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Holidays, Homelife

5 Days of Meaningful Christmas Traditions

The baby was 6 months old.  His siblings were 2, 5 and 7 years old and the Christmas season was upon us. December had arrived and I was an overwhelmed mom of four children under 8.

Decorations.  Dinners.  Shopping.  Serving.  List making.  Baking. Family.

I was overwhelmed and exhausted and I knew I was going to crack.  There was no way I could do everything planned in my head for the Christmas Season.  It was time to eliminate everything and then add back only the most important items to our family. Continue Reading

Holidays, Homelife

Begin a Family Advent Dinner Tradition

My parents host weekly Sunday dinners on each of the four Sundays of Advent.  This tradition began about the time I was finishing up my college degree and continues for them to this day.

My parents were intentionally slowing down and celebrating the season in a meaningful way. For several hours on each Sunday of Advent, they enjoyed an extended afternoon of relaxing together.  Advent dinners were another great reason to gather together all of their children, who were slowly leaving the nest.  And it worked.

But like many extended family traditions, our move to Raleigh changed everything. A five-hour drive was not going to be possible for our family each Sunday.

That left us with a decision: Would the Advent dinner tradition continue in our own home?

Our family continues my parents weekly advent dinner tradition as one of our meainingful Christmas traditions.

Short answer:  Yes. Yes, it would.

As our first Christmas in Raleigh approached, my kids began to create guest lists. We were a bit surprised.  Advent Dinner TableWe had only lived in the area for 4 months, but they never even questioned the continuation of this tradition.

We realized that Advent dinners had become an important part of the Christmas season for our kids, and we decided to continue them at our home in Raleigh.

Our first Advent dinner took place on foldable tables and a random assortment of chairs from around the house because we didn’t have a dining table.Advent Dinner

Since then, we have purchased and painted a dining room table though we still have to gather lots of extra chairs. But the tradition continues each year.

Each Sunday evening our family and friends gather around simple homecooked meals.  I don’t mind cooking, but I don’t love cooking so the food is typically kid-friendly and easy. Advent dinners menus are typically tacos, chili, pulled pork, or Italian.

Of course, we always enjoy our food on the fanciest of dishes and the matching beverage glasses.

What I love most about this tradition is the gathering with friends throughout the busy month of December.

Advent Dinner Tradition

Before eating, we begin with scripture reading and the lighting of the Advent Candle.


Each week of Advent has a special focus represented by a candle on the wreath:

Week One – Hope – Purple Candle
Week Two – Peace – Purple Candle
Week Three – Joy – Pink Candle
Week Four – Love – Purple Candle
Christmas Day – Christ – White Candle

The kids present take part in reading and lighting the candles.

After dinner, we enjoy conversation and games followed by dessert. I hope this simple, but meaningful tradition continues as my children enter adulthood.

Resources for Advent

There are lots of choices when it comes to Advent Wreaths.

Advent candles come in packs of 4 or 5. We prefer to use 5 because it includes the Christ Candle.


Ann Voskamp releases a video each week of Advent and writes her thoughts on her blog.

Background information on Advent can be found in this post.

This Advent home worship guide can be modified for weekly Advent dinners.  Scriptures and thoughts are included and can be adapted for a shorter reading if needed.

Enjoy the Advent Season.  

Learn about our Weekly Advent Dinners as part of our meaningful christmas tradtions.

This post is Day One of the 5 Days of Meaningful Christmas Traditions.  Stay tuned for four more days and learn about four more of our family’s traditions.


Brave Writer, Holidays, Homelife, Homeschooling

Cyber Monday Deals

After a weekend of eating and Black Friday shopping, it is time to curl up with your laptop and hit the deals.

That’s right.  It is Cyber Monday and boy do I have the most amazing Homeschool Deal to announce!

Visit the Brave Writer Holiday Shoppe and pick up a few specialty items.

Brave Writer Cyber Monday Deals

My most favorite ever curriculum is 30% off the ENTIRE store today (with exception of the amazon based products).  That’s right.  Brave Writer products are 30% off today with the code: GIVETHEMPIE.

Best of all, the Brave Writer Holiday Shoppe has new products for you to check out:

This first one is definitely on my list.

The Brave Writer Holiday Shoppe will offer a special blend of tea for the holidays.Gilgamesh Tea – Describe on their site as “a fruit and herbal blend with a warm spice flavor profile that is slightly sweet. It’s perfect for children just learning to enjoy a cup of tea with hints of the season: apple, cinnamon, and pomegranate.”   (Each tin contains enough for 15 cups of tea)

The Brave Write Holiday Shoppe will offer hashtag shirts in the Holiday Shoppe.Brave Writer Shirts – Check out the list of Brave Writer hashtags on these shirts.  If you are a fan of the Brave Writer Lifestyle then you will love what you see here.  Best of all, the shirts are available in black or white and have a variety of neckline choices.  They can be printed on short or long sleeve shirts as well as printed on hoodies.

In addition to these new products, you can order curriculum titles for 30% off, so think ahead for next semester AND next year!

In addition to the tea and a shirt, I hope to purchase: Faltering Ownership (writing projects for 11-12-year-olds).  I’ll be modifying the projects in this guide for my kids ranging in ages from 7-14 years old this year.  I own Jot it Down (ages 5-8) and Partnership Writing (ages 9-10) and often pull from them, so it will be nice to have the full set!

Need a few ideas:

Top Ten Arrow Guides
How we Use the Arrow Guides
Brave Writer Retreat DVD’s – My Weekend Experience
Party School Ideas: Poppy by Avi; Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery; The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Other Homeschool Cyber Monday Deals

Amazing deals on Kiwi, Doodle, and Tinker Crates and a $10 credit toward your order.

Get $10 and a great deal on kiwicrates.

Chalk Pastels Guides at You are an Artist are all half off!  We have used the American Landmarks book this year and loved the results.

Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale

Fashion Challenge Deal Deadline

Finally, don’t forget that today is the last day to sign up for the Fashion Challenge Annual Membership. Read more in my previous fashion challenge post.

Get the Annual Fashion Challenge Membership and learn all about how it works.

Enjoy Cyber Monday!  If you want links to amazing amazon deals today, be sure to follow me on Facebook. I’ll be sharing them throughout the day.

Gifts, Holidays

Great Gifts for a Homeschool Mom

Educating the kids at home is a big task for any parent.  Research.  Plan.  Implement.  Repeat.

Every day.  Every week.  Every year.

The teacher deserves a special treat in recognition of their homeschooling efforts.  Maybe the homeschool teacher is your child.  Maybe it’s your spouse.  And maybe it’s your parent.

No matter who you see rocking out the job of a homeschool parent, you can find something on this list to brighten their day. Continue Reading

Gifts, Holidays, Homelife

Top Gifts for a Harry Potter Fan

Our house is full of Harry Pottery Fans.  Six of them to be exact.

One of the teenage fans is the die-hard type.  She is the kid who has read the entire series about 15 million times.  She can answer the trivia questions that we can’t even find answers for on the internet.  #truestory

Then there is me.  I adore the books and the characters.  I used to teach a Harry Potter class for kids at the local community college.  If I had the time, I would read the series about 15 million times.  Instead, I just engage in good conversation with the kid that does.

The rest of the house loves the books as well.  Everyone has read them.  Seen the movies.  And has fallen in love.  Yes, we are a house of Harry Potter Fans.

{This post contains affiliate links. Read my disclosure for more information.} Continue Reading

Holidays, Homelife, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

Remembering 9/11 with your Kids: Patriot Day

September 11 is a National Day of Service and Remembrance, Patriot Day, in memory of those killed in the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City.  It is not a federal holiday so schools and businesses typically operate on a normal schedule, but many of us want to share a time of remembrance with our kids.

Most adults remember exactly where they were when the planes hit the towers and the news broke.

I was teaching math when the teacher next door to my 6th grade classroom leaned in and told me to turn on the television.  I remember feeling confused, scared and horrified as the second plane hit the tower.   Of course, very quickly, word came down from the administration that televisions had to be turned OFF!  This news was frightening, and many of our students attending this middle school in Maryland had parents working at the Pentagon that day.

My memory of that day is so vivid, yet my children weren’t even born.  They have no memories associated with the tragic events that unfolded on September 11, 2001 other than what I have shared.  But I want them to remember.  There are many ways to do this and here are some of the most helpful titles and sites I have found in my research.

Patriot Day with Kids

{This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for your support of Not Before 7}

Remember the Day with Observances

Personally, I will begin by reading a few of the past official Presidential Proclamations made on Patriot Day.  Each one is a little bit unique, but they all contain this section (the presidents name varies):

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 11, 2015, as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance.  I call upon all departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of the United States to display the flag of the United States at half-staff on Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance in honor of the individuals who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.  I invite the Governors of the United States and its Territories and interested organizations and individuals to join in this observance.  I call upon the people of the United States to participate in community service in honor of those our Nation lost, to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities, including remembrance services, and to observe a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time to honor the innocent victims who perished as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Consider observing the moment of silence at 8:46 AM with your kids. Teach them the significance of the time and what it means to you to be silent at that moment.  If you have a flag, display it in honor of this day and look into observances being held in your local area.

Remember the Day with Videos

There are a ton of YouTube videos about the events on September 11, 2001.  The following are the most child-friendly that I discovered, though you will want to preview the images for your kids.

Remember the Day with Lessons

This 911 Memorial website has an entire section focused on teaching and learning ideas focused on the events of September 11th.

Check out this Everyday Heroes lesson for your elementary schoolers.

Scholastic has a lot of great background information in language easy for kids to understand.

Preschool activities on the Letter F for Flag can be found online.

How about a discussion of primary vs. secondary sources? This presentation on Prezi by Melissa Wright includes a variety of primary and secondary sources for you to discuss with your kids.  The 9/11 digital archive contains an overwhelming amount of information, but you could find more to add to your discussion for sure.

Education World has a list of ideas for classroom teachers that you can borrow for your home.

Remember the Day with Books

Picture Books

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez is the true story of a gift bestowed upon an American Diplomat by the Maasai people of Kenya.
Fireboat written and illustrated by Maira Kalman is the true story of a New York icon who helped in a time of need.
America is Under Attack by Don Brown is a non-fiction, straight-forward, and honest chronological account of the events of September 11, 2001.
Survivor Tree written by Cheryl Somers Aubin and illustrated by Sheila Harrington is a story of
hope and healing represented by the true story of a Callery Pear Tree.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein is another true story of a tightrope walker who spent an hour between the two towers in 1974. The book ends with a mention of the absence of these towers today. We own this book and adore it. There is actually a full length movie, released in 2015, about this historic event.

Upper elementary/middle – Use parental discretion

What were the Two Towers by Jim O’Connor is part of a kid-friendly series explaining historical people and event.
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhoades is the story of three friends in fifth grade as they discover how the historic events of 9/11 have impacted them and their community at large. One friend has a father suffering from chronic illness as a result of the events, one friend is Muslim, and another has a father who served in Iraq. This book takes a look at the historical event and its impacts on the social community.
Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin takes a look at the days leading up to September 11th and the impact of the event on the lives four middle school students.
Eleven by Tom Rogers is the story of a boy who turns 11 on September 11.

Older Teens – Use Parental Discretion

All We Have Left by Wendy Mills is a coming-of-age story about two girls whose lives intersect on September 11, 2001.
The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner is the story of two teenagers who meet after the towers fall, one of who has forgotten who she is.
The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon is the most accessable adaptation of the 9/11 report for all Americans. This one is on MY list.

Remember the Day with Crafts

It’s hard for me to consider September 11 as a celebratory day.  The images and memories in my mind are very somber.  Yet part of what we remember are the stories of heroism and courage.  In our house, we will focus on this aspect as part of our remembering while enjoying crafts and food as part of a celebration of heroism in America.

Patriotic Lanterns are an easy way to decorate the house or yard.

These wind twirlers can be made from some paint and empty paper towel tubes.

Of course, this July 4th shirt I painted with my girls could easily be worn on Patriot Day.

This duct tape flag is a great idea for older kids and can be displayed on the front door. Or they could try this clothespin wreath for the door!

This flag mosiac using magazines presents a unique challenge.

These patriotic luminaries would look great on the porch, in the kitchen, or on your deck.

Patriotic Pebbles are a delight for all ages! Who doesn’t enjoy some rock painting?

Remember the Day with Food

Patriotic Pies in a Jar is a great dessert idea and can be varied easily with different shapes and pie flavors.

This American Flag Cheesecake is another dessert idea that the kids can help decorate.

I am partial to this Red, White, and Blue Poke cake because it is pretty easy and delicious.  I make it every July 4th and it works perfectly for Patriot Day as well.

Food Ideas for Patriot Day

Not sure if you can find red and blue M&M’s this time of year (might have to resort to online ordering), but this patriotic popcorn looks like a yummy snack!

Try thse Firecracker Hot Dogs.  My kids would really remember this hot dog lunch!

This easy taco salad dip can work for a patriotic dinner display.

My kids love deviled eggs.  Wonder how they’d feel about these red, white, and blue ones?

Finally, top off a meal with this Patriotic Punch for the kids.

Want to explore more food and craft ideas?  My Fourth of July Pinterest board has plenty of patriotic ideas.

Will your family participate in Patriot Day celebration or activities?