Archive - 2016

» Burdened: Thoughts after Parathyroid Surgery
» Cherry Pie Hospitality and the Mazda CX-5 #Houston
» Personality
» Start of the school year and a string of thoughts on being “different” in public school
» REVIEW: IMVIO Kit (iPhone Lenses)
» Love is Blind Part II
» Our favorite back to school essentials
» REVIEW: Girls of American History
REVIEW: Flavor Your Life
» A Day with Show Hope

» Burdened: Thoughts after Parathyroid Surgery

Ten days ago I had surgery to remove a parathyroid gland that had a small tumor inside. This particular condition was causing high calcium levels in my blood and other side effects like bone pain, fatigue and just a general feeling of yuck. The surgery was successful and after one night in the hospital I was released to go home.

What I did not understand about this surgery was how out of whack my calcium and potassium levels would become. Or how much rest was actually required to get well. On Wednesday night I went to bed not feeling well and ended up with an ambulance in my driveway after passing out trying to get out of bed. After an ER visit and a few additional doctor’s visits I’ve gotten things straightened out a bit but it’s still been a struggle to get regulated.

As I sit here, thinking through my “ordeal” I feel almost silly about being anxious or annoyed over my troubles. Yes, it was scary and yes I’ve had some anxiety as a result. But for goodness sakes, perspective. When I hop on Facebook for a few minutes it’s a huge reminder that whatever I have going on… just isn’t that bad. Our connected world is a constant reminder that people are hurting in vast and varying ways. From childhood cancer to car accidents and plane crashes to terrorist attacks…. it’s a broken, evil and devastated world out there.

While all this hurt and brokenness swirls round and round I have access to medical care and a church family that feeds my family dinners until I feel better. And I’m beyond thankful. In fact, my heart is more than full of gratitude and love for the many who showed up for us.

But I’m also burdened.

I’m burdened for those who barely make it through the day with their lives. I’m burdened for those who don’t know where their next meal will come from. I’m burdened for trafficked humans who are enslaved in a treacherous life. I’m burdened for those who sit by a loved one’s side as they battle illness day after day.

And even though I’m buying all the t-shirts that support all the things… man… it’s not putting a dent in all this burden.

The burden and heavy is enough to make you think there is no reason to try. And the hurt of this big world will just collapse on you in a big heap and it’s suffocating. And yet, people are still doing and good is still happening… and Jesus is still there.

There’s no easy end to this post. Don’t we all just feel the weight of it sometimes? But in that weight… we have hope. Hope that this world isn’t all there is and Faith that Jesus IS our Hope.

A Jesus that isn’t formed by whatever current trend is passing through… but a real Jesus who came to make a way. Who knew the burdens of the world and came to make them lighter.

In the heaping, suffocating realization of what our world is… I’ve put my trust in him.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

1 John 16:33

» Cherry Pie Hospitality and the Mazda CX-5 #Houston

Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD. As always, these opinions are my own.

(this post is from Calvin who visited Houston in July)

Let’s face it, summers in Houston are morbidly hot! When we found out that Cherry Pie Hospitality had ventured into the ice cream business, we were super excited to say the least. So the kids and I decided to buckle up and visit Cherry Pie’s restaurants for ourselves. The company owns and manages some of our old but mostly new favorite Houston restaurants. It was appropriate that Mazda USA sent us out in a Soul Red Metallic CX-5 Grand Touring, like a cherry.

Here are some of our favorite things about the car followed by some great eats with Cherry Pie Hospitality:

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

I had a blast driving the Mazda6 but the CX-5 is definitely more my kind of car. The sport mode (again) was useful, and many times necessary, in the crazy Houston streets. We were even able to pack 5 people, fishing poles, and all the gear we needed for a fun fishing day trip to Galveston.

all photos © Goodbye Normal

Things we loved:

Style – The whole 2016 Mazda line looks great and the CX-5 is no exception. I can definitely see myself owning a car like this. The black leather interior and black rims are worth considering if purchasing this vehicle.

Interior – All of the driver controls were thought out really well. Nothing seemed out of place or odd and easy to figure out. It became natural within a day to navigate all of the features of the digital display in the center.

Mileage – After driving around Houston for a full week, we put a lot of miles on this vehicle. I found the 26 city / 35 highway mpg to be accurate and friendly on the wallet.


I loved the CX-5 Grand Touring AWD more than the Mazda6, simply because I prefer a crossover SUV over a sedan any day. The car was perfect for our trip and would make a fun commuter or family car. Driving through the stop-and-go traffic in Houston in this car made for a comfortable ride, even when it was 100+ degrees outside. The back seat can get a little tight with three people riding but you also have to consider that we are in the booster seat phase.

Cherry Pie Hospitality

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

Ever since last year I’ve made Lee’s a mandatory stop whenever I travel to Houston. Hot chicken is a big thing in Nashville and Lee’s has recently added a Hot chicken of their own. The flavor and taste was great, and to my friend’s surprise, still crunchy on the reheat later that night.

all photos © Goodbye Normal

We won’t be surprised if we see Lee’s hot chicken make an appearance at next year’s Nashville Hot Chicken Festival. Other new notables are the Hot Chicken Taco and the Donut Double Scooped Ice Cream Sandwich! Yup, Lee’s Fried Chicken is one of way to get Lee’s Creamery Ice Cream, more on that below.

2. State Fare Kitchen & Bar
947 Gessner, Ste. B190, Houston, TX 77024

This was my first visit to State Fare and it was quite amazing. My favorites included the Dill Pickle Dip, Texas “Caviar”, the Hicksburger-Beef Pattie, and last but not least the Mac Daddy, a Mac n’ Cheese dish with short ribs and Roasted shallots. The portions are very generous at State Fare so come hungry. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves and I know what you’re thinking… yes these were taken by us (on an iPhone)!

all photos © Goodbye Normal

The Frito Pie is under the bowls category but I would argue that it should be an appetizer, either way it’s a must. The space is inviting and is a great place for a business meeting, date night, or even a family night (yup, they have a kids menu!).

3. Petite Sweets
601 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007

Earlier this year, we visited Petite Sweets as they added Suzie’s pies and cookies by the slice. They have a large variety of treats but the macarons will always be our first love. This time, the kids and I were able to join in on treating ourselves to Lee’s Creamery.

all photos © Goodbye Normal

This premium ice cream is made from milk from grass-fed Jersey cows in nearby Tomball, in addition to cage-free Texas hen eggs and all-natural ingredients. The creamery will produce more than 50 rotating flavors. Two flavors that were surprisingly good for me were the Sweet Cream Corn and Avacado Lime. Vietnamese Coffee which sounds great (wasn’t available at the time so we’ll just have to come back) is also on the rotation.


» Personality

Have you ever looked at one of your kids and realized they are you? I have. And it’s quite helpful because for the most part I can predict how he will react or not react to certain things. I can predict whether a consequence will have an impact and I can always tell whether or not he’s actually listening. Because I know is personality.

This week Calvin and I took personality tests (I’m ENFJ-A, the protagonist and He’s ISFJ-A the defender) Yes. We are quite the combo. But what we focused on during these tests, besides my overwhelming extrovertedness and his overwhelming introvertedness, was how these particular personalities affect our parenting.

Four kids close in age has had us spinning for a couple years and we often find ourselves at odds in how we wish to deal with many of their antics. We also come from two different types of homes. Calvin is an only child from a quiet, respectable Chinese household. I am one of three children from a loud, bustling, move-a-lot military household. Our upbringing couldn’t have been more different.

This brought us to exploring the personality test for some insights on how to parent well together when we both want to do things our own way. Especially me, because I feel that I’m always right. I also like to solve ALL problems, fueling my need to fix every. single. issue. with our kids. The shocking thing is that I’m not always right and it’s quite a blow to realize my ISFJ-A partner may have more insights to our children’s motivations than I do at times.

What we discovered through our personality tests is pretty simple. I’m good at a lot some things and bad at some things and he’s good at some things and bad at some things. When we were able to identify these things and discuss them we could then form a plan of communication regarding our children and work on it together rather than against each other.

Communication is a beautiful thing. It’s scary and messy and inconvenient at times. But it’s a beautiful thing. It’s ties us together, helps us understand each other and unifies us toward a common goal. Add knowing how the other person functions to all of that and you’re headed in the right direction

I encourage you to head over to 16Personalities and take this thorough and free test and get to reading about yourself and your spouse if you are married… and especially if you are a parent. Often, understanding yourself is the key to understanding them or at least trying to!


» Start of the school year and a string of thoughts on being “different” in public school

I threw all my clever 3-4 word post title ambitions out the window on this one. Because there is nothing neat, clean or tidy about starting the school year when your child is a bit different.

When you walk in to meet the teacher night, heart-racing, and hope that there is no pause on the other side after you introduce your child. When you’ve had 900 meetings and emails just to get to this point. When you aren’t sure that the woman you’re handing your child off to really understands how she works and doesn’t work sometimes. When you’ve worked all Summer to prepare said child educationally and socially and hope that one week doesn’t undo months of progress. When you are scarred from past blunders within the school and special education system. When you aren’t certain that everyone is really on your team.

If you are a parent of a child with a special need, disability, illness or other special circumstance you know about this heart-pounding, finger-nail biting week called back-to-school. You know about the emails to the new teacher explaining the behaviors, needs and triggers not listed on the IEP. You know how much the teacher needs to know those and you know the despair you’ll feel when the teacher feels attacked rather than empowered. When all you hoped to do was give her a glimpse into understanding this neat kid that you call son or daughter.

It’s desperate times. And we try to stay calm and collected. But the appeasing replies and scripted emails fall flat as we search for those that really want to help our kids soar, like we know they can.

And sometimes, we get those bright and shiny people. The people that are happy to rejoice in the diversity of humankind. The extra-mile school people. Who order bumpy mats to go in front of swinging doors so your blind child will have a warning. Who ask you to walk the building to make sure it’s safe and properly prepared for your child.

In those moments and with those people the world feels a little bit safer and warmer for our kids.

After 3 years of advocating within our school system those warmer people are appearing more and more. Perhaps it’s all part of watching a child bloom… but it’s also the result of advocacy and pushing and questioning and suggesting and 900 meetings. It’s the result of one child pushing past her circumstances and embracing a life full of promise.

So…friends who are approaching the start of school with different, perfect and wonderful children… keep speaking. Keep standing, keep emailing, keep suggesting. And know that we are all standing in solidarity together. Through every IEP meeting, teacher conference and email string… we are together.

Start the school year strong. Speak for your babies.


» REVIEW: IMVIO Kit (iPhone Lenses)

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

Fish-Eye and Wide-Angle lens for your iPhone

With four kids, it’s difficult to carry anything more than what I absolutely need. That includes my DSLR camera. After searching for a happy medium, the IMVIO lens kit sounded like a great addition with minimum impact. After a few weeks of use and going around town, I love this little accessory. The two lenses come in a case that attaches nicely to your keychain and you can easily screw/unscrew the lens as needed. You are required to use the case that the kit comes with.

IMG_6357 copy
IMG_5255 copy


There’s not much more to say about this product other than it works and it makes pictures fun. There’s no additional app needed so setup is literally just the time it takes to swap the iPhone case. The lens does not make your image quality any better since it’s still using your phone as a camera. Lighting is always important but I’ve found that with the lens attachment, it helps to have more (brighter) light. With the recent price drop to $40, any mom (or dad) would love this little gadget. I’ve also seen Coral color as low as $37.50 on Amazon!

  • iPhone with No Lens
  • Fish Eye
  • Wide Angle



» Love is Blind Part II

Hopefully you caught part I of Love is Blind, if not, you can read about the LaGorga family and their adoption story here. I’m happy to report that their sweet Lili is now home and learning all about life in a forever family. Part 2 of this story is all about the Carl family and their precious son. It’s been a joy to watch them adjust to life as a family of 4 with all the triumphs and heartbreak and stress that it brings. It’s hard. But all worth it things are hard. So without further introduction, it’s time to hear from Jenifer Carl as she shares just a bit of her big ol’ heart.

I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to adopt children. I can remember growing up in my small town in Iowa, and seeing other adoptive families at church. I felt drawn to them, and often watched in awe, wondering how their lives had intersected. Many years later I graduated college with degrees in Journalism and Women’s Studies. At this point I felt strongly that I was meant to be a mother, but didn’t feel strongly about the need to have biological children. Rather, I was more interested in thinking about how my journey to motherhood might be able to connect me with other women around the world. The desire to adopt was already strong.

When I met my husband several years later, I brought up adoption on our first date. It turns out he, too, had a heart for adoption. In fact, his older sister was adopted. And so, we started researching adoption agencies even before we got married. We just knew we wanted to start growing our family through adoption. At first, we planned on bringing home a “healthy infant.” However, we quickly realized that there are long lists of couples wanting and waiting to adopt healthy infants. The true need, we soon found, was for families open to considering older children and/or those with special needs. With that in mind, we switched gears to pursue a waiting child program in South Africa, which led us to our daughter who is now five (adopted at age 3 1/2).

While working on our paperwork for South Africa, we also found ourselves drawn to the China waiting child lists. Our previous agency sent out an advocacy email with the profile of a little boy with low vision who was living at Bethel Child. He had been paperwork ready for quite some time, but due to his gender, visual impairment, and age, was not being considered by many families. I can remember watching his video, and feeling my heart split in two. We had never considered parenting a child with a visual impairment. And yet, here was this little boy, happily pushing a stroller down the sidewalk in the video, while I watched with tears running down my cheeks. I showed my husband, who felt something tugging on his heartstring as well. We decided to sponsor the child, so that we could follow his story from a distance. In time, we learned more about Bethel China, and their mission to help children living with visual impairments in China to live life to the fullest. Although we didn’t talk openly about it at the time, we both started to wonder…”Could we ever do that?”

Soon we met other families who were parenting children with visual impairments. I started following blog posts and learning as much as I could. Lola’s story especially struck me. I remember seeing photos and reading about her initial transition into her family – all of the challenges, but also all of the little victories. One of my favorite things to watch were the videos of Lola with her siblings. I remember sitting Ryan down to show him two videos in particular. The first was a video of Lola running a race across a field with her siblings. We both watched, amazed at how fast and straight she was running. Yes she was blind, but there she was running happily with her brothers and sisters. The second video was of Lola learning how to ride a bike, with the help of her sister Charlotte, who was cheering her on proudly from the side. We both looked at each other with raised eyebrows after watching that video. Not only was Lola defying everyone’s expectations of what she would be able to do, but she was also teaching her siblings valuable lessons about the power of hard work, determination, and love. Lola showed us how beautiful and rewarding it could be to parent a child with visual impairments. Through Lola’s story, we eventually found our hearts pointing us towards our own blind son, Ted TongZhi.



The Carl’s have now been home for several months and I’ve watched them with knowing eyes. The first few months knock the wind out of you in some ways. Not because our children are blind, but because they lived a whole life before they knew us. They struggle with fears that we can never understand. But I watch with eyes that already know the progress that will be made, the trust that will come and the security that will result. I watch Ted with a forever family that will give him the resources he needs to live a full and abundant life. And I hope that more families, like the Carl’s, will say yes to these precious kids. Kids like Joshua, and kids waiting at Bethel, an incredible orphanage for blind children in China. If your heart is being pulled or moved, listen to that, and explore what role you might play in the lives of children across the globe.


» Our favorite back to school essentials

It’s that time of year. And I secretly love it. I have always enjoyed the anticipation of the new school year and all the fresh pencils and clean sneakers it brings. So back to school shopping is something I tend to hop on early, looking for the most useful items at the best price. Today I want to share some of our favorite tried and true items with you! These are all items we have used for an extended amount of time and highly recommend.

Lunch Boxes

  • Flip Top and Discovery Lunch box
  • Plenty of room inside

We only buy lunch boxes from L.L.Bean. And I ALWAYS wait for a sale or purchase the marked down colors. They have so many great choices, even in the clearance area (check out current sales here). We like L.L.Bean because the patterns are fun and not characters or other patterns the kids will outgrow. They also have a lifetime warranty on things like zippers. We have tested this warranty and they quickly replaced Liam’s lunchbox, no hassle, when his outer zipper kept getting stuck. Additionally, they are one of the roomiest lunch boxes we’ve found. We also use ebates before shopping at L.L.Bean, and everywhere else, to get 3% cash back on our purchases. It’s as simple as remembering to click on ebates website before shopping.

Lunch Containers


We love the ease of bento-box type containers. But I’m not into spending upwards of $20 each on a container that may or may not wash well in the dishwasher. We used the 3 compartment ziplock containers for a couple of years but found that Target stopped carrying them. They also weren’t super durable and had to be replaced every couple of months. I found these awesome containers on Amazon and took a chance on them. They are very durable, much thicker than the ziplock containers and we love the colorful lids. They are also leakproof and have a tab that makes it easy for small hands to open. And $10 for a set of 6 is my kind of price.


We also like the Konserve stainless containers for items like yogurt or fruit. For our salad lover this also holds just the right portion for a 1st grader. They wash up perfectly in the dishwasher as well. I’ve got my eye on their sweat-proof ice packs to purchase when our current ones bite the dust. Their focus on sustainability and our eco-system is the icing on the cake!

Water Bottles


We typically use Nalgene bottles (love the durability and price point) but I love the Camelback Chute for school. The valve is perfect for smaller folks who tend to get drenched when they try to drink from my Nalgene. They are leakproof and get this… because this is the magic… the lid always stays connected to the bottle. Like always. Even in the dishwasher. We have lost many a lid to the lid graveyard. Such a waste, and often a new lid costs as much as the original bottle. For this reason, and the no leaking part, we adore the camelback chute. Check out the picture to understand the lid feature. Oh… and no gross straws either.

Back Packs


Our backpack choice seems a little old school but nostalgia and that lifetime warranty brought me back to JanSport. I remember when I HAD to have one of these and I think they are ready for their comeback after seeing the crazy fun patterns and products they are offering. Again, we like to stay away from characters to give the items we buy our kids a longer life. Charlotte and Lola picked out these fun patterns and I’ve had to stop myself from acquiring that banana backpack myself.


» REVIEW: Girls of American History

Many of you may be preparing your curriculum for the upcoming school year. It’s often quite a challenge to select curriculum that is both interesting and challenging at the same time. We do not homeschool but we do add quite a bit into our Summer enrichment. This Summer we added the Girls of American History lessons into our Summer learning and exploration. And don’t be fooled by the name, this curriculum works for both genders, in some units more than others. Girls of American History was written by a long-time homeschooling mom of five, and she nails it!

“Girls of American History was created to be used with the popular American Girl historical, fictional series. Each unit in Girls of American History is meant to last six weeks. Of course you can lengthen or shorten this based on what works for your family. For example, you may decide to spend more time on the Felicity® & American Revolution Unit, as there is so much to learn and review for that particular time period. Don’t be deterred by the use of American Girl books; this truly is not a study just for girls, but for all children. There are many strong male characters in each series, as well as crafts and field trips that will entertain and engage boys.”

You can check out samples here before purchasing the curriculum. We enjoyed exploring history, language and doing so with a very hands-on approach. The connection to the American Girl series was the icing on the cake. If you are looking for a unique way to approach history this year check out this curriculum set and support a homeschooling mom while you’re at it!

REVIEW: Flavor Your Life

As a Moms Meet Ambassador I was recently asked to sample a delicious high-quality olive oil provided by the Flavor Your Life campaign, a movement to educate consumers on the benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Europe, including: Taste, Health, Functionality, Heritage, and Quality. The timing was interesting because I had just read a few articles about finding quality extra-virgin olive oil and discovered that much of what adorns the grocery store shelves is nothing but colored canola oil.

As I read through the various articles like this one from Real food for life I picked up a few quick tips to help you discover the health benefits of quality extra-virgin olive oil without being ripped off by an imposter oil.

  1. Make sure you look for the European Union PDO certification (Protected Designation of Origin-also known as DOP in Italian). PDO certified products must be produced, processed and prepared in a specific region using traditional methods and have the sensorial qualities attributed to that region.
  2. The oil should typically cost more than $10 a liter, beware of cheap oil.
  3. The olive oil should taste fruity or peppery.
  4. Look for the IOC seal. (Olive Oil Council)


We use olive oil often, typically for salad dressings and light vegetable sautés like the asparagus pictured above. If you are new to olive oil, here are a few great recipes to try. I hope these quick little tips help you get out there and snag some great olive oil. Remember it’s heart healthy, full of healthy fats and delicious!

TOUC4332 Online Banner Layouts_V2

» A Day with Show Hope

Our friends at Show Hope invited us over for a few hours last week. Mostly because our kids are cute… but we are also adoption grant recipients and live nearby. After we crashed their offices and our kids talked to EVERYONE and touched EVERYTHING we’re pretty certain we’ve taken that friendship to the next level.

  • Lola approving the Mandarin portions of the team training book
  • The Show Hope ceiling, filled with kids who are now home.
  • Getting ready for the photo shoot!

The kids had such a good time just being themselves, trying on the cute t-shirts and playing a game of red light green light with some of the staff. We are honored to help show off these fun t-shirts that benefit families in the adoption process, and ultimately the children that become part of those families. We know without a doubt that our family would not be the big, bustling beautiful thing it is today without generous givers and grants.


You can check out Show Hope and their fun t-shirts here… and yes, you’ll see our smiling faces when you get there.




All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal