Why It's Good to Grow Small

As I type this, there are two little boys pillow fighting in back of me. Occasionally, one screams, and I’m pretty sure another just went flying through the air ninja style in order to avoid a death blow from his brother.  When I think of life as a full-time writer and speaker—my dream career—this is not the scenario I picture. Then again, neither is taking a nearly two month hiatus from writing.

But that’s what I’ve just done…

There’s been almost two months of silence on here. We live in a world that values noise. She who speaks loudly and speaks often gets the most attention. Two months of silence gets you, well, more silence.

I didn’t write anything these past two months because I needed to be present in my current season of life: young (often sick) kids, a husband with a demanding career, and a busy teaching job of my own leave me with little time for passion projects right now. There are seasons to speak and teach and write and there are seasons to turn inwards and reflect and listen. There are seasons to push and pursue and do all the things, and there are seasons when simply showing up and taking care of your people each day are enough.

I’m learning to recognize the season I’m in and welcome rather than resist it. It’s all part of the process of life, not just of writing.

 I’ve noticed a pattern among women my age, especially those of us who engage on social media. We see other women working harder, doing something (we perceive as) better or getting more attention and we feel the need to do more and try harder ourselves. If SHE can “have it all,” why can’t we? This leads to another trend I’ve observed among women my age: BURN OUT.

We’re tired. We’re frazzled. We’re running ourselves ragged; and we’re over it. At the end of the day, we have nothing left to give but we can’t tell you what it is we’ve given everything to—or at least what we have to show for it.

Here’s a secret: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY. 

Right before I had my oldest son, I read an article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter on why women can’t have it all. Seven years later, the article still holds so much truth.

Slaughter was the first female director of policy planning at the State Department. In the article she states VERY matter-of-factly that women who have achieved high levels of success in their career and in motherhood are superhuman, rich or self-employed. She also dispels some “half-truths” that women tell themselves about success and work-life balance. These include misconceptions like: “It’s possible if you’re just committed enough” or “It’s possible if you marry the right person.”

March 2nd will mark one year since I committed to pursuing my dream of a full time writing and speaking career. In the last 12 months, I’ve given up TV and free time and sleep and social events and all manner of other things to pursue my dream. If we’re talking about commitment to dreams, I’m all in. As far as marriage is concerned, I married the exact right person. My husband is incredibly supportive of my writing endeavors. He’s never said “no” to me investing in myself. He ALWAYS agrees to stay with the boys when I need to get things done; and if he can’t do it, we have enough money to pay for babysitters.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the last year:

You cannot give 100% of yourself in every area of your life. Something will slip. You will burn out.  

This is where knowing yourself and the season you’re in is important. If you know who and what are important to you as well as what’s realistic for you to accomplish in the season of life that you’re in, then you’re more likely to say “no” to the wrong opportunities—the things that will stress you out and put a strain on other areas of your life--and “yes” to the right ones. You’re also less likely to guilt yourself over the things you’re not doing or the opportunities you’re passing up.

For those of us hard-charging, goal oriented enneagram threes and eights, let me say it this way:

There’s nothing wrong with growing slow and growing small.

 Success is never achieved overnight and success at the expense of your mental or physical health or relationships isn’t the type of success you want to achieve in the first place. Stop comparing your achievements to others and start pursuing your dreams on your own terms.

Here are five resources that have helped me grow at my own pace—both personally and professionally—over the past twelve months:

1.) Christy Wright’s Business Boutique- Whether you have one business idea or just lots of ideas and hobbies, this book will help you narrow your focus to figure out whether that dream you’ve always had is worth pursuing.

2.) Cultivate What Matters Intentional Goal Planner- You don’t have to have a career or a business or even a side hustle to get a lot out of this planner. The Cultivate What Matters Goal Planner is perfect for anyone who has a vision for what you want your life to look like in the next year and is (somewhat) motivated to stay on track to realizing that vision.

3.) Personal Capital Finance App- Admittedly, I don’t use this app as much as I should. However, my husband does and he is slowly turning me on to the awesomeness that is solid financial management and growing your bank account in a small, yet steady way.

4.) Day Designer Daily Planner- It is honestly the best daily planner I’ve ever had. The “Today’s Top Three” list helps me to focus on what’s most important that particular day, and the to-do list that sits side by side with the daily schedule helps me see where I can fit in various tasks throughout my day.

5.) Actionable Core Values Worksheet- Full disclosure: this is something I created. Knowing my core values—who I am, what I stand for and what’s important to me—has served as a basis for my decision making over the past year. Sign up for the email list below and get the core values guide sent straight to your inbox!

This Is Thirty-Five: Four Questions To Discern The Voice of God

Photo by  Allen Taylor  on  Unsplash

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

Preface: December 2nd was the first day of Advent in the She Reads Truth Advent series. Last night’s scripture reading was from Micah 7:7:

“I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. He will hear me.”

Read on to find out why that scripture on that day was significant…

Yesterday, I gave birth to my blog baby. Nine months ago, I launched This is Thirty Four into the world. Like birthing an actual child, I’ve coddled this website and the dream of a writing career from the day it was conceived. Also similar to an actual child, I made lots of assumptions about what “it” would be like: what I would write about, how many “followers” I would gain, what opportunities I would be presented with.

What I didn’t think of was how the process of writing and sharing my life would change me. Nine months ago I couldn’t have foreseen the way that God would use what started as my desire to achieve and be known to HUMBLE ME and help me understand what it means to FIND MY IDENTITY AND MY REST IN HIM.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Nine months ago, I thought I’d use This is Thirty Four to tell the story of my own victory over challenges I’ve faced in life. Yet, during this gestational period, I realized that it isn’t my victory or my story at all. MY LIFE IS A TESTIMONY TO GOD’S POWER, GRACE AND MERCY.

How did I recover from an eating disorder in my early 20s?

BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

How do I live with and fight anxiety attacks as they threaten to steal my joy?

BY FILLING MY HEART AND MIND WITH HIS TRUTH.

How can I cure the ails of perfectionism and stop placing so much emphasis on material things? By remembering that I AM ONLY MADE PERFECT BY HIS BLOOD and EVERYTHING I HAVE IS FROM HIM.

Any story I share is one HE has written.

“He must increase, and I must decrease.” John 3:30

I turn 35 on Friday. What has been one of the most challenging years of my life is finally coming to a close. The past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned this year. Here are two:

I can make plans for the future, but the Lord directs my steps each day.

More of Him. Less of me. In all things.

Can I be honest? I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me 35 years to figure these things out. I wonder if I could have learned these lessons earlier and in another way; but I don’t think so.

We see the blessings God has given us in the good times, but we EXPERIENCE GOD and GROW TOGETHER WITH HIM in our difficulties. The easy seasons of life call us to praise what God has done. The hard seasons show us who God is and how much we need HIM to guide us every step of the way.

I assumed that when the tough stuff ended--when I made it to the other side of my year of “wandering in the wilderness”--I’d emerge with clear direction and renewed focus, both for my writing and my life. I spent months praying for clarity, and God seemed silent.

Sometimes the wilderness can end, but the waiting continues.

The closer I came to 35, the more frustrated I became over God’s silence. Not only would the URL I (poorly) chose no longer make sense (if it ever did), but I could not reconcile the feeling that I was supposed to keep writing with the lack of direction for what to write about.

Until yesterday…

I was cooking breakfast when the phrase came to me:

STYLE YOUR LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT.

Immediately, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and excitement. I paused and reflected on where the words came from. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than eggs at the time.

STYLE YOUR LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT BY KNOWING JESUS, LOVING WELL AND BEING INTENTIONAL.

It even fit with my core values, the things I’m passionate about and what I’ve already been sharing.

And then it hit me: Those words were from HIM. At what felt like the 11th hour, God showed up. On the day of my blog’s “birth,” He answered my prayer for clarity, not just for this website but for my 35th year of life.

KNOW JESUS. LOVE WELL. BE INTENTIONAL.

So how do I know that those words were from God?

To a certain extent, I don’t. We can never TRULY know, this side of Heaven, whether we have heard the voice of God. If we could audibly hear His voice or know with 100% confidence that He was telling us to do something, we wouldn’t need faith. I once heard a pastor say, “On the outside chance I heard God, I’m gonna do what He told me.”

Same here, Pastor.

When I think I hear the voice of God, I do ask myself a few questions. If the answers to these questions are yes, then I (usually) take it as a green light to move in the direction I feel Him leading me.

1.)  Did I pray about it?

2.)  Is what I think I’m hearing God tell me to do in line with Biblical truth?

3.)  Do I feel a sense of peace about what I’m hearing?

4.)  Have other people or life circumstances aligned and affirmed what I’m hearing?

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of questions; and of course, if the decision was about something bigger than the direction to take the content of a website, I would talk with more people, continue to read scripture and PRAY, PRAY, PRAY.

But for now, for this decision, I can confidently say that God spoke, and I am listening.

One more thing before I go…

I mentioned this post on social media last week. At the time, I only had a few lines of it written. Last night, I sat down to write and couldn’t come up with a single word. So it seems, we’ve come full circle.

Any story I share really is one that HE HAS WRITTEN.

“I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

The Cost of Connection

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Her name is Ferida. She lives in the Spanish style house at the end of my street with her husband Charlie. They are are both in their 80’s, and Charlie’s health is declining; thus, they don’t participate in our weekly neighborhood curbside gatherings. (Those are a real thing. I live in present-day Mayberry.) Until last week, my relationship with Ferida consisted of the pleasantries exchanged while getting the mail or the happenstance of walking in or out of our houses at the same time.

Last Tuesday night, there were emergency vehicles at Ferida and Charlie’s house. The other neighbors and I discussed the trucks at our Wednesday curbside gathering. None of us knew what happened; and we all agreed that someone should walk over and see if everything was ok. I waited for someone else to volunteer. It was close to dinner time and my spaghetti pie wasn’t going to make itself. More than that, I wondered whether knocking on Ferida’s door would open my eyes to a new person to care for—someone I couldn’t unsee due to our close proximity. Did I have room in my schedule—or my heart—for that?

As a strong two on the enneagram, I’m a helper and a connecter by nature. I pride myself on being able to form deep relationships with people—sometimes to my detriment. I take on too much. I say “yes” because I feel like I SHOULD. I offer to help when I don’t really have the time; and I feel people’s pain deeply. Oh, how deeply I feel things.

I’m getting better about managing my “twoness” as I get older. I’m learning to prioritize the essential over the urgent and giving my family, friends and their burdens over to God, rather than trying to shoulder them on my own. Still, developing a relationship with my elderly neighbors seemed like a step backward in my tidy schedule management as well as a potential tax on my emotions.

Long story short, another neighbor volunteered to check on Ferida and Charlie, and I (in true Two form) walked over to check on them with her. That visit opened the door for a series of visits with Ferida this past week.

As it turns out, Ferida needs very little from me, other than someone to sit shoulder to shoulder with her and help her sort through information and her emotions related to her husband’s impending death. As it also turns out, the heart that I didn’t think was big enough to hold one more person’s pain expanded just a little to let Ferida in. After Sunday night’s visit, Ferida looked at me through tearful eyes and said: “Thank you for helping me process this information. I think I just needed someone to listen.”

*****************

I won’t lie, I woke up yesterday feeling depleted. Not just from supporting Ferida, but from a week—maybe even a couple weeks—full of connecting with people. People I legitimately love. People I would give the shirt off my back if they needed it and who I willingly give my time to. Unfortunately, I think I’ve become so good at connecting with other people that I’ve forgotten how to connect with myself.

In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath say that connecting with others requires two things: responsiveness (e.g.- validation and caring) and openness (e.g.- vulnerability). I’d add time and availability to that list; and I’d venture to say that the same principles that apply to connecting with others apply to connecting with ourselves (e.g.- self-care). We can’t nurse our own emotionally depleted souls back to health unless we do the following:

  1. Acknowledge the problem.

  2. Understand the cause of the problem.

  3. Make time to fix the problem.

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

1.) Acknowledging the problem: I’m exhausted. I feel like I never have any time to do the things I love because I’m always doing things for other people. (This is pretty much the siren song of Enneagram twos, by the way. Please don’t take pity on me. I’ve done this to myself.)

2.) Understanding the cause of the problem: I’ve told myself that the world—or at least the people in my world—NEED me. That their lives will fall apart if I am not there to HELP them. While I genuinely LOVE helping other people, the problem arises when I start to derive my self-worth from the helping. Lately, I’ve not only derived my worth from the helping, but I’ve become resentful of the very thing that’s “supposed” to bring me satisfaction.

3.) Making time to fix the problem: Notice that I didn’t go straight to “fixing the problem.” For people like me, who value connection, our calendars can be so booked with volunteering and meetings and coffee dates and helping, helping, helping that we often need to clear our schedule before we even have TIME to helping ourselves. For me, making time to fix the problem means making time for myself. Clearing my calendar for a week to do things that I enjoy—for no other reason than the fact that I enjoy them.

Fixing the problem also means connecting with THE ONE who gives me life and remembering who I am in Christ. I am loved, and I am worthy. Not because of what I do or who I help but because I am HIS CHILD. As Brian Frost, the pastor of the church I attended in grad school, once said:

“Jesus, not my productivity, is my justification.”

The older I get, the more I realize that when I take my eyes off of Him—whether that’s by focusing too much on others or on myself—everything falls apart. This doesn’t mean I won’t keep checking in on Ferida or that I’ll stop trying to connect with people I love. It simply means that on weeks like this one, when I feel my body and soul growing weary from all the doing, I need to pause and redirect my focus. The biggest help I’ll ever be to othesr is in pointing them to Christ.

ALL EYES ON HIM.

Simplify September: Week Four Meal Plan

Photo by  Randy Fath  on  Unsplash

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Hard to believe, but we’ve reached week four of Simplify September. Of all the things I’ve done for this month-long project, the meal plans have been the easiest. Sitting down and planning my family’s weekly menu is something I do every Sunday, so sharing it with all of you is just an outgrowth of something I’m already doing.

Here is this week’s dinner menu at the Prentice household:

Simplify September Week Four Meal Plan

Sunday- Slow cooker white chicken chili. Whole 30 approved, though I usually add some rice for my husband and children.

Monday- Skinnytaste Turkey Burgers with Zucchini. I eat it bunless on a bed of lettuce with a sprinkle of feta and some balsamic vinegar drizzled over the top. I’ll serve it with a baked potato and brussel sprouts or broccoli. (Short cut carrots for the oldest, picky tiny human.)

Tuesday- Tacos. Everyone knows this recipe…or at least I hope you do. I eat taco salad instead and occasionally (read: EVERY TIME) indulge in chips and salsa.

Wednesday- Paleo/Whole 30 Salisbury Steak Meatballs and Mashed Potatoes. I have never made this recipe, but it looks delicious and fairly simple. Count me in. I’ll throw in some green beans for veggies.

Thursday- Paleo Buffalo Chicken Casserole. Again, never made this one, but the recipe had me at Franks Red Hot Sauce. I’ll serve it with a salad. The boys probably won’t eat this one, so I will make them my lazy kid-friendly meal of bean burritos, fruit, carrots and cherry tomatoes.

Friday- Homemade pizza. I usually do one pizza with tomato sauce and one with pesto sauce; and I buy the frozen cauliflower pizza crust from Trader Joes for myself and top it with pesto, chicken, bacon and a smattering of shredded parmesan.

Saturday- Sausages (I either buy Applegate Farms or Aidells), sweet potato and/or regular fries (frozen, from Traders) and broccoli or salad. I will be gone most of Saturday. This is the laziest meal I could think of.

For more recipe inspiration, you can follow me on Pinterest. Thank you, again, for coming along on Simplify September. It’s been an honor and a joy to do dinner with you!

Simplify September: Week Three Meal Plan

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We are halfway through Simplify September, and I’m gonna be honest. I think this project was more for my benefit than anyone else. I have learned a lot about myself, what I’m capable—and not capable—of doing and what’s important to me over the last few weeks. One thing this project has confirmed: I enjoy cooking. I’m not a gourmet cook, but I enjoy it; and I love sharing what I make with other people.

My Simplify September Week Three Meal Plan is below. Once again, it’s MOSTLY gluten and dairy free and ALMOST Whole 30 compliant. It’s also quick, easy and heavily reliant on a crock pot, because while I love cooking, I don’t like spending a lot of time and energy doing it.

As with everything Simplify September related, I hope this makes your week a little easier. Enjoy and remember to send me your favorite recipes!

Simplify September Week Three Meal Plan

Sunday: Flank steak salad. No real recipe here. Just cook the steak to your liking. (I personally prefer medium rare sauteed in butter, garlic, sea salt and cracked pepper.) Then, cut in thin strips and serve over lettuce and all your favorite veggies. Add blue cheese or feta if you desire. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing!

Monday: Fennel Sausage Soup from Whole 30 Fast and Easy. Don’t be put off by the fennel. This is one of the best soups I’ve ever made!

Tuesday: Slow cooker sesame-orange chicken from Against All Grain. The Instapot version of the recipe is on Danielle’s website. The slow cooker version is here. Served over a bed of frozen cauliflower rice from Trader Joes.

Wednesday: Braised chicken in artichoke-mushroom sauce from Against All Grain. I’ll add a side of broccoli and baby carrots to up the veggie quotient.

Thursday: Slow cooker BBQ chicken sandwiches with brussel sprouts (more short cut carrots for my picky oldest child) and baked potatoes. Again, no real recipe for this. Just cover chicken in water in a crock pot and cook on low for 4 hours. Toss in your favorite BBQ sauce, melt cheese on the buns if you like. I eat it without bunless.

Friday: Spicy Avocado Shrimp Stacks from Skinnytaste. I. AM. OBSESSED.

Saturday: Spaghetti (zoodles) with frozen meatballs and jar sauce from Trader Joes and salad. Because it’s Saturday, and you’re allowed to phone it in.

Simplify September: Week Two Meal Plan

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We made it to week two of Simplify September. While I'm not that excited about the whole Capsule Wardrobe thing (follow me on Instagram for updates on that), I AM LOVING the opportunity to connect with so many of you as we learn to slow down and focus on what and who matters most to us. 

Sunday is my grocery shopping day. I usually go around 7 or 8 p.m. because the stores have cleared out by then, and I can put my earbuds in, listen to a podcast and power through my list. Here's what I'm cooking for dinner this week. I'm three days in to a very lazy Whole 30 (think one drink per week and the occasional half of a muffin), so most of these recipes are Whole 30 compliant! 

You can follow me on Pinterest for more recipe inspiration; and here's the link to the week one meal plan in case you missed it! 

Simplify September Week Two Dinner Menu

Sunday: Rotisserie Chicken with salad and sweet potatoes. Because Lazy Whole 30 and Lazy Sunday. 

Monday: Salmon with rosemary fingerling potatoes and green beans

Tuesday: LEFTOVERS! Both the chicken and the salmon come from Costco and, thus, are huge. The boys start Awanas on Tuesday night, and we have to be out the door by 5:30. Leftovers just make sense. 

Wednesday: Cilantro Lime Chicken Skillet. I'm putting this over cauliflower rice, which I am only mildly sure my children will eat. I'll also cook a plain chicken breast for the oldest tiny human, because, if you read the Week One Dinner Menu post, you know he is anything but adventurous when it comes to food.

Thursday: Pizza night! I have a friend coming into town this week. We're going out for a girl's night on Thursday, where I will surely enact Lazy Whole 30 status and have the aforementioned drink...or two. The boys get frozen pizzas. 

Friday: One Skillet Shrimp and Broccolini. I will not use the gelatin listed on this recipe. I'm positive the broccolini will turn out fine without it. This is the one weekly meal that my children will NOT eat. So, I'll "cook" them my "default meal" of bean burritos, short cut carrots and avocado. 

Saturday: Ground Turkey Brussel Sprouts Skillet. My children will eat the deconstructed version of this (plain turkey meat, peppers, avocado). 

Happy Sunday and Happy Eating! 

 

Simplify September: Week One Meal Plan

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Before I share the Simplify September meal plan(s), you need to know this: I am not a food blogger or an exceptional cook. I enjoy cooking, and I don't suck at it; but I am very, well, SIMPLE when it comes to meal planning and grocery shopping. The Simplify September meal plans are merely an extension of who I am and how I cook. I will LITERALLY be buying, cooking and eating all the things I'm sharing with you over the next 30 days. 

Most of the meals are dairy and gluten free...except the occasional pizza night...because that's how my family and I eat most of the time. The meals are also, mostly kid-friendly. My oldest child is a VERY PICKY EATER; and I hate modifying my meals for him. So, I try to cook meals that he will eat or that have at least a few elements that he will eat. 

I will post a new meal plan every Friday.

The meal plans only cover dinner.

If you're wondering what I eat for breakfast and lunch, here ya go...

Breakfast: I eat a smoothie, a Cashew Cookie Larabar or eggs with wilted spinach, avocado and bacon for breakfast every day of the week.

Lunch: I eat a salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing almost every day of the week. A lot of days I go out to lunch with a friend. Some days I skip lunch altogether. This is a bad habit that I am trying to break.  

Here's the Simplify September Week One Meal Plan

Sunday: White Bean Chicken Chili with crushed tortilla chips and salad. Recipe is the third one down on this link. 

Monday: Mexican Haystack Rice bowls. I don't eat the rice. Recipe here. 

Tuesday: Chicken Caesar Sandwiches (I eat the chicken on a bed of lettuce) with broccoli and baked potatoes. Recipe for sandwiches here. Favorite broccoli recipe here. 

Wednesday: Crock Pot Pork Chops, salad and bread. (I don't eat the bread, but my husband and children do.) The pork chops are my mom's recipe, and they are literally the easiest thing in the world.

Here's the recipe: Mix 1 cup flour, 1 TBL garlic salt and 1 tsp ground mustard together in a ziplock bag. Coat pork chops and cook on skillet for 3 minutes on each side til lightly browned. Put pork chops in crock pot & cover with 2-3 cans of chicken and rice soup. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. 

Thursday: Salmon Bisque. The recipe is here. I don't add in the flour, and I use coconut milk instead of cream.

Friday: Hamburgers, sweet potato fries, salad. My husband makes the burgers using the sous vide method. I buy frozen sweet potato fries from Trader Joes. I eat my hamburger on a bed of lettuce. 

Saturday: Spaghetti and meatballs with zoodles instead of noodles, salad. I buy the frozen zoodles from Trader Joes, the frozen meatballs from Trader Joes and a can of spaghetti sauce from Trader Joes because SIMPLIFY SEPTEMBER. Admittedly, my family is not fully on board with the zoodles, and I often end up making them some actual pasta. Can't win em all, folks. 

**NOTE** My youngest child will eat the salmon bisque, but my oldest won't touch it. My default meal for my oldest, when he won't eat what I'm making, is a bean burrito with carrots and cherry tomatoes. (Those are the only two vegetables he eats. And yes, I know tomatoes aren't vegetables.)

**ANOTHER NOTE** Neither of my children eat salad. So, I give them the elements of the salad that they will eat: carrots, peppers, avocado, cherry tomatoes. 

I truly hope these meal plans help Simplify September for you. If you have a recipe you'd like to share with me, send me an email! I'm always looking for inspiration! And, if you want to see more of my favorite recipes, you can follow me on Pinterest

 

Simplify September: Calendar and Details

Photo by  Steinar Engeland  on  Unsplash

In less than 24 hours, it will be September 1st. Because I am a planner--and I think many of you are too--I'm posting the details of the Simplify September project TODAY! That way, you can hit the ground running tomorrow morning! 

The whole point of Simplify September is to make our lives less complicated. Things tend to get busier and busier during the last few months of the year. Simplify September is a way to slow down, scale back, clean up and figure out what's really important to you. That way, when the holiday season hits (believe it or not, it's just around the corner), you'll know who, what and how to prioritize in order to spend as much time as possible with the people who mean the most to you. 

There are five elements to the Simplify September project: 

1.) The 30-day Simplify September calendar (posted below)

2.) The Simplify September Meal Plans. Week One here. Week Two here

3.) The Simplify September capsule wardrobe

4.) The Simplify September reading plan (more info below)

5.) The Simplify September workbook (more info below)

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO ALL THESE THINGS.

You can do some of them. You can do most of them. You can do none of them and simply follow along and see what other people are doing. Pretty much everything in the Simplify September project can actually be done during any month of the year. 

 The Simplify September 30-day calendar is at the bottom of this post. 

Each week on the calendar, we take on a different area of life. In week one, we clear the physical clutter. In week two, we calm the mental chaos. In week three, we simplify our schedules; and in week four, we work on our relationships. Some of the items on the calendar repeat themselves. That's because they are REALLY THAT IMPORTANT. If you find one suggestion extra helpful, try incorporating it into your daily, weekly or monthly routine. 

On Sundays, we meal prep and reflect.

Every Sunday, I will post a new meal plan--with recipes. The meal plans will be updated weekly. Week one is here. Week two is here

I will also take time to reflect on the previous and upcoming week; and I encourage you to do the same. I've created a workbook for each week that includes questions to help you with those reflections. 

If you want the Simplify September workbook and weekly encouragement from me in your inbox, sign up for the Simplify September email list below. 

You can find information about the Simplify September capsule wardrobe here. This includes links to most of the items I'm wearing next month. 

And finally, the Simplify September reading plan is so simple that it doesn't need it's own post: Simply read one chapter from the book of Proverbs every day for the next 30 days. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, so you'll have to read two chapters one day this month. That's it.

One more thing before you go...

In addition to my Tuesday Truth (Tuesday mornings at 7 a.m. PST on Instagram Live), I'll be doing some bonus Instagram Lives throughout the month. I'd love to have some of you join me on those Instagram Lives to talk about the Simplify September project and what you're learning through it. Send me an email and we can try to set up a time for a LIVE CHAT!  I'll also be using the #simplifyseptember hashtag when I post something related to the project on Instagram. Feel free to tag your Simplify September posts with the same hashtag! 

Everything about Simplify September is supposed to make you feel more calm, more organized and more present for the people and things that matter. If something in this project makes you feel stressed out or frazzled or anxious or not good enough, DON'T DO IT! 

I'm so excited to calm the chaos in our minds, relationships, time and possessions with you! Let's Simplify September together! 

Simplify September Calendar

This calendar was designed by my friend  Amy at Amy's Art Table . 

This calendar was designed by my friend Amy at Amy's Art Table

Simplify September: How to Live Like It's Summer All Year Long

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It's only the second day of school, and I can already feel the chaos that comes along with the last few months of the year creeping in. I can smell the pumpkin spice and see my calendar filling up with field trips and meetings and holiday parties. My mind is racing with questions like whether I filled out that form or when I should sign up to volunteer and what to make for dinner, or the bake sale, or the hundredth day of school celebration.  I can see it on other people's faces too; and I hear it in their voices when we talk about going "back to school" and stepping into "a busier season." 

Oh summer, where art thou????

In summer, whether in reality or perception, things seem to slow down. We stay up later. We go on vacation. We linger over dinner al fresco. Then we reach the end of August; and whether you have school age kids or not--but especially if you do have children--something shifts. Something in us becomes busier, more schedule oriented and, honestly, more stressed out as we approach the end of the calendar year. 

But what if it didn't have to be this way? What if the start of school simply meant a different schedule, not necessarily a more hectic one? What if the dawn of fall and the end of the calendar year meant having a few more months to do the things we love and more reasons to spend time with our loved ones? 

At the start of summer, I set three goals:

1.) Slow down

2.) Spend time with people I love

3.) Love others well

I loved how those three things centered my focus and my days these past three months, so much so that I intend to keep them as guidelines for my life for the rest of the year. And I've devised a plan to keep myself accountable those goals and help all of you live a less chaotic life for the remainder of 2018...or at least the month of September. 

I'm calling it the "Simplify September" project (#simplifySeptember for those of you who want to follow along on Instagram). Starting September 1st, I'll be doing the following:

  • Posting weekly challenges that help you simplify your time, possessions, relationships and mind
  • Sharing a calendar of 30 things (one for each day) that you can do to live more intentionally
  • Creating a This is Thirty Four Facebook Group where you can go to find encouragement and chat with others about how you're focusing on calm over chaos in September and for the rest of 2018

If you're like me, however, you hear about a challenge like Simplify September, and you want to GET STARTED RIGHT NOW. Good news! You can...on Monday! 

Part of Simplify September will be creating a capsule wardrobe for the month. If there's one thing my Year Without Clothes has taught me, it's that when we simplify our wardrobes--and the amount of time we spend thinking about our wardrobes--it frees us up to do SO MANY OTHER THINGS. Since capsule wardrobes actually take a bit of pre-planning, I'm created a post for Monday, August 20th that explains what pieces I'm putting in my Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe, why I chose them and where you can find those items if you want to create a similar capsule wardrobe. 

I hope you'll join me in the Simplify September Project--not because I want more blog traffic or Instagram followers or Facebook friends, but because I truly believe that life is too short to be lived in a constant state of chaos. Let's take back our time, stress less about things that don't matter and create more space for the things that do. Let's Simplify September together. 

 

On Mental Health Awareness and Being a Crappy Christian: An Interview with Blake Guichet of Magnolia Ink

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Can I be honest? I struggle with social media. I vacillate between feeling inferior and alone because it looks like everyone is doing something infinitely more awesome than me or feeling like I'm part of the problem. On an Internet where people only the show the highlight reel of their lives, it's rare to see someone whose feed--and whose life--is beautifully honest. 

When I think of my friend Blake Guichet, those two words come to mind: BEAUTIFULLY HONEST. One look at her Instagram feed (@thegirlnamedblake), and you'll know I'm right. Blake is both beautiful and honest. She's also a talented writer, a mental health advocate and a self-proclaimed "crappy Christian." And did I mention that she's hilarious??

Blake and I connected through the RISE conference, and though we didn't get the chance to meet face-to-face, I felt confident enough in who she was as a person (and in her amazing graphic design skills) to ask her to re-design This Is Thirty Four. Every interaction I've had with her over the past few months--and everything I've seen her post on social media during that time--has only confirmed that Blake is as real deal. 

Blake's Instagram feed offers daily encouragement to me to be more intentional (you know I love that word) in the way I'm living my life. Her heart for Jesus and for others shines through in everything she writes. So, read this interview and be encouraged by Blake's words; and then go follow her on Instagram. You'll thank me later! 

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hey Blake! Thanks for doing this interview. For those that don’t follow you on Instagram (but will after this interview), tell them who you are.  

Blake Guichet (BG): I’m a born and raised Louisianian, like in the “never lived anywhere else” sense. I graduated from LSU in 2011 with plans to move very far away and begin my career as a writer/speaker, but God had other ideas. I met my now husband, Jeremy, about two months before I graduated, fell head over heels in love, and kept my roots right where they were. We got married a year later, had our first daughter, Pacey, a year after that, and our second daughter Elliot two years after that. We’ve packed a lot of life into the last seven years, but it’s pretty dang beautiful.

So now I’m a work from home mom wearing a lot of hats – business owner, graphic designer, writer, sometimes-blogger, and I’m sure a whole bunch I’m forgetting. But I love it. I love our life, and I’m thankful that God’s plan is always better than our best-laid ones.

JP: Well, from my perspective, you are rocking each of the hats you’re wearing, especially Magnolia Ink. Tell me more about your business.  

BG: Magnolia Ink is my branding and website design business, officially born in July of 2017, but it had been kind of lurking in the background in an unofficial sense for years before that. My number one priority in my business is using my abilities to enable other business owners to move forward towards their dreams with a brand and a web presence that accurately represents them.

JP: From working with you on the redesign of This is Thirty Four (thank you for that, by the way), I know that you have a well-oiled process for designing people's websites and branding. How did you develop that process? Or maybe a better question is: what lessons did you learn early on that led you to develop such a great process?

BG: This question cracked me up because my process is built exclusively off of trial and error. I did (& still do) a lot of “business” things wrong, have to learn lessons the hard way, & put policies in place to ensure they don’t happen again. But I definitely love where my process is now. My two week turn around for a brand and a website is really attractive to a lot of people because it enables me to focus on one client at a time and give them the attention and product they deserve. My business is super automated so that I spend minimal time on the small stuff and maximum time on the things I love and with my people.

JP: You have a beautiful blog yourself, but you recently took a step back from blogging. Can you talk about that and why you chose to step back?

BG: Honestly, I felt like God was telling me to. Is that a super Sunday school answer? I just started to feel like the blog isn’t where I needed to be putting my energy. So I stepped back and asked Him how he wanted me to move forward, knowing He’d be faithful to funnel my desire to serve Him with my words and thoughts to something else.

JP: So, what does rest and simplifying and scaling back mean to you right now?

BG: It means keeping my heart in check above everything else. It’s asking myself “why am I doing this, what is my intention? Is it to achieve and to feel better about myself, or is it to glorify the kingdom and use the gifts God gave me?” It feels weird to say that encouraging and challenging others is my “gift,” but I’m learning to lean into that a little more. I recently launched an email campaign where people can subscribe, and I’m sending out a weekly email with everything from Biblical insight to my favorite bra, and everything in between. It feels like a perfect middle ground between blogging and nothing at all. It’s much more personal and more private, but still a huge way to connect with people and continue building a community.

JP: Speaking of connecting with other people, one of the things that I think a lot of people can connect with you on is mental health. You're extremely open about mental health and the importance of managing your mental health. Can you talk about your own struggles and some of the things you've learned?

BG: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression when I was 20, and it’s taken me about nine years of walking through life with those disorders before I started really openly talking about it. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that pulling the things that Satan wants to be left in the dark - our struggles, the things he can pin us down with - that’s where the power is. Pulling that stuff into the light and declaring that Jesus already has victory over them, that’s when we win. Because then we get to join in with each other and stand next to our sisters and brothers and then no man is an island.

JP: You have a list of resources for people who are struggling with anxiety/mental health issues. Talk about that and how people can get access to it.

BG: Yes! I put together Through the Waves: Prayers & Verses for the Anxious Heart honestly as a resource for myself at first, but as I cultivated it and really leaned into using it, I realized so many people could benefit from it as well. So you can find it on my blog at https://www.thegirlnamedblake.com/home/through-the-waves

JP: I think pretty much everything I write starts out as something I need to hear and then ends up as something I share with other people in the hopes that they might benefit from it too. I know your resource guide is touching a lot of people’s hearts and minds and helping them in their journey.

 Let’s lighten things up a bit.  You are such a fun person to follow on Instagram because you are so freaking funny. What role does humor play in managing anxiety/mental health?

BG: Hah! This question made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. I don’t know if I’m funny as much as I am painfully honest, but I think sometimes that translates to funny. I absolutely have had to learn to laugh at myself & my circumstances. I honestly use sarcasm as a bit of a defense mechanism, sometimes to a fault (ask my husband). But being able to allow things to roll off your back and have a snarky comment to go with it makes life a little less heavy and can make it feel like the walls aren’t always closing in.

JP: And speaking of funny, you want to write a book, potentially entitled "Confessions of a Crappy Christian." I would read that book. I feel like that describes my life...or at least my journal entries..can you talk about your faith, the role it plays in your life and what it means to be a "crappy Christian"?

 BG: I think that’s going to end up being the official title of the book because so many people identify with it. I know some Christians will probably be highly offended by someone describing themselves as “crappy” in their faith, but my heart and prayer for this book are that not just Christian women are reading it. I want people who have heard about Jesus but are maybe turned off by this idea of perfectionism and holier-than-thou believers to pick up the book  and see someone who loves Jesus more than anything, telling the story of how often they get it wrong, and how much Jesus still loves them because of it.

JP: Yes! Yes! YESSSS! I think that’s a message we all need to hear, regardless of where we’re at in our faith journey. Well, you know me well enough by now to know that I could talk to you for hours. BUT, I am going to end the interview with the question I ask everyone: At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you hope to leave?

BG: Dang. This is a good one. My first thought is my girls. I want my legacy to be two strong, deeply rooted, on fire for the kingdom women who are consistently rocking the boat and confident in who they are in Christ. I want people to remember me as someone who made them feel a little less alone in their day to day crap, who challenged them to be the best version of themselves and maybe made them laugh along the way.

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12 Ways To Live Intentionally Today

In 2008, I started a blog called The Style Geek where I wrote about the intersection of fashion and technology----years before Instagram and Pinterest launched and well before the term "brand influencer" was in our common vernacular. Women like Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere and Joy Cho of Oh Joy started blogging around the same time. They, along with so many others who hopped on the blogging bandwagon back them are now millionaires..and I'm, well, not. 

So what happened? Why did Emily and Joy succeed and I didn't?

First, they didn't give up. They consistently produced quality content, even when it felt hard or they weren't motivated. I, on the other hand, was often too tired from working a full time job and binge watched "How I Met Your Mother" on Netflix instead of pursuing my dream of being a successful author. 

Second, they remained confident in themselves. I'm sure they had days, weeks or even months of self-doubt, but they didn't let temporary discouragement or anxiety influence the course of their lives. I spent a lot of time looking at what THEY were doing, told myself "I could never be like them" and threw in the towel. 

Third, they managed the "everyday chaos" of life (their minds, schedules, relationships, money, etc) so that they could focus on what mattered most and reach their goals. Ten years ago, I was still getting control of the basics of life: managing my anxiety, learning how to be a good friend and wife and figuring out how to spend my time and money. Launching a blog and pursuing my dreams was pretty far down on my to-do list and seemed like something only people with money, intelligence or some sort of magic could do.

If I had known then what I know now, I might be farther along in my career than I am today. Emily and Joy weren't richer (at the time), smarter or more magical than me. They just kept going, remained confident and controlled their chaos a little better. And yet, I'm grateful for my journey--for the struggles and the self-doubt and even for the fact that I shuttered The Style Geek after a few months--because all of it brought me to today. To thirty four years old. To this blog and this post. 

My goal with (re)launching This Is Thirty Four is to create a space on the Internet where women can come to find encouragement and practical tips for how to find freedom from the "everyday chaos" of life, so that they can live more intentionally and spend time on what truly matters. To be honest, I'm still a work in progress myself. Most of what I write on here is just me, preaching to my own heart. By God's grace, I'm growing in new ways every day, and if something I write on here can make another woman's life a little easier, then I'll consider this whole thing a success. 

Now about those practical tips I just mentioned...

Since this blog is called This Is Thirty Four and since I'll be talking primarily about how to manage our minds, relationships, time and possessions, I created a list--a manifesto, if you will--of 34 things you can do RIGHT NOW to start living more intentionally in the aforementioned areas of life. I've listed 12 of my ideas for intentionality below, and you can join my newsletter list below to get the full list! The Monthly 34 email goes out on the 30th of every month, so you'll get this month's edition delivered to your inbox tonight! 

For now, here are 12 ways to start living more intentionally TODAY: 

Intentional minds:

  1. Start your day off centered- Meditate, pray or read your Bible. Then, write down three things that would make today great and three things you are thankful for. 
  2. Listen more than you watch- Queue up podcasts about topics you enjoy (I'm always sharing my favorites in my Instagram stories), and listen to those instead of watching TV. I quit watching TV (with the exception of a Monday night Bachelorette viewing party with friends and the occasional Netflix comedy special) earlier this year. I cannot believe how little I miss it or how much I've grown from listening to podcasts instead. 
  3. Realize that people think about you far less than you THINK they are thinking about you. That conversation you keep dwelling on or that thing you had stuck in your teeth or that time you ran into your boss while you were wearing a bikini at the beach. No one is thinking about it more than you are. Stop wasting mental energy on something that's not really that important after all. 

Intentional relationships: 

  1. Make a list of people who are important to you, but who you haven't talked to in a while then text them just to let them know you're thinking about them. I guarantee it will make their day! 
  2. Don't mix phones with food. If you're eating a meal with someone, put down the phone and engage in conversation with them instead. 
  3. Let your "yes" be "yes." If you told someone you would be there, be there. Keep your commitments to others and they'll keep showing up for you. 

Intentional time: 

  1. Put down your phone- Full disclosure: This is something I'm still working on. I'm TRYING to designate specific times of day to check social media and texts and then put my phone down the rest of the day. I think I'll be a lot more productive, and I know I'll be more present with my friends and family. 
  2. Prioritize your day- At the end of each day, take a look at the next day's schedule and to-do list and decide what MUST get done first and what can't be put off one more day. 
  3. Share a calendar with your significant other- Seeing what each of you has going on during the week helps avoid surprises--and conflict. If you haven't already listened, Rachel and Dave Hollis just did an entire RISE Together podcast on how to plan with your spouse

Intentional possessions: 

  1. Control what comes in- One of the main benefits of going A Year Without Clothes is that there's not a lot of new stuff coming into my house these days, and thus, it seems a little less cluttered. Be aware of the ways new "stuff" creeps into your home. It comes in through shopping and through things like party or wedding favors, hand-me-downs, artwork from preschool, mail, etc. When you figure out the source of the clutter, you can stop it before it starts. 
  2. Clean your kitchen every night- I know it sounds painful, and at 10 p.m. when you just want to go to bed and the dishes have piled up in the sink, it FEELS painful. But starting your day off with a clean kitchen will help you better manage the state of your entire household throughout the rest of the day. 
  3. Realize you need far less of everything than you think you do. 

If you like these suggestions and want more of them, don't forget to sign up for The Monthly 34 Newsletter. And, if you've got a tip of trick for living more intentionally, leave it in the comments below! 

***Updated 7/30/18 @ 9:00 PM***

I had high hopes of creating a beautiful PDF entitled "34 Ways To Live Intentionally RIGHT NOW" and send it out to everyone who subscribes to my email list. At 9 PM, after working on said PDF for two hours and then realizing I didn't actually know how to include it in my newsletter, I decided to pivot. I'm listing the additional 22 ways to live intentionally below. If you're still reading this post and you aren't subscribed to my newsletter, you win. If you are subscribed to my newsletter, I'm sorry; and I hope you know that I mean it when I say that "perfect is the enemy of the good." 

22 More Ways To Live Intentionally RIGHT NOW

1.) Plan your week- Every Sunday, sit down and look at what's coming up on your schedule and your to-do list. Mark down when you want to accomplish what and where you need be when. 

2.) Identify your time sucks- Determine the things that take more of your time than they should and figure out a way to stop doing those things. 

3.) Stop multi-tasking- Focus on one thing at a time. I guarantee that whatever you're doing will get done so much faster than if you were multi-tasking while doing it.

4.) Learn to say "no"- It's the most powerful word in your vocabulary when it comes to protecting your time. 

5.) Schedule seasonal purges- Especially of toys and clothes. (Pro tip: You can make a decent amount of money by selling toys your kids no longer play with right around late October or November. Market them as Christmas presents. People will go nuts. 

6.) Hang wash and line dry your (nicer) clothes. It's a pain, but they will last longer. 

7.) Focus on quality- It's better to buy one pair of shoes that cost more but lasted longer than six pairs of shoes that only last a week. 

8.) Read before bed- Get out your Kindle...or a headlamp..and read a book before bed. You'll go to be happier than if you spent the night looking up other people's Instagram profiles. 

9.) Text people back ASAP- I am so guilty of not texting people back in a timely manner. In fact, I can think of one person I owe a text to right now. BUT, I'm working on it. Bottom line: Texting people back within a reasonable amount of time, shows them that you truly care about them.

10.) Identify your people- You can't be friends with everyone; and you definitely can't develop quality friendships with lots of people. Figure out the people who matter most to you. Put them first. Spend most of your time with them, and cultivate those relationships. 

11.) Try to "out-give" the other person- This is especially helpful if you're in a long term relationship. Do more for them than they do for you, and don't keep score. 

12.) Keep learning- Never stop. If you think you know everything you need to know, you're wrong. 

13.) Workout- Do something active every day, if possible. This is probably the best tip I can give for mental health. 

14.) Eat healthy- Cut the alcohol and processed food. Add in the veggies, proteins, fibers and fats. Read Body Love by Kelly LeVeque for more.  

15.) Go to sleep- Everything looks better and less overwhelming after a good night's sleep. 

16.) Stop listening to music that makes you feel something you don't want to feel- Maybe music doesn't affect you the way it affects me, in which case, this recommendation is not for you. But if the songs you listen to put you back in a relationship you don't need to be focusing on or a season of your life you'd rather forget, then STOP LISTENING TO IT. 

17.) Realize that you have a choice- You control your mood, what goes into your mouth and what comes out of it. You choose what your day is going to look like and who you are going to spend it with. You get to choose your life. 

18.) Unfollow people who make you feel bad about your life. Social media can be a great place, and it can be a terrible one. If someone is causing you to feel insecure or insignificant, then UNFOLLOW THEM and don't think twice. 

19.) Know yourself- Make a list of your core values as a person. Start with three to five, if you need a number. Then structure your schedule and your life around those values. 

20.) Stay organized. 

21.) Surround yourself with people who push you to be a better person. 

22.) Know that one mistake doesn't define your day or your week...or who you are. 

Komae Founders: Building A Village Through Free Babysitting

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Can I tell you something? Typically, when I think of BEING BRAVE (this month's theme on This is Thirty Four), I think of things like fighting cancer, standing up for social justice issues or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. What I don't think about when I hear the words BEING BRAVE, is starting a business. Can I tell you something else? I WAS WRONG. 

Over the past few months, I've seen firsthand the incredible amount of courage it takes to launch a company and pursue your dreams. I've also realized more than ever that it truly does TAKE A VILLAGE to help you pursue your dreams. That's why I'm ridiculously excited to share this interview with Komae founders Amy Husted and Audrey Wallace. I met Amy and Audrey at RISE last weekend and got a front row seat to watch the two of them boldly share their company and their passion.

These women did not waste a single opportunity to tell people about Komae and how it helps women build relationships and save money through swapping free babysitting with friends. When they got five minutes with Rachel Hollis? They told her about Komae. When they met Jen Hatmaker? They told her about Komae. Watching them BE BRAVE and tell people what they're doing and why it matters was inspiring...AND IT WORKED!  Rachel Hollis mentioned Komae on stage and gave Amy and Audrey the chance to talk about the app in front of the entire conference! 

I just downloaded Komae and started sending it out to friends that I already swap sits with. The app is perfect for church groups, book clubs, neighbors, anyone in your circle of friends who you trust and want to build a relationship with. In a world where busy schedules and social media make us simultaneously more and less connected, Komae does more than just facilitate free babysitting. Amy and Audrey's company reinforces the importance of friendship and face-to-face interaction and challenges us to be the village for our friends and their families. Whether you're building up the courage to launch a company, need to know how to pitch investors or want to find a free and easy way to get babysitters, you will love this interview.

Jenn Prentice (JP): Tell me about yourselves.

Amy & Audrey (A&A):  We are two stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) turned co-founders. We share a dream and the determination to bring it to life, but we also have very different skill sets and personalities. We believe that our differences are what make us successful as co-founders. We build this belief into the Komae brand as we encourage other moms to be who they are without guilt and shame. We believe you can have different opinions and do life differently, while still maintaining a friendship and living life together.

JP: So, what is Komae and what inspired you to start it?

A&A: Komae is an app that empowers parents to exchange free babysitting with their personal network of friends—a solution to a very real problem to find trusted, affordable, guilt-free care for our children.

We were two stressed out SAHMs, each trying to run our own side hustle while maintaining healthy marriages, friendships, and self-care.  The balancing act of mommy-hood is no joke. And it can quickly leave women feeling defeated and depleted, making way for the dreaded and inevitable mommy guilt.  So we decided to do something about it.

We put together a traditional babysitting co-op between us and 10 of our closest friends. After running this co-op for a year, our 10 friends had exchanged babysitting 165 times (nearly every other day!) and had saved $10,000 in babysitting costs. Friendships were strengthened between the moms and the kids.  Marriages were strengthened because date night was no longer just a dream.  And parents were getting the chance to do a few more of the want-to’s in life. It was glorious.  As we were beginning to catch the attention of other moms in our community, along with long-distance friends who were looking to recreate something like this for themselves in their neighborhoods, the wheels began to turn, and began develping the Komae App!

JP: Talk about the process of launching the app. What has the last three years of your life since launching looked like?

A&A: How exactly do two SAHMs go about developing an app?  Well, if we had really known the answer to that, we may not have tried. Lucky for us, as first-time entrepreneurs, we didn’t know better than to throw our heart and soul into this crazy dream.  And throughout every step of our journey, our ‘why’ has been stronger than every ‘why not’ that could be thrown our way.

The past three years have been a whirlwind. All we set out to do was bring free babysitting to families around the world, yet we found ourselves in business meetings learning more about technology, fundraising, HR, business development and legal than we ever imagined.  We took every meeting and said yes to every networking opportunity. We participated in multiple business accelerators, the most noteworthy of all being Project Entrepreneur in NYC. 

People always told us it would take twice as much time and money.  What I didn’t realize is that it would make us twice as strong.

JP: What are your top 3 recommendations for someone looking to create an app or launch a business?

A&A:

Go for it, but don’t go for it alone. If you can, find a co-founder. If you can’t, then make sure you connect yourself with the entrepreneurial resources in your town. Entrepreneurship is not an easy journey and you will need to have others around you to pick you up and push you on when times get hard.

Show up and speak up. You never know which networking event you attend or hand you shake is going to be the one that takes you to the next step. Showing up is the first step, but make sure you speak up while you’re there. Make yourself known. Ask about others. Leave an impression. It takes a village to raise a child, but we also believe it takes a village to build a business.

Get some grit. Without grit, entrepreneurship will break your heart. Not everyone will love what you’re building. You will have investors tell you no. People on social media will say rude things. But you’ve got to desire success more than you care about the opinions of the crowd. Because along the way, if you hold onto that grit, you will find your supporters, your cheerleaders, and your niche.

JP: You have investors. Talk about the process of putting together a pitch.

A&A: Over the course of the last three years, we have won ten pitch competitions and lost one. Not a bad batting average! Our pitch competition success resulted in many equity-free grants and also local press. These wins were truly the building blocks of our funding story.

As for pitching investors directly? We can’t count how many of those meetings we’ve had. Winning over an investor is challenging, especially being two female entrepreneurs solving a problem felt primarily by millennial females. The average investor isn’t a millennial female that has felt the pain of our customer, so getting them to see the need and buy into what we’re building isn’t easy. Where we have been most successful at receiving investments is when pitching local female investors. In fact, a group of 20 women in Northeast Ohio recently came together for a combined investment of $125,000. It was incredible!

JP: I've seen you pitch Jen Hatmaker, and I know you pitched Rachel Hollis. That took guts. What does BEING BRAVE mean to you and how do you find the courage to do things like pitch famous people you've just met?

A&A: BEING BRAVE is all about stopping and asking yourself, “what is the worst that could happen?” Usually the answer is very insignificant. Rachel could have chosen not to respond to our Instagram message. Jen could have nodded and smiled and excused herself to the restroom. Neither of them would have laughed or poked fun because even if they wanted to, that would have looked bad on them. So really, what was there to lose?

On the other hand, what was there to gain? Did we really believe Rachel would reply to our Instagram message, invite us to RISE and say she’d love to hear more about our business? And that she would go as far as to call us out from the stage and tell the whole conference about Komae? Heck no! But she did! If we had lived in fear rather than in faith, we would still be sitting on the other side of the computer wondering “what if?” And that’s not the way we want to live our lives. We’d rather rise.

JP: “Living in faith, rather than fear.” That’s good stuff and something that I not only strive to do but also want to pass on to my boys. You are both moms as well. How have your kids inspired your work?

A&A: Our company is 100% inspired by our kids. If we didn’t have them, then we wouldn’t need to swap babysitting with each other and wouldn’t have realized the problem we needed to solve.

This isn’t only about how we as moms can get free time. It’s also about the socialization that this brings to our children. Our kids LOVE going to a Komae sit because they get to play with friends. They don’t see it as being babysat at all. In fact, Audrey once asked her son Rowan what Komae is and his answer was, “it means I get to go play with my friends.”

Bonus: since you hand-select your village on Komae, that means you hand-select the role models your kids have in their lives. My kids are building relationships with their peers and with the other parents I trust to have an influence on them.

JP: Part of what This is Thirty Four is all about is living with intention and leaving a legacy. What type of legacy do you hope to leave after your time on this earth is through?

A&A: At Komae, we hope to grow a brand that becomes a household name. We hope that Komae becomes a verb and that you hear people say “Hey Honey, let’s Komae the kids and go on a date night.” If we accomplish this goal, then we will be leaving a legacy that says community is important. Date night and prioritizing your spouse is important. Taking care of your mental health as a new mom is important. Life isn’t meant to be lived alone.  

JP: This is all so good and so useful. How can people find you guys?

A&A: We are all over social media and our app is available in both the Google Play store and iTunes. Find it here ->

Website : www.mykomae.com

Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/mykomae

Instagram : @my_komae

Twitter : @mykomae

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Selling With Purpose: An Interview With Noonday Collection Ambassador Amy Rickards

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The unofficial theme for last month’s posts on This is Thirty Four was “New Beginnings.” This month’s theme is (drumroll, please) “Being Brave.” Today’s interview with my friend, Amy Rickards, is the perfect bridge between those two themes.

Amy and I have been friends since high school. We went to the same school, the same church and we even drove the exact same car (see Instagram for photos). As adults, we are living very similar lives on two different coasts. She has two children around the ages of my own kids. She grew up in the south but ended up marrying someone from another state. (Southern girls are often raised to think we will fall in love with southern boys.) We both teach at the college level, and our idea of the perfect afternoon is pretty much the same (see below).

In high school, I would have described Amy as a bit shy and quiet. Not timid. Amy is actually quite head strong (in the best way). She’s passionate and able to articulate her opinions like only a pastor’s daughter with a Master’s Degree in English can (e.g.- eloquently).

Over the past few years, I’ve watched Amy step out of her comfort zone and bravely enter the multi-level-marketing (MLM) space. Last month, she took on a new business venture and become an ambassador for Noonday Collection, and I immediately approached her about an interview. As a lover of fashion, accessories and people, I wholeheartedly support everything Noonday stands for.

Whether you’re working for a company like Noonday, toying with the idea of starting a new business venture, or wanting to step out of your comfort zone in another area of life, I think you’ll be encouraged and inspired by what Amy has to say.

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Jenn Prentice (JP): Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

 Amy Rickards (AR): I am a thirty-six-year-old mother of two smart, funny, highly-energetic children!  My daughter Sophia is seven, and she is tiny but mighty; my son, Jonah, is very much three! I am a sweet tea-on-the-porch sort of Southern girl married to a New Jersey Italian guy, and I am constantly thankful that God brought us together because he makes me laugh every single day and serves our family steadily and faithfully. I teach college courses for Regent University and Liberty University, and now I have become an ambassador for Noonday Collection. I love good books, coffee, and conversation, and the best scenario involves all three.

JP: I’m basically living a West Coast version of your life, so I know you’re already insanely busy. What made you decide to add online sales/multi-level marketing to your plate? 

AR: Last year about this time I found a product that I love, and I started selling it, kind of on a whim, really. I’ve never been a very sales-y or pushy person, yet I found myself really loving interacting with my customers and helping them. It made me happy to help make women feel stronger and more confident about themselves—women starting new jobs, women grieving the loss of a loved one and just wanting to feel good, women getting married, and tired, thirty-something moms who needed a pick-me-up. I also found sales to be very satisfying in a different way from my other roles—teaching and motherhood have very subjective successes that are hard to measure quantitatively, and I loved the very objective, clear-cut success found in selling something.

JP: The objective, clear-cut success of selling versus the subjective successes of teaching and motherhood. Couldn’t have said it better myself. So, what attracted you to Noonday? 

AR: I was immediately attracted to Noonday’s mission and the way that they serve the artisans creating these beautiful pieces. I’ve had so much fun this past year selling a different product, and I felt strongly that God wanted me to use some of the gifts and talents that He’s developing in me for a greater good.

I’m reading through Shauna Niequist’s devotional book Savor this year, and one of her entries from February resonated with me titled, “What I Came to Do.” She says, “I feel that feeling of a thousand slender threads coming together, strands of who I’ve been and who I’m becoming…the exact way God made me, not wrong or right, just me. I feel like I’m doing what I came to do, in the biggest sense,” and I feel that same sense of rightness about this endeavor. I don’t know what will come of it, if anything, but I know that I am in the midst of what I love, which is telling stories about beautiful works of art in a way that brings dignity and value to families in need.

JP: What have you learned about yourself from venturing into the online sales space?

AR: I’ve always known that I loved interacting with people and encouraging them, and it’s honestly been surprising to me how perfectly that love fits in with online sales. I’ve really worked to create a sense of community in my online sales groups and to have it be a place of encouragement and humor, not just about the products being sold.

JP: How has working in that space challenged you? 

AR: I want people to love me, so as a people pleaser it is sometimes challenging to put myself out there in a way that sales requires, but I’m learning to do it in a way that is genuine for me.

JP: Ah yes, that people pleasing nature. I’ve got one of those too. That’s probably what bonded us so strongly as insecure high school students. Well, that and McDonald’s McFlurries…But seriously, what is your advice to someone wanting to get into this type of business—Noonday or any other MLM company? 

AR: Whatever your “next step” is—whether it is online sales, starting a book club, or heading up a ministry at your church, I think it’s important to follow through if you feel God’s calling, and know that He’s going to provide you with what you need to do what He’s put before you. And also know that while it’s going to be hard work, it’s going to be incredibly fulfilling because He’s designed you to do what you’re doing!

JP: What are some of the mistakes you've made? 

AR: I think my mistakes always come when I try to be someone I’m just not. Authenticity is a buzzword for a reason. People gravitate toward those who are real, and I always seem to lose my “real-ness” when I start looking at what other people are doing, instead of running my group and my business the way that feels right and authentic to me.

JP: I think I need to plaster that answer on my bathroom mirror. Learning how to be real and authentically YOU is such an important life lesson. Speaking of teaching people lessons, you have a daughter. How has the responsibility of raising her changed your perspective on women in business and your own career? 

AR: One of the greatest joys of venturing into sales this past year has been the delight that my daughter Sophia has taken in helping me with my businesses. She loves helping me organize inventory and display product, and she will boldly tell anyone who will listen about her mommy’s amazing products and why that person should try them! She has such an entrepreneurial spirit, and I love showing her that she can find fulfillment in all sorts of fields.

JP: Ok. I’m asking this last question to everyone that I interview: At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you want to leave? 

AR: My middle name—Parilee—is a family name that comes from my grandmother who spent her thirties (and most of her forties) serving as a missionary in East Africa, and I love the idea of continuing her legacy of nurturing families around the world. My first name, Amy, means “beloved,” and I hope that at the end of my life my family, friends, and students will have felt loved by me and that they will know that I loved and served them because I am Christ’s beloved. 

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Thanks for reading, friends. You can find out more about becoming a Noonday Ambassador here. Or, if you want to support their amazing company and get some beautiful accessories too, shop around with Amy. In case you’re wondering, I bought the Curvature Earrings.

Process Over Product

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It seemed like the stars were magically aligning. A few weeks before I launched This Is Thirty Four I saw that Visit SLO Cal—our local destination management organization--was looking for digital influencers. (They're calling them storytellers.) At a very basic level, storytellers are people who blog and post on social media about how cool San Luis Obispo County is, in exchange for free experiences.

I literally teared up when I read the position description. As a marketing professor, I know that being a digital influencer is a great way to build a social media presence—something I’m obviously looking to do as This Is Thirty Four gets off the ground. PLUS, I love living in San Luis Obispo County. I love writing and sharing my experiences with other people; and (shocker!) I love free stuff.

I spent the last few weeks planning out exactly what to write about and what pictures to take. I planned to take the entire day on Friday, while my husband was off work, to create and submit the application. I was ready. I was going to nail it. Who had two thumbs and was going to be the next Visit SLO Cal storyteller? THIS GIRL.

While I’m pleased to report that I still have two thumbs, I’m probably not going to be the next Visit SLO Cal digital influencer.

A lot of life happened last week: My blog launch and teaching prep took a bit more time than anticipated. A friend needed me to watch her kids so she could attend a funeral. My son went on a nap strike; and my husband--who normally has Fridays off--got called into work. The application was due at 11:59 p.m. this past Friday, and at 9 p.m. that night I finally sat down to start writing.

Needless to say, the application didn’t turn out quite the way I planned. In fact, at about 10:30 p.m., I seriously considered giving up and going to sleep. Instead, I decided to scrap my original idea and take my blog post (which you can read here) in a different direction. I don’t know about you, but any decision I make after 10 p.m. is questionable at best.

I went to bed that night second-guessing myself and my writing abilities and questioning why I’d even wanted to apply for the position in the first place. I wondered why I spent so much time preparing for something only to have it turn out, quite honestly, so substandard.

When I woke up Saturday morning, the answer hit me: Sometimes, the process is more important than the product. Going through the process of applying to be a Visit SLO Cal storyteller drove home three important lessons. These are things I know in my head but now feel in my heart a bit more deeply:

People always come first.

I could have said “no” to my friend who needed a sitter for her kids. I know she has a large pool of babysitters she could pay to watch them. I also could have politely declined my other friend who, at 4:30 on Friday, asked my boys and I to come to the local park to support her daughter’s free face painting booth. But I didn’t. I said “yes” to these women because they would do the same for me. At the end of my life, no one will remember the things I did on social media, but they will remember the things I did for them.

I am not defined by my successes…or my failures.

I’m proud of what I did last week while launching This Is Thirty Four. I’m proud of myself for simply SUBMITTING the application to be a SLO Cal Storyteller; but if (when?) I don’t get chosen, that’s ok too. I’m not saying this to discount how badly I want the "job." (Remember the aforementioned tears?) I’m saying this because sometimes we don’t get what we want. Sometimes that’s because of some “failure” on our part to make it happen or because of some confluence of unfortunate events or simply because God has other plans.

If the thesis of my blog is that we all have something to contribute regardless of how “famous” we are in the eyes of the world and the thesis of my life is that I am a child of God with an identity firmly rooted in HIM, then my successes or failures should have little impact on my self worth. Perhaps it’s time I start walking my own talk.

My ability can only take me so far.

I truly believe that I could write the EXACT post that Visit SLO Cal is looking for and NOT get chosen. I also believe that I could write something way worse than what I actually did and still become a SLO Cal storyteller. Why? Because the deciding factor isn’t my ability to do something, it’s the God who is charge of those abilities. He directs my comings and goings, the opportunities I receive and the very breath that I breathe.

That’s not an excuse to phone it in, and that doesn’t mean I can’t dream big. It means that whether or not I’m the next Visit SLO Cal storyteller, I can confidently know that I’m exactly where God wants me.

So, what about you? What are you dreaming about doing these days and what’s standing in your way? I’d encourage you to go for it--no matter how much or how little time you have, no matter how confident you are in your abilities. It’s in God’s hands anyhow, and the process is sometimes more important than the product.

South SLO Cal: The Ultimate Road Trip Sanity Saver

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We've all experienced it...

The road trip from you know where. Maybe it was in your childhood: Sitting in the middle seat of the back row of the family station wagon. Little brother poking you on one side. Older sister sighing out of teenage angst every five minutes on the other side. And you, asking your parents that burning road trip question: Are we there yet?

Or maybe the hellacious excursion took place in your adulthood: Two tiny humans in car seats. A steady stream of Paw Patrol coming from the seat back DVD player. The floor of your car looking like that of a movie theater after opening night of a summer blockbuster. And SO. MUCH. SCREAMING...

 

 

The truth is, the key to a great road trip isn’t more technology, the right snacks or different siblings—although those things might help. The key to road tripping is knowing where to stop; and that’s what makes San Luis Obispo County the hidden gem of California. (Ok. Perhaps we’re not as hidden as we used to be. Thanks, Oprah.)

My family and I have been fortunate to live in SLO County (as us locals call it) for nearly 10 years. During that time, we’ve honed our pitch about “what to do in San Luis Obispo” to fit any destination in the county—and there are many of them to choose from. However, since my husband and I and our two young boys live in the city of Arroyo Grande, the southern part of San Luis Obispo County is near and dear to my heart.  

From Avila Beach to Arroyo Grande, there are so many places in "south SLO Cal"—right off Highway 101—to stop, stretch your legs and recharge as you travel through our great state. So, whether you’ve got 2 days, 2 hours or 20 minutes to spend in south San Luis Obispo County, here are my kid-friendly, adult-approved places to go. To me, each of these recommendations gives a taste (sometimes quite literally) of what it means to be a SLO Cal resident: Creating big memories through beautiful experiences in a small town.  

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Avila Beach

The boardwalk and main beachfront in Avila are fun and very kid-friendly, but if you have some time, I’d recommend driving all the way through town to Port San Luis. If you don’t mind getting wet and sandy, walk down to Port San Luis Beach (the beach closest to the pier). It’s less crowded than the other beaches in Avila, and exploring the tide pools is fun for kids of any age.

After you dry off, saunter over to the Port San Luis Pier. It’s a total sensory experience, complete with the bark of sea lions, the smell of freshly caught and filleted fish and a number of places to grab a bite to eat. (I’d recommend Mersea’s.)

On your way out of Avila, stop by Avila Barn to feed the farm animals, eat some ice cream or pick up an olallieberry pie.

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Shell Beach

If you’re planning to stay the night in San Luis Obispo County, I can’t think of a better place than The Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach. My husband and I stay there every year for our annual staycation. The view is breathtaking; and the hotel is kid-friendly without losing a high-end, you-should-be-over-21-to-stay-here vibe.

Bonus: The Cliffs is located right beside Dolphin Bay Resort—another beautiful (but slightly more expensive) property with an even better happy hour. Double Bonus: Both resorts are within walking distance to south SLO Cal’s best sushi restaurant, Kanpei Sushi! (Get the Diablo Canyon Roll.)

If you’re looking for breakfast or lunch in Shell Beach, check out Zorro’s Café or Ventana Grill. Zorro’s has outdoor seating options that are perfect for tiny humans who can’t sit still. Ventana is a bit more upscale, with fantastic appetizers (carne asada nachos or calamari), an affordable kid’s menu and a decent chance you’ll see a spouting whale.

Pismo Beach

I’m gonna be honest with you: Downtown Pismo Beach in the summer is not my favorite place. It’s extremely crowded with tourists, and I avoid it at all costs. If you’re looking for a bite to eat in Downtown Pismo during the summer—or the off-season--I’d suggest The Boardroom. Good food, great beer and it’s a off the beaten path, so it’s usually not as crowded as other Pismo eateries.

What I’d really suggest doing if you’re passing through Pismo is stopping at California Fresh Market to grab some food for a picnic lunch with the kids at Chumash Park. Cal Fresh also has an amazing selection of local wines if you can't make it to an actual winery but want to stock up! PSA for all the ladies: Before you leave the shopping center, head over to Harper Jo. It’s my favorite place to shop in South SLO Cal. Kristen, the owner, is so sweet; and she’s a mom too. So, she has candy, seating and lots of patience for little ones.

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Grover Beach

If you’re passing through Grover in a truck or SUV, I’d highly recommend cruising down the beach in your car. It’s the only beach you can drive on in California, and it’s a fun, unique experience.

If you’re in need of caffeine while in Grover, get your fix at Red Bee Coffee. And if they have any Superfood Bites left, get one of those too!

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Arroyo Grande

I had to save the best for last, right? Hands down, the best restaurant in Arroyo Grande--and arguably in all of San Luis Obispo County--is Ember. It's fairly upscale, so if you're worried about the tiny humans, ask to sit on the back patio.

No stop in this town is complete without a visit to the Village of Arroyo Grande. The main thoroughfare is lined with places to eat and shops to peek into. Planted and Jaffa are my favorite “fast” food places; and Mason Bar and Kitchen is a fantastic gastropub (get the brussel sprouts or the Duo of Yellowfin). 

After you're done eating, take a walk across the swinging bridge and go on a rooster hunt. Actually, hunting for roosters probably won’t be necessary. The village roosters love people. Sort of...

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And speaking of people, the folks in Arroyo Grande--and San Luis Obispo County, in general-- are some of the friendliest people in California. (Yes, I might be slightly biased.) Don’t be shocked if almost everyone you pass says “hello,” and I won’t be surprised if you decided to stop back in SLO Cal on your way home.  

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How I'm Making Decisions in the New Year

January 8th.  This is it. This is where the rubber meets the road. On New Year’s Day, we write out our resolutions. For the next week, we embrace them with zeal. On January 8th, we are in the weeds. We’re doing the things we set out to do to make the New Year a better one than the last, even when we don’t feel like it.

I used to be a serial resolution maker…and breaker. In my 20’s, I made and broke resolutions faster than the Kardashians pop out children.

In my 30’s, thinking that resolutions are too stringent, I’ve dabbled with the “word of the year” thing. Authenticity. Confidence. Peace. All of those sounded like things I should be striving for, so I chose them as my “words” hoping they would act as a guide for my life that particular year. 

Unfortunately, a word—or even a resolution--mean very little when you’re confronted with life and the daily choices it puts in front of you. Do I eat that donut, buy that pair of jeans, take that job, or try for that third baby? (The latter is not a question I am asking myself, in case you’re wondering.)

We make resolutions because we desire the new, the better, the different. But what if 2018 is characterized by the old, the same or even the worst case scenario? What if life throws us a set of circumstances beyond our control that renders us unable to keep our resolutions?

So, this year, I’m trying something different. Rather than resolutions or words, I’m creating a framework. Three questions (ironically, made up of words) that I want to ask myself before making important—or even trivial—decisions:

1.) Is it simple?

2.) Will it bring me and/or those around me joy?

3.) Is it the right thing to do?

I’ve said before that 2017 wasn’t my favorite year of life, and I think that’s largely due to the fact that I overcomplicated my life and schedule, failed to recognize all that I have been blessed with and in many ways, chose to do things out of my own selfish desires.

I realize that some decisions cannot be boiled down to “simple”, “joyful” and “right.” But for the less complex choices, it seems to me that if I can’t say yes to these three questions, I probably shouldn’t do whatever it is I was thinking of doing. OR, I should at least think twice about it.

What about you? Did you make resolutions, come up with a word or create a framework for 2018? I’d love to hear what they are!

And, if you need some inspiration, here are a few things I’m planning to read, put into practice and use to make 2018 my best year yet!

To simplify: 2018 in 2018 Decluttering Challenge from Nourishing Minimalism

To find joy: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (I know. I can’t believe I haven’t read it either!)

To grow in my sense of what is right: Journaling Bible, Experiencing God (I read this in high school and loved it. Russ and I are planning to go through it together; and I think as an adult, I will appreciate it even more and be able to better utilize it to discern what God has for me and my family in 2018.) 

Here's to a new year and a fresh start! 

Jenn

 

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