Archive - January 2017

» My Travel Essentials (Ethiopia, pt. 2)
» DIY: Shiplap built-in: The look without the commitment
» Review: Blake’s Turkey and Beef Pot Pies (and More)
» New Orleans: Family Fun

» My Travel Essentials (Ethiopia, pt. 2)

I love the title “World Traveler.” Knowing the globe has been a lifelong dream of mine. And not just the terrain or the scenic views… knowing the people that make up the world. Walking a day with them, being part of their story for just a little while. I can remember laying in bed as a child and dreaming about foreign lands, even pretending to speak other languages. Fulfilling these dreams and desires is a gift that, at times, I can’t believe is mine. My little “World Traveler” title has required me to gather some pretty fun gear over the years. I was able to try a few new products on my last trip that made my travels uniquely comfortable this time around. Here is my round-up of my favorite gear for long distance travel:


The Sable Rucksack Backpack is great especially if you need a carryon that you can wear to free up your hands. When traveling long distances, my essentials always add up quickly with the fear of lost luggage. The Sable Rucksack has one large compartment complemented with a few zipper pockets that I used to stash chargers and documents.

I used the laptop sleeve for an iPad Pro and it was well protected. Two of my favorite features of these bags are the waterproof shell and the use of magnetic buckles for quick buckling/unbuckling. Outside of airport travel, the bag served it’s purpose as there were many days we were out for 12+ hours and needed to carry food, water, and other supplies for the day.

“For each bag purchased, Just Porter manufactures a give bag and fills it with school supplies then gives it to a child in need. But, Just Porter’s charitable giving goes beyond parachuting and dumping goods onto poor communities. They actually work with the communities to manufacture their Give Bags locally and purchase their supplies from the local markets.”

Just Porter website
buy Just Porter on Amazon


I’ve always used Buff Bands for camping. They are great for a variety of reasons; sun protection, sweat control, and keeping my hair out of my face just to name a few. Buff Bands served their purpose on the dusty clay roads in Ethiopia.

There were many times we covered our noses and mouths to prevent ourselves from inhaling the dust. In addition, the UV Buff Insect Shield Infused has an invisible repellent that lasts through 70 washings, blocks 95% of harmful UV rays, and features Polygiene technology to kill odor-causing bacteria.

Buff USA website
buy Buff products on Amazon


I can’t tell you how many white iPhone cables my family has gone through. Finally fed up, I was on the search for a sturdy cable worth the investment. Meet Paracable. Apple MFI certified, 32-strand paracord, and especially great for travel since they are five feet long. I don’t think I’ll ever buy another brand of lightning cables, however I may never need to replace the Paracable ones I have now.

Paracable website
Buy Paracable on Amazon


Tosi makes an assortment of health food products but my two favorite items are the Tosi complete Greens and Tosi SuperBites. I am a huge fan of green juices, powders and smoothies. However, many brands I’ve tasted end up grainy or unpalatable. Tosi’s Green drink is very smooth and lightly sweet. I had no problem chugging a big glass when I felt sluggish or lacked nutrition. The Tosi SuperBites were a great meal substitute for me on days when we packed a lunch for travel or when the scary airplane food came out for dinner on the 13 hour flight. The Cappuccino Crunch Cashew was my absolute favorite. Clean energy and fuel for the day. The bars also stood the test of hard travel. They never crumbled or disintegrated in my bag, as other brands have.

Tosi website
Buy Tosi Superbites on Amazon



Elliott and I both lived in Keens during our trip. I typically fly in a slip-on style shoe to make security check points easier. In the past I’ve found my slip on shoes lack the support I need for the, sometimes long, layovers and walking in the airports. My Keen Rivington CNXs gave great support and looked stylish at the same time. While in-country Elliott and I both wore the waterproof sandal style Newport H2 Keens. The Red Clay streets of Uganda leave a pretty decent mess on your shoes by the end of the day so we loved that the Keens could be washed off at night and dry by morning. The also came in handy when our boat began taking on water in the Nile (yikes!). Elliott’s favorite shoe to wear to this day is the Chandler CNX.

KEEN website
Buy KEEN shoes on Amazon


Seriously… where was this item all my life? I often wear a scarf when traveling because I can wrap it around my face when I’m trying to sleep or to avoid weird smells on the airplane… or when someone is coughing. But this scarf takes it to the next level. The scarf contains two concealed pockets for passports, money and boarding passes. It enabled me to skip digging through my bag at each juncture and it also kept my travel documents safely close to me and away from sticky fingers. I felt secure and less stressed between check points. The Sholdit also comes in great patterns and colors, something for everyone’s unique style.

Sholdit website
Buy Sholdit on Amazon


I LOVE this pillow. So much, that I took a selfie with it on the plane. And I don’t take selfies. It does all the things every other travel pillow has failed to do. For one, it doesn’t slide or slip. The material on the back of the pillow provides enough friction to keep the pillow in place. It also surrounds your head in a way that give you neck, head and shoulder support. You won’t end up with a sore neck after using the Comfy Commuter. And when you reach your destination it packs neatly away in it’s little bag. There was literally nothing to complain about, it made my flight so much more comfortable.

Comfy Commuter website
Buy Comfy Commuter on Amazon


Before this trip I was unaware that Polaroid made such a diverse line of products. I utilized their earbuds on the flight, which were very comfortable, and their bluetooth “selfie stick” to capture all of our team photos. Everything functioned seamlessly and it’s always nice to take care of photos ourselves rather than soliciting strangers.

Polaroid website
Buy Polaroid on Amazon



We packed our Large duffle bag full of donations and checked it through. I was a bit nervous about checking the duffle but I trusted the durable material in the end and gave it a try. I am so glad I did! The Bago duffle came through without a scratch or tear, while our standard luggage looked terrible by the time it reached Uganda. The duffle also folds into a little tiny bag and we didn’t have extra luggage to bring home as a result. For more info on the duffle check out my previous packing post here. Elliott carried the Bago packable backpack (great for kids!) throughout the trip and we were impressed with the lightweight yet durable material. It held up very well as we traveled around Uganda and went in and out of airports during our 32 hour travel home.

Bago website
Buy Bago on Amazon





Disclaimer: We received units from some of these brands for review. As always, the opinions are my own.

» DIY: Shiplap built-in: The look without the commitment

We are all tuned in to Joanna and her shiplap ways. But honestly, I’m a bit daunted by the idea of doing an entire room in shiplap. We all remember what happened with paneling right? It was cool… until it wasn’t and that stuff isn’t fun or cheap to pull out and replace. So despite Joanna and her charming renovations I’m not convinced we should all shiplap with abandon. That said… I did really want a bit in my house. It fits the style of my home and the decor… which my good friend has described as coastal farmhouse with an international flair. That was really kind of her. Mostly, I have a mix of old things I’ve painted with treasures from my travels to other countries. I’m eclectic at best.

Any-way, as I pondered where to add this bit of shiplap my eyes landed on the built-in section of our current dining area. I say current, because I’ve moved our dining space a few times since owning this house. When we moved in the built-in was a poop-ish colored mustard brown. I painted it a creamy white. A few months later I added chalkboard paint on the back of it. It’s kind of been a disastrous work in progress. Here is a before shot after all the creamy white and chalkboard paint attempts. Mostly, I was just trying to get by with it while I dealt with bigger projects like bathrooms that were pea-green and carpeted. This seemed like the perfect solution for a shiplap nod without a huge commitment.

To save money I went to Lowe’s and had them rip a sheet of plywood underlayment into 5.5 in strips. If I were doing shiplap on walls I would go a bit wider but I based this on the measurements I took between the shelves. I spend just $17 on the wood for this project so it was a very low-cost high reward situation. The installation itself was very easy. I simply used a level to check each board, nailed them in, using nickels as spacers between the boards and continued until the space was filled in. I really wanted the shiplap to look rustic on the back of the shelving so I left twice as much space at the end of each board. Most shiplap seamlessly flows into the next board, adding more space before placing the adjacent board gave this a heftier feel, in my opinion. Once all the boards were nailed in I painted the creases and then followed up with a roller to give the boards a smooth coat of paint. It took 3 coats of paint to cover everything well. One last tip, I used a zip zag of liquid nails on the backs of the boards to prevent any bowing.

If you are looking for a one day project to add just a hint of shiplap to your home look around… you may find inspiration in the corners and shelving of your home. Just a little goes a long way! Here is the finished project! Well, mostly finished. The angled section at the bottom will soon be cut and refashioned to make a hinged door that will provide enclosed storage space. Right now it’s a magazine display area… no time for that. Stay tuned for a little update once the hinged section is added.

P.S. Don’t judge me if I lose my mind and commit to shiplap in an entire room. Because once you have a little shiplap you forget about your reasons for not shiplapping every darned thing in your house. The charm of shiplap might just be too hard to resist!

» Review: Blake’s Turkey and Beef Pot Pies (and More)

Our kids love pot pies. When we had the opportunity to try out Blake’s, I was excited to find out that they are the healthier alternative to frozen pot pies. When Calvin was out of town recently, it was the perfect time to give these a chance. At $3.99 each (8 oz. personal size), these little dishes are a good backup to stock in the refrigerator to keep you from calling the pizza man.

  • Blake’s Turkey and Beef Pot Pies are made from scratch in small batches, and use only the finest organic and all-natural ingredients.
  • Blake’s Heirloom Family Recipes are made by wonderful people, not machines, and feature hormone-free and antibiotic-free chicken, turkey or beef, garden vegetables, potatoes and a flaky pie crust. .
  • Blake’s Turkey Pot Pie and Beef Pot Pie are dairy free and soy free and like all of their meals they do not contain trans fats or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

When baking in the oven, I had the pies on top of a baking sheet as instructed. Some liquid came onto the sheet, but not much. Blake’s has a lot of flavor which is sometimes a concern when you see the words “organic” and “all-natural”. One of my main suggestions to make these pot pies better is to include the crust (one of my favorite parts) on the bottom and sides, not only the top. And the kids? Yeah, they love them.

About Blake’s Pot Pies

Blake’s started as a family farm in Concord, NH by Great Grandma Clara Blake in 1929 raising the finest free-range, all-natural turkeys and soon became a holiday standard for thousands of New England families. In 1970 Charlie Blake sold their first pot pie from the back of his ‘67 Chevy van at St. John’s Church in Concord and thus Blake’s pot pies were started. Four decades later, Charlie and his wife, Sally, were distributing pot pies throughout New England and built a new production facility at the farm. Very little had changed. They were still using Clara’s recipes, cutting vegetables by hand and making gravy from scratch. Theirs was a thrifty, mom-and- pop business operating with a simple goal: Put healthy meals on the table for as many folks as possible. Today, Blake’s meals can be found nationwide and every meal is still made from scratch in small batches just like they always have been. Blake’s has grown from just pot pies to a variety of meals include an organic line of meals and gluten free as well. Blake’s is blessed with a wonderful staff and a shared vision for positively affecting the lives of their customers through their food.

Their full line of pies and meals are available at: Target, Walmart, Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Meijer, Publix, The Fresh Market, Kroger, Natural Grocers, Earth Fare, Fresh Thyme, Raley’s, Winco, Ralph’s, Harris Teeter, Hyvee, HEB, Jewel, Hannaford, Shaw’s, Market Basket, along with many Natural Food Stores & Coops.

Learn more online Connect with Blake’s online to see their latest products and get exclusive access to discounts and special offers!



Disclaimer: Mom’s Meet provided samples of Blake’s products. As always the opinions are my own.

» New Orleans: Family Fun

In December we headed to New Orleans for a long weekend full of good food, good times and a little graduation pit stop for me. If you have followed the blog this year you know that we left New Orleans in 2008 just as I was wrapping up my Masters degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Fast forward to 2016 and I finally applied for graduation and finished what I started (you can read the full story here). We absolutely loved living in New Orleans and couldn’t wait to get back and spend some time in the city. As always, it did not disappoint. Being a visitor in a city we used to live in was super fun. We flew down (Southwest points for the win!) and felt adventurous so we used a combination of Uber/Lyft and Trolley transportation to get around the Big Easy.

For those of you who are curious about a family trip to NOLA, we highly recommend it! Here’s a recap of the places we visited (as a family) along with a few notes.

Where to stay
Where to eat

Where to go:

Audubon Zoo – The Audubon zoo is the very first zoo we ever visited as a little family of 3 when Elliott was a baby. We liked the fact that the trolley (St. Charles car to the Audubon Park/Tulane stop) takes you right near where the zoo shuttle picks you up. The animals were out and very visible unlike some other zoo experiences we’ve had. Plan at least three hours here.

Kamba Kourse – Inside the zoo is Kamba Kourse, a 3-story-high ropes course that our kids were looking most forward to. Unfortunately, due to weather, we weren’t able to make it on! For those of you wondering, you’re locked into a harness system the entire time, so there’s no way you can fall. They have different difficulty levels based off of age and how adventurous one might be.

This kid-friendly attraction also offers a scaled-down version for children aged 2 through 7 (or less than 48 inches tall). The Sky Tykes™ ropes course has nine elements that stand only less that three feet from the ground, which allows for easy parent participation for any level of assistance. Adults can walk alongside their child or step back and watch.

Audubon Butterfly Garden & Insectarium – The entrance has lots of bugs, everything from millipedes and tarantulas. You can also head to the diner where you get to taste the bugs, cinnamon meal worms or cricket hummus anyone? Other things to note are the termites, the swamp with alligators, and the butterfly room which also has koi fish.

Audubon Aquarium – The aquarium is in a great location on the river and near the French Quarter so it’s easy to get to, especially if you’re on foot. This place was larger than we expected. Everyone in our family enjoyed it. If you have little ones, take them to the top floor where they can play on the boats. Also be sure to walk through the tunnel that is surrounded by water. There were lots sea creatures and other animals to see here with at least three floors.

Louisiana Children’s Museum – We were greeted by friendly staff here after walking a few blocks in the rain. We could hardly get the kids past the first area, a bubble activities center where kids encapsulate themselves inside life-size bubbles. The kids had a blast playing while learning a little bit about New Orleans history. Some of the biggest hits were the Winn Dixie pretend grocery store, the New Orleans port area, and the fun mock eye examination room. We spent 3 hours there and could have stayed longer if we had more time.

City Park – City Park has consistently been one of my favorite places in New Orleans. It big and fun and a bit magical. The trees are draped with interesting things and it’s as if you step into some sort of Alice in Wonderland experience. Additionally City Park houses Storybook land. For just a few dollars your family can step into the pages of many familiar Mother Goose type stories. This is a super fun area to take pictures and let the kids loose.

There is also a small roller coaster and a few other small rides in this area. On this trip the kids enjoyed a game of putt-putt. The course is designed to look like the streets and hot spots of New Orleans so it adds a fun, local element to the game. After putt-putt we ran the fields and enjoyed the large swings before heading to eat at Toups Meatery. Toups is within walking distance of City Park. After our meal we simply hopped on the trolley, the stop was right outside the restaurant, and headed back to our French Quarter area hotel.

Where to Stay:

Loews New Orleans – Loews never disappoints. They consistently have great service, beautiful rooms and convenient locations. The New Orleans location was in the downtown area close to the Riverwalk, dozens of restaurants the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium. We arrived a bit early but the Loews staff didn’t seem bothered or rushed by this. They simply entered our phone number into their texting system and alerted us the moment our room was ready. While we waited, for just a short time, the kids enjoyed the Scrabble and chess boards in the lovely and inviting lobby parlor area of the hotel.

The big windows allowed us to enjoy a little people-watching as well. When our room was ready we escorted the kids up to check out the room and settle in. The view was amazing from the room and we all enjoyed watching the steam boats travel down the river.

The rooms at Loews New Orleans are larger than average. This gave our family plenty of room to relax and there may have been a few cartwheels turned as the kids burned off some energy. Loews also has a great indoor pool for kids. It’s just the right size for young kids looking to splash around after their parents have toted them all around town in search of charbroiled oysters and muffulettas. As a bonus, Loews has a great restaurant located in the lobby area for those who prefer to enjoy a meal without leaving the hotel.

When it comes to no-fuss elegance, amenities and service Loews has hands-down won our loyalty. It’s a surprising choice for families with kids, but we find that they go above and beyond to accommodate us and make us feel at home.

Where to Eat: 

Toups Meatery – Toups in Mid-City isn’t exactly kid-friendly, but the crew did just fine. Strangely they love a good cheese plate just as much as we do. Additionally Toups will whip up some tasty, kid-friendly fried chicken upon request. My parents accompanied us on this trip and the restaurant handled our party of 8 with ease. The meal was amazing and the portions quite large. It’s definitely a must-try if you are looking for creative fare outside the typical New Orleans offerings.

New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood – One seafood platter was enough for all four of our kids. We love their seafood platter because the breading is light rather than heavy and greasy. The potato wedges in the garlic sauce are the icing on the cake. After a morning of walking in the Quarter, this was a welcomed stop.

Drago’s – We stopped here for an afternoon snack of chargrilled oysters which did not disappoint. You might want to do yourself a favor and ask for extra bread to soak up the juices from the oysters. While you’re at it, do yourself another favor and get the shrimp and corn bisque.

Mother’s – Get breakfast here and make sure to try the famous ham or chopped beef like everyone else. Portions are big so you can definitely get away with choosing a few dishes to share with kiddos.

Cafe Maspero
– Great spot right across from Cafe du Monde. Kids had the seafood platter (again!) and adults had the muffalettas. Maspero’s food and atmosphere are great but Johnny’s Po-Boys still has the best muffalettas in my book.

Sucre – Walk past a few art galleries on your way to Sucre on Conti St. This place has been known for their boutiques filled with your favorite confections. Macarons have a special place in my heart and Sucre’s are delightful.

Cafe Du Monde – No surprise here. We had to introduce our kids to a morning here for beignets and cafe au lait (hot chocolate for kiddos).

Gordon Biersch
– Great dinner spot with a great and cheap kids’ menu. The Brewer’s Combo (bratwurst, a soft pretzel, and garlic fries) is an appetizer but I ordered it as a meal. Either way, I highly recommend it.

Cafe Gentilly – Unless you’re visiting the seminary, you probably won’t be in the area to visit here. During our three years in New Orleans, we ate here plenty of times since the portions are big and the prices are very reasonable. In fact, we had to come here one more time after the graduation ceremony. While you wait for your food, there are plenty of books to enjoy.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal