Adventures/Travel, North Carolina Adventures, Out West

Using eBags on our Cross Country Trip

In just a few days, we set to drive to the Grand Canyon.  Thirty-one hours in a car if you don’t stop at all.  Clearly it will take this family of six a bit longer.

While in the western United States, we will also visit a host of other destinations including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park.

We will spend a total of 17 days on the road sleeping in different locations almost every night.  It is going to be a grand adventure for sure, but it has created a packing nightmare for this mom.

There are six of us in our family.  The thought of dragging six suitcases up and down every night to the various hotels is not a fun one, so I knew there had to be a better solution.  And I think I may have found it!

Enter: eBags Packing Cubes.

Quite possibly the most brilliant, simple idea when it comes to cross country travel.

Out of curiosity, I ordered the 3 piece set which includes three total packing cubes: one large (17.5 x 12.75 x 3.25), one medium (13.75 x 9.75 x 3), and one small (11 x 6.75 x 3).  I wanted to play around with them before ordering more.


I began playing around with some thoughts based on the idea that I only want to take ONE small rolling suitcase into the hotel each night. This small suitcase would contain one pair of PJ’s for each person and toiletries.

Each member of our family would grab an outfit and put it in their backpack to bring to the hotel. Their hiking backpack could also transport iPods and such into the hotel.

What I needed was an easy way for each person in the family to grab their outfit for the day without digging through duffle bags in the parking lot of the hotel. This is where the eBags come in handy.

In the largest size eBag, I rolled up my”outfits for each day. Each roll consists of a T-shirt and undies. Every other day the outfit “roll” includes shorts because I plan to wear my shorts for two days in a row.

Beginning on the right, I have a shirt roll and then the next roll includes denim shorts. Then it is a roll without shorts and then one with.

Isn’t it lovely?


Of course, if you are Type A like myself then this possibly looks heavenly and brilliant.

If you are Type B, then you might be hyperventilating or laughing. Either way. You can stop here if this just isn’t going to be your thing. It is OK. We can still be friends.  But you might want to pausing and consider the idea.  Maybe.

If you are my brother, then you are laughing and thinking, “This is SO Mary.”  You would be right.  It is.  And I do love it.

But if you are drooling over the time we will save when we don’t have to dig for clothing, then by all means stay with me while we continue through the rest of the bags.

The medium size bag will house two pairs of pants (wind pants and sweat pants) a hoodie or jacket, a second set of PJ’s, and any extra clothing (athletic shorts, sports bra, 2 tanks).  I don’t suspect we will need to wear pants whole lot in the west in June as the temperatures are showing in the 90’s.


We each have a pair of wind pants that fit easily over our shorts so that we can layer.  While they don’t need to be in our daily outfit eBag, I do want them to be easily accessible.

Finally, the small ebag will contain socks for the week because there is no reason to have socks included in our daily outfit rolls.


For the first few days of driving, we will wear flip flops or crocs everyday.  But even on days we wear our tennis/hiking shoes, I prefer everyone to leave them in the van each night and wear flip flops into the hotel.  Socks can be pulled out in the morning when we change into our shoes for the day.

All three eBags of clothing are ready to go. So neat and tidy.


The eBags fit easily into my large duffle bag, keeping it organized so don’t spend time digging through clothing and messing up piles.


Because I ordered the girls different color eBags, one of them can easily share this duffle with me because there is plenty of room!

The big test of the eBags was showing my plan to my husband last night.  I was sure  he would laugh at his crazy wife.

 Instead, he asked me to order him a set and a set for each child.

While I ordered a set for my girls (13 and 11) and my husband, the boys (6 and 9) will make do with a previously ordered set of three large eBags.

I  ordered these earlier this month because the larger size seemed very handy.

I plan to use two of them for the boys daily outfit rolls.  Then I will put their extra clothing on the bottom of their small duffle bags, and their socks will be in gallon size ziploc bag.

The additional large eBag will contain all of our bathing suits, goggles, and sunscreen.  When we are ready to swim in the hotel pool, one of us can simply go grab this bag and know that everything we need is in there.


The next morning, assuming they dried overnight, the swim suits can be packed up OR hung up to dry in the van.

Of course, now it is time to pack up the kids and attempt to use this system successfully.  I think it is going to be great, but there is only one way to find out…try it.

Which we will do…in exactly THREE DAYS!

In the end, I have a feeling these eBags are going to be quite handy for all of our family travels and camping trips.

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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Book Clubs, Books We Read, Brave Writer, Homeschooling, Literature

Literature List for Our 7th and 8th Grade Book Club

We made it!  

Our school year has wrapped up and with the exception of a few loose ends in math, we are relishing our free time.

Of course, my free time includes time spent reflecting on our completed school year.  It’s important for me to re-evaluate choices that didn’t work, while also celebrating our successful ones.

One of my favorite successful endeavors this year was the creation of a monthly Boomerang Book Club.

{This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for your support of Notbefore7.}

Our title – The Boomerang Book Club – was derived from my use of the Boomerang Book Guides at Brave Writer, which I used to guide our discussions.   The Boomerang Book Guides are designed for book titles appropriate for grades 7-10.  Unlike the Arrow Guides, for grades 3-6, the Boomerang Guides contain “Think Piece Questions” at the end for reflection and discussion.  Forming a book club for my daughter in the Boomerang book titles was an opportunity to discuss these questions.

(NOTE: The guides also provide weekly copywork passages with grammar and literature discussions included related to the passages.  For more information, check out the Brave Writer website.)


What began as a simple idea to chat about books at Starbucks with my oldest daughter and her friends turned into memorable monthly #partyschool experience.  I have no doubt that our experiences together carried us beyond reading comprehension into developing reading connections that won’t quickly be forgotten.

My daughter will have such fond memories of her 7th grade “literature class” including memorable quotes, silly discussions, and delicious food.

And from a purely academic perspective, when I look back over our book choices this year it adds up to a pretty awesome list of literature.  So without further ado, here are the monthly selections we enjoyed during our 7th and 8th grade girls book club this year:

September:  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

I purposefully kicked off our book club with a title that most of the girls have read and loved. I wanted our first book club to revolve around a book that they would be familiar with and excited to discuss.

This is also the title that created the first #partyschool experience thanks to the creative host mom!

October: Little Women by Lousia May Alcott.

Interestingly enough, the little women in our book club were not very excited about the Little Women in the book. There were a few girls who LOVED the book and had read it before, but most of them weren’t very fond of Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy.

November:  The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.

Having never read this book myself, I was so thrilled to have the chance to experience this classic. Not only is the story one that transcends time, but the author has a unique story as she wrote this book while in high school. It was published after her graduation, but the majority was written during the year she received a “D” in creative writing in her high school class.

This book discussion included another #partyschool atmosphere and was followed by the movie.

December:  Short Stories.

I selected four short stories for this month with the idea that we could read 1-2 each week and then meet together for a Christmas party and brief discussion.  All four of these stories were accessable online.

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant – another well known story about pride.
Two Kinds by Amy Tan – great introduction to Amy Tan and a discussion of the mother/daughter relationship.
Gift of the Magi by O’Henry – a classic, especially around the Christmas season.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson – some of the moms remembered reading this in their school experience, although I never had.  It is a pretty shocking story and worthy of discussion.

Short stories should be an important part of a middle and high school literature study, so I was glad to include a few in our monthly selections.

January: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.

I have found memories of Anne from my own middle school years. Sadly, my daughter did not share my love for her, though we had a fantastic #partyschool book club. Some of my favorite quotes came from this book and we all enjoyed sharing them at our tea party.

February: Lord of the Flies by William Holding.

A classic.  This book is a great title to read and explore the use of symbolism as it is heavily used in this book. While many read this in high school, and that is certainly appropriate, it did work for our 7th and 8th grade girls group.

They found it a strange story, as it is. But we had a great #partyschool book club (not yet on the blog) and even tried to meet around the fire pit, but the smoke got in the way.

March: What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau.

This title was entirely new to me.  It is one of the reason that I love referring to the list of Boomerang titles because Julie at Bravewriter does such a great job of mixing classic literature with modern titles.

I think this was one of my favorite books this year.  It is a unique coming of age story that combines elements of family history (father from Mexico) and modern life as a child in America in a tale woven through two time periods.  I highly recommend this one for this age group.

April: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

A classic piece of literature that opens up a thoughtful discussion about life as a teenage girl as well as important historical events.  While I had read this book in school as a teenager, I enjoyed it so much more as an adult.  The insights into a teenage girl’s mind were delightful to read on the other side of that time period.

The girls in the group had a difficult time making it through this one.  It isn’t a story, but it is very much reading the scattered thoughts of a teenager in her diary.  We had a discussion that included some thoughts about a true journal vs. a story told through a created journal.  This title worked well in our book club.

May: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

(We used the “Shakespeare Made Easy” version that included a modern translation next to the original work.)

I wanted to build a strong foundation for a future understanding of Shakespeare in our house, so we began looking at his plays a little earlier than the traditional public school plan.

This title was requested by one of the girls in the book club and I was inclined to oblige any requests!  Student interest is always helpful to learning and discussion.

Rather than have a traditional book discussion, we acted out five scenes from the book while we were together.   It’s amazing what a few scarves and swords can do for simple costuming!   After working through a few scenes, we enjoyed the movie version of this film with Leonardo DiCaprio.

That sums it up!  A fantastic year of challenging and fun literature.

As for next year, we will continue to use the Boomerang Book Guides at home and as one source of questions for our book club discussions.   I can’t wait to begin picking titles for our next school year!

(NotBefore7 is an affiliate with Brave Writer and uses the curriculum in our own homeschool.  I am happy to share our various uses here and do earn a small commission if you purchase through one of my links.  NotBefore7 is also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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Fashion, Homelife

{This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for supporting NotBefore7.}

I enjoy fashion, but struggled with putting together my wardrobe.  I wasn’t quite sure what items to invest in and which trends to try.  Thankfully, quite some time ago, a friend sent me information about the Fashion Challenges at Get Your Pretty On and using them, I have totally revamped my closet!

It’s been a year and a half since I began participating in the Get Your Pretty On Fashion Challenges and I am so much happier with my everyday style.

First, I have LESS clothing in general.  I suspect that in the last year, the items in my closet has decreased by half as I have donated items that I no longer wear.  My closet is now built on functional pieces that coordinate well together.  I spend less money and time buying random pieces of clothing that I rarely wear and have learned to think through choices that will work best with my current wardrobe.

Second, I find it easier to put an outfit together in the morning.  I have less choices, which helps, but I also have clothing that works well together.  Of course, having 21 days of outfits emailed to me at the start of each season has taught me how to put my clothing together.

Finally, I save money in the long run because I stick to a focused shopping list.  Basically, I am building a mini-capsule wardrobe each season.  These seasonal capsules work well together and have helped me build a trendy and functional wardrobe.

And now it is time for the summer fashion challenge to begin!  Sign-ups began Summertoday at Get Your Pretty On and I am ready for some online bargain hunting.

If you are curious about past challenges, then you can start by checking out my previous posts from the Winter Fashion Challenge and the Spring Fashion Challenge from 2015.

Here are a few basic guidelines from my previous post:


1. Pick your Challenge. Right now the the Summer Challenge is the lastest. There are many others to choose from, including freebies if you want to check out how things work!  A lot of my friends have started with the 14 day capsule wardrobe ($19) and have been quite pleased with it!

2. Pay for your challenge. The current price for the Summer Challenge is $49.

3.Download and print the shopping list for your chosen challenge. Included with your challenge is a list of items that will be used to complete 21 days of outfits. Some of the items you will own and others you will need to purchase. Alison includes links to regular and plus size options for all items AND lists the colors she will be using.

Fashion collage

The best part is that you can choose a color scheme that works for you. After all, you want to WEAR these clothes, right?

4. Go shopping!  Start in your own closet.  Whatever you don’t own you can find at the mall, Wal-mart, TJ-Maxx, IMG_4436or shop at home online!  My favorite shirt from the Spring 2016 challenge was from LOFT and is shown on the right.

NOTE:  You can subsitute items that you don’t find or aren’t ready to splurge on.  Over time, items repeat in the various season challenges so you can build up your wardrobe.

5. Receive your outfits via email each evening. At 7 PM exactly, you will receive the outfit for the next day. You can IMG_4566substitute items as needed and even skip outfits if they just aren’t you. (though I found the fun was in trying some new things)

Of course, sometimes your life as a mom will force a substitution like tennis shoes instead of cute booties.  Afterall, field trips to the museum aren’t the best idea if you are in wedges or booties.  Just go with it and have some fun!

6. Join the secret Facebook group. It was so much fun to hear where folks were finding good deals and what color schemes people found while shopping. Once the challenge began, everyone was able to post their outfits each day and I truly enjoyed seeing each person’s interpretation. Best of all, it was REAL women, so all sizes (0-20) and all ages (18-70) were on there. I loved it! Some moms even participated with their teen daughters!

7. Take goofy or serious selfies. Ok, so this step is totally optional…but I often post mine on Instagram and you can follow me there (@notbefore7):


Over time you will find a wardrobe that is easier to sort through and a lot of tips to keep your closet updated without spending a fortune.

(I have enjoyed my participation in various fashion challenges. The links to the challenges are affiliate links and I will receive a commission if you participate in a challenge through my link. This costs nothing extra to you and helps me keep other content on this blog free.  The high opinion of these challenges is my own and I continue to love them.)

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My faith in God has not been a topic of this blog since its inception.  This isn’t because I don’t have faith.  In God.  In Jesus.  In the Bible.

I do.

But this year, the particulars and details of my faith have undergone a dramatic change and it has been hard to put into words so I haven’t tried.

At this point my views are no longer quite what they were, but I am not sure quite what they are.

Make sense?

It might.  It might not.

Either way, I have to admit that this change has been difficult at times.   I have had moments of deep concern about myself, which feels weird.  I mean…concern about myself?  That’s a new feeling for me.

This journey has also been somewhat lonely and very confusing as I adapt to the feelings of uncertainty in areas where certainty used to be strong.

This new version of my faith is definitely defined by less answers and more by questions.

Lots and lots of questions.

But I am good with it.  Mostly.  Though it has taken awhile to get there.

Before I share any details of my own journey, which I may or may not do on this blog, I wanted to share a book that has been extremely helpful in processing my evolving faith.  I share this just in case there is someone out there who is going through a similar process and looking for some guidance alont the way.

{The following book recommendation contains affiliate links.  Thanks for supporting NotBefore7}

Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar.

This book has been an amazing tool in helping me process and understand the changes going on in my spiritual life.  It is an insightful and practical book to help a person rebuild their faith and their connection with God.

This book is NOT a theology book.  This book will not have answers about what to think or how to interpret the Bible.  This book won’t even try to point you in any one direction when it comes to your spirituality.

What it will do is give you a big picture look at the process of going through a major shift in your faith.  It will help walk you through each of the steps in your journey as you redefine what you believe.

By major shift, I do mean a changing of fundamental beliefs.  I don’t mean reconsidering believers vs. infant baptism.  The type of change that this book is designed to walk you through is one where you feel like the entire bottom may have dropped out.  Is there really a God?  Can everyone just go to heaven?  Did Jesus really have to die?  Is the Bible really inerrant?  If you are allowing yourself to explore previously dismissed answers and you find yourself considering them valid, then this book might help you through that shift.

Of course, this book is for folks who might be struggling a bit through that change.  Struggling to accept it and to understand how to respond.

The guidance in this book helped me understand my emotions and values during a time of deep uncertainty.  I felt so very relieved as soon as I began reading it.  Truly, it felt like someone FINALLY understood what I was going through.

NOTE:  While Kathy Escobar does not push for any one “end” in her book, she speaks about her faith that evolved within the Christian faith.  I think the 7 steps would be applicable to any spiritual shifting, but most of the stories contained in this book are specific to people shifting within (or leaving) the Christian faith.

With each step of the process, Kathy shares a bit about her own story as well as the stories of the many people she has encountered through her blog and her church.  These stories are not meant to reveal the correct path for you to follow, but are meant to keep you company along the way.

Kathy is not a “one solution fits all” kind of spiritual guide.  If a break from church is what you need, Kathy will encourage you to take one.  If reading your bible is making you angry, she’ll advise you to stop.  If you aren’t sure if there even is a God, she isn’t scared of that either.

But step by step, as you are ready to take them, she’ll help you take the next step.  She will ask probing questions to help you sort through the feelings you are experiencing along the way.  I appreciated so many of her suggestions as I processed the information in her book.

In additon to her book, Kathy’s blog contains a wealth of information, including a free .pdf describing the stages of a faith shift.  She describes the process of rebuilding after deconstructing in an informative post and elaborates on each step in individual posts.

After exploring around her blog a bit, I decided to order the book.  I wanted to have everything in front of me in chronological order.  I wanted to be able to highlight and respond.  I wanted to read and re-read and re-read again.

Hands down, it has been one of the most helpful resources I have had during my faith shift.  I highly recommend it to anyone who might be processing through big changes in their beliefs, specifically when it comes to their view of Christianity and the Bible.

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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Art, Field Trips, Homeschooling, North Carolina

During our recent visits to the local art museum to tour the Childe Hassam and the Marks of a Genius exhibits, we stumbled upon an art conservationist working in the museum.

Painting in full view of the public eye, she was set up in an area created for the public to explore the art of conservation.

She immediately welcomed the kids and explained what she was doing.  She mixes her own paints and described that process for them.  The kids were invited to explore the back of the painting to see what she was working on and some of the problems caused by previous restorations before we knew what we know now.


The artist was eager to discuss her artistic endeavours with the kids and answer all of their questions.  My 11-year old, a budding artist, had a lot of thoughtful questions for her.  I was excited for her to see a career option in art world, so we asked about college education requirements.  This conservationist had both a chemistry and art degree!

The area is set up to explore the science of conservationism, so she took us through the display and explained how conservationists record their work.


While we just stumbled upon this unique experience, the conservationist is present and working in the museum on a regular schedule:


Unfortunately, after some persistent digging and exploring the NC Art Museum website, I could not find this information advertised on their site.

If you visit during the week (every Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30-11:30 and 1:30-3) then you will find that you pretty much have her attention to yourself.  Thankfully she is also working on select weekends listed above on the sign.

Around the corner from the conservation display is an area of interactive artwork.  This map of North Carolina invited viewers to share their NC story on a post-it note and add it to the map.


We spent some time reading stories that other visitors shared.  Personally, I enjoyed this one:


Then we shared our own stories.




(We used to live in MD and we moved here)

Interactive art is a lot of fun for the kids and a unique way to explore the art world.  If you stop by this area of the museum, add your story to the map!

Have you seen a conservationist at work?  

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letters to my kids, Parenting

This post was originally published on my former blog, which is now private.  A friend referenced it to me this morning and I decided to publish it here.  It is a beautiful reminder, to me this day, about the “things about my kids” which remain true.

My little Tricia (“T” on my former blog) is 11 years old now and still a deep feeler.  She asks the tough questions, feels ALL of the feels, and remains attached to objects with meaning to her.  While she has matured with age and we have worked through some of the less healthy expressions of her deep sensitivity, she is still the same beautiful soul and I am so thankful for it.

Here is a letter to her, originally published in 2012:

Dear T (age 7),

I have not met anyone who feels things as deeply as you.  Your sorrow, your joy, your love, and your fears run DEEP.   And we see it in so many ways in your life.

The one that comes to mind daily is the way you struggle with goodbyes.  You still chase us down the moment you think it might be time for us to leave and begin…

When are you leaving?  When will you be back?  What time will I see you?  How many hours is that?

Bye.  Love you.  Miss you.  Mom.  Bye.  Love you.  Miss you.  Mom.  Look.  Bye.  Love you.  Miss you.

With hug upon hug.

And admittedly, it drives us all batty.  You interrupt conversations to begin your dialogue.  It is hard for Daddy and I to catch up on things that need to be addressed before one of us is leaving.

I find myself saying, “That is enough T.  You said Goodbye.  Now you have to let me talk to Daddy.  Go back in the house!”

I mean, enough is enough!  Often, I am only going up the street for a quick errand at the store.

The goodbye production drives my logical, left-brained, fact-driven adult mind crazy.

I am leaving.  I will be back in less than 10 minutes.  It is not a big deal!

But it is the same big deal to you every time.  Three days or 10 minutes doesn’t seem to matter.  They both represent good-byes.

And it isn’t just with people…

You have a hard time giving away pictures and cards you create for people.  You invest so much of yourself in the pictures that you don’t want to part with them.  You always ask me, “Do you think they’ll keep this?”  It pains you to think someone might throw it away.

In an effort to help you part with your pictures and cards, we began taking pictures of them so that you could always see them again if you wanted to.   Interestingly enough, the picture taking seems to be enough and you have never asked to see the pictures again.

Here is your card for Mrs. Tandi, your bible school teacher.



I used to think that all of this drama had to be a game, some annoying habit you developed.  I used to think I could some how convince you to stop…

I am only going up the street.  I’ll be right back.  I already said goodbye.

But for you, it isn’t a game and it isn’t going anywhere.  You feel things more deeply than many folks.  It might be part fear, part love, and part anxiety.  Whatever it is, you don’t “control” it well and it just spills out.

That’s the hard part.  The spilling out of these uncontrollable desires to have your very deep feelings addressed don’t seem logical to me.

In fact, this past weekend I was going away for two nights.  You drew me a picture so that I would “remember you” and you asked me to draw one for you.  I forgot while I was packing the night before, but you didn’t.  The next day you reminded me over and over until I grabbed a post-it note and a sharpie marker about 10 minutes before I had to leave.  I made two quick stick figures and labeled them “Mom” and “T”.  Then I wrote, “I love you T” and handed it to you.

Admittedly, I was more frustrated than anything else.  I just wanted to get the final stuff done and I had a 7 year old begging for a picture so she could “remember me”.   AHHHH!

At some point on the trip I felt bad about how I neglected your feelings.  I told my friend she had to drive safely because this could NOT be the last picture you were left with from your mother!  Thankfully, I made it  home in one piece!

That night when I was tucking you in bed, I saw that lame post-it note in your bed.  You showed me how you kept it so you could remember me at night.


You are unique and so different from your “less emotional” Mommy.

And I am learning.

In fact, on my weekend trip, one of the speakers said that the “characteristics of my children right now are the seeds of who they will become”.  Right now these behaviors are “too big” for you and you handle them as a 7 year old, spilling them forth with little self-control.  But you will “grow into them” and begin to handle them with more maturity as you develop into the person that He has planned.

One day I am going to be amazed at the beauty and strength of these feelings that run so deep.  Right now I am seeing the 7 year old child, awkward version of it.  But God has given this to you and I can trust He has a plan.

And He has a plan for me, as your mother, to cherish and nurture every aspect of your personality.  You’ll just have to be patient with me as we learn from one another.

Bye.  Love you.  Miss you.

(Don’t worry, I am just headed to bed)

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Art, Field Trips, Homeschooling, North Carolina

Included with your ticket to the Childe Hassam exhibit, currently at the North Carolina Museum of Art, is Marks of a Genius:  100 extraordinary drawings from the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Admittedly, we were not prepared with any background for this exhibit, so I had to wing it with my kids.  The exhibit is described on the website as:

The selection of drawings, watercolors, gouaches, and pastels dating from the Middle Ages to the present includes stellar examples by such masters as Guercino, Annibale Carracci, George Romney, François Boucher, Thomas Gainsborough, Edgar Degas, Käthe Kollwitz, Egon Schiele, Emil Nolde, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Matisse, Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Roy Lichtenstein, and Ed Ruscha.

This eye-opening exhibition illuminates the historical and ongoing role of drawing as a means of study, observation, and problem solving, as an outpouring of the artist’s imagination, and as a method of realizing a finished work of art.

The sketches by master artists available for viewing were astonishing to me.  Really?  I can just walk on into this exhibit and snap a photo of a Picasso?


Or a Matisse?


How about Lichtenstein?

Yep.  With the flash off, you are allowed to snap photos but you can not sell them.

This is the sort of exhibit that allows you to see a variety of  drawings by many master artists through history.  We walked through the rooms and discussed drawings that caught our eye.  Occasionally I threw out questions to engage the kids in the artwork.

Is there a drawing here that depicts anger?  love? joy?

Where do you see texture?  What do you think they feel like?

Which sketch is your favorite in this room?  What do you like about it?

Overall, we had already spent about 15 minutes in the Hasaam display so the kids were able to engage this display for about 15 minutes more.  Six year old children, at least in my experience, have a tolerance of  about 20 minutes or less.  My 13 year old feels the same way.  I believe I got away with 30-35 minutes because the two exhibits were so different.

Of course, if you have an child who is interested in art, you might be able to meander for a longer period of time.  My 11 year old now appears to be one such child so I will have to work out extended visits for her somehow.

It is well worth the trip to the North Carolina Musuem of Art for this exhibit.  Be sure to stop by before the last day on June 19.

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Adventures/Travel, Blogging, camping, Homelife, Literature

In case you are wondering, here are five things I am loving right now.

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1.  A mobile macro lens for my iPhone. Amazing. Entertaining. Somewhat magical.  And all of that for $10.  This little lens wraps around your phone with a rubber band and instantly equips your camera phone with a handy macro lens. 


If you are a family that has adopted nature study as one of your family or educational goals, then this is a must have. If you are a parent who just needs some entertainment for the kids when camping or in the backyard, then this little lens will fit the bill!

PicMonkey Collage

Heck, my kids were entertained in our car ride. Give them each a set time with the lens and let them loose!

2.  The Magical Clariol Root cover up Kit. I used this kit for the first time on Monday night after it was recommended by a lady in the Walgreens.

Her hair is professionally dyed at the salon, but she swore that this kit was a sure fire way to prolong the time in between visits.

Now, I dye my own hair, but it is getting to the point where I HAVE to do it every 4-5 weeks or a stripe of salt and pepper hair appears. It was pretty obvious in my mother’s day photos, so I decided to give the kit a try because dying my hair is a royal pain. Here is the evidence of the before shot:


Oh my goodness. SO easy to use. Very little mess. It was so much easier then dying my full head of hair. And the results were great.


Now I can wait a few more weeks before I have to break out the big guns and dye the whole thing again.

3.  Srsly Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Courtney Carbone. Oh my word. This book is hysterical, enjoyable, and witty.

My daughters and I have read this Hamlet book cover to cover and they are begging for more.  These titles are both part of the OMG Shakespeare series of books.  

IMG_5521I have my eye on the MacBeth and the Midsummer’s Nights Dream.  Oh let’s be real.  I want them all.  In fact, during our recent trip to the History Museum in downtown Raleigh I bought YoLo Juliet.  I had  three kids staring at me (ages 13, 11 and 9) who were BEGGING me to get another one of these books for our collection!

Who am I to refuse them some Shakespeare fun?

So I took a few moments to preview the “wedding night” in YOLO Juliet.  It was mearly a “check in” by Romeo and a mention of  “tonight was great but it’s morning…” so I let them get it.

BUT, that being said, let me give you a heads up that PARENTAL DISCRETION is advised.  These are not books for little kids.  I have only read the Hamlet book and perused the YOLO Juliet title.  While reading Srsly Hamlet, both of my girls seemed to gloss over the word “horny”, either understanding it without my knowledge (quite possible) or assuming it was a Shakepeare term that they didn’t know.  The abbreviation WTF is used in YOLO Juliet as well as the poop emoticon in a way that clearly means sh*t.

So while I am comfortable discussing this things with my kids and letting them read these books.  PLEASE use your own discretion.  You may want to hold off a bit if your kids are young.

IMG_55244.  Kids Travel Journals from Hearth Song.  We are about to travel from Raleigh to AZ and UT for some fun adventures.  Because she is excited for us and is and amazing Aunt…my sister ordered these journals for my kids and they are fantastic.  Best of all, for our situation, they are set up for a big one trip experience.

The beginning pages give you space for recording where you are going and who is coming.  Then there are pages to list your daily intinerary,
IMG_5526providing up to 14 days for you to fill in.  Our trip is exactly 15 days, so we’ll skip one of the boring travel days in our itenerary!

There are fun games to play while you travel, daily pages for recording experiences, and fun prompts to fill in throughout. We will be filling them in on Monday to get ready with our itinerary, which should help the kids get prepared and geared up for our adventure out west!

5.  Frixion erasable colored pens.  I love love love these pens.  They have been a fun edition to end our school year with something new.

I plan to start off next school year with a few fresh colors for the table.  They make erasable markers too.  It’s like magic.

WARNING:  The writing from these pens will disappear in the heat.  DO NOT use them for precious memories like travel journals.  We use them for school work.  I was tempted to use them for our journals until a follower on periscope warned me!  I pass that warning on to you.

What are you loving right now?

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Art, Field Trips, Homeschooling, North Carolina

We became members of the NC Museum of Art this year as part of our homeschooling fine arts curriculum.  We take advantage of our free member tickets to every exhibit that travels to the museum.  The current exhibit at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh features the work of Childe Hassam, an American Impressionist.

Childe Hassam spent many summers painting on the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire.  The works being featured at this North Carolina museum were all painted while on this Isle.

Before taking kids to the art museum, I like to do a little research on the artist and become familiar with his/her work.  Becoming familiar with the artwork helps the kids engage more with the exhibit when they arrive.  The paintings feel more like friends and less like strangers.

This particular artist did not have any books at the library to introduce us to his work, but we found something better – a complete 27 minute documentary produced by UNC-TV focused on the Childe Hassam exhibit at the NC Museum of Art.

From the UNC-TV website:

Experience American impressionist Childe Hassam’s art, and gain a deeper appreciation of its significance, as we take an in-depth look at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s American Impressionist: Childe Hassam & the Isles of Shoals exhibition. The exhibit, running through June 19, features nearly three dozen of the artist’s finest oil and watercolor paintings created during summers on the Isles of Shoals.

The television program was the perfect way to educate our family on the life and works of Childe Hassam with a special focus on the works on display at the NC Museum of Art.  If you are able to see this exhibit, with or without children, I highly recommend that you watch this documentary first.

Pictures were not allowed in the exhibit, even without a flash.  Of course pictures could not adequately capture the colors and vibrancy of these paintings.  So instead, here we are afterward, having a cookie at Insomnia Cookies by the NC State Campus.


If you live local to the museum, I recommend a visit before the closing date of June 19, 2016.

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This week I was inspired by Rachel Held Evans and her explanation of Proverbs 31, a well known biblical poem about wisdom.   In her post, she explains that the Hebrew phrase for “woman of valor” is “eshet chayil“.  You’ll recognize these words in our bibles as “virtuous woman”.

