Archive - 2015

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» Fighting the Flu
2
» REVIEW: 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (Houston, TX)
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Chosen.
4
Our Birthday Month (also Nutcracker & Dave Barnes Christmas review)
5
DIY: Bathroom Vanity Update
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Happy Thanksgiving 2015
7
Gift Guide: Fresh picks for the ones who have it all
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Waiting Songs and More – an Advent 2015 Giveaway
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» How I Pack Without Losing My Mind
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Together in the Trenches

» Fighting the Flu

Last year our whole family went down hard with the flu days before we were destined for Disney. Since it’s flu season, I thought I’d share some tips on how you might recover from Influenza A. For the record, we had a complete recovery in only 2 days.

1. At first sign of illness I started everyone on Boiron Oscillococcinum. This is a homeopathic treatment, but also prevention. I picked up a family pack (30 quantity) at Walgreens and we all downed a little vial every 6 hours. They are WAY cheaper on Amazon so I suggest keeping some on hand and not going broke at Walgreens or Target. I used to keep this in the medicine cabinet but it’s been almost 6 years since any of us have had the flu so I stopped stocking it. This actually makes you feel better, it’s amazing stuff.

2. We were already taking Elderberry syrup and Fermented Cod Liver oil daily so we continued to do this. I credit a large portion of our recovery to having these things in our system already. We weren’t able to prevent the flu completely but we definitely didn’t get a super bad case! I make my own elderberry but you can grab a bottle from my friend Lori’s site on Etsy, she’s a pro. Also, if you are wondering what the heck Fermented Cod Liver Oil is and why you should take it, check out the info here.

3. We continued to eat a balanced diet, lots of dark greens, oranges and broths. Lots of hot tea, lots of water.  And lots of rest. Well, rest for everyone but me. But you know how that goes.

4. At the recommendation of my friend Michelle, who is a certified health coach, we added 50,000 IUs of Vitamin D3 for adults and 25,000 IUs for the kids. This can be used as a preventative as well, but in a lower dose- 10,000 IUs/5,000 IUs. This is obviously a HIGH amount, you would need to discontinue once you are well.

5. I mentioned hot tea earlier. We specifically love the line of teas from NUMI Organic Tea. Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and they have such an extensive selection. From Jasmine Green, to Gunpowder Green, and my personal favorite Toasted Rice Green, there is so much to choose from. It’s always fun to grab a variety pack and try new teas to expand our palate.

Starting the morning with green. #numi #numiorganictea #antioxidants #greentea @numiorganictea

A photo posted by Erica Ho (@goodbye_normal) on

And that’s about it! To be real for a moment, it’s a LOT of work to keep up with all of this for 6 people. When you are using homeopathic meds and syrups you have to give them every 2, 4 or 6 hours depending on the dosage. You will constantly be rubbing something on someone or putting them in an Epsom salt bath. You’ll be boiling water for teas and heating soups. But you’ll also be taking charge of your health and caring for your family with your own two hands. Sickness can be a time to serve. We are evidence that supporting, rather than suppressing, the body’s function can many times lead to a much faster recovery.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Numi for providing us with tea to sample and review. As always, the opinions are my own.

» REVIEW: 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (Houston, TX)

Special thanks to Mitsubishi Cars for allowing us to test drive the 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. As always, these opinions are my own.

(this post is from Calvin who visited Houston last week)

These days, I try to plan a trip to Houston two to three times a year. It’s hard to believe but it’s now been 10 years since I’ve lived in Houston, the place where I was born and raised. Right before the trip, Erica informed me that we were asked to put the 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (GT 2.4) through the paces for a week in Houston. I was excited but I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for the vehicle. You see one of my first high school cars was a gold Mitsubishi Galant sedan, which wasn’t exactly cool at the time.

So I jumped on a plane with Liam, landed in Houston, got our luggage, and there was the Outlander Sport waiting for us. Forget all the reservations I had earlier—the look of the vehicle, Rockford Fosgate audio system, full-length moon roof, and AWC (All-wheel control) won me over quickly.

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So I’ll give you more details about the car but first order of business, food. If you ask a Houston native what there is to do in Houston,their first response will be… grab something to eat! Well with any trip, I absolutely have to get Chinese and Vietnamese comfort food in Chinatown. But I always try to visit a few places I’ve never been, remember, it’s been ten years since I’ve lived here. The good folks at F.E.E.D. TX allowed me to check out their newest restaurant, Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts, along with their established confectionery spot Petite Sweets.

1. Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts
601 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007

All photos: Justin Wong, Goodbye Normal

Why did I want to go to this place? The name says it all! The modern look and atmosphere of this chicken joint is great. Unless you live in the Heights, you would never known it was a former Church’s Chicken. The chicken portions are huge at this place! In addition, I found out that Lee’s uses all-natural, antibiotic/hormone-free, vegetarian-fed chicken. The taste is amazing and I wasn’t surprised when the F.E.E.D. staff informed me that the chicken goes through a three-day prep and cooking process. You can get traditional fried chicken at lunch or pick up some tenders as early as 10 A.M. Last week was also the first week their drive-thru was operating.

We were left with a ton of leftovers and at first I was hesitant to share it with my friends. Not because I didn’t want to share but because I didn’t want their first experience to lack the “fresh out of the kitchen” quality. Well I ultimately decided to share and everyone absolutely loved it! My one request of the restaurant is to have a sweet and savory combo that includes chicken and donuts, like the name.

My Favorites:

Traditional Fried Chicken: Lee’s has tenders and sandwiches but if given the choice, I’m a traditional chicken kinda guy. The tenders were just as amazing (and big!). Make sure to get a side of creamed corn and sour cream mashed potatoes with gravy!

Sauces: Don’t mistake this for Chick-fil-a sauce. All of these are made in-house and really bring the chicken to the next level. My favorites were the spicy mayo and bacon jam.

Donuts: Ummm yes. OK if I had to choose just one, I’d have to say blueberry cake with blueberry icing.

 

All photos: Justin Wong, Goodbye Normal

2. Petite Sweets
2700 W. Alabama, Houston, TX 77098

I felt guilty stepping into this place without Erica because she is a macaroon fanatic. The staff and environment was just as welcoming as Lee’s. The pictures speak for themselves. The taste of these macaroons and other lovely sweets are just as good as my friend Justin’s pictures. And if you’re wondering, no, he’s not a professional photographer. For my friends and family in Houston, I learned that Petite Sweets is really known for their custom orders. I know some of you out there are already planning the next party as you’re reading this, give Petite Sweets a call!

2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (GT 2.4)

I’ve realized that over time, I’ve lost the aggression and shameless, sporadic lane changing it takes to drive in the big city. So after driving in town for a week, I thought I’d share a few thoughts that crossed my mind when driving:

  • There are so many lanes! But wait, there are so many more cars, too.
  • Remember that defensive driving class? Don’t let your guard down in the parking lot.
  • The speed limit is 70. Why is this guy going 40 and everyone around us is going 85? (this happened multiple times)

So after a full week bobbing and weaving through Houston traffic, here are my conclusions about this machine.

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Photo: Justin Wong, Goodbye Normal

Performance

Besides the constant braking and accelerating needed to overcome the Houston streets, The Outlander Sport’s handling and response was very good. In fact, I try not to drive like a maniac with kids in the back seat because, you know, car sickness. For the record, Liam never once said his stomach hurt. So kids, this whole time it’s been the car, not me. Lastly, the fuel efficiency (reported 25 city, 32 highway) I would say is accurate even with all the starting and stopping I had to do.

The Look

The pictures speak for themselves. This is a great looking car! I was not embarrassed at all driving this thing around town. I even got compliments from all the friends and family I was able to see. Also remember that we’re talking about the Sport here but I still do like the other models. Mitsubishi has come a long way in the looks department.

The Feel

There is a lot of leg room in the front. The compromise is that the back seats don’t have a lot of leg room. The leather seats were very comfortable and the A/C is great. According to my dad, Mitsubishi makes one of the best A/C systems for cars (I believe that most, if not all, Mercedes Benz vehicles use Mitsubishi’s system). The touch-screen dash is close so you’re not extending too far to operate the GPS system or change the audio settings.

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Conclusion

We will always have at least one van in our family but when we’re due to replace the Saturn Vue we currently have, I definitely won’t rule out the Outlander Sport. Here are some of my favorite features:

  • 168-hp, 2.4-liter MIVEC engine
  • Super-wide High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights with fog lights and LED running lights
  • 7-inch touchscreen audio display with Digital HD Radio® and rearview camera
  • FAST-key passive entry system with panic feature and One-touch Start/Stop engine switch
  • Leather seats with heated driver & front passenger seats
  • Automatic air conditioning climate control
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers

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Also, thanks to F.E.E.D. TX Restaurant Group for allowing us to review your restaurants. As always, these opinions are my own.

 

Chosen.

In less than two weeks I will board a plane with my son and 18 students from Clemson Univeristy. It’s quite emotional to have so many worlds colliding at once. My love for Uganda, my son’s first international mission trip and my alma-mater. My heart is just falling to pieces as I imagine Elliott’s worldview exploding in front of him. As we’ve talked and prepared for the trip he has shared that his main goals are to play soccer with the kids, buy mosquito nets for malaria prevention and learn more about Uganda. He also has some plans to buy a spear… but we’ll see about that one.

Many have asked if I have any fears about bringing an 8 year old on a trip like this. And honestly my answer is… I’m afraid not to. As parents we all wish to instill certain values in our children. And one of the virtues I wish to see in my children is compassion. A compassion that reaches beyond the borders of home and country. A compassion that is fueled by love and faith. A compassion that leads them to diverse friendships, activism and action. I feel that I’ve done what I can to expose them to the diverse needs within our community and country and this is the next step for a child who has watched me go and come back countless times.

He is ready to face the needs himself this time. He is ready to see with eyes wide open, the struggles and joys of the world. I wait, with great anticipation, to process with him and listen to his questions. And I wait to see how he embraces the people and kids that I love without the pre-conceived ideas adulthood carries.

The wait is almost over. And with great thanks I think of all of you who have allowed Elliott to take this journey with me. You have scheduled family photos, paid Elliott to pick up sticks, purchased a pallet Christmas tree and given funding. You are at the forefront of our minds as we prepare to go. My friend Kim texted me this week, she works in the Children’s ministry at our church. She shared that a question was posed “Has there been a time when God chose you to do something?” Elliott excitedly raised his hand and shared “I was chosen to go to Uganda.”

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So friends and family, let your faith take you somewhere for a moment. Your investment in a young life has sparked something. A genuine desire to go where God calls and love who God loves.  I can only imagine where an early step in that direction will take him as he grows older. So thank you again for being a part of being chosen.

Our Birthday Month (also Nutcracker & Dave Barnes Christmas review)

December is always a busy month for families. Add two birthdays (Calvin and mine are five days apart) to the mix and it gets really fun. Over the years, we’ve started to gift and enjoy experiences with each other rather than adding to our things. So we arranged a few strong babysitters for our strong-willed kids and it began. Last Wednesday we enjoyed our Small Group Leader Christmas party at church. Then on Friday night, Calvin and I had sushi and attended the Dave Barnes Christmas concert. The following day, we enjoyed a family day in Nashville with a trip to Cumberland Transit to pick up some supplies for Uganda, lunch at Noodles and Company (free bowl during your birthday month!), and the opening show of the Nutcracker Ballet. After the show, we rushed home to feed the kids and pass the baton to our babysitter so that we could have “Christmas dinner” with our beloved small group.

Christmas season is definitely busy but it does allow us to spend some pretty special moments with friends and family.

Many of you have asked about A Very Merry Christmas with Dave Barnes and the Nutcracker so I’ve included my recaps below. There’s still time to get tickets for both:

1. NASHVILLE’S NUTCRACKER

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Call us crazy, but we brought the whole family to The Nutcracker! (I did not include pictures of the actual show as photography is not allowed.) Charlotte has taken ballet and was of course totally in awe. What surprised me the most was my swaying, enchanted 4 year old. He was spellbound the entire time. Elliott, our oldest son, enjoyed the magician in the first half of the ballet. We truly felt there was something special for everyone. There were actually a lot of kids there for those of you hesitant to take yours!

As a nice addition the Nutcracker folks offer dance instruction before the matinee show at 1:15. Charlotte was really looking forward to this but I’m sad to report that we didn’t make it in time. I suggest arriving at 1:00 otherwise the doors will close and you’ll miss the fun! Below is the remaining 2015 schedule:

Saturday, December 12 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, December 13 at 2 p.m.
Friday, December 18 at 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 19 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, December 20 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Monday, December 21 at 2 p.m.
Tuesday, December 22 at 2 p.m.
Wednesday, December 23 at 2 p.m.

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2. A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS WITH DAVE BARNES

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We adore Christmas concerts! We typically choose one a year so this year Dave Barnes was up. In years past we’ve attended Matt Wertz’s Christmas and Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of Glory performance. This was also our first visit to the Schermerhorn, one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been in. Dave did a mix of songs from his two Christmas albums and his many other albums, combined with some very special guests doing their own songs. The most well-known guest was Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum. The songs were flawless and the great talent on stage undeniable. The atmosphere was a perfect way to start the Christmas season. The most surprising (or maybe not surprising) element was Dave’s personality in between songs. His stories and song explanations give you an appreciation for his art but his jokes and antics have you belly laughing. This is why we love a live show… you just can’t capture the humor and passion in a recorded album. He also announced that he will be playing the Ryman next year which I would love to see!

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Disclaimer: The folks at the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Ballet kindly allowed us a admission for this preview. As always, the opinions are my own.

DIY: Bathroom Vanity Update

A little goes a long way. When we moved into this home three years ago, the bathrooms were newly renovated but lacked the personal touch and character that I desired. The bathroom “character” project has been very patient with me. I purchased gorgeous marble back splash tile almost a year ago ($3 per sheet clearance at Home Depot!) I had just completed our kitchen back splash and was in the DIY mood. The week we had planned to take care of this three-hour project, one thing led to another and we ended up with our kitchen being a total hazard zone. I tend to just pull the trigger on things. This Wall removal craziness was one of those things. Sure! Let’s go for it.

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But that’s another blog post for a later time…

Back to the bathroom. Unlike our downstairs master bathroom, we have two restrooms that were remodeled at some time before we moved in. This made it hard since we couldn’t just tear the whole thing apart and start fresh. I couldn’t justify or afford something like that. The cabinets were new and good quality but the finish wasn’t holding up at all.

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So we decided to enhance what we already had. When a project needs freshening up, paint is always in the equation. I chose a steel gray color for the vanity and these Franklin knobs from National Hardware in pewter. This paint is practically bullet proof. I dare the kids to try and mess it up.

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The pictures don’t do it justice at all! Now that the vanity is done, I can’t wait to add the back splash. I’m so happy with the color and how it pulls the gray tones out of the existing tile. The back splash and second bathroom reveal will go down over Christmas break. Moral of the story in home renovations… a little goes a long way.

Disclaimer: The folks at National Hardware kindly provided the cabinet hardware for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

 

Happy Thanksgiving 2015

Traveling on Thanksgiving is out of tradition for our family. We typically have a small Thanksgiving at home and travel for Christmas. This years Christmas Uganda trip shook that notion up a bit and we found ourselves in a packed mini-van headed for sunny Charleston, SC. Last year we went to a local restaurant because sometimes I can’t fathom cooking the big sha-bang for 6 people… four of whom won’t even touch sweet potato casserole. Admitting that in the digital world is quite freeing.

But this year, this year was the real deal. My mom, obviously very excited to have the whole family home, went big. We had every side dish in the Thanksgiving repertoire. I think at one point I chopped something and maybe opened an oven. But outside of that I was a total bystander.

This year she's a recipe reader. #thanksgiving #cooking #kidsinthekitchen #nanashouse

A post shared by Erica Ho (@goodbye_normal) on

My culinary laziness was no-doubt brought on by strangely deep reflection on being home. You see, the day before, my mom and I had an epic fight. Like epic. (please don’t kill me, mom) It happened shortly after eating at Box Car Betty’s, which is delicious by the way. So we ate these perfectly, lightly breaded chicken sandwiches and got in the car to search for a local coffee place. You know, girl time. My mom, sister, grandma and I ready to caffeinate and chat it up. And then my mom had a little misunderstanding with something my sister and I said and then I criticized her driving and then I’m not totally certain how the downward spiral began but I requested (loudly) to be dropped off at the Chic-fil-a we were passing. Within moments I was standing in front of a second chicken sandwich joint with slightly less-crispy, less-perfect breading. I find that mildly entertaining.

I got picked up and texted my sister, she informed me that they only made it one parking lot over. It was like me unsuccessfully trying to run away and hide in a tree all over again. Suddenly I was 9 with a backpack full of My Little Ponies and a bag of chips.

I rode home with Calvin, while my mom rode home with my sister. I called my sister and asked her to put mom on the phone. I apologized for the fight. And then the words that felt hard to say and so true at the same time began to tumble out of my mouth. “Mom, we just don’t know how to communicate.” I moved out of my parents house at 18, went to college, went to graduate school, got married and moved even further away. My siblings stayed close. They know my parents in their adult life. I know my parents too… but in some ways when you aren’t in daily life with them things fit differently than they used to. I said a lot of these things to my mom. She’s sensitive. She’s different than I am. I push her sometimes, to feel and think about things differently. I think that maybe I should do less of that.

So back to feeling like a 9 year old runaway who only made it to the neighbors house. It feels really good to know that you can turn around and go home. My mom and I were quick to forgive. As we hung up the phone I said “I’ll see you in a couple minutes, let’s hug before Dad grabs us and makes us group hug, I hate that.” She gave me a small laugh and agreed.

I walked up the driveway and saw my mom’s speckled, red, tear-stained cheeks. And I was painfully aware of how dry my own eyes were. Being a mom is hard. Through the years I’ve watched my mom strive for perfection (for us, for her, for every holiday and event) and I’ve seen times that have fallen very short of perfect. I’ve seen her disappointment and her hopes and dreams. I’ve seen a life that has given and taken from her. And standing there, a daughter and a mom at the same time, I really started to “get” her. She’s not like me, I’m not like her. But I understand the crushing desire to be successful in life, to be magical for your children… to just get it right. And so many times it just isn’t right. My mom undoubtedly spent a considerable amount of time preparing for our visit. The Christmas decorations were out, each child had a special pillowcase on their cot, favorite foods were in the pantry, small glass bottle Cokes were chilled and waiting… the effort was large.

And while I want to say “Mom! Life was never meant to be perfect.” I just can’t. Because when we woke up on Thanksgiving morning and I saw my kids running around in their Papa’s big t-shirts and my mom struggling with the giant, gross raw turkey and my grandparents grinding up tart cranberries and sweet oranges, and my kids putting on aprons to help…. it was perfect.

It was her moment. The hectic, chaotic house filled with people who struggle to communicate and fight sometimes, and cry for each other. Our perfection is our imperfection. My only job that day was to soak it all in, all these people brought together by genetics and adoption. All choosing to stay in one piece together, for better and for worse.

Gift Guide: Fresh picks for the ones who have it all

We all have a few people on our list that are difficult to buy for. Either they don’t care, have everything or don’t express what they might want. In order to help we’ve rounded up our favorite unique picks for Christmas lists everywhere.

1. Keyport Slide: Key Holder & Multi-Tool

 

After playing with the Keysmart four months ago, Calvin was still on the hunt for an alternative to the everyday clunky bulky keychain… something compact and maybe even useful. A bit of googling led us to Keyport. The Keyport is pretty fun to unbox and I think anyone, especially guys, would be excited about opening this as a gift. The sleek packaging is a nice precursor to the shiny new toy inside. The Slide is appropriately named as you slide each accessory as needed.

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Build It:

If you build your own, you can choose up to six items (three on each side) to put in your Slide. For an example, I ended up with a car key, house key, pen, flashlight, bottle opener, and USB Flash drive. You can insert each piece on your own, laying it out however you want, changing it if you don’t like it or if you purchase additional items later. In addition, you can even customize the Keyport with a logo or phrase of your own. The folks at Keyport surprised us with a Goodbye Normal logo that I absolutely love!

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Cutting the Keys:

One of the main things you’ll need to consider when purchasing the Keyport is that the keys are not delivered cut for your house, car, etc. If you are gifting this and want them to be functioning right out of the box, you will need to get the blanks cut ahead of time. The picture above is a blank key that I will eventually have cut for my house lock. When you order the Keyport, you will need to know what type of blanks you need or use their template to determine what you’ll need. The website recommends a couple different solutions on how to get the keys cut, I ended up going to my local Ace Hardware and they had no issues with the key. In fact, the workers there were really intrigued by the product and I gave them the promo cards that came with my unit. On a very rare occasion, a key can be misidentified between similar key types. In such an instance, Keyport will simply send you the corrected blank free of charge. They also provide replacement blanks free of charge if the locksmith miscues a key (FYI: they highly recommend that you do not go to a big box retailer like Home Depot or Lowes).

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Conclusion:

I love the look of the Keyport and a nice little bonus is the absence of crashing keys when dropped onto the kitchen counter. If you are adding accessories in addition to keys, it can add up but I view it as a one-time cost so it’s easier to look past. Unless you completely lose your keys, you shouldn’t have to replace anything (they also have a lost and found program on the website where everyone’s unit has a unique code for the finder to enter in and contact you). If your spouse or significant other likes cool gadgets and hates having bulky keys, this is a great and fun option.

Build Your Keyport
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2. Cozzee: Coffee and a Cause

If you know me well, you know I need my coffee in the morning. Like many of you, I’ve become more and more aware of where the items I buy are sourced and made. I was first introduced to Cozzee through Blood:Water Mission, who is currently one of Cozzee’s giving partners. Making a difference is the heart and soul of Cozzee. That’s why they give 100% of their profits away to fight 7 of the most urgent causes affecting our world today.

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The Coffee:

Cozeee is specialty-grade coffee. If you are a frequent java drinker, compare this to Starbucks Reserve (without all the drama). I was able to try the beans from Mexico, Ethiopia, and Sumatra. Mexico was my favorite!

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The Cause:

Although the quality and taste of the coffee is important, I’m more excited about the cause! Cozzee partners with 7 nonprofits, one for each cause area, every 7 weeks and raise funds for a specific project in each organization. So what are the cause areas? (1) Water & Wells, (2) Food & Farming, (3) Shirts & Shoes, (4) Shelter & Stability, (5) Rescue & Restoration, (6) Justice & Jury, (7) Health & Healing.

Conclusion:

I think many people, including me, love a gift that gives back. If you visit the Cozzee site, you can see who all the giving partners are and pick out a bag based off of the type of a specific roast or cause you like. I even got to spend a few minutes on the phone with Rachel from Cozzee and it was clear that they have a huge heart for making an impact in the world through coffee. Lastly, the packaging is perfect for a gift. Modern, fun design makes a big impact.

Cozzee Website
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3. Sanuk

Sanuk shoes are known for their yoga-mat quality and comfort. We’ve owned several pair through the years and continue to love the yoga-slings. This year Sanuk really upped their game with a Fall line of boots that had this boot-lover drooling. Calvin will most definitely roll his eyes while reading this because, seriously, boots are my love language.

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The Siena Navajo, especially, stole my heart with its Aztec pattern and easy, kick it around town style. I get compliments every single time I wear them out. They pull on easily, can be adjusted and the color is on point. I treated the leather with suede protection spray because I want these babies in my wardrobe for years to come. So men, take a hint. Check out the Sanuk Fall line for original, comfortable boots and shoes that will make a big impact coming out of that wrapping paper. Additionally, Amazon offers free exchanges if she needs a different size!

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4. Out of Print

Out of Print is my new go-to for gifting my friends who love to read. They have an extensive collection of soft, colorful tees sporting the book covers of some of my most favorite cult classics. I especially love the library print sweatshirt. It really brings me back to Dewy Decimal and the musty, sweet smell of my elementary library. Who doesn’t love the smell of old books?

L-1108_Library-Stamp-gray_Womens_LS_1_1024x1024 Give Back:

For every product purchased, Out of Print donates one book to Books for Africa. Bottom line, Out of Print clothing is a no-brainer for friends and loved ones who are literature lovers. The high quality shirts, with their colorful and accurately displayed book covers are sure to make a fun and lasting impact.

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5. Pley: Rent Legos and Other Amazing Toys

For the kid who has it all. For the last couple of years, my oldest son has asked for Lego sets. So once you add up allowance money, random gifts, birthday, and Christmas…you end up with a shelf full of Legos. The funny thing about Elliott is that he loves to build but does not necessarily like to play with out-of-the-box sets. So here the parents are complaining about how he’s not playing with his sets yet he is constantly asking for more sets. Now enter Pley. For as little as $20/month, you can get unlimited sets of Legos (and other toys). Think of it as the Netflix of Legos. The grandparents have already suggested to gift Pley in lieu of a traditional gift so we went ahead and started a trial to see if it was a good idea or not.

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Pros: NO clutter! Just like Netflix allowed us to clear our bookshelves of DVDs, now we don’t need to worry about shelves of Lego sets everywhere (I can’t even imagine moving right now). Elliott gets to do his favorite part of Lego, which is the actual building.

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Cons:
Living in Tennessee, the turnaround time isn’t the best. Pley’s fulfillment center is in California so I suspect this is the culprit. I’m hoping that they continue to grow so that they can add another warehouse close by. At the rate we’ve been getting sets, I think the best we can do is about 3-4 sets per month. That is assuming we build the set the same day we receive it and mail it the next day.

Conclusion: Some other reviews I’ve found online complained about missing pieces from sets. But Pley has now installed auditing machines that make sure a set is complete before it goes out in the mail. If your child actually likes to play with toys independently, you might not have any reservations for buying toys to keep. For us, Pley is perfect for the child who never plays with toys but still love to build. If you do choose to sign up, please use my referral link.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Sanuk, Keyport, Pley, Out of Print, and Cozzee for providing us products to review. As always, the opinions are my own.

Waiting Songs and More – an Advent 2015 Giveaway

I’m pretty certain I wait all year for the season of Advent. It’s a time to pause and reflect on God’s promises, on the events leading to the birth of Jesus and to just slow down as a family each evening. Last year we recommended this Bible reading plan and we will most likely utilize it again. In a time filled with uncertainty I look forward with leading my family through stories that point to truth and hope.

Here are three products I’m most excited about incorporating into our family’s waiting season. We’re doing an exciting giveaway so make sure you check out the details at the end of this post! (ends 11:59 PM on Tuesday, 11/24/2015)

1.Waiting Songs from Rain for Roots

First of all, we LOVE Rain for Roots. The live video of Jesus is Alive above is from their very first CD Big Stories for Little Ones. When that CD came out, we had four preschoolers who all loved listening to it over and over again. That year, we gifted that CD to many of our new parent friends because our kids loved it so much. To this day those songs are woven into bedtime routines.

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Photo Credit : Eric Brown (ericbrownphoto.com)

We’ve been previewing the new album for a couple months now and so excited to finally be able to share it with everyone! For the 2015 Advent season, Rain for Roots released Waiting Songs, and the title says it all.  Like any Rain for Roots album, the songs are simple and catchy. We love to play music in our main living spaces and Waiting Songs is already a hit among the little and big ones (mom and dad). The album starts with the familiar “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and ends with “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus”. In between are new songs written and performed by Sandra McCracken, Katy Bowser, and Flo Paris along with a cover of one of my favorite Thad Cockrell songs “Great Rejoicing”.

Waiting Songs is an album of Advent. These songs are about making time for waiting. The King is coming and He is already here. So we practice listening, quieting ourselves, celebrating, whispering good news, and yelling shouts of joy. In the Rain for Roots family, we practice most of all by singing to ourselves, to each other, and to our children about true things. He is coming — the Joy of Every Longing Heart. Our longing hearts. Grown ups and children; we are the same in this. Through these songs, may God call us closer into conversation with Himself while we wait and hope with expectation. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” –Rain for Roots

Order Waiting Songs on Amazon
rainforroots.com

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2.Colorful Comfort by Juicebox Designs

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Photo Credit: Juicebox Designs

Adult coloring books have been a huge hit in 2015. I can’t say I was ever interested in giving it a shot but then I was introduced to Colorful Comfort: 49 Soul-Soothing Scriptures, Devotions, Prayers & Hymns to Color. The cover and subtitle peaked my interested in this brand-new book. Then I began to dig deeper and discovered how a few visits between Kristi (of Juicebox Designs) and a counselor turned into a beautiful book filled with black and white illustrations for people to fill with color. You should take a longer minute to read Juicebox Design’s full explanation of the project here.

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Photo Credit: Juicebox Designs

What a great tool to help us exchange the phone in our hands for a few markers as we focus on His promises. Although Comfort is designed with adults in mind, children are encouraged to participate as well. A finished piece could even be framed!

Order Colorful Comfort on Amazon
juiceboxdesigns.com
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3.The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

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Photo Credit: Little Book, Big Story

I got the chance to review this book in August and still love how it works for our family. The art is so unique and the stories are short so that our 4-year-old can still be a part in it. We’ve gone through it once already and Advent will be a great time to go through it again.

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Photo Credit: Little Book, Big Story


Order The Biggest Story on Amazon

crossway.org
Full review on goodbyenormal.com

Now for the exciting giveaway (ends 11:59 PM on Tuesday, 11/24/2015):

We’re making it super easy to enter this year, a total of five people can win! You can enter on Facebook OR Instagram. We’ll be picking 2 winners via Instagram, 2 on Facebook and the Grand Prize winner between the two:

(1) Follow Goodbye Normal on Facebook. Find the giveaway post on the page and comment by tagging a friend who would be blessed to win. Tag as many friends as you’d like, one per comment.

(2) Follow goodbye_normal on Instagram. Find the giveaway post on the page and comment by tagging a friend who would be blessed to win. Tag as many friends as you’d like, one per comment.

Grand Prize (one winner):

Runner-up (one winner):

  • Digital copy of Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots
  • The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark

Third Prize (three winners):

  • Digital copy of Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots

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Disclaimer: Thanks to Rain for Roots, Juicebox Designs and Crossway for providing us products to review. As always, the opinions are my own.

» How I Pack Without Losing My Mind

Packing for a big family can be daunting. Especially when you have to account for road trip snacks and activities, medications and supplements, weather changes and a week long trip. When we traveled to China to bring Lola home 2 years ago I discovered Packing Cubes. Since then I’ve realized that a few good organizers, and color coding, can completely transform the packing process.

The Process:

Clothing- Each child has one large packing cube. The packing cubes are different colors. This helps us quickly pull that child’s cube from the suitcase. No digging or searching for the size 6 pants in the kids baggage. In fact, the cubes have zippers and can function independently from the suitcase. So if we are in multiple rooms at Nana’s house I put their cube with them. Now, please understand the packing cubes aren’t fancy. They are breathable, zippered organizational tools. (and I love them)

I encourage independence with my kiddos so generally I allow them to pack their own cubes. I give guidelines such as be sure to have 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, 5 shirts, a pair of pjs and 5 pair of underwear. If we are traveling to see family I see no need to over-pack clothing, they have a washing machine and shorts/pants can be worn more than once. I double check their cubes before putting them into the luggage. Again… the kids folded this stuff… it’s not beautiful but they did it and that is what’s important to me.

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I recently discovered bago and they were kind enough to provide a large Travel Duffel for me to try out. Ya’ll. I LOVE this thing. It starts out looking like a little zippered pouch that hardly weighs anything.

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Then you unzip. And the magic happens. This little guy becomes a huge, ultra-durable duffle bag. It can even be checked through at the airport. I can think of so many uses for this bag outside of simply packing my kids clothing. I often travel overseas and bring back local items, or take a trip to my in-laws and end up taking home more than I came with. This is such a useful little guy to stow away in your regular luggage. So… here’s how it looks unzipped and filled with packing cubes.

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And here’s how it looks filled with packing cubes AND a cute puppy who is ready for a nap and a road trip.

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I was able to pack four large packing cubes, shoes and the toiletry bag. I love not having to lug around any additional bags for the kids.

I also pack for the car ride. I use zip lock bags to create a snack bag of decent road trip food. This time I included kettle chips, larabars, chia seed pouches, Good Earth lollipops, green pea chips (for those ones that like them), Barbara’s fig bars and Plum organic pouches. They have a wide variety and enough food to skip lunch if we want to just keep driving. We typically pack a lunch in a cooler to avoid fast food but this particular trip, and the days leading up to it, didn’t make that possible.

Each child also has a new notebook, markers and pens. We do our best to give them fun writing prompts and our kids just have a true love for fresh pencil and paper. They each have a kindle and headphones as well. (Thanks Grandma!) I don’t like to pass things back and forth in the car (chaos!) so I found this awesome Car Organizer for the back seat. The top can flip upside down and be used as a little table for games which is a fun bonus. It fits everything nicely and includes lots of pockets and two cup holders on the exterior. It can even double as a cooler if necessary. Update: This organizer is no longer sold, but we actually prefer this one and love how it folds down to store away when not in use.

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I hope some of these tips are helpful to you as you plan your holiday road trips! We are excited to hit the road for a few more adventures as 2015 comes to a close.

Together in the Trenches

There is just something holy about gathering with other adoptive moms. Our walk is just a little different and while my friends always support and encourage me, there is something special about being in the presence of other moms who walk your daily path. I’m so honored and excited that Together in Trenches has asked me to be the speaker for their retreat this year. They have been planning all year and I’ve just entered the scene in the last couple of months. And I can tell you this already, they are putting everything they have into making this retreat a time of reflection, rest and encouragement for mommas “in the trenches.” What a blessing to talk and meet with them, seeing how they are allowing God to work through them.

If you aren’t familiar with Together in the Trenches they are a new, gospel-driven, online community founded on Jesus and seeking to breathe life into weary foster and adoptive moms. They host weekly periscope topics and a yearly retreat held at Wooded Glen Retreat Center which is right outside Louisville, KY. This years retreat is May 20-21, 2016.

Registration for the retreat ($150) opens on Black Friday. After Black Friday the price goes up just a bit, so if you are interested in getting away definitely register early! Click here to check out the details and here to access the registration link on Black Friday. Registration does not open until Black Friday so for now this is just for your planning purposes. I hope to see some of you there! A Nashville carpool could be pretty sweet.

Who: Adoptive moms
What: A weekend retreat a time of reflection, rest and encouragement for mommas “in the trenches.”
Where: Wooded Glen Retreat Center (outside Louisville, KY)
When: May 20-21, 2016

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