me, and–by His mercy and grace, I’m keeping after Him. Not perfectly. I’m not finished loving Him. He still has mounds of work to do in me. But He doesn’t want me to wait til Glory to share my walk with Him with someone else.

Same with you.

If you feel God leading you to mentor, ask yourself:

  1. Do I love Jesus more today than ten years ago? One year ago?
  2. Do I trust Him for the unknowns in my future?
  3. Do I know some of His promises in His Word?
  4. Do I live like I trust in those promises?

If you answered: “Sort of. I’m working on it.” You are ready to mentor. Paul wasn’t perfect, just pressing.

If you think you know everything, think again.

If you know one promise in God’s Word, you are ready to mentor that one promise. Ask God for someone to share it with today.

We’re Talking About Sex All Wrong

We’re way too casual about sex, and that’s created a “demand” for abortion that will not abate until we confront the truth about sex. Sexual intercourse is an inherently risky activity, regardless of how “safe” you are. Our disregard of this biological fact, coupled with the casual nature of sex in today’s culture has crippled young people and adults alike. We need to return to talking about sex as inherently risky, and an act that implies a sincere commitment to the human and emotional outcomes. Click through for the whole video.

So you want to change the world? Can you make this one sacrifice?

Most people’s desire to do good comes from a place of pure intentions, but—please take this gently—our intentions don’t matter. Outcomes matter. This post below was written for would-be Christian missionaries, but everyone who considers themselves an advocate or activist should read it. Excerpt:

“But what if our determination to DO stuff, actually undermines the efforts of local people to serve and transform their own communities?

What if using your nursing training to bandage up the wounds of sick people in a cross-cultural setting is hurting more than helping – because you’re doing work a local nurse should be trained up to do?

What if solving people’s problems as a social worker in a cross-cultural setting is hurting more than helping – because you’re doing work a local social worker could be trained up to do?”

Read Craig Greenfield’s full post here: So you want to change the world? Can you make this one sacrifice? —

So You Want a “Political Revolution?”

So you want a political revolution melissa jenna

A political revolution doesn’t start from the top. Look back at comparable history, and see that it just doesn’t. In fact, our democracy is structured exactly to prevent that kind of thing. A “political revolution” (and I’m hesitant to even refer to it that way, due to the very radical connotation of the word “revolution”) can only occur through sustained, consistent, diligent advocacy, starting at the local level (which hardly sounds revolutionary at all, does it?). For “revolution” to happen, you (and many others like you) have to have a little skin in the game, and you have to keep it there day in and day out, in perpetuity. (“Committed citizen advocacy” is the least sexy campaign platform ever, which might be one reason why you never hear about it.)

Any candidate who is telling you otherwise—that your best effort at inciting a political revolution is electing them as President—is taking advantage of your naiveté (at best), and straight up lying to you (at worst). It’s manipulation, regardless of the intentions of the candidate’s heart.

Before I go further: yes, I’m obviously thinking of Bernie Sanders as I write this, but he’s not the first, and certainly won’t be the last. The peddlers of this “revolution from the top” fantasy come from all backgrounds and affiliations (I’ve voted for them!), and I truly believe that in their hearts, they have positive intentions. But I’m not here to talk about intentions. I’m here to talk about reality, and what it takes from normal people day-to-day to incite the “revolution” we appear to so desperately desire.

It’s partially our fault that Sanders (and others before him/after him) have/will peddle this fantasy. I’m speaking in general here, but we’re a people who believe in quick fixes. We believe the results earned from a truncated process can be just as good (if not better!) than results achieved through committed, continual effort. We dishonor process, and venerate outcome. We (again, generally speaking) are lazy in our political efforts, and would really love it if we could just vote for a surrogate to do the hard work for us. But like I’ve mentioned, our democracy is structured to prevent any one person from having too much power. The strength of our democracy—and your ability to be pleased with its outcomes—is directly tied to your own effort, which then becomes the cumulative effort of our people.

Wealthy people have understood this for literally ages. Our current political landscape is the result of years and years (generations, really) of focused, organized advocacy from people, families and organizations. Unhappy with the outcomes? Look to the people and organizations who are doing/funding this advocacy. They are harvesting the fruit of their effort, and the effort of their great-great grandparents. You cannot simply elect a President to untie this knot for you. The President, without thoughtful partners in the Senate and the House, is totally powerless to administer their own agenda. (Which is why, if you feel the need to participate at the bare-minimum level, I’d suggest getting really into your state elections. Stacking the House and Senate with your people is a better bang-for-your-buck.)

So what if you’re not wealthy? (That would be most of us.) Without the advantages that often come with wealth (time, money, education, “influence,” etc.), how does one assert themselves in this process? The first step is to stay informed. Personally, I’d start locally, since you have way better chances of making meaningful change on a local level. (Sometimes it can even come quickly!)

So if your primary concern is your local schools (just for example), start there. Learn when/where meetings are held, read the agendas in advance, do your best to understand their current circumstances, and apply pressure where you need to. This can be as easy as making phone calls and sending emails, which you can do regardless of your work schedule. Tell other parents at your children’s school about your concerns. See where they stand. Get their support when you can. You can even draft suggested correspondence and share it with other parents, to better enable them to get engaged.

Sometimes phone calls and emails aren’t enough. Sometimes you need to band together with other likeminded people to better make your voice heard. That’s where local advocacy groups can be very effective. So if your concern is small business growth in your town, join your local Chamber of Commerce, and make sure you get to know their governmental affairs representative. Learn what issues concern them and their membership, and speak up when you have time to do so. Bring others like you into their fold.

Sometimes there isn’t an advocacy group for your particular interest, so you have to start one. This requires more effort, but is totally within your grasp. (I ran across this paper called Community Organizing: People Power from the Grassroots, and I really like the “10 rules of community organizing” outlined in it.) Look at neighboring towns for examples, and if you can’t find any semi-local examples, look statewide, and nationally. I can guarantee you there is a model out there for you to emulate/be inspired by. Contact the leaders of those organizations and get their advice on first steps.

You get the idea. It takes effort. Bernie Sanders isn’t going to drive to your town to make sure your children get adequate outdoor recess time, or make sure there’s affordable housing for young families in your community, or well-maintained bike trails, etc. But if you engage locally on issues that matter to you, and support the candidates who align with your interest, eventually, you’ll see change. The reason you’re not happy with the current outcomes is because the current outcomes haven’t been influenced by your voice, and the countless other voices like yours.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can take a pass on engagement, and the President of the United States of America will do the hard work for you. They would if they could, but they literally can’t. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the ultimate expression of your power is your single, solitary vote for President every four years. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking you can upend the political establishment—built on generations of committed citizen advocacy—as easily as casting a ballot. There are no shortcuts. Your “I Voted” sticker does not get you off the hook. You will only get as much out of a “political revolution” as you personally put in.

NEWS! (I’m the worst at sharing news.)

I’m the worst at sharing news that actually matters. I don’t know how to do it without coming off as flippant or cheesily over-sincere, so when I have big news to share it’s just awful.

Like two weeks ago, I walked up to my friend Rachel in the courtyard of our church, thinking “yay! I’m going to tell Rachel!” but when I reached her, I just, like, stared into her eyes for a while. Without saying anything at all. And so she’s looking at me, waiting for me to say something, because I had marched all the way across the courtyard obviously for a reason. But I just keep on staring at her. Why? I DON’T KNOW, YOU GUYS. (Because I’m the literal worst at sharing news.)

So after WAY too long of my staring at Rachel, my eyes get all shifty, and I blurt out “So…WE’RE HAVING ANOTHER BABY!” And of course she smiles and hugs me and is super excited, but really all I can think of is how gracious she is with my awkwardness.

So that’s how I’m telling you all.

The literal worst, am I right? You should see me when I have bad news to share. It’s a di-sas-ter.

So that’s the big news. I’ll be 13 weeks on Tuesday, with an estimated due date of June 21, 2016. (I think it’s June 18, based on my calculation, but I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.) We couldn’t be happier, but unfortunately that doesn’t make me any better at sharing the news. Awkward is as awkward does.

More details to come later! Mama’s gotta go put dinner in the oven.

The Lesson I Keep on Learning

all of the things melissajenna

You can’t do all of the things, all of the time. It’s simple, but it’s so so hard for me to remember.

Typically, I’m a fast learner, but with this lesson, it’s like I’m stuck in a repetitive loop. The majority of it has to do with the fact that I have not yet made peace with my newish reality. I’ve been living this life of working parenthood for about a year and a half now,  and I just can’t get down with the idea that I’m going to have to let some things go. I still feel like there’s a trick I’m not aware of. As if someday I’ll read a post about “5 things working parents can do optimize their efficiency,” and BOOM. The problem will be solved.

But my brain knows it doesn’t work like that. My brain has a firm understanding of timelines, and workloads, and resource availability…but my heart? My heart has not let go, and I’m not sure that it will.

