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» 2017 Christmas Gift Guide
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Leading our families during the holidays
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» Christmas in Nashville 2017
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Review: Hey, Baby! A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories from Nature’s Nursery
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» A new home, a new perspective
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» Review: BROO Craft Beer Shampoo and Conditioner
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» Commuting in the 2017 Mazda CX-5
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» Light Shine Candles
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» Double Digits: My Oldest Turns 10
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» REVIEW: Cavalia’s Odysseo

» 2017 Christmas Gift Guide

Have you made it to December without finding that perfect gift yet? Our list is shorter this year as we continue the year of less. We’ve been looking for non-tech gifts that promote creativity and/or spending time with others and these made the short list.

1. Chippo

Chippo is a fun game for the outdoors or even larger indoor spaces, think corn hole combined with golf. If you love golf, you’ll love Chippo. If you don’t love golf, you’ll still love Chippo. This was intended for dad but our oldest son who has never touched a golf club (other than putt putt) is always wanting to play a round. The game is best played with two wedges (not included), so make sure you grab an extra if needed.

Chippo website

2. KiwiCo Monthly Crates

Kids love getting mail, especially when it’s for them. After having friends try these out and seeing Facebook ads over the last few months, we had to try the Tinker and Doodle Crate for ourselves. KiwiCo makes science & engineering fun for kids of all ages. These boxes can be for an individual child or make it a family group effort to build or create together. Boxes are typically $20 shipped, but you can save a few dollars each month if you commit to 3 or more months at a time. As I’m writing this, your first box is only $7.95!

KiwiCo website

3. Brain Putti

Braini Putti is the perfect stocking stuffer for all kids. You can use Braini Putti similar to Play Doh but you can also make super bouncy balls with it. We’ve had a few nights around the dining table creating and laughing over Braini Putti.

buy on Amazon

Braini Putti website

4. Local Events

For those of you who are completely doing experiences over gifts, December is a great time to enjoy local events as a family. We’ve created many new traditions with this mindset including the Nutcracker for the family, and a date night seeing a Christmas concert (Dave Barnes this year). If you’re in Nashville, check out this post for events we’re most looking forward to.

 

Leading our families during the holidays

It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving and many are driving the long hours home on crowded highways. Isn’t it funny how much shorter the drive home seems? On the way to our destination we are full of anticipation or maybe even anxiety. The thoughts over what is to come makes the minutes and hours drag on as we wait to see what this visit will hold.

Maybe today, on your way home, you are scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Each swipe displays photos of smiling families digging into turkey and stuffing or sisters in matching shirts announcing their Black Friday plans. But what you don’t see in those pictures is the intense fight that just took place over something that happened three years ago or the deep grief for the loved one who isn’t sitting at the table this year.

When families gather… conflict calls. I’m almost 100% certain that every family, no matter how good-looking, suffers from this ailment. Our hearts are bent toward conflict, sin and strife. We are ungrateful for how our lives have turned out, even in the midst of prosperity and plenty. When our families draw close so does the destroyer. It’s no secret that satan wants our families. And the holidays are the prime time for him to prey upon our festive yet distracted minds. I believe he also uses the happy images displayed by others to make us believe the lie that we aren’t all broken. The resulting pursuit of false perfection rather than the pursuit of our perfect savior takes our minds and hearts captive.

Consider Romans 1:21 as a cautionary tale…. in fact take a moment to read the entire chapter.

Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The season of togetherness has begun. Let us lead our families to focus first and centrally on the advent during this time. The trimmings, shine and good times come second. All of those things and the expectations that lead up to them will fall flat and leave us disappointed because we were made to honor and give thanks to the one who will never disappoint us.

I can only imagine that our hearts will burst forth with light rather than darkness as we gather in pursuit of Jesus rather than the ideal standard we have created for family gatherings and holiday outings.

 

» Christmas in Nashville 2017

Nashville has a lot to offer when it comes to the year of less. If you haven’t been following along, 2017 for our family has the been the start of attempting to buy less stuff, but instead have more experiences together together. Our family has spent the last few Decembers at home and we’ve found lots to look forward to in doing so. Here are a list of events we are especially making plans to attend in December.

1. SCHERMERHORN SYMPHONY CENTER

The Schermerhorn is a breathtaking venue that feels special no matter what you’re there for. Dave Barnes’ Christmas show has quickly becoming a Christmas tradition for Calvin and I, but there’s definitely some others worth checking out. Make sure you view the Schermerhorn’s upcoming schedule.

We’re most excited about A Johnnyswim Christmas (12/8), Drew and Ellie Holcomb’s Neighborly Christmas (12/10), and a Very Merry Christmas with Dave Barnes (12/18). Also Handel’s Messiah, which has really become an annual holiday tradition for (four performances to choose from) for many families.

Full schedule and tickets available at NashvilleSymphony.org

2. NASHVILLE’S NUTCRACKER
Nashville Ballet is celebrating 10 years of Nashville’s Nutcracker December 2-23, 2017, at TPAC’s Jackson Hall with all-new magical elements to mark the occasion. Our family spent the day in Nashville last year, anchored by this great performance! If this has also become an annual tradition for your family, your kids will be surprised by a few new elements this year in celebration of its 10th year, including snow falling in the audience during the snow scene!

Visit magical lands with the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Mouse King, the Nutcracker, the Dancing Bear and many historic characters from Nashville’s past.

Nashville’s Nutcracker at TPAC’s Jackson Hall has grown to 16 performances:

  • Saturday, December 2, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Friday, December 15, 2017 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 16, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 16, 2017 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 17, 2017 at 1 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 17, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, December 22, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Friday, December 22, 2017 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 23, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 23, 2017 at 7 p.m.

Tickets available at NashvilleBallet.com

3. NASHVILLE PREDATORS

IMG_3108

The only cold temperature we enjoy is from the Nashville Predators ice. Our kids love hockey when it comes to the food, the chants, and the crazy fans. Liam still loves singing (and shaking it to) Tim McGraw’s “I like it I love it” every time the home team scores.

There are plenty of home games in December to check out. Tickets available at Ticketmaster.com

4. Gaylord Opryland’s A Country Christmas

Nashville friends, looking to do a staycation? Look no further. In addition to the expected 3 million holiday lights and 48-foot tall Christmas tree, Gaylord Opryland will be hosting a brand new Broadway show for its 34th annual “A Country Christmas.” Cirque Dreams Holidaze will showcase 20 acts and feature original music and seasonal favorites at the Grand Ole Opry.

This year’s theme for the ICE! attraction is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The exhibit will include 2 million pounds of ice sculptures completed by 40 master artisans.

Opryland will also host an outdoor snow tubing hill covered in 1.5 million pounds of real snow.

“A Country Christmas” runs from Nov. 10 through Jan. 1. Click here for more information.

 

Review: Hey, Baby! A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories from Nature’s Nursery

I kept our copy of Hey, Baby!: A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories from Nature’s Nursery on the top of the fridge for over a week as I anticipated the after Thanksgiving slump. I knew my kids would need a pick-me-up after spending a fun week with cousins and grandparents. Tonight, as they sat around our breakfast table discussing what to do I pulled out the beautiful book created by National Geographic and they immediately lit up. They knew right away, after spying the array of baby animals on the cover, that this book would become a fast favorite.

The book itself is exactly what you would expect from National Geographic. The pictures are stunning and capture sweet moments between baby animals their parents and other baby animals. Our favorite was a photo displaying a dog feeding a baby sheep with a bottle. I mean seriously… how can you even stand that! We oohhed and ahhed over every. single. page.

Hey Baby is a hard cover book that would look great on any coffee table. In fact, I’m certain that it would be a great conversation piece for adults as well as children. The book contains cute poems and information about each animal including their habitat and the culture of the area where they live. While reading Hey Baby, kids will also learn about earth’s different biomes and how animals adapt to each.

Our kiddos give Hey baby two thumbs up, each, so eight thumbs up from the Goodbye Normal crew in total! We also highly recommend scooping up a copy here for a fun and reasonable Christmas present!

 

I received a copy of this book as a Moms Meet ambassador, all opinions are my own.

 

» A new home, a new perspective

We have been living, full and loud, in our new home for about three weeks now. In that time we’ve broken a window playing wall ball, annoyed the neighbors and been compared to living in India. The living in India comment came from my sweet neighbor, who grew up there, the night my oldest had every boy in his class over for tag and other boisterous outdoor activities. It was a compliment and one I happen to be proud of. Kids belong out in the cul-de-sac after all! We are pretty good neighbors… we mow the lawn on time and keep it quiet after dark. There are just a lot of us and a lot of joyful noise accompanies that number. I’ll admit… the noise isn’t all joyful. My kids are normal and they fight and skin their knees on occasion.

So the new house. I have tried very hard to reflect on our home as we worked to organize and settle in. It’s so very different from our previous home… the one we put together with our own hands; changing, re-shaping and renovating. The one that boasted shiplap hand-laid by Calvin and my dad. The one that displayed all the farm house items I found at antique stores and junk sales. It was lovingly curated.

As we house hunted, I looked for practical. I looked for smaller. I looked for just-enough and just right. We considered the profit from the previous house and made a line in the sand on what we could spend. We felt blessed to be able to make a profit on the house and wanted to honor that by being good stewards with the new purchase.

What happened is interesting. After looking and looking and more looking, the house presented itself. It was a little smaller, it had the driveway desired for basketball, and it seemed just right. Just right for a family of six, just right for filling with friends and just right in regards to proximity to the new school. It’s more than what I would have asked for… but it accomplished every goal, thought and desire for good stewardship. And so, we became home-owners for the third time.

As I began to make this house home I was overwhelmed by my desire for simplicity. To paint one color, to decorate with the things I have, to display things that are meaningful. The urge to find and curate has slipped away in many ways. Changing homes reminds you what home is.

Home is breaking windows because you are outside being wild together. Home is a nook for coloring and writing notes to friends. Home is an area to gather for meals and share them with others. Home is a door wide open to those who need it.

When I look at my new home I imagine ways to make this more possible… to eliminate the boundaries to more community and family time. I never want to stress over things breaking or being messed up when there are people that need to be loved and encouraged.

I still love to decorate and style my home. But I have a hard time imagining myself ever putting as much effort, time or resources into it as I once did. It’s funny what a few moves will do to change your perspective.

» Review: BROO Craft Beer Shampoo and Conditioner

We were recently selected to review BROO Craft Beer Shampoo and Conditioner through Moms Meet. As always we had a great time sampling and it was especially interesting to try the different varieties on the many different hair types in our household. The packaging is quirky and fun with reminders like do not drink this. The BROO brand also aligns with many of the things we look for in our body and hair products.

BROO contains NO:

  • Parabens
  • Sulfates or phthalates

  • Dyes or artificial fragrance
  • Silicons
  • PEGs, DEAs, MEA, TEAs or dioxane

So how were the results? I’ll be the first to admit that I often have trouble seeing top-notch results from “natural” products. We tried moisturizing, invigorating and thickening. Each provided the intended benefit and really surpassed our expectations. My hair is curly/wavy and has a coarse texture. The invigorating variety of BROO was my absolute favorite. It energized my hair with it’s minty tingle and caffeine and left my hair very soft… thanks to the aloe leaf! My girls also enjoyed using the products and we found that BROO made their dark black hair silkier and shinier than many products we’ve tried. And as you can see below… you can still work up a generous lather without all the yucky sulfates.

Why Craft Beer? I recall my grandma talking about doing a beer rinse on hair but I didn’t put much stock into that idea. Until now! Apparently the hops in beer are full of essential oils that protect and nourish hair… making it super shiny and soft! Thankfully, using this product does not make you smell like beer. The scent is light comparable to a creamy citrus.

Where can you find BROO? BROO products are currently available at Walmart for just $7.49. You can even pick up some via online order. You can feel good about your BROO purchase. Not only will your hair benefit, but BROO donates a portion of every sale to clean water efforts world wide. Grab your $1.00 off coupon here.

Guess what? One Lucky winner will receive a pair of BRÖÖ Craft Beer Thickening Shampoo & Conditioner in an organza bag! Simply like our Facebook page and share this post! Easy Peasy! We will announce a winner on Wednesday night! (11/1/17)

» Commuting in the 2017 Mazda CX-5

As you know, we recently moved to another part of Nashville. We needed to situate ourselves closer to the kids’ schools… this also meant, unfortunately, the work drive would increase significantly. Nashville traffic has only gotten worse over the years, pushing our daily commute to a little over half an hour each way. If you’re like us and spend 5-6 hours+ in a car every week, a comfortable and fuel efficient car is a must. That’s where the CX-5 fits in. The 2017 CX-5 Grand Touring AWD in Machine Gray Metallic is a great looking car! So great, in fact, that Mazda didn’t change much from the previous year model.

all photos © Goodbye Normal

The ride is so smooth that I could barely feel the change when accelerating from 15 to 50 mph. Driving home from work can get dangerous with stop-and-go traffic and the additional fatigue from a long work day. The Grand Touring package has an Advanced Heads-Up Display that almost magically displays the speed limit, your current speed, blind spot warnings and more right onto your windshield. This definitely brought more awareness and kept me alert throughout the long commute. Not to mention reminding me to slow down! Don’t worry, I’m not driving and taking a picture!

We Love the Look – The entire 2017 Mazda line looks great and the CX-5 is no exception. The minor changes they’ve done from previous years were definitely welcome. Other moms will take notice, for sure.

We Love the Interior – The interior is very roomy. Even with three kids in the back, the touching and bumping (that leads to fighting) was kept to a minimum. And no, we didn’t ditch a kid, sweet Lola takes the bus to her school and missed out on the Mazda fun. The automatic trunk open and close came in handy as they were able to load and unload their backpacks without having to worry about reaching the door. The leather seats provided seat warmers for both the front and back along with a vent that blows onto the steering wheel for those early mornings! The one thing that brought the fights? Arguing over who got to push the “butt warmer” button. (good grief.)

We Love the Fuel Efficiency – Commuting can get expensive. I found the 24 city / 31 highway mpg to be accurate and a happy medium for the speed, size, and comfort of the vehicle.

Conclusion

With our family size, four kids and two adults, I’m not sure a sedan will ever be in the cards. However, I truly enjoyed the Mazda CX-5, this CUV would be a great option as a second vehicle for us. If you have a family of four or less, this might just be the perfect primary vehicle. It met all of our basic vehicle needs and then excelled way beyond that with tons of extra features. If you’re in the market, definitely head to your nearest Mazda dealership and give it a test drive!

 

 

 

Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD. As always, these opinions are my own.

 

» Light Shine Candles

Months ago we drove across town to meet new friends for dinner. As many of you know we made some big changes in our family this year including a new house, new town and new school for our kids. These new friends were part of these upcoming changes and we jumped at the chance to share a meal and learn more about their family. Fast forward to the present… our children have growing friendships and I’ve learned so much about the powerhouse mama who founded Light Shine Candles. Anna Reyes and her family work in community development initiatives and live in the Nashville area; they have also served in El Salvador. This is part of the driving force behind Light Shine… flexible work that creates space for serving the community. You can read more about the Light Shine story here. 

So let’s talk about these candles. I’m very picky about the candles I use in my home. I look for non-gmo soy wax and cotton wicks. Did you know that most of the candles on the market use lead wicks?? Not a good thing to breathe in my friends. Not Light Shine… they use 100% non-GMO soy, no phthalates and no dyes. Their candles begin with a glass jar, a cotton wick and they are finished out with locally printed labels. And rumor has it Anna uses recycled packaging materials from friends as often as she can which reduces waste and overhead for her little company.

But really, it’s more than just delightfully scented gmo-free soy candles. There is a whole lot of give-back going on over at Light Shine. Customers who take part in the monthly subscription program  (Shine Club!) can anticipate a wonderful assortment of candles each month while knowing that $5 of their monthly box subscription will support developing communities in El Salvador.  Light Shine also gives Anna’s family freedom as they continue community development work with Global Outreach Developments International. Additionally, Anna offers fundraising opportunities for churches, adoptive families, community groups, schools… you name it. You can learn more about fundraising with Light Shine here.

I encourage you, especially during what I call peak candle season, to head over to Light Shine and feed your fall candle habit. It’s always sweet to add special touches to our homes while supporting strong moms who not only work hard for their families but support their communities both globally and locally. Women like Anna are living Proverbs 31She seeks wool and flax and works with willing hands… she opens her hand to the poor and reaches out to the needy…She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

» Double Digits: My Oldest Turns 10

Ten years ago our first son entered the world. It was a blazing hot September in New Orleans and I was REALLY over carrying an extra human. I was in the middle of graduate school and that only added an extra layer to my extreme exhaustion. Elliott should definitely receive an honorary Masters in Missiology, as he peacefully kicked and squirmed his way through many classes in the comfort of my expanding belly. Calvin and I had been married about six months when I experienced the classic morning sickness symptoms and realized our 5-year-plan was definitely going to include a baby.

We headed in to Tulane the evening of the 24th and after 26ish hours of labor our very blue baby was born. I remember my joy turning into just a bit of panic as they worked on him; the cord had been tightly wound around his neck. The nurses were quick but the minutes seemed like years as we waited to hear those classic cries. They came… and a few minutes later a very wrinkly little man-baby was placed in my arms. I felt, in that moment, like I had perhaps given the world my best. I had carried and pushed forth a gift that would make the world just a little better, at least those were my hopes. Moms, I’m certain we should all feel that way about our precious cargo.

His legs were skinny and long. I compared them to an organic chicken. I’m not sure, at this moment, that the comparison is correct but that was my comment. He was small but lean and long and just the tiniest little guy in our arms. His hair was jet black and and very full. It stuck up everywhere and garnered him quite a bit of attention.

We stayed in our hospital room for another night, soaking up his sweetness, and then headed home to our small apartment on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

I laid him down in his crib surrounded by the hundreds of tiny bubbles and fish that I hand-painted on the walls. And within five minutes Calvin and I realized that this sweet baby of ours was not going to lay, sleep or be alone for a very long time. In fact… if he was not nursing or held he was quite the unhappy baby. There was no parenting book that could have prepared us for the level of “I need my parents” that Elliott James brought to the table. There were those who called him spoiled, but in my heart I knew that certain littles just need a little more physical contact than others. And so we held and bounced and baby-wore, before it was cool. And I knew we were doing the right thing. However, this determined baby decided that at seven-months-old climbing his crib rail was the perfect way to seek us out in the night. Once he discovered this new ability he continued to climb up and on top of the rail, only to dangle in peril and cry until we rescued him. It only took a few times for us to decide, for good, that he was no longer a candidate for the crib life. After all our little seminary apartment boasted linoleum floors laid over concrete. One fall would spell disaster for a small one.

I believe that he probably smiled smugly, knowing he had chosen a path that led to his desires… being super close to mom and dad all day and all night.

As little boys do, he grew and grew and grew. I’ve delighted watching this transformation over the years. Seeing his flaws, merits and internal struggles manifest themselves as his physical body stretched and grew strong.

Ten years old. Two digits now. He has the look of a young man, with careful adjustments spent in front of the mirror… combing his hair just so. And yet if I look carefully I still see the wrinkled man-baby who was handed to me ten years ago.

I don’t have plans for him. Those are his to make. He has callings to respond to and a great God to serve. His path is his own. Truly, I’m waiting and praying for the man he is becoming. I’m discipling and smacking my head. I’m hugging, and holding tight and I’m sneaking in to his room in the late hours to absorb him while he’s here with us. Above all I’m hoping beyond hope that we are equipping him to be a gift to the world that seems darker by the hour.

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.
Psalm 127: 3-5

» REVIEW: Cavalia’s Odysseo

Several weeks ago our family was headed to the airport to pick up a family member. We noticed huge white tents going up near the interstate and began to wonder what interesting event might be coming soon. Not long after we began to see advertisements and billboards for Cavalia’s Odysseo

After attending the show last week I’ll start with this… interesting is definitely an understatement for Odysseo!

The Experience:

We arrived at Odysseo about an hour before the show began to partake in the V.I.P. experience. This includes dinner, drinks and the V.I.P. tent which is outfitted with couched seating areas, art and tasteful colored lighting. Parking was smooth and close to the tent so we were able to find our way quickly. After enjoying a dinner that included hummus, grilled chicken, various salads and seafood, we grabbed popcorn and sodas and headed in to enjoy the show.

For those considering the V.I.P. level tickets:

The dinner buffet is well done and the drinks and snacks are unlimited. As a nice bonus there is also a beautiful dessert spread in the tent during intermission. This convinced our children that the V.I.P life is the life for them! The stable tour afterward is another huge perk to the V.I.P. experience. It makes the show even more impressive when you realize all the efforts that happen backstage with the 65 horses that make up the show.

  • Backstage stable tour.
  • Ready for the show!
  • Dessert at intermission.

The Show:

The show itself is wonderful for families. Attendees are encouraged to participate and even yell and clap if desired. The noise is just part of the experience! This was refreshing for our large family. The kids enjoyed talking about the show while it was going on and asking questions.

There are 65 horses in the show, representing 12 different varieties. The horses do many amazing feats including (what looks like) dancing, pretending to sleep, jumping/tricks and just acting their part in general. The horses aren’t the only excitement in the show, although they definitely steal the show. Odysseo boasts 50 human artists who ride with skill, sing, direct horses, perform aerial art with silks and dance! The show is only made better by the dynamic scenography and high-tech visual effects. There is not a bad seat in the house so don’t stress over which ticket level to purchase.

One of our favorite scenes from the show involved the horses walking over the hill in the center of theater, the added visual effects give the illusion that they are walking from a far off land. It’s truly amazing to see!

There is definitely a strong bond between the human trainers and their horses and that special bond shines through in the artistry and beauty of this show. Whether you are a horse lover or not… this is a must see.

Head over to Cavalia’s website to learn more and purchase tickets today. They will only be in the Nashville area for a limited time before heading on to new cities!

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal