Archive - November 2016

» Break forth like the dawn: Anxiety vs. Joy
» 2016 Holiday Gift Guide (and Giveaway!)
» 3 things you need to help survive Winter
» I Want to Be Brave
» Review: Dr. Mercola Probiotics
» REVIEW: Philips Hue

» Break forth like the dawn: Anxiety vs. Joy

I’ve always considered Africa to be female, with her mountainous terrain and lush, green rolling hills juxtaposed with desert expanses. Like a woman she has mastered the art of multi-tasking by sustaining various forms of life and  ground. She is wise and ancient, she holds secrets and gives life. Specifically she gives me life. From a young age she beckoned me and I listened. Year after year I’ve traveled there. I want to say journeyed but in-flight movies and decent food take the journey out of the trip. Mother Africa fills me up, gives me purpose and confirms the ache in my heart when I’ve been away too long. It’s embarrassing, honestly, the way my Western ways are shattered when I visit. I’ve learned so much… but still have room to grow. My most recent trip was healing on so many levels. It came just as I was recovering from surgery… both mentally and physically.

Here, in the comfort of the first world, anxiety rules. It damages our spirits that weren’t meant to be bound by darkness. It creeps in when we forget and leave the door ajar. Here, I tremble while I wait for words from the doctor. There… I run free. Last year, as I spoke with my friend Amanda, Isaiah 58:6-9 came to our minds:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

This promise, written long ago has set me free. I’m free to respond to the call that comes across the waters. I’m free to speak up for the oppressed, and I’m free to trust that God will answer my calls for help. He formed this World with purpose and beauty and spent the same efforts on me as well. My Joy comes when I pursue the purposes I was created for. My Joy like the Noonday, busting forth over the mountain ranges. My soul rests in the words of my creator and my soul leaps when I serve a country that I love. But as always I return filled, taking more than I leave.

If you are struggling today, if anxiety has stolen your light… remember the things that make your soul light up. Remember that you have a creator who adores you. Be brave and pursue things that lift others as well as yourself. Your joy is waiting to rise as the noonday, to break forth like the dawn.



» 2016 Holiday Gift Guide (and Giveaway!)

Without fail gift-giving becomes a chore as each Christmas approaches. We try our best to purchase toys that won’t end up in the trash or Goodwill pile before winter break is even over. We also strive to find gifts that create interaction and experiences rather than providing just one more thing to sit on a shelf. This year, we’ve had the opportunity to check out some different options that might not necessarily be on your Black Friday ads or the standard Lego/Xbox/American Girl, but are definitely worth considering. We’ve created a series of posts for varying ages, just click on each link to access the lists and feedback.

Check out these Holiday Gift categories:

Ideas for Liam (Pre-K Boy)

Ideas for Charlotte and Lola (1st – 3rd Grade Girls)

Ideas for Elliott (3rd-5th Grade Boy)

Ideas for Me



Win it: One lucky U.S. reader will win our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide prize pack as pictured/listed, enter via Facebook or Instagram

(1) uHandy Microscope ($100)
(1) Sticky Mosaics Robots Kit ($18)
(1) Sticky Mosaics Deep Sea Beauties ($18)
(1) PlushCraft Heart Pillow ($18)
(1) PlushCraft Football Pillow ($18)
(1) Super Sonic Rockets Kit ($18)
(1) Unashamed by LaCrae ($10)
(1) Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs ($10)

» 3 things you need to help survive Winter

So far, we’ve had a very warm fall, and I’m okay with that. But I know evil Winter is lurking in the shadows. The picture above is not an exaggeration, it’s how I really feel every year during this dreaded season. Before we head into the thick of it, I’ve already started to prep… not my wardrobe (although that’s important) but my bedroom. There is only so much hot coffee and tea that one can drink so here are a few things that we’ve added to combat the oh-so-real winter blues.

1. Withings Aura w/ Sleep Sensor


Rise and shine. When it’s cold out, I never want to get up and out of bed. The Aura (by Withings) has an awesome alarm feature that increases light that simulates a sunrise for a gradual wake up on those dark winter mornings. The Aura also has a nice bedside speaker that functions for the alarm (or sleep mode) and when you just want to listen to some tunes through Spotify (via iPhone app).

With the sleep sensor (optional) accessory and with the help with the (iPhone) app, you can begin tracking your sleep. This can come in handy if you run into a season where you’re not getting much sleep at night. The Health Mate app might help you find a pattern to when you’re tossing and turning… and hopefully help you figure out the root cause.


The initial setup for both the Aura and sleep sensor doesn’t take long at all. The unit has no buttons but rather turns on/off by touch and up/down through gestures on the device. This takes some getting used to. Setting up and changing sleep/alarm settings is primarily done through the phone app. I’ve enjoyed managing the alarm times via the app as it is much faster and less annoying than having to hold the ‘alarm’ button and tapping the ‘minute’ button 30+ times on traditional clocks.


Withings website

visit Withings on Facebook

buy Aura on Amazon


2. Envi Heater


We all have that one cold room in our house. Unfortunately for our house, it’s my room. And the problem is, if we crank the heat to our liking for bedtime, our kids are upstairs sweating in their sheets… not to mention the gas bill that comes afterward. Enter the Envi Heater (Bonus: Made in the USA), designed to heat an average room of about 10 by 15 feet, which is perfect for our bedroom. During those cold winter nights, we’ve never considered heating our bedroom because space heaters can be ugly and expensive to operate. We like the Envi Heater because it’s silent (through convection heating) and only sticks out about four inches from the wall, unlike those big clunky hotel units that I’ve been fearful of. And about that electric bill? This thing only costs four cents an hour to operate!

The other reason we’ve avoided heaters this long is because of the hazards they can be. The Envi Heater has no exposed elements and operates at a safe surface temperature of approximately 90°F so that it’s not hot to the touch. The Envi does have it’s own temperature sensing, thermostat for easy temperature regulation so that you can leave it plugged in and not worry about any children or adults accidentally leaving it running.


The unit must be installed onto the wall to work but Envi Heater makes it super easy with the included instructions, wall template, and hardware. Plug it in and you’re good to go (they also have a hardwired model for a nice permanent finish, plan on getting an electrician of course). Installation time took me about 10 minutes. And the company backs their product with a 3-year warranty.

Envi Heater website

visit Envi Heater on Facebook


3. Brooklinen (Bedding)


When you work all day and tend to the kids all night, moms need a good night’s sleep! The first time I layed in Brooklinen sheets, I immediately thought of the sheets at a W or Loews Hotel. You know, the kind that takes you to an imaginary place that you never want to leave, or get up in this case. I’m now a believer that good bedding is worth the investment. Their most popular mix-and-match Luxe Hardcore Bundle includes a Core Sheet Set, 1 duvet cover and 2 extra pillowcases in a smooth 480 thread-count weave. We are currently using a comforter we’ve already had but when it’s time to replace it, we will be giving Brooklinen’s a shot.


By working directly with leading factories in developed markets and cutting out middle men, they are able to offer exceptional quality products, manufacture responsibly and are comparatively cheaper than same quality sheets in a retail store. I don’t know why these feel so good, they just do… maybe Brooklinen’s explanation will help for those of you curious enough. Don’t believe me? You can try their sheets for 60 nights risk free. If you aren’t completely satisfied, they offer free return US shipping and easy exchanges, no questions asked.

Brooklinen website

visit Brooklinen on Facebook


Disclaimer: The products mentioned supplied units for review purposes only. As always, the opinions are my own.


» I Want to Be Brave

On August 22nd I had surgery to remove one of my parathyroid glands and the benign tumor that it contained. Surgery went well but recovery did not. Weeks passed and left me extremely fatigued, dizzy and weak. I could barely make it through work and get dinner on the table. In fact, on most nights I didn’t. It became clear that my body wasn’t liking the new calcium levels and just wan’t going to cooperate for awhile. During this time it was also discovered that I have a very narrow chest that actually traps my heart, in a way. It’s not a serious condition but it explains why I pass out easily.

I could barely make it through work and get dinner on the table. In fact, on most nights I didn’t.

To be honest, consistently feeling terrible really started to get to me. I began to worry that this was my new normal. I missed going for runs and doing errands and just living my life. I began to make plans to turn over the Ethiopia trip I was leading. I even wondered if my current career would work for me anymore. What if I couldn’t travel anymore? There were a lot of questions and a lot of anxiety over the situation. I prayed desperately through sleepless nights and long days. I begged God to help me heal. And then immediately felt guilty for asking. I believed that relief would come in time, but I also had a glimpse into how it might feel to live with a chronic illness. I gained a huge respect for those that get up every morning and face their health difficulties with bravery. I began to pray less for healing and more for bravery.

I remember praying… God, life is hard, I want to be brave.

Bravery was a turning point for me. I still felt bad, but I didn’t accept it. The mental part of healing is often just as important as the physical aspect of healing. I set my sights ahead and on my family and on the God who created me. Slowly I accomplished more, made dinner and walked up the stairs to read bedtime stories.

Part of being brave is also being vulnerable. During my hardest weeks my friends showed up at my house with food. They fed my kids and cleaned my house. They sat with me and chatted with me. My sister in law flew in for a weekend. And the icing on the cake? My grandparents moved in for two weeks. You know it’s bad when you’re an adult and your grandparents come to cook and clean.

Side note: having my grandparents here was such an unexpected blessing. We cherish every bit of time we get to spend with them.

This has really gotten quite long, so let me start working toward the finish line. A couple of weeks ago I woke up… and I felt good. In fact, I felt great. I tentatively went about my day, cautiously trying out this new feeling good thing. To my delight, feeling good started to be a daily thing. I was also sleeping well again at night.

It took me more than two months to complete a recovery that I was told would take a week. But I learned about being brave. And I think, and I say this cautiously, that I’m thankful for my longer-than-expected recovery. I’m thankful for the way Jesus drew me close and I’m thankful for friends and family who carried me on my most difficult days.

Tomorrow I leave for Ethiopia to do what I love… Speak up for vulnerable children. I’m abundantly thankful tonight as I reflect over the last few months.

Stick with me this week and next as I share about our trip and revisiting the orphanage where my son lived before we brought him home.

» Review: Dr. Mercola Probiotics

We have been aware of the benefits of probiotics for quite some time. However, our kids aren’t always eager to take them and they often have an interesting taste, and can be difficult to mix with foods or liquids. We have pressed on, knowing that 80% of our immune system lives in our gut. A healthy gut often equals greater health overall…. so we were quite excited to partner with Moms Meet to try out Dr. Mercola’s probiotics for kids and adults.

If you are curious what makes a good probiotic, here is a quick checklist to look for:

  • Contain effective bacterial strains – must be strain specific*
  • Are viable and dose specific
  • Remain stable and viable for a long time
  • Have the ability to survive the stomach and reach the intestine
  • Thrive in the intestine

You can be sure to avoid false claims by double checking the label for the following:

  1. Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1
  2. Lactobacillus casei
  3. Lactobacillus plantarum
  4. Lactobacillus salivarius
  5. Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  6. Lactobacillus brevis
  7. Bifidobacterium lactis
  8. Bifidobacterium longum
  9. Bifidobacterium bifidum
  10. Streptococcus thermophilus

Dr. Mercola does indeed include these ingredients in a conveniently packaged and truly good tasting powder. Dr. Mercola products are also subject to third party testing and the probiotic strains demonstrated gastrointestinal acid and bile tolerances over 90%. You can read the results here.

The kids actually enjoyed mixing this up and drinking it. I also packed the adult probiotic with me on my latest trip to Africa, it was so convenient to mix with bottled water.
Additionally, it mixes very smoothly. There were no complaints when it came to taking the daily probiotic!



Disclaimer: Mom’s Meet provided samples of Dr. Mercola’s probiotic. As always the opinions are my own.

» REVIEW: Philips Hue

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to try out LIFX bulbs. That experience really convinced us that smart lights were an asset to our home. After researching all the smart bulb options, I wanted to give the Philips Hue line a shot.


I was pretty thrilled when we were given the opportunity to try out the White Ambiance Starter Kit. At night time, we like to keep some lights on for the kids as they wind down. However, many nights I am already in my own room reading and decompressing before the kids actually fall asleep. When it’s time for me to go to bed, I want all of those lights that I had to leave on to be off…  Hue allows me to do lights out without having to walk back through the house. This is just one of many benefits of a home set up.

Set up

The Philips Hue Kits comes with a hub that will need to be plugged in directly to your router. Your next step is to screw the bulb(s) into any existing ceiling light or lamp, then make sure to power it on. As expected these days with smart home products, all of final set up is controlled through their app (iPhone for me) that will walk you through step by step directions to get your lights connected. Super easy, you will be up and running in about five minutes.


iPhone App

The official app is easy to use and I’ve been able to bring the lights from full brightness during dinner time to a lower light setting when it’s time to settle down, this is currently my way of giving the kids an early hint that it’s time for bed. Turning the lights completely off is even easier with the widget’s feature on the new iOS.


If your schedule is predictable, you can set up routines and schedules or allow your phone’s GPS to know when your home or not to turn the lights on/off. I had no real issues with the app however I do prefer the look and feel of the LIFX app a little more, but it’s not a deal breaker. If you’re more savvy, Hue works well with IFTTT, Wink, SmartThings, and Alexa/Echo.


The White Ambiance Starter Kit comes with a separate remote switch that is a huge selling point for me over LIFX. It allows me to turn lights on/off and control the brightness level without always having to use my phone. The whites on these bulbs are comparable to the LIFX bulbs. I didn’t get a chance to compare colors as we tested the white ambiance kit. However, the new Hue color bulbs boast that they now have “richer colors”. The bulbs we did try are great to keep in high traffic and common areas. I tested them in different rooms and found them to be most valuable in my kitchen. The White Ambiance Kit is just one sliver of the Hue line and is a great introduction to smart home lighting for anyone. They have plenty more bulbs and other lighting solutions that we will be adding soon. One bridge (that is included in this kit) can support up to 50 bulbs!

Buy on Amazon

Philips Hue website



Disclaimer: The folks at Philips Lighting kindly provided us the Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal