Does anyone remember the Staples back-to-school commercial from a few years ago, with the dad dancing through the aisles on a shopping cart while his kids trudged behind him like they were being marched off to prison, and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played in the background? I love that commercial!

And, I love this time of year. I know, it’s weird. But, I have always loved back-to-school time. Long before I was a teacher, I loved back-to-school shopping. There were new clothes, new routines, and best of all, new school supplies! I adore the smell of crayons, Elmer’s glue, and the plastic scent that wafts into your nose when you open a new binder. Or, in my case, a new Trapper Keeper. Mmmmmm… (Yes, I know I’m a high school teacher and there are no crayons or glue in a British literature class. I’m hoping to change that when I return to the classroom. More on that later.)

When I was in college, I worked 4 years in a school supply store for the best bosses anyone could ever ask for. (www.learningexperiences123.com) What a perfect job for me, and I promise you that if Sam and Teresa had a store in Birmingham, I would go back to work for them before you could say tempera paint. I’m such a dork that I would actually get excited when new shipments would come in and I would have to open the boxes and check in the merchandise, because that meant I got the first look at all the cool new classroom stuff!

Once I started teaching, back-to-school time meant new students and again, new school supplies! I’m not going to lie; I am a little sad that I’m not teaching this year. But, Madeline and Baby ____ need me at home this year and this is where I want to be for now. I also don’t need to settle for a school where I’m unhappy, just to have a teaching job. So, I’m hoping that God opens up a door to a reading specialist/literacy coaching position next year. We’ll see. In the mean time, I’ll keep walking by pencil boxes and notepads in Target and thinking, “I need this!”

Back-to-school time means the door is open for fall to begin. There will be football games, and football weather. It will be time for little hands to make construction paper pumpkins, while high school art classes carve jack-o-lanterns for fall festivals. Text books will crackle as they are opened for the first time, and bonfires will crackle in celebration of homecoming events everywhere.

It will be a couple of years before we have to shop from a school supply list for Madeline, but I’m looking forward to it. Because I love the smell of crayons, Elmer’s glue, and the plastic smell of new binders.

And those scented markers that don’t really  smell like bananas.

And pencil shavings.

And rubber erasers.

And Crayola watercolor paints.

And dry erase markers…

I know the most popular vacation destination this time of year is the beach, but we decided to do something a little different. We got our country on and relived a couple of childhood memories.

Because I have some Canadian friends who read this, I’m going to give you a couple of instructions so that you can fully enjoy the pictures and the Southern summer experience with us. 1. Preheat the oven to the temperature at which you would bake a cake. 2. While you wait for the oven to preheat, go put on a wool sweater and your heaviest winter coat. 3. Go outside and run around your house 132 times. (Are you sweating profusely? Good! That’s what’s supposed to happen.) 4. When the oven is completely preheated, open the door and stick your head in. I don’t recommend doing this for an extended period of time, especially if you have a gas oven.

This is what the Southern states feel like from June – September. Ready? Let’s visit Nashville!

Does anyone watch the show, American Pickers on History? Well, we’re nerds and we do. So, our very first stop was a visit to Antique Archaeology, the store featured on the show. They had some really neat stuff, which was even cooler since we watched them acquire it on TV.

The next stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame. Yee Haw! If you know Dan and me, you probably already know that our tastes in music are vastly different. I like everything, with the exception of rap, contemporary country, and that whiny ’70s garbage that was supposed to make you feel your feelings. Dan likes stuff in the Garth Brooks vein. So, with a little Patsy Cline and a little Garth Brooks, there was something there to make both of us happy. Oh, and I love Hee Haw. Really. I got a little giddy when I saw Minnie Pearl’s dress.

Madeline taking a stroll through the cornfield.

 The pictures are a little dark because, well, it was dark in there and no flash photography is allowed.

"Dinosaur patroller/ Listenin' to Buck Owens/ Doo-doo-doo lookin' out my back door"

I’m not sure if my friend, Andy, is reading this, but if you are, this one’s for you…

I wonder which one is REALLY the reason their kids are ugly.

 On day two of our Nashville vacation, we took another trip through our early ’80’s childhood.

The reason I always wanted a white Jeep.

and…

Dan introducing the next generation to the General Lee.

Now, I will expect all of you (all 5 people who read this blog, that is) to make Waylon Jennings proud and begin singing the theme song from The Dukes of Hazzard.

We took a riverboat cruise where Madeline was mesmerized by the two men playing “Duelling Banjos” on the same banjo, walked through the enormous and beautiful Opryland Hotel, picked up a birthday present for my dad at the Willie Nelson museum, and spent day three touring The Hermitage before hopping in the car to head home.

I would love to visit The Hermitage again and see more of it when it’s not very hot and I’m not very pregnant. 🙂  It is a gorgeous place and deserves much more attention than I was giving it.

(Canadians, take your head out of the oven now.)

49 days until fall!

Madeline and I had the pleasure of celebrating with adorable Ryder at his 2nd birthday party this afternoon. I tried really hard to get some good pictures of the cousins in the same vicinity, but since Madeline wanted to be attached to my hip and Ryder moves faster than my camera, most of them are of Madeline watching Ryder walk away. 🙂

"Where'd he go?"

"Bye Bye, Ryder!"

 And then, there was the moment of which her daddy was most proud. This was Madeline’s first attempt at playing basketball. In addition to the wildly popular choo-choo train, Ryder’s party was also equipped with a basketball…um…thing (Dan says it’s called a goal, and I should stop being such a ninny). I know there was a ball floating around somewhere, but Madeline decided this game should be played with a balloon.

"I wonder if I can get this balloon into that basket."

"Of course I can. Mommy and Daddy said there's nothing I can't do."

"Go, Madeline!"

And, the crowd goes wild!

(Don’t worry. She’s still our sugar and spice and everything nice Princess Diva Madeline.)

Dear James Spann,

I’m OK with any other Alabama meteorologist reading this as well, but I trust you. Your predictions are usually spot-on. Even when I lived in Atlanta, I used to listen to your weather wisdom imparted via one of the Christian radio stations and I knew that I was in good hands. Plus, you are a fellow Tuscaloosan, so that gives you a little extra credit in my book.

Since you are such a skilled forecaster, I have a few requests for the remainder of the year and through spring of next year. I know I am asking a lot, but hear me out. My reasons are valid and just.

The school semester that begins in August is known as “fall” semester. This is true beginning in preschool and throughout all the years of higher education. Based on that fact, I would like for the actual season of fall to begin in August, just to make things less complicated. I want cooler weather, a good gust of wind once in a while, red and yellow leaves, pumpkins, the smell of cinnamon – the whole shebang – starting on the first day of school. It really bothers me that my beloved autumn only lasts for a few weeks and then is nothing but a distant memory for an entire year.

If you cannot arrange this, a dramatic drop in temperature would suffice. I just want it to be cool enough to take my child outside to play without worrying about heat exhaustion or drowning in her own sweat.

My second request is for some snow this winter. I know we got plenty of it last winter and I quite enjoyed it. However, I spent the entire week worrying about what was going to happen when we went back to school after the break. This year, since I will be home with my beautiful babies, I would like for them to have the experience of snowball fights and helping to build a snowman. I would also like to, myself, experience snow that goes all the way to my ankles (or higher). I’ve never seen snow like that and I think it would be awesome. Did I mention that snow is beautiful and would make such pretty pictures of my kiddies? (Note: I am fully aware that baby ___ will only be a few months old. I do not expect him to make a snowball, but he can watch.)

Photo courtesy of my sister-in-law, Sara. Featured here are Dan's brother, Michael and Moose, the peek-a-poo.

I do not, in any way, expect this snow to last more than a week. I would get tired of it by then.

As for the spring, if you don’t mind, I would like for you to predict a longer season of beautifully mild weather, suitable for days at the park without sweat or bugs. My only request for this one is that it extend into May and last until the calendar officially announces that summer has begun.

Mr. Spann, I’m sure you can see that I have put a great deal of thought into this. Thank you for considering my requests. I hope you will take them into consideration, especially the one specific to autumn, and make some predictions we all can live with this year.

Thanks,

Madeline’s & Hamish’s Mom

P.S. If you can swing this, I promise to send you a baker’s dozen of my famous red velvet doughnuts…when I invent them.

When I was pregnant with Madeline I suggested, somewhat in jest, that Gerber or Beech Nut or someone should make available a line of Southern baby foods.  You know, alongside the spinach and pears, they could throw in some okra, turnip greens, and grits for little palates.

Well, joke no more. Our little belle has surprised us with her culinary tastes. She is certainly a Southerner. She will not touch green peas (a.k.a. English peas, or those things Yankees refer to as just, “peas”) but put some good ol’ black-eyed peas in front of her and watch her descend on them like a buzzard. She really likes turnip greens, especially of you put some cornbread in them, and grits are one of her favorite breakfast staples. I don’t know what she would do if she had to go without sweet potatoes, and a small plate of okra will make her forget there’s anything else on the table.

So, see? There has to be a business idea in there somewhere.

Her Southernness is also evident in her budding manners. (I have to admit I glow with pride at this part.) We haven’t really encouraged her to do any of this; she just sort of picked it up on her own. Or, maybe it’s in her blood. Who knows?

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat people in food service, store cashiers, sales people, etc. Our sweet Madeline seems to know that instinctively. She flashes a sweet smile and says, “Thankchoo!” whenever the cashier hands me my receipt. She does the same thing in restaurants, when she hands the server her little kid’s menu or holds up her sippy cup for more water. She always has a smile and a, “Thankchoo!” Recently, she has even tried to clean up after herself, handing bowls, cups, spoons, or whatever to me or the server, of course with the obligatory, “Thankchoo!” Such a precious girl.

Dan would also tell you that our mini- Melanie Wilkes is also developing into quite the little girly-girl. Hey, just because she holds out her skirt and twirls around, just because she asks for bows in order for her ensemble to be complete, just because she wants to wear Mommy’s necklaces, and just because she would rather cuddle and dress her baby dolls than bounce a ball…that doesn’t mean anything, does it?

Of course it does. (Insert arched eyebrow and maniacal laugh here.)

So, that’s what Sweet Pea has been up to. Check back soon to find out if we’ve actually decided on a name for Hamish. We’re getting closer!

I did a series of blog posts a while back about things I want for Madeline, but I don’t remember how many I made and frankly, I’m too lazy to look it up.

I stumbled upon this devotional today, and I think it’s such an important message about mothers and daughters that I wanted to share it.

 It is a reminder that if I want my sweet Madeline to be better than I, it has to start with me.

 If I want her to be confident enough, to like her self enough, to see herself as good enough NOT to have to keep up with the Joneses, NOT to hide from people if she’s in public without the right color of lipstick, NOT to be superficial and silly enough to talk about other peoples’ physical appearances and to focus on their characters first, I have to be the one to model that behavior.

It’s also a great reminder that she will stumble sometimes, and so will I. Neither of us is perfect. But, God is. And, it’s only through Him that either of us can accomplish anything.

Enjoy!

July 11, 2011More for My Girl
Lynn Cowell

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…” Ephesians 1:18-19a (NIV)

More. More than the empty promises from boys. More than the masked protection of makeup. More than the false assurance of outfits.

More. It’s what she wants for her daughter. She wants her girl to grow up with courageous confidence and without raw regret.

Even though my friend practically grew up under a steeple, during her teen years the truth that Jesus was crazy about her slipped through the cracks of her low self-worth. She turned to easy choices laid out by friends and gave away so much of herself in hopes of finding love.

But the more my friend gave, the emptier she felt. Eventually she lost hope and wondered, “Is there such a thing as lasting love?”

This is the opposite of what she wants for her own daughter. Yet, she sees things in her girl’s life similar to her own teen years. Chasing after attention. Wearing layers of makeup. Flirtatious outfits that draw others’ eyes. Her daughter is turning to everything and everyone to fill the hole that only God’s love can.

I want God’s best for my girl, too. And if you have a daughter, I bet you do as well.

The question is: how do we give our girl the assurance she needs? How can we help her find the confidence to make wise choices that lead to God’s best for her?

I’ve found that it’s important to start by praying verses like today’s key verse, asking God to enlighten the eyes of our hearts. Then we will see the hope Jesus calls us to and we can share it with our daughter.

You see, as we possess the confidence that comes from knowing we are loved and accepted by the Lord, our daughter will take notice. When she sees her mom live out of the hope and love of Jesus, our girl will discover that she too can make choices based on His love for her and seek the hope only He can give.

When we need to make hard decisions, we can turn to Jesus for understanding and courage, modeling an example of confidence for our daughters. As moms, we can take them further on this journey of growth by asking them to pray with us, read His Word with us and speak hope to others with us. They will see how to transition from simply reading the Word of God to applying it and living out its truths. They’ll witness firsthand what it means to view this world, themselves and others from His perspective.

When our girl sees His incomparably great power working in us, filling our hearts, it makes God’s promises believable. As we find our fulfillment in God’s love for us, instead of looking to someone or something else to fill us, our daughter will see a life that blossoms with purpose.

It may not be immediate. In fact, it could possibly take years for her to want what we have. But we can trust in the goodness of our God. He wants more for our girl, too!

Dear Jesus, I am desperate to see my girl walk in the freedom that comes when her heart is filled by You. Fill my heart, Lord, so I can model this fulfillment. Help me turn to You. May my daughter see me run to You first and may she run to You too! In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Application Steps:
Take an inventory in your own life today. What things do you run to instead of Jesus? Husband, food, best friend, FaceBook? Tomorrow, when you see this same pattern, make a deliberate choice to pray. Invite Jesus to fill that spot instead.

Reflections:
What would my daughter say she sees me run to when I feel anxious, fearful or rejected?

What changes would have to take place in my life for me to find my confidence and hope in Jesus instead?

Power Verses:
Ephesians 3:17a, 18-19, “And I pray that you…may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (NIV)

© 2011 by Lynn Cowell. All rights reserved.

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