I was wondering to myself how the writers I admire do it. How do they work full-time(+), remain engaged with their spouse and children, give to their community, maintain their spiritual and physical health, AND maintain their awesome blog and social presence? It was a mystery to me. Until I realized that they don’t.

Of all the writers I read and admire, none of them do what I just described. Some of them are stay-at-home parents, but for many of them, their writing is their job. Many of them even have assistants! People to answer their emails, manage their social, and do their design. There isn’t a single prominent blogger in my world whose full-time job isn’t related to their blog. In a way, that’s comforting. But also, it’s another reminder that you can’t do all of the things, all of the time.

Somehow, that’s a relief.

So that’s where I’m at, and where I’ve been since I went back to work full-time. What I long for is alignment between my brain and my heart. That I can have peace in the circumstance, and enough grace for myself to take me from day to day.

And it would be pretty tone-deaf of me to not openly acknowledge and celebrate that I live an amazing life, full of love, and inspiring people, and beautiful experiences. I’m endlessly grateful. I have more than I deserve, or would ever have dreamed to ask for. My angst has nothing to do with my beautiful life, but everything to do with my heaven-high expectations for myself (which, strangely, I never asked for).


Young Men, Sex, and Urge Ownership (And Why It’s Not The Girl’s Problem)

Loved this quote “Sometimes, doing what’s right toward someone, even needs to transcend their attitude about themselves. If a girl you know shows too much, advertises too much, and offers too much, it doesn’t mean you can take too much, because it’s about the value you assign to her, and to yourself.”

john pavlovitz

Young men, I need to tell you something; something that maybe your fathers, or your coaches, or your uncles, or your buddies never told you, but something that you really need to hear.

Your sex drive? It’s your problem.

I know you’ve been led to believe that it’s the girl’s fault; the way she dresses, the shape of her body, her flirtatious nature, her mixed messages.

I know you’ve grown-up reading and hearing that since guys are really “visual”, that the ladies need to manage all of that by covering-up and keeping it hidden; that they need to drive this whole physical relationship deal, because we’re not capable.

That’s a load of crap.

You and me, we are visual.
We do love the shape of women’s bodies.
We are tempted and aroused by their physicality.

And all of that, is on us, not on them.

You see, we actually live…

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Dove Recognizes that Fathers are Not Inept, Mouth-Breathing, Man-Children

Join me in having a cleansing, happy-cry at your desk, won’t you?

This is such a beautiful advertisement. I don’t know about you, but as a wife, and mother, and human being, I am sick to death of seeing dads (and men in general) portrayed as inept, mouth-breathing, man-children in media. The ad above? That’s more like it. And it’s sad that it should stand out so much, don’t you think?

Is it possible that maybe (just maybe) our culture is ready to acknowledge fathers as true partners in parenthood, and not inept babysitters of their own children? Gosh, I hope so. It’s about time. Round of applause to Dove for once again pushing advertising in a more positive, healthy direction!

Don’t Call it a Comeback

No, seriously. Don’t.

I’m out of practice, and who knows what kind of garbage I’ll write before this gets any good again. But that’s the thing about consistency, isn’t it? Getting the ball rolling? HARD. Keeping the ball rolling? A little less hard. (You’ll know this is true if you’ve ever fallen out of your workout routine, and then tried starting up again. It’s not pretty, folks, let me tell you.)

But guess what? Somehow between a very demanding job (lots of travel), being a wife, mother, and keeper of a home, going to board and committee meetings, and recently moving into a new apartment, I’ve managed to make time for spin class, and barre class on a regular basis. And if feels so good. So why not write some more?

The honest answer to that question: I don’t want to do this if I can’t absolutely crush it. I love this; this is my thing. And there’s this somewhat pathetic, petulant part of me that wants to pick up my ball and go home because I can’t do this my way, on my timeline. Because the present season of my life doesn’t have room for this.

Some things (cooking, gardening, sewing) I’m okay dabbling in. The skill I’ve developed in those areas, though I’m a dilettante, brings me pleasure, and enhances my life. But not this. It hurts to dabble in writing. Literally, deep in my chest, there’s a pain when I consider how much I miss being in practice. It’s similar to the pain I felt the one time I was truly heartbroken, and gosh, does that make me a crazy person?

The reality is that I won’t be able to practice here as much as I used to, or with as much dedication, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Even though it hurts to do this halfway, I can’t not do it, because I’ve tried that, and that feels worse. This is where I need to be, even if it hurts.

So, no. This is not a comeback. I will not be bringing the fierceness. But I will keep at it, even though (in this present season) I can’t reallocate the time I would need to really crush this thing.

So please bear with me as I do my best to remain in practice, and I hope you still feel comfortable enough around me that you’ll tell me what you think, good or bad.

Thanks for hanging in there, and motivating me to get the ball rolling again. Tip of the hat to Toni Hammer for saying some kind (but challenging) words to me that really got me thinking. It was the nudge I needed to swallow my pride, and get back to work.

On Rock Hunting, and People-Tumbling

Rocks I collected south of San Simeon

Rocks I collected south of San Simeon

Lately, I really suck at having hobbies. Gardening has been reduced to sometimes remembering to water my succulents; writing has been reduced to tweeting on an (almost) daily basis, and cooking? Well. I made some instant oatmeal this morning. Let me say this, in no uncertain terms: having a full time job, and a family, is hard. (Duh.) So, that’s basically what’s kept me away from here lately. (There’s more I’d like to say about that, but it’ll have to wait for another time.)

The one hobby that I can stick to, with my demanding schedule, is rock hunting. (Bonafide dork status, right there.) I’ve been into rocks since I was a kid, and last year, for my 29th birthday, my husband bought me my very first rock tumbler (because he is a dear). So I’ve been collecting rocks, and tumbling them, for the past few months, and every time I’m doing something rock-related, I think of you guys. Rock hunting (and tumbling) takes time, and I’ve come to realize there’s a few reasons I enjoy it as much as I do, and I’ve been wanting to share them with you all for a while.

Here are the real basic-basics about rock hunting.

The best place to find rocks, in my area of California, is at the beach. Specifically, just south of San Simeon, where the creek dumps into the ocean. You want to go there after a good storm (which we don’t get often), and at low-tide, for the best pickings. So step number one in rock hunting, for me, is head to the beach. Once you get there, you survey the landscape for the most promising-looking piles, then set yourself down, and…well…just start looking for the good stuff. With all the sights and smells of the ocean, and the warm sun on your back, you could easily spend a few hours, looking for the best specimens.

If you’re new to rock hunting, here’s how you tell which rocks will polish-up nicely: get them wet. If you don’t have a bucket of water handy, you can just use your own spit. Don’t worry about how silly you look, because, hello, you’re sitting on the ground, playing in rocks. You already look pretty silly.

Once you’re satisfied with the amount of rocks you’ve collected (hint: you’ll never be satisfied with the amount of rocks you’ve collected), it’s time to go home and get them into the tumbler, along with the coarsest grit you have. Over the next few weeks, you’ll continue changing out the grit, until eventually your rocks are polished up to a glossy shine. What you do with them after that, I’m not so sure. I mean, that’s not really the point. Not for me, anyway.

Now let me tell you why I actually enjoy rock hunting.

There’s something exciting about looking at a shore covered in dusty (some would say ugly) beach rocks, and knowing that buried amongst them are agates, and jaspers, and moonstones, and quartz. Precious stones that, after a little TLC, will shine with an effortless beauty reserved for nature’s pure creations. But what moves me even more is that even the plain rocks are beautiful, once they’ve had their dust and rough edges worn away.

It’s hard to collect rocks, and tumble them, and not think of the people who’ve “tumbled” me over the years. And not think of the people I’m “tumbling”/will “tumble.”

It feels good to be chosen, doesn’t it? For someone to see the value in you, underneath the grime and the rough edges, and think to themselves “this one. This one could really shine, with a little help.” And it feels good to be the one doing the choosing. To have the vision to see the beauty and opportunity and potential in someone, and to continue to invest in them with no alternative motive, other than to leave that person better off than they were when you first met them.

Now let me tell you what we’re going to do about this.

I’m asking you to do a few things. First, take a moment to identify someone (or a few people) who have “tumbled” you over the years. Do your best to remember some specifics about that experience. Then reflect on how grateful you are to have had their influence in your life. Next, if you’re able, reach out to that person, and say thank you, in whatever way you can muster up. Sometimes this can be hard, but it’ll mean a whole lot to them, so take the time and do it right. Lastly, take a moment to identify someone in your life that you could use your influence, and commit to doing something to act on that. Could be just taking them out for coffee and asking them how they’ve been. That’s always a good start.

I would be nowhere if people in my past hadn’t taken the time to see something inside me worth surfacing, and gently assert themselves in bringing that change about. It’s my hope that by reflecting on the people who have influenced your life, you walk away with a renewed sense of gratitude, and perhaps a new desire to invest in others, the way you have been invested in.

Whaddaya think? Is it a worthy exercise?

xoxo, mj

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