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Family Travel: Ethiopia
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» REVIEW: Open Goaaal Soccer Goal + Rebounder
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» Dollywood: The Cascades at Splash Country
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» Do supplements really work?
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» Saying yes… our family is headed to Ethiopia
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» Bete Hosanna : Bringing hope to teen girls in Ethiopia
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» Boys’ Trip to Houston in the 2019 Mazda CX-5
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» My life didn’t turn out how I thought it would.
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» Family Getaway at Tradewinds Island Grand St. Pete Florida
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» Dollywood Season Pass – Bring a Friend Free

Family Travel: Ethiopia

I’ll admit it. It’s been an adjustment returning to life in Tennessee after being together, as a family, for a month in Ethiopia. It’s a gift that I’ll be forever thankful for. So often I serve in other countries and return to my family, mind full/heart full, and find it a challenge to re-enter life with all I have seen and done. This time, we all came back with the same thoughts. We know the same people now, we love the same people now.

Working with our Bete Hosanna girls daily was a privilege. Our kids became little brothers and sisters. They laughed and worked alongside the girls seamlessly. Our kids shared who Jesus was to them personally and participated in Bible studies and sharing circles. They helped us welcome teams and they even ate every bit of spicy food handed to them.

I get a lot of questions about how the kids did on the long flights and how their tummies held up in country. The flights were honestly a piece of cake. Movies were enjoyed, games were played and airplane food was eaten. Lufthansa, the airline, was also very kid friendly. They added fun experiences like handing out little stuffed planes, taking polaroids of the kids and randomly bring by little card games or chocolates.

As far as the tummies go. There were definitely a few bumps in the road there. Liam had a couple of sick days and Elliott’s plane ride home was nothing short of miserable. BUT nothing was serious and they rebounded quite well. It’s a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.

Charlotte and I head back to Ethiopia in just five short weeks. We are leading (I say we because let’s face it, she’s a mini-adult) a team of thirteen people to continue investing in Bete Hosanna and a few other ministries in Ethiopia. To say we can’t wait is an understatement.

I have missed the girls so much since we left. I think of their futures and plan for their futures daily. I have so much hope for them. We all do now.

» REVIEW: Open Goaaal Soccer Goal + Rebounder

Soccer is a big deal in our family. Between rec and travel soccer, it’s a yearlong sport for us. When we’re not on the fields, the backyard is the next best thing. After trying out various goals over the years, I think we have found our new favorite. If your house is anything like mine, soccer balls tend to find their way over the fence and into the neighbor’s backyard. This goal + rebounder combination from Open Goaaal makes things convenient and ultimately cheaper.

Installation:

Wherever you decide to place the net, know that it won’t be moving anytime soon. The goal will have about 10-12 anchor points that will go into the ground. There are a couple of other things to consider: The ball can still go over the net (and the neighbors fence) no matter what you tell your kids; If you put the net along a fence, you will need to account for enough margin so that the ball doesn’t hit against the fence when the ball goes into the goal. Open Goaaal offers three different sizes so there will likely be an option that works for your yard (we ended up landing on the Standard). With basic tools, one person can be finished in a couple of hours. There are still some moments where two people are needed but not necessary for the whole period.

Function:

We’ve had other nets before without a rebounder but as children grow, their strength and ball speed increase. That’s when our older and smaller nets just couldn’t cut it anymore. The rebounder does what it’s meant to do which makes practicing alone more enjoyable. You can adjust the tightness of the net with the supplied carribeaners, this is necessary for the ball to come back to the player.

Design:

This net is big! As it should be. So make sure you have enough space in your yard. The net goes a few feet deep and although the net is narrow, the mounting structure stretches out both width and depth. In about five minutes, you can take the net/rebounder off the ground and raise it up, similar to a set of blinds. This allows you to mow and edge easily.

Conclusion:

We have loved this product from Open Goaaal! Neighbors from all over, even some we had never met before, come over to kick around and play World Cup.

Open Goaaal website

buy on Amazon




I received this product from Open Goaaal to complete this review, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

» Dollywood: The Cascades at Splash Country

As always use Dollywood coupon code: DWINSIDERS to get $10 off your tickets when you buy in advance online!

Summer is in full swing and so are the soaring temperatures! Thank goodness for Splash Country and the break from heat it provides. Our family recently went on a three-day Dollywood filled adventure and chose to spend the first day in Splash Country enjoying the many water slides and working on our tan lines. 

We’ve realized over the years that Splash Country can be enjoyed several days in a row due the the size and variance of attractions. In fact, many people never make it to the back of the park where our favorite area lies in wait; The Cascades!

The Cascades area boasts an 8,000 square foot lagoon style pool with beach entry, cascading waterfalls (thus the name!), two slides, geysers, interactive water play areas, water jets and more! The pool area is also surrounded by generous seating and waterside retreats and canopies. The retreats and canopies are available for rent and worth every penny.

There is so much to do in this sizable area tucked in behind Fire Tower Falls and Bear Mountain Fire Tower. Our younger children delighted in the geysers and water play area while our older kids enjoyed zipping down the slides over and over again with little to no wait. It was easy to keep an eye on everyone from our perch at the beach entry side of lagoon and we had peace of mind as the ever-vigilant life guard staff patrolled the area. In fact, the Splash Country lifeguards have some awesome tips for parents here.

The Cascades is truly the perfect place to kick back while the kids explore. This “secret cove” is sure to become one of your favorite places to recharge and connect as a family while beating the summer heat. It has been for us!

As always use Dollywood coupon code: DWINSIDERS to get $10 off your tickets when you buy in advance online!

» Do supplements really work?

I probably obsess a bit too much about my personal health. The obsession is the product of inheriting some less than stellar genes and having some interesting medical struggles at a young(ish) age. Additionally several people, including kids, in our family have some variation of the MTHFR genetic mutation. Something that freaked me out to begin with, but no longer worries me. A bit of research and understanding and paying attention to bloodwork has helped us utilize supplements and diet to counteract the effects of having such genetic mutations.

We have also come to understand that health and healthy living is not one size fits all. Many of the methods that were recommended to me personally, to lower my hereditary high cholesterol didn’t work. I had to really pay attention to what worked for me by trying a lot of different things. In the end a mostly vegetarian diet, cutting out dairy, upping cardio, taking a raw multivitamin, adding fish oil and working on inflammation specifically made the numbers drop. Addressing inflammation through diet was one of the last frontiers for me and it seemed to be the thing that really tipped the scale.

The question posed in the title of this post is “do supplements really work?” In our experience they absolutely do. This has been backed up by significant changes in our bloodwork. Even our children have had full panels done. I encourage you to do this for your kids too! We learned so much about how their bodies were processing nutrition and what they needed and what they didn’t. There was a drastic change in their deficiencies after I targeted their supplements and diet to their needs. Here’s the thing about kids though… mine are certainly not picky, but they also aren’t down to eat some of the weird concoctions I whip up to meet their nutritional needs. Supplements help us meet in the middle by filling in the gaps left by the American diet and our food sources.

To get to the point, here are the supplements that we currently use that are working well and showing results confirmed by blood work and how we feel on a daily basis. We specifically choose whole food and in some cases raw whole food vitamins. Overusing synthetic vitamins can cause their own slew of problems. Some of our most pressing issues were low amounts of B12 and D.

Erica’s Vitamins:

Ultimate Omega by Nordic Naturals
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Women’s Multi
(I take only a half dose of this per day)
Dr. Ohhira’s fermented probiotic
I switch probiotics all the time, as it’s best to continually expose the system to different strains, but this is a really good one I currently use
Green Superfood
This helps to ensure that I get plenty of greens and helps detoxify

Calvin’s vitamins:

Turmeric with Curcumin
Gaia Daily Wellbeing for Men
Garden of Life spray B12

Lola and Liam:

Doterra Kids Multivitamin Chewable
Nordic Naturals Jr.
Renew Life Kids Probiotic tablets
Renew Life Kids Digestive Enzyme (when needed, after consuming dairy etc.)

Charlotte and Elliott:

Amazing Grass Capsules (they take 3 capsules)
Mary Ruth’s Organic B12/D3
Nordic Naturals Jr.
Renew Life Kids Probiotic tablets

» Saying yes… our family is headed to Ethiopia

I’ve shared a bit about the work I’m involved with in Ethiopia here and there on the blog. For the past several years I’ve gone without my husband and children and as Ethiopia has solidified it’s place in my heart I have yearned to share that more deeply with my family. Our son, being from Ethiopia, has consistently shared a desire to be more involved as well. Last week those things collided with a need for me to spend a month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia over the summer. Within hours of assessing the need our family decided to say yes to packing up for a temporary relocation to Addis Ababa.

Now begins the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional preparation. As well as the task of fundraising a portion of our trip expenses. We are thankfully in a place where we have prepared and don’t need to raise 100% of the expenses but we do have to get to work on the rest. We have set up a page that allows for tax-deductible online donations and are prepping for several fundraising pushes including an online auction, selling items from our home and doing some extra work as we can pick it up.

What will we be doing? America World, my employer, just opened a home for teen girls who have aged out of the government orphanage. We will be working daily with the girls to support their emotional and spiritual needs while working to implement a life skills curriculum that I am working on with several volunteer leaders. We will also work with in country staff and help facilitate the volunteer teams that visit and work during that time.

This is exciting on so many levels. We will be serving as a family, caring for some pretty incredible girls, spreading the gospel and growing as a family all at the same time. It will be our joy to share our journey with all of you!

» Bete Hosanna : Bringing hope to teen girls in Ethiopia

I recently returned from another trip to Ethiopia. I’ve shaken the jet leg and processed the images of my son’s beautiful first home. This trip was unique among trips because this time, I was house hunting. House hunting for a home to house teen girls aging out of the government orphanage in Addis Ababa. A home that we have named Bete Hosanna. Bete, is house in Amharic… Hosanna means rescue. The house of rescue. Not because we are rescuers… but because we are the rescued thanks to what Jesus has done. And because of that great love, we cannot look away from what we have seen.

One of my amazing volunteers Melinda Salle shared the following:

“Images of their beautiful faces flash through my mind a hundred times a day. My team was forced to leave them in January. We left them alone and in the poorest living conditions I have ever seen. We circled around each of them in prayer that night as we left them in the dark, scared and feeling probably more alone than they had ever felt in their lives. I realized in those moments that no one had ever taken care of these eleven precious girls. Eighteen years old and not a soul in the world who cared. No mother had ever cautioned her about the dangers of the streets. No father had ever counseled her on how to spend or save her hard earned money. No one had protected her from evil or harm or taught her how to protect herself. No one had taught her that she was created for a purpose by the God of the Universe who never leaves or forsakes. There was not one adult who cared to say goodbye or walk her out as she struggled to carry her meager belongings and walked out the gate of the orphanage completely alone. How many of us remember the day we got dropped off at college with our cute bedding, some pictures for the walls and a rug? Our parents double and triple checking that we had everything we could ever possibly need as they left us with food, clothing and a credit card “just in case”. The contrast is so stark I can hardly bear it. These girls are the definition of strength, beyond what we can understand.  They have NEVER had anyone believe in them, encourage them or defend them. They urgently need people who are in their corner. People who believe in them and love them and pray for them.  People across the globe who are willing to give up additional comforts in order to change the entire life of an eighteen year old girl whose only options may be prostitution, drugs or death. Please consider entering in to these girls’ lives. As someone who has personally looked into the eyes of each one of them, I pray that you will not be able to forget this story, just as I am never able to “unsee” what God showed me there that day. Please join us in fighting for justice and hope for each one of these eleven.”

The work with Bete Hosanna exceeds any challenge I have ever taken on. Our girls need hope and healing and those things will be hard fought for. The girls spent their very first night safely in the home this week and big emotions and challenges are settling in. I hope you’ll consider partnering with us in prayer and perhaps supporting in a small way. I look forward to sharing more as we wade into the deep waters.

» Boys’ Trip to Houston in the 2019 Mazda CX-5

When one of your son’s best friends wants to go to an NBA game for his birthday, you go to Houston! After six months of planning, we introduced our good friends to some of Houston’s best offerings, leaving them wanting more after the trip. The 2019 Mazda CX-5 crossover took us up, through, and down Houston’s Beltway and Interstates this time around.

Here are a few things we especially liked about the car followed by a rundown of our Houston adventures:

Design – We are still in love with the redesign that continues to improve from 2017. The interior comfortably seats five even with a group of crazy boys that tend to extend their arms and legs in all directions.

Interior – The interior of the CX-5 gets better each year. Every detail is well thought out, making everything in arms reach without having to take your focus off the road. The heated leather seats are offered for the front and rear seats to make everyone comfortable in the coldest winter months.

Safety Features – With a group of rowdy kids, it’s easy to lose focus to detail with the additional distractions. That’s more reason to appreciate Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. At just the right times when parking, the Mazda would display multiple angles of the vehicle to assist with parking.

Houston can be a stressful place to drive with lots of traffic and lane closures. The CX-5 made the drives fun and enjoyable. The attention to detail and response of the car make you feel in control and safe at all times.

Houston Boys’ Trip Highlights and Destinations:
After the plane ride, the boys were pretty restless so we booked it straight to the Museum District to visit Houston’s Children’s Museum. This has always been a favorite so my boys were excited to introduce their friends to this one. Anyone can safely plan a three-four hour trip here.


After running around for a few hours, the boys were starving. We headed to for a ten minute drive to find The Pit Room, a not-so-secret BBQ restaurant in Montrose.

There’s no wondering why this spot made Texas Monthly’s list for Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas. At the time of our visit, the line was not too long and went quickly. The environment is nice with a large outdoor seating option during the warmer months. We had some hungry guys so we went for The Feast, which feeds 4-6. The brisket was tender and the jalapeño sausage was a favorite. Make sure to macaroni and cheese as one of your sides. The George Jones’ hits on the house speakers come at no extra charge.

After a lazy Saturday visiting with family, our quick weekend birthday trip would be topped off with the Rockets facing the Magic for a Sunday night game. We showed up early to watch players warm up and maybe get an autograph or two. The Rockets do an incredible job from the way the employees greeted us, the family-friendly environment they promote, and the high standards they put on production quality. In short, the birthday game did not disappoint.

Before the big game, we visited BuffBurger in Montrose. Where do I begin? The smell is great when you first walk in, it must be the wood fire grill. The beef is high quality from Ranch 44 and tastes like beef should. The parmesan truffle fries were perfect say the least. We definitely ate more than we should’ve.

Kids eat free on Monday and Tuesday (with purchase of a regular dine-in meal). The Little BuffBurger was a big hit. We opted out of the soft drinks to indulge on the great selection of ice cream.

Conclusion about the Mazda CX-5
For our trip, this car was perfect. We didn’t require a ton of storage since we were only staying for two nights. The gas efficiency and option for Sport mode are great for daily use. Houston driving always keeps you on your toes, and the Mazda’s safety features helps you focus on the important things when it comes to navigating the streets. We love this car as much as we love Texas, and that’s a big deal.

Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2019 CX-5 Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

» My life didn’t turn out how I thought it would.

How many conversations have you had lately that started with a similar statement? I remember making a lot of plans when I was growing up. Dreaming up a life, a house, some make-believe kids. Some of those dreams panned out exactly as I had hoped they would. A gentle husband by my side, two cherished children from other nations and two carried in my very body. Every week I buy groceries, without counting the cost, and feed them their favorites. But some dreams just didn’t come true. Maybe I tried and failed and in some instances I didn’t even come close. Maybe a choice or decision took me further from my dreams than I had hoped it would.

Many influencers have spoken into this void, telling me, telling you, to chase those dreams down, wrangle them and make them happen. They tell us we are powerful and in control. I’m an advocate of taking steps to make things happen, but I can’t get on board with the idea that we can control everything that happens to us. Because we can’t.

I’ve seen the world, just like you have. It’s full of heartbreak, death, sickness, joy, success and surprises… both good and bad. Attempting to control life is a futile effort. We are one phone call away from disaster. It’s a hard reality. And one that fully exists in our broken world.

Our expectations and dreams in such a world can break us. And that’s what it really comes down to. Expectations and how we project those onto other people, our family and ourselves. How, then, can one adjust their dreams and expectations?

As a Christian, I have to take a hard look at myself when it comes to this question. What’s in my heart? What should and shouldn’t be there? Are my dreams a benefit to me, or others? Am I trying to control my surroundings? It’s sobering to make such examinations.

Proverbs 16:9 says “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

When I feel like I’m fighting the course of my life this verse is a reminder to look to the one who holds the plan. When I look at life and lament that it didn’t line up with my dreams, I’m reminded that it’s impossible for me to live any other life but this one. I’m not in control, and that’s a sweet freedom. Releasing expectations, loving others and obediently stepping forward is freedom. Embracing God’s plan and love for me… is freedom.

Life didn’t turn out how I thought it would… but I’m more confident every day that it’s actually much better.

» Family Getaway at Tradewinds Island Grand St. Pete Florida

This November we spent three days exploring Universal Studies and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’m going to save my thoughts and tips on that experience for another post. Today I want to share about our beach time that we tacked on the end of our time in Orlando. There are several gorgeous beaches within 1-2 hours of the Orlando area. After braving Disney for seven straight days a few years back we came to realize that we enjoy our vacations a lot more if a little sand and sun accompanies the endless lines and $12 ice creams.

Enter St. Pete beach, approximately an hour and a half drive from Orlando. St. Pete is a quirky, eclectic area outside of Tampa that offers everything from hand-rolled cigars to boardwalk ice cream, cuban food and high end beach resorts. For this stay we opted to check in with Tradewinds Island Grand resort. Tradewinds is comprised of two resorts, The Island Grand and Guy Harvey Outpost. Together they make up over 31 acres of prime beachfront fun. As we experienced firsthand there is plenty to do for families. Tradewinds offers a kids club, water sports, beach front pools, entertainment, fine and casual dining and family friendly suites. Our suite met the needs of our entire family AND the grandparents.

Tradewinds offers an experience that, while not all-inclusive, does include quite a bit. For example, cabanas and chairs on the beach are offered at no additional charge. Guy Harvey outpost also hosts a nightly beachside fire and smores experience at no additional charge. Other “free” activities include the massive High Tide water slide, surf wipe-out and paddle boats. There is also a daily schedule of poolside activities like bingo, which we all enjoyed.

Tradewinds offers various packages to help families add in a few extras. We did opt to try out adventure bands for our kids. This is essentially a little wristband that allows them to purchase snow cones, painting activities or other small attractions around the resort. If your child can keep up with money they may not need the band, but it worked well for our older kids who are only in the 9-11 year old range.

We spent time at Tradewinds Island Grand just as the off season was kicking in, late November. This meant lower crowds and plenty of beach space. It was just the dose of sunshine we needed as Nashville was headed into the 30’s that week. We’ve heard that a major renovation is on the horizon for this property and we are excited to see the suites and rooms get a refresh!

Bottom line, we highly recommend Tradewinds Island Grand and Guy Harvey Outpost for a beach vacation that has something for everyone. It’s family friendly with adult-only pools and areas as well. Best of both worlds!

» Dollywood Season Pass – Bring a Friend Free

Use promo code DWINSIDERS16 at dollywood.com to save yourself $10 on each one-day ticket you purchase

It’s no secret that Dollywood has more to offer than could ever be experienced in just one visit. The many festivals and holiday events have us coming back for more all year long. Just one reason why we love having a season pass! Our favorite feature of season passes, however, is the Bring-A-Friend-Free (BAFF) tickets we receive with our season passes. 

We reserved our Season Passes in advance this year and received an EXTRA set of BAFF passes for the magical 2018 Smoky Mountain Christmas. This extra set of passes gave us a golden opportunity to kick off Christmas break with great friends. Wearing out our kids at the BEGINNING of break was a priority this year. We also needed to distract our youngest as the Christmas countdown was far too much for him to handle any longer, haha.

Our children loved experiencing the park through the eyes of their buddies. It made familiar rides extra magical as they worked to position themselves at the front of Wild Eagle or participated in soda drinking contests at Aunt Grannys, all you care to eat! Shows, treats and train rides all became new again with the addition of besties! 

TIP: We love to pack small snacks and eat them throughout the day. We then enjoy a 4pm early dinner at Aunt Granny’s. The cost is not much higher than a typical quick service and it’s a great bargain for kids 9 year old and under. Eating at 4pm helps avoid the dinner rush, and it saves us money because we opt for 1 meal at the park rather than 2.

 Aunt Granny’s is also all you can eat comfort food and our kids tear it up.

The BAFF passes certainly allowed our kids to have an extra dose of fun, but Calvin and I weren’t left out. We had just as much fun riding Fire Chaser in the dark and kicking back with another couple to watch the kids ride when we had our fill of thrill rides.

Firechaser Express

Our plans for 2019 are already developing around introducing close friends to Dollywood and enjoying even more unforgettable multi-family memories. There is still plenty of time to purchase season passes for 2019. It’s a year you don’t want to miss as the highly anticipated opening of Wildwood Grove looms in the distance. Just imagine bringing your closest friends to experience a whole new expansion at Dollywood! I, for one, cannot wait.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal