Archive - January 2016

» REVIEW: Nest Thermostat, 3rd Generation
» Children: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 2)
» REVIEW: Sleep Guardian (for Night Terrors)
» College Students: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 1)
» FWD: Is This the Year You Adopt?

» REVIEW: Nest Thermostat, 3rd Generation

A thermostat shouldn’t be this fun.

But thankfully that’s not the only reason we finally decided to add this smart device to our home.

If you search “smart thermostat” you’ll find that there are tons of options ranging from $99-$299. After reading countless reviews, and taking into account that Nest is the oldest player in the smart thermostat game, we ended up with the Nest Thermostat. It is one of the more expensive options out there but according to Nest, a unit will pay for itself in about two years.

The last thing I think about when leaving the house is changing the thermostat. With kids, we rush out the door. It’s a race against the clock to get dressed, find matching shoes, find matching socks (or not), let the dog out, find the keys and purse… and then there’s always the one kid that has to poop. The Nest saves the day with smart technology that helps me plan ahead or lower the temp later once we are out the door and the charades are over.

Installation + Setup

The Nest is definitely the most fun and stylish smart thermostat out there. And I’m happy to report that it is super easy to install. There are so many different situations as far as hvac units and thermostats go, keep in mind that I’m sharing our personal experience with installing the unit.

Most homes have a rectangular-shaped thermostat. The Nest comes with a plate that you can place behind the round unit to cover up the impression and any screw holes left by the old thermostat. Your other alternative is to patch and paint the wall to avoid having to use the plate. I took the latter route because I wanted to keep the look sleek and minimal. It actually took longer to prep the wall than it did to install the Nest! Total installation and setup time (not including patching and painting the wall): 30 minutes.

We took note of which wires our current system used (the instruction manual came with stickers to mark them), removed the old thermostat, screwed the new thermostat on, then reconnected the existing wires to the corresponding letters marked on the Nest. I even e-mailed Nest a picture of our old thermostat and they e-mailed me back two days later giving me a diagram of what my wires should look like with the Nest.

Once the unit was powered on, I was guided through the step-by-step setup on the unit and it was ready to go. The app was just as easy to install on my phone.

Fun Features

I won’t address all the things the Nest does, but these are definitely my favorite:

  • The ability to change the temperature with my iPhone before going to sleep or just before getting out of bed in the morning is close to life changing.
  • We haven’t had to do this yet… but the ability to double check that we changed the thermostat after leaving the house for a long trip is very reassuring. Additionally, Nest has an auto-away feature that will automatically change to a temperature you preset if the Nest senses that you’re away. It won’t engage at night so don’t worry, you won’t have to wake up at 2:00 AM to tell it you’re still home.
  • It’s called a learning thermostat for a reason. Our schedule is pretty unpredictable but the Nest has still done a great job of learning our habits over time and changes temperature on it’s own. I was worried about this feature as I didn’t think it would actually “learn” our habits. If this were the case, you could disable it.

IMG_3729 IMG_3730 IMG_3732


I may be easy to please because it’s winter time, but being able to bump the heat up before getting out of bed is a pretty amazing feeling. I don’t use the scheduling function yet but that’s partly due to the fact that it’s always been a pain on the old thermostats to set up. It’s about 100x faster doing it on your computer through your account. We’ve enjoyed the convenience and the eye candy on the wall so far. Only time will tell if we see the $100+/year cost savings but we’re trusting Nest and all the other reviews out there.

Nest website
Buy Nest Thermostat on Amazon

» Children: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 2)

Taking my children on mission trips is something I’ve dreamed of for quite some time. Elliott and I spent months planning, fundraising and dreaming about what his first experience might be like. I’ve mentioned before that I could educate him but not truly prepare him for what he would see, hear and… smell. He handled the airplane and bus travel like a champ. He hauled the luggage full of donations and kept track of his boarding pass in his traveler’s wallet around his neck. He was really serious about taking care of his things.

After what seemed like a lifetime of travel we pulled into Canaan Children’s Home (by the way, the Canaan kids need sponsorships so feel free to click that link to learn more!). I watched as he leaned out the window taking everything in and seeing his new friends for the first time. Then I watched as the kids realized we had an American kiddo on the bus. Their sweet faces lit up as they too saw their new friend for the first time. The bus stopped and we filed out of the bus greeted with the usual hugs and, you-are-welcomes and hand-holding. It’s always good to see the kids, and observe their faces when the recognize that you’ve kept your promise and come back. However, Elliott received much more than the typical hugs and hand-holding. The kids lifted him up and he kinda crowd-surfed into the grassy area nearby where the kids made an effort to get to know him. I kept watching and observing, wondering when and if his personal space quota would be exceeded but he was just as thrilled to be close to them, to get to know them.  Moments later he ran off, hand in hand with some of the boys to retrieve a football and begin what would be a long week of play.

Clearing land for a future church.

Clearing land for a future church building.

I didn’t take Elliott to Uganda to show him all he had to be thankful for at home. To make him appreciate his toys or his comfortable room. I took him to Uganda to show him that friendships cross cultural boundaries, that Jesus is the same for all of us and that ocean expanses don’t separate us from our responsibility to care for and love each other. This is something he began to understand in those first moments.

He continued to work hard the rest of the week. He carried every heavy thing he could get his hands on. I watched him grow under the influence of some of the finest college students I’ve ever met. He always sat with the guys and I would overhear the best things being shared. I told them this, and I’ll say it again, I could not have picked a better group of people to invest in my son’s young life. I believe that their impact on him will be something he remembers for a lifetime. He still talks about each of them by name and wonders what they are doing back at school.

Elliott with purchased nets from local pharmacy.

Purchased mosquito nets from a local pharmacy.

When I reflect upon the week I can’t help but smile as I remember the endless arm-wrestling matches, football in the village, purchasing and installing mosquito nets, more football, soccer and the day we celebrated Christmas at Canaan’s. The kids had just finished sharing some songs and dances with us and Pastor Isaac invited the team to share a little bit. So we danced and sang a little. Then I asked the team to gather the Christmas items for the kids. We had also arranged for eggs, a special treat. I watched as Elliott rounded the corner with the team and began to hand out the Christmas gifts. As he handed them to his friends he shared in the joy, saying, “that’s so cool!” “you have a really awesome toy in your pack” and other fun little exclamations you would expect when kids are playing and checking out new toys. Just genuine love and happiness for his friends. After everything was passed out Elliott walked over and whispered in my ear “Mom, they really like everything, they are really happy.” Then he grinned and ran off to play with his buddies. Gifts, by the way, are a hard thing. They have to be reserved and given out wisely. We typically give donations to the staff so that they can hand them out in an appropriate way. We were careful to make this something we were doing together. Celebrating Jesus birthday and enjoying a special day together. It was pretty perfect. Afterwards the little church area became a place for loud music and dancing with the kids. We danced until bedtime.

Elliott had a hard time coming home. He mentions Uganda daily. He misses his friends. He would go back today if we could. He would move there if we could. Everything about his experience moved him to love Uganda and care about his friends there deeply. In fact, he is continuing to raise funds for moisquito nets through Nickels for Nets. He saw, first hand, that kids can be a part of change. If you are considering taking your kids on a mission trip go for it! Stock up that mama bag with probiotics, medicine and snacks and you’ll be set. God has big things in store for the littlest people.

(As always, pictures speak louder than words so I’ve loaded quite a few in the gallery above!)


» REVIEW: Sleep Guardian (for Night Terrors)

Disclaimer: The folks at Lully kindly allowed us a Sleep Guardian unit for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

It started early for Charlotte. She didn’t sleep well as a newborn because she spent some extended time in the hospital and then came home with a little glow-worm light when her bilirubin levels just wouldn’t go down. She wanted to sleep, she would have been a great sleeper, there was just too much going on for her to get comfortable. Her sleep patterns were constantly interrupted. As the toddler years came around her sleep patterns became worse. We started seeing true night terrors. If you’re wondering what a night terror is (it’s not the same thing as a nightmare), you can find an explanation hereor you’re still not sure if your child has a night terror or something else, you can click here. She was scary and screaming during many of them. By first grade, she was having them almost daily. We began to notice that he more active she was during the day, the more her night terrors would occur. Not only are night terrors scary as a parent, they prevent children from getting the best sleep possible, which can cause fatigue and affect their whole day.

We recently discovered Lully’s Sleep Guardian (FYI: Lully is the company and Sleep Guardian is the product) and decided to give it a shot based on some other great things we’d heard.

How it Works

The Sleep Guardian is based on a tried-and-true technique called scheduled awakenings. Simply put, you wake your child 15-30 minutes before their night terrors typically occur. This interrupts the unhealthy sleep cycle and prevents night terrors. Starting back in 1988, clinical studies have shown that this method has reduced 90% of night terrors.

Set up

Sleep Guardian is a simple device that goes under your child’s mattress that vibrates fairly vigorously around the time your child should be entering into the unhealthy deep sleep that occurs before night terrors, typically 1-3 hours after the child goes to bed.

Opening, placing the unit under the mattress and plugging it in takes less than five minutes. After that, I had to download the iPhone app, set up an account and go through a series of screens to get everything up and running.

iPhone App

After downloading and creating an account, the phone connects to the unit via Bluetooth. Without going into details, essentially the app is used to do everything at this point: record (bedtimes, night terrors, and when Sleep Guardian is turned on), notify you when to turn the Sleep Guardian on (this was very helpful), and to actually turn the unit on. Over time, the calendar allows you to see which nights your child had night terrors and which nights he/she didn’t (blue *no night terror* vs. pink *night terror* on the calendar screenshot below). Based off of the data you record (be diligent about it), Sleep Guardian adjusts what time you should turn the unit on until it gets your child’s sleep cycle right.

IMG_3659 IMG_3658 IMG_3657

Turning on Sleep Guardian does require you to be awake, which may be a downside, but at least you can do it from your phone, without having to move unless you’re out of the 32-foot Bluetooth range. The unit will vibrate for a few minutes then turn itself off. This will wake your child up and break the sleep cycle, then he/she will just roll over and go back to bed. In the settings, there’s a sensitivity level that you can change to make it vibrate enough to wake them up but light enough to avoid annoying them. This feature you have to just tweak the first few nights to get it right for your child.


Night terrors can be super scary. Kids demand weird things, scream and hit and cry excessively. They can’t really be woken up, as it can be dangerous. As Dr. Andy Rink (one of the co-founders of Lully) explained it, 90% of their brain is still asleep; it’s only the primary motor cortex (the part of the brain that controls movement and vocalization) that’s awake. Charlotte never remembers the episode, but we surely do. We never sleep  well when she is awake and screaming.

The Sleep Guardian is the first proven non-medication solution to stop night terrors. This was very attractive to us because we always seek non-medicinal routes of care before choosing medication. I am thrilled we discovered and tried the Sleep Guardian. It wasn’t uncommon that Charlotte would have a night terror five out of seven nights. This little device has greatly impacted the way Charlotte sleeps and I am happy to report that after using and tweaking the Sleep Guardian’s settings for a couple months, she has only had two in the last 14 days.

Lully Sleep Guardian website
Buy on Amazon

» College Students: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 1)

I recently returned from another wonderful Storyteller Missions trip to Uganda. My love for the country and people expands with each step I take on the red clay paths. This particular trip was very special because I had the opportunity to take 18 Clemson University students. (Go Tigers! I hail from class of 2005.) I spent a lot of time observing them in action and pondering how this trip, and others like it, would impact their future.

First of all, this sampling of students represents future innovators and thinkers. As we bused across Uganda we discussed excessive plastic use, solutions and passions for children with special needs. I was encouraged to hear them thinking outside themselves rather than letting monetary gain fuel their college ambitions. Exposing such students to the needs across the globe only fuels, rather than discourages, their hope for change. They are able to meet and see, first hand, ministries and individuals who have committed their lives to fighting malaria, poverty and unclean water. And most importantly, they learn that it literally takes ALL a person can give to be involved in such a fight. Fortunately we place our hope in Jesus and recognize the peace and hope he provides to those who have given their lives in this way.


I believe that working alongside those in the field gives students a chance to ponder what their impact on the world will ultimately be. They are given a chance to gain inspiration from Ugandan bus drivers who have put 7 siblings through school and ministry leaders who humble themselves, taking side work when necessary, to fund their outreach. They find themselves at the feet of these heroes of the faith, praying over them, laying hands on them and encouraging them for the days ahead.

I find that college students lack the social boundaries that adults adopt as they grow older. I watched as my team sought out night guards, restaurant employees and sat in the front with our drivers to learn more about their lives.  They asked questions, became students of the culture and served until well after dark. They worked through jet-lag, sickness and difficult emotions. They solidified callings and career choices. They allowed God to speak to them through their experiences and new acquaintances. They said yes to the uncomfortable.

I’ve read so many articles recently that criticize the intentions of short term mission trips. And I agree, without specific goals and careful partnerships these trips can easily slide into territory I call Missional Tourism. We actually discussed that quite a bit on this trip and I was once again encouraged to hear and see that these students were far from that category of thought. This trip and others like it open up the world to college students. They are the future missionaries, givers, adoptive parents, sponsors and non-profit managers. Their involvement at an early age ignites a passion that prevents apathy. They will likely be involved in any one of the capacities mentioned above. They will also find their mission at home. Service fuels service.

Without short-term missions it is very difficult to bring students into the sacred work of the missionary. And without willing and open missionaries it is impossible to open the eyes of the next generation. I pray that as we move forward as organizations and individuals we can continue to form goals that incorporate both with healthy objections. And as ministry leaders let us keep the young in mind. 1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Investing in students, and leading by example, equals investing in the future of ministry.

» FWD: Is This the Year You Adopt?

[This article was originally written by an old friend, Tricia Hopper Butts…..It’s used here with her permission. Tricia and her family currently live in Mobile, AL and blogs at and]

A few years ago, my wonderful friend Amanda shared that instead of New Years Resolutions, she does a one word to theme out her year….. Joy or Thankful or Patience…. you get the idea.

I decided to copy her last year and as I’ve written before, my word was Contentment.

While I’m still mulling over my 2016 Word, I started thinking, what if everyone who says “I’ve always thought about adoption” made it their Word.

As in, maybe this is the year your family should quit thinking about adoption/foster care and start talking about it.

About 2-3 times a month, I receive a message from a friend of a friend of a friend who wants to talk with me about the adoption process. Every single message begins the same way: I’ve always thought about adoption, but I don’t know where to start. We’ve totally been there too and know just how you feel. It’s completely overwhelming.

So if you decide that 2016 is the year that you start talking about what adoption might look like for your family, here are some talking points that might help you navigate the discussion. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, just some ideas for you and your spouse to consider.

Domestic or International

Are you more drawn to adopting locally or nationally?
Is there a particular country that you lean toward? Ethiopia, China, Guatemala, etc.

Can you handle the huge cultural transition it would be for the child?


Realistically, do you see yourself adding a child of a different skin color to your family?

Are you apprehensive about the issues that could arise for you and the child by being a multi-racial family?


Do you definitely only want a baby or would you consider a toddler, young child, or even a teenager?

How would age affect your biological children, specifically if birth order was changed?

Special Needs

Would you consider adopting a physically, mentally, emotionally, or developmentally delayed child?

Your Finances

Where is the money going to come from?
Are you ok with asking friends and family for donations or what are areas of your budget could you cut back on to help with costs? Pray separately for about a week about each of those issues before talking together. That prayer time allows for the Lord to soften or change your hearts and can direct you guys more closely to being on the same page.Because once y’all are on the same page, it will be easier to know where to start.And above all else, remember that the Lord is in control of your adoption situation, so every challenge you come across or door that shuts is really just Him leading you in another direction- a direction closer to the child He has planned for you.

(Ella is in this pic, we just didn’t know it yet!)

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal