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A Year in Review: 2016 Reader Favorites

Have you seen the Top 100 Billboard hits of 2016?

I can. not. believe. that Bieber took the number one spot.  Seriously?  Take a moment to let that one sink in.

And then get ready for more.

Because the number two spot is also a song by Beiber.  Oh yes.  He nabbed the top TWO spots for 2016.

In case you can’t tell, I am not a Belieber.   I would have picked a song by the other Justin.  Justin Timberlake.  His song, “Can’t stop the Feeling” was number 9, though I would have ranked it higher.  I have definite opinions when it comes to pop music.

In the end, whether or not I agree with them, I have always enjoyed reading the “Best of” lists that hit the internet at the end of a year.  It is so much fun to relive my own memories, debate the choices with family, and discover the names of top movies or top books that I missed.

So in the spirit of revisiting last year, I’d like to share the 2016 Reader Favorites from NotBefore7 according to the total page views.

The 2016 Reader Favorites from Not Before 7.

In the spirit of all good Top Ten lists, we’ll begin at the bottom… Continue Reading

Blogging, Homelife

How to Create a Seriously Simple Bullet Journal

Bullet Journaling.  It is all the rage in the world of women.  Everyone is trying it and I am no exception.

Bullet Journal pages appear so pretty and organized. It’s a brilliant concept. There is no question about that.

I became convinced that one little moleskin journal held the key to daily, weekly and monthly organization in my home.  I would just have to draw the pretty squares. Continue Reading

Blogging, Brave Writer, Homeschooling

Giveaway: The Writers Jungle – ENDS SEPTEMBER 2, 2016

{The following giveaway post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for your support of Not Before 7.}

Once upon a time there was a homeschool mom who had not one but two copies of The Writers Jungle by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.

Two binders.  Two fully printed copies of this incredible resource to equip homeschooling parents to teach their kids to write.

So what is that lucky homeschool mom to do?

PASS IT ON!  That’s what!

This week, I am going to pass on my former copy of The Writers Jungle (original value: $97) to one lucky reader.  My copy is the most recent edition, complete in the Brave Writer binder.  It is a USED copy, but I have cleaned it up for you.  The stray pencil marks have been erased and the binder is all nice and shiny for ya!

So you get the most recent version and I will be keeping the previous edition that was given to me.

It’s a win-win situation.

The Writers JungleThis guide is the centerpiece of the Brave Writer curriculum.  It is designed to teach the PARENT how to teach their child.  You will learn how to partner with your child as they find their writing voice, revise their thoughts, freewrite, and even construct the dreaded elementary school report!

In Julie’s own words, today on Facebook:

The missing ingredient in writing curricula isn’t how to structure a paragraph (information that can be readily found on the Internet). You don’t need more facts about topic sentences or how to use libraries. Grammar and spelling are not the key components in writing, either, much to the chagrin of some English teachers.

Writing is first and foremost about writers—people with ideas, thoughts, and insights they want to share. Readers are cultivated by risky writing—writing that hooks, fascinates, speaks, surprises, enlivens, and tells the truth. How do you help your kids reach inside and find those kinds of words? That’s what Brave Writer is all about and that’s what The Writer’s Jungle is designed to help you do.

But wait just a second.  That’s not all.  In addition to The Writers Jungle I’d like to include a few simple things to get your family started on their free writing journey.

Brave Writer Giveaway. The Writers Jungle.

Your prize pack will also include 5 spiral notebooks (1 for mom and up to four kids), a selection of stickers to decorate your notebooks, and this 10 pack of Ticonderoga pencils.

We have been free writing in our spiral notebooks for three years now.  And they are treasures.  Brilliant treasures.  I hope these few simple items, in addtion to The Writers Jungle will help you to get started on your journey!

Winning is easy.  Just enter here and I will select a winner at random after the contest closes on Friday, September 2 at noon.

The Writers Jungle and Freewriting Bonuses Giveaway

While I am an ambassador for Brave Writer, this contest is not in anyway offficially associated with  or sponsored by Brave Writer. I simply had two copies of The Writers Jungle and wanted to offer one up to my readers.  Good luck and thanks for entering!  And of course, spread the word so your friends can enter!

Periscope, Things I Love

Things I Love: Periscope Edition

My first periscope was done on a whim on September 18, 2015 after Julie Bogart’s periscope challenge to show our “enchanted spaces”.  I decided to take up her challenge and I grabbed my phone to show our mess enchanted space.

At the time, I had no idea what an amazing tool periscope would become for me.   It has changed the way I learn about science, the world, and homeschooling.  I continue to be very involved in the periscope community.  If you are interested, you can follow me there (or on your app @notbefore7) and join in the fun!

I admit that here have been a few purchases made in this house specifically because of my love of periscope.  Therefore, this edition of “Things I Love” is dedicated to the wonderful world of periscope.


1. Spiral Bound Notecard Set.

My first purchase was a set of basic spiral bound notecards to display important websites that I mention when talking on a periscope.

My own website is listed on the first card and then sites I mention frequently come next. Any site I mention can be included on the list quickly and will remain there for reference in the future.

2.  Tripod.

Eventually, I got tired of propping my iPhone against a stack of books. I didn’t invest in anything fancy, but I purchased a pretty basic tabletop tripod. It does the job and keeps my hands free and the phone steady.

3.  Burts Bees Lip Balm.

Let me be honest here.  It can be tough to stare at yourself on your iPhone for 20-30 minutes during a periscope.  You begin to notice things about yourself that you normally don’t notice.

Like your lips that suddenly seem so pale.

My first attempt to correct this issue were the Burts Bees Shimmer Lip Balms. I grabbed one in Fig and kept it downstairs where I often periscope. It worked perfectly.

Until I began to notice some of my friends going for bold lip colors on periscope and I decided to try a more bold lip approach, which brings me to my next purchase.

4.  Lancome Lip Crayon.

I was never much for bold lipstick in my everyday life, but boy does it make a difference on the screen!

So I went off to the local Ulta and bought a bold lipstick.  I selected this Lancome Lip Crayon and it is perfect.  It is slim and fits in my purse or in a bin with my other periscope equipment.

Best of all, I love the name: Only Wine Will Tell. Brilliant.

5. Rectangular Storage Bin.

I keep all of my periscope equipment together in a cabinet: lipstick, tripod, and notecards. The next purchase on my list is this bin. I am tired of the lipstick rolling around on the shelf. This bin will hold them all and fit nicely in my cabinet. When it is time to periscope, I can just grab it! Voila!

How about you? Do you periscope? Have you made any purchases for it?

(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

Games, Homelife, Things I Love

Favorite Family Card Games

Our family loves to play games. Card games. Board games. Video games. We are cool with all of it.

But times are a changin’ in this house and my teenagers have outgrown the entertaining games of the early years.  And I can’t say I miss most of them.

Yet, there is still a 7-year-old in the house and we don’t want to leave him out so we have to find games that work for everyone! Continue Reading

Blogging, Flashback Friday, Parenting

Flashback Friday: Exhausted Mommy of an Infant and Toddler

This blog post was originally published in September of 2009 on my former blog. My four kids were 3 months old, 2.5 years old, just turned 5, and about to turn 7.  I was exhausted.  overwhelmed.  emotional.

As your kids grow up, it is so easy to forget the challenges of little ones.   I am so thankful that I had a blog to record some of my thoughts in real time so I can look back and remember. 

So today I repost this here as a reminder there is much joy, laughter, and fun in parenting, but there can also be tears, exhaustion and confusion. At all stages.

And for some of you current readers who know the current version of me, but never met the past one, it is a look at the hot mess I became after the fourth kid!

My Current Status

A lot of folks told me that after child number three, I would hardly notice the transition to another child. After all, routines were established and the house was filled with kids and their stuff anyway.

That may be true for many moms out there. But for me, adjusting to four children has been the hardest transition since the rough adjustment I had to motherhood in general.

An infant is hard.

They don’t follow everyone else’s schedule because they come with their own.

They like to be held and often need to be rocked to sleep.

They have fussy times that aren’t always convenient or predictable.

Sometimes they stay up a lot later than their parents would like to stay up.

Everyday with an infant is different and unpredictable.  At least with my infants.

A two year old is hard.

My particular one is well into tantrum season. He has a hard time stopping anything that he is doing.

He doesn’t transition well.

He doesn’t like the word, “No” and he is hard to talk into anything.

He wants to do what he wants and when he wants to do it.

Like I said, he is two.

(Some of you with an infant and 2 year old right now in your house know what I mean. Whether they are your only 2 kids or you have eight, it’s tough!)

My decision to homeschool my older two has definitely made things more difficult. They would both be at school all day this year, but I have chosen to keep them home with our family. I am happy with that choice and feel completely confident in the decision, but it does make this transition even more overwhelming.

And I notice that I have become a different person.  I don’t want to go anywhere.  Which is NOT like me at all.  But it doesn’t seem worth all of the hassle involved.

And if you know me, then you know that I don’t like being at home all day. I am a “get out of the house” kind of person. I tend to be adventurous and take my kids out daily. After all, the best learning happens out in the world!

But this transition to four kids has made me quite content to be at home.

But I do things that are so out of character.  So disorganized.  Lazy feeling.  Just recently one of my kids missed a friend’s birthday party because I just didn’t want to do it.

In order for her to attend, I would have to load up all 4 kids and take them to a local moon bounce warehouse. After dragging all four into such a fun place, only one would get to stay. I knew D (age 2) would freak out and I’d have to drag him back to the car while carrying the infant car seat and convince the 6 year old that we would come back another day. Once we got settled at home, we’d have to do it all again 1.5 hours later to pick her up from the party.

No thank you.

And I am an emotional mess.  Tears regularly form in my eyes when someone truly wants to know how things are going. In fact, just last night I was in tears and had to stop talking to a group of women that barely know me because I admitted I was totally overwhelmed.

And clearly…TIRED.

Tears and tiredness seem to be normal when there is an infant in the house. At least in this one.

But that doesn’t mean that homelife is bad. Because it is not.

I love each of these kiddos more than words can say. Watching another child find his place in the mix is delightful.

And most days we do just fine.

And many moments, we do more than fine!

But for the first time in a long time, I can’t handle it all.

I cut back on activities. I remembered my limits again. And I am working on accepting that this isn’t the season to do some of the things I so desperately want to do. There will be time for things like coffee dates, blog reading, scrapbooking, field trips to DC, and book reading in another season.

For now I just focus on the tasks in front of me.

One task at a time.

Attempting to parent with confidence, knowing that God promises that I can do all things through Him.(Phil 4:13) Every task He has called me to, He will be faithful to see fulfilled.

And that is the promise that I cling to right now.

Adventures/Travel, Things I Love

Things I am Loving Right Now: Car Traveling Edition

Many of you have been following along as we travel across the US in our 12 passenger van.  We are having a great time touring places like the Grand Canyon, Zion Nation Park, and Antelope Canyon.

Inspired by our current travel here are things I am loving right now!

Things I am Loving Right Now: Car Traveling Edition

{Some links may be affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Not Before 7}


They have changed the way I will pack forever.  I blogged about our plan to use them before our trip and we have had to modify the plan somewhat, but the ebags are the BEST thing we have ever bought for travel.  They will change our camping, family visiting, and trips for the better.

Four of us have the three piece packing cube set.  My younger two boys each have one large eBag and we are making that work.  We have one large eBag for swimsuits, goggles, and sunscreen as well.  In the future, I will purchase another 3 piece packing cube set for my boys as well!

2.  United States Sticker Map.

Although this is advertised as an RV sticker map, we attached it to the back of our van to record our cross country travels.  Each time the van enters a new state, we add the sticker.

Each time we add a sticker, we record the fun:

This sticker could be kept at home, on the car, or on a piece of posterboard. It is pretty versitile and we LOVE it!

3.  National Geographic Guide to Naitonal Parks of the United States. (8th Edition).

I got tired of returning this to the library and requesting it again. I also wanted to write in it. So I finally gave in and purchased it.

It has been handy during our trip.  I might be old fashion, but something about having paper to take notes, underline, and write on works best for me. I can look up the park a day or two before we get there and make some notes about what to do if we have a few hours, a full day, or a few days. This guide has been really helpful.

NOTE:  This was SO helpful when we went into a park after hours when the visitor center and gate were closed and we couldn’t get a map.  This book has updated route maps so you can still get around to overlooks and trails.

4.  Sabrent 10 port family USB charger.

Yes. We are a modern family. This is the charging port we have in our charging station at home, and when we travel we make sure to bring it.

I love that it sits flat and the ports are on the top, not the side. It works well for overnight charging in hotel rooms. Currently we charge 2 phones, 2 iPods, 2 Kindles, and 2 iPads each night. Every morning the devices are charged and ready to go.

We also use it in the car, keeping it plugged in to my next item…

5. Car Power Inverter Strip.

This strip has 2 outlets for standard plugs and 2 USB ports. We keep our USB Charger plugged in to this while driving so our kids can keep their devices charged while we are travelling.

Once plugged in, the kids keep the USB charger toward the rear of the car for their devices so the extra USB ports on this main outlet are handy for the adult phones in the front seat.

Note:  I travel for long trips with my kids frequently.  We visit family in both Maryland and Florida and we love to take trips around the US.  There is NO reward at the end of the trip for keeping your kids off screens, so we don’t limit their use at all.  We still listen to audio books, play games, enjoy scenery, and have pleasant conversation, but this all happens naturally as we travel.  It is rare that I force “no devices” though it does happen sometimes.  Therefore, #4 and #5 are some of my favorite additions to our travel supplies.

6. Rand McNally 2017 Midsize Road Atlas

(spiral bound preferred for me).

We lost our modern day GPS through Waze and Google Maps quite a bit while traveling around Utah.  My daughter had this atlas in the car and it was SO handy to double check our route.

It was also handy to print pages for the kids so they could follow our trip.

7. Next Exit

This amazing guide crossed my path AFTER our big road trip.  In it you will find the most amazing comprehesive directory for interstate highway exits.  The gas, food, camping, shopping, and lodging available is listed next to every single interestate highway exit.

This could totally change the way you plan to stop for lunch or bathrooms because now you know what is around the corner at the NEXT EXIT!

What are your favorite Cross Country Travel Items?

(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