Rachel’s Jewish friend, Ahava, shared with her “that she and her friends cheer one another on with the blessing, celebrating everything from promotions, to pregnancies, to acts of mercy and justice, to battles with cancer with a hearty “eshet chayil”!

I love it.

And I whole heartedly agree with Rachel when she explains that valor is not embracing only one particular role as a woman, but living out whatever role you have with valor.  She explains it this way:

“According to Ahava, [her jewish friend] valor isn’t about what you do, but how you do it. If you are a stay-at-home mom, be a stay-at-home mom of valor. If you are a nurse, be a nurse of valor. If you are a CEO, a pastor, or a barista at Starbucks, if you are rich or poor, single or married—do it all with valor. That’s what makes you a Proverbs 31 Woman, not creating a life worthy of a Pinterest board. “

And for mother’s day, I want to honor the many mothers of valor that I have the privilege of knowing.  Single moms. Working moms. Homeschooling moms.  New moms.  Soon-to-be-moms.  Grandmoms. The list of amazing moms is long.


While there is no way to list them all of them on this post, here are a few of the many women on my mind today:

My childhood BFF.  A successful career woman.  Also a mom of four boys, including a set of triplets in the mix.   Yes.  This means that at one time she was nursing three babies and caring for a two year old.

Just exactly what did that look when the family went to the pool?


They are 3 years old, 9ish months, 9ish months, and 9ish months in this photo.

Superhero?  Yes.  No question about it.  She has taken on life’s insane moments with a beautiful spirit, endless love, and a great deal of humor.

In the years since starting her own family, life threw a curveball at her.  She lost her own mother, who felt very much like my own in many ways growing up.  It was a devastating loss.  My friend walked through this difficult time period with honesty, strength, and courage.

This friend is a true woman of valor AND the most fashionable super hero that I know.

Friends caring for their parents and their children.  I have two close friends who have become the main source of help for their own parents while still raising young kids.  Both generations, the one before and the one to follow rely on them.  The emotional and physical toll can be stressful at times.  Yet I watch both of these women continue to put one foot forward and do the next thing.  These friends are women of valor, loving both generations with a generous heart.

Friends fighting hard for the heart of their kids.  It’s true.  As I move toward the teenage years in my house, so do many of my friends.  And our children begin to write their own stories, and sometimes the stories aren’t the fairytales we hoped for.   Bad choices.  Big mistakes.  Bitterness.  Distance.  And the road can be tough.  foggy.  unclear.  seemingly hopeless.  Yet, these friends hold on to hope.  They cling to love and pursue relationships with their teens with everything they have.  There is anger.  There are tears.  There is forgiveness.

And in it all,  there is deep love as they pursue a relationship with their child despite heartbreak, difficulty, and struggle.  They are women of valor, writing a story of love in the hardest places.

Good friends, now single moms.  This was not the fairytale ending they planned for.  And through the hurt and the pain, their beauty has risen from the ashes.  I watch them find themselves again in new ways.  Dreams take on new forms.  new jobs.  new addresses.  new normals.  Slowly, they embrace a new future and I watch them flourish.  These two friends are women of valor, continuing to thrive when the path took a very unexpected turn.

A woman who made the the big move.  Thirteen years ago she and her husband had a goal and a dream.  They worked together to achieve it.  Now they are living their dream in a new state, far from what was familiar.  The process was slow until it was fast.  Too fast.  But she did what had to be done and she did it with laughter and heart of gratitude.  Watching her bloom where she has now been planted is a joy!  She is a woman of valor, achieving with her family what they set out to do.

My mom.  She also made a big move less than a year agoIMG_3140 and set out on a new adventure with my dad.  Leaving the state she has lived in her entire life, she moved away from all that was familiar.  If you know my mom, then you know this was HUGE.

After the passing of her dad, my Pop, she wanted to be near her mom again. They have not lived near each other since I was a little girl and my mom knew it was time.

I have watched her take care of and enjoy her mother in a way I IMG_2973haven’t been able to see during my lifetime until this point.  They laugh, watch TV and work out together.  In fact, because of my mom, my Gram now has earned her “100 workouts” shirt at Curves.  One hundred workouts at 79 years old, each one because my mom has driven her there and encouraged her to be strong and healthy!

My mom.  A definite woman of valor, generously giving as both a mom and daughter.

To these and the many other women of valor who are celebrating Mother’s Day today, I say, “Eshet Chayil” interpreted loosely as “You go girl!”


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