Cultivating an Environment of Excellence

I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in our household as of late.


My children are content with being simply mediocre. When asked to complete a task, they accomplish the bare minimum, pat themselves on the back, then ask if they can turn on the television.

I’d like to blame this on summertime, but I don’t really think I can do that. This was going on before the lazy days of summer vacation settled upon us. Everything from schoolwork to athletics has fallen under the category of mediocre.

A few weeks ago, we had a heart-to-heart, the kids and I, about this particular issue. I made a reasonable request of them – Clean out the minivan. Sounds simple, right?

Only what you must understand is that our minivan is like a tiny, traveling landfill. I think I’m doing okay in parenting until I step into the back seat of the van, and then I realize I’m just raising cave people.


So, I asked them to clean it out, and they did. Barely. They cleaned out the obvious, easily visible trash, but never bothered to reach under or between the seats. I kind of didn’t blame them, because I wasn’t entirely sure creatures weren’t living in those dark crevices, but COME ON!

That was our first discussion about accomplishing tasks well. Doing things right the first time, and with excellence applies to everything, even cleaning out the minivan.

Of course, I said this after I had gone into the depths of the van after them and actually cleaned it. In the process I found a missing iPod, seven dollars, and a picture of myself from high school, which was a rather curious find.

It may have been the ghost of my past mocking me.


I realized that day that this life skill of doing things with excellence isn’t going to come naturally. I’m not sure this is a problem unique to our family. It’s something that has to be taught, and I’ve not done them justice.

[Tweet “The pursuit of excellence isn’t natural. It has to be taught with vigilance.”]

I’ve avoided the confrontation, and now I’ve got my work cut out for me. Because this spirit of mediocrity has bled over into other areas of life than just their inability to actually clean a room (or van).

My athletic kids are suddenly less concerned with excelling. They want to win, and they long for the accolades that come with their accomplishments, but they aren’t working for them.

Schoolwork is equally challenging. They are content to do the bare minimum in order to cross things off their list. Going above and beyond what was asked of them provokes looks of confusion when suggested.

And while A’s are nice, B’s and C’s aren’t so bad, either.

Truthfully, I have no problem with a B, or with second place, if I know you put your heart into working for it.

But if you just settled for it? Now we have problem, kids.

In college, I spent a semester studying in Kiev, Ukraine. I was enrolled in a Russian language program at The Institute for Foreign Languages, and my teacher, Olga Yurevna, was one of the most terrifying people I’ve ever met.

The first day of class, I joined seven other students in her beginning Russian class. They were all from China, and I was the token blonde-headed, All American girl. That night, she told us to go home and translate and memorize a passage of text that she had written down on the board.

The next day, when we returned, she pointed to a boy in the corner. He had longer hair, and sat slumped down in his chair. He was begging for her wrath.

“Recite line 8 of the passage for me,” she demanded. He shook his head.

“I don’t know it,” he replied.

She didn’t speak to him the rest of the semester. THE SEMESTER!

That was the day that I learned what it means to do something with excellence. Never before had I been in an environment that demanded perfection. It was slightly terrifying, but after four months I was nearly fluent in Russian because of Olga Yurevna’s high expectations.

Now, I know I can’t freeze my kids out for four months if they don’t meet my expectations, but perhaps there’s something to be learned from my experience in Ukraine. I rose to the occasion because I understood the demands, and because it was obvious that falling short was not an option.

We’ve got our work cut out for us around here, and these kids of mine may be in for a few unpleasant months. But I refuse to raise children who grow into adults who are content with mediocrity.

This year, we are in pursuit of excellence.

So, you know…add us to your prayer list. *wink*

How do you cultivate a spirit of excellence in your home?


Like A River Cover - 200X300Have you ordered your copy of Like a River From Its Course yet? I was over on Liz Tulsa’s blog this week sharing more about the inspiration behind the novel. Check out her post here.

If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, do so here. And let me know what you think! I love reviews!

Happy Thursday, everyone! The weekend is almost here!

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Spring Break ’16 and I Am a Hot Mess

Have you ever had one of those pedicures where you stick your feet in a tank of water and let tiny fish nibble the dead skin off your heels and toes?

I haven’t either, but I watched friends do it and I’ve never quite been the same for it.

I find little appeal in letting small water creatures nibble away at my calloused feet. Can we just agree that that’s gross and call it a day?

Here’s the funny thing, though – sometimes motherhood feels like you’re living inside that tank being nibbled to death by tiny fish.

We’re on day one of spring break, and I’m already exhausted. We chose to stay close to home this year both to save money, but also so that we could host two players from the FC Liverpool team who are visiting the States for a tournament. Sounds fun, right?

Except I basically tortured my children today by forcing them to clean on their spring break. It seems I’ve obliterated my chances for that Mom of the Year title…maybe forever.


They scrubbed toilets, pulled weeds, cleaned gutters, and made a half-hearted attempt to help me get some of the fallen leaves out of the flower bed.


In between these torture sessions chores, I forced them to turn off electronics and move their bodies. You know…interact with the real world. Enjoy the perfect Florida day. Anything that didn’t involve a screen.

By noon we were all basically sick of one another. I was annoyed with their attitudes, and they were devastated at what can only be chalked up to a loss of all their freedoms.

This was when I gave my mom speech. That super motivational tome about all their many privileges, and how disappointing it was to be met with such ungratefulness. A real pep talk. I laid it on thick, then let the words sort of hang in their air for a few minutes until one of them skulked over with a weak “Sorry, Mom.”

The other two followed suit somewhat reluctantly. And Annika went on screaming because it was past her nap time, and she doesn’t give a flying flip about my disappointment.

The rest of the afternoon found the children much sweeter, but it seemed my mom speech backfired somewhat as now all the children wanted to be with me. Like, physically on my person. They wanted to be held and snuggled and played with and SWEET MERCY I HAD THINGS TO DO!

Little by little, though, their “I love you’s,” and “will you play with me’s” wore me down. Like the fish in those tanks, they nibbled away at my frustration until they’d all but smoothed it out. (Well a couple of them, anyway. One of those kids of mine is more like a leech, latching on and sucking the very life out of me most days.)

So all that to say, spring break is off to a great start. This staycation thing was a super idea. Saving money is just so much fun.

My fingers might be dropping a little sarcasm right now.

The rest of the week should prove to be more enjoyable. We have plans – real plans. Actual plans that involve leaving the house!

And so I shall continue to swim in this tank of my life, being slowly nibbled at by all these small people living with me. It’ll either smooth me out completely, leaving me refreshed and renewed…or it’ll kill me.

Jury’s out.

Yay spring!

(Who else is on spring break right now? Are you having fun, or are you choosing to torture your kids like me?)

Swingin’ in the Rain

Yesterday was a rough day.

After a week of steady rain, attitudes and annoyances all rubbed up tight against one another to form the perfect storm of insanity inside our home. From the moment the day began, the small people in our midst were clawing at one another’s throats.

You know how little baby tigers play with each other, tumbling around, nipping at one another’s ears and pawing at each other’s faces, and you wonder if they’re fighting or playing?

It was just like that here, but they were definitely fighting. 

Even Lee and I felt the stress of a long couple of days, griping at each other in frustration over silly little things. And so the day went with all of us tired and annoyed, and feeling a little trapped.

Not to be outdone, Annika got in on the insanity of the day. Somehow she managed to fall over backward on the hard tile floor four times. By the last tumble, I was exasperated as she wailed and screeched. I was ready to sell the house, and move into a home made of rubber and foam, in a place where it never ever rains, and children never argue, and you can eat all the Nutella you want without repercussion.

If I’m going to dream up a utopia, it’s going to involve Nutella. Amen? 

After dinner, the kids asked to watch a movie, and I was tempted to say yes. It would keep them quiet, and meant I could disengage almost completely. But somehow I knew that sitting in front of the TV was the wrong response. So did Lee.

“We’re going to the park,” he announced, and was immediately met with groans.

“But it’s raining. I don’t feel like it. I’m tired.” 

The list of complaints went on and on. We ignored them and ushered our little tigers out the door and into the grey outdoors.

There was a break in the weather, so I plopped Annika into the stroller and walked her the half mile to the park where Lee met us. As soon as we arrived it started raining again, and my frustration level hit a high note.



All we wanted was a little free space to spread out – couldn’t God hold off the rain for thirty minutes so we could regroup? I expressed my frustration in a whispered prayer to the Lord.

And then I stopped. Because it was silly to feel frustrated over rain. I knew that it was. Besides, it was more of a steady mist, so why not make the most of it?

RainDance 2

While the boys hit the tennis ball through the misty air, the girls and I headed to the swings, and it was there that I found a glimmer of hope at the end of a long day.

As Annika moved back and forth through the weepy sky, her face lit up and giggles erupted. Tia laughed in return, blonde hair slowly growing damp as the rain cleansed us all of the anger that had followed us to the park.


For twenty minutes, we played in the rain. Even the dog enjoyed herself, wandering freely off her leash in the field behind the playground. It was exactly what we needed, and isn’t it funny how water can do that? Cleanse and renew? It’s always that way, isn’t it? And so I was reminded:

[Tweet “When life offers a rainy day, you can either lament, or swing high into the rain. Choose to swing.”]


As we drove home, all damp and a little chilled, I found myself whispering a prayer of thanksgiving for our opportunity to play in the rain. It wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen, and it didn’t solve all the frustrations of the day.

But once I changed my perspective, I found that the rain was what we needed all along.

The goal now, of course, is to keep that attitude as it appears it’s not going to stop raining here in Florida for the foreseeable future.

Send a lifeboat. And Nutella. And maybe a little wine if you’re so inclined.

First and Last and Bittersweet

We say goodbye to elementary school today. It’s bittersweet. As Sloan prepares to head to Middle School, and I plan to homeschool Tia and Landon, I find myself nostalgic a bit. I have loved their school. I leave with no hard feelings. In fact, loving the school is what made the decision to homeschool so difficult.

A lot has happened since the kids started this school year.

Where once there were only three of them:


Now there are four!

Last Day 2

Where once Sloan had no braces:


First Day

Now he’s a metal mouth!



Tia’s has gone from this (those shorts don’t even come close to fitting her now!):

First Day 2


To this:


And Landon had teeth when he started school!

First Day3


It’s been a heckuva a year. I’m looking forward to the next year. It will be challenging, yes. But I have a feeling it’s going to be full of so much fun.


Four Kids = Easy

Lee is out of town for four days. That’s important to know before reading further.


It started at midnight on Saturday night (Sunday morning?) when Tia came into my room complaining of a headache and stomach ache. I gave her some medicine, then nestled her in bed with me, and while she slept I stared up at the ceiling fan, mind spinning.

She’s been complaining of headaches off and on for a week, coupled with a bloody nose now and then for good effect. By 1:00 am, I’d convinced myself that she was suffering from all manner of diseases, and I’d also run through the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Albert dies after a sudden onset of bloody noses.

I scooted closer to her to listen for steady rhythmic breathing, and I finally drifted into a fitful sleep around 2:00.

Annika woke me up at 5:30 ready to go. She was in no mood for more sleeping, so I finally resigned myself to a long day and dragged out of bed. I was leading worship at church, so I needed to have everyone ready and out the door by 7:45 anyway.

I showered, but didn’t wash my hair because who has time for that, while they watched TV. Because it’s easier to let them watch TV than to ask them to be productive.

After a bit of shoo-ing, and insistent hand clapping, I managed to get everyone into the car, dressed and semi-put together. We were half way out of the neighborhood when Landon spoke.

“Mom, I’m hungry. I didn’t get breakfast.”

I cracked open a box of donuts at church and shoved one in his mouth…and my own because I didn’t get breakfast either. I let Annika take a bite of my donut because she stared at it so intensely I couldn’t say no. Did that donut contain peanuts?

No idea. Maybe? She survived, so we’re good.

I asked Tia if her head still hurt and she said no, so I’m glad I lost a night of sleep over my unfounded fears.


I put my nine and seven year olds in charge of watching their sister while I practiced for that morning’s service, and I left my eleven year old in the church kitchen alone to work with scalding hot liquid as he prepared the pots of coffee that would be waiting for everyone when they arrived.

Minutes before church started, Landon leaned over to show me one of his teeth twisted around and stuck in a stomach wrenching position.

“Can I go pull it?” he staged whispered. I nodded, and I sent Tia to the bathroom with him to help. Together they worked the tooth out in the church bathroom, and he returned to the sanctuary with it in a little baggie. Then he spent the next ten minutes dabbing the hole in his mouth with his finger and showing me the blood.

Jesus be near.

After church, we came home and as I set Annika on the floor I caught sight of a lizard scurrying across our floor. He’s been hiding in the house for days, but he’s an elusive little bugger. Also, he’s not so much a lizard as he is a small, black dragon. He somehow manages to disappear every time we go hunting for him.

I feel semi-certain that he is hiding inside one of our chairs, but I try not to think about it for very long, otherwise I start imagining him creeping up behind me while I watch TV and karate chopping my neck, knocking me unconscious, then taking over the house and inviting in all his Rambo lizard friends.

 Clearly I need more sleep.

The kids spent the afternoon in the pool, and I forgot to put sunscreen on them, so they got sunburned.

Landon asked to play the game of LIFE with me while his brother and sister played at friends houses. I obliged, and despite actually trying to lose, I still managed to beat him by about $250,000. (If you know Landon, you’ll understand why sometimes it’s easier to just let him win rather than deal with the consequences of him losing). He cried, and I sighed.

And while we played, Annika managed to find a stray piece of paper on the floor, which she ate a portion of before I discovered her and dug it out of her mouth.

I fed them leftover meat and stale chips for dinner, and at 6:00 realized Annika hadn’t had any solid food all day. Sundays are hard, and schedules are off, so she’d only had bottles. No wonder she was watching us eat like a rabid Velociraptor.

I put them all to bed dirty, and just as I turned out their lights a thunderstorm rolled in, and everyone came tearing out, eyes wide, full of fear, because my first born has conditioned the other two to believe that any cloud that produces lightening is a funnel cloud.

I promised them that if any of the clouds started spinning, I would retrieve them from their beds and we’d take shelter in my closet. Then I sent them back to their bed despite their tears and protests. Meanwhile Annika screamed in her crib because she took such a long, late afternoon nap that she was absolutely not tired at 7:30. I put her to bed anyway, because I was tired at 7:30.

Finally, blissfully, they all fell asleep. By 10:00, it was silent in my house. I fell into bed, and let slumber wash over me. While I slept, I dreamt I was on a Merry-Go-Round that started spinning uncontrollably while a woman with a raspy voice barked instructions repeatedly over the loudspeaker in German.

I interpreted her yelling to mean I should hold on tight.

When I woke up I was clutching my pillow, clenching my jaw, and the room was spinning.

Four kids, y’all.

I’m nailing it.

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