Archive - October 2015

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REVIEW: Cedars of Lebanon State Park (TN)
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What do you mean “under-developed”?
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» REVIEW: Canary Home Security
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Uganda the Beautiful
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Moms on Mission
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REVIEW: Lumberjack Feud (Pigeon Forge, TN)
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Activities for Preschoolers- The Screen Fast Continues
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REVIEW: Chimney Rock (NC)

REVIEW: Cedars of Lebanon State Park (TN)

Earlier this year, our small group thought it would be fun to spend a long weekend camping together.

During our regular weekly meetings, we’re restricted to a church class room for an hour on Wednesday night. Most of us are rushing home from work, feeding the kids, racing to get to church on time… and then scrambling to get home to preserve bed-time routines.

We began to plan armed with the idea of camping under the stars with no plans, no agenda, no screens, and no walls.

Cedars of Lebanon was a great option for us, just an hour away from the North Nashville area. We knew that state parks fill up quickly during Fall Break so we looked past our commitment issues and booked our sites early.

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We decided to take the kids on a short hike and made plans to fit in a game of kickball. After checking out a cave and making a couple of turns we started down our chosen trail. Although I confess I was somewhat swept up in the beauty of the day and said “this way!” without knowing exactly where I was headed. What was supposed to be one mile, quickly turned into two. As we continued, we began to see horseshoe prints… and then the inevitable horse poop the rest of the way. At mile three, we started to worry. Just how long was this trail?

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With 11 kids in tow, we were in the middle of nowhere and had no clue how long the trail was. The only choice we had was to turn around and follow the trail back or keep going. We chose to press on. Five miles later, we ended up at a horse stable and a street. The kids were tired, thirsty and hungry. I had the forethought to bring salami in my pack so I passed that out while we waited for our friends to rescue the kiddos. Thank goodness a couple of guys stayed back at the campsite to hang out. The kids were worn out but in good spirits. We were very happy with the accessible hiking, just make sure you read the map. Or not… just be prepared for adventure!

Camp Site(s):

All of our sites were in camping area three. This area is reserved for tent camping and pop-up campers so you won’t be stuck next to RVs. My family was specifically in 107 (closest to the bathrooms) and the site was huge. We even said if we were to do it again, we probably could’ve fit our five families into three camp sites. There was very little traffic except for the camp patrol that came by very frequently to check on things. Cedars of Lebanon definitely gets thumbs up from our crew and we hope to check out the cabins and horseback riding at some point in the future. Always planning!

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What do you mean “under-developed”?

Lola has migraines. Lola is joyful. Lola has flashes of light. Lola is difficult. Lola’s eyes turn red and water. Lola fights through every day determined to use the little bit of “vision” she has. She’s not mature enough, and frankly, she has too much fight to allow herself to rely more on touch than “sight.” It’s something that frustrates me and challenges me all at the same time.

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She never takes the easy road. Probably, because life has not been easy on her. And when she’s hard on me, I return to that place two years ago in an ornate wooden government office with low lighting. I return to the pictures I saw that challenged my mostly normal family.

Last week Lola had an MRI. The neurologist said lots of scary things that led up to a Saturday night with Daddy, a candy shop and Vanderbilt University. No, she won’t need sedation we told them. She will be very still, she listens to instructions very seriously. And she did. She has also reminded me at least 20 times that her earrings are still in daddy’s car.

I honestly didn’t think about the MRI until my phone rang today. I picked it up and heard our pediatrician on the other line. “Has anyone talked with you about this yet?” she said. No. They hadn’t. And when the conversation starts like that, and you’ve had the idea of a tumor put in your heard you get very worried, very fast.

Very quickly she dispelled my worries about tumors. But she went on to say a lot about how not normal Lola’s brain is. While she read the report I was mostly quiet because I was thinking about how smart Lola is, how determined Lola is… how she made all A’s this quarter and learned English in FOUR months. But I’m also thinking about how many struggles she has and how many years passed before I, her mother, held her for the first time.

There is still so much sifting to do. I’ve read an obscene amount of of medical journals and I have yet to have the meeting with the neurologist. Just wait until I meet him head on with my newly acquired knowledge… maybe Lola gets that fight from me.

A lot of words and possible diagnoses were thrown around and I was given some support group and advocate numbers. But some things didn’t fit and we are in that space of avoiding denial but wondering if miracles are happening. And when I say wondering, I use that term loosely because we see a miracle every day in our astounding daughter.

It’s another chapter in the Goodbye book, one that we hope to write with grace and wisdom.

 

» REVIEW: Canary Home Security

Disclaimer: The folks at Canary kindly provided us a security unit for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

OK. True story. This past summer when we were visiting Houston, we had a good friend check on our house a few times a day and let the dog out. One Sunday afternoon, we were visiting the Houston Zoo, when we started getting text messages about our house: “Did you make your bed before you left?”, “Did you have a glass of water on your nightstand?”, “Was your sun room open?” As the text conversation continued, the worst thoughts poured over me. Did someone break into our house? Did they sleep in our bed and drink a glass of water? Let’s hope it was just Goldilocks… turns out it was a door with a latch just loose enough to re-open if the wind was just right, a dog that loves to wrestle with the comforter and a friend dropping by to pick up some essential oils.

If only we had a Canary back then…

Whether you have an existing alarm system or not, the Canary is a useful and surprisingly fun gadget for the home. There are tons of wireless home security options in the market but I was led to Canary by doing my own research online. Here’s my review for us moms:

Set up

First of all, after looking and purchasing online, the Canary is much smaller than I thought it would be. The unit is about the size of a 12 oz. can (but slightly taller) that’s easy to move around should you need to.

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To sync the device to your home’s Wi-Fi network, all you have to do is download the app to your phone and follow the step-by-step instructions on the app. You’ll see a pretty yellow glow when you’ve successfully paired Canary to your Wi-Fi network. Once the app was downloaded, I was able to get everything up and running in about five minutes! (and yes that’s a toiler paper roll next to the pumpkin, real life y’all)

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Night Vision

(Night Vision)

Three Modes

There are three modes on the Canary: Armed, Disarmed and Privacy. Armed means you’ll get a mobile notification each time the Canary detects something unusual while you’re away, and send you a video clip of what it saw. Disarmed means it can still detect the motions as before, but will not send you alerts. You can still go back and watch these recorded clips. Privacy is designed for when you are home and do not want the Canary recording you (we have yet to use this function). The Canary iPhone app will use geo location to automatically arm itself when you leave the house, and disarm itself when you arrive home. This is a great feature and allowing the app to use my location 24/7 does not kill my phone battery! You can also add as many phones as needed so the Canary will know when to arm/disarm.

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Alerts

For a while we kept getting false alerts when the sun setting would reflect light in a way that confused the Canary. We relocated the unit and have had better success. If we ever did get a legit notification and noticed an intruder, the Canary app allows you to set off a 90+ db siren. Even more effective if we had more units (you can have up to four). You can also call a local ambulance, police, or fire station right out of the app if needed.

Conclusion

Especially with children, I’d rather be safe than sorry. Canary is a great alternative or addition to a traditional wired system (plus they just lowered the price to $200). State Farm also just lowered our home owners insurance by $80/year so the unit will practically pay for itself, all we had to do was request a letter from Canary. It’s fun to go back and watch the kids or dogs on occasion, especially if a disagreement starts or if you want to determine exactly when the two boys crawled in bed with mom and dad. After using a single unit for a couple months, I’m eager to add a second and maybe even a third unit to cover more of our house.

Canary website
Buy on Amazon

Uganda the Beautiful

Confession: I started this post when I returned from Uganda over the Summer. It’s hard to write when you are in the re-entry period. Glad to revisit (and finish) this post as I prepare to head back for a special Christmas trip. This post also contains a nice parallel of current me interjecting on the thoughts of past me. Weird.

There’s nothing quite like jet-lag, pinched nerves and a looming first day of school. And also the realization that, while 32 is young, the body does indeed start to reject certain notions like sitting on airplanes for international flights. Being numb from hip to knee is maybe the most un-awesome thing I’ve experienced lately. (I now know that a deeply-burrowed jigger was causing a large portion of my leg issues)

Aside from that my recent trip to Uganda was everything I’ve come to expect from such a diverse and beautiful country. Our little team was honored to work with organizations such as Pillars of Hope, Canaan Children’s Home, Healing Faith Uganda, Sixty Feet, Ebenezer Children’s Home and Return Ministries Uganda. We played soccer, blew bubbles, installed mosquito nets in village homes, preached hope in Jesus and provided basic baby education. I threw that last detail in there… but it wasn’t really in the plan.

We literally stumbled upon a baby in a children’s home. The home was clearly not set up nor educated for baby care but they were doing the best they could. Moments later I was spotted with said child tucked into a  football hold in my right arm, climbing over seats in our van to retrieve some baby formula a team member had randomly thought to bring along. Our sweet driver was mildly shocked but obediently folded down seats as I implored him to help me drag a suitcase from the back. ( I did ask permission to take the baby, all was well) My sweet little friend enjoyed many many ounces of formula before rewarding me with a smile. And then there were more babies. And fortunately we had more formula in the van. (the power of the internet has allowed me the ability to watch these kiddos thrive over the past months, elated to see them again soon)

We were able to give some basic education and guidance, we wrote a feeding schedule and stocked up their supply of baby formula. Things that seem so basic… how to make a bottle, how often to feed, don’t skip feeding just because the baby isn’t crying… are not basic to a culture where breast feeding is typically the only way to feed an infant. When a mother dies in childbirth there is no milk. And formula is expensive and unavailable in many places. It’s easy to judge. Why aren’t these babies being fed??!! But given culture, climate and resources what else would they know to do? Just like the malaria epidemic that Healing Faith is working to combat, baby care requires basic education that goes against the cultural norm. It is my continued observation that one of the greatest things we as outsiders can contribute is education. Ugandans are smart, resourceful and resilient. Given the correct tools they need very little from us.

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(current me, taking over)

For me, a trip to Uganda isn’t just about what I can do for people. Of course I want to be helpful. We all do. We see need and for the most part we respond with compassion. And compassion leads into a natural desire to do and fix. But aside from being helpful I want to simply be available. I want to meet divine appointments that are set ahead for me. I want to always say yes. I want to hurt with people and understand people who live different lives. Not only for myself, but for my children. And for that reason I have given in to my son’s constant request: take me with you. Against fear, against convenience and against finances I’m going to take him with me in December. My prayer is that making this journey to serve at a young age will change and equip him to live a life of compassion and empathy. That he will be inspired by my Ugandan friends and that he will value their place in the world. He thinks he is ready. But he isn’t. No one really is. It still breaks me every time. I look forward to processing and serving with him. Perhaps the first of many times.

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Moms on Mission

Moms on Mission is a joint effort between Storyteller Missions and America World Adoption. Together we want to encourage, equip and empower moms to serve on the mission field. We want you dads too… but we know many moms have a hard time letting go of the home-front and jumping on a plane. Many times anxiety, busyness and responsibilities hold us back from living out our passions.

The Moms on Mission campaign is here to unite women, to uplift and encourage women as we learn to let go a little and let God hold the weight of our lives. Storyteller Missions is tailoring certain trips to better accommodate the crazy schedules we face as moms. We are also asking you to come alongside us. We have logos and blog ads with our super fun logo that can be utilized to help you tell your story. Because that’s what it comes down to. Moms sharing their stories with other moms. Women encouraging each other by sharing how they make it work. And especially moms assuring other moms that everyone really did survive that week when mom was serving in Ethiopia.

We are in this together. We are in this to care for orphans. We are in this because God has given us a call to the nations.

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REVIEW: Lumberjack Feud (Pigeon Forge, TN)

Disclaimer: The folks at Lumberjack Feud kindly allowed our family admission for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

Today is the first day of Fall Break so I thought it would be timely of us to share our experience at Lumberjack Feud. First of all, we love Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge because it’s a short 3 hour drive from the Nashville area, perfect for a true weekend getaway. There are so many attractions that you have the ability to choose to do something different every time. It has slowly become a tradition for our family to go for Elliott’s birthday in September. So in lieu of a “big gift” we decided to go again. The secret reason behind our September visits is actually the pricing. September is considered the off season, the Fall decor is out but it’s still warm and you miss the Fall crowds.  Many cabins and resorts offer lower pricing or specials during this time period.

Before the weekend, we surprised Elliott with the big news that Gatlinburg was in our future. We stayed at the Grand Getaway Cabin (2,000 square foot, 4-bedroom cabin, about one mile from Dollywood) for the very first time and loved it! The layout was fantastic for big families, four bedrooms and FOUR bathrooms. My favorite feature about the cabin was the full length table for ten. That’s actually fairly difficult to find in cabin offerings. Now on to Lumberjack Feud!

Pre-Show:

The Lumberjack Feud experience begins the moment you pull into the parking lot. The huge red barn picturing feuding lumberjacks set the tone and got my kids super excited for the event. The energy continues as the friendly staff ushers you in, taking pictures and greeting you in character. The kids were greeted upon sitting down and immediately invited to join the lumberjacks on stage for some clogging.

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Dinner:

Once the show was underway the lumberjack cooks began serving food in true lumberjack fashion. The soup is in a mug, no spoons. My young ones thought this was a very fun touch. The meal  includes a massive piece of chicken, a biscuit, potatoes, corn and an apple turnover. A huge starchy meal for our taste… but I’m sure Lumberjacks love it. The service was quick and drinks were refilled regularly. We noticed that there is also a concession stand. This is a nice option for those who buy show-only tickets.

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Main Show:

The main show was action-packed with an entertaining host, real lumberjack competitions, feuding families, smokey mountain history and audience participation. The Timer-dogs were especially endearing as they competed in water sports and retrieved items for their trainers. We loved knowing that several of the Timber-dogs were rescue dogs.

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Conclusion:

This is a great show for families with young and school-age children. My four sat, riveted, through the entire event. The meal is huge, so perhaps a plus for many people. We were pleased to see that there was a gluten free option as well.

Considerations for Individuals with Disabilities or Special Needs:

The show is LOUD. Fortunately they give adequate warning when chainsaws will be used. This gives kids who are sensitive to loud sounds the chance to use headphones or cover their ears. Our daughter, who is blind, received so much auditory input that she enjoyed the show just as much as the sighted children. We often find, with shows and events, that things are highly visual and she misses a lot of what’s going on. With Lumberjack they described everything that went on. The host was constantly talking, explaining the events and fun music tied in all the moments when the talking ceased. We definitely give this a thumbs up for visually impaired children and adults.  We also noticed that they offered great floor seating for those utilizing mobility devices.

Activities for Preschoolers- The Screen Fast Continues

Thankfully we’ve continued to keep a tight reign on screens around the Goodbye house. I received several comments and messages asking me what we’ve been doing instead of using screens in our home. Thus, this post. Today I’m sharing a number of activities that are simple, relatively cheap and have stood the test of time in our home. I’ve also started a dedicated Pinterest board with doable activities for you to follow. You can access my Pinterest account through the icon on the blog. Hope this helps. Let’s keep walking together as we nurture and grow these little folks.

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Color Wonder by Crayola. Color Wonder has really expanded their offerings. Several versions now include numbers, letters and cool pictures that appear when you color over the white areas. Liam calls it a treasure hunt. I really like this particular Learning Numbers version. (Click on Bold text to view actual links for ideas)

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Legos! We sorted through big brother’s Lego boxes and selected simple pieces that he could easily build with. We keep these in a bin on a shelf with other play bins we’ve created. Keeping everything accessible is key.

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Sorting, cut and paste and color matching books from the Dollar Tree. Don’t spend $3.99 on these books at Target! I consistently find great preschool materials at Dollar Tree. Liam recently tried his hand at cutting, but I still help in this department. Here, he is sorting the vegetables into the correct color bin and then gluing. Glue sticks really give him a sense of independence. And please know… it took us weeks to get this groove going. The first time we sat down with a book he ripped it up.

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Kinetic Sand! Sensory input, sensory play. Enough said. We all, yes myself included, love to sit down and mold and squish this stuff. You can find it everywhere now. I often find packages at ROSS and Marshalls stores for a great price. This is another bin we keep on our shelf, ready to go.

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Bean Boxes. Simply grab a few of the largest dry bean bags your store has to offer. We change up the bean bin all the time. I’ve added Sea Shells, action figures, letters, questions, marbles and scoops. The biggest hit has been a two-liter and a funnel. There is apparently something relaxing about funneling beans into a two liter on repeat.

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Books. I made book bins for the kids according to age. My kids often hear me shout, “grab your book bins!” when things get a little hairy. I change out the books here and there to keep things fresh. Liam also enjoys this Wipe Clean book I picked up. It’s HUGE, and I love the reusable nature.

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Unifix Cubes. As a former teacher I totally geek out with stuff like this. I adore place value! These little guys come in super handy when I’m doing math homework with my school age kiddos. For my preschooler these vivid colored, stacking blocks have limitless possibilities. On this day Liam was sorting them by color into little tea-cups. After he sorted he was allowed to tower-up each color and use them for light-sabers. We also make patterns, review colors and practice counting with the cubes. As you can see, I store them in a basket with the other bins.

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Bouncing bubbles. We found these on clearance recently and LOVE them. They hang out and the kids poke them and hold them, stick them in their hair. Super fun. While outside we will also paint, look for sticks and bugs and soak up some vitamin D from the sun!

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We also allow indoor toys to come inside when it rains. On this particular day Liam was saying his school morning goodbyes while preparing to blade it up in the family room. Whatever works. Baby needs to move!

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Cooking. My kids cook with me. It keeps their hands busy and engaged. With a few safety lessons and a watchful eye even a four year old can help with meal prep. Warning: Much patience is required. Again, we had to work up to this. Also… dogs will be fed.

Lastly. We are getting outside a lot. I’m an outside person in general. But I find myself thinking ahead about our outdoor time. Long weekend coming? Find a campsite or plan to set up camp in the backyard. Look for a day hike, explore a local lake or park. That’s what the weekend is for!

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Hickory Nut Falls

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Chimney Rock (NC)

  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls

Disclaimer: The folks at Chimney Rock State Park kindly allowed our family admission for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

Fall is officially here, which means camping season! We already have a two-night camping trip planned with our small group and can’t wait to sleep under the stars again.

Last July, we tent camped in Chimney Rock, NC (near Ashville), which was about five and half hours from our home. Check out our experience and plan a trip there yourself, it’s one of our favorites!

Hickory Nut Falls Campground:

This was our first time camping right on the water and the kids had a blast being able to stand in different parts of the Rocky Broad River. Our family (Nana, Papa, cousins, everyone!) occupied the end on sites 78, 77, and 76. It was nice not having other people outside of our family on one end. It gave us a lots of extra space where our kids could explore without bothering others. Additionally, that end of the camp site is reserved for tent camping so you don’t need to worry about any pop up or RV campers (with 42″ televisions) rolling up next to you. The edge of the river has a few pockets of standing water but the closer you get to the middle, the deeper and faster the water rushes. Make sure to bring your own water tubes and water shoes. We didn’t equip ourselves with tubes so we ended up buying a few at a nearby store with inflated prices. The water is pretty loud which might bother you, but we found it soothing, especially at bed time. Make sure you reserve your spot early, the lots can go quickly! We reserved 3 months prior to our stay.

Chimney Rock State Park:

On Saturday, we visited the state park to hike Chimney Rock. There’s an elevator that takes you to the top of the Chimney but unfortunately, was broken during our visit.  With kids, it would’ve been nice to ride up to the top, then walk down but that was not the case for us. However, I’m glad to report that we made it without any injuries and few meltdowns. For the average adult, it takes about 25 minutes, covering 491 steps, to reach the Chimney. The Chimney itself is 315 feet at an elevation of 2,280 feet. Once we made it down, we visited a bat cave but sad to report that there were none to be seen at the time. Then we made another long, but easier hike to the 404-foot waterfall to cool down. By the end of that, we were all exhausted so we made one last stop to a kids area where one of the rangers showed off some snakes and other wildlife that the kids could touch and see up close. The state park charges per person (currently $13 for adults, $6 for children) however I do wish they would charge one flat fee per vehicle. For our family alone, the $50 admission would make the visit questionable. There was a ton more stuff to do but our young family just couldn’t handle it, especially on such a hot day.

Shopping, etc:

Right outside of the campground, there are plenty of shops that were really inexpensive. Lots of cute little mountain souvenir shops. Somehow we ended up with four harmonicas, bad idea for the drive home. We couldn’t refuse the Chimney Rock Gem Mine with kiddos, but I also scored some Salt Rock Lamps from their gift shop. There are a couple of lunch and dinner spots but we were very disciplined and stuck to eating at the campground with all the food we brought. We did treat ourselves to the Hershey’s Ice Cream Shoppe on our final night. They have a crazy amount of flavors, I think the sign claimed something like 85 flavors of Hershey’s Ice Cream.

Conclusion:

Chimney Rock is definitely a great midway camping spot between my family in Charleston, SC and our current location. The access to the water with kids is great however you definitely need to stay on guard if you have little ones like ours. Tubing is a must so make sure you plan ahead and bring some with you! Bottom line, waking up and hiking into the middle of the river with a cup of coffee is worth it every time.  We did a lot of rock sitting, skipping rocks and watching for wildlife. Can’t wait to go back.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal