Archive - December 2016

» Dog Therapy: Why kids and pets belong together
» Commuting in the 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring
» REVIEW: Nashville’s Nutcracker 2016
» Ethiopia Trip (pt. 1) and The Day of Hope
» REVIEW: Ring Doorbell and Stick Up Cam

» Dog Therapy: Why kids and pets belong together

It’s New Year’s Eve morning and I’m happily snuggled on the couch with four kids and two dogs. Coffee has been poured, daddy is catching up on sleep and my computer is in hand. Saturday mornings are often blogging mornings for me… but this morning I asked the kids to help me out, to choose today’s topic, and they immediately suggested that we write about the newest member of our family. A 50-pound lab mix from Lifehouse Pet Rescue.

Wrigley (you’re welcome Cub’s fans) is approximately 11 months old and all puppy. He needs a lot of attention, training and rope-pulling time. Our 6-pound toy poodle is quite disgruntled by his presence and his persistent sniffing of said poodle’s bottom. They are truly a comical pair. It’s quite the interesting dynamic to watch the 6 pound dog display shows of dominance to the ever-growing giant lab. We gifted Wrigley with a large dog bed and Hiro immediately staked his claim. Wrigley won’t dare lay on the bed for fear of little poodle teeth, so you’ll find Hiro relaxing in comfort on his king sized dog bed.

The question I’ve gotten a lot, including from my husband, is why I would want to add a second dog to our bustling mix of four young kids and one temperamental poodle. Well friends, I’ve made you a list of why kids and dogs just belong together.

  1. Therapy: My children benefit from the therapeutic benefits of a large, warm dog. Time with Wrigley provides sensory input! Wrigley loves to be leaned on, snuggled, hugged and napped on. He loves to pull on ropes with the kids. This falls into the category of  proprioceptive input and aids in body awareness. Not only is it comforting and fun for them to tug and pull with the dog it also provides opportunities to work in sensory input.
  2. Reading practice: The kids can read to Wrigley, while he keeps them warm with his lap dog tendencies, without fear of rejection or correction. He just listens and enjoys the togetherness and in turn they practice fluency.
  3. Nurture: While they are not completely responsible for taking care of Wrigley and Hiro they do help. They love to feed the dogs, take them to the dog park, teach them simple tricks and give them exercise. I find them speaking to the dogs in the high-pitched tone one would use with a baby. They worry about them and watch out for them. As young children they are given the opportunity to love and care for creatures that depend on them. It’s empowering and character-building.
  4. Perseverance: Training dogs to be well-behaved family members is quite a task. It requires a large amount of consistency and perseverance. We incorporate the kids as we work to help young Wrigley greet new people without jumping, sit before a treat, lay down on command, walk nicely on a leash and much more. They are learning foundational goal-setting skills as they work toward a goal with Wrigley’s training.
  5. Confidence: As the kids interact with the dogs, teaching them and nurturing them, they build confidence in their ability to accomplish tasks and create meaningful experiences. They also experience unconditional love and acceptance from their doggy pals, something that is a wonderful support as they navigate relationships with peers. Their dogs will always be waiting for them after a difficult day.

When I look at my home and see the young kids and fur babies running around I know that the bit of extra work is worth it to give them all an opportunity to grow. I grew up with dogs in the house and it was a positive experience that I knew I wanted to share with my children as well. My husband on the other hand is new to the dog-life but has embraced it and can often be found relaxing in the evening with at least one pup in his lap. If you are considering adding a furry friend to your family look into local rescues and foster-based groups. Our Wrigley was rescued and then fostered before he came to us. He was already potty-trained and knew the basics of living in a home. This was a huge help for us and we were able to start on more advance training and social skills. For our family, the benefits of having dogs really outweighs any additional work we put in. But always consider how much you are willing to do before bringing pets into the home.



» Commuting in the 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring

I am blessed to work from my home office. Apart from a few weeks in Ethiopia and Uganda here and there you can typically find me working away under a heated blanket on my couch. I love it, but I also miss office life from time to time. That’s why I love getting the chance to spend a week at the America World corporate office in D.C. Not only do I get to spend time with our staff, but I also get to take in the sights of beautiful Washington D.C. On my last trip in I had the chance to give the 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring a spin… and I’ll tell you… it was hard going back to my Honda Odyssey.

2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring

The Mazda3 was built for traffic. I had a crash-course in D.C. driving and found that the Mazda3 had me weaving in and out of traffic with the zip that only Mazda promises. Add the sporty moonroof for viewing Christmas lights and we were set. I drove the 6-speed manual (standard on the Touring model) which was an added bonus as I put my race-car driver moves to the test.

Things I loved:

Style – The photos say it all. The exterior and design is great and will definitely turn heads. The Mazda3 looks much pricier than it really is. And this particular color was to die for. Not only was the car a looker, the interior was able to comfortably seat up to 5 people. Talk about making the carpool to the office a bit more enjoyable! Another great bonus was the ample trunk space. You can easily fit 3-4 full size suitcases in the trunk. This was particularly nice because we all packed our fair share of shoes.

Performance – As expected, this car can go. D.C. streets can be a little (or a lot!) busy at times but this car didn’t have any problems. In addition, Sport mode came in handy when we needed that extra get up and go. The 6-speed manual that I drove was really fun once we hit the open road.

Safety – Similar to some of the other Mazda’s we’ve driven in the last year, this vehicle had an array of safety features: forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring. A new camera is now part of the package, which Mazda says expands the speed range at which pedestrians can be detected for the automated emergency-braking system. Cars equipped with the i-Activsense package (like ours) can now also recognize traffic signs.



The Mazda3 was comfortable, classy and functional with a bit of fun throw in. From USB ports, to heated steering wheels and traffic sensors I felt that this vehicle met all my needs and even a few wants. Who knew how much I would miss that heated steering wheel?? What impressed me most was the versatility of the vehicle, this car can fit a family of four nicely and still serve as a really good option for long work commutes.






Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

» REVIEW: Nashville’s Nutcracker 2016

Nashville Ballet combined with the Nashville Symphony celebrates the most wonderful time of the year with the ninth season of Nashville’s Nutcracker. This incredible performance has become a family tradition for us, however this year “family” meant some of our closest friends sans boys. With three families represented, we all had our own reasons we needed to be there. What a great way to get swept up into the Christmas spirit. Most of the girls had attended this show at least once before but they still absolutely loved it. Every year they notice something they didn’t catch the year before.

We loaded up the van, grabbed a quick lunch, and headed to TPAC’s Jackson Hall. The matinee show is great for young kids as the show sits nicely between lunch and dinner so you won’t have to worry about overtired or hungry kids. Before the show and during intermissions, there are nice photo opportunities that you can take with different performers.

The show this year did not disappoint. The girls emphatically let us know that this year’s was the best yet! I did notice that there seemed to be a lot more diversity among the performers. I learned afterward through some other reviews that this year boasts the biggest youth representation ever — 251 local kids!

Nashville’s Nutcracker is a great way to kick off the Christmas season and build an appreciation for the arts. The Nashville Ballet doesn’t cut any corners and puts on a high-quality production in all aspects. Add lunch and dinner downtown and you you will build life-long memories with your loved ones. I especially love the memories made in the weeks following the show as Charlotte leads her siblings in different re-enactments of the ballet.

Below is the remaining 2016 schedule:

December 10 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
December 11 at 2 p.m.
December 16 at 7 p.m.
December 17 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
December 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
December 21 at 2 p.m.
December 22 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
December 23 at 2 p.m.
Wednesday, December 23 at 2 p.m.

» Ethiopia Trip (pt. 1) and The Day of Hope

As you may know, this has been a busy season for me… leading with an unplanned surgery, my last semester of graduate school, and a trip to Ethiopia with One Orphan. Many people have asked about the trip but it takes a while to process (as it always does) and I’ve already had to leave again for a quick work trip to D.C. Please read the information below about The Day of Hope (today!) followed along with some pictures from my recent trip to Ethiopia taken by photographer Daniel Hobbs. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sure to share more!

Today is the day the Day of Hope: America World and One Orphan invites you to join as we continue our mission to care for orphans worldwide, build forever families and advocate for waiting children.

Due to a generous grant opportunity gifts given during this time will be matched dollar for dollar up to $100,000!

Together, we are able to have significant impact on the lives of vulnerable children in each of the countries we partner with. AWAA is committed to family preservation and orphan care and thanks to our wonderful in-country partners, hundreds of children are being loved and cared for.

Here are a few ways your gift will be utilized:

Support for five orphanage partnerships in Ethiopia
Provide Ethiopia families with sponsorships through family preservation efforts
Support for families in the post adoption stage
Resources and support for orphanage partnerships in Haiti
Resources and support for orphanage partnerships in China
Support for adoption programs in India

If you would like to give a year-end, tax-deductible gift please click HERE and choose Day of Hope in the drop down menu. If you have further questions about how your gift will be utilized feel free to contact the Executive Director of One Orphan, our orphan care ministry branch:



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» REVIEW: Ring Doorbell and Stick Up Cam

We live in a “safe” neighborhood but with young children, I wanted more peace of mind. Thanks to Ring and our internet recently being upgraded to faster speeds, we now have a reliable wireless solution instead of the traditional wired option. Once installed, setup for both the Video Doorbell and Stick Up cam are extremely easy as it is with almost all good smart devices these days.

Video Doorbell

Because the Video Doorbell was replacing our existing doorbell, we decided to have the power hardwired. This version also has an internal rechargeable battery so that you don’t have to use electric wiring if you don’t want to.

  • Compatible with all iOS and android Smartphone and tablets
  • Built-in motion sensors detect movement up to 30 ft. allowing you to know what is going on outside of your home
  • 720p HD Camera with 180° Field of View, 30 ft. Motion Detection, and Night Vision
  • Lifetime Purchase Protection: If your Ring Video Doorbell is stolen, we’ll replace it free of charge
  • Bank Grade Encryption
  • -5 to 120°F Operating Temperature

Elliott was excited to jump in and help make the swap. (I have to admit, I hated seeing our original-to-the-house doorbell gone… but I quickly got over it.) Everything you need is included in the box. Ring claims that the installation takes about 5 minutes but ours took a little longer since we had to make our wiring hole significantly larger to allow the new device to sit flush on the wall. Installation took about 20 minutes, you also have to consider that my nine year old was doing a majority of the work here.

If there’s motion or someone rings the doorbell, both Calvin and I get a phone notification. We can jump immediately to the live view and decide whether or not we want to talk to the other person or not. We’ve also taught the kids to use it as an emergency tool since they don’t have their own phones. So far I’ve been able to give instructions to the UPS driver and also turn away solicitors while nobody was home… nicely of course. There have been times that I didn’t get to answer on my phone in time but it was still great to open the app a few minutes later to see who just came by the house.

(photo blurred)

Stick Up Cam

The Stick Up Cam is very similar to the doorbell except it’s designed to be installed anywhere else outside the home (or inside if you prefer). We’ve started with one Stick Up Cam so we decided to put it near our garage door as the kids often will gather and play on the driveway. You can keep the unit plugged in via USB or solely rely on the unit’s rechargeable battery.

The installation was even faster for the Stick Up Cam as we opted not to keep it plugged in. Ring claims that the battery will last up to 8 months, but of course that will vary depending on use and the traffic of the area it is monitoring.

  • Motion detection
  • Night vision
  • Two-way audio
  • Weather resistant for outdoor use
  • Bank grade encryption
  • 80 degree field-of-view

The most practical use I’ve used it for so far is checking on the kids from inside the home to make sure they are being safe and playing nicely. The Stick Up Cam also has two-way audio just like the Doorbell product. Even with our Stick Up cam installed pretty high up on the house, the microphone/speaker have worked really well so far. We even discovered that we had a opossum trying to get dinner from our trash can one night. The Stick Up Cam doesn’t boot up as fast as the doorbell does and sometimes not at all. I’ve even tried this next to our router to make sure we were getting the strongest connection possible. This can be a letdown to many in a real emergency situation. Hopefully they may be able to fix this in an app or firmware update in the near future.


Having a few more eyes and ears outside never hurts. Ring makes everything super easy to install and set up on your iPhone. Considering the peace of mind and security that Ring products offer, it’s worth the cost of the equipment. I have found the doorbell to be a little more reliable than the Stick Up cam but I also think it’s because of less movement. When someone rings the doorbell, they normally stand and wait for the owner to open the door. With the Stick Up cam pointed at the driveway, there have been times the recording started a little too slow to catch what triggered it in the first place. You should also plan on adding the cloud video recording option that runs $3 a month or $30 a year (per unit) for unlimited video recording. I’m still hopeful that Ring will give price breaks for multiple units as it can get pricey if you’re looking to monitor your whole house.

Buy on Amazon

Ring website




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

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal