Search Results For -year of less

» Year of Less: Birthday Update
Easter baskets during the year of less
» A year of less
Can I overuse the word blessing?
» 2017 Christmas Gift Guide
» Christmas in Nashville 2017
» 2017 Mother’s Day Gift Guide
» Chattanooga Fun in the 2018 Mazda CX-9
» Asleep by 8
» Lead me to the Rock

» Year of Less: Birthday Update

We are steadily continuing the year of less and it gets easier with each event. This week brought another opportunity to put our resolution into practice. Charlotte is turning 8 years old! She’s a bit of an old soul so while she still has the remainders of a baby face it seems completely probable and appropriate that she’s a full 8 years old. When my kids were very little I made a promise to soak in each day and stage and do my best to stay in the moment, this has made the passing years seem more realistic even if they do feel faster than I would like.

This year a few of our kids were at various camps during Charlotte’s birthday and Calvin had taken Liam to Houston with him. This gave Charlotte and I a golden opportunity to share some quality time. We started the birthday festivities with pedicures and talked about what event she might like to do for her birthday gift. She requested a surprise and I took that as a challenge. I discovered through a random Facebook ad that something called China Lights Nashville was currently set up at the fairgrounds. After viewing the press release and videos I knew this was just the event to celebrate my half-Chinese princess.

I’m a firm believer in dressing the part for celebrations. I told her to choose a favorite dress and chose one for myself as well. We put on lipstick and drove the 30 minute drive to the fairgrounds. I kept the surprise until we arrived and she began to see the lights. It was beautiful! If this event comes to a town near you I highly recommend a visit!

When we substitute events for presents we are in favor of going all out. This means dinner, dessert and specials drinks. This means that the gift recipient gets the royal treatment. It’s a full out attempt to create very fun, out of the ordinary moments and memories. It means saying yes to all the things that we often say no to. When you are one of four kids there aren’t as many moments like that so that makes days like this even more special!

During the evening I made sure to fill her head and heart with affirmation, I told her how wonderful she was and about all the ways she makes our home joyful.

The year of less has become less about reducing the stuff and more about amping up the intentional moments. The removal of things has caused us to focus more on what we do and say during celebrations. I hope that when we come to the end of this year our kids have unforgettable moments and a knowledge of their importance and place in our family.

Easter baskets during the year of less

As I previously shared in this post, we chose to try out a year of less. A year with no physical gifts for birthdays, Christmas etc. Even though we have always been conservative with stuff it was still feeling out of control in our home. Here are a few ways we are planning to replace the traditional Easter Basket in our home this year.

For Elliott, our 9 year old:

A giftcard to a local arcade to spend some time with dad. We are also donating, in honor of his favorite sport, to provide soccer gear for kids who do not have equipment.

For Lola, our 9 year old:

A day pass for rock-climbing with mom, this is her favorite activity and she is so empowered when she’s climbing! We are also donating to provide food for a baby for a week through Samaritans Purse.

For Charlotte, our 7 year old:

A certificate for spa time. Nothing makes her happier than pretty pink nails. We will also donate in her name to provide baby chicks for a family in need. Also through Samaritans purse.

For Liam, our 5 year old:

A giftcard to the arcade for bonding time with Dad and big brother. In Liam’s honor we will donate to provide “comfort lambs to children. He is our babe who loves to have a stuffed animal tucked under his arm.

Each child will receive the gift of time and an experience with a parent and also know that another child will receive something that they need. We hope that these early experiences will foster a spirit of generosity and empathy for others.



» A year of less

We recently committed to a year of less. Specifically a year of NO tangible, hold-them-in-your-hand gifts. This includes Easter baskets, car trip surprises, birthday presents and YES Christmas presents too. It’s not happening in this house this year. The why of this decision has many forms. First of all, our lives have become very indulgent. I recently read a book about Abraham Lincoln with my daughter. She delighted as she read about his sister Sarah’s first toy… a corncob doll she made herself. Would our children treasure such a thing today? Probably not. Toys today leave little to the imagination. Imagine the depths little Sarah went to with that single corncob doll made by her own two hands. In Uganda, Haiti and Ethiopia I’ve seen children completely content with homemade wagons and cardboard boxes or stacks of smooth stones. Our initial reaction is sadness… but just watch the joy and ingenuity in their method of play for a moment and wipe that sadness away.

Secondly, we have toys. We have stem toys and mounds of Legos. We have paints and clay and paper. We have a swings and a trampoline. And most importantly we have bikes and sticks and mud and dogs to play with. We have everything they need and want.

Lastly, we want to invest in experiences this year rather than things. I would prefer to spend money on travel or helping others. I would prefer to heighten the quality of the time I spend with my children and create more room for memories. And really it comes down to the simple fact: enough is enough. When I spend more time managing clutter and crap in my house than I do with my children that’s a problem. This feels like a giant, deep breath of crisp cool air to my weary soul. It’s like painting the whole house white and just sitting in the middle of a blank slate. It’s a good start to good things… that aren’t actual things.

We let the kids in on our plans earlier this week. They weren’t terribly shocked, but they were definitely ready to help plan our experiences for the year! There isn’t a grand plan that I can lay out for you. We are simply going to plan experiences for the events that we would typically purchase presents for. Intentional substitution of time for stuff. This may range from visiting Six Flags to riding bikes at a park and grabbing ice cream. This plan can be tailored to fit your budget, lifestyle and interests.

So here’s to a year of less stuff and more togetherness. Anyone else?

Can I overuse the word blessing?

Just wondering, because I’m about to use it again.  Just like I overuse commas.  So… on to the blessing.  Last night Calvin and I met with our Pastor of Volunteers/Adoption.  I know what you’re thinking, who has a Pastor of Volunteers??  Long Hollow Baptist Church ladies and gentlemen.  Pretty awesome.  Any way, we met with Rob and it was so reassuring to find out that our church offers us some pretty amazing services when it comes to adoption.  They have access to a lot of information that will be abundantly helpful as we are preparing to welcome our next child.  They will help us go through all of our paperwork with a fine tooth comb, so as to ensure we don’t get stuck in Ethiopia or some other potential disaster.  And on top of those wonderful things they have paired us with a family who has completed an international adoption… mentors!  My anxieties are eased.  However, if you know me very well you would say “what anxieties?”  True, true.  I tend to leap before looking.  Perhaps a little anxiety is a good thing.  If we don’t prepare for potential problems we won’t know how to handle them when the inevitably arise.   So thank you Lord for Long Hollow and their commitment to adoption.  Thank you for your provisions!

Side Note: Rob gave me a bracelet (live strong style) that reads: “Share the Joy of Adoption”  and I snatched it out of his hand like a two-year-old and slid it onto my wrist all the while admiring it like it was encrusted with diamonds.  Yes, I would say I’m in the romantic stage.

» 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.


» 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.


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

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



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

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.


» 2017 Mother’s Day Gift Guide

I realize we’ve committed to a year of less… but I have to interrupt for just a moment because I know some of you are desperately looking for Mother’s Day ideas. So in spite of promoting less I’ve rounded up a few ideas for mom that I would be happy to receive. Although… I won’t be this year. I’ve tried to bring a variety of things you may have never seen or thought of.

1. Clay Mug from Haiti

Clay cookies are a known “food” in Haiti. Feed My Starving Children has created a market for artisans from Port-Au-Prince to use the same process to make mugs instead. These coffee mug purchases enable these Haitians to sculpt their way out of poverty and support their families! I cannot think of a more meaningful gift for mom. Check out Feed My Starving Children’s other items, too. You’ll fall in love quickly.

Feed My Starving Children website


2. Magnolia Journal Magazine Subscription

I love a gift that keeps on giving. And I LOVE Fixer Upper. Magnolia Journal comes out four times per year and is full of all the shiplap and chippy paint that mom craves. Additionally, make sure that you serve up some quiet time and coffee when that magazine arrives.

buy on Amazon


3. Ninja Coffee Bar System

A coffee system complete with a variety of brew types and sizes (single cup to whole pot), a built-in frother, and tons of specialty (hot and iced) coffee recipes — Caramel Macchiato, Iced Mocha Latte, and a Vanilla Flat White just to name a few — you can create and enjoy at home. Read our full review here.

Ninja Kitchen website

buy Ninja Coffee Bar System on Amazon


4. Netatmo Smart Home

You know how much I love smart home products. Netatmo makes some beautiful products that compliment your home interior rather than cause a huge distraction. Now that our kids are getting older and more independent, the Welcome camera has helped me keep tabs on everyone. Face recognition technology has been really accurate so far so I know who’s inside (or outside) the house at all times. If that wasn’t enough, the unit also listens for alarms—whether it be a smoke alarm, CO alarm, security alarm or siren—it will send a notification and record a video. For the health-conscious moms, the Healthy Home Coach monitors the air quality level (CO2 levels) to make sure the home environment is healthy. I particularly love monitoring humidity levels for my son, who deals with asthma. The Healthy Home Coach measures what matters, notifies you (via phone app) of potential problems, and gives suggestions on how to fix them. I wish I had one of these years ago for an infant’s room.

Netatmo website

buy Netatmo on Amazon


5. Kitchen IQ

I love high-quality kitchen items that don’t need replacing every year. I finally tried Kitchen IQ’s knife sharpener after feeling the urge to replace an “old” set of knives. I also love their flexible cutting boards, kitchen scales, and graters.

Kitchen IQ website

buy on Amazon



» Chattanooga Fun in the 2018 Mazda CX-9

Winter has really felt never-ending. Although it didn’t get super cold this year the Spring has still taken its time to come around. The rainy and cold weather was really getting to us and we felt that a family weekend getaway was in order. Thankfully we live in the Nashville area and places like Chattanooga are just a quick two-hour drive away. The Mazda CX-9 was our road trip companion for this trip and it was an exciting departure from our usual eight-passenger minivan.

Here are a few things we especially liked about the car followed by a rundown of our Chattanooga visit:

Seats Seven – Outside of minivans and overly large SUVs, there aren’t many vehicles that can fit our family of six. With the deceivingly compact CX-9, we can even fit an extra family member or friend. Some mommas can’t succumb to the idea of minivan life and this vehicle would be a great alternative.

Interior – The interior of the CX-9 is just as sleek and sophisticated as the outside. Every detail is well thought out, down to the very placement of the cup holders. Everything you need is within arms reach allowing you to control the temperature, radio, etc. without distracting you from the most important thing, keeping your eyes on the road. 

GPS and Advanced Heads-Up Display – For many years we’ve utilized the phone GPS over the built-in car GPS systems. In the past they’ve tended to be hard, clunky to use and often give inaccurate directions. This built-in GPS is in another category! I love the addition of features like including the distance to the nearest gas stations and restaurants. 

The Advanced Heads-Up Display magically displays the speed limit, your current speed, blind spot warnings and more right onto your windshield. This eliminates the need to look away or down as you are driving. 

The CX-9 made the drive to Chattanooga smooth and fun, and of course the kids requested Kidz Bop radio on Sirius XM. As parents, we really appreciated the comfortable, adjustable seats. A comfy seat always makes the trip seem shorter!

Chattanooga Highlights and Destinations:

Westin – Downtown Chattanooga

  • Hotel Room window

The Westin is a new addition to the downtown Chattanooga scene  (less than a year old at the time of writing this). It is located only a couple of blocks away from the free shuttle that runs along Broad Street. If you’re familiar with downtown, it’s near the Tivoli Theatre. In addition to the hotel, the area referred to as West Village is in the process of being renovated with new restaurants, shops, and office space. On Saturday nights, the block is closed off to car traffic and an amazing laser light party takes place outside with street vendors, live music and other fun surprises. The kid-focused light show starts at 6:45 and there’s another one geared more for adults at 7:45. This is REALLY fun, in fact we were pleasantly surprised with how much free fun we had during show. The kids absolutely lost it when MASSIVE balloons came raining down from the sky. We could tell how much thought and effort was put into making this a unique experience.

The renovated hotel (which used to be the BlueCross headquarters) has luxurious, clean and spacious rooms. The floor-to-ceiling windows create the illusion of an even bigger room. The outdoor pool is open year long with the water set at 80 degrees. The staff and service were excellent as well. The bellhop who assisted us showed so much enthusiasm for his work and even shared interesting facts such as the preservation of the original elevators and circular stairwell in the building.

High Point Climbing

Anytime we spy a Mellow Mushroom, we just have to eat there. It’s a good thing High Point Climbing is right next door. The climbing and physical exertion made us feel a little better after the heavy meal. We visited the downtown location of High Point Climbing. The beautiful facility allows climbing both inside and outside of the building. There is 30,000 sq. feet of climbing surface to enjoy including the best kids zone we’ve ever experienced in a climbing gym. The kids area empowered them to hook up and climb on their own without having to wait on us for assistance. As you all know, our daughter Lola is blind. This is probably her fourth climbing experience and she has grown to love it. High Point is an excellent place for expert climbers and those who are putting on climbing shoes for the very first time. Their friendly staff is great at giving guidance and encouraging families to get moving together.

Creative Discovery Museum – This is by far one of our favorite children’s museums. The museum boasts everything from an excavation area to a riverplay area. We found that our kids were able to engage in several sensory enriched activities while learning new things about Tennessee and surrounding areas. The museum is currently hosting America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. The cultural exhibit explores the diversity of Muslim cultures in our community, country and around the world! The exhibit represents 52 different countries around the world. It will be at the Museum through May 13th. Our kids loved learning more about the Muslim and Middle Eastern culture. Kudos to the museum for facilitating activities that help overcome fear-based perceptions regarding Muslim cultures.  Some of our highlights were getting henna tattoos (from Indian culture), baking Middle Eastern treats, and watching a science presentation in the auditorium.

Chattanooga Football ClubIf you’re household is anything like ours, soccer is becoming a big deal. If you visit Chattanooga in the Spring or Summer, Chattanooga FC might be playing a home game at Finley Stadium. The free shuttle will land you about four blocks away from the stadium. You can show up early and tailgate with the Chattahooligans (family friendly) and enjoy general admission seating. So come early and enjoy front row seating. After the game, we took advantage of walking down to the field and meeting the home team for autographs.

Chattanooga ZooThe zoo is a bit smaller than our home Nashville Zoo. We visited on Sunday morning before our drive back home. The crowds were low so it ended up being nice for us. We were able to take our time and read about each exhibit and engage the kids. Several of the animals were playful and the kids enjoyed interacting with them. Bonus: There’s a nice outdoor playground complex next door to the zoo you can make sure to visit if your kids need to get a little extra energy out at the end of your zoo visit. This playground is an inclusive playground and offers something for children of all abilities. During our visit the trainers showed the crowd how the chimpanzees get their wellness checks and train to keep them safe and healthy. The kids enjoyed seeing how the zoo cared for the animals in this way.

Conclusion about the Mazda CX-9

The daily commute with the CX-9 in Nashville was enjoyable and I already miss driving the car every day. The comfort and the handling of the car was very enjoyable. The back storage area was enough for groceries but offered a challenge when it came to our weekend trip. When driving to Chattanooga, our family of six had to fold one seat down to fit all of the suitcases. Fortunately, we were still able to fit three kids in the middle row with the fourth child in the back. We did notice we turned a lot of heads when driving and parking the vehicle which is a testament to the sleek new look and vibrant candy-apple red color! This family could work for a family of six but would be ideal for a family of four or five. The extra room on a daily basis would be nice and comfortable with margin to add visitors or extra luggage for the longer trips.




Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2018 CX-9 Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

» Asleep by 8

There were days on this parenting journey that would leave us sound asleep in a child’s bed by 8pm. Those were the days of one more drink of water, one more story or I’m scared of what might be in my closet. After an early morning out the door, a long day of work, a healthy home-cooked dinner and family time there wasn’t much left of us. And so, on most nights, we would find each other sprawled out in a bed, snoring, with a baby or toddler either sitting fully awake on top of the sleeping parent OR completely asleep in a way that we couldn’t risk waking them.

Those days were pretty good and I’m finding that although I enjoy relying on my kids to wipe their own bottoms now…  I long to hear their voices call out with funny made up words and lispy f’s and r’s. Our kids are still young, ranging 6-10, but the baby has all but worn off. They are growing long and lean, with firm calves and arms from dance and soccer. They have budding plans and good friends. They have ideas and projects and personalities.

Lately, we’ve found ourselves falling asleep at 8 and 9pm again. We work so hard to fill the hearts and minds of our children with the things we value as a family. We toss them around to tire out their tireless bodies, because the boys seem to need pure exhaustion to fall into a peaceful sleep. We read the Bible and cook together. We apply essential oils and talk over their days. We pull them close when they are angry, trying desperately to show them that love always trumps anger. We discipline, often, because they are incredibly naughty and have developed some interesting ways of expressing their displeasure with our guidance.

And we question ourselves constantly, understanding that we are molding small people who will become big people in an even bigger world. I’m thankful that we can trust Jesus with our children because we will always fall short!

We fall asleep at 8 and 9pm because we know that these years are so very short. Just as we miss the squishy legs and lispy voices, we will miss ornery 10 year olds who don’t like to put away their laundry but let us brush the hair out of their faces at night and kiss their foreheads. We survive through the valleys and challenges of parenthood so that we can be blessed by the sweet crest of the hill, the tender moments that bind our hearts together.

» Lead me to the Rock

I do not claim to be dealing with active grief in my life at the present time. Sadness at times, worry at times and a constant urge to control my situation… always. My husband can attest to my “take control of the situation” personality. I’m great in a crisis and I’m annoying when it comes to vitamins and greens consumption. We recently discovered the world of MTHFR gene mutation and how that affects our family, we all have some variation of it. You can get a crash course here and consider adding it to your next blood draw at your yearly check up. Thankfully this knowledge is helping our family make better choices about foods and supplements but I do see its ability to take too much space in daily thoughts and actions.

Worry, sadness and fear for the future. There are constant openings for these enemies to creep in. For me personally my energy is spent less on actual fear and more on consistent, aggressive steps to control the thing that threatens me. Action becomes a place to stumble when I fail to root my anchor in the One who already knows the number of my days.

In the past few weeks I’ve noted several internal struggles that I had to make an internal, spiritual effort to redirect: sadness over my community that I’ve moved farther from, efforts to redirect my family’s health and a natural inclination to cynicism about the condition of our world. As I reflected on how much I had allowed these things to take space in my mind and heart an old hymn came to mind.

Then near to the Rock let me keep
If blessings or sorrows prevail,
Or climbing the mountain way steep,
Or walking the shadowy vale.

Near to the Rock let me keep. Friends, my bones cry out this phrase! I’m desperate to keep my eyes on Jesus. Anything else just drives me batty. B12 vitamins might help my body function better but Jesus healed my heart for good.

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
 from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me dwell in your tent forever!

    Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Psalm 61: 1-5

My heart is often faint. I’ve seen the hurt of our country and the world. I’ve lost those close to me and I’ve witnessed the aftermath of tragedy but I can still stand and say God is good. He offers a safe place, a shelter and He is unchanging in a world that shakes. He knows the story from beginning to end and with knowledge of that, I can rest.